March 7th

This weekend we have all been enjoying another great CDI. I can't get over how big the shows are this year! But with the small tour horses looking for spots on the Pan Am teams and the Grand Prix riders working vying for World Cup spots you can see how things have been busy. On Thursday I watched a couple of hours of the Grand Prix and got to see a couple of fantastic horses. Lisa Wilcox, Tinne Wilhemson, Laura Graves, and Mikala Gunderson are all such elegant riders that just watching them sit on their horses is inspiring.

Speaking of elegant, I thought that I should just mention some things that are new in fashion. The big thing seems to be the technical fabrics for the shadbellies. They are lightweight, stream-lined, and while they are mostly navy blue, the collars and points come in many different colors. Most of the coats have a little bling, at least the buttons sparkle. Most riders now compete in helmets, though Lisa Wilcox still looks fabulous in her top hat. stock ties are getting more and more elegant, with fabrics that look like silk or satin and pins that look like antique jewelry. In the schooling ring, brown boots are still hot. I particularly like the lighter brown with darker tops. I am seeing a lot of polo shirts in bold colors with a darker diagonal stripe. Many riders are wearing the cooling shirts with SPF protection both on and off their horses.

If you are a hunter, keep your Charles Owen helmet. Wear it on your horse, on your golf cart, while on your moped, and while driving your truck or range rover (while unmounted it will be unbuckled). Also, you don't have to take off your boots or spurs for trips to the grocery store or out to dinner. Dressage riders do not do this, probably because our boots are stiffer and our spurs longer so we would probably kill ourselves trying to walk.

Riding clothes out and about are always in fashion here and nobody looks at you strangely when you drive your huge truck to dinner and eat at a fancy restaurant without changing out of your show clothes. This place if fabulous!

March 11th

Another week and there is another CDI down here. This week the show as so large that they had to move the jog to Tuesday and start the competition on Wednesday. I love that the shows are so large and well attended, but sadly it meant that I had to miss my Tuesday lesson since George had to help his CDI riders at the show. I have had fewer lessons this year than in years past so I have been looking for more educational experiences down here. While in the past I would have gone to a symposium, I now have Kate with me most of the time and the prospect of getting her to sit still for hours on end while I take notes at a symposium seems daunting. So I now catch training in smaller little bits. I watch friends take lessons with Kathy Connelly, or just ride in the same ring while she is teaching. I also try to watch not just the tests at the show, but the warm up as well. There are incredible trainers down here and I learn something every time that I watch. While everyone now wears the wireless teaching system, if you stand close to the instructor you can still hear. Recently, I have listened as Oded Schooled Tuny Paige, Debbie McDonald worked with Silva Martin, And Ernst Hoyos worked with Lisa Wilcox. Sometimes I can't hear a thing but it is still beneficial to watch the riders warm up. Fortunately, there are still trainers who do not use, and do not need the wireless system. Robert Dover and Michael Barrisone are both fantastic at projecting their voices and I can usually hear everything that they say.

While all of these different trainers say things in different ways and use different exercises, the successful riders always seem to have horses who are forward thinking and appear to be engaged in their work. The PSG and the Grand Prix are very hard tests for horses, even the most physically talented, but the trainers who are able to keep the horses feeling fresh and interested in their work continue to develop horses to this level. These top riders are so precise in their riding. They use every corner, and set up every movement well ahead of time. You can see them using shoulder fore to prepare for each half pass and pirouette. When they have a mistake in the changes they just ride through like nothing happened and start thinking and planning for the next movement. The past couple of shows I have really enjoyed watching Laura Graves rider her WEG mount "Diddy". They are long time partners and have a great connection. Many of the combinations at this level have been together for a long time, if not since the beginning of the horse's training. I will try to watch as much as possible this weekend and report back!

March 14th

Last night Kate and I went to watch the Grand Prix Freestyles for the CDI. Who in the world would take a three year old to watch over two hours of dressage? Apparently, I would. We were very lucky girls and Betsy had invited us to sit at her table in the VIP tent, so at least Kate was able to run around while I watched (and had a glass of wine). This season the very tough competition has really brought out the best of the best and all the rides were very good. There was only one horse who panicked about being in such an over stimulating ring under the lights. I can't imagine most of our horses dealing with this sort of environment. They are under lights with people sitting all around and eating, all along one side of the arena with glasses and cutlery clinking.

Anyway, Lisa Wilcox took an early and commanding lead when she scored a 76 on Pikko Del Cerro HU. Most combinations including, Juan Matute Jr., Jackie Brooks, Tuny Page, and Lauren Sammis scored in the lower seventies. Later in the evening some of the other heavy hitters started to push the scores up. Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven on Benetton Dreams scored just under 73, Ashley Holzer on Dressed in Black had a 73, and Lars Petereson on the indefatigable mare Mariett had a 74. Of course Laura Graves on Verdades blew them all out of the water with a 79. Their rides was really a pleasure to watch. The most remarkable element for me was just how active the piaffe stayed while remaining in place. The horse looked very strong and confident and Laura is a very elegant rider. She stayed beautifully in time with her music and all of her transitions looked seamless. Every time I watch one of these high performance competitions I feel a little pang of regret that I am not the one in the show ring, but if you have to be on the sidelines watching this level of competition, it is a great consolation.

Today I will try to go back to the show and watch a little of the national show. I hope to see Lisa Gorretta once more before she leaves. She has been here at a TD for the CDI. And I might get a chance to watch Heidi Kohl show again in the national show today.

I always see a few people from home each time I go anywhere down here. The other day I was shopping at the big new Dover store, and I ran into Nan Patterson from Erie. Hopefully when all of us refugees from the cold head home in a few weeks the weather up North will finally have warmed up!

