What's Happenin'

A Sidelines blog

Good Food Hunting: Foodie Interview with Diane Barber

November 14, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

By Kat Wojtylak

Kitchens can be designed by Diane Barber Designs to include spacious rooms for guests, extra space for treats and supplements as well as flooring to cater to the lifestyle of dirt, dogs and craziness.

Kitchens can be designed by Diane Barber Designs to include spacious rooms for guests, extra space for treats and supplements as well as flooring to cater to the lifestyle of dirt, dogs and craziness.

Horse professionals are leading dual lives. It’s not quite the awesome super heroes we know in movies and television, but more like everyday heroes coming to the rescue in ways that bless the lives of those affected. Take Diane Barber. She’s one of the kindest individuals I’ve had the opportunity to meet and it’s the culmination of her passions and experiences that make her such a fascinating and uplifting person to have on your side (or in this case, to learn more about).

Diane is a fellow writer. Her articles have graced the pages of Dressage TodayModern Arabian HorseSouth Bay magazine and various other publications. She pours her heart out each and every time, leaving a piece of herself behind. Her unbridled passions for horses is shown not only in her writing, but seeps out into other areas of her life including Diane Barber Designs. It’s just one of her many creative outlets where the equestrian montage sneaks out into the world, this time though interior designs and many a kitchens in return.

Her tale of horse ownership is certainly not for the faint hearted. It was her sheer determination to not accept the cards she was dealt with that propelled her life into a brand new direction of faith and healing. Thankfully I met her because of this journey and since then have found a kinship in equines, but now through food.

Kat (left) and Diane at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

Kat (left) and Diane at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

KW: Hi Diane, thanks so much for joining us! Please give our readers a bit of background on your relationship with horses.

DB: My parents raised me with Western riding and American Quarter Horses in Pennsylvania. My father and I rode through the Pennsylvania forests for hours with our Labrador Retrievers tagging along. I have long since moved to California and enjoy both dressage and Western riding in local arenas and on neighborhood trails. My horse Bold Brahim (“Jesse”) is a grandsire of Spain’s 1976 Gold Medal Horse of the Year – Sidi Brahim.  Years ago, my fascination with his lineage landed me in Spain with Sidi Brahim’s breeder (Don Diego Mendez) giving me a personal tour of his hacienda, stables and the trophy building that housed all of Sid’s winnings. It is through this exploratory first trip that I also trained at Epona Riding Academy in Seville and was introduced to the Royal School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, of which I am an alumna.

KW: That sounds like a trip of a lifetime! Tell us about your favorite memory from the trip, if you can pick just one.

DB: One of my favorites was riding at the Royal School of Equestrian Arts in Spain and hearing Spanish Olympian Rafael Soto shout out to me in the palace arena, “Feel the horse, Diane!” as I experienced high school dressage on an Andalusian stallion for the first time in my life.

KW: Wow, thats definitely something you’ll never forget! But the trip was bittersweet. What happened?

DB: It was also while at the Royal School that I received a phone call from the stables in California telling me Jesse was lame and I would probably have to get another horse. Diagnostics upon my return revealed a severe deep flexor tendon injury. The short version of the story is that my horse and I traveled a two year healing journey with stem cell therapy, micromanaged physical therapy, Reiki therapy, Draper Therapies’ Celliant (crystal infused) leg wraps, daily prayers while holding his leg and healing crystals braided into his mane. I pulled out all the stops and opened myself to the world of metaphysics and homeopathic remedies alongside conventional medicine and faith.  After two intensive years under the guidance of leg specialist Dr. Sylvia Ouellette (formerly Dr. Greenman), Jesse was 100% sound and still is today. I can remember vividly when a long awaited smile and hug from Dr. Oullette  meant that we won Jesse’s fight for soundness for good.

My published writing began when the editor of Dressage Today learned about Jesse’s injury and asked me to write about it. Our experience became a feature magazine story titled “Defying the Odds”, which was  published in 2008.  That story opened doors for me with other editors – a good example of there always being a silver lining when life serves up some lemons!

Diane and Jesse. Photo courtesy of Stephan Cooper.

Diane and Jesse. Photo courtesy of Stephan Cooper.

KW: An amazing testimony to faith and determination! Tell us, in addition to your writing you also are able to incorporate your love for horses into another medium besides writing.

DB: Several years ago when I was designing and redesigning homes for people I met at our stables, I realized that “horse speak” in design is critical for working with horse owners. An excellent designer who does not live and breathe the horse world cannot possibly achieve the same “on the mark” design and lifestyle results as a designer who does.  When I realized this during one of my projects, I then shifted more attention to working specifically for horse lovers alongside working for non-horse people. Of course, my favorite projects are the equestrian projects!

KW: Well I can’t imagine why! Actually, I can because we are a rare breed. Yet since this is a food column, can you share with us about the center of the home, the kitchen, and what designs you implement to make them more equestrian friendly?

DB: Probably the most common considerations for my kitchen designs for equestrians are durable floors and finishes, large sinks and refrigerators with great storage capacities.  Equestrians tend to prefer to not have to kick off their boots to go into the kitchen so commercial grade floor materials are often specified. And, we all tend to have an abundance of carrots, apples, supplements and meds that take up kitchen real estate that non-horse folks don’t have to consider.   Open floor plans and ergonomics are also high on the list. Equestrians tend to have very active and social lifestyles with dogs at foot, families and busy on-the-run schedules.  Since most people tend to end up in the kitchen at any gathering, the more that can comfortably fit the better!

A more modern kitchen design by Diane Barber Designs.

A more modern kitchen design by Diane Barber Designs.

A finished kitchen by Diane Barber Designs incorporates durable flooring and countertops.

A finished kitchen by Diane Barber Designs incorporates durable flooring and countertops.

