Sunday at the USDF National Finals was a quiet affair. With all my students' rides complete, and just one finals class for me left—Beverley Thomas's Fiero in the second level open finals—we had a leisurely breakfast, rode my test (Fiero was terrific) at noon, and with awards not until 5:30 p.m., Ferris and I went to the movies. Fiero led the class for a long time and ended up placing fourth in tremendous company; I got my ribbon, we made our lap around the Alltech, smiled for pictures, and then we were done.
Holding horse shows in November is a dangerous business. We've had rain, sleet and frost, not to mention windchills in the high 20s—a sharp twist for us in Northern Virginia, for sure, but nothing like what the folks from Texas and Florida are going through.
Michael came down to us this weekend for a last clinic before Team Barisone heads to Florida next month. He came with a special guest—his wonderful wife Vera, also a very experienced Grand Prix rider, not to mention an absolute riot. So it was not a clinic As Usual.
Moreover, all of my horses—who were all GENIUSES last week—felt like absolute crap all of this week. Fiero felt pretty good, actually, so that's not entirely true, but Johnny, Dorian and especially Danny spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday giving me complete heart failure.
I have a love-hate relationship with the USDF National Championships. It's a great show, a ton of fun, and an honor to attend. And I know why it has to be so late in the year - so that all the regions can hold their Championships, and let participants make their plans to get to the show.
But Fiero and I are stuck in Second Level purgatory, and I'd really like to be either a) giving him some down time before Florida, or b) making our cheerful way towards Prix St. Georges.
Somewhere I have my first ride on Billy in competition on video. The video is hysterical, because the camera was set up next to the judge's booth, which was a two-horse trailer. Billy, who has been on trucks and planes, all over Europe and North America, who yells at the trailer when it leaves without him—whether to a show or the vet or the fix-it shop, he doesn't care; he's clearly supposed to be Going Places—absolutely hates being near trailers. And so the video starts with Lendon Gray, two-time Olympian and Living Legend, leading us past, because I couldn't get him by it.
Wednesday, October 1: We're zipping merrily down the road to the Region 1 Finals in Williamston, N.C., three horse trailers, seven horses, and four nice 20-somethings. Well, Kristin is 13 and I'm now 30, but I added our ages together and then divided by two. It all works out.
I have a very vivid memory of sitting on Billy for the first time. It was January of 2003, a bitterly cold night. We'd flown to Germany that day and we saw Billy and two others at a sale barn just a few kilometers from the hotel, just to cross the first few horses off the list on a whirlwind trip. I was 18, a freshman in college, and I'd never sat on a horse like Billy before.
He felt amazing. He felt like Heaven. And I remember thinking, cool—NAJYRC this year, and we will be ready for the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006, if not even the Athens Olympics next year.
I am grateful for Ella every day. I learned so, SO much from owning and training her from her young horse days up to her first Grand Prix. I am an infinitely more skilled rider for it, and she is such a tremendously good girl that she let me make all sorts of mistakes, and then fix them, without ever trying to eat me.