After just two rides Rizzo and I went to a Dressage Show, won our class and completed the 5th out of 6 rides I need to earn an achievement called the United States Dressage Federation Bronze Medal. It is something I first learned of at age 20, 15 years ago now… It has been a major personal goal of mine and no small task in my situation for whatever reason. I have found my husband’s wit’s end and received incredible support from the equestrian community in the form of trainers and friends.
In 2016, I made significant progress on my trainer/friend’s horse Frerico, 4 out of the 6 scores needed. But I moved away from his farm. He lived with me here in Carpinteria in 2017 from August until November, which thankfully he left to go to Keenridge before the Thomas Fire, which I haven’t written about just told the stories at least 100 times.
This 4th of July, I will begin to share my journey of achieving my first USDF Medal, Bronze, with hopes of Silver and Gold someday as well. With everything in life it just goes one ride at a time….
Riding the Bronze Road
Chronicle of an Equestrian Journey
Introduction: The Road is Long, Just Like Jim Morrison Sang
This morning, I was contemplating integrating a new instructor into our lesson program, who is due to start in the beginning of October. I wanted her to teach lessons like I do, engaged and hilarious, tough but kind. Have an eye like an eagle and preach correctness like life depends upon it. We will have to teach together a few lessons, as training for her- but would she expect to get paid for this? The polo season is closing up and funds are stretching thin. No, she would have to consider it training for herself. Equestrian life is all about sacrifice, obsession and pretending you have never heard the term 40 hour work week. I began my journey as a riding coach in January of 2004 on Alpine Road in Portola Valley, much like many before and many after me. I think about what I have put in for my own skills, which in transference affect my coaching. The individuals who have influenced me the most and why. I thought about how I could never be their equals and how much of themselves and their lives they gave to this sport, their art, their life, their entire existence. I figure I’ve had a few years of my life where riding was non existent or part time and other times where I am fully working 3-8 horses. At age 31, I am in a weird phase of being part time and all kinds of different horses, but my main squeeze is Frerico. I would say the average committed rider is at least in the saddle 5 hours per week- 5 hours times 52 weeks times at least 20 years. 24 years for me to be exact, but in the beginning it was only weekly lessons in quaint Half Moon Bay for $15 a ride. No bother doing the math in my head, maybe I should go get my phone…
It was 5am, awake as can be, begrudgingly glanced at the clock on the stovetop. Whatever happens, do not pick up a device, do not surrender to dopamine infested urge to hear the ding, see the bold letters… An exodus of a reining trainer and his 32 client horses has left the arena at our boarding facility uncared for since April. The owners are not horse people an they do not understand how important footing is. It is still dark out, but I am awake wondering what my next step could possibly be to get the arena back on track. I’ve had meetings, texts and emails to no avail. And now I am stressing out in the dark morning hours. I remembered falling asleep around midnight leaving me with only five worthless hours.. I did not focus on my breathing(big mistake), I did not grab a book. I just laid there supine, arthritic neck perfectly aligned; but it was to late! It had gotten the best of me last week. After driving back and forth to a seminar over 250 miles all weekend my right arm hung beside me like a brick, on fire as the nerves throbbed up the midline of my forearm. It was the culprit of my conscious state. It was a blur of information streaming through my mind- my teacher saying when you can not sleep, just rest. Maybe I did breath a little.
In 2008, I vowed to leave that life behind when I began graduate school to study acupuncture and change the path of my career forever. At that point I felt I had drank from the holy grail of Dressage significantly more then someone with my background ever could. After scratching the surface, best to get out before the ice breaks and I can no longer see the outside world. Bearing witness to really horrendous horse induced heartbreaks, in addition to living out my own- at age 23 I gave up. Things stacked against me- money of course, the most monumental. My centerline score had one pathetic outing on a Friesan. Showing is proof of skill and I had no opportunity. Much like in my childhood, the check writing parents paved the way for all the super stars. The dream I had in 2006 when I signed up for USEF and USDF in ”Pro” status had been crushed many times over.
