Living the Life

wef

Lauren and Ky waiting for their next class with trainer Trapp. The 20 foot high hedge and swaying palms are gorgeous.


My daughter Lauren has had some opportunities throughout 2016 to ride up a level and ride some amazing horses.  As 2017 starts, she finds herself in Wellington, Florida at the most favored of all winter Hunter Jumper shows for the US.  Through some amazing acts of kindness, extreme budgeting and good fortune, Lauren will be in Wellington showing at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) for six weeks.


WEF has traditionally been the winter home to many of the sport’s top riders. Lauren has already spotted,  and gotten to observe in person, several of the world’s Olympic riders. I mean, really, winters in south Florida versus whatever spot north of there that you are from-WEF is the clear winner.  Looks pretty amazing. 

Interestingly, Lauren was born about 100 miles straight north of the show grounds. She is definitely a Florida girl. As a kid, she followed Ally and I to the Palm Beach Winter shows each year. 

Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined Lauren coursing over the big jumps on an imported horse. Lauren was busy jumping anything and everything she could with her first horse Thunder. He was an almost 17 hand gelding-I know what five year old kid gets that as their first horse?

She even struck the imagination and interest of a news photographer who was covering a different story.  His attention diverted by the little blonde girl jumping the big horse. Anyway,  the heart of that little girl is quite evident is this determined young lady!  

Jumping much higher heights, Lauren and Ky soar through the air.


Standing at the in-gate last week, teen phenom rider Tori Colvin, inquired of Lauren if she knew the course and the distances for the next class. Indeed, she did!  Lauren was happy to share those with her new acquaintance. Wow, what a moment. 

Entering the big and beautiful Wellington ring for the first time was a little daunting I understand. But each trip has been a little better than the last, so progress is being made. 

Lauren and Ky getting their bearings in the ring.


Her ride for this trip to show jumping’s Magic Kingdom is a 15 year old imported German Hanoverian warmblood officially named Stanislaus but affectionately known as Ky. He is a super horse with incredible talent, a knowing demenoir, heart of gold. and a love of bananas (not kidding!).  Ky has literally shown from coast to coast in the US. A couple of palms trees, massive jumps and loud crowds effect him not in the least. 

WEF-to me the most beautiful venue

Looking like total pros.


Owned by friend, Caitlyn Epperson, he was a perfect guide for Lauren to get a taste of what it means to ride the “big leagues” of US show jumping.  


Caitlyn and Ky were division winners last year at WEF. What an honor! Lauren has some work to do to fill those big shoes.

I am hopeful that this is the start of increased opportunities to showcase what I believe is Lauren’s natural talent as a fourth generation equestrian. But I think she will (or has) already surpassed her noble ancestors. 

And if Ky is the best horse she will ever ride, that is okay as well.  He is superb!  

Still, I heard a learned clician stating that no matter how good a horse is, it will take a couple years on that  horse to truly develop the best parternship. Lauren and Ky are making enroads each day against the top competitors and best horses in the US. But they can still do better.

Look at this ring!! Look at them go!

Lauren bending Ky to the first jump.


Lauren is having the opportunity of a lifetime, living the life of a top equestrian. Thank you to Trapp and those that have deeply believed in her and supported this journey.  To Lauren I say, as I always have from her first show, God Speed little girl!!

Thank you for riding along. 

Fast Times

 

sandboot

Lauren has finally returned from her trip to The exotic and yet achingly familiar place of her birth in Florida.  Evidenced by her boots left lying on my kitchen counter her first night home, the farrows of her boot’s sole lined with fine, white Florida sand, she walked (and rode) many miles during her stay at the Wellington Equestrian Festival (WEF).

And we have missed her.  As much as Ally stepped up to perform an outstanding job on everything at the barn and the farm, we were all glad to know Lauren was home.  Ally was in many was a better manager and keeper of my clan than Lauren but in the way a new, eager (not yet exhausted and broken) employee steps in at the holidays to work retail. I know we will miss the little extas that Ally provided us with while she was our barn manager.

