Return to Wellington

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Jack and Benson

There’s great fun in Wellington Florida without having horses here! Who knew? Last year during my husband’s sabbatical he gave me the greatest gift of my life, (besides our five cool kat kids). He encouraged and supported us to take three horses, two dogs, four cats, and two kids to live and train in Wellington for four months. While Jack attended Lendon’s program I was able to participate there by teaching the fitness in the mornings, and then I could zip over to my barn where I trained with Mica Mabragana. Craig managed all the household chores and Kira’s school shuttle while I had horseplay all day every day.

 

As I look back on it now I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he would give me such a gift of a lifetime to experience a season as a family in Wellington. We were in limbo at that time wondering where God would take us next in his career knowing a big move was on the rise. My heart longed for a horse farm while I cycled my bike around the beautiful farms of Wellington. I hoped and prayed he would find a job in South Florida. Thankfully we landed in beautiful Hillsborough NC on a farm that supersedes my wish list. What a wild ride this year has been for us. Looking forward, I hope for some happy trails.

 

For my birthday this week I wanted to return to Wellington to visit friends, sit in the stands at Global to refresh my eye with gorgeous dressage horses, and observe as many lessons as possible. Being here this weekend was a whirlwind of fun. Everywhere we turned I ran into people we adore and shared great memories of a season past, yet memorable and meaningful to us all. Every meal was spent arranging impromptu meals with friends we made last year. We arrived without a single plan, yet the nature of working with horses creates a flexibility and a be-present-now approach to living making it possible to connect without scheduling it weeks in advance. I love that.

 

I don’t have the same desire to be here every season, but I do hope I will be back with horses. And I can definitely imagine myself splitting my year here after spending my first winter in NC. Mostly it is good to know four days observing good dressage can recharge my spirit for my horses at home. I really can’t wait to go back and get in the saddle…that is…after I hug my sweet husband for giving me the horsey life.

 

And furthermore, I am rejuvenated to write about this horsey life again. There’s so much adventure on a horse farm to share maybe you would like to follow along.

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Staggering out of 2018

goodbye momAs 2018 comes to a close I lack closure. I am unsteady. I wobble with the events of the year almost as if I am drunk, incapable of walking a straight line into 2019. The year began with a lifetime high learning adventure with my family and horses in Wellington, Florida as we were experiencing dressage in the world capital for four months. During our short stay, Craig’s mom, Gloria’s, cancer took a critical turn to where we face the ultimate reality of her body declaring it’s end on this earth was fast approaching. Within days of turning fifty, I became a grandmother myself in March and my life was transformed by the love for the child of my child. My heart bonded with Gloria in a new way and I longed to sit with her and talk about what it means to be a grandmother. I set her high as the great example of always persevering in her love for our five children through the years. I wondered if I could be as good a grandmother for the next generation as she was for our kids. I doubted myself next to her shiny presence. Memories of her arriving with open arms twice a year eager to get on the floor with them and meet them as they are, where they are and just marvel at their uniqueness is how I will remember her best.

 

She was a role model for me in most of my life as I grew to become a wife, mother, home maker, Christian and finally grandmother. I ached and pained as I faced the rest of my life without her. I drew inwards. I feared her dying because of the unbelievable pain it would cause in me. I wasn’t sure how to look her death in the eye. I lacked courage for this pain.

 

In May Craig accepted a new job with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. We were moving our family within weeks of this decision. In May Gloria moved to hospice. I transported Jack and his horse to his show where our trainer met them so I could fly to New Jersey to say my final goodbye to her. I was the last one in the family to arrive and I got to spend twenty-four hours with her in her final hours. She was radiant as she anticipated going to be with Jesus. I couldn’t get over her peace and joy as she prepared to go into her eternal life. We were all sad but simultaneously dumb founded by her beauty.  Her room had a lovely view of the hills over a horse farm. When I stepped outside I distinctly remember the sensations of nature, the physical existence overwhelming me entirely. I could hear the birds in amplified sound. I could feel the wind as if it were a great hand touching me. I could smell the earth all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I shivered in the fullness of my senses. The sky appeared enormous. I felt God’s presence there. I knew he was enveloping her with love and peace and joy. I felt in my bones how her going home to him was greater than any experience on this earth. I was a witness to the transfer of her to Him in a spiritual way and though I was dripping tears and sobbing from my swollen heart I also felt pure awe. We don’t get out of here alive and if there is a way to go I want to again have her as my role model for leaving this earth.

