Friday, April 26, 2013

Kristen Schmolze & Ballylaffin Bracken - Hitting Their Stride At Rolex

I had the great pleasure today of watching Five Star rider Kristin Schmolze and Ballylaffin Braken known as Rox as he made his debut at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day. It takes many years of hard work, talent and sacrifice to get to this level and it is a great achievement for any rider and horse to make it to this level of competition. I can only imagine the sense of pride one must feel riding down center line at Rolex!  Kristin was kind enough to answer some of my questions about riding at this level and I think we can all share in the feeling of accomplishment no matter what level we compete at.

For those that are not familiar with Rox, one of my favorite Five Star models, he is a 13 yr old ISH by Ricardo Z out of an ISH mare. He loves the camera, being the center of attention, and big competitions, so Rolex should be a fun week for him. I can vouch for the camera part!

He has a funny habit when it's time to bridle, he sticks his tongue out as far as he can and curls it up the side of his face, both sides, we call it his 'tongue stretches', this happens EVERY time you put the bridle on!

Kristin has trained Rox from scratch. As she says, "I've always wanted to do this, so to have it happening is truly awesome! Feeling very lucky to have this horse in my life! I picked Rox out as a gangly 4yr old stallion that was barely broke. It's taken some time to get here, but has been well worth the journey! We have a special bond from so many years together!" Having watched this pair many times, Rox truly trusts Kristin!

Kristin is no stranger to the four star level. On Cavaldi, my other favorite Five Star model,  she completed Burghley in 2007 (30th), and Rolex 3 times, in 2005 (12th), 2007 (30th), and 2010 (20th).

Rox is a good event horse that is pretty solid in all three phases, though saying that and as all riders say, there are always parts to improve on. He loves the xc, but being such a big horse, she has to help him to be fast enough to make the time. His dressage is lovely, and he does not like to touch the sj rails, so hopefully they can pull this all together this weekend!  Kristin said the grandstand arena will be a bit of a challenge with nerves for him, so as the rider she will help him focus so he can perform to his ability.

Rox goes in Five Star Tack bridles and breastplates and County Saddles!!

Kristin walks the xc course once by herself the morning of XC. Then she likes to have to have a few moments by herself to mentally picture her plan.

Kristin will walk the Rolex course 4-5 times this week. I asked what she does to be fit enough to do all of the walking and riding to which she replied, "I work out quite a bit, lots of cardio, yoga, pilates, and weight training."

I'm always curious about what those final thoughts are before heading out on cross country. Kristin says, "I give my horse a pat and say 'let's go have some fun!' Yep, this is what it's all about!

After the thrill of completing a four star cross country course, it's onto the last day; stadium jumping. I asked Kristin what it's like to enter the Rolex stadium for the last phase. "It is a feeling of accomplishment! There are plenty of nerves from both horse and rider. You need to acknowledge and accept they are there and then focus on your plan!"  Like competing in any high level sport you have to concentrate on the job at hand and not let the atmosphere get to you.

The feeling of landing ove the last jump and crossing the finish line, to me has got to be an incredible feeling of accomplishment. As Kristin shared, "It is one of the best feelings you can experience! I remember my first four star on Joey (Cavaldi) and I hardly hit the landing side of that last jump before I threw my hand in the air and cheered! I would have thought I won the Olympics with how thrilled I was!!"

Rox has been wearing Five Star bridles for the past four years and his favorite to date is the Kingsbury figure eight. Kristin says, "It's a beautiful bridle with a bit of flash, and fits so well and softly with the perfect amount of padding! Rox loves his 5point breastplate by Five Star!"

Thank you Kristin for sharing your insights on competing at Rolex. Tomorrow I'll get to walk the cross country course with Kristin and will share her strategy for tackling the course!

 Kristin and Rox are currently in sixth place after the first day of dressage! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Addictiveness of Cross Country

It's Rolex week finally and if you're an eventer, you are eagerly counting down the days and hours until Saturday because it's all about cross country!

Going to Rolex last year and seeing the total focus of horse and rider combined with the exhilaration of completing a four star course made me relapse. I got bit by the riding bug again and while it took another six months for me to climb back in the saddle, I haven't looked back since.

This weekend I had the good fortune to ride outside of the ring during my lesson. It had been several long years since I had jumped anything resembling a cross country jump and while the jumps certainly weren't four star height, I felt some of the same focus and exhilaration those riders experience.

But, what is it about riding out in the open and jumping in particular that is so addictive?
Is it the total focus on each step the horse takes as you both balance changes in terrain and footing?
Is it thinking about the line you'll be taking to the jump and how great the jump felt?
Is it the extra spring in the horse's step that is communicated all the way to your hands?
Is it because you know your horse is having as much fun as you are?
Is it the risk element; giving up the control you have in the arena?
Is it the feeling of soaring through the air?
Is it the feeling of accomplishment; completing a tough course or just meeting every jump in balance?

Why do you like riding cross country?

All I know is, it put a smile on my face and driving home from my lesson I said to myself, "I am so grateful to be doing this again!"