KW: Sounds perfect to me and exactly why you’d be the person to pick for designing an equestrians’ ideal living space. But tell us about what other connections to the food industry you have, because you have quite the list!

DB: My sister and her husband are in the restaurant business in Los Angeles.  Primarily upscale sports bar restaurants in the South Bay, including Kings Cove restaurant at the Los Angeles Kings training facility in El Segundo. Also, a very dear friend, Kara Mikelson (Creative Culinary Group), is an accomplished food stylist and personal chef in my community.

KW: Sounds like I need to plan a visit to come see you! For my benefit, and the readers who live or travel to the Los Angeles area, share with us some hot spots we shouldn’t miss out on.

DB: The Palos Verdes Peninsula where I live is home to an avid equestrian community (our biggest show is the Portuguese Bend Horse Show every fall) and our South Bay has some great restaurants. Of course I have to mention my family’s restaurant Sharks Cove in nearby Manhattan Beach! Closer to the local barns and stables is the gorgeous Terranea Resort (built on former coastal horse trails) with several great restaurants, including Nelson’s which is on the bluffs where the old Sea Hunt television series was filmed with Lloyd Bridges (now I am dating myself!).  And, Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles is another favorite for an excellent meal with a great Pacific Ocean view.

KW: Any last words to live by before we sign out? 

DB: Lead with your heart!

 

Super hero to Jesse, writer and designer by day, Diane certainly is making the most of her passions in her life. To learn more about her, visit Diane Barber Designs, and stay tuned as we investigate more equestrian foodies in next month’s column.

To full plates and eating your tarte out.

About the writer: Author Kat Wojtylak is a horse enthusiast turned food blogger. She maintains a day job in the horse world handling marketing and brand support to various companies, while enjoying her evenings and weekends writing recipes and blogging all about her culinary experiences. Visit her blog at EatYourTarteOut.com or email her at tartechic@eatyourtarteout.com.

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: The Championship and Final Entry

October 02, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

Last week I travelled to Sacramento to compete in the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur West Regional Jumper Championship. The event was held at Murieta Equestrian Center in Rancho Murieta, CA. My week began Tuesday with our departure from South Pasadena, CA where my barn is located to follow my trainer David Sterckx and my horse Sjapoo on the 400 mile journey to get there. After going over my checklist a few times to be sure we’d packed everything we needed we were off. Following Sjapoo it was easy to see that he is an excellent traveller. Not spooky and moved around very little. The weather and the traffic cooperated nicely the whole way. We arrived in the beautiful Rancho Murieta countryside with no problems.

David Sterckx departs with Sjapoo for Sacramento.

David Sterckx departs with Sjapoo for Sacramento.

Sjapoo is a champion traveller. So well behaved.

Sjapoo is a champion traveller. So well behaved.

Rancho Murieta countryside

Rancho Murieta countryside

Wednesday was the first time I would be in charge of the feeding, mucking and full care of my horse without the aid of a groom.  It’s something that has been nagging at me in the back of my mind as to if I would be any good at managing it. I found that in fact I was capable and had a great sense of pride in how my horse was cared for and turned out. Sjapoo was a reflection of me and my efforts and he looked amazing. I hacked early Wednesday to get him moving after the long journey from the day before and then cleaned and prepped him for the Jog that was Wednesday afternoon. After a quick lesson in the proper way to jog we were ringside waiting for our names to be called. We went in the ring and while I was nervous that I’d do it wrong Sjapoo was fresh and flirty and had no problems showing how fit he was to the veterinarian. We cleared the Jog and headed to the riders meeting.

All Olympians have mucked their horses stalls too.

All Olympians have mucked their horses stalls too.

The jog

The jog

After a brief introduction to the format of the week by Meghan Carney of the USHJA and bit of background on the program by Jeff Campf, Chairman of the Regional Jumper Championship Committee for the USHJA there was a Q&A session with riders, trainers and Chef’s to understand fully the do’s and don’t of the week. After that we met our teammates for the Team Championship. I was on California Team One with Peyton Masteller, Jayme Omand, Lauren Kee and our Chef d’Equipe was Kelly Van Vleck.

Team list for USHJA Children's West Regional Jumper Championship

Team list for USHJA Children’s West Regional Jumper Championship

Members of the three teams from California: Sophie St.Clair, Alexandra Bidwell, Peyton Masteller

Members of the three teams from California: Sophie St.Clair, Alexandra Bidwell, Peyton Masteller

Late afternoon training

Late afternoon training

Thursday was the first Individual Qualifier. It was a speed class with all 38 horses from the combined Children’s and Adult sections. The format is a bit different in that what is most important in the rounds for this week is to be clean with no faults. In the five rounds each competitor rides every fault carries forward throughout the week and ultimately determines your order of go and placing in the Individual Final. In this speed class on Thursday I went 24th so had a bit of time to watch a few rounds. I placed 4th Overall with no jumping or time faults. Phew! I was nervous and stressed because I knew I needed to do well. When I heard my results I was thrilled. Sjapoo and I were off to a great start.

Early morning hack

Early morning hack

The walk for the Individual Qualifier

The walk for the Individual Qualifier

First fence for the Individual Qualifier

First fence for the Individual Qualifier

4th Overall after Individual Qualifier

4th Overall after Individual Qualifier

Friday was the Children’s Team Championship. The format of the day consisted of two rounds of the same course. Fewest faults calculated between the two rounds determined the final placing for the Teams. (Remember the fault results of each of these rounds added to the previous days faults count toward each riders personal score for the Individual Final.) I was riding last for my team. I don’t know if you could officially call me an “Anchor” but I certainly felt that way. Riding last for my team had the added pressure of determining the fate of my team for the good or the bad. Peyton Masteller and her beautiful, very careful horse Pikador went first and like the day before was fault free. Next was Lauren Kee and her mount Lisnamult Lili. She picked up 4 faults in her first round. Jayme Omand and Legis Maloubet rode next and they finished fault free. Last was me and Sjapoo. Ok, at this point we are 16 rounds into this first round of the Team Championship. I am admittedly nervous and want to do really well for my team. Our team has 4 faults in this round and I need to deliver. I think though my nerves had the upper hand. I rode ok, not my best and while I was clear throughout the course I got excited to finish and……dropped the last rail. The price of looking forward rather than staying in the moment.

