photo by
Tales of Taco the Wonder Horse and his ammy rider on their way to a Training Three Day

Saturday, January 30, 2010

2009 Retrospective

Well, it snowed.  A lot for Nashville-- I read somewhere that we haven't seen this much snow since 1996!  Taco was used to it from his Michigan days, of course.  Still, he looks a little annoyed here, in this picture that Amy took yesterday:

Our street has not even seen a plow yet, and the city seems to have ground to a halt.  It seems unlikely that I will be able to visit with my Handsome Guy today.  However, it is always fun to relive some memories.  So I've copied and pasted some of my competition notes from 2009.  Here is my USEA online competition record (you can click on "Cat Burglar" to get earlier shows he and Annika did), but the stories behind the numbers are so much more interesting!

Our first show last year was Jumping Branch in Aiken, SC, which was a fabulous experience for both of us (link to video).  Then Taco was hurt for a few weeks with a bruised hoof and a new cut on his left hind's scar (both caused by a sprung shoe that I should have prevented, ay yi yi).  But he recovered and we went on to May Daze,  where I rode a mediocre dressage test and showjumping round and we smoked the cross country (link to video).  Then Champagne Run was next.  It was my first win ever at a recognized Horse Trials.  Here is what I wrote right afterward, with pictures.

Taco and I had a great show at Champagne Run. He is a truly lovely horse.

In dressage Jim Graham was our judge, and he gave me the familiar comment that I need to energize his hind end more. Also I let his poll get a little low. But a respectable 34.7, tied for 4th.

Then XC he just came out ready to roll! Actually, it was a little interesting getting to the warmup because we had to go up the steeplechase track and something Very Scary was blowing around on the fenceline. I was a little worried that he would explode in warmup but he got better and better as I jumped some fences. Amy was there and encouraged me to create more energy when I wanted to be a little tentative. We left the start box just cicking along and he was really looking for the next fence after we did each one. I loved the two brush fences on course-- practice for steeple chase! He was a little exuberant off the drop and I had to regroup some, but we had lots of room to get down the hill to the logs before the water (see below pic) and splash through (link to video). Double clear and we moved up to second.

Then in showjumping I got him more forward, as I have been working on. He stepped up and helped me in a couple of places and I did my best to help him do his job.

 Double clear, and it turned out that we had moved up to first! It is my first time winning a recognized H.T. so that is kind of nifty. I won a Moxie saddle pad and a director's chair. Yay blue ribbons and swag!

We did it, Taco!

 We had a couple of good events later in the summer, too.  I took him to Penny Oaks in Indiana in early August.  I had improved the energy in the dressage but lost some of the steadiness and consistency (link to video).  Our jumping was awesome-- a blast on cross country and a solid showjumping round.  I was especially proud because Amy could not be there to coach and I did it all on my own!

Then we went to Kentucky Classique and had our best dressage score to date, a 26.3.  What made a difference was a bit of unorthodox but effective advice from Amy: "trot as fast as you can!"  By golly it worked.  He was swinging through the back and steady and wonderful (link to video).  We cruised around the cross country-- the biggest and most complex I had done yet, I think (link to video).  In showjumping I was pretty nervous, and he saved my @$$ a couple of times (link to video).  What are friends for?  We finished on our dressage score, which was good enough for first place.  This was also the Chronicle of the Horse Central US Adult Team Challenge, and our team came third (that's what the big yellow sash is for).

This photo, taken by Carol, is featured on the USEA Adult Riders page!

KY Classique was the perfect prep for Jump Start, my first Training level event ever.  We had worked up to schooling some Training level jumps over the summer, as in this video from August at Percy Warner Park here in Nashville.

Now it was time to see if our preparation had paid off!  To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement.  But I knew I was on the best horse in the world.  So off we went!  Here is what I wrote afterward:

This past weekend (Sept 26-27) was my first Training Level event! Taco the Wonder Horse and I went to the Kentucky Horse Park for Jump Start Horse Trials. Training level is the level that has jumps 1 meter/ 3'3" high.