From Ally’s perspective, the whole event climaxed on her last day to cover Lauren with an extreme bloody horse injury, and Ally was eager to hand the muck rake back to her sister.  But I also feel that Ally learned a few things in this process.

  1. Like how much work was really entailed in this job of her sister’s.  The sneak attacks that hit you just when you think the day is done and a horse goes down to colic or rain drives all the horses back to the barn just as you have completed turn-out. Nothing like walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to appreciate what their life is really like!
  2. Blood has never been Ally’s thing.  Any mention of following in her other sister’s footsteps to be in the medical profession have always fallen on deaf ears.  But when Ally had to handle literally buckets of blood she did so readily (although she did gag a lot) and Thank God she was there!

Lauren, likewise, learned a bit about the real lives of top equestrians.  Through her days circulating through Grand Prix Village (on an actual imported Grand Prix horse) or working as the trainer’s aide, she learned immense amounts about hard work.  And not just her work either.  The riders she saw had worked years and years, lifetimes in the saddle, to be as good as they were.  She learned there were no short-cuts to fame.

cate

catky

You all have read about Lauren’s friend Caitlyn.  You can search this blog for stories of Caitlyn’s many horse shows (Harrisburg, Washington Invitational, Maclay rounds, West Coast Talent Search) and hundreds of rides right here in Texas. Lauren is a couple years older than Cate but Cate has spent way more time in the saddle and at the big shows perfecting her art than Lauren has.  In all my years in the horse industry, while I have known many to ride at WEF, I have never had a real relationship with anyone who won at WEF. Like, I have never really known them-they were a top rider that I had heard about in the media.

This is exactly what Caitlyn and her horse Ky did!  I was thrilled to hear of them winning a class-how exciting is that?  But to come back and place high enough to win the whole division and be GRAND CHAMPION AT WEF, well, that was quite the way to end the show.

A ride with all the other grand champions on Sunday, in the International Ring, was the icing on the cake.  To ride in the arena where so many greats of sport had ridden before her was unimaginable thrill.

On a side note for those of you that like the star factor, Mary Kate Olson (yes, Full House Mary Kate) rode against Caitlyn in her division.  She rode not one horse, but four of the best horses that money could buy, but Caitlyn was there to win and had the experience to do so.

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Finally, back home with Maui Jim and friends, I told Lauren how good he had been.  No eating FitBits or chewing shoes.  I wasn’t missing my glasses either.  I thought we had finally passed over puppyhood and he was getting to be an adult.

Then I got this text:

bible

We will let you know how the power of God is effecting Maui.

As always, thanks for riding along!

 

Craigslist OTTB rakes in high-level ribbons

Borrowed with permission from Off the Track Thoroughbreds-

I understand the actual video of Trapp riding in the race saddle over the crudely constructed jumps was something to behold. The owner expected him to fall off this little mare, but she just went willingly along. Feather and Lauren, no doubt, will encounter Cait and Lulu as they make their way up the ranks. Thanks Susan for a great story!

By Susan Salk on June 3, 2015

World Cup rider Trapp O’Neal found Au Girl on Craigslist. Now she’s in the ribbons for owner/rider Caitlyn Epperson. Alison Harwell Photography

World Cup rider Trapp O’Neal found Au Girl on Craigslist. Now she’s in the ribbons for owner/rider Caitlyn Epperson. Alison Harwell Photography

 

Leading Grand Prix rider and coach Trapp O’Neal was out shopping for a flatbed trailer one lazy afternoon in August when he discovered in the dirt and dust of a modest Texas farm a gem of a Thoroughbred with the makings of an A-rated sport horse.

Though Au Girl lived in circumstances that lacked a standard ring to stretch her legs or pretty jumps to display her form, she went along quite willingly and smartly for O’Neal, who rode her in her jockey’s saddle over jumps made of orange cones and lumber. The bay mare just seemed a natural for the job.

