Friday, December 30, 2011

New shoes.

WARNING: Twirl and sashay at your own risk. 

On my holiday foray to Charlotte last week, I got a great deal on a killer pair of shoes. And, by "killer" I mean: "Those shoes are going to kill you when you fall and break your neck," (quotation courtesy of my mother, of course). But, one thing I cannot resist is a reasonably priced ($29) pair of fancy shoes. I haven't bought any fancy shoes in a long time. I will gladly pay $70 for new shoes for Eddie every 8-12 weeks, but it'll usually be 8-12 months between shoe purchases for yours truly. It's the holidays, so I caved in and I bought. I haven't worn them yet, but I keep hearing the old, "If you build it, they will come" line from Field of Dreams echoing in my head, so I figure that if I wear them, a party will materialize somehow, somewhere!

Cross-country course walking machines. Check out those studs.
And, yes, they are purple!

And, because one pair of shoes would have come home lonely in the bag all by themselves, I had to get 2 pair to keep everyone happy. These are my foot SUVs -- perfect for running, walking, hiking, and trekking out there around cross-country courses everywhere. These were $39 on sale (I know it's tacky to talk price, but I've got to give a great deal it's due). Such fancy kicks for not a lot of cash. Happy New Year to me! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Letter to Santa.

My little haven, all decked out for the holidays.

Dear Santa,

I know that this is the time of year when you are insanely busy and things are just about at the point of spiraling out of control. I know that you have lots of things to do, places to be, and you've received millions of letters from around the world with numerous requests for presents, presents, presents. But this year, Santa, I'm going to make this easy on you: I'm not asking for anything at all. 

"Not asking for anything at all," you say? Yes, that is right. You see, Santa, at a time when most people are anxiously awaiting something new, something pretty, something expensive, something exciting, I just want to take the time to stop and look at all of the things I already have and be happy in knowing I am very lucky and blessed. 

So, instead of checking your list and processing my order, I'd just like you to sit back and relax when it comes to me. I'm alright and maybe I'll be needy and demanding next year, but not this year. That's because this year, I have all of this:

Loving friends and family. I am pretty lucky to have a family that doesn't fight, grumble, or cause me to want to tear my hair out. My friends are fabulous and although I don't get to see them as much as I'd like, I know they are out there, and they know I am out there for them as well. Whether they are my high school friends, college friends, work friends, or "horsey" friends, I have such wonderful people in my life and I cherish the good times and the memories I hold thanks to my great family and friends. 

A good job. As you know, Santa, I had a rough year or so until I was hired by several local schools to teach this past fall. I had waited and waited for the "right job" to come my way, and I wasn't even sure what that job might be. Would it be a part-time writer/editor for a local company? Would it be bank teller? Store clerk? Babysitter? Doctor's receptionist? Insurance sales? Processing medical records? I considered them all. After being laid off from a corporate job that I both loved (at least the people I worked with were great) and hated, I wasn't sure what would be in store for me next. Of course I've always been a teacher in some capacity, so finding myself back in front of a classroom (5 different classrooms, to be precise) just feels right. It's exhausting and is often punishing, but I had so many special students this semester that I noted something satisfying and rewarding that occurred almost every day. It's good to have a steady paycheck again each month, but the feeling of helping people to learn and to change their lives is something you really can't put a dollar-amount to. 

A warm home. Santa, you've visited my house every year since I've lived here (that's 11 times!) and you know my little cottage is not fancy, big, or chocked with luxurious amenities. Last December, my heating unit finally died and my parents helped to finance a new furnace system. This winter has not been harsh as yet, but it feels good to come in from the barn and have a cozy, warm  place waiting for me. It's nice to wake up in the morning and to find that the heat ran consistently through the night (that didn't happen much the year before) and I am grateful to not have to wear a hooded sweatshirt, wool socks, and gloves while eating dinner or watching t.v. There are many people out there who do not have a warm home, so I have tried to donate a little of my new income to some initiatives around town here that help needy folks find shelter and afford heat this season. As the Lord said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." I guess this is something that you know all-too-well, Santa!

Finally, I have to say that I've had a good fall season back out there in the world of Eddie and eventing. We didn't make it to a recognized event in 2011, but we had a great October, November, and December. We have placed well in our dressage classes, we rode for two days in Nashville with Kyle Carter, and....guess what, Santa? I got to meet Francis Whittington. Auditing his clinic last month was the best, most enjoyable five hours of my year! But, the high point of 2011 had to be when Eddie and I won our combined test division a few weeks ago here at Penrose Farm (we scored a 26.8!). Can you believe it? A blue ribbon, at long last. That was a great way to finish the season and give me some hope for a productive and positive 2012. See, Santa, I was good this year (and so was Eddie)!

To make a long story short, I have everything I really need right now, Mr. Claus. There are people who need more than I do, so save the gifts for them this week. My gifts can't fit in a box or under the tree, anyway, and I find them all around me, all the time, 365 days of the year. So don't worry about stopping by my house on Saturday night....unless you just want to drop in for a few cookies and some strong eggnog. That's what I'll be having for Christmas, as I dream not of sugarplums, but of warm beds, well-fed dogs, happy family, loyal friends, and one super-duper red and white horse. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

One of those is blue!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jumping the Brick Walls

This past semester, I had the pleasure of teaching a Liberal Studies seminar to nursing and business students at my alma mater, King College. The class focused on Stewardship and Ethical Responsibility and we read some fabulous texts, watched a film, read/enacted several plays, and spent one emotional class period viewing and discussing Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture." There are so many ways that we could have explored this topic, but you know what they say about so much to do and so little time....

Each week we met (a total of 5 times, or once every 3 weeks) this term, the students would submit a reflection or response paper regarding the material they read and studied leading up to that particular class period. One of my business students was a vision-impaired gentleman who was able to access audio versions of most of the work we covered, but not all of it. For his final reflection paper, he asked my permission to write on his journey through college, since he had not been able to obtain the book. I enthusiastically agreed and he gave me his paper on the last night of class. 

His paper talked specifically about an experience he had about 8 years ago when he traveled to North Carolina to help the VA test visual aid equipment. One of the experiments he encountered required him to use a certain piece of equipment and to try and walk the local streets unassisted. He was accompanied by two sighted guides who would ensure his safety as he traveled along. At one point, they were talking and did not notice as he approached the side of a nearby building. As my student wrote, "The next thing I found on my journey was a brick wall. The guides were talking and not paying attention and I literally walked face-first into a wall. Did this stop me? No, I looked at them and said, 'Just another obstacle I have to overcome!'" I was very touched by this paper and the connections my student had made to facing physical and psychological challenges in his quest to attain a Bachelor's degree. I also could not help but to make comparisons to "jumping walls" in my own life.....literally, on the back of my horse. 

When we talk as equestrians, particularly eventers, we discuss many of the jumps we face on cross-country or show jumping courses as "obstacles." These are part of what we put in front of ourselves and our horses to test our skill, courage, athleticism, and accuracy. But, these obstacles also test our mental preparedness, bravery, and heart. Not too different from what my student faces as he enters each of his classes every new semester. There are many obstacles we face in life and I always feel as though I approach these questions as a rider: looking ahead, leg on, riding to the base of the jump, and kicking forward upon landing.

As he ended his paper, my student wrote, "I know that the devil is always putting brick walls in our paths. The question is, what do you do when you reach the brick wall? Do we stop and let the devil win, or do we figure out how to go over the wall? My goal in life is to be a wall jumper." After reading this paper, I smiled and thought to myself that -- like this amazing student -- I, too, endeavor to always "be a wall jumper." 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

RANT: USEA convention

Let me preface this by saying that I am not bitter because I'm not there this weekend. My decision to skip out and not participate wasn't due to limited finances (for once, if you can believe that); it was a conscious decision made after thoughtful consideration.

A month or so ago, I fully intended on attending the USEA annual convention in my own home state of good ole Tennessee. How exciting, right? Nashville is a great city, it's only 3 hours from me, and tons of my eventing friends -- not to mention my sister -- live there, and it would have been such a fabulous trip. But, as I realized that the meetings started on Wednesday, and I teach Monday-Friday, I began to wonder how much I could realistically attend. I teach for a college that does not allow sick days/time off for adjuncts without reducing their salary accordingly for each day they miss class. Say what? Yep, you heard me correctly. If I were to cancel class (for any reason at all, including death or hospitalization), my contract salary is docked for every day I do not meet with my students. With the convention falling during the last 2 days of the semester, this made finding a substitute to meet with my classes very difficult and all but pointless. My only option was to consider attending over the weekend (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon). So, I planned to do just that.

As the weeks progressed and I got excited about the trip to Nashville, I pulled up the schedule of events for the convention and I was deeply disappointed to realize that other than a few random sessions on Saturday and relatively none on Sunday, it would be ridiculous for me to make a 3-hour trip for very little involvement or participation. In addition to that, the cost of attending was in excess of $100 per day. Of course, there is a bundled fee of about $200+ for the entire convention (not including the banquet or the many $10-$12 cocktails I would need at the end of each day), but when the majority of the activities fell on Friday-Saturday, that's not much of a discount over the daily fee. But, I'll get to that shortly.

So, let's say that I had cancelled my classes for Thursday and Friday, took the subsequent pay cut, hired a farm sitter, made the trip to Nashville, and paid the registration fees. Let's see what I would have gotten for my efforts:

Thursday, Dec. 8

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm  Irrelevant
USEA Trade Fair  Irrelevant
USEF Eventing Technical Committee Not attending
USEF Eventing Technical Committee Committee Members Only 
Membership Committee Committee Members Only
Course Advisors Committee Committee Members Only
Area Affairs/Chairs Committee Committee Members Only
Professional Horseman’s Council Would attend
USEF Active Athletes Open Forum Not a USEF active athlete
Classic Committee Committee Members Only
Eventing Course Designers/Builders Committee Members Only
Rider Strength and Conditioning Workshop  Would attend
USEA Xentry: What's Next? Irrelevant
USEF Event Owner’s Task Force Irrelevant
Eventing Licensed Officials Committee Committee Members Only
Is your Horse Fit to Finish? Irrelevant
Board of Governors’ Reception Irrelevant
USEA Executive Committee and A&F Joint Meeting Committee Members Only
Friday,  Dec. 9

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm Irrelevant
USEA Trade Fair Irrelevant
Smart Business Practices for Eventers Irrelevant
USEA Board of Governors Meeting Not attending
EMSA Board Meeting Committee Members Only
Course Designers/Builders Open Forum Would attend
The Development Of SJ Courses At The Modern Olympic Games Not attending
Horse Parks, Hay Fields and Hack Lanes: How to Protect our Interest Would attend
Equestrian Sports Psychology Seminar Would attend
Dress Your Event For Success Irrelevant
Rule Change Open Forum Time conflicts with psych seminar
PRO Annual Meeting Irrelevant
Developing Your Eye: Judging YEH and FEH Conformation Irrelevant
The Latest in Eventing Safety Sponsored by Point-Two Air Jackets Would attend
Eventing Licensed Officials Committee Members Only
Area Treasurers/Chairs Working Session Committee Members Only
FEH Open Forum/Panel Discussion Irrelevant
Organizers Open Forum Irrelevant
Get The Most Out Of Your Pre-Purchase Exam Irrelevant
Young Event Horse Committee Members Only
Training Solutions from Top Event Riders Would attend
Competition Calendar and Rules Committee Committee Members Only
Raising the Bar on Barn Safety Time conflicts with riders forum
USEF Eventing High Performance Committee Members Only
USEA Endowment Trust Committee Members Only
Eventing Affiliates Irrelevant
PRO Year End Awards Pointless
Young Riders Coordinators Session/Comm. Meeting Committee Members Only
YR Dinner Sponsored By: Gallops Saddlery, Fleeceworks, Kerrits, and
VTO Saddlery Irrelevant
Saturday, Dec. 10

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm Irrelevant
USEF Eventing High Performance/Tech.Comm Joint Meeting Committee Members Only
USEA Trade Fair Irrelevant
Adult Riders Open Forum Would attend
The Road to The NAJYRC… Making Sense of It All Irrelevant
EMSA Open Forum Time conflicts with AR forum
Navigating Through the World of Joint Treatments Sponsored by Adequan Irrelevant
Eventing Calendar Planning for 2013 and Beyond Irrelevant
Colic: The Deadly Killer sadly know more about this already than ever wanted to
Young Riders Open Forum Irrelevant
Success Factor: The Influence of Tack on Biomechanics Sponsored by WEB Maybe
Where Does Your Entry Fee Go? Would attend
USEA Annual Meeting with Keynote Speaker Clayton Fredericks Yes, definitely
Pan Am Games Review Yawn
American Horse Trials Foundation Probably not
Cocktails and Live Auction Would need drinks by now, if had any money left
Year-End Awards Dinner NO WAY... too expensive on top of daily registration must be joking.

Sunday's "offerings" don't even merit listing here.

Does this bother anyone else besides me? As you can see, after I had done an in-depth analysis, it was almost ludicrous for me to give up my students on their last 2 days of class, lose that income, spend money driving to Nashville, spend money registering for the convention, and actually muster up the enthusiasm to mill around the Sheraton for 3 whole days attempting to mingle and participate in something that, on paper, appears to be designed with very little thought given to me at all. And, who am I? I am one of the lower-level amateurs who competes BN-T (hopefully), is an active member of the USEA, loves my sport, volunteers often, adores my fellow eventers, has a devotion to everything eventing, worships my horse, respects our professionals, supports local events, works hard to accomplish whatever I manage to accomplish, and never causes trouble nor complains about much at all. Why am I so unimportant? At first, I was surprised that none of my eventer friends (many of whom LIVE IN NASHVILLE) were even remotely interested in attending the convention. After much thought, I can now see why. I have only attended the USEA convention one time (when it was in Charlotte several years ago, mainly because I turned it into a 5-day visit with my best friend who lives there). I was initially so excited it was coming to Nashville this year, but I'm really frustrated now. I'm frustrated that much of what was offered was not relevant or open to my inclusion. I'm frustrated that it would have cost more to attend a few choice sessions over the span of 1 or 2 days than it would cost me to actually enter and compete in a USEA-sanctioned horse trial. I'm frustrated that I wanted so badly to attend, learn, experience, and participate, but it just wasn't worth it. And, I'm frustrated that out of dozens of USEA members, competitors, ammie/professional riders, and eventing trainers I know in the Nashville area that only ONE person is actually attending. What is wrong with this picture? Just think, if they had created more opportunities on Saturday/Sunday for people with a Monday-Friday job, and made the cost more affordable, I would have been there. Instead, I didn't go, didn't participate, and the USEA got $0 from me when they could have gotten $50, or $75, or even $100 if things had been priced differently. I'm not a math genius, but I do know that some profit is better than none. least Eventing Nation John is there reporting back to everyone via EN. I appreciate that so much. It certainly makes my decision to sit this out a positive one on my part. But, doesn't that mean there is something wrong with this scenario, when I am content (almost forced) to participate from afar?????

UPDATE: 12/11/2011
My blog is automatically posted to my profile on Facebook, and after this entry appeared last evening, a great discussion ensued on my page, and I am -- unfortunately -- not alone in feeling as I do. Here are a sampling of most of the comments.

  • [Area III adult rider and USEA member/owner]: thanks for taking the time to write my sentiments KERZACTLY!!!! Happy that all who could go and get together did so, but couldn't even BEGIN to muster an itty bitty bit of real regret in not going...let's have our own convention soon though, ok?
  • [Area I adult rider and USEA member/competitor]: Did not break this down in my head like this... Really good points...
  • [A convention-attending USEA member/competitor/T3D rider from Nashville]: I was there... and I hear ya. I did not feel like I got my money's worth.
  • [Local USEA event organizer, venue manager, volunteer coordinator, USEA member/competitor parent, and USEA member/competitor herself]: My thoughts exactly! Was planning on going, staying with a friend,(trying to cut down on cost) and looking forward to learning and being with fellow eventers and organizers. Then I saw the price. For me it WAS about the price. Out of the question. So how can it be a convention for me/us, members of USEA, when it excludes so many of us?
  • [My response to all of them]: [Name of previous commenter], It's almost like they should have all of the committee meetings on Thursday/Friday, and then lots of fun, informative, and interactive sessions for riders, owners, organizers, and course designers on Saturday/Sunday. I know they can't make everybody happy all of the time, but it sounds as though -- resoundingly -- I am not alone in my frustration! [Name of above respondent], you're right. This is about the third or fourth USEA convention agenda that I've looked at the past few years where it seems as though the offerings continue to move further and further towards administration and select participants, and further away from pulling in the people out there running competitions, managing venues, and entering/competing at events. It also irked me that there were NO SESSIONS (as far as I could tell) that discussed improving volunteer involvement. And, there was the "Pan Am Games Review" session, but where were the forums for riders who participated in the Classic 3-day in South Carolina this past spring? Or, the T3Ds across the country in 2011? I also didn't see ANYTHING that looked interesting for younger riders (our JRs, who constitute a lot of the lower-level membership and generate just as many dollars as you and I do). Kind of shameful, the more I think about it. Grrrr.....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Friday Favorites: Alexandra Green

Alex at the Fair Hill International CCI2* 2011
Photo by Shannon Brinkman

Once again, I have a fabulous and fun rider as my "Friday Favorite." Alexandra Green is a lovely and talented young eventer from Knoxville. For the past several years, she has acquired a solid and impressive record at a number of competitions in Area III, as well as various sites up and down the East Coast. Recently, she and her horse, Fernhill Cubalawn, finished 3rd at the Red Hills CIC1* and she galloped round the Fair Hill CCI2* just two months ago. Deservedly so, she was named last week to the USEF 2012 Developing Rider List. I think it is safe to say that she and Cuba have a very exciting future together!

Not only is Alex a gifted rider, but she is also a positive and enthusiastic ambassador for our sport. At the conclusion of Fair Hill, she recapped a challenging run in an honest and humble entry on her blog: " Always listen to your horse. 
Cuba has been cruising around the Intermediate the last five months, making me very optimistic about going out and having a speedy round at Fair Hill. Unfortunately, Cuba’s fitness was not ready to endure the deep footing and cold weather compared to his hard ground and warm breeze back home. He was a pretty tired pony by minute seven, and I had to take off the gas and nurse him around the last third of the course finishing with a bit of time but atleast I had a horse to show jump the next day. If I had kept kicking for time, there could have been a good chance I would not have made it through the finish flags. That would have been a long drive home if I had kept pushing for time, and I’m glad I took care of my horse out there and helped him when he needed it.

Alex and Fernhill Cubalawn, Fair Hill 2011
Photo by Shannon Brinkman

And now, here's a little more about Alex and some of her favorite things:

1. Favorite name for a horse:  Jakey (Maybe because I have a bit of a crush on the horse Jacob Two Two)
2. Favorite drink:  Milk
3. Favorite vacation destination:  East Coast kicking it in my LQ's trailer of course. Horses aside, I love the mountains and hiking.
4. Favorite book:  Harry Potter
5. Favorite reality t.v. show:  America's Next Top Model
6. Favorite pair of shoes:   I have a weakness for beautiful heels, but I probably love my Brooks running shoes more then life itself.
7. Favorite high school subject:  Government
8. Favorite pizza topping:  All of the veggies
9. Favorite city that you've never lived in:  New York City
10. Favorite motto:  "You can always do more, be more, live more."

Alex and Cuba, Fair Hill 2011
Photo by Shannon Brinkman