I was quite miserable on Saturday morning, a bundle of nerves, rain pouring down and a huge puddle in front of our stalls, Carol not there yet (she arrived later in the morning), and having walked what looked like a huge stadium course the night before. Taco was his usual easy show self as I braided him and got myself together. We did dressage around noon and went down to the complete mud pit of the dressage warmup, where he did not bat an eye at the other horses splashing and cavorting around him. Amy helped me with some turns and transitions (we got a couple of killer lengthenings!) and then it was into the arena. Right after the judge blew the whistle, he must have seen something on the road because his tail went *over his back* and he started to prance. He was still prancing a little when we went down center line and we think it helped his trot wrok, which was quite nice! 31.6 which we thought was quite respectable for a first Training test (link to video). Our lengthenings were not as good as in warmup, of course. But we will work on them and on keeping his poll up in the canter work.

Showjumping was what I was the most worried about. I have had trouble all season developing an energetic canter inside the arena, and the jumps looked so big in there! But I kept telling myself that Taco would find them easy, especially if I got him to them with enough energy and in a good balance. We warmed up great and went on in. And I survived! After letting him get crooked to the first fence, I had trouble getting my lead to the second, then had a nice big jump over the third (a maximum oxer) that landed us a little too far inside a two-stride line. Oh well-- he fixed it for me (good boy Taco!). At the next two fences, both oxers, I started to let him get flat, and he tried hard but we knocked a rail off the second. Then I ran around the next few fences with him in a bit of a flat canter and getting a few chips as he compensated for me (thank you Taco! sorry Taco!). We jumped the last, a triple bar, very nicely and I was done! Coach Amy was very constructive with her comments, noting that I was forward enough but then needed to harness that energy into a springier, not longer, canter. I was so happy with Taco and thrilled that the fences seemed easy for him, despite my mistakes (link to video).

Cross country (link to video ) was just fantastic. The rain had let up during Saturday afternoon, but there was more rain overnight. Still, the turf at the KY Horse Park had been able to absorb an amazing about of water and the ground seemed fine. A few fences with bad footing were taken off the course and warmup (thankfully) was moved from a mud wallow near the start box to one of the arenas. I was nervous, but felt ready and excited about the challenge. My biggest worry was the fence crossings and trying not to fall down. Taco seemed to know that I was especially excited and when it was time he leapt from the start box and over the first fence before I had a chance to take a breath, it seems! Then, running along between the first and second fences, a grin broke out on my face. He was just sailing over things-- he took an amazing leap over a max table, did not even look at the trakehner that had been causing some problems, and was full of enthusiasm. He was just like a Border Collie: " where to next? This one? OK! " We came in with a clean round and about 30 seconds over time. I was thrilled with how wonderful Taco was and I had really enjoyed myself. I wished I had pushed for time a little bit more, because Taco was still full of running at the end, and I think I never got going fast enough again after trotting through the especially icky spot in the fenceline that I was the most worried about. But that all will come! We came in 7th in a division of 20-25 people. And we got a qualifying score for the Training Level Three Day, our goal for 2010!

We go to Middle TN PC in two weeks, which will be our last event of the year. And what a year it has been. Taco is the best!

 Then Middle TN, where we finished on our dressage score of 27.0 (link to video). This is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Annika afterward:

I think this was my best XC yet and the most difficult course I have ever done.  I had never asked him to go faster before today, and he was very willing to do so!  We came in just a few seconds under optimum.  I did my first angle combination, my first coffin with terrain (ditch at the bottom of a dip)(link to video), my first bank up-bank-down-2 strides- house combination, and my first time jumping into and out of water with a log two strides after.  We flew over all of these, plus the fly fences, trakehner, etc..  Then when he was done and I washed him off he just stood with the look of eagles and surveyed his domain.  We are now joking that we are "King Taco" and "Countess Curwood" (because I count audibly to all of my jumps).

