Sun, Fun and Big Things to Come (Ocala and RRTP at the MD Horse World Expo)
On January 3rd, I left Maine for sunny Ocala to tune up my dressage with my friend Judy Oliver, a Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer . What a relief to land in the beautiful, WARM Sunshine State after leaving below-zero temperatures at home! I managed to squeeze in 36 hours of riding and watching Judy teach before I came down with some sort of virus and had to take a couple sick days. Once I was able to climb out of bed (or the recliner that I shared with Judy's three cute little dogs-- they were great sick girl company), I spent most of my time in the barn, on a horse, being the ground person for putting young horses under saddle or watching lessons (and occasionally acting as impromptu amateur photographer during a few lessons). I was incredibly fortunate to be able to spend some saddle time with Judy's Grand Prix horse Wynsum. Everything about the Hanoverian gelding is BIG-- character, heart and size (at least 17 Hands, and about 1400 Lbs!), along with a super sweet Danish Warmblood, a green pony who hadn't been under saddle in a year (yes, all 5'9" of me managed to ride a 13Hh Welsh cross-- go ahead, get a mental picture and chuckle. My feet hung below her belly even with my stirrups cranked up to jumping length!) and a challenging powerhouse of a mare, who, while only standing 15.1Hh, had an agenda of her own, and made me feel like I was riding a big cat who was ready to spring rather than sitting on a warmblood! The two weeks I spent in Ocala sped by so fast that even though I missed my family terribly, it seemed like it was over before I had a chance to catch my breath! I tend to accomplish quite a bit in a day, but I was humbled by how hard Judy works and the high quality of her horsemanship-- I could barely keep up with her!
Next on my agenda was a flight from Florida to DC. I sat next to a very nice, very entertaining gentleman who happened to be a bloodstock agent returning from the Ocala Winter Mixed Sale to his home in Saratoga. Such a fascinating conversation! It was the perfect way to spend a couple hours on my way to Maryland to help Steuart and Erin Pittman with Team RRTP (www.retiredracehorsetraining.org) at the Maryland Horse World Expo. First thing Friday morning, we headed to Timonium, MD, with a truck full of horses and gear. The horses, entered in the 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge by the farms who own them, performed brilliantly in front of large crowds all three days. An article by Sarah Andrew for the Thoroughbred Daily News includes some beautiful photos (http://thetdnblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/retired-racehorse-training-projects-100_22.html). Besides helping to man the information booth for the Retired Racehorse Training Project, I wrangled horses for the demonstrations. Friday, I played with Alluring Punch for the free jump demo, then I became Declan's Moon's person for the remainder of the weekend. Declan is a Malibu Moon offspring. He has an enormous personality to match his big movement and presence in the ring. His "mom" Ellen Pons of Country Life Farm took some fantastic photos (www.ellenponsphotography.com and http://ellenponsphotography.zenfolio.com/f770587239 for links to her albums from the weekend-- lots of beautiful pictures, many with my mug in them!) , and Declan is a huge ham, posing for the camera and crowd every chance he gets. He's had lots of practice with paparazzi skills-- he was undefeated as a 2-year-old racehorse, won an Eclipse Award in 2004 and was headed for the '05 Kentucky Derby when he was was sidelined for a knee injury from which he came back and raced again! Though Gunport had to stay home to nurse a tender hock, Declan, Alluring Punch ("Oakley") and Suave Jazz ("Jazz") certainly proved to spectators what amazing sport horses OTTBs make with the skills they learned at the track coupled with proper post-race training. It was inspiring to watch these athletes show off their intelligence and versatility in a loud, unfamiliar venue and pull it off in grand style.
My last day away before returning to the frigid reaches of Maine consisted of plain ol' fun-- I did some equine sports therapy on a couple of horses at a friend's barn, then we rode a couple horses (can we say WOOHOO for galloping in the fields?!?!). I really enjoyed watching Jason Cole and Filippa Boughton work with a young racehorse, starting him under saddle with patience and tact (www.colebroke.com). We made plans for a repeat visit as soon as our schedules permit. I finished the day with one last ride back at Dodon Farm, then packed up and hopped a flight home (next time, I should check the calendar before booking so that I'm not flying out of DC on inauguration day, but what's a flight delay in the grand scheme of things, right?). My husband, kids and working student could not have been more supportive or amazing in holding things together so that I could be away, and for them and all the friends with whom I was able to spend time this month, I am incredibly grateful. What a great way to kick off 2013!