Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Party of the Year aka SPHO Banquet

This past Sunday, was the banquet I look forward to the most every year, the SPHO-NJ year end awards banquet. As you all know, I am the proud owner of a Quarter Horse, but have become a very active member of the Standardbred community, especially the SPHO-NJ. It started through friends that owned Standardbreds that I spent a lot of time showing with and now has spread to showing some very nice Standardbreds myself. Along the way I have had the opportunity to show friends Standardbreds, such as Valiant Legacy and Don Dinero, and this year I was lucky enough to show the ever wonderful JB, whose rock star capabilities are often written about on this blog.

Anyway, the Standarbred community has always been very kind and welcoming to me and they know how to throw one hell of a party. At this event, you not only see people who ride Standardbreds, but you also see many very well known and highly respected members of the harness racing community, such as Bill Weaver, an owner who attends this event every year and donates quite a lot of money. Jeff Gregory, well known driver, and husband of my friend Helene, assists with MC-ing the event. Many trainers, owners, and drivers also attend such as Julie and Andy Miller, Lou Pena, Tony Alagna, Donna and Jim Marshall, George Brennan, Steve Smith, Dan Dube, and many more. It is great to see such support from the harness racing community at this event.

The main focus of the evening is the year end awards earned by hard working Standardbreds and their owners / riders. Riders came from as far as Maine and Kentucky to accept their awards and celebrate their achievements. This was the first year out of the four or five years I have been attending this banquet that I was going home with an award, and several at that. JB and I had received the award that had been our focus all year: Grand Champion in Model for both the state and national awards! We also received some thirds, fourths, and fifths in the various riding divisions.

The SPHO-NJ gives out gorgeous and very different awards. Instead of a wooden or plastic trophy like most associations give, they give gorgeous, big year end ribbons and very creative trophies. My friend Rob, who chooses most of the awards also tries hard to make the trophies different each year, beautiful, creative, and personalized when possible. For instance, for my year end trophy for the State Grand Champion in Model I received a gorgeous plate in my favorite color.

This is Jeff Gregory and I with my plate for Grand Champion in Model for NJ, as well as, our fifth place ribbon for Showmanship.

JB also proved himself in his many endeavors with Helene. He was Grand Champion is just about every division in which they competed this year and was Horse of the Year for both State and National.

I have to take a moment to thank Helene for lending me the extremely talented JB for the show season and giving me the opportunity to participate more fully in this wonderful organization. She has given me basically free rein with him, as far as his western training, given up days she could have been riding him so I could practice western with him. She also ships him all over for us both to show and is very encouraging and helpful in my goals for him as a western horse and he has proven himself every time.

Anyway, back to the banquet. Besides, the awards, the event also includes a Chinese auction, 50/50, and live auction items. I assisted with selling the 50/50 just as I do every year, which brought in a nice amount of money. The winners, who own the famous race horse Hands Off My Cookie, were kind enough to donate the money back to the club. The Chinese auction always includes fabulous prizes, such as lessons, gift certificates, baskets full of supplies, and much more. I won a basket full of very useful veterinary supplies, such as electrolytes, wormers, arnica cream, vet wrap, and much more.

This year the live auction was expanded beyond previous years. It included a beautiful canvas print done by Vicki Wright, a favorite photographer among NJ Standardbred people. She is very talented and has done work for me, as well as, becoming a friend and go to source for photography questions. Two beautiful framed photos taken by Vicki were auctioned, as well. Two veterinary gift certificates, one for the famous Patty Hogan, and one for Barry Danvers, were included in the auction, as well. Two new items this year were a harness donated by Finn Tack and a race bike donated by Brodeur. All of these items brought the club several thousand dollars!

Helene pulling me around in the race bike as it was being auctioned off

After the awards, Chinese auction, and live auctions comes the dancing! This is the favorite part of just about everyone in attendance. Attendees of all ages hit the dance floor and party like rock stars! It always promises to be a good time and everyone goes home with sore feet from hours spent on the dance floor. Everyone enjoys themselves, has a great time, and gets to drink, dance, dress up, and celebrate with each other outside of the barn (which doesn't happen very often LOL).