“As a Grand Prix rider and coach, it’s never been typical for me to chose Thoroughbreds to work with. But as a horseman, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open. I don’t think you can be too prejudice as to what shape, size and breeds the talent comes in,” O’Neal says. “And when I tried Au Girl I knew I couldn’t pass up talent.”

O’Neal purchased the ex-race mare in August 2013 and took her home to his Magnolia, Texas facility TKO Sporthorses, where the green mare quickly proved herself as worthy as the fancy show horses in the barn.

Au Girl
Barn name: Lulu
Sire: Formal Gold
Dam: San Miguel Queen
Foal date: April 23, 2009

Whip-smart and scopey, she trained for about a year before Trapp sold her to his longtime student Caitlyn Epperson, 20, who formed an instant connection with the mare. “The minute she sat on her, they just clicked,” says Caitlyn’s mother Kathryn Epperson. She adds, “They are a great team. They’ve already earned numerous grand championships and reserve championships … this mare just has a spirit like she’s in it to win it, and yet, she’s also very sweet.”

The pair has excelled at the TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Division at the lower heights, but has also ribboned at the High Adult Jumper Division as well. Her awards include: Low Adult Jumper Champion (1.0 – 1.05 meter) Dallas Harvest in October 2014; High Adult Jumper Reserve Champion (1.10 – 1.15 meter) Great Southwest Winter Classic IV in February 2015; TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumpers Reserve Champion (1.0 meter) Pin Oak Charity Horse Show in March 2015; TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumpers Champion Show Jumping Classic in May 2015.

Au-girl-face

Au Girl takes a nap after winning Grand Champion in the Take 2 Jumpers at the Show Jumping Classic in May

Au Girl is ranked 9th in the National TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumper standings and 7th in the USHJA Zone 7 TAKE 2 Thoroughbred Jumper standings through April 2015.

But more than earning ribbons there is the deep satisfaction that comes from bringing along a green OTTB to compete at the highest levels.

“In this area you don’t see a lot of Thoroughbreds competing at this level. A lot of trainers just want the Warmbloods. Trapp was one of the first trainers in our area to step out and try a Thoroughbred, and now that people see her, other people have started to show an interest in them,” she says. “This horse is just a trooper. I don’t care how tired she is, or if she’s been at a show for three weeks, she’s going to give 110 percent every time.

“And she moves, very, very well. And she was a fraction of the cost of the other horses in her division. She was a true diamond in the rough.”

George Morris Critiques the local riders (a few years later)

December, 2013 Practical Horseman

December, 2013 Practical Horseman

George with a smile!

George with a smile!

George Morris is one of the top experts on hunter/jumper riding in the world.  He is known to be straight-forward, exact and have high standards.

I strongly recommend his column which appears monthly in Practical Horseman Magazine.  Photos of riders from all over the country are evaluated by him.    George critiques their position, clothing, weight, turn-out and their horse’s ability to jump.  As you read the columns, month after month, and study the pictures, you are able to understand and visualize what the correct riding position is and also what a ‘good’ hunter or jumper should look like.

Rarely is there a moment when we are on horseback, at a show or at the barn with friends, that someone is not taking a picture.  Check out any day on Facebook, you will have plenty of opportunities to critique photos.  All you have to do then is apply what George has taught you, to your own riding, horse and skills.  It isn’t always pretty.

In the beginning, when Lauren was just starting out and we had just “discovered” George, rarely did anything about her riding match his standards.  But as time went on, Lauren and her horses started to approximate more and more what George suggested.  We were never brave enough to actually send a picture in to the magazine.

But local Houston riders, Kavita Sinha and Caitlyn Epperson, did send their photos to George.  Now, both riders are accomplished young women not the youngsters depicted in the photos.  I guess it takes a while for George to get through his mail, like six years.