 

In May I flew to North Carolina to find our family a new home where we could live with our horses at a fair distance from Craig’s new office.

 

In May we flew to New Jersey to celebrate the life of Gloria LaTorre after she went to her eternal home with God.  When I sat alone with my God and felt her loss in my life I had an urge to share an important story I alone knew about her. I did understand it was God poking my shoulder a little bit suggesting I ought to share what I knew about her. I thought yes God I will obey you, and then at no time was I asked if I had something to say so I never stepped forward. It was my first funeral in my life and I was an emotional mess. At her memorial service I wanted to share a piece of her life I alone knew, but I lacked the courage to do it.

 

In June we sold our home and prepared to move. In July Craig returned to work in his new position with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. In August we packed up our lives in Texas and drove across the country for three days to begin a new life on our farm in North Carolina. Within days Kira began attending a new school where she had to make new friends.

 

The day I arrived in North Carolina to meet Craig his father had a stroke and went to the hospital. We moved into our house the next day. I took Kevin to Ireland for a week to help him move into his new semester in Ireland as a student. I have moved twelve times in my marriage and every time Craig’s mom was my cheerleader. She was the one who celebrated with us as we discovered our new hometown. She loved seeing what we did with our new houses and encouraged me so much in the difficulties of moving a family. I was alone this move.

 

In September hurricane Florence visited us preventing our horses from moving to North Carolina as planned. In October, hurricane Michael barreled through our farm. And then the rains came to stay for months, even now they have not left us.

 

Meanwhile our seventeen-year-old Jack struggled to make North Carolina home though all of his friends were in Texas. He experienced despair and loss. I gave a lot of hugs. My mama’s heart was heavy for him.

 

I had never worked so physically hard in my life once the horses arrived on our farm. It was a consuming busy with the move and the transition from suburbanites to horse farm owners.

 

In November Craig’s father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. This arrested our lives and held us captive to experience again the fullness of losing mom not so long ago. My husband felt lost like an orphan facing the second half of his life. The service for his father was the greatest sadness because we never had the wonderful good-byes and last words we savored with mom. His passing over to her caused us all to feel her absence again with greater intensity. They are gone. A generation ended. This thrusts us at a young fifty into the leadership of the family and generations to come. We fee ill-equipped to guide and lead as they always have done for us. It is such a sensation of being lost and unprepared, left behind, and speechless. Downcast. Alone. Wondering.

 

Two of my cats are grooming each other in a chair as I write. Their care for one another and companionship is the simplicity of living I hope for until I pass over to be with God for eternity. I don’t want to be alone here and that’s how I find peace understanding that Dad didn’t want to be here without mom. I get it. I hope I go first. Craig hopes he goes first. Unfortunately for our kids, if we can go together that would be the best.

 

So here I am at the end of December. There wasn’t a gift check from dad in his signature scribble penmanship. We didn’t receive our “rent check” from them as they had put their houses in our names for tax purposes and wrote us a funny rent check at Christmas  in Dad’s scribbly scrawl. Kira and I unpacked the book they gave her a few years ago where they recorded their voices reading to her “The Night Before Christmas”. I was trembling as I changed the batteries in this book because I was so excited to hear their voices again. I thought the greatest treasure of all was here in my hands. In despair, we experienced the failure of the battery having corroded and erasing their voices. It didn’t work. I couldn’t resurrect their voices. I sobbed uncontrollably.  Their presence and voices at Christmas were gone.  Their absence was loud in its silence.  I long for them. I regret not making them fantastically important in our everyday lives. I regret so much and that feels terrible.