March 17th

Today was a lesson day. It was going to be 90°, so I was happy to get a lesson time at 11. Camillo and I headed out for our hack over to Blue Marlin. It takes us about 20 minutes and by the time we arrived Camillo was sweating and thought that maybe we should be done for the day. But of course when George brought out the piaffe whip to work on half steps he woke up a bit. Camillo has mixed feelings about half steps. On the one hand George is there with a whip, but on the other hand George gives him sugar. We worked in taking the energy from the half steps into the rest of the trot work. Then we worked on the counter changes in the half pass. Improving the way that we come out of the corner for the first half pass seems to be the key. It is always about the corners.

Back at Havensafe there was another High Performance clinic going so I rode Ruffino in the front ring with Kathy teaching and Ryan riding a naughty little stallion. About half way through our ride the neighbor children thought if a great new game involving putting a small child in a car which was on top of a slide. Down the slide and down the driveway came the screaming child eventually hitting the grass and toppling said screaming child out right next the arena. After a few repetitions of this Ryan's naughty little stallion and horses lunging in the lunging circle were snorting with their tails over their backs. Ruffino held it together which made me very happy. So I ended his ride on a good note and called it a day!

March 19th

Today Bev and I took Camillo and Ruffino out to school at the show in Loxahatche. The last time we went it rained for the whole weekend, but this weekend it looks like it is going to be hot, hot, hot. The forecast shows temperatures in the 90s all weekend with hight humidity. I am not sure that the horses will like that kind of weather as much as I do. Their accommodations at the show are less than ideal, being in tent stalls without great ventilation. They will truly appreciate their huge airy stalls at Betsy's when we get them home on Sunday!

In the afternoon, Kate and I came back to Little Ranches and met up with Jeni Hren-Gaffney who is in town for the weekend. Jeni is here for the Breast Cancer Benefit which is where the quadrille, that Kate and I watched the practices for, will be performed. The benefit is tomorrow so Jeni had no plans for the evening and chose to come over to Sue's with us to go swimming. Many evenings, Kate and I go to our friend Sue's house for a swim. Sue has the most lovely salt water pool which she keeps heated to a perfect 94 degrees. Kate is learning to swim like a fish and I always enjoy a refreshing dip too.

When we leave Florida in a couple of weeks, swimming at Sue's is one of the many things that I will miss. I will miss watching world class horses and riders, palm trees and lizards, feeling normal wearing riding clothes and driving a big truck wherever I go, my yoga class (torturous though it may be), seeing the old men who play a game of stick ball each morning in a local parking lot (being retired seems a lot like being a child again), and, of course, I will miss the weather. When the end of the season rolls around I always feel anxious about going home and start to wish that I had accomplished more while here. Oh well, there is always next year and there is a lot to do at home, too.

March 21st

Well the show has certainly been warm. It has reached 90 each day so far with high humidity. Camillo developed a mean case of fungus so I did not compete him yesterday. I got it somewhat under control and showed today. He was good but we needed a little more zip, which is somewhat hard to come by in this weather. Ruffino lucked out and had an early ride while it was still fairly cool. He did well and was not nearly as over-heated as Camillo was by his noon ride.

I was happy today that I had my new show coats. As much as I like hot weather, I don't think that I would have enjoyed putting on wool today. I have a short coat and a tail coat in the newer technical fabrics which are cooler and also washable!

We tried to keep the poor horses out of their stalls and in the shade as much as possible. The bugs were terrible and gallons of fly spray seemed to have little effect. Tomorrow will be another hot and steamy day, but at least the horses both show before 11. It will be a very early morning, but it will be great to get the boys back to their nice cool stalls at the barn with lots of fans on them before the real heat of the day!

March 24th

So today while I was waiting in line at the coffee shop at the old Wellington Mall, I realized that I was standing behind George Morris! For anyone who did not grow up reading his jumping critique in Practical Horseman, this encounter will not seem so exciting. But, for those of you who are familiar with this icon of equitation, you will understand my delight. As I child I would wait each month for my copy of practical horseman. I would read it cover to cover and I would always pay special attention to the Jumping Clinic with George Morris. George was stickler for just about everything, and in those long ago days before political correctness was the order of the day, he did not hesitate to mention someone's weight or unattractive appearance. I was always shocked that people were brave enough to send pictures of themselves to this man. He rarely doled out praise but was very quick to criticize position, attire, weight, and general impressions. These days I love reading the "What Would George Morris Say" joke articles that are out and about. In 2008 I attended a benefit for Equestrian Aid where they had a roast of George and it was really very funny. Many of his most famous former students told some very interesting stories about the good old days. The things that George got up to while showing at Madison Square Garden barely bare repeating. In case you are interested, George apparently gets the same thing for lunch every day - this according to the proprietor of this little coffee shop.

March 28th

Today I have a great lesson with Debbie McDonald. The focus of the lesson was finding cadence in the trot and encouraging Camillo to carry himself better in the canter. There were so many helpful ideas, but here are some: concentrate the half halt primarily on the outside rein and make sure not to pull back on the inside rein. To make sure that you don't pull on the inside rein, pat the neck with that hand. Make sure not to keep asking for things. Ask, then give the horse a chance to respond. Use the subtlest aid possible first every time. Use a little haunches in or renver to put the horse in a position to need to collect himself.

I loved how soft and responsive Camilo was when we worked in this system. I hope that I got enough of a feel for things to incorporate this work into our training!

As my days in Wellington grow short I find that I get more desperate to soak up all of the kernels of horse knowledge that I can before going home.

Stay tuned.........more to come!