Time to retool for the second round. Fortunately, it was the same course so now I had a better feel for how it rides. Most important though was to step back, take a breath and execute David’s plan as we discussed. In round two Peyton was clear again, Lauren and Jayme picked up 4 faults and then it was up to me. While all of this is happening other teams are cycling through their rounds too and we are neck and neck with the Zone 10 Combined team. My round had to be clear and within the time allowed to help us stay in second place. I took a deep breath, kept my wits and executed a fault free round. Thank goodness! Our team finished on the podium in second place. California Team Two with Dalan Laughlin, Zoey Pacyna, Elizabeth McAfee and Serenity Phillips took first and the Zone 10 Combined team with Madison Myro, Natalie Wendt, Alexandra Bidwell and Jacob Dailey finished third. Sjapoo was a prince and performed so well under the pressure.

Early morning hack

Early morning hack

Ready for the Team Championship

Ready for the Team Championship

Round one Team Championship

Round one Team Championship

2nd Place in the Team Championship. Sophie St. Clair and Trainer David Sterckx

2nd Place in the Team Championship. Sophie St. Clair and Trainer David Sterckx

Silver Medal for Sophie St.Clair

Silver Medal for Sophie St.Clair

Very happy Sophie and Sjapoo

Very happy Sophie and Sjapoo

Saturday was a day off. I hacked Sjapoo early in the morning like I did everyday. Then a quiet day at the hotel finishing homework that needed to be done before returning to school. In the late afternoon I went back to the barn to take Sjapoo out on the trails to relax both of us a bit. It’s really pretty in Rancho Murieta and the facility is very nice. We stayed for the Grand Prix that night. There were 71 competitors in the class many of who were prepping for the World Cup Qualifier next Saturday. From a field of 71 to only 7 or 8 in the jump off it was one of the most exciting jump offs I have seen in a very long time. The star and winner of the night was a person I hadn’t seen before Tatiana Dzavik. She was amazing as were both of her horses in the JO.

Walk for the Individual Final

Walk for the Individual Final

Go time!

Go time!

Triple combination

Triple combination

Final time in last round of Individual Qualifier. Clean and clear.

Final time in last round of Individual Qualifier. Clean and clear.

Sunday, the final two rounds of the week for the Individual Final are today and I am sitting tied with Madison Myro for 6th place going into it. I carried forward my 4 faults from the Team Championship (very costly) and know I need to have two clean rounds to stay in the ribbons. Those are the facts with simple math. I have no choice but to go clean.

The format today is two different rounds, two different courses. I will ride 11th today. The rounds are moving very fast. I take a deep breath and ride my round executing the plan from David and finish clean and clear. I did not know at the time that the person I was tied with going to the first round had 1 time fault. I just knew I had to go clear in the second round. David and I walked the second course. I did a couple of jumps in the warm up ring and headed back to the arena. I stayed focused and in the moment with each jump and finished clean and clear. Sjapoo was perfect today. Just perfect. With that round I secured my fourth place standing. I could really relax now and watch the jump off to determine 1rst, 2nd and 3rd. I was really pulling for my teammate Peyton Masteller to win. But in the end it would be Serenity Phillips and her Tesoro that would take first, Dalan Laughlin and Orchidee in second and Peyton Masteller and Pikador in third. Each of these girls would have been a worthy winner as they all carried 0 faults through all five rounds and were fabulous riders. Very deserving medal winners.

Proud of Sjapoo. He was perfect.

Proud of Sjapoo. He was perfect.

So what did I learn? I learned that I can perform under the biggest pressure I have ever experienced and how to recognize when it’s my nerves getting in the way of my skills. When I recognize that then I can rely on my training to pull me through. I have learned there is a strategy to earning the points to qualify and being mindful of the careful management of my horse: not overjumping him, making sure he is sound, that he’s eating healthy and has the right supplements to perform his best.  I have learned that I can care for my horse and his needs in a way that I can be proud of. And that competing in championships like this in the future is definitely something I will work toward.

This was an amazing experience. I am very proud of what I have accomplished throughout this process. I have had many highs and lows over the year getting to this place. Securing the top Children’s Jumper ranking in California, making it to the podium with a Silver medal for the Team Championship and securing 4th Overall for the Individual Final are real accomplishments.  In the end though the real accomplishments are in the trusting bond I have with my horse Sjapoo and with my trainer David Sterckx and the knowledge, confidence and clarity I gained as rider and horsewoman. This championship was a perfect vehicle to galvanize my development. If you are a Children’s Jumper or will be soon I encourage you to find out more and participate in the program in the coming year. The qualifying period for the new season has started!

Kisses for a job well done.

Kisses for a job well done.

More love

More love

 

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: The Countdown Begins

September 24, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

The countdown to the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championships begins! Last week I received a mail from the USHJA outlining the format of the week, the schedule of events and my teammates and Chef d’Equipe. I will be on Team Number 1 from California with Lauren Kee, Jayme Omand and Peyton Masteller. Our Chef is Kelly Van Vleck.