 

As I stagger unsteady at the end of 2018 I wonder if I say now what I ought to have shared about Mom at her memorial if I will have peace with their departure. Maybe. Here it is.

 

I was an oddity of a person to mom most of my life with her. I know she scratched her head and wondered what makes this girl tick. But when we decided to adopt Kira she at long last could see my heart and loved me anew as we journeyed to Uganda to bring home the newest member of the LaTorre family. She was Kira’s best friend from the very beginning. Kira knew her grandma so well and she knew she was loved deeply. It brought her such a wonderful security. When Gloria was seventy-five she asked to join me on a trip to Uganda to visit the children’s home we opened. Her heart was full of love for these children and she wanted to know them. We journeyed from America to Africa together and spent a week in my Ugandan apartment. We couldn’t rely on the water to flow. We had to wash laundry by hand in buckets. We bathed from a bucket. We walked in mud. She was a lady who always appeared in public perfectly dressed so she worried about her hair. We didn’t have a hair dryer that would work with our low electricity but I found her using the fan to dry her hair. She was beaming as she said, this works great! I was really proud of her for being so flexible. She slept on the bottom bunk in a room with Jack and Kira under a mosquito net. We ate simple food. We spent every day loving and teaching the children about God together. She never complained about the conditions and remained positive about the unusual challenges of life in a third world country. She made me so proud and everyone who met her was honored to know she was the mother of “Daddy Craig”, the leader of Kirabo Seeds, our nonprofit to help orphaned children.

 

One day we were visiting one of the grandmothers of a child in our home. This toddler in a filthy denim overall dress emerged from the bushes. She followed us. She was dirty from head to toe which is so unusual for children in Uganda. There might be dust everywhere, and they might not have a proper house to live in but everyone takes pride in keeping their children exceptionally clean. The fact that this child was so dirty meant something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t long before this little girl was in the arms of Gloria. We inquired about her and learned her father was considered by the locals as insane and she lived with her elderly grandfather in a camp. She spent most of her time alone wandering as she was that day. We asked the local council person of the village if we could take her home and clean her up and feed her and we were granted permission. This child, Rhonah, clung to Gloria for days as we sorted out what was best for the child. By the end of the week Rhonah was a new member of our children’s home and Gloria had vowed to love her and help her grow in our care. Today she is an exceptional child, smart, hard working and secure.

 

It isn’t often I bring someone to Uganda to do this difficult work of orphan care where by the end of it I feel I would like them to return with me again. I begged Craig’s mom to return with me some day and she said she would love to have the opportunity.

 

That never came to be. Ovarian cancer abruptly altered the path of her life. The memories we made together in Uganda were a once in a life time opportunity. I am so thankful as her daughter-in-law I was able to escort her on this journey to Uganda where she helped us welcome a child to our home. It was a beautiful bonding experience between us. For all the ways, I was a mystery to her I believe on that trip she was able to connect with me about what was truly important in life. We shared a secret bond. I saw her blow dry her hair with a fan and a smile on her face. I saw her rescue an orphaned child and change her life forever. I saw her love people she didn’t know because God was in her loving them through her.

 

I miss you Gloria. There is a great chasm in my life you emptied when you went home to be with God. I have to live with that emptiness. I don’t know how to do that and it causes me to walk forward like I’m drunk, unsteady, altered.

