update from the north

Nearly every afternoon around four o’clock, my cell phone rings and it’s my older daughter, finished with her day’s work and ready to drive home (hands-free and bluetooth, don’t worry).

I put her on speaker phone and for the next half hour she fills me in about her day — which horses she rode, how training went, what she had for lunch, the weather, the barn gossip — while I peel potatoes and chop onions. 

Iron Horse Dressage: the hot walker is to the left.

Sometimes she has to stop at CVS or the grocery store and I get to weigh in about what painkillers or knee braces to buy, or what might go good with a roast chicken (vegetables! buy the vegetables!). Often I hand her off to the other kids so they can discuss animal business, or to my husband to talk about insurance or car problems. A few days ago she tightened the clutch on the car while facetiming with my husband. Her observation: Now I can see why you swear and throw things when you work on the cars.

The paddocks are a distance from the barn; she treks back and forth a bunch of times each day.

Her work is pretty much all-consuming. In exchange for a small stipend, housing, and lessons, she’s at the barn six days a week from 7 until 4 feeding horses, taking horses to and from the paddocks, putting them in the hot walker, tacking them up for clients, warming up horses for the trainer to work with, giving meds, assisting the vet, and taking riding lessons. 

Send photos, I beg. 
Of what? She asks. 
Everything, I say. ANYTHING. 

And then she sends me a photo of horse poo, the little stinker.

On her one day off, she runs errands, usually getting hopelessly lost in the process. One time her phone died while she was ensnared in Boston’s web of twisty streets and about freaked. Another time she was looking for a bank and ended up at a military base (everyone’s in camo and carrying automatic rifles, WHAT DO I DO!!!).

30-something horses + a couple dozen clients = a tight schedule

cleaning tack in the tack/client locker room

tacking station

massage therapy

Her original goal was to move to Germany (the birthplace of dressage) to study and train, but it turns out that, along with the other top-notch trainers, one of the trainers at this barn is German and trained extensively in the very system my daughter was wanting to study in, so now my daughter’s realizing that she might be able to get most everything she needs right here. Inadvertantly, she’s landed in a position that’s perfectly suited to her interests; it’s like an internship, or a work-study program, for dressage.

trainers sit at the bar: both trainers and riders are miked

One wall of the riding arena is mirrors.

From a text this week: “Windows are open.”

The riding arena has sensors scattered around the room that connect to a phone-holding device. If a rider wants to film a lesson, they wear an arm band so the sensors can track them and the camera can record it. The rider can pause the recording by pressing a button on the arm band. In this clip of one of our daughter’s lessons, you can hear the camera whirring as it follows her.

Watch for the flying changes at the end: even for the untrained eye, they’re easy to see.

Soon she’ll be moving from her current home — the mother-in-law suite in the barn owners’ home — to a little house right next to the barn. One of the assistant trainers is leaving, and my daughter will be taking on some of her responsibilities.

Once she move here, it’s a one-minute commute . . . by foot.

Speaking of responsibilities: As the trainers get to know our daughter, they put her on more horses. A few days ago she texted that her trainer had her work his grand prix horse — “walk, trot, and canter!!” — which was, apparently, a big deal.  

the 80-something acre farm is right next to a state park

Walking sixty-plus miles a week and riding multiple horses each day does have a downside: her knees and hips are taking a beating. At first we chalked it up to getting in shape, but now we’re concerned about long term wear and tear. She’s working at it, though. The trainers know about her issues and spend time troubleshooting with her, a client (who is also an ortho doc) gave her a side-stall exam, and she’s using knee braces and pain killers and doing stretching exercises and yoga. Here’s to hoping it works!

Recently, she extended her original four-month commitment to a full year, through spring 2022. I expected this would probably happen, so I’m not surprised. She’s where she wants to be, so we’re all pretty happy. (And I do have one small ulterior motive: now that she’s staying longer, we’ve got a good excuse for a trip to Boston and the Cape, whoop!)

This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week three, the quotidian (3.25.19), the quotidian (3.26.18), apricot couronne, more springtime babies, the Tuesday boost, maple pecan scones, of a moody Sunday, the quotidian (3.26.12), fabulous fatira, my brother’s weirdnesses.


  • JG

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, and I remember your posts about your daughter taking her first lessons at a local stable. I’ve also been a serious and competitive rider (three day eventing) for nearly three decades. It is an absolute delight to watch your daughter’s progression — she’s clearly talented and in her element, she is in a fabulous program, and she got where she is through hard work. Dressage is not classically a young person’s sport and it certainly is not a working person’s sport. Her hard work, dedication, and talent are exactly what the sport needs. Please keep posting updates — and to anyone not familiar with the sport, I will add what Jennifer did not come straight out and say: her daughter is now riding at an impressively high level, and she has earned through hard work a position in an elite program. For a kid to get to this level through her own hard work and not through a lot of family money is unfortunately rare in any of the disciplines.

  • Sara

    In my daughters experience, the knee and back issues are a constant battle. Gone are the days of hikes that require stepping up or steep climbs. But apparently when they are doing what they love, the trade off is worth it. (Along with the PT a couple times a week….)

  • Sherry

    I have thought about her several times and am so glad to know she is in her happy place. I hope the physical issues are something she can work through. It sounds like she has a great support system in place. Thank you for the report.

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