My life has been a whirl wind of activity since I last posted an equestrian blog. It has been 6 months – time has FLOWN. It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in my camper in Ocala and writing about getting back in to the saddle and how I was struggling with that. I have been meaning to share an update about my riding but have been so busy with weddings, restaurants and life in general that I finally decided today that I was going to dedicate my entire day to catching up on blogs, social media, emails and ME. Daunting, but needed. So here we go:
It helps that my horses have the week off, after our last week of showing for the year happened in Kentucky last week. That’s right – last week was my last show for the year…and I am totally ok with that.
From the last time I wrote about riding through today, I believe I made it to two horse shows besides Ocala. I was in Traverse City for two weeks in July, and then last week in Kentucky. So, I competed a total of maybe 6 times this year. In the four years prior, I had been on the road with my horses about 20 – 25 weeks depending on the year, so it is definitely a change for me. But the reality of my life right now is that I just cannot chase those incredibly competitive goals like I had been because of what I need to be doing at home. The good news? My horses all feel amazing, Caitlyn does a fantastic job with them and manages to balance all of her clients and horses in a wonderful way. And I have been able to ride every week in spite of work demands and have really enjoyed being at home and just riding in a more casual way. I am not going to try to fool myself though, I feel good with all of that because in my mind I have every intention of getting back to a more competitive place soon. My hope is that 2020 will be more balanced between work and riding, so we’ll address that when we get there.
The shows that I was able to go to, I enjoyed every moment. Being in the ring was awesome, and even had a few highlights too! Mo was fantastic in Traverse City and so was my Serafina. They have been so dependable for me during this time and I really appreciate that! I also began working with someone who is more than a personal trainer, but more of a flexibility and fitness expert. Andrea has been instrumental in getting me and my unfit self through some of the soreness and stiffness – helping me to become more mobile again. This has dramatically increased what I can accomplish while riding because for the first time in about 5 years, I am riding PAIN FREE. If you want to learn more about Andrea, shoot me a message and I can go more in depth in another post. Her website can be found here. Basically, the more that I move the more I can continue to move and Andrea has been a wonderful additional to my overall health and my riding.
Last week was not just my last week showing for the year, it was also Derby Finals. Which is a BFD in the horse world – like HUGE DEAL… I have been really lucky that the last three years, my horse Cassius (along with Caitlyn) have qualified and participated. They worked their asses off to get there, and I have been lucky enough to be along for the ride. This is essentially like the hunter Olympics, LOL. The jumps are gorgeous and daunting and the courses are technical and challenging. The horse and rider teams that are competing are no joke – so just being there is HUGE, and I am completely aware of that and never take it for granted.
Cassius was 7 when we found him, and I will gladly tell anyone who asks that the first time I saw the horse I thought he was an orangutang! Huge, fresh, and kinda wild was his first impression on me. But – Caitlyn was convinced early on that he would be something, while I was pretty skeptical. I do however trust her instincts so when I saw her feel so strongly about him I could not entire count him out, but I had no real interest in purchasing him and having him be a part of my family at the time.
I think it took me about two months to change my mind, and realize what I already knew – that Caitlyn was right and that we should own this horse. So, I had to figure out how to make that work financially, and payments were how I did that. I was lucky to be able to do that, and it took me about ten, maybe twelve months or so to finish those payments. All along Caitlyn was steadfast in her plan to develop Cassius in to a derby horse, and she dedicated herself to that goal… We attended our first derby finals three years ago and all three of us were wide eyed and holding our breath. They had a pretty ok first round, and actually qualified for the section B handy, and unfortunately Cassius mis read an oxer as a vertical (I think), and came down on the back rail, taking out almost the entire jump. It was embarrassing and frustrating but really, not the end of the world. And not the end of our journey either. After getting one derby finals under our belt I think we all collectively felt like we could better prepare for the next year. So, onto the next (as I like to say).
Last year’s Finals was a great one for us. They made it in to the top 25 and were able to compete in the handy under the lights which was so cool. We had a really great experience, however draining and emotional this week can be. And believe me – win, lose or draw this week rings you out emotionally and leaves you clothes pinned to a line drying in that hot sun…it is just ALL. THE. FEELS.