CH/AA West Region Jumper Championships Schedule of Events. Photo Credit USHJA

CH/AA West Region Jumper Championships Schedule of Events. Photo Credit USHJA

My training plan has needed to be flexible the last couple of weeks. We had planned to attend the Blenheim Fall Festival to specifically work indoors.  But that plan fell apart when some of the indoor classes were changed to the grass. Then we thought we’d head to Los Angeles Equestrian Center but the Equidome was being used nearly non-stop. Going to plan B, my trainer David Sterckx said to me, “I want Sjapoo to feel like he is at a spa this week. He should be relaxed. Lots of hand walking, trail walking, not too much jumping and lots of flat work.”

Jog Format: Photo credit USHJA

Jog Format: Photo credit USHJA

So, on Wednesday I did a small flat class working on getting Sjapoo’s head down and stretching his back. I also created a packing list which I keep on the dry erase board in my trunk. Thursday, I hacked lightly. Friday, I went to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center for the L.A. International Jumping Festival. Sjapoo and I took time to flat early in the morning. Then we entered the Children’s Jumper class and took first! We worked on the flat Saturday morning very early, watched a few of my teammates rake in the ribbons and then Sjapoo and I went on a trail ride in the afternoon. This is a great place to trail ride because the Equestrian Center is so large that just doing a loop around it is nice. The trails also go up into Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, up behind Forest Lawn Memorial Park and all the way up to the Will Rogers State Historic Park and Museum. I’m sure it goes much further but that’s as far as I’ve gone. Who could imagine that a person could trail ride in such a beautiful setting in the middle of a sprawling urban landscape like Los Angeles? Sunday, again we had an early morning flat and then entered a .90m jumper class just to get Sjapoo around and keep it easy for both of us. Sjapoo trailered back to our barn that afternoon. Monday I washed the poultice off his legs, and we had a long bareback ride and worked on lots of good basics.

photo (7)

No one else from my barn is going to Sacramento so we will haul up in the small trailer with just my stuff and Sjapoo. David will do the hauling and I will be the groom. Low maintenance team! So many people at my barn have been really kind to wish me good luck and to help me get to Sacramento. I will definitely take strength from their positivity and encouragement. I’m very lucky to train at this barn.

We leave by car for Sacramento after the morning rush hour in L.A. My mom, my brother and I will follow David and Sjapoo. My dad will fly after work to meet us there. It’s about 400 miles to Rancho Cordova just outside Sacramento where the Murieta Equestrian Center is located. It will be a long day in the car and will be perfect to try to wrap up my pile of homework before the show gets started. Stay tuned for mini updates as we head into competition.

Sophie St.Clair stoked for Sacramento

Sophie St.Clair stoked for Sacramento

To find out more about:

The Children’s and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championships:

http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aahome.aspx

Kelly Van Vleck:

http://www.vanvleckranch.com/

Sacramento International Horse Show

www.jumpsacto.com

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: A Champion Concept

September 18, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

As a part of this blog series I wanted to share information about the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Children’s and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championship. The USHJA views this program as an introduction to the team experience and an opportunity to identify and develop up and coming talent. What better way to share the information about this exciting new program than getting it straight from the horse’s mouth? Yes, pun intended.

I spoke with two important figures in the creation and implementation of the program. Meghan Carney is the Director of Jumper Programs at the USHJA and liaison to the Jumper Working Group for any issues that arise regarding the Championships. I also spoke to professional rider and trainer Jeff Campf.  He is the Chairman of the USHJA Ch/AA Jumper Regional Championship and a member of the task force that was formed to create the concept for this program. They each represent two very important sides of the program that I really wanted to look at: the organizational and the athletic development.

Sophie St.Clair watches a round at the Portuguese Bend National Horse Show.

Sophie St.Clair watches a round at the Portuguese Bend National Horse Show.

Both Ms. Carney and Mr. Campf shared that this group of riders, Children’s and Adult Amateurs, represent a large percentage of the USHJA membership. This membership felt strongly there should be a championship that recognized their contribution to the sport.  In fact, for this division alone the USHJA web site reports there are approximately 2,500 Children’s jumpers and 2,045 Adult Amateur jumpers nationwide. To be qualified and selected to participate is no small feat. Why was it important to the members to have their own championship? Mr. Campf said, “Many reasons: teaching goal oriented strategy throughout the season to qualify with a sound, confident horse, to learn format and rules of team jumping, to give riders at this level an exciting opportunity for a meaningful Championship.”  With this Championship the USHJA recognized this groups support of the sport and created a pipeline to identify riders who will potentially represent the U.S. in North American and International arenas in the future.

A task force was assembled by the USHJA to develop the concept. It included Eric Straus, Charlotte Skinner, Britt McCormick, David Wright, Sandra Ruiz and the new Chef d’Equipe of the U.S. Show Jumping Team, Robert Ridland. Mr. Campf said, “The members were selected because of their interest in growing our sport through education/competition geared to moving our motivated riders up through what the USHJA calls ‘the pipeline’ giving riders the information of how to grow step by step toward the USET.”

Modeled off a Nations Cup format, it is similar to other USHJA and USEF programs in that it has both a team and individual component. The uniquely different feature of the program is that there are four regional championships rather than one national event. Ms. Carney shared that by starting with regional events the hope is to provide greater participation and access to riders who want to compete. Competing regionally also means less cost for teams that would need to travel. Mr. Campf said, “Another important factor was simply geography. We need representation in every part of our huge and diverse country to ensure the continuity, progress, and improvements to this Championship.”

The USHJA is committed to developing talent from this group of riders. As an example, the Individual Children’s Winner at each event will receive an invitation to an Emerging Athletes Program Regional Clinic in 2014.  Ms. Carney and Mr. Campf see winning medals from this championship as achievements that are resume’ worthy for ambitious riders. Mr. Campf’s intention with this program is “…to give the participants a better idea of steps to follow to get themselves positioned to be recognized, not to wait and hope it happens.”

