January 26, 2008 -- I go back to reality tomorrow afternoon, and I have a feeling it's going to be a rough transition. This week has been so fabulous in every way possible. Before I do anything else, I want to thank John and Beezie from the bottom of my heart for having me this last week. They've really made a huge effort to include and accomodate me, and I can't imagine how they could have made this experience any better.
Yesterday morning started with a very foggy trip to get in the order for the jumpers. Thankfully I avoided any golf cart collisions and was able to see a few of the horses go in the 1.30-meter jumpers.
Next, I watched a bit of George Morris' no-stirrup sessions at his Horsemastership clinic and took away some new tricks to try at home. For some reason, I'm a bit of a masochist when it comes to riding, so I actually love riding without stirrups. I'm excited to try the exercises that involve lifting the legs away from the saddle or putting them in front of it.
Conveniently, Beezie had a few horses going in a schooling jumper class just a ring away from the clinic. Although some of the horses were a little spunky, they held it together well and everyone jumped around in great form.
Later in the day, we went back over to the main show grounds. I watched a good chunk of the 7- and 8-year-old jumpers, and then walked the course for the Open Jumper class. Beezie's horse went clear in the first round but got a little confused in the jump off. He's still on the younger side and was convinced he was supposed to jump a vertical that they were really supposed to gallop past. He ended up knocking over that fence, but they got straightened out and finished without further problems. Hopefully, he learned something from the experience! After spending the majority of the day at the show, I got to take Judgement on another spin around the neighborhood.
This morning, I rode one of the 8-year-olds for a bit in the ring and then out on the bridle paths. I then joined John to watch both of the jumping sessions at the clinic. It was very interesting to see how he built up to a full course and what he pushed different horse-and-rider combinations to do. Everyone worked off of the same basics, but each needed to improve in different areas. George tweaked the exercises here and there to make them specific to each case, and by the end all of the horses were jumping very well.
Beezie and John didn't have any horses showing today, and since many of the horses jumped a bit this week between showing and schooling, today was a pretty light schedule. After watching a few horses school, the late afternoon was pretty clear. It was nice to just relax around the barn and play with the horses while they were in their stalls.
A lot of people have asked me what I learned this week or what the main thing I gained from this experience was. I don't have an easy answer for them. It's more of a feeling than any one overarching point. Basically, I really love horses and being around them. I adore being in the horse show environment and being around people who are committed to getting everything as close to perfect as possible. All too often, it's easy to get caught up in the moment or day of riding and forget the big picture. I had hoped this week would sort of remind me why I love this sport, and it's certainly done that and more. I can't think of anything that I'm more passionate about than riding, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to be surrounded by such excellence. I am so lucky to have found a "hobby" (if you can call something so time and money consuming a hobby!) that fulfills me so much, and I have a renewed appreciation for having something so significant in my life.
Once again, thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and to all of the wonderful people I've met this week. I've learned so much and have so many ideas to take back with me. I've enjoyed giving updates and hope they've been at least somewhat entertaining!
Katie Faraone, 27, spent a week with John and Beezie Madden as a grand-prize winner of the 2007 Week with the Maddens Contest, sponsored by Bates Saddles, Practical Horseman and the Syracuse Invitational Tournament. Katie started riding when she was 11 and showing jumpers at 15. She works in sales for a staffing company in Boston and rides several times a week.