And since last week is fresh in my mind, I thought I would take you through what actually goes in to surviving Derby Finals, from my perspective. I had to work most of Monday, so my husband and I drove up there and arrived Monday evening at like 10:00 pm. We are campers, and our good friends were kind enough to get the camper parked and open for us so all we had to do was unpack some stuff and get groceries. Tuesday morning we were up and at it bright and early because Caitlyn had a horse in the green incentive that week also, and we had a few other horses that were showing, including my Mo for the 3’3 amateur owner hunters. Beginning of the week is pretty easy and like a normal show. So I enjoy grilling at the camper and riding at that gorgeous horse park.
The week started rainy and humid, and ended hot and humid. And it is a weird week because in the beginning, everything finishes early and it starts to fool you in to thinking that it is a “light” week. Then the reality of derby finals sets in sometime Thursday afternoon. I tried to distract myself by riding – but trying to ride in the schooling rings is a joke by that point in the week, because they are so crowded that I instantly understand how it feels to be in the inside of a tornado. The heat was HOT – like you just roast in the sun and there is nothing you can do about it, HOT. I start getting a little nervous – not because I think we can win, or because I have some goal for this week. I am nervous because I want Caitlyn to be safe, and Cassius to be safe. I don’t want her to be disappointed. I don’t want to be embarrassed, or let anyone down… I worry that maybe we bit off more than we could chew and shouldn’t even bother with this because who are we to think we can compete against these incredibly talented and expensive horses? Oh yeah – I feel ALL the things; insecurities galore.Like all of you, I am human and I go through all of these things every day – believe me. So that grocery run I talked about earlier? It usually includes. fair amount of wine, LOL 😂
I usually try to keep my nerves from Caitlyn because I don’t want to interrupt her preparation, and I also never want her to feel my anything negative from me. I am so proud of everything she has accomplished, and so grateful for everything that she does for me and my horses. I always worry that my own energy will interrupt hers so I try to keep that from her. Usually I end up going for a walk with Mo, just talking to him and saying a little prayer for their safety. I will also talk to Cassius too. Yes – I talk to my horses quite frequently, I am that person. I accept that. (She usually picks up on this even though I try to hide it. This is part of the reason why she is my family and not just my trainer).
The thing about dreaming big is that it does not just take courage to dream the dream, it actually takes courage to show up once you make the dream come true and that was something I had learned going through these experiences. Caitlyn and Cass did the work all year. They earned their spot here – and now they had to show up and be in finals.
Then Friday came, D-Day, literally. I have this ritual with them, I always watch them warm up, and stay out of the way. She is really lucky to have great relationships in this industry and has some incredible people standing with her providing guidance and insight during finals. I like to listen and learn but not be super involved as I am not clearly not the expert here. So I watch from a distance, and before they go in to the ring I sneak up to the in gate, and give him a smooch and one to her too. I always tell them both that I love them, and then I go to take my seat so she can focus. I walk away every time with tears in my eyes, feeling every single emotion you can imagine. I am so proud of them, I am nervous. I have all the weight of my life and career and family on me as I say a prayer we haven’t come all this way for nothing (remember, it takes weeks and money and all the things to get here even if I am not at horse shows myself, etc ). It is a really emotional moment for me which I have come to accept as part of my process. I never in a hundred years would have thought that I would have a horse that could do what Cassius does. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d have one who got here three years in a row. There is a hugely emotional component to all of this that is really about having the audacity to dream this big knowing that I will never have the budget that most of these people do, will never have the political weight that most of them do, yet here we went, pursuing this dream. THAT is A LOT – in a very cool way. But at times, it can just smack you right in the face and you feel all the things. For me, it happens always right before she walks in to the ring.