Sophie feeds Sjapoo a well deserved carrot after a blue ribbon round.

Sophie feeds Sjapoo a well deserved carrot after a blue ribbon round.

As with any new venture, there have been some challenges such as communication about the program and additional sponsorship to meet the program’s growing needs. In 2014, the USHJA will continue to focus communication to its members about participation in the program. Both Mr. Campf and Ms. Carney are very optimistic that what is learned from the experience in this inaugural year can only make for an improved process in the coming years.  Additionally, there is a need for generous sponsors like Fenwick Equestrian Products. This sponsor provided all of the champion coolers to both the Children’s and Adult sections for the teams and individual winners. An opportunity to be associated with this program as it grows in popularity will attract potential sponsors. Ms. Whitney Allen, USHJA Director of Marketing and Communications added, “…sponsors can contribute in various ways through monetary and product support from individuals and companies to promotions through media partners.”

When asked what is most important for participants to take away from the experience, Mr. Campf said, “I personally hope that the process of preparing for and competing in these championships will shed some light on the requirements and expectations of riding in international events one day.”  Ms. Carney remarked, “I think the education about the work and horsemanship that goes into High Performance is one of the most important things to take away from the championships. Riders have the chance to compete in a format that isn’t too far removed from the Olympics!”  

I would love nothing more than to be competing for the United States one day. After speaking with Ms. Carney and Mr. Campf it’s clear the Task Force has expanded their pipeline to identify riders at my level who share that goal. It’s thrilling that this kind of competition exists at a level I can compete in today. It only makes me more motivated to set my goals on NAJYRC and Prix de States in the future. If their goal was to educate and motivate riders toward High Performance opportunities, well, they succeeded. I’m hooked!

Trainer David Sterckx with Sophie St.Clair and teammate Julia Otter.

Trainer David Sterckx with Sophie St.Clair and teammate Julia Otter.

A huge thanks to Jeff Campf, Meghan Carney and Whitney Allen on behalf of the USHJA for sharing their thoughts with me and with all of us.

For more information about Jeff Campf follow this link:

http://www.ozincorporated.com/our_team.html

For more information about this program contact Meghan Carney:

http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aahome.aspx

 

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: The Trainer

September 13, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

As I examine the last year of competition with Sjapoo and contemplate the experience I have in front of me it occurs to me that I am not alone in that process. Over the last year my trainer David Sterckx has been prepping in his own way. Originally from Brussels, Belgium David moved to California 5 years ago to join his sister Caroline, the Riding School Director at my barn. He is a former student of Nelson Pessoa and Jos Kumps. His accomplishments include being a former member of the Belgian Junior National Show Jumping Team, Belgian Junior Champion and 4th in the European Junior Championships. Additionally, he was the winner of the European Puissance Championship at 2.25M when he was only 17. He’s no stranger to the pressure of performance for a junior rider. With that in mind, I sat down with David recently to have him talk about his training methods that have brought us to this point.

Trainer David Sterckx

Trainer David Sterckx

Q: What is your basic philosophy of training a horse?

A: My philosophy of a show jumping horse is to consider him like an athlete. To insure he feels good and he’s in good shape. And, to do all that we need to do have him ready to perform.

 

From my last blog I mentioned “I am working very hard to stay mentally and physically relaxed and to stick with the program that has been working for us in the past several weeks.”

Q: What is the program and what has been working?

A: It’s a matter of helping you to understand that you need to get Sjapoo to be your friend and not to fight with him when he does a mistake or he does something wrong. Otherwise, he’s not going to help you when you need it. When you were making little mistakes he didn’t want to help you. He was afraid to go in the ring and his eyes were coming out of his face and the same with you too. I think you understand that now and when you’re more relaxed it works better. But we still have to work on some things….the jump offs. (laughs)

 

Q: What did you think when we bought Sjapoo?

A: What I thought is still the same as today it was something that was going to be challenging and difficult but when it was going to work it will be very good. I remember I said to you at the beginning of the year when you were running into trouble that when everything is going to work and you will be in tune with him you two will be hard to beat. And it’s almost the case right now.

 

Q: Why did you think Sjapoo would be good for me?

A: I don’t know….(laughs) . I think he would be good for any rider. The rider needs to be ready to work harder than the others and go through some doubt and trouble.  But, like I said, when everything is working well and he feels good, the rider is good then it’s going to be really good.

 

Q: What did you discover about me and Sjapoo as a team?

A: That I was right!

David Sterckx talks with Sophie St.Clair after her round.

David Sterckx talks with Sophie St.Clair after her round.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in our partnership?

A: The biggest challenge was to have you and Sjapoo to understand each other and to have fun. You are a little aggressive rider. If a horse is going to stop.…well… with you he’s going to be in trouble. You’re a fighter and some times it’s too much and Sjpaoo is very careful, very sensitive. If you press him a little too much he starts to panic and then nothing works anymore.

 

Q: What were 3 things you worked on most with us this year?

A: First just the basics of riding that we would work on with any horse. To be smooth, relaxed and not so aggressive. That’s the way you need to ride him. With some horses it’s better to be aggressive but with Sjapoo that doesn’t work. He’s fast anyway no matter what. Even if you think you’re going slowly, if you’re clear then you’ll be in the top 3-4 at least. Second, to tell you the truth the next thing is not so easy…. It’s to work on you when you go in the ring. To go to have fun and not like you’re going to war and your life depends on the result (laughs). The last thing is more about the horse itself. For you to take some time with your horse and keep in mind that it’s an animal with feelings.

 

Q: What are your plans for us going forward?

A: Right now we need to keep going on the track we are on. We’ll see up to what level we can go without being too hard on Sjapoo. To keep it safe and good for him.