So I did things many 20 somethings do, racked up insane amounts of student loans, discovered myself, traveled all of over Latin America, risked my life multiple times at the bottom of the ocean, saw God and/or Goddess, lost myself, had addictive and self destructing relationships. Experienced countless healing crisis’s, received hundreds of treatments with Chinese Medicine and similar cohorts, took a biodiverse bouquet of herbs and supplements. Just a normal sub adulthood second puberty experience.
Somehow the horses kept me drawn in. Horses, of course, the most powerful medicine. I had access to one of the best coaches on earth Jennifer Roth. The opportunity to ride with her, focused me on dressage in the first place. Her barn full of Lipizzaner stallions, just like the ones(better 😉 I saw perform at the Monterey Fairgrounds when I was 8. It was basically the poor man’s Cavalia. After the show I went around to all the riders and had them sign my program, they were complete celebrities in my mind. Just to be able to ride a stallion! The ferocious but devoted beast all the books and movies I divulged myself into described. I was never allowed to even pet one! (Today I would watch the show in disenchantment and that my friends is the definition of being tainted by time.) The fairgrounds had a bulletin board with a handwritten flyer asking “Would you like to Ride Own or Breed to a Lipizzan? Contact Across the Diagonal Farm! Jennifer Roth: 831-624-2848” I yanked it down, hung on it my wall and looked at everyday for ten years. At age 20, I shook the magic 8ball of bayequest.com and found Jennifer’s ad for a working student(did not connect her to the flyer until later). My interview was riding a Haflinger named Nicky and she taught me what a real 20 meter circle meant. I had thought I already knew.
In December of 2012, I graduated from Five Branches University with my Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Much to my relief, after a major struggle of almost flunking out due to my dyslexia, in turn very poor reading comprehension and debilitating test anxiety. My success is due to so many amazing mentors I have had, but with this particular victory I specifically thank Natasha Worrell-Merritt, LAc.. Armed with the knowledge that if I failed a certain test one more time I would lose my financial aid, met with me weekly in her office, designed me custom tests based on my wrong answers and gave me tutoring on how exactly to learn specific information that was not able to absorb adequately. She also discovered that I had an above average grasp on the information if I was tested verbally instead of by bubble. That and various other low scores on reading comprehension safely concludes I am an audio learner. Maybe because I have also been so passionate about riding and all my learning of it has been through voice.. or maybe it is a gift to channel me what I truly love… Thank Goddess for that!
Hand in hand with the stress of possibly flunking out of school and my natural shortcomings came a physiological adversity to taking tests. In result the stressful state would lead my mind and hand to fill the wrong answer even when my knowledge knew otherwise! I remember clearly the day test was looming, I was an intern under Nancy Lowe, LAc. and no patients were scheduled. I walked into our conference room with pure fear boiling inside, Nancy looked at me for 2 seconds and asked – “What the heck is wrong with you?” She was in the loop about my school woes and took me into a room to give me a treatment. She used a modality called Emotional Freedom Technique, in lieu of needles tapping on acupuncture points while proclaiming a new belief associated with a stressor or trauma to release the block and negative response to stressor/trauma. I wonder how many of my patients are thinking “Hey, she could have tapped instead of sticking me with that sharp needle!” It makes me laugh inside, not quite out loud, yet. I balled my eyes out and tapped away under Nancy’s guidance. Marched upstairs and sat in front of hundreds of empty bubbles waiting to be filled and determine my future. But, my heart was light, stomach not quesy and mind clear. I passed the test, which was a cumulative exam of everything I was supposed to learn in the first two years of school with something like a 76%. Perhaps I was a little distracted for the first two years. The next cumulative class I took included another year of information but I flew threw it in the upper 80%s. The FINAL final exam I ever took, which was cumulative of all 5 years of school, I recieved a 98% and probably cried again. No, I think I went and got drunk with some friends who got like 100% on the test. Know it alls. *Fun fact Five Branches has the highest passing rate of the LAc. State Board Exam compared to all other programs. I’m positive Natasha carried this stat on her shoulders for quite a few years, I know she carried me.