I also had a great SJ round-- even Amy was happy with it!  It just flowed and felt easy.  We were in perfect sync (link to video).

Shannon Brinkman got some great pics, and I spent way too much money ordering some....

I drove him home and led him into his field and told him "well done" and he acknowledged me with "thank you kindly, it was no problem." Then I slipped his halter off and he trotted away like he hadn't done a thing today.

Weekends like this one don't come very often... I am savoring it and feeling that life is good.

Our score was good enough for first place. That qualifies us for Area III Championships, and with one more clear round cross country, we will be qualified for the 2010 American Eventing Championships.

It's hard to top a year like that, but I am excited to begin the 2010 season... which will start at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken March 12-14.  I sent the entry this week!

And, just to show we do have fun besides prepping and doing competitions, here's a video from one of our grooming sessions last summer.

Stay warm everybody!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter = Patience

Wintertime is a mixed bag, especially this year.  At the end of November, I realized that trying to finish a big project at work, traveling to Boston for Thanksgiving, attending the USEA convention, and wrapping up the semester were more than enough for me to do.  So I asked Amy (our "provost" from my previous post) to ride Taco for four weeks.

It's not as if Taco needed extensive training-- we had, after all, pulled down some nice scores at last year's events.  I just wanted her to evaluate him, keep him in work, and be better able to help me in lessons.  But it really seems to have brought us to a new level.

What happened was this: after two rides, Amy texted me.  "You can get so much more from him than you're getting!!" she said, and then, when I got back home after Thanksgiving, she showed me what she meant.  Wow!  Taco looked amazing.  He floated around looking like the fancy dressage horse he is.  The next time, I got on.  I was having some fear issues, I will admit.  I hadn't been on him for two weeks, it was windy (I HATE wind), and there was lots of activity at the farm that day, including Tidbit the miniature horse stallion (since gelded) running along the fenceline.

Oooh, scary Tidbit (scary to me, at least!)

I struggled along trying to do the suppling exercise that Amy had found useful on him.  Then she made me get off and showed me what she wanted.  Then I got back on... and I got it!  I sat up tall and pushed him out in front of me.  Amy suggested I try a lengthening and Boom, Boom, Boom!!  I found myself riding the biggest trot I have ever sat on! Woo hoo!  Taco had another gear that I just didn't know existed.

At the end of the four weeks I got the ride back and kept practicing my newfound dressage skills.  Things were going very well until The Cold Snap of 2010.  Nashville is in the South, and most people do not have indoor arenas.  Winters are mild and we do sometimes lose a few days to wet footing but those days are not too frequent.  Unfortunately, this year we tied a record of the longest period of sub-freezing temperatures-- two weeks-- set in 1942.  Great.  The footing was frozen solid.  

Then we had a gorgeous weather week.  We got back to where we had been in the dressage.  We also had a fabulous jump lesson in which I thought we were at least as good as we were last season, if not better!  And then the rains came.  It rained for about a week.  A few times, I hacked around the farm to warm up, then rode in Amy's all-weather round pen, which had the driest footing on the property, and then cooled down hacking around the farm again.  To break things up, I lunged in the round pen too. Not so bad.

Finally, this week things have started to dry out.  I escaped from work early yesterday so that I could have a lesson.  I brought Taco in and began to remove his mud mask (a favorite beauty tratment that he uses often).  And then I saw it.  The outside branch of his right front shoe was bent.  Aaaaargh!!!  Amy took the shoe off and I spent the day fussing over his grooming.

Todd, our farrier, was kind enough to come by this morning and put the shoe back on, but I generally cannot ride on Tuesdays and Thursdays because they are my teaching days.  Even if I had left work early,  I had to go to the dentist immediately after work.  So there Taco was, ready to go, and the footing was good, and I am sitting in the dentist chair getting worked on with that awful drill.