A pat on the back for a job well done.

A pat on the back for a job well done.

Q: How do you address the sport psychology aspect of the sport?

A: I need my own sports psychologist! I think it’s great and very important. I don’t think an athlete can perform at high levels without having someone to talk with besides the trainer and parents. It needs to be someone from outside who knows about sport and knows about the pressure that an athlete has. I think it’s as important as a good trainer and a good horse.

 

Q: What are you most proud of with this team?

A: That we didn’t give up. (smiling)

 

 

 

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: The Letter

September 07, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

In my run up to the USHJA Children’s & Adult Amateur Western Regional Jumper Championship I have been waiting for two things most expectantly. First, to officially be invited to compete from the USHJA and Zone 10 Jumper Committee. Second, to see what my ranking will be when my points are tabulated. This week both have been revealed.
On Tuesday, I received the letter from USHJA congratulating me and inviting me to compete! I suspected on some level that I was going to the championship because the numbers thankfully aren’t subjective. I had enough points accumulated to find myself in the top 12 applicants. Even if all 12 of the top applicants continued to earn points and the ranking churned over each week I still felt I would be in the running.  But until you are invited officially, you aren’t guaranteed a spot. What makes this letter so momentous is that it is a year’s worth of planning, preparation, competition, strategy, frustration, elation, commitment and hard work culminating in one letter acknowledging that I, along with my partner Sjapoo, deserve to be there.
Official invitation to compete in the USHJA Children's and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championship

Official invitation to compete in the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championship

In December of last year I heard this newly formed Championship was coming. I had heard mention of it earlier in 2012 but not until the end of that year had it been announced officially. The second I heard it was on my mother, my trainer David Sterckx and I sat down to determine what our plan was for 2013. Previously, I had wanted to move up to the 1.20M. I had already finished fifth in the 2012 Zone 10 Children’s Jumper Division. But David knew that for me to go up we needed some retooling. In his mind we would need to adjust from lucky winning rides to strategic rides that would result in wins. And, as I would learn, there’s a big difference. When this Championship presented itself it was the perfect vehicle to accomplish that goal. Initially, I wasn’t so sure about another year at 1.10M and perceived this to be a step back. Now, in this last year, I have learned so much that with new eyes I can see it was the mature, long game decision.
Early in my year of re-education I experienced hit and miss results. I wasn’t able to put behind me my need for speed and crazy passion to win. In fact, what was worse, I was scaring Sjapoo.  At one point, I dropped down to the Low Children’s Jumper classes for both me and Sjapoo to regain our confidence. David said it was for an undetermined amount of time and only when we began riding in the manner he was looking for would that change.  At the time, I remember thinking “I’m stepping back again! I am risking valuable time earning points in the Children’s Jumpers.” David said, “Forget about the Championship. If it’s supposed to happen it will. What’s more important is getting it right.”
Sjapoo and Sophie take first.

Sjapoo and Sophie take first.

This week the proof was in the results. The California standings for the Regional Jumper Championship were updated on Wednesday. It reported me and Sjapoo sitting in first place in California. Even if I hold that spot just for a moment or if I am lucky enough to carry that accomplishment with me into the Championship it will be another confirmation that I have really put in the work this year.
Happy as I am about the current standings I know that many variables play a part in determining the ranking of the riders. Variables like how many shows did we all go to, how well did we perform at those shows, did we split time between more than one horse, did schoolwork play a part, and the list is too numerous to be complete.  All are very good riders and real competitors. While I can be proud for a moment and enjoy the recognition, I know that I have my work cut out for me. And that work won’t end when the Championship is over. These are my peers, my contemporaries, the same people I will be seeing at the shows and in my classes for years to come. All of these riders want to win and to be competing with them is both an honor and a privilege. It’s truly anyone’s guess which States teams and which individuals will take home the honors that week. But we can all be proud of our accomplishment in this inaugural year of the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Regional Jumper Championship. We made it!
A hug and words of encouragement from Trainer David Sterckx for finally turning the corner.

A hug and words of encouragement from Trainer David Sterckx for finally turning the corner.

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: Training to Stay Relaxed

September 01, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

My fingers are still crossed to hear about the invitation to the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Western Regional Jumper Championship. Preparations this week included several calls and e-mails with USEF and USHJA to get the final points tabulation nailed down. Bless the people at USEF and USHJA for their patience and diligence. Thousands of class results and their corresponding points pour in from all over the country every week to be entered. Databases are great but don’t forget there is a human element behind them.

Wednesday’s lesson: Working on ground poles and getting a steady speed to the fence. It was a short lesson because of the afternoon heat in South Pasadena. Over 100 degrees! Right now it’s not necessary to jump a lot with the show schedule I have had recently. It’s more important to keep Sjapoo relaxed and healthy. For that we go on trail rides through the Arroyo Seco near my barn. The barn has been here for almost 100 years and the trails themselves for much longer.

Riders in the Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA circa 1936. photo credit: Pasadena Water&Power

Riders in the Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA circa 1936.
photo credit: Pasadena Water&Power

Sjapoo enjoys his surroundings on the trail.

Sjapoo enjoys his surroundings on the trail.

Even at the shows I take time to have a quiet walk with Sjapoo. It calms us both and lets us focus.

Even at the shows I take time to have a quiet walk with Sjapoo. It calms us both and lets us focus.

Thursday’s hack: The heat was so bad that lessons were cancelled. I took Sjapoo for a nice hand walk and cooled him off with a bath.

Friday’s lesson: My trainer David Sterckx is at the show with other clients through the weekend. When this happens I work on flat exercises that will help Sjapoo drop his neck and work his top line. I do exercises that lengthen and collect his stride. And generally work on keeping Sjapoo flexible and responsive.

