Monday, November 28, 2011

As Winter Sets In

The season has officially ended over here.  The competition season that is. A new season of sorts has just begun. It is that time of the year when EVERYONE comes to Ireland to look at horses. I swear to you I have seen a greater variety of American event riders here in Ireland than I ever did back home. The best part is, no matter how little I really know the people who have come over, I act as if they are my long lost best friends.

Let me give you an example of an interaction. Now, keep in mind, I am always wearing this white USA hat because it is the only hat I have and it is always raining so I have to wear it. Plus I enjoy stubbornly holding on to my identity. As if my hat is saying, “yeah, I’m American, you won’t shame me into denying it”. Anyhow, this baseball cap means that anyone coming in can instantly identify me as Carol’s American girl (more of an official name over here than even “Lilly”).

So in walks the client and they immediately say, “ohhhh, you are Lillian, right?”
My reaction: “Oh my gosh, AMERICANS!!!!!! IT IS SO SO GREAT TO SEE YOU. How are you? How was your trip? I didn’t even realize you were coming?”

Keep in mind that I generally don’t even know half the people beyond the faint recollection of seeing them at events. They probably are thrown off by my over-enthusiasm at seeing them and wonder, “Geez, I didn’t think we knew each other that well but maybe I am forgetting something”. You see I just have this odd patriotic feeling that comes over me and makes me feel like anyone with my nationality is actually a member of my family. It is completely over the top. The good news is my enthusiasm normally wins them over and they soon begin to act as if they too believe us to be best friends. Then the girls I work with say, “wow, they must be your really good friends from back home”. I respond, “ehhhh, I am actually not sure we have ever met before”.  Just imagine what happens when an American comes that I actually am close with. My behavior borders on creepy. All I can say is I’m working on getting myself under control.

Even though we are not competing anymore, life at Fernhill remains very exciting because of all this activity. New horses are coming in all the time which is great because there is nothing quite like getting on a horse for the first time. You know that feeling when you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen? It reminds me of when I would watch game shows and I always wanted the contestant to choose what was behind the curtain instead of what they already had. That is what riding here is like. I am always getting the thrill of seeing what is behind the curtain.

They had a big end of the year Eventing Ball that I was lucky enough to attend. It was very exciting and I am not quite sure why we don’t do something like this at home. It was a formal event and, oddly enough, I did not pack my formal ball-gown when I came over. (Although I did pack a bathing suit? Why would I ever need a bathing suit in Ireland?) I had to buy a dress, and shoes, and jewelry, and makeup. I got all done up and headed down to the ball. Now first off, I would like to say that it was a great party. I may or may not have thrown some of my moves down on the dance floor. Those of you who have seen me dance know what I am talking about. For those of you who haven’t, imagine someone who can’t dance. That’s me.  

BUT the problem was, I once again was completely unable to keep pace with the Irish. I kid you not, the party ended at 7 am when they had to kick people out of the hotel bar so they could clean it for the coming day.  I think at about one in the morning (when dinner had just finished being served), I was sitting on the linoleum floor of the lobby nearly crying because I had had enough. Meanwhile everyone else was just starting to get into it.  All I can say is these people are legends and although they are engaging in potentially self-destructive behavior, they are a GOOD TIME.

So here I am, still in Ireland, riding, dancing, and acting a fool. A few parting notes: the weather has been better here than at home. I don’t know why I feel the need to do a daily weather comparison but it makes me happy. I have also adopted the barn cat as my own personal pet and due to a brief gender confusion, called him Petunia. I am refusing to back down from that name. 

Until next time!

Friday, October 7, 2011

My First 3-day Event in Ireland...Or how NOT to keep a low profile.

It feels like a lot has happened since the last time I wrote a blog. The good news is I am still in Ireland, I still work for Carol, and I still seem to be making a fool of myself on a regular basis…which means plenty to entertain you with!

Two weeks ago I headed off to Ballindenisk to compete in the CIC** on Primus. Fraser was riding a few of Carol’s horses in the 3-day as well so we all loaded up in the Fernhill truck for a week of fun and sun. Oh wait, I mean rain. Now, Ballindenisk is like the Fair Hill of Ireland. Everyone has been there a million times. Even though they knew I was American, people couldn’t believe I had never been here before.

