Have you ever sat around with a bunch of friends and talked about - if you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be. A lot of people say celebrities like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, while others would say Presidents like Kennedy or Lincoln. Well I have a whole list of people like Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Amelia Earhart.
Well, just this past Saturday and Sunday, I got the privilege of spending the weekend with one of the people on my list – Debbie McDonald. It gets even better, I got to take not one, but two lessons with her and there are not words to describe how incredible it all was. So a little bit of back history, a year or so back, some of you might remember that I blogged that Brentina spent her Winters boarded at my sister’s farm in Goleta, California just north of Santa Barbara. This came about because the veterinarian that my sister uses is also the same vet that Debbie McDonald used to care for Brentina during her competitive years. Debbie was looking for a place to leave Brentina (happy in her retirement) while the rest of their group went to Florida to compete over the Winter and a farm close to Dr. Timm’s home base in Santa Ynez was all the better. So 2 winters ago Brentina became a regular at In The Irons Farm, my sister’s farm.
A few months ago, when Debbie was up to visit Brentina, my sister asked Debbie if she would ever consider teaching a clinic at In The Irons and Debbie quickly responded, “Yes, I would love too.” The next day my sister called me (I live about 4 hours away in San Diego County) and said “what is it worth to you to ride with Debbie McDonald?” After I picked myself up off the floor I said, “Well certainly my undying admiration and gratitude and perhaps even a kidney!” My sister laughed and said “well you don’t have to go quite that far, just make sure you can come up April 6&7.”
So I cleared my calendar for this weekend, which meant giving up teaching a clinic in Chicago, and Uiver and I made the trek to Goleta. To say that I was anxious is to say the least. In my eyes, Debbie McDonald is a living legend and the competitive ground that she broke with Brentina has paved the way for many other U.S. riders. Debbie McDonald and Brentina were the first horse and rider pair to ever win the World Cup in Europe and her freestyle performed to Motown music like “Brick House” and “Respect” is epic in the dressage world.
To say that Debbie was open, kind, engaging, disarming and the best clinician I have ever ridden with is an understatement. Uiver was a bit strong and full of himself the first day which tends to bring out my tendency to over hold him and use too much hand, but she work us through it and grilled me on my position as well as where we are giving up points in the CDI ring. Her eye for detail is exceptional as well as her ability to quickly asses the cause/affect of both the horse’s and the rider’s strengths and weaknesses.
Later on that evening when we were all having dinner (Yes I actually got to have dinner with her since she stayed at my sister’s home On Saturday night) Debbie could not have been more gracious with all of us star struck dressage star “wanna-bes”. She talked about what a once in a life time partnership she and Brentina had and why she chose to retire as a competitor rather than try in vane to repeat a magical partnership that has no parallel. Her utter love and admiration for Brentina is so evident. I made a comment about her freestyle at the world cup in Vegas, which I was privileged to witness, and her eyes lit up in remembrance. To me, that bond and that magic is what a true equestrian is all about.
She even took the time to talk with me further about the expectations of the CDI judges versus National judges. I now have a much better understanding for why Uiver and my scores have dropped so dramatically and I know what we have to improve to bring our scores up.
I watched a video of my first ride with Debbie early the next morning and I was determined to show her improvement when we lessoned again later on Sunday. I knew from watched the videos that I needed greater independence in my hands and needed to sit even taller to keep up with Uiver cadenced, forward trot. As a result, my second ride with her was so much better. Uiver was much more settled and we had a much softer connection. Debbie was very encouraging and made note of how much I had improved from the day before. I cannot tell you how much it meant to have someone that I idolize tell we what a great job I had done.
To be honest with you I have not even processed it all since I just arrived home a few hours ago after the long, traffic filled drive home. I know that I am forgetting many details but for now my weary brain will leave you with a few videos. The first 2 are clips of me riding with Debbie and the last is her World Cup Freestyle from Las Vegas. Even this many years later, it still makes me cry watching it because it is just so amazing. If I could achieve even a small percentage of her amazing prowess my goals would be achieved.