This year they added a red carpet to the event, which made it even more special. They also had a back drop with their logo, just like the awards shows do.

Rob and I posing on the red carpet

Many people commented to me and I agree that this year's banquet was the best yet. The SPHO-NJ has out done themselves yet again! It was a fabulous event, with beautiful trophies to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of all the riders. It included something for everyone, and raised funds for the club. There is not one person that did not have a great time and enjoy an evening of celebration, dancing, and smiles. I can't wait until next year!

Racehorse Training at its Finest

Helene and I have started on yet another new project with Standardbreds. We began taking her racehorse CC Mister C (aka CC) out on training trail rides. Helene rode him one time at home and the very next day we took him out to the Assunpink with miles of trails, large fields, and hills for what some consider to be a bit of an unconventional training method for a harness racer. Riding racehorses is very popular in Europe, especially Sweden, and is growing in popularity in the U.S. as well. It switches it up for them and gives them a break and some variety.

CC was a total champ the first time we went out. Helene rode CC and I rode JB. CC acted like a seasoned trail horse. He was very brave and willing. We trotted a few miles through the cross country fields and up and down the hills. We all got our workout in! It helps CC, builds muscle for me, and gives JB lots of extended trot practice. He has been doing the most gorgeous extended trot, flicking out his feet and everything. Well, I should say it feels gorgeous to me and Helene confirms it is since she can see it LOL. We also went to the lake, which JB loves. He wades like in a hippo and splashes us all. CC was a bit skeptical at first, but after a few minutes followed JB in and stood quietly as JB splashed him over and over. This is the reason people own Standardbreds! You could never take your still on the track or just off the track Thoroughbred out on trail and have them be perfect on the first time.

He raced two weeks ago shortly after our first trail outing and came home a winner! After that Helene's husband, Jeff, a well known catch driver, who of course drives CC, jumped on board and encouraged the riding to continue. We went twice last week, increase our trotting time, which gives the boys quite a work out and has been great for me too. It helps me build my legs with all the miles of posting and two point, which is something Renee and I have been working on. I even rode JB English for one of the rides to build me up even further.

We rode the boys in the Assunpink today, but CC races tomorrow so we kept it to a leisurely walk, with just a short spurt of trotting up one hill, when JB decided it was necessary to stretch a bit. Fingers crossed CC brings home another win tomorrow! He is up a class and coming from the 7 hole, but Helene and I still have faith!

Rock Starrrrrrrr!!

JB proves himself to be a rock star, yet again! We got back to western work a week or two ago, after a few weeks off from it. We used the shank bit once again and he proved his limitless talents.

He started off jogging like we just had worked on it yesterday. He kept the perfect pace, perfect headset, and all. Last time we had practice I had started working on riding with one hand. He is fine with the neck reining, keeping the pace and headset while using one hand was what needed work. In our last sessions he had done well, but I had only done short spurts of jogging with the one hand and not holding the reins the proper way to make it easier to go back to 2 hands if necessary. He had done very well with that and we also did a lot of neck reining work at the walk.

Now back to our last session. I decided to try some more one hand work since his jog was so nice. I again started with shorter spurts and not holding the reins properly, in case I had to switch back to two. He did so well I decided to try going longer and hold the reins the way I would in a horse show.

Well once again JB proved himself and had me smiling in disbelief at what appears to be limitless natural ability. He jogged several times around the ring, one handed, loop in the rein, keeping a beautiful jog, and perfect head set. The one or two times he sped up I corrected him and he came right back, responding perfectly.

This is when Helene said, "Show me some turns and circles." Well, there is nothing I like more than a challenge. JB accepted that challenge effortlessly. We did several turns, serpentines, figure eights, and circles. He neck reined like a champ and again held a perfect pace and headset throughout.

