Friday, August 31, 2012

Another lesson on Wednesday

Limerick and I had another lesson with Christine on Wednesday. It was quite the eye-opener!

We rode in the indoor arena this time, due to hard footing in the outdoor arena from the recent heavy rains (hopefully it's dragged after the rains expected this weekend from Hurricane Isaac). We again worked on my leg position--which was greatly improved from the first lesson--and keeping the reins short. We practiced at the walk, trot, sitting trot and canter. At the end of the lesson, we went over some raised cavaletti.

Rather than being 90% well-behaved, Lim was 100% well-behaved, despite the boogeyman (a.k.a, a guy playing with his dog in a nearby yard) outside the open rear arena door. Good girl!

At the very end of the ride, I dismounted and Christine rode Lim for a few moments. This is where the eye-opener comes in--Lim is crooked! She is well-muscled on her right side but not her left, and has difficulty tracking to the right, and also shows great preference for going to the left whether she's doing lateral moves, trotting, walking or just standing still (she will turn her head to the left freely while standing, but not to the right).

I told Christine that I have sciatic nerve pain sometimes, and am aware that I can be crooked. She said that Lim and I could be feeding off one another, particularly since I'm the only person that rides her, and she's the only horse that I ride.

She gave me some tips on correcting some of this through lateral work and spending more time tracking right while riding. I will also try to not use the right cross-tie on Lim when grooming and tacking up. You see, she likes to crib on that cross-tie, and I realized that the accumulated hours over the years of cribbing on that right cross-tie could be increasing muscle mass on her right side, but not her left. We will start with these steps, then I plan to have some chiropractic work done on Lim over the winter, or once she's a little more balanced, muscle-wise.

I am glad that I know about this now and can take steps to correct it before it leads to pain for Limerick.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I had a riding lesson last night

I had a riding lesson with Christine of Teener Thoroughbreds last night. Christine has begun teaching weekly lessons at my barn and I wanted to take advantage of her expertise. Besides, it has been over ten years since I took lessons regularly--gasp!

I started off by showing her some basic signs that past instructors had used for simple commands such as walk, trot, canter, reverse direction and stop. For more complicated instructions, she was to beckon me over to the middle of the arena. Teaching a deaf student riding lessons can be a bit of a challenge, but both parties always adapt quickly. I also told her I wanted to work on my posture (I felt that I slumped forward too much while riding) as well as Limerick's overall fitness, which is more important than ever as she ages.

She watched me warm Limerick up and after I had walked Lim a lap, she beckoned me over and suggested that I either lengthen my stirrups by one hole or push my legs back. Doing so would open up my hip angle and allow me to sit up straighter. Although I'm a runner, I found it difficult to keep my legs pushed back. After a while, I asked if we could just lengthen my stirrups a hole and she said no, I have to be challenged! Ha--fine!

We then worked on me shortening my reins. I admit it--I ride with way-too-long reins. I'm not entirely sure why, but there it is. In order to shorten the reins, she had me sit deep and lean back. In between leaning back and pushing my legs back, I felt like a gymnast contoured into a backwards 'C' shape but I know it didn't actually look like that.

We trotted and all went well, then Christine asked for a canter. I was expecting Limerick to misbehave a little bit at the canter, and she did not disappoint. Don't get me wrong--she was about 90% great at the canter. However, just like the little girl with the curl, when Miss Lim is bad, she's very bad! But I rode through her bucking fits and attempt at bolting without much issue. Next time, I think riding her a day or two before the lesson will take some of the edge off!

Towards the end of the lesson, Christine had me ride Lim with short reins at the trot, and we did some figure eights in the middle of the arena, as well as over a pole. By then, Miss Lim was light and responsive. We ended the lesson on that good note.

The lesson was a big step towards polishing my riding skills and granting Lim the fitness to weather her senior years with greater ease. I have another lesson in a couple weeks, and I am already looking forward to it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Belmont Park and Saratoga

On Sunday July 29, my husband and I drove from our home in Chicagoland to York, Pennsylvania. There, we stayed for three days with his family. Our stay in Pennsylvania may have consisted of most of our trip, but the best was yet to come.