David will be back next week and we will pick up the training as we prep to trailer into the Portuguese Bend National horse show for a quick class in the Children’s Jumpers on Saturday. Again, this is just another opportunity to keep Sjapoo in the showing mindset and working but not over working him.

We don’t plan to do any more grass shows before the Championship. The shows we go to now will either be just to keep him in shape or to specifically work in the indoor arenas. Since we’ve been on grass practically all summer we will reacquaint Sjapoo with the look of the indoor arenas from around the area. The Championship will be indoors and now is a good time to begin retooling.

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: In the Beginning

August 29, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

With September around the corner I am reminded of two things a) the mounting pile of biology homework I am to complete and b) the approaching championship. I am still waiting for my official invitation letter from USHJA, but am hopeful that it should arrive soon. Here, typing this article in the cooling artificial breeze of a portable fan, I am reminded how lucky I am to be at this point in my riding career.

I started on the A circuit in 2009 on my trainer David Sterckx’s young mare, East America DB. “Meri” was the horse I learned to sit a buck. She was beautiful and I hoped that one day I’d find a horse just like her. Sadly, as the story goes she was for sale and sell she did.

Sophie St.Clair and East America DB

Sophie St.Clair and East America DB

Shortly though I bought my first show horse, Perfect Gentleman (a.k.a. Johnny). Suffice to say that it was shocking to see me race around on a 17.2 hand Warmblood beast. My petite-ness, I was after all only 10, made it all the more startling. I first met Johnny when I was catch riding down at the barn. He was then a 17 year old ex-show horse turned riding school packer, notorious for his laziness. And I, being a known pony whisperer, was asked to help fix the problem. So, with a crop and spurs and a lot of leg I got him moving. Then something really amazing happened. We realized Johnny changed when he started working again. The horse who had tricked everyone into believing he was just an old lug with not much to offer was clearing 1.30M fences. We bought him a week later and within days he was on a trailer to HITS Thermal.

Sophie St.Clair and Perfect Gentleman

Sophie St.Clair and Perfect Gentleman

For over a year we were tearing it up at the shows and snagging a couple of championships along the way. We became best friends. I had given him a job and he had given me the shows. My mother still says that the reason we worked so well together was because I have the magic touch when it comes to naughty horses. Honestly, I think it was probably just all the cups of apple-cinnamon oatmeal I fed him. To this day, I think the thing people most remember about Johnny was how much he really loved his job and being at the show. We went on to claim 5th in the 2010 USHJA Zone 10 Horse of the Year Awards in the Low Children’s Jumper division.

Sophie St.Clair and Perfect Gentleman

Sophie St.Clair and Perfect Gentleman

Concerns over his hock soreness and age caused us to officially retire our Perfect Gentleman. After looking at multiple therapeutic riding programs and being rejected on account of the aforementioned hock issues, we began looking at private places to retire him knowing that the expense might be too much to handle. The expense of retiring a horse would probably take any additional money we had out of funds available to show. But Johnny’s happiness had to come first.

By May of 2011 the windows of opportunity for Johnny’s happy retirement seemed to be closing and I was thrust again into that awkward space between horses. Enter Stephen and Amy, boarders at our barn on their way to life on a ranch in Michigan. Amy had a “Hers” horse but Stephen had no “His” horse. After a couple of weeks to get to know Johnny (and of course fall in love with him) they said they would take him to Michigan and treat him like a king. He currently lives a life of luxury as the largest trail horse in Northern Michigan. Life is very good for Johnny. Stephen and Amy are my heroes.

Just a few weeks before Johnny’s grand send-off, I’d gone to try a horse for what I supposed would be for another girl at the barn. The horse was bay, standing at what I estimated to be around 16hh. He had a way of carrying himself that made him look much bigger though. His name was Sjapoo. Riding this new horse was very different from riding Johnny – the dials were more sensitive and there was an explicit need for accuracy. We jumped around a bit. When David asked me how I liked him I rattled off praises enthusiastically, it becoming clear that the horse was actually intended for me. I went home that night with a smile super glued to my mouth. Was this the horse that could take me to the higher levels?

Sjapoo

Sjapoo

Even then though, David knew the transition from the style of riding I had assumed with Johnny to the more complex, precision-driven style I’d have to develop on Sjapoo would be very difficult. After an intense discussion with my family in a booth at our neighborhood pancake house we decided that in order for me to move forward, we’d have to adapt. My family has made tremendous sacrifices for me to pursue my dreams in this sport. And for that I am so grateful.

Now, after two years with Sjapoo I can’t even believe how far we have come. I’ve had to learn to be patient, reassuring and supportive with Sjapoo. I’ve needed to ride my rounds with ease and sense rather than brawn and blaze. I had to make him my friend. We had to trust each other. David said to me “If you really want to go higher you must change how you ride. No grand prix rider worth two cents would ride the high fences like that. You must begin thinking.”  And so, over the last year I have been reeducated, retooled and been forced to relax my mind, attitude and compulsion to win in favor of getting the ride right.

Sjapoo and Sophie in the JO in the Black Star Equestrian Children's Jumper Classic

Sjapoo and Sophie in the JO in the Black Star Equestrian Children’s Jumper Classic

At one point, I was so frustrated with all of the change and of course not seeing the results immediately that I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep riding! As David was talking me off the ledge he said, “There will be many more difficult days than great ones in this sport.” That idea put into perspective that struggle and change is normal in competitive riding, not unique. It was up to me to decide to push through or give up. Standing where I am today I could not be more grateful for those words.

Sjpaoo and Sophie St.Clair at the Huntington Beach Surf Classic

Sjpaoo and Sophie St.Clair at the Huntington Beach Surf Classic

I could never have anticipated how much change I would confront at the time we bought Sjapoo. Looking back I was clueless but seeing how far I have come with him is unbelievable. I still have many, many things to work on with my technique and horsemanship but I have accepted that it’s a process. A long one. A life long one.