There is a winter storm forecast for tomorrow, and temperatures will not return to the 40s until Monday.

Winter = patience.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Team Taco Members: Some People

Here are some of the people on Team Taco:

Me (Anastasia, Stacy to most): Jockey

I have been riding since 1984.  Here I am on Cherokee that year.

I was a horse-crazy kid despite growing up in the city.  I graduated as a C-3 from Jericho Forest Pony Club (I took my B-test but failed one section-- anyone want to guess what it was?).  My Pony Club horses were my appy mare Shady...

... and a TB/ Hanoverian, Corey, who was leased from a fellow boarder.

I rode intermittently in college, took a year off from school and taught beginners, and then rode through grad school at Princeton University in New Jersey.  Some of the horses were Gusty, a TB/ ConnX...

... Lark ("Sparky"), an OTTB...

... Peabody (a quarter Horse) and Woody (what is he, Heather? I don't have pictures of them), and Patrick, an Irish Sport Horse:

I always told myself that I would get a horse again after I finished my PhD in History in 2003.  So in 2005, after I finished and moved to Nashville, I lucked into an OTTB who needed a home, Banks:
Banks got me riding again after the move and taught me a lot.  Eventually, I understood that he did not enjoy the dressage and cross country phases of eventing, so I found a lower-level hunter/jumper home for him.

When the summer of 2008 came around, Banks was for sale and I was enjoying my friend Elizabeth's draftX, Destiny, and unsure about what I would do next.  That was the moment that Taco fell into my lap.

As a rider, my major challenge is to be assertive: to insist on forwardness, to give clear and unambiguous aids, and to discern what is happening underneath me so that I can take decisive action.  I also struggle with tipping forward and letting the horse get behind me while my upper body gets rigid.  So I constantly have to think about sitting tall and strong, pushing Taco, out in front of me, and staying supple in my arms and shoulders.  Oh yeah, and controlling my mutant right leg, which tends to wander where it shouldn't.

Carol: Dog Wrangler and Sports Psychologist

Carol is my other half and is an essential part of Team Taco.  First, she encouraged me to form a team with Taco in the first place and then helped me buy him.  Also, she comes to almost every show, a true labor of love. At shows, she has two very important roles: dog wrangling and sports psychology.

Here is some dog wrangling at the Kentucky Horse Park:

Carol's considerable sports psychology skills come from her previous job as an international rower, where she represented the US in multiple worldwide competitions between 1998 and 2004, including the 2000  Olympics in Sydney.  So she knows what she is talking about when it comes to playing the mental game.


Carol is an intergral part of Team Taco and I am incredibly lucky to have her.

Amy: Provost

Amy is our coach and trainer, and owns the beautiful farm where Taco lives, Panther Springs.  A student of Sharon Anthony, Tami Crawford, Debbie Atkinson, Jim Graham, and Mike Winter, Amy combines kindness and a genuine desire for her students to succeed with firm prodding to help us get out of our own way.  She patiently explains concepts over and over and over again. She also takes expert care of Taco, thus preserving Stacy's sanity (whatever is left, anyhow).

Steve: Pony Club Dad

Steve was in fact Stacy's Pony Club dad some years ago.  Now he is a long-distance cheerleader and helped Stacy buy Taco.

Wendy: Taco Grandma

Wendy is Stacy's mom and Taco's grandma.  She is very proud of her GrandHorse and also helped make his purchase possible.

Team Taco also relies on the tireless support of Annika (see post from January 23), Lynda (who coined the term "Team Taco", the Chronicle of the Horse Bulletin Board, and the T3DE 2010 Yahoo Group.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Team Taco Members: Taco Himself!

