Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Last Spruce Blog.. Til Next Year ;)

Here it is: Lynne's final chapter on her amazing Spruce experience. Enjoy!

Spruce Meadows Journal #4 – The Competition
July 1, 2013

Dear All,

I’m home from Spruce Meadows and trying to keep the feeling going because it was such a high to be there and to be part of something so extraordinary.  I’m grateful to Dusty for suggesting that I do this; she knew I needed a big, grandiose goal to keep me going when Allan was sick.  Allan calls this a “bucket list event” and although I hate to think of getting closer to kicking the bucket, he’s right.  It is up there with watching my granddaughter being born and swimming with dolphins.  If you don’t have a bucket list, make one.  It doesn’t have to be extensive, just start with two or three things you want to do before you leave this Earth.  The planning, hoping, dreaming, collaborating, strategizing, budgeting, discussing, visualizing, list-making, disciplining, training, and imagining will be as fulfilling as the event itself.  Putting a dream out there and seeing it come true changes you. 
Lynne, Cielo, and Miguel

 I couldn’t sleep this morning so I got up at 5:30 and went out to my cottage.  I looked at pictures and videos of Spruce Meadows, then I wrote down all my favorite things about this past week.  Of course the best was that on the day of the Prix de Nations team competition I rode well and didn’t let our team down.  When you’ve been involved in individual sports and been a sole proprietor in business most of your career, being part of a team takes on special significance.  I wanted to do well because other riders and trainers were counting on me.  On the day it mattered I was able to pull it together and do my best.  

The Prix de Nations is in three phases: first all four members on eight teams ride a full jumping round.  Each team throws out their lowest score and team scores are tallied.  The four best teams come back for Round 2.  All riders then ride the same course again.  In both rounds, Cielo and I went clean and fast.  I only bobbled one jump (and on the video you can hear the trainers gasping) but she saved me.  That’s why you need a partnership with your horse.  After Round 2 scores are tallied again and if there is a tie each team chooses a single rider to jump off.  My team consisted of members who were ages 16, 18, 37, and me (advanced age).  The chef d’equipe chose Simone, our 18-year-old, and she had a blazing fast round but stopped at one jump.  Another team struggled, and in the end we had enough points to win the Bronze Medal. 

The medal ceremonies are something to behold at Spruce Meadows.  All the winning riders are called into the ring in order as the sound system begins to play The March of the Toreadors from Carmen.  For our class, the Gold Medal team received beautiful white horse blankets which  flapped majestically in the breeze as we all marched across the grass ring and over to the presentation area.  The show staff form a line of formally-dressed presenters, each wearing a red jacket or blouse representing Canada.  As your name is announced they step over to where your horse stands, shake your hand, congratulate you warmly, and attach a large rosette ribbon to the bridle or saddle.  Cielo, who for international competition goes by her passport name, Sky Dancer LS, behaved perfectly, standing like an angel with her head cocked toward the ribbon presenters as if she were waiting to hear her name called.  In reality she was waiting for a treat.  In Mexico when horses win a class and go in for the ribbon presentation, the presenters walk up to each horse holding a basket of carrots and let them eat out of it.  In Canada, the ribbons are carried out in a huge basket so Cielo (and I noticed every Mexican horse in the line-up) had their ears up and eyes trained on the basket.   I figured this out because the prior day I had won an orange ribbon and she tried to grab it out of the presenter’s hand.  Once the ribbons are presented, the music strikes up again and the winners pick up the canter and lead a victory parade around the ring.  This is my favorite moment of the horse show, galloping around the ring knowing you did well and just enjoying the horse under you and the music and the green grass at your feet.  Several horses were bucking and bolting, the wind got the coolers flapping wildly, ribbons were blowing off everywhere, and Cielo kept dragging me toward the jumps as we galloped.  What more could you ask?  My only disappointment was that in the big international rings the Royal Canadian Mounted Police march in for ribbon ceremonies, in formation, and stand at attention with spears or flags, or whatever it is they carry, raised, and their red uniforms with shining gold accoutrements add a sense of ceremony and sensationalism to the whole awards process.  I know our jumps are smaller, and we are just amateurs, but we were as proud that day as any international superstars and I think we deserved at least one Mountie. 
Where was this guy during the Awards?!

Dusty and I went on to enjoy the rest of the show wholeheartedly, sampling the food at the various venues, shopping in the Spruce Meadows gift shops, watching high level classes in the big rings, and cheering for our host, Olympian Antonio Maurer, and his riders.  The caliber of horses was fantastic and to see it all in such a glorious venue with perfect, blue skies and white puffy clouds seemed like a dream. 

We also cheered on our NORCAL teammates in their various classes.  The NORCAL trainers really pulled together, helping one another out with coaching if a particular trainer needed to be two places at once.  My teammates went on to win several classes and uphold the honor of Northern CA very nicely.  My horse had a day off and then competed three more days.  We had rails down Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday in the Adult/Child Amateur Classic we went clean and fast with just a rail down in the jump off and were awarded 7th place out of 44 horses.  We ended our run at Spruce with a final victory gallop followed by some Advil and a rush to get packed up before the shipper arrived to take the horses home. 

Time to pack!

One day after competing  I took Cielo for a ride around the grounds.  Management provides not only bike- and golf cart-friendly paths everywhere, but also soft dirt paths for the horses.  We took the trail down to the International Ring back gate, walked up competitor entrance ramp and peeked inside.   I wanted to imagine what it would be like to enter that huge stadium on my horse, with the stands packed and thousands cheering.  On the biggest day, the grounds at Spruce Meadows host 75,000 people.   The stands seemed to go up to the sky and the jumps were monumental in size.  Cielo stood firm and stared, although I could feel her breathing increase and her heart start pounding.  As we turned to walk back, onto the path ahead of us merged two Mounties side-by-side in full regalia—tall hats, red and gold uniforms, clanking chains and jangling accessories, spears or flags.  Cielo took a look, snorted, swung her ears forward, and then, rather than balk or shy or get worried at such a sight, she stuck her neck out, increased her walk, and took out after them to see exactly what they were.  It’s what I love about her: her elegance and gracefulness, and her natural curiosity and bravery under a host of new conditions that would scare anyone.  She caught up to those Mounties and gave them a good once over before we headed back to the barn. 

One of the many sights: Foals!!

Many wanted to know if Cielo got home alright.  It’s been well over 100 degrees in these parts and the van ride from Calgary, Alberta is very long.  She got in at 5:00 last night after 26 hours on the road, unscathed, eating, and happy.  I stopped at the Horse Park to check on her just as it got dark.  When she saw us she came straight to the fence, pricked up her ears and gave me a steady, intense look that said, “OK, we did it, what’s next?”