On the morning of Thursday August 2, we bid my husband's family farewell and took to the road again. Our destination was Elmont, New York--home of Big Sandy, a.k.a. Belmont Park.

I was born in White Plains, a suburb of NYC, and hadn't been to New York since 1997. Even though we were only passing through, a nostalgic part of me was thrilled to be going through the city with my husband (whom I met in 2003). As we approached the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the traffic slowed to a crawl. It didn't bother me in the least--it was our welcome to New York City, and it meant we were almost there!

Entering the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

But before Belmont Park, we had one important stop to make. With the help of Google maps, I found a florist shop a short distance away from the racetrack. At the shop, after deliberating, I asked the florist to assemble a red and white bouquet with various flowers, including roses, for $25. The result was a gorgeous and surprisingly heavy and lush compilation of flowers. Bouquet in hand, we returned to the car and found our way to the gates of Belmont Park.

That red and white bouquet was to play a very important role in my life. It was about to fulfill a dream I had for over 20 years; a dream that took form when, as a young girl, an almost-black filly burst to life within the storied imagination of my mind--she who led every race from start to finish, she who was undefeated and won by open lengths, she who broke and equaled stakes and track records with joyous ease, she who died because her body gave out before her heart. But of course, this almost-black filly wasn't imagination. She was reality, and she was the greatest filly to ever grace a racetrack. She was Ruffian.

Since seeing Ruffian outside of old race replay videos and the countless photographs I've viewed of her over the years was impossible, it was a private dream to visit her final resting spot and lay flowers upon it. But Belmont Park is a very long way from Chicago, and her grave is not open to the public.

But the stars aligned, and somehow we were granted special access, and at last I had the chance to have a longtime dream fulfilled.

When we arrived at Belmont Park, we met with our contact, whom turned us over to a security guard. The guard was an older gentleman, but fit, with kind eyes. We found out shortly that he had seen Ruffian run, and had been present at Belmont Park during her fatal match race. He had incredible respect for the great filly, and his presence made the experience all the more profound.

We were guided across Big Sandy and the turf courses. In the distance, beneath the flagpole just past the finish line, was her grave. To say I had chills was an understatement.

We arrived, and I unwrapped the bouquet from the plastic flower sleeve and tissue paper. Red and white, for her Locust Hill Farm colors. I placed the flowers at the foot of her headstone.

We took photos and absorbed the scene for a while. The guard talked about Ruffian, and for a few moments we were transported back a little over 37 years, and it was another day at Belmont Park, and a big almost-black filly with a long dreamlike stride moved around the track like a phantom from another dimension.

 Dk. B or Br. F. 3 by Reviewer - Shenanigans by Native Dancer
Breeder and Owner - Mr. and Mrs. Stuart S. Janney Jr.
Trainer - Frank Y. Whiteley Jr.
Undefeated Two-Year-Old Filly Champion of 1974
Winner of the Fashion, Astoria
Sorority and Spinaway Stakes
Winner of the Three-Year-Old Filly Triple Crown of 1975
The Acorn, Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks
In addition to the Comely Stakes.

Then it was time to head back. We took these photos as we went in an effort to capture the experience of walking over the tracks. We also had a tour of the paddock, and went to an upper floor of the grandstand to get photos of the view.

Winter Memories loved this turf

Outer turf course

Big Sandy

Big Red oversees the paddock

One can't help but picture Secretariat winning by 31 lengths

Then it was on to Albany, where we stayed for the night. The next morning we went to historic Saratoga Race Course, the oldest racetrack in North America. Saratoga (as well as Belmont Park) are two tracks I have always wanted to visit. History seeps from the very ground of these tracks, particularly Saratoga--the Spa, the Graveyard of Champions!

Again, the stars aligned and we were granted access to the paddock. I am easily awed by all things racing, so I was bowled over when I found out we could enter the paddock as we pleased. Here are a few photos I liked in particular.