This is the first of a few posts in which I will introduce the members of Team Taco.  First of all is Taco (Cat Burglar) himself.  A 1996 Bay Thoroughbred, with a tiny white star on his forehead, Taco has quite lovely sporthorse bloodlines (his Jockey Club name was different).  He is an amazing athlete, a jokester, a cuddle muffin, and a prince (sometimes I call him HRH Taco).  He is as honest as can be over fences and has gorgeous movement that can dazzle in dressage.  He can be ridiculously silly one moment (what is THAT! Mulch?? Mulch is scary!) and then put in a flawless round or test the next (or mug for a treat, whichever is the activity going on).  He loves carrots, Flax Snax, carrots, Mrs. Pastures cookies, carrots, peppermints, and carrots.

When his previous owner Annika got him through the CANTER organization at age five, he had been a racehorse in Michigan.  He was, as she put it, "full of all sorts of tricks" at first.  He was anxious and reactive, and she hit the ground many, many times in the first year she had him!  When they started eventing, they were always clear cross country (XC) but often dead last in dressage, with comments like "tactful ride."  He also had some scary injuries, including a giant stifle (which led to weeks at New Bolton's hospital at UPENN) and some cellulitis after a laceration to a front leg.

But over time, they developed a beautiful partnership, and Annika's patience and, yes, tactful riding built Taco up into a confident and responsive athlete.  By 2006, they were showing heavily at Preliminary and they did two CCI* competitions (internationally-sanctioned three day events at the Preliminary level).  Annika's photo album is full of their highlight moments.  They were an amazing pair.

Then, in January of 2007, Taco got hurt again. Badly.  He was in a stall at a neighbor's barn (the neighbor was riding him lightly while Annika had to go out of town) and he kicked out at another horse over the stall door.  His left hind leg got caught and he scraped the skin off a large area of the front of the cannon bone (warning: graphic wound photo).  The recovery was not smooth, and took over 14 months.  The wound had seemed to be closing up that spring, and six months later he was back in light work-- but one night the whole leg opened up again.  This complication led to three (four? Annika, correct me here if neccesary!) surgeries on the leg over the course of the next several months, one of which involved some very scary moments in the recovery stall.  In addition, his immune system was in overdrive and he began to develop uveitis (an immune-mediated eye condition).  At one point, Annika feared that she might have to put him down.  But she kept going and, just as it always had, her patience and care paid off.  He had successful surgery on the eye to remove the vitreous and stop the immunological reaction, which might have led to permanent blindness had it continued.  The leg surgeries found some old suture material in the wound and it began to close again.  He came back from the brink and was healing in earnest by the spring of 2008.

In the meantime, however, Annika had made a big decision: to go back to school to become a physician's assistant.  Taco, who was used to being the king of the barn, was in desperate need of a regular work schedule and the attention to which he was accustomed.  Annika and I had known each other on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board for some time, and we had met in person at Rolex in 2008.  I was in the process of selling my old horse, an OTTB who did not want to be an event horse.  Suddenly, everything seemed to click into place.  Taco was coming to Tennessee!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Welcome to the Team Taco blog

In August 2008, Taco (Cat Burglar to the USEA) came to live with me in Tennessee.  He was a lease from my friend Annika in Michigan, who had competed him very successfully at the Preliminary level and generously consented to share him with me while I worked toward my goal of a Training Level Three Day Event (T3D).  We had an amazing year together and when the time came to renew the lease, Annika and I decided that Taco and I ought to be permanent partners.  I became his official owner in December 2009.

Here are some photos of us from the last 16 months.

Taco is, to put it mildly, my dream come true.  It is hard to put how I feel about him into words, but this excerpt from an email I wrote to Annika is an approximation:

I've loved other horses and they all were special in their own way but Taco is simply *more* special.  He is both incredibly athletic and incredibly kind (with a sense of humor), and one of those horses with that impossible-to-define quality of Presence.  I've already learned so much from him.

I have gone farther than I ever thought I could with Taco, and this year is a big year for us:  after moving up to Training level last fall, we are working toward a T3D this fall.  Taco was ready to do it a year ago, but I am developing my skills and learning how to be the best possible partner for him.

Taco has had an amazing life history up to this point and I will post stories sometime soon.