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.

 

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