 

It’s hours before 2019 rings into our lives. I need a solid ground to walk on this year. I need it. I am a new grandmother. I walk alone in unchartered grounds with my life. I wish they could see our new home. She said to me before she died, “I want to see you riding your horse on your property with a great smile on your face.” This has come true. I hope somehow she can see it. I hope somehow this new year gives us courage and strength to go forward without Don and Gloria. For now, I still feel the shock of their absence. The grief of missing their voices on the phone, the arrival of their visit. I hope the new year brings balm and salve. I hope God will carry me in his mighty hand with a steadiness as he sets me on the new solid ground of 2019 where I take steady steps forward without the ever present “hoo-rah” cheers from mom and dad. We enter 2019 without our earthly parents and for a seriously real and sobering sense of need we anticipate God the father showing us the way forward. Please God guide our steps and fill our emptiness.

The New ‘Carolina LaTorres’ prepare for Florence. Here’s the scoop.

Our new home in the Carolinas has given us sensory pleasures to cause us to wonder if this is a glimpse of heaven. We have hawks playing on the fence line. There are fish jumping in the lake. There are blue tailed lizards playing hide and seek with us. Neighbor horses graze in sight of the kitchen. There are green frogs stuck to the windows in the morning and playing keep away with the dogs. Spider webs that appear overnight are impressive. And there are the people. The most helpful and kind I have yet to meet. I fall deep into stories with everyone I meet and wonder if I will be invited to their child’s christening the next moment because surely we have become inseparable on our life journey. Kira’s new friend at school in her class was also adopted from Uganda! Ali Perkins arrived September first with her Grand Prix horse, Sante. We have our realtor’s loaner horse to keep him company. It’s been great fun preparing for the arrival of our Texas horses. Everything was just about ready when I contacted the shipping company last Friday to confirm their travel plans for this week. He said a word I know well and one that sends alert signals to every nerve ending in my being:

 

Hurricane.

 

As a teen I lived through Alicia in Houston. When we first moved to Katy TX Ike was an unwelcome passerby. And last year our kids, Donny and Kelli were whisked away from Florida from a major storm when who came behind to Texas but, Harvey to Houston. Some friends in Houston are still recovering from this disaster.

 

Florence was unexpected when we decided to move to the Raleigh NC area. I thought we were running away from hurricanes with great joy. I expected to trade the hurricane drama for some winter weather and believe me I was eager for the exchange. Yet, the never before seen in this area storm is heading our way.

 

Here’s our current life circumstance list with this incredible storm:

  • Jack has been in Willis TX (for two weeks) training with Whit Watkins and Erika West where Benson has been since I dropped him off in early August.  He won’t be flying here today as originally planned. He will stay there until it is safe for the horses to ship here.
  • Rudy and Princess Buttercup are in San Antonio and they were supposed to ship out today so their boarding stall has been rented. They had to leave but the shipping company was overwhelmed with hurricane issues to be able to move them to where Jack and Benson are in Northern Houston. (They were supposed to come to texas today)
  • My sweet friend Pam Malley offered to take them up to Houston. I cried when she told me she would do this. Alas, at the last minute her trailer tire was slashed. This after Rudy showed her what a difficult loader really is. She gets a gold star.
  • That’s when Robert Harrison suggested he could try to borrow a rig and he would take them up for me. Thanks to Marci and Tim Taylor for loaning their truck and trailer.
  • I have just heard that Rudy, the naughty loader, is on the trailer and they are on their way to be with Benson and Jack.
  • Thanks also to Job and Julie Lopez for allowing Jack the comfort of their home during these unusual times. He eats a lot so I need to replenish their pantry for sure.
  • Thanks to Jack and Sierra for taking good care of our three horses until which time it is safe for them to travel to North Carolina. Hopefully the shipping company will find us space next week.
  • We have been working on our fences for weeks here at the farm to prepare for the big arrival. They will be done tomorrow but the storm may destroy our investment. Nevemind, John at American Fence Masters told me he will be here with us after the storm to repair everything back to perfect before moving on to the next job. And a contractor stopped by to assure me with his cell number that we can call if we have major damage.
  • And I have to mention at least five people came to our home here today with helping hands to get us ready to house horses in our barn during an unprecedented storm.
  • I’m thankful for Ali Perkins and her no nonsense work ethic. A Maine girl in her first hurricane is quite heroic. Her roommates split and ran but here she is talking about spending the night in the barn with the horses. She has helped with every detail of preparations for the worst case scenarios. She is exceptional in every way and I thank God that she wanted to work with us.