Inside the paddock

Sea Hero oversees the paddock

Smart Believer
Mrs. Calabash
Warming up

Warming up

Smart Believer winning her first start

A painter in the paddock

Hot pony

Midnight Taboo

Jocosity winning a maiden for two year olds

Tahoe Lake before the John's Call (above four)

Inscrutable after the John's Call

The speedy It's Me Mom being saddled for the Honorable Miss

Maple Forest (and Barbara Livingston) before the Honorable Miss

The lovely Maple Forest (Honorable Miss)

Island Bound (Honorable Miss)

Belle of the Hall (Honorable Miss)

CC's Pal (Honorable Miss)

Beat the Blues (Honorable Miss)

It's Me Mom (Honorable Miss)

Maple Forest (Honorable Miss)

CC's Pal driving to the win in the Honorable Miss

CC's Pal returning (Honorable Miss)

Ponies await the final race of the day

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dara--the happy conclusion

I was out of town all of last week and arrived home Saturday. Our visit included trips to Belmont Park and Saratoga, and the experience at both tracks was out of this world. I will post photos later in the week!

In the meantime, I need to post a much-needed update on Dara.

Early in July, I was interviewed over email by Marcus Hersh of the Daily Racing Form. Hersh had caught wind of Dara's retirement and thought it a story worth telling. I was flattered and happy to cast light upon this wonderful old warrior of a mare. He warned me that the story may only be a blurb, although he would push for it to be longer.

In the meantime, Christine (of Teener Thoroughbreds) and I continued our search for the right home for Dara. On July 19, a family consisting of a woman and three daughters visited Dara. The oldest girl, age 16, and her mom had been following Dara's story from the start. It dawned upon them that they would be the right home for her. They had some older OTTBs, and the one the oldest girl had been riding was getting up in years. At the same time, her riding skills were advancing and she was ready for a greener horse. Over the course of two years, in her mind's eye, she began to envision herself riding a chestnut mare named Dharma.

The visit went as perfectly as it could go, and the family was officially in love with Dara. I interviewed the prospective owner on Facebook to get a feel for her, her experiences, and her plans for Dara. She provided references to Christine. I googled the prospective owner. Everything checked out, and I had a great feeling while interviewing her. It just felt right, for lack of better words. I remembered telling Christine a few weeks prior that Dara was the kind of horse that would love being fussed over by young girls, and now that statement was coming true for her.

One by one the pieces of the puzzle, which had once seemed scattered far and wide, began to fall into place for Dara. I went from searching for pasture boarding for Dara and staring at my budget, trying to estimate how long I could afford to board two horses, to crying at work because I knew Dara had found her home.

I cried out of happiness, gratitude, sadness, and everything in between. From the very start, I hadn't allowed myself to become emotional. I had been so sure that I would tear up when Lori and I retrieved Dara from Mountaineer, but I didn't. Each time we had cleared one hurdle, all I could think was "Okay, one down, how many more to go?" By my personal nature, I am very guarded with my emotions.

But now, with Dara finding her home at long last, everything came tumbling out.

We made plans to trailer Dara (now named Dharma) to her new home on Friday, July 27. Fittingly, on Thursday July 26 (my wedding anniversary), the story on Dara by Hersh was released online.

Retired racehorses: One fan does her part to find mare a home, by Marcus Hersh

I was blown away by how lengthy and thorough the story was. It was a timely tribute, and I hope it inspires other folks to take a chance on a racehorse--whether it's a horse they are following on the track that clearly needs a second career, an already-retired horse awaiting adoption, or a well-trained, older retiree that needs a new home.

Doing all this for Dara was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I wasn't alone. I couldn't have done it without the help of countless people: my husband, Christine, Lori (and her hard-working truck), Jackie E., Mary J., my parents, the many people that bought jewelry from me while I was fundraising, and countless others.

Driving away from Woodstock Equestrian

Stepping off the trailer at the new home

Welcome home, Dharma

Checking out her new indoor arena

Dharma and proud new owner

Dharma and I saying goodbye (but not forever) Photo by Daisy Austin