Me: “I only arrived a couple weeks ago”
The Irish: “Yes but surely you have jumped this road crossing before. Everybody has jumped it. It has been here forever.”
Me: “Well, I have never been here before”
The Irish: “Hmm, I have never known anyone who has never been to Ballindenisk”

My plan was to just fade into the routine of the International event, a routine I know well. I was going to just keep a low profile, maybe make some new friends, but absolutely NOT don my metaphorical “Scarlet letter” that brands me as the new American rider that doesn’t quite seem to ever know what is going on.

And then I decided to just do me instead.

My dressage test was so disastrous that in retrospect, it can only be seen as comedic. I was unable to bring my top hat with me to Ireland because of limited packing space. I decided to borrow one from Carol because she has quite a few.

(Note: When I made this decision I knew that it might be problematic because for some obscure reason I have never been able to find a top hat that sits properly on my head. They all fall off.  If anyone has any suggestions on how to solve this problem please let me know. I have thought of everything obvious to try to keep it on…padding, sticky tape, sticky spray, pins. I am one FEI event away from using a chinstrap, and nobody wants to see that.)

Anyways, back to my story. I was the first competitor in the CIC in the ring. To make my long and boring warm-up story short, I entered the ring 100 percent positive my hat would fall off but I also knew it would not eliminate me so I had no other option than to be the girl who’s top-hat falls off. Well I made it about 3 feet into the arena before it flew off. I thought I would just shake it off and continue on. I halted and then tracked right. I bet you guys can guess what happened next. The bell rang and my judge informed me I was supposed to track left. I tell her ok, and then I circle around to turn left and continue on. But here is the problem…as I am turning left I am also thinking that I am completely sure that in the test I had learned you were supposed to track right. I track left anyway and begin the test cringing, absolutely positive that I had learned the wrong test. Bell rings.

Judge: “You were supposed to traverse, not shoulder-in”
Me: “Umm, I learned the wrong test”
Judge: “Are you sure you aren’t just frazzled because your hat flew-off”
Me: “Well, I am frazzled because of that but also because I definitely don’t know the test”
Judge: “I regret to inform you that you are eliminated”

As I walked out of the ring with my hairnet flopping in the wind, I really felt bad for the ring steward who had to pick up my top-hat, hand it to me, and apologize for not only losing my hat but for being ELIMINATED. I was mortified. New plan for the day: catch the first plane back to America, dig myself a hole, and live in it until horses were extinct.

As I walk out of the ring I notice that every rider who was warming up for their test is off of their horses and frantically thumbing through the test booklet. What’s going on? I realized that I was not the only one who had learned the wrong test. They had changed the test the week before and many of us were unaware of the switch. I have never been so happy to be working for Carol Gee. I explain to her what is going on and she marches up to the officials, demanding I be able to learn the test and ride again. There is a lot of discussion, hemming and hawing, threats from Carol. They say that the change was announced in the briefing. And here is where I was saved…a simple technicality… CIC competitors are not required to be at the briefing!

Well, I was given about 8 minutes to learn the new test, that I had never practiced, and go back into the ring. I sort of learned it, practiced one of the moves and marched into the arena again. This time I was wearing my tails and my hunt cap. I gave a fleeting thought to being embarrassed by my fashion faux pas but then I thought that really “faux pas” should probably be my middle name. Ok, after it was all said and done, I did have one error but I got a score of 56. I was very happy with this given the circumstances.

The fall out? Everybody at the event heard about what happened and felt so terrible for me. Great. So much for keeping a low profile. I came back to the barn and Annalena who was helping us out that week said, “When I heard what happened I almost just left the event all together” I cracked up because if that was her reaction, imagine ME.

Luckily I had a great cross-country ride and great show jumping round as well. I also met tons of very cool people. Let me tell you, these Irish know how to party at an event. They had a proper pub set up on the grounds in the basement of the barn, with a full bar and bartender. They also had a poll dancing competition? I called it a night Saturday night at 11 because I wanted to be well rested for the next day. Also because I wouldn’t be the only one scarred if I ended up on the poll that night. One of the girls came back at 2 am from the party. The next day someone said to her,

“You turned in early last night!”
My response was, “Since when is 2 am early?”
Her response: “Since the party goes until 5 am”
What?!? And these people can still ride the next day? Oh dear, if this is what it is going to take to make friends with the Irish event riders I am not going to make it.

So I am still pretty positive that Ireland is going to be the death of me. Whether it is death by embarrassment, death by horse, or death by partying cannot be determined yet. You will all be happy to know that I have been practicing my leg up and I am slowly improving. The operative word here being “slow” but let us remain positive!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Little Irish Adventure Begins

Here I sit, typing away at my laptop from the dark corner table of a pub in the city of Kilkenny, Ireland, minutes away from my new home at Fernhill Sport Horse Centre. If you are surprised or a bit confused, don’t worry, you haven’t missed much… Let me catch you up. I first came to Ireland about two months ago to look for a new horse. Phillip Dutton connected me with Carol Gee, the owner of Fernhill Sport Horses. We really hit it off and she offered me the opportunity to move to Ireland and ride horses for her. Once I got back home, I gave the idea some thought (for about 30 seconds) and then started packing up my bags! With the support and a fabulous send off from everybody, I flew to Ireland about 2 weeks ago.

At the arrivals gate at the airport, I kept repeating in my head, “Do not go to the right side of the car. Passengers ride on the left. Do not go…” So of course, I tried to climb into the driver’s side door at the airport. It was at this point I knew that no matter how prepared I was for working on a farm, I was going to make an idiot out of myself on a regular basis. And I can tell you I was right. For example, apparently in Ireland they don’t get on the horse by putting your foot in the stirrup and climbing on from the ground. They either get a leg up or they do this scary, strange leap. This ‘leap’ involves a superhuman ability to jump and extreme upper body strength… two things I am seriously lacking. Now you might be thinking, why is this a problem, she can just get a leg up right? Wrong. I am not sure where I go wrong in my technique but when someone gives me a leg up, they get me about a foot off the ground and I awkwardly flop my stomach about halfway up the saddle. Go ahead. Take a moment and create a visual image of this. So here I am in Ireland, considering myself well prepared for this job after years of working in barns, and I am unable to get on the horses. How do you say embarrassing in Irish?

Lucky for me, Carol did not send me home straight away after this evident failure. Instead, we headed off the day after I arrived to Millstreet, a jumper show where we would be scouting for new horses. There was also a 4 and 5-year-old Event Horse Class that I was to compete in the first day. Terrifying! Let me break it down for you: I had no idea what I was doing; I had never ridden the horse before; the horse had also never done an event before; and I was feeling good for just being able to get on the horse… The horse was fabulous though and despite being a little bit damp (oh yes, it rained) it was a great first competition in Ireland.

For the next couple of days we watched the classes and tried dozens of horses. It was at this point that my inability to get a leg up really hit home. I would awkwardly apologize in advance to each guy that had to literally lift me on to his horse. Add to that my other major handicap here, my inability to understand anyone, and you can imagine that all of these gentlemen probably thought I was a bit short of a full box.... Now, I have always had trouble deciphering people with accents. But these Irishmen not only speak with a thick brogue but they also mumble. Seriously, they barely open their mouths. I stare at them while they talk to me and think, “come on Lillian, try this time to understand”. My most often used word up to this point in this country is, “pardon?”

After a very fun week at Millstreet, we headed back to Carol’s yard (that’s “farm” for all you Yanks) to begin riding and training and getting into the routine. I have about 8 horses that I am in charge of training every day and competing when the occasion arises with the ultimate goal of selling. Days are filled with riding, grooming, and showing horses to clients. The horses I have been assigned are all top quality so even though I will probably only ride them for a short while (if I do my job right), it is a pleasure training them now. I will be able to go to my first real event in Ireland soon and I am looking forward to a whole new environment that I don’t know anything about!

There isn’t as much to report about my “non-horse” life. I have not stopped since I jumped into the car at the airport thanks in large part to the whirlwind of energy that is Carol Gee. I have ventured into town only a few times so far. Driving on the wrong side of the road, in a manual car, when I don’t know where I am going proves challenging but I am sure I will figure it out soon enough. I guess its just another example of something else I can’t do in this country that I could do at home!

That’s all for now, I will keep everyone updated on my seemingly slow assimilation to Irish culture. Maybe next week I will be able to get on the horses I am supposed to ride…

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Big Changes!

What’s that saying? Out of every adversity comes an equal or greater…  Closed doors, opened windows… silver linings…? Silver lined doors? Insulated doors and open windows?  While it seems like I don’t have a complete grasp on inspirational quotes, I’m thinking you know what I’m trying to say. Everyone at this point seems to know about all of the bad moments I have had in the past year. Today I’m really excited to finally get to share some great moments instead!