 

We have our chain saw. (still in a box) We have extra gasoline.  We have hay and we have water. We have a generator. We have food. We have our sense of humor. We have a kayak on our front porch to help transport us to our jetskis in a paddock. We have life vests. We have a high elevation for the house and the barn. We have our faith in God firmly rooted to give us the peace that comes when chaos surrounds.

 

We will use facebook to update our situation. We don’t plan to leave the house. The last boxes to be unpacked are our books so we will find plenty to keep us busy. We look forward to the other side of Florence when our horses walk off a trailer and smell the fresh Carolina air and roll in their green fields. We believe God grows us through difficult times and we believe he is a Good God whose love endures forever.

 

Thanks everyone for your thoughts, prayers, and encouragements.

 

P.S. Florence, please make a hair pin turn right and blast into the other storms at sea so no landfall occurs this season. America needs a hurricane reprieve.

Lessons Learned from Equestrian Season in Wellington FL

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Happy Benson.

Things I learned my first season in Wellington Florida:

  1. I learn the most from a difficult ride.
  2. Dressage trainers are welcoming and generous towards the up and coming youth.
  3. I can live with less. Much less.
  4. We are never too good to muck a stall.
  5. Love the one I am with.
  6. Only memorize quality riding, and have a kind eye towards a learning rider.
  7. There will always be barn drama. Handle lightly at a great distance.
  8. The horse will hold a mirror to my strengths and weaknesses. I can hide nothing from him. Take those lessons and be a better human.
  9. Be content. There are others with more, resist coveting.
  10. Be positive. Celebrate the progress in the journey towards improved riding and horsemanship.
  11. Be a thinking rider with a sharp brain and a relaxed body.
  12. Choose to be confident and calm at every mounting block.
  13. Take walk breaks in the arena and in life.
  14. Make rider and horse fitness a priority.
  15. Observe the horse carefully to make sure something isn’t hurting. Don’t be quick to blame the riding if performance declines.
  16. Ride to improve the quality of the gaits, the throughness, the suppleness, and the responsiveness. Don’t ride for a score.
  17. Be playful with my equine partner.
  18. Cross train with variety in the training schedule to keep him inspired and happy.
  19. Don’t work harder than my horse, let him carry me and remind him to do so with a whisper.
  20. Express relentless gratitude. To your horse, trainer,  barn mates,  vets, supporters, the  farrier and the grooms.

Wellington: Total Immersion

In Wellington we are surrounded by horse talk, activity, events and celebrity. The stimulation is total immersion in a similar way a language student would travel to France to improve the practice of French. There are nonstop discussions of arena footing, saddle fit, veterinary procedures, equine nutrition, riding technique, rider fitness, show preparations and of course equestrian fashion. This immersion literally never stops. This is why we made the long journey from Texas to Florida. I have soaked it up and loved it.

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Jack has had great fun this season helping Annie prepare her freestyle for her CDI.

We have a few final weeks before we head home and the season wraps up. I take a pause and list how this experience has changed my horsemanship. I also carefully assess what final goals I have to accomplish before wrapping up our first Wellington experience.

 

We weren’t sure what to expect exactly as we planned for this trip. We knew the training would be intense but we also assumed there would be more showing on the schedule. Jack did a national show a couple weeks ago for his first time at Global Dressage and the experience was a breeze. In Texas we have to pack up the trailer, haul three hours, and take three days at the show grounds. But here, he tacked up in the stall, dressed at the barn, and walked his show ready horse to the show in a ten minute hack prior to warming up and going down centerline. That was so easy! Now I wonder why we didn’t sign up for more tests.

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We had the great privilege to visit Catherine Haddad’s training barn and learn from her expertise.

There are twelve CDIs in this season and these shows are a bigger commitment. These shows are international qualifiers so horses are required to stable for four days and they are kept in quarantine and under surveillance at all times. Only approved people have access to the stable and horses are not free to leave once they are checked in. This is to insure all rules for competition are enforced. The judging is also more intense for the CDIs. The riders show in the main arena and it can all be either wonderfully exciting or terribly intimidating. Jack signed up to do the final CDI of the season before we go home to Texas.

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We also enjoyed a learning day with Lisa Wilcox as she shared how her saddle maker and chiropractor help her horses be better athletes.

We are looking forward to this experience and after almost four months of training here he feels ready to compete at this level. I find coming to Wellington for the training is totally fulfilling. I don’t think anyone should ever feel pressured to show just because it is Wellington.  But if showing is your thing there is one every weekend. I love it when I have an extra hour between appointments and I can drop by Global and watch a class go down centerline.

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It is still quite amazing for me to comprehend what care is required for a dressage horse to be show ready and at their peak performance. We are constantly working with Benson to help him feel his best for this work. For all the behind the scenes care it requires for a dressage horse to do the upper level work it is seriously a miracle when they deliver excellence. I wonder what the ratio is for how many grand prix horses there are in the world to how many that couldn’t make it that far. My guess is it would resemble one bucket of sand to an entire beach.

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Sometimes we escape to the beach.

Dressage horses remind me so much of ballet dancers. There are so few who are built to perform at the principal level in the top companies of the world. They are just marvels of nature to see move and the beauty in motion is stunning, truly breathtaking. That’s how it feels to see a Grand Prix horse float on air through the difficult movements in an arena. A decade of intense teamwork and attention to detail brings a horse this far.

The more I learn about this sport the more I stand in awe when I see it done well. It is nearly impossible to achieve. So many things can go wrong on the journey towards grand prix even if you have the knowledgeable trainer and educated rider. I often wonder why do we go to this extreme. But I am a rider and I know the unique experience that is intimate and sacred between horse and rider when it all comes together and oneness in motion is achieved. It’s an experience I had to feel to know, but once I did, it’s a hook that won’t ever set me free. I’m surrendered to it. I am so in awe of how I view God’s hand in creating the potential for discovery within a horse. The life lessons available to learn with horses are incredible and I believe God put them there for our human development. Daily we enjoy the millions of learning moments that lead up to the few minutes in the arena.

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The total immersion in Wellington horse culture really is a season for a reason. At first I thought I will never want to leave! But now I have soaked up as much as I can take and it is time to let it all be absorbed and practiced. We’ll keep what we have learned and make it become who we are as riders for the next eight months until we come back and do it all over again.  We are ready for the comforts of home.

 

Finding the Path to Excellent Dressage

Here we are in the final month of the Winter Intensive Training program with Lendon Gray. We have learned so much in a short time and now we look at what we need to learn before we head home. Lendon is so respected in this sport because she provides a quality foundation to young riders who hope to climb to the top. Not only is she an Olympian, she raised an Olympian and others like Mica Mabragana who went on to qualify for WEG and compete in the Pan Am games. Learning to do dressage is not an easy path to find. You need a flash light (intelligence), a pack of guard dogs (to chase away the false horse advice)  along with a few miracles to find the way.

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I took my first horseback riding lesson was when I was forty-four years old.  I felt so disrespected by the instructor. She barely looked at me. She told me a few things in her bored voice and spent most of the time talking with someone on the rail.  She made me feel insignificant and stupid, and then she took my thirty dollars for the half hour. I wonder if she would have treated me that way if she knew I had been waiting most of my life to begin to learn about horses.  By my third lesson at that barn, I found Sandee Slattery who respected my interest in learning. And she met my desire to know with her enthusiasm to share her knowledge and we had fun together for a few months until she moved away.

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Fitness team work!

When I wanted to learn to ride I didn’t even know what dressage was. When I got a whiff of it, I was intimidated. Isn’t that only for professionals? It was daunting so I didn’t pursue it outright. When I moved barns though, I landed quite by accident in the hands of a dressage instructor. (did I mention miracles?)  I fell in love with the depth of understanding a rider can have with a horse and dressage became my passion. However, she reminded me for many years, “you are not doing dressage, you are learning the basics of riding.” This sport will keep us humble. I’ll never forget the day she proclaimed during my lesson, “now that is dressage.” I was so proud.

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Chinese Jump Rope

It is easier to learn to do something correctly than it is to break a habit and relearn a new way. I know this from when I was a dancer. If I learned a routine and the choreographer changed it then learning the altered way was so much harder to remember. So when I set out to learn dressage I wanted to make sure I was developing correct habits for riding. I don’t want to find out I have to re-do my foundation.  It is nearly impossible as a beginner rider to know what is correct riding. We are vulnerable and fresh and we will trust anyone who can stay on a horse. Where do you go to learn effective riding basics that can be built upon rather than torn down and forced to rebuild? It takes outrageous amounts of time, a knowledgeable instructor, and a saint of a horse to learn to ride. All three are difficult to find.

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Hack day is so relaxed and fun.

Germany has an excellent system for qualifying riding instructors. Not just anyone with the desire to be a trainer can call themselves one over there. Unfortunately, anyone in America with some grit, confidence, and a website can find clients. USDF has a great instructor trainer program. I hope more trainers get certified with USDF and new clients search for these credentials.

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Birthday Girl with her Pony and a mouth full of powdered doughnuts.

Some people are better at training a horse, some are simply excellent riders and can feel and adapt to any horse, others are fantastic in the show ring, and others can explain clearly and teach with great effectiveness. Some horse people are not so adept at working with humans. Not everyone can be all these things. How is a new student able to navigate their way towards a quality education when the standards are so open ended?

 

Learning to ride is an intimate affair between instructor, rider and horse. The skills have to be developed alongside confidence and courage. The instructor needs to foster all three and that costs more than they can charge. I know I drove Renee crazy for many years as I pursued learning to ride. I bet she often hoped I would quit and leave her at peace. During the times when I had been scared by one bolt, buck or another, it would take me weeks if not months to regain confidence. Determination is my word and so I would not give up. Thankfully neither did she. I feel like I owe her so much for walking that path with me. Now that I have a good foundation for riding I can go up the levels and believe in my abilities. Honestly, developing my foundation in dressage, is one of the hardest earned accomplishments I have ever done in my life. I have a happy marriage of 28 years.  I have a bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan. We have five kids. I moved with them eleven times. I started a nonprofit for orphans in Uganda and an NGO in Uganda. Next to those achievements, dressage was the biggest challenge, and that’s probably why I love it so much. It is not easy to pick up dressage in your mid-forties and persevere through it.

I believe dressage is an art and it lives in the people who have practiced it to excellent standards and achievement. We need those talented individuals to share what they know with us so it can be passed on to generations behind us. I sense an urgency in preserving this art form.

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Balance on the pods and carry an egg in a spoon.

So, I applaud the work that Lendon Gray does for the future of dressage with her nonprofit, Dressage 4 Kids. She knows if she can educate the youth in this art form and sport with quality knowledge, providing a firm foundation to build upon, then the future of dressage is more secure. She is keen to spark interest from other professionals to share their knowledge and expertise with the youth. And from what we have experienced here in Wellington countless professionals in dressage are willing to help raise up the youth and promote quality dressage.

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I hope more parents will look into her program. She doesn’t just teach riding lessons she works hard to educate students about all horse related topics with guest lectures. She requires self-care for the horses during this Wellington program. Participants take fitness classes six times a week specifically aimed to improve riding skills. And there are written theory tests every week. What she doesn’t require is that you go show, or have any of those USDF dressage medals. It’s the content of your character and your work ethic that create success.

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a future WIT candidate.

Would I recommend this WIT program to dressage students considering making the big sacrifice of funds and time? Absolutely. Will it be easy? No. Is it worth it? You bet it is.

What would it be like to live in Wellington?

It’s a tight schedule at Lendon Gray’s Winter Intensive Program. After the fitness class the riders get busy preparing for their lessons. I often have a gap of time before Jack has to ride so I take my bicycle out of the bed of my truck and tour the neighborhoods of Wellington. There are paths all over the “village”. It’s fun to see through the enormous iron gates elegant dressage horses floating in a perfect grand prix frame in their front yard arenas. Occasionally, I see polo practice, or jumpers perched out of their saddle making tight turns aiming for a jump. I can’t count how many hackers are on the trails enjoying the fresh morning, or dressed in their whites on the way to a show. It’s amusing to see someone cantering along a path beside a road. I lament the riders, mounted, and heads tipped towards their phones, not even looking where they are going. (the emergency room if they don’t get smart.) There’s something about seeing others taking a walk in the neighborhood on their horse that creates an itch in me I search to satisfy.

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The front gate. Nice.

I try to imagine living in a community unique as Wellington. The whole village of Wellington is small enough for me to ambitiously bike anywhere. (and I do.) There are neighborhoods with “normal” houses without horse facilities. But I am captured whole by the neighborhoods with two or more acre lots efficiently designed to fit five paddocks, a barn, an arena, and a nice house connected to the 57 miles of trails. That is the order in which I would prioritize the suitability of my real estate search. Horses grazing in paddocks, barns alive with activity, and arenas freshly dragged and ready for some lofty trotting. Friends exit the driveway and meet on the paths to hack together and give their equine friend a change of scenery and some break from the arena work.

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The colored lines are horse trails.

I haven’t seen a hitching post at any of the local convenience stores. That’s because this place is posh, there are grooms to take the horses while the riders zip over in their sports cars to do errands or lunch. That’s not appealing to me. I only desire to be steps away from caring for my horses and working in the barn. I have an old standard jeep to do errands if Amazon can’t deliver. Mostly I love to take my bike wherever possible. When I realized this was possible here in Wellington, I approached my husband with “those” eyes and suggested we should retire here. Please. Pretty please. I’ll do anything for you to say yes.

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After a long day enjoying horse activity in the WIT barn with Jack and Mica’s barn with our other two horses I’m too tired to concentrate or move another muscle. But I’m not too tired to do an internet search of the equestrian properties for sale. We have moved eleven times all over this country and to the UK in our 28 years of marriage, so understanding local real estate is something I do when I’m a visitor.  Can you imagine there are over thirty properties in Wellington that cost between ten million and thirty-four million dollars? It’s unreal. Way down the list I compare value for what we can buy at home and my head shakes in disbelief. Nevertheless, I find some interesting homes and I jot them down so the next morning I can ride my bike past them. It’s just how I get to know a community.

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It’s possible to show every week and walk over to the show grounds in your whites.

The weather, the horse amenities, excellent trainers, farriers and equine vets, tack shops, feed stores, horse trails, the accessibility by bicycle to local errands, and friends who enjoy the same activities all sums up to the way I would love to spend my days. Sigh. I’m not saying I experience discontent with my home set up, I have just entered a world that couldn’t be better designed for the way I wish to use these precious days God gives us on this earth. I’m thinking life is too short to live a half hour drive away from my horses.

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At Pierson Rd. and Southshore you stop for horse crossing.

If anything were possible I’d pick a modest property in a great area here in Wellington, keep Kira in the Ideal School of Leadership where she attends and not look back. But I’m patient and I’m flexible. And I trust God has the exact right place for us just waiting. When we retire, Wellington here we come. Until then, the door is open to winter here for the season. But first we still have six more weeks of 2018 to enjoy in Sunny Welly World before we head home to San Antonio, TX.

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