Being an acupuncturist had all the adventure and excitement I wanted in a career. I had a new sense of self, newly single, graduated but another test was yet to come- REAL LIFE. Oh yeah and THE STATE BOARD EXAM. So what happens next for a young, beautiful and aspiring now 28 year old like myself waiting to take the boards after graduation? Extreme POVERTY. While feeding and housing my very own horse of my dreams, Hope. Thanks to a very dear friend Hope and I shared a gorgeous little hideout in Corralitos paradise. She connected me with another friend who has an awesome arena on a a hill and she hired me to do some training on her two horses. I decided to give the 8ball another shake and look for any kind of work I could find to slow the rise of my credit card balances. I ended up at Ramor Oaks Riding Club in Watsonville, late to my first interview as a working student. I rode Frerico for the first time and could pretty much get him on the bit, so Vicky welcomed me aboard. When I first rode her mare Springfield, we went into canter, ran all over the arena with her nose sticking straight out, falling every which way making shapes crossed between a square, circle and oval. I looked over at Vicky in horror, thinking she must think I’m terrible! Vicky tends to remain calm during the mistakes and challenges in the process of dressage so she amazingly did not hold against me. I rode Springfield the following day and we had a beautiful round, balanced uphill canter one of the best horses I have ridden to date Vicky said, “See that wasn’t so hard?”
Unlike my past working student duties, all I had to do for Vicky was ride, clean a few pieces of tack and sweep from time to time. She has a world class arena in her back yard and a private trail system. She hired me to watch her dogs while she was in Germany and I rode her two Westphalians in exchange for lessons. I picked up a gig in Saratoga teaching young kids on this incredible estate for a very sweet woman who would pay me in advance for days so I could pay now mounting bills. Just when I thought I was on my way out of being a professional equestrian, I was sucked back in like an undertow, I was scraping up coins to buy gas. I met another Saratoga client who had a Perchoran Halflinger cross who definitely had a naughty streak, she paid me to ride him and gave me a dozen eggs every time she saw me. The Halflinger made some great progress in our sessions. All of these activities were done under the pretense that I would receive my License to practice Acupuncture in May – IF I passed the boards, which I would not find out until end of April.
Since the internet had done such a great job at leading my life into all these amazing directions, I figured I would give it a try for meeting some dudes. Head first into the Silicon Valley dating pool. I rode constantly, studied seldomly, did yoga in front of the fireplace many times per day, lived at the gym and during the nights I would hop in my Honda and go meet strange men from the internet. It was equally as glamorous and humiliating as it sounds. On the very last day of my subscription from match.com, I had given up on finding a boy that is a friend and figured I would give the old dating pool a break. I was up at Alice’s Restaurant meeting with a friend before she left town drinking some tequila, when a rather intoxicated man offered to let me move into his home on Skyline. I said I had no money and I need to find a place to live where I can do a trade of Acupuncture for rent. He said you seem like a nice girl why not. As this conversation was coming to an end due to parties being rather intoxicated, I noticed I had received a a new “wink” on my match.com profile. It was a guy who lived in Redwood City(sketchy), who looked like some dark skin ethnicity(I have a whiteboy fetish), holding up a really small fish as his profile picture. His other pictures included him with his stuck in the 90s’ Oakleys, patchy beard and prominent schnoz. Then I saw a picture of him playing polo and I was so excited! We talked on the phone for 3 hours that night. But that is an entirely different story. Sort of.
Three years later, Jeff and I live in the outskirts of South Bay Area and keep our horses in Gilroy. Hope is doing well and together we own 8 Thoroughbreds, 3 Quarter Horses, a Running Quarter, 2 Paints and a Mexican Criollo Pony. After a 2 year hiatus of learning to play polo, I am riding dressage frequently with my partner of the court Frerico under Vicky’s careful guise. For a long time I dreamed of getting my USDF Bronze Medal which is the most basic of achievements, yet can be quite a task I am finding. I earned my Second Level Test scores and am planning to compete at the end of next month at 3rd Level for the first time. I own two horses perfectly capable of competing at First Level, my gelding Enzo and I even received a 68.5% at Jennifer’s competition clinic in March riding First Level Test 1. The stars seemed to have aligned and I am ready to spend another five thousand hours in the saddle if thats what it takes. What could possibly go wrong?
Riding The Bronze Road.