We plan to have another western session this week, so I look forward to another rock star moment from the handsomest Standardbred in town, who never ceases to amaze me or put a smile on my face. I look forward to next show season more and more each ride!

Lessons like these....

Lessons like this week are the reason I love my mare and give me hope for show season. We got to ride outside as it was another unseasonably warm 60 degree February day. We did a lot of work on her trot, which has been coming along quite nicely. We have the pace up to a good spot, now working on getting her to round up at that pace without slowing down.

We did a few trot jumps to warm up, then Renee had us play horse show and exit the ring, re-enter, and do a course. The first course went pretty nicely, with just one of two slightly tight jumps. Then we did a second course that had an extra line in it, as well as, a broken line. This course went pretty well, but not as nice as the first course. She had 2 really big / long jumps and got quick in a few spots.

For the third course, we repeated our first course and she did it even more beautifully than the first time. Then we repeated the second course where we had two chips from tight distances due to her getting a bit speedy and a 2 stride break during a long canter to a single diagonal from me trying to slow her too much. Overall, Renee and I were both happy with the course, those simple mistakes aside.

Overall, I was very happy with both my mare and myself, for that matter. She was very brave over all the fences, had a lot of really nice jumps, and kept a good pace for the most part. Renee was quite pleased with both of us as well. Lessons like these remind me why I call Satin the wondermare and give me hope for us in the hunter ring this season!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Watermarking Program

When I do product recommendations here, I usually just focus on equine products. I am changing it up and doing it for a photography related service. It is a program called Batch Photo Watermarker. You can load as many photos into the program as you want. You can customize your trademark or copyright and position it appropriately. After that all you have to do is hit save and it applies it to all of the selected photos. This is great for me as a photographer with a Facebook page, as well as, a website.

I am doing this for two reasons:

1. I like the program. It is easy to use efficient and a time saver.

2. If you link this program to your blog or website they give you a free registration code :)

So here is the link (Photo Watermarking Software), fellow photographers be sure to check it out!

Satin Update

My super senior has been fabulous as usual. In last week's lesson, she was the perfect little hunter, except for a few stops. She tends to rush at the jumps and often takes the long spot. The day before the lesson, however, I decided to try and get some of that out of the way by cantering ground poles and an 18 inch cross rail. This seemed to work, because while she was rushy doing this work, she went around nice and quiet on lesson day.

We were able to ride outside because February 1st was unseasonably warm at 63 degrees, so we were able to work on courses. The fact she was going around like a quiet hunter was an added benefit. However, I am still not completely comfortable at the slower pace. While, yes I enjoy it and it is ultimately what I am aiming for, I tend to get nervous that she will stop. When she is rushing at least I know she is going to go over. This nervousness on my part translates quite easily to my mare, through the subtle cues I am not even aware of. We did have a few stops and one resulted in me taking the jump without her, but overall she was wonderful. Plus, we learn more from doing it wrong than doing it right, right? It gave me hope for show season, as I am afraid we will get to the show and she will go barrel pony on me LOL.

Speaking of shows, we are aiming for March 4 to be not only our first show of the season, but also our English debut. I need to get her out before the first show of our usual schooling series, which is April 1. The show we are aiming for is at a farm so I expect it will be smaller and probably a little lower key, which is exactly what I am looking for. Plus, she is always a bit hyper at the first show of the season, so I would like to get her off the property to jump in a show like atmosphere before then.

In other news, we have recently done some beautiful stretchy work in our western saddle. She also had an awesome collected canter and counter canter yesterday. We have been doing a lot of work on flexion, as well, especially to the right. When we started she would lock her jaw on the bit and refuse to bend, but after just a few consecutive days of work on it, she was flexing softly and easily. Now her flexion at the poll to the right is even better than the left!

Our next lesson is tomorrow and unfortunately the weather forecast is not as good as last week, so we will most likely be in the indoor. Either way, some major learning will be happening, always does with Renee!