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Mary Hollis Baird

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Eventing Life Lesson (Brought to You by Harry Potter)

A Thestral model on display in the Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Brothers London. Photo via Creative Commons/Rev Stan/Flickr.

The Harry Potter universe is littered with equine-esque creatures that we all recognize from mythology or folk lore of some kind. I’m talking centaurs, hippogriffs (half-eagle, half-horse, flying creature of legend), unicorns, or Abraxans (the gigantic palomino and winged horses like a Pegasus, but more hardcore since they only drink single-malