Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Has Happened to Pony Club?

I can say -- without a shadow of a doubt -- that I am who I am today because of Pony Club. And, I think I'm pretty great. :-) With that being said, I don't just mean "a pony club" or "a club of pony riders." I'm talking about a bona fide member of the United States Pony Club. As the USPC mission states, the organization "develops character, leadership, confidence, and a sense of community...." These are incredibly important qualities for youngsters, no matter the hobby, sport, or extracurricular interest. But, how much more awesome is it when it DOES involve horses, horses, and more horses? Speaking of "horses," the PC core values: Horsemanship, Organized teamwork, Respect, Service, and Education are traits of mine that could literally be found in my genetic make-up by this point in my life. You want to foster a well-rounded, conscientious, and intelligent individual/equestrian? Put him or her in Pony Club.

I had the great privilege to live the Pony Club life. I was in pony club, my sister was in pony club, my best friends were in pony club, my sister's best friends were in pony club, my schoolmates were in pony club, my mom was a Co-DC in pony club, and the highlight of my summers was pony club eventing camp in Radford, Virginia. Some of my best memories were of Pony Club and there isn't a day that goes by now that I don't enlist the help of some notion, some piece of knowledge, or some vital lesson learned from my pony club days.

However, when I look around (and listen) these days, I wonder to myself: where is Pony Club now? My fellow Knoxvillian-eventer-blogger extraordinaire, Leslie Wylie, posted on her blog the other day an announcement that she has stepped up to be the Co-DC of our local pony club, Tennessee Valley PC. I was thrilled to read this and offered -- as fast as my short little fingers could type -- to help Leslie anytime she needs anything. I have always wanted to be involved with the local PC in some way, since I moved here to Knoxville over 10 years ago, but it's existence has always seemed a bit elusive, difficult to track down, and a real challenge to link up with. Now that Leslie is onboard, it'll be easy for me to stay connected, but she has also expressed that her involvement has been too long in the making (for the same reasons as me) as well. I hope that will change and I intend to lend a hand when/how/where I can to make PC a stronger presence in the equestrian community here in K-town.

But, there still remains that all important question: What has happened to Pony Club? Not long ago, I saw a comment thread on an Eventing Nation post that revealed more than a few writers' thoughts, saying, "Stay away from pony's not what it used to be," or "Pony club isn't the answer anymore." Huh??? Then, what has changed? Because in my day....PC was the only answer in a lot of places, and in other instances, it was certainly the best option of anything else available. I'm dismayed to hear that the presence and importance of Pony Club and the Pony Club way have diminished. But, why? Is it that there aren't these pony club barns anymore that foster the organization's values all the time (whether it's an official meeting or not)? Is it that there are more show barns with their own agendas, who simply don't want to adhere to a national organization's oversight or standards? Is it that there are individual trainers out there, who weren't raised in and indoctrinated in Pony Club, who don't want to encourage a "competing" presence that might be at odds with their style or approach to teaching? Is there more of a focus on training, competing, and moving up than on the more meticulous, studious approach to riding and horsemanship that Pony Club embraces? What is it these days that has taken the emphasis away from the Pony Club life?

Like I initially stated, Pony Club was the central influence in my life for a long, long time. I posted a few weeks ago about "All I really need to know about eventing I learned in Kindergarten," although "Kindergarten" in that statement could just as easily be replaced with the words "pony club." Share Everything -- Play Fair -- Clean Up Your Own Mess -- Hold Hands and Stick Together. But, rather than continue to press-upon this point verbally, over and over again, I will let some of my favorite pictures make my case clear. These pictures are like the mental images that run through my mind all the time. They encompass much of my life -- from the age of 8 to 18 -- and they represent the philosophies that Pony Club still strives to teach today: work hard, love your horse, love yourself, and love your friends. Amen!

Me and my trusty steed, Luzaz, at a Sunday
afternoon Holston Pony Club meeting.

First hack of the summer at PC camp in Radford, VA with my sister
(on our little Palomino pony, Beau), Alexia Schmidt (on the dark bay), and one of
my PC BFFs, Angie Schwab, on her buckskin event horse, Topper.

Me and Luzaz at camp on show jumping day.

My sister and her wonder pony, Beau, at camp jumping through a gymnastic.

My friend, Anna, jumping up the "staircase" on cross-country at PC camp.

A very satisfied Luzaz after a cross-country school at PC camp.

The ultimate pony club mom (bringing goody baskets for her daughters her
daughters' ponies)!

My PC buddy, Molly, jumping a course on Luzaz during a "pony
swap" Pony Club exercise.

Holston Pony Club members, dressed for the holidays, on a Christmas
caroling expedition through Forest Hills in Bristol. That's me (left),
Melinda Wick and Lucy (center), and my sister -- riding side-saddle --
(in the back on the right).
Some of my favorite (well-worn) books from back in
my PC days (no wonder 
I ended up an eventer). The evidence of my 
geekiness: a team and individual blue ribbon from a long-ago 
Roanoke Vally Pony Club KnowDown. Pony Club nerds, unite!

Team effort: my sister, Melissa, helping me tack up before
show jumping at PC camp.

Me and Luzaz working on flying lead changes in a typical  pony club
lesson at Fox Hollow Farm (Bristol, TN). That's Melissa on her
horse, Poppy, going through a gymnastic in the background.

My PC camp BFF, Marcia Payne and her horse Satisfaction,
schooling dressage at the Pony Club Festival in Lexington at KHP.

Marcia in a lesson at the PC festival, riding without
stirrups (yep, that's "the Pony Club way"!).

Marcia and Satisfaction schooling a gymnastic at KHP.

Marcia schooling cross-country at KHP.

Pony Club rally, Lynchburg, VA. I'm riding my sister's pony, Beau. 

Holston Pony Club at the closing ceremonies. We were third!

Me and Beau at the final fence in show jumping, bringing home a double-clear!
Too bad we had a runout at a rolltop the day before on cross-country or
our team might have finished higher than 3rd. :-)

A good team after a great weekend!

Reaching down to give my (grounded by a XC injury) friend, Tempe,
a hug after show jumping on the final day at PC eventing camp.
Hold hands and stick together. :-)

At the end of the day, a Pony Club pony is a happy, healthy pony!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This is the quintessential "View from my horse," Eddie-style. Look closely. Note the small, elusive bits of packed mud in his wispy, barely-there forelock, just in front of the bridle's headpiece. This is not unlike the view I've experienced in the past while entering at "A" and trotting down the centerline in dressage at a horse trial. How does he do that? And, how does it hide? I've literally been trotting into the dressage arena at MTPC before, smiling and confident, then looked down at his ears and thought, "Oh, bollocks. Well, that figures." I think I need a new groom. :-)

Eddie, ready to ride the other evening. He was sleek and shiney
(everywhere but between his ears, I guess!).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Game on.

Don't judge a book by its cover.

It is no real surprise to me that I've taken the advice of Gary Lightbody and I have started watching HBO's Game of Thrones. With that being said, imagine my surprise when I realized that one of the main characters in this new series is a favorite of mine, Harry Lloyd (who was previously seen a few years ago as Will Scarlett on another of my favorite shows: Robin Hood). These little connections (Gary Lightbody --> British actor Harry Lloyd --> Robin Hood) are really not so shocking, since they are all just

Anyway, I have been entirely sucked in to the first 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and Harry's character -- Viserys Targaryen (who....[drumroll] can ride a horse) -- is so deliciously fascinating. Is he bad? Is he mad? Is he evil? Is he sick, immorally obsessed with his sister, and driven to borderline maniacal Narcissism? Or, is he simply homesick and misunderstood?  It makes for some interesting scenes, that is for sure. I think he certainly....hmmm, how should I say this.....outshines every other character in these early episodes.

Now, to move on to a few other key points that have me literally spinning like a top. Not only is Harry a lovely actor, but he is also a graduate of Christ Church College at Oxford University {sigh #1}. In addition to being an Oxonian, his degree is in English {sigh #2}. And, oh my lordy....this is a good one. As well as being a graduate of Oxford with a degree in English, he is: the great-great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens {sigh #3}. I kid you not. We're not talking about great-great-great cousin, or grandnephew, or even a confirmed distant relative thrice-removed. We are talking about a direct descendant. And, before you even ask: yes, he has acted in a Dicken's piece (a version of David Copperfield where he played the young Steerforth), so life sometimes creates these bizarre little whirlpools and everything just comes together. This kind of stuff cannot be made up. 

So, watch Harry in Game of Thrones, and check out the darling interview in the YouTube clip below. He does seem much more normal and appealing with his naturally dark hair and "everyman" look than he does with that creepy platinum wig when he's playing Viserys. 

Now, the big question is: but, can he write??

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I know that everyone has seen this video a million times already, but I've decided that before I head out to any future competitions, I'm going to pump myself up just like Jessica, with a similarly exuberant affirmation in front of the mirror (including some sweet dance moves, of course): "I like my hair! I like my hair cuts! I like my pajamas! I like my Eddie! I like my helmet! I like my boots! I like my breeches! I like my bridle! I like my friends! I like my sister! I like dressage! I like cross-country! I can do anything good.....better than anyone." I may also be sporting purple-leopard Zocks and flip-flops while doing this, too. So, for any peeps who might room with me at my next horse trial... You've been warned. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Me So Clever


Gi-normous Paint head


Regular/cob sized figure-8 noseband


The addition of a nylon spur strap to extend the ends


Problem solved!

I received this beautiful, blingy figure-8 for my birthday a few years ago from Kelsy and Mama Briggs. I have been horribly bummed all this time to have not been able to use it because of Eddie's huge face.'s all good. (Disclaimer: you might be skeptical about supplementing legitimate pieces of tack with "alternative" pieces of tack. I feel comfortable with this quick fix, in that if my figure-8 should break while Eddie and I are galloping along, I won't fall off and die. It's not like I'm repairing a broken girth strap with 1/2 a roll of duct tape. Nope, I won't ever be doing that again. Ha....I kid, I kid....)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Think Pink!

Pink has been the color of my world very much, lately. So, how happy do you think I was to see this little blurb in Garden & Gun online? Yes, if I were to have a signature color, it would definitely be Charleston Pink!

My front door with a wreath I made and peonies in a piece of
an old forage feeder I found in my equipment shed.

More pink peonies and mint, my homemade birdhouse (with a
South Carolina license plate for a lid!), and a cat.

More pink peonies!

Yet MORE pink peonies in my kitchen in an old Ball jar.

Even MORE pink peonies on the side table in my t.v. room.

I think that my idea of heaven would be nothing but lots
and lots of pink peonies......and horses, of course!

Still MORE pink peonies and mint, in a little watering can
my mom gave me.

Peonies, peonies everywhere. My house smells divine!

My poor, bald peony bush in my front yard. I have almost scalped it by
cutting fresh peonies everyday for the past 2 weeks!

Friday, May 20, 2011


Megan, left, with Lauren and Brandy at Poplar
Ok, I'm totally cheating on my blog post for today by simply linking to my friend Megan Corbett's Poplar Place horse trials re-cap. BUT....I will defend this decision by saying that it's a great re-cap....and, because I'm overwhelmed this week trying to get through the last week of the Knox County school year, so Megan's life is way more exciting than mine right now. I also think it speaks very highly of me that I'm able to sit here at home and look at my horse standing in the field while ALL my friends are out there riding their first Training event, or prepping for a fall two-star, or getting ready for a summer move-up, or just out there riding and schooling and training.....which I'm.....not. But, I'm HAPPY for my friends who are. REALLY, I am. :-) 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Being Good Willing

Ok, I'll admit it, I'm a real case you haven't noticed this already. I think a lot about my garden, my animals, my farm, my students, what I read, what I write, what to buy at the grocery store, how much gas it might take to get from point "A" to point "B", whether or not it will rain, how much it will rain, whether to school dressage or jump, whether to jump gymnastics or mini-courses, whether to use the figure-8 noseband or the flash, whether to wear the black helmet cover or the purple, etc., etc. You get the picture. And, yes, I even wear myself out from thinking all the time, too, so you're not alone in feeling tired already. And this is only a fraction of what runs through my mind at all times.

Among the things I ponder on a daily basis is EDDIE. Yep, you've probably figured this out by now, too. I love Eddie. I adore Eddie. And, I like to think that Eddie loves and adores me, too. Sometimes I believe it; though, at other times, it is clear he just wants to stand in the barn or mill around snacking on hay. One thing that I do a lot is "try to figure out what Eddie is thinking." It's like a game....almost. It's entertaining......almost. It's a challenge and a worthy puzzle.....until I guess wrong and I think he's "ok" with jumping the stone wall into the field full of cows, when in reality, Eddie is thinking "Hell-to-the-NO." And, this leads me to what my blog entry is all about today. How do I get to the heart of what goes on in the mind of Good Willing? 

Eddie is a smart horse. He is smart, observant, clever, and he thinks as much on his own as I do for the both of us. We are a good match in the intellectual department. If I could sit down with him and have a regular conversation, things would be much more enjoyable, sane, and productive. But, as all riders know, we have to find ways to understand our horses and communicate with them in any number of ways other than verbal, most of the time. One of the things that also complicates issues with Eddie is that even when he knows exactly what I want him to do, he will devise a million subtle ways to avoid doing specifically what I want him to. This causes the greatest frustration for me in dressage, since I can ask for a simple bend at the trot to the left and with one or two basic aids, I convey this message to Eddie. I know that Eddie receives this message, but instead of softening his jaw, bending at the poll, and stepping through quietly to the left, he will do this: stiffen outside shoulder and lean on inside rein while bracing against the bit and simultaneously cranking his back into a knot and shortening his stride which makes my hands go up, my hips lock, and my teeth clamp down in anger. It reminds me exactly of something that the very funny and very talented Leslie Wylie wrote in her blog recently, when quoting Jim Koford speaking of her horse: "He's a little tight through his hips and you're starting to ask him for more collection, so he's devised an intricate system of evasions...." An "intricate system of evasions," indeed. Now, Eddie's disobedience can hardly be called extreme (like I said, he's "subtle" in his aversion to my polite requests). But, the lack of overt disobedience is what makes it so infuriating and so difficult to discipline. This, then, leads me to try and figure out how to convince Eddie that what I want him to do is a good idea. I need to reason with him. It's not about ignorance, evil/dangerous behavior, or just blatant refusal to work. He is, in a sense, listening to me.....just in his own way. So, how do I see eye-to-eye with a horse that is as smart as (or even smarter than) me?

One thing I've learned is to get a quick sense of what he's enjoying about our lesson/school and encourage that. I don't ever get on my horse's back and think, "Well, today we are going to accomplish _______, come hell-or-high water." Eddie loves to warm-up on a long rein, with his big, white Quarter Horse nose on the ground, stepping up underneath, and stretching through his back. When I start to warm-up (for ANYTHING, no matter the day or the phase), I let him walk, trot, and canter both directions with little contact and lots of long rein. I can do this because he's a quiet and even fellow, so I don't run the risk of having a wild, uncontrollable beast careening around the arena, even at the worst of times. To Eddie, this is important because we get the engines running without me starting out by giving him rules, rules, rules from the moment my butt hits the saddle. He needs to feel like he's included in the discussion, and he'll usually be pretty agreeable if he feels as though what we're doing is "his idea." When I start him over a few fences for a jumping session, I've learned to begin with a long rein (again) over a few crossrails and just use my legs and upper body to slow him and turn him. Once he's jumping from a good spot and I'm not all up in his face with my hands, he'll canter around quietly and evenly and jump anything I ask. 

These simple solutions have taken almost 6 years and any number of "ups and downs" to figure out. But, I've got it figured out, at least in these basic instances. I've taken the time to think about what I'm doing, how I'm asking, how Eddie responds, and why. Yes, it is a lot of thinking (or OVERTHINKING, some may feel), but I have the luxury of riding one horse -- and one horse only -- so he is my singular point of focus. And, because I've taken the time to find tiny ways to involve him in our sessions every single time, then he is much more agreeable to whatever it is we're working on. I want him to learn and understand and to have fun. I love my horse and I want this to be a democracy, not a dictatorship (although, sometimes, it can be a bit of a monarchy). I've always said, "Eddie needs to only learn something new one time." Once he's got it, he's got it. He needs to figure things out and break it down into his own terms, and I need to let him. He is definitely not a horse that just blissfully listens to me without question. But, I'd rather have a thinker over just a "doer" any day. It makes me work smarter, it makes me think harder, and it makes our sessions so much more rewarding when we both "get it." And, then, there are the times when I get on, hack down the lane in my back pasture, then let him go and we just gallop. No lessons, no learning, no skill-building....just a horse and his rider letting out all their anxieties and having a good time!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's Show Some Love.....

Photo by Jumpin' Jammin' Jamey Price. my bestie, Kelsey, and her amazing horse, Pirate! They recently finished their 3rd (or 4th?) Intermediate at The Fork Horse Trials back in early April. Pirate is a $600 OTTB that Kelsey walked off the track in Ohio one day after his last race, loaded him on her trailer, drove all the way home to South Carolina, and the rest is history. 

Here is the video of a good portion of her cross-country ride. She has done this ALL herself. I'm so proud of them! For a horse who had never jumped before she bought him, who has very little experience at this level, and has not faced a course as challenging as The Fork.....well, he sure was looking for and pulling her to every fence out there. So, as Kelsey would say, "Goooood boyyyyy, Pirate!!!"

You Better Get Up...Try to Understand...And Raise Your Hand...

As if we needed any further reasons to acknowledge the importance of volunteering! The following is a selection titled Surprising Secrets from the World's Happiest People - An excerpt from an article by Dan Buettner in the May 15 issue of Bottom Line magazine.

The happiest people almost always volunteer in some fashion - at church, with environmental groups, for social-service organizations and the like. Volunteering means spending time with others, and it also takes your mind off your own problems and increases self-worth and pride in your community.

Studies have shown that altruism has an effect on the brain that is similar to that of sugar. It creates feelings of well-being, along with an addictive feedback loop that encourages people to keep doing it.

Also, volunteers are healthier. They tend to weigh less than those who don't volunteer, and they're even less likely to suffer a heart attack.

Commit to volunteering for a set period of time - say, once a week for four weeks. People are more likely to keep doing it when they make this initial commitment - and then get "hooked" on the rewards.

Dan Buettner is the founder of Blue Zones, an organization that studies the regions of the world where people commonly live active past the age of 100. Based in Minneapolis, he is a writer for National Geographic and author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.

The weather is gorgeous, the 2011 event season is in full swing (everywhere!), so spend a few hours out there volunteering and live a happier, healthier life!

The ALWAYS smiling Lynda Clary-Burke, eventing volunteer extraordinaire!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday....

Luzaz enjoying carrot cake cupcakes on his 30th birthday, 2009.

Happy Birthday to my lovely, little Luzaz, who is 32-years-young today!!! Keep chugging, buddy!
Luzaz at home, circa 1986.

Me and Luzaz, Pony Club hunter show, circa 1988.

This is what happens when you ask your little sister to tack up your horse.

Me and Luzaz show jumping, Pony Club camp (Blacksburg, VA).

Galloping, back in our Pony Club days.

Luzaz snacking on grass, 2010.