My journey to this place in my career has not been easy. As I wait to hear if I am invited to compete I am working very hard to stay mentally and physically relaxed and to stick with the program that has been working for us in the past several weeks. We are contenders but by no means are we ringers. Consistency and communication will be our challenge. Only time will tell.

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: Last Days of Qualification

August 25, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St.Clair

The qualification period for the Children’s and Adult Amateur Western Regional Jumper Championships closes Monday, August 26, 2013. Points will continue to be tabulated to determine the top 12 riders and the makeup of teams. Alternate riders will also be determined once points have been calculated.

Looking at the list of riders who have applied I can assume that a good number of these riders will make it to the Championships. And, more exciting, if selected I will be on a team with some of them. I haven’t had the pleasure of getting to watch all of my future teammates do their thing but I am so incredibly excited to meet and make friends with what looks like a talented group of riders. I only have a little experience with some of the girls on the California list and know that I will be super stoked to ride with any of them.

At Showpark Summer Festival in August my hopes for maintaining my first place position in two Children’s Jumper classes were thwarted by Zoey Pacyna and her horse Wonderfull. They deservedly took first place on all three days of competition at that show and were super fast to boot!

Peyton Masteller and her horse Pikador have been on fire winning Children’s and Mod Jr. Amateur Classics.

I have seen and talked to Serenity Phillips briefly at the shows. She’s very friendly and both of her qualified horses are fantastic.

However, some of my toughest competition comes from Katie Murray a member of my own barn! Katie and her horse Taboo’s Castillo have recently been riding the “MoJams” and she has a new partnership with her other qualified horse Forlana Van’t Arkelhof. It’s always tough to balance friendship and competition but I am proud to say Katie is one of my closest friends.

California will have a great group of riders this year in Sacramento. No matter how the teams shape up we all bring something special to this competition.

To follow the California Standings for the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Western Regional Jumper Championships follow this link. http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aastandings.aspx

Sophie St.Clair and Katie Murray at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center Opener

Sophie St.Clair and Katie Murray at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center Opener

 

Sophie and Katie watch a few rounds before the M&S League Children's Jumper Classic at HITS Thermal

Sophie and Katie watch a few rounds before the M&S League Children’s Jumper Classic at HITS Thermal

 

Katie Murray takes 2nd and Sophie St.Clair takes 4th in the Children's Jumper Classic at Blenheim June Classic 2.

Katie Murray takes 2nd and Sophie St.Clair takes 4th in the Children’s Jumper Classic at Blenheim June Classic 2.

 

Sophie and Katie finish first and second in the Black Star Equestrian Children's Jumper Classic at Huntington Beach Surf Classic. They finished less than a tenth of a second apart.

Sophie and Katie finish first and second in the Black Star Equestrian Children’s Jumper Classic at Huntington Beach Surf Classic. They finished less than a tenth of a second apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of a Podium Hopeful: Introductions and USHJA Regional Children’s Jumper Championships

August 20, 2013 By: janwest Category: What's Happenin'

by Sophie St. Clair

I’m sure, you’ve heard of the U.S. Pony Jumper Finals, North American Junior and Young Rider Championships and the prestigious Prix des States. Now, in 2013 the USHJA introduces a new show jumping championship to add to the list: The Children’s and Adult Amateur Jumper Regional Championships. Four competitions will be held North, South, East and West and will combine different zones from the geographic regions.

The format consists of a Team component modeled off of a Nations Cup format and an individual component. Eligibility requires riders to apply for the championship and earn points toward their ranking. The top ranked riders will be invited depending on the number of teams each state is allowed to bring. In most cases each state will bring only one team of four plus an alternate. But in some states there are so many riders that the rules allow for more than one team. In California this year there are approximately 400 riders competing in the Children’s Jumper Division which allows California to bring 3 teams.

Informational flyer for the USHJA Children's and Adult Regional Jumper Championships.  http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aahome.aspx

Informational flyer for the USHJA Children’s and Adult Regional Jumper Championships.
http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aahome.aspx

This brings me to yours truly. Hi. My name is Sophie St. Clair, I’m 14 years old and live in sunny, Southern California. I’m also one of those 400 riders hoping for a spot on the competing California teams.  Currently, I am placed third on the USHJA California standings and sixth in Zone 10 for the Children’s Jumper-High Division on my part-time teacher and full-time best friend, Sjapoo.  (Pronounced Sha-PO)

I was born into a third generation of horse lovers but did not fully realize my passion for my now favorite four legged beasts until age seven. A myriad of uninspired ballet lessons and lackluster karate chops led me to this realization. However, as is the start of many a horsey tale, it only took one ride around the paddock on my grandmother’s old mare to be hooked. The next couple months were a flurry of local barn visits and equestrian related Google searches. Eventually, my parents settled on sending me for lessons in a sleepy little riding school by the name of San Pascual Stables.

Sophie St. Clair and her horse Sjapoo sharing a sweet moment.

Sophie St. Clair and her horse Sjapoo sharing a sweet moment.

Now, seven years, four horses, three-hundred-thirty-two ribbons and nearing a hundred dumps in the dirt later, I have come to a point where I could be in real contention for a regional title! Follow me here as I guest blog for Sidelines News to document my journey to the Children’s Jumper Western Regional Championship in Sacramento, CA and give you a glimpse at what happens behind the scenes. With my partner in crime Sjapoo and a pinch of luck, I’ll make it to the podium.

For more information on the Regional Jumper Championships please visit the USHJA web site.

http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumper/ch_aahome.aspx

To follow me on tumblr please visit:

http://sophiestclair.tumblr.com