You have to understand something about me for this to really make sense… I am a person who lives live feeling every feeling. I am passionate about my career and I love my clients and their weddings. I am a neurotic perfectionist when it comes to getting it right in the restaurants. I exhaust myself sometimes with how much I feel and need to do because I am just compelled to. My horses? They sit at the top of this pyramid. They are everything to me; My anchor when I need grounding, my inspiration when I need lifting. They are my teachers, my comforting hug. Sometimes they are the challenge I need to face in order to learn a lesson. They can also be a fear that I need to confront sometimes. They are my everything. And so is Caitlyn because she is such a huge part of them. This is why I feel so very, many things during the week of Derby Finals. I think anyone would at a benchmark point in their year that is a culmination of work, expectation, time passing, and so forth but wanted to clarify that for anyone that was wondering.
Back to last week, and Derby Finals: This year, Caitlyn and Cass had what I thought was one of their best classic rounds on Friday. It was beautiful, and they made it look easy. he jumped the last jump – a high option and I was so impressed! And then, he landed split. It happens. Shit happens. It reflected n the scores and we ended up 34th. Out of the top 25 but still able to compete in the handy as part of section B.
It is not where I would have loved for them to be, but almost immediately I had this feeling come over me that was really calm and at peace. They had a great round. Caitlyn rode beautifully and Cass went beautifully. I felt like for the first time in three years I did not really hold my breath for him over the jumps. He looked so relaxed and confident and with her every step. And then, a few people came up to me to share with me how impressed they were with him. Or how beautiful their round was. How unfortunate the landing was. And I really started to feel like we came out with a score we did not love but something else that I did not ever really feel like we had earned yet – Cass had respect as a derby horse. Caitlyn and Cass had respect as a pair in this derby world. That was pretty fucking cool to realize, excuse my swearing but sometimes, you just have to drop an f-bomb for emphasis. I felt like we grew up, and accomplished something different this year. 😆
Saturday came, and the handy round was pretty awesome, I think we all were in a good place mentally and emotionally, They left everything they could in that ring – including some gorgeous jumps, handy turns and their hearts. We ended up 5th in section B, and somewhere in the 20’s overall I believe – I don’t even know really. And can I be honest? I don’t even care, really. The in gate did not even have our ribbon because they had accidentally given it away, so I have no photo this year for social media with proof of placing. And again, weirdly enough, I just don’t care. This year what I took away from the experience of Derby Finals was the beauty, laughter, commiserating, and sharing of bonds I formed with people that I love and trust who were a massive and beautiful support (and still are every day). I met new people and formed new bonds with them and am excited to have them as a part of our world now. I am in awe of my Caitlyn as she continues to grow her business, figure our what she wants in her life, live with lupus, and still want to conquer the world. She always says that I am her rock, but I am pretty sure that she is mine. 🙂 I walked away from finals with more love for my horses then I knew was possible. I sat in the camp ground after it was all over Saturday night with my dear friend Chris, grilling some brats and I had this moment where I realized that I am just so profoundly grateful to still be here doing this, and chasing these dreams that the rest is really all just “other stuff”…
Ribbons do not matter to me. Moments do. My people do, my horses do. (my dogs too, just in case they decide to read this 😉)
I have been through some shit this year, and so has Caitlyn and so have my horses and here we are – still here, still learning, still standing. still growing. And the best part is that along the way new people have come in to our lives that we love, people who have loved us along the way are still here, laughter and learning is happening. The horses are healthy, my husband and parents support all of this craziness. And come December, I will chase these same damned dreams all over again.
So really, what more could I ask for?
Would a ribbon in the top 12 at Derby Finals be cool? Absolutely. And Would I love to be able to show Cassius in the 3’6 amateur owners this winter and actually get all my damned lead changes? YASSSSSS I would. And maybe these things will come to be, maybe not – All I know is that I am here, and will appreciate the moments, be grateful for the opportunities, and never ever doubt for a second that dreaming of these things and going after these goals is outside of our realm of capabilities. Does that make sense? I hope so.
I hope you can take something from this – just one thing and that is this: If you jump cross rails or 1.50, if you have the most beautiful horse or the most modest – love where you are, appreciate the privilege of what you are doing. Dream big, be fair, stay grateful – and just go for it. This sport is such a privilege. It is not guaranteed to anyone… but it should be open to everyone. I am cheering you on from the sidelines!
You will never be worse off for trying. ♥️