It is pretty crazy that George picked both ladies out of all his photos to appear side by side, under the heading, Perfect Posture!

Anyway, read, enjoy, and take an opportunity to learn from George!  Congrats, to Kavita and Caitlyn!  George gave both of you pretty high praise.  I bet if he saw them ride now, he would be pretty impressed with the equestrians they have become!

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Final note from George today!

Seems fair enough to me!

Seems fair enough to me!

NCAA Equestrian Sports

Caitlyn and Ky showing their winning style.

Caitlyn and Ky showing their winning style.

Caitlyn, that we have followed in her run at the national equitation finals, her various trips to visit colleges and pursuit of her lofty goals, has made a decision about her college future. She signed her letter of intent with University of Tennessee-Martin and their NCAA Equestrian Team.

In the end, while Cate had visited and appreciated many of the NCAA Equestrian team colleges, including Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M (whom I am sure would have all been happy to have her on board) made the decision to go UT-Martin.  I understand she liked the smaller size of school, the opportunities the coach was presenting her in terms of riding time and location of the school near the heart of the big equestrian center in Lexington, KY (where she might be able to meet up with her current trainer for some extra shows during the year).

I am very proud to know Caitlyn and to have been a small part of her journey.  I talked yesterday of perspective. Although part of family that always had horses,  I did not even know that there was such a thing as NCAA Equestrian sports before I moved to Texas.  Then I started to do a little research and found out more about college equestrian sports.

Actually it was only in 1998, that Equestrian was first classified as an NCAA emerging sport. Originally, there were only six participating teams (Auburn, Fresno State, Georgia, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Texas A&M). Currently, there are 23 colleges and universities offering Equestrian as a varsity sport, with more adding the program each year.

It is not at all like any regular horse show I have ever attended.  In most horse shows, from breed shows like AQHA or APHA to rated national events, the rider buys, trains and rides their own horse.  I have often felt like it can be the story of who can afford the best horse wins, not necessarily who is the best rider.  In NCAA competitions that is all removed.  No one brings their own horse.  Each team has team horses.  And not unlike Bronc Riding in the rodeo, the riders draw for what horse they ride.  If you are the home team, you probably know the horse you are riding, but it is not “your” horse.  If you are the away team, you have a few minutes to warm-up (literally) and off you go into the ring.  I feel that evens the playing field as each team will have an equal number of home and away competitions.

Here are the details– The competition format is head-to-head, where a rider from each team competes on the same horse.  The rider earning the highest score on that particular horse wins the point for their team.  At the end of the competition, the team with the most points wins the competition.  The horse and rider match-up is determined by a random draw.  Prior to their competition ride each competitor is given a four-minute warm-up (five-minute for Reining) to familiarize themselves with the horse and prepare for their competition ride.

Considering most of us work for weeks, months or years to prepare a horse for one show, it is unfathomable to me to jump on a horse, take four minutes and head into the ring.  Man, these riders must be good.  It is important to be able to quickly evaluate, understand and motivate this brand new horse, then go in the ring and win on him.  Unbelievable really.  This format of competition was developed to level the playing field between riders and to allow each rider the same opportunity on the same horse.  There is only one elite level of competition for the four events.

Teams compete in various facets of riding including reining, horsemanship, equitation on the flat and  equitation over fences.  The top national young equestrians from both western and English disciplines are found on these NCAA teams.

Caitlyn with just a few days left of high school will soon be headed off to a new elite world.  She will be representing her school with other top college riders. Not unlike the baseball, basketball, and football players that have dreamed of one day playing college ball, Cate’s dream of riding and representing her college will come true for her as well.    How great is that for a little girl who grew up loving horses?   Ride on, Caitlyn! Ride on!

Lauren on the left, Cate on the right- sharing their favorite thing-a day at a horse show!

Lauren on the left, Cate on the right- sharing their favorite thing-a day at a horse show!     Photo courtesy of Morgan German Photography.