In early June, I was given the opportunity to travel overseas to do a little shopping. Although I wasn’t completely ready to go (mentally, at least) everyone around me seemed to think it would be a great experience for me. Boyd and Phillip connected me with their contacts in France, Ireland and Germany so off I went. If you ever want to test your resilience and ability to function without sleep try dealing with a tragedy and then immediately leaving for a whirlwind trip that starts in Paris. The French really know how to enjoy life and definitely know how to pull a girl out of a bad mood! It didn’t take too many days of riding all day, eating and drinking all night, three hours of sleep, then repeat to put me in a place of giddy exhaustion. The entire trip from beginning to end was filled with caring strangers who immediately became wonderful friends as they extended themselves in every way to make my trip fantastic.

I came back from the experience in a much better frame of mind, although exhausted, and ready to buckle down and start rebuilding. I had moved into a new apartment the day I left for Europe and so still had a tiny bit of organizing to handle. I had seen a few horses that had caught my eye and had a bit of financing to figure out. And, it was just time to start life again! Best-laid plans… right?

So, instead of doing all of the above, I’ve decided to move to Ireland! Wait, what, you say? Its okay, go ahead and re-read that sentence again. It’s true. I’ve decided its time to have my next big adventure, and look at what’s popped up! One of the wonderful people I met in Ireland was Carol Gee. A few weeks after I returned to the States, she called to offer me the opportunity to join her team as her Head Rider. How can a girl say no?! A great stable, some great horses, and Ireland!

As usual, now that I’ve decided to do something, I see no reason to do it slowly. So I’ve given myself two weeks to finish up here, pack everything up, travel around a bit to give some kisses and hugs and then off I go. Should be no problem, right? Let’s all stay optimistic, ‘k?

At this point, I’d like to close this post with an inspirational quote about changes being good for the soul. That’s clearly not going to be successful, so you will just have to imagine it instead. I’m off to pack!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thank You

I think I will probably spend most of the next year overusing those two words. Even already, they seem completely useless in response to the ocean of support that has surrounded all of us at True Prospect. It takes my breath away.

Two night ago, The Whip (a local restaurant and tavern where I, admittedly, spend a good amount of time) generously organized a benefit for Caitlin, Ryan, and me. Although I was so grateful for it, I was a little nervous to go. There has been so much sadness and crying these past few days, I wasn’t sure that I could handle any more of it.

I should have known that no night at The Whip would be a pity-fest! Instead, it was a relief to be surrounded by so many people who cared so openly for all of us. While commiserating, you all managed to be so joyful and supportive that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Beyond the incredibly generous financial support you gave, it was just the comfort of being with you that made everything a little bit easier that night.

As expected in the horse world, we are back to work again. We are spending our time setting up the new barn, cleaning whatever tack is salvageable, and riding. It is actually relaxing to have something to do, to be back in some sort of routine, and working again.  Watching Boyd’s determination to move forward, while still mourning all of our losses, inspires me to follow his lead. I am lucky to have him and the rest of the “Martin Team”.

All right, it seems that I am back to those two little words again: Thank You. I promise I will eventually say it individually to each of you, but until then please know how much everything has meant to me, and thank you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Sad Day at True Prospect Farm

If you have made your way over to this page, you have probably already heard about the disaster that we lived through 24 hours ago. Since I have received so many calls, texts, and messages of support, it seems futile to try and respond to them individually. So, in response to you all: we are okay; we are sad and a bit lost but okay and thankful for all of your care and attention.

Last night Caitlin, Ryan and I woke up to a fire in the barn below the apartment we were sleeping in. We were lucky to move quickly enough to save 5 of the horses stabled in the barn. Unfortunately, the fire moved too fast and we couldn’t save the remaining 6. My heart breaks for all six, but especially for my own special mare, Ariel. She and I were planning to take Bromont by storm in a few weeks as we competed in her first one star.

As luck would have it (and only in this situation would it be considered lucky), we moved Whitey to a barn in Virginia to recuperate from an injury only a week ago so he was not in the stable last night. He is happy and well cared for at Tuppenny Farm with Lizzie Olmstead for the time being.

 As so many of you have expressed interest in helping, there have been multiple funds created for donations. In particular, Boyd, Caitlin and I all have funds set up with the American Horse Trials Foundation: 221 Grove Cove Road Centreville, MD 21617. Check out for more information about donating.  

Again, thank you for all of your kind thoughts and messages. As we sort out the mess (literally and figuratively), we will begin to get a better idea of how we are going to move forward. Stay tuned and I will do my best to keep you updated.