Friday, October 2, 2015

The Emerging Athlete Program Experience

By Louisa Brackett, Grayslake, IL - July 2015
Trains with Red Coat Farm/Lisa Goldman

One of the riding groups at 2015 EAP at Ledges with Chris Kappler.

Waking up on the first day of EAP, I was thrilled to become, once again, completely immersed with horses for five days. Since this was my third year in the clinic, I definitely felt as though I knew (somewhat) of what to expect, but then again, with horses, you should never expect the same thing twice! I had the fantastic opportunity to do the clinic three times with the same horse, Beau, my eight-year-old Westphalian gelding. My very close friend, Sarah Lanphere, got a new horse on the very first day of the clinic! I admire that she was able to adapt quickly and share quite an intense experience with a new ride. No matter what your height level or prize money category, EAP takes you on and off your horse and gives you the education to become a real horse woman or man, covering both the basics and more advanced skills.

On arrival day, horses and trailers trickled in and riders quickly set up their stalls, always keeping safety and organization in mind. I'll tell you, the hardest thing about setting up is making sure the fans are securely fastened and away from hungry horses! Nicole Noland (my friend and fellow Red Coat Farm rider) and I must have spent an hour-and-a-half wrestling with zip ties and bungee cords, all with the intention of passing the safety test of our barn manager, Anne Thornbury. For the past three years, Anne has been an inspiration to me. I find myself quoting her often, because everything she says is memorable!

The first day's schedule began in the afternoon and included a routine tack/stall check and hacking, in addition to a group meeting. Nicole Noland and I had the convenience of laying over from the horse show, so we had all our chores pretty much done and horses settled in. Nicole Noland, Sarah Lanphere, Sarah Kennedy, and I have all done the clinic before and we all knew sleep was your best friend, other than your horse, of course!

The actual first full clinic day started at 5:30 am for me because my equine partner is grey, and the wash rack is where we spend 50% of our time together. Like many clinics, we were split into three groups according to rider and horse level. The groups rotated during the day and covered three different sections, riding, barn management, and jump crew. I was in the first group throughout the week. In the first riding session, we focused entirely on flatwork and basic dressage. There was not a fence in sight! The flatwork went pretty smoothly for everyone except me, as I was aboard a very fresh horse! Clinician Chris Kappler even referred to my equitation gelding as an emotional jumper mare. I was borderline terrified that he would ask me what I showed my horse in because Beau was being uncontrollable and there is no way he would have believed that my horse was capable of being a sane equitation horse! Our barn management topic for the first day was managing the horse business in the real world. We all explained why we might or might not want to persue horses as a career. Bella Roman, Anna Spitzer, and I said that we loved the interaction between horse and human, but wouldn’t necessarily want it as a job. It was Dani Roskins and Anne Thornbury who brought up the wonderful point that in order to succeed, you have to be a “people person” as well as a horse person!

Day one was flat work.

Our third rotation was jump crew and you bet we were lathered up with sunscreen and well-hydrated before we headed to the bottom of the ring with Chris. Simple jump crew rules are to never get in the horse’s way (nice way of saying don’t get run over), never cross your feet, and stand near the active jumps so you don’t have to sprint a half-marathon each time a jump comes down. Dani and I were repeat veterans from last year and definitely had jump crew down to a science. We would always fly out in pairs to catch a rail, and Dani beat me every time (thanks to her career in soccer before horses)!

Groups take turns with jump crew duties.

The next day consisted of gymnastics work and obstacles such as liverpools and walls. This was consistently a wonderful exercise for everyone because it really focused on the adjustability of your horse, which would all end up being very useful on the final day. The whole idea of the riding section of the clinic was to build up for the last day and really put together what you’ve learned throughout the clinic. Chris explained to us that each course asks very different “questions” that you need to respond to with more or less leg, seat, or hand. In the barn session, we reviewed basic bandaging techniques such as stack wraps. Even though my horse tends to line dance in the crossties, we ended up using Beau for a majority of the seminars.

The last clinic day definitely had a lot at stake. This was the day where Chris really tried to push us to our limits, all in the hopes of making us very comfortable in the final round, which is a reoccurring theme in EAP clinics. Our lesson was broken down into tighter turns, bending lines, and learning to jump comfortably on a little bit of a slice. Yes, of course we would all like to be flawless and really show off our best at every jump, but we all know that is not how the sport goes. With my horse, I was having problems seeing the best distances. Chris explained to me that you must come out of the turn and “attack the jump.” This was very beneficial to me since I tend to steady back out of the corner and decrease my pace while waiting for a distance “to simply appear.”

The last day also included the dreaded horsemanship written test. As a veteran, it was almost comical to see the first-year riders fret about it beforehand. The test was open-book and you could work on it in a group! I found this very interesting to see how much my peers knew! I was extremely impressed with how my group participated, especially since it all paid of with 100% scores. We all agreed that medication names and correct spacing between ground poles was the hardest to remember, and were therefore the most looked-up topics.

The final day! Each year, this has been a little bit different. My first year, with clinician Cynthia Hankins, was just like a normal jumper class -- timed and placed! In my second year, clinician Geoff Teal surprised us with an interactive, more laidback hunter course at the end of a week filled with jumper drills. In this third year, Chris (with our help) set a beautiful course that consisted of a 6-stride line to start off on the left lead away from the in-gate, an inside turn to a wall, four-stride to an oxer, around the corner to a one-stride, a direct 6 or bending 7 to a liverpool, to an end jump on an angle, long ride to another one-stride, around-and-over to a vertical, and finally, a long ride to an oxer. The course was very straightforward and we all definitely felt ready, especially thanks to the preparation we had throughout the week. There was only one “question” to the course that you really needed to ask and answer. That was indeed the line that could either be a 6 or 7. My decision, which was easier to make than others, was quite simple. This clinic is all about building upon the previous day. Chris had mentioned that my horse was almost too good at adding the stride in! In conclusion, I chose to ride a direct 6, which was successful. I was very pleased with how my trip had been. The icing on the cake was when Anne Thornbury commented on how much Beau had grown up because, yes, she was witness to my previous years’ rounds, which I am sure were quite memorable.

I would absolutely recommend the Emerging Athletes Program to everyone. I can’t even explain the many ways it has helped me over the past three years. Each experience only got better, and I was able to build upon the knowledge I had gained previously. This program is special because its purpose is to make you the best horseman not only in the saddle, but also out of the saddle. Another one of the countless benefits is that you really make friends for a lifetime. Especially since our horse world is such a small world, it really matters to make friendships that you can always count on. I would also like to extend a huge thanks to Chris Kappler, Geoff Teal, Cynthia Hankins, Anne Thornbury, Nanci Synder, Meghan Carney, Ledges Sporting Horses (Pat and Nicole Boyle), and to the rest of the Emerging Athletes Program for helping to make me the horsewoman I am today. I am ecstatic to expand upon what I have learned and continue to grow with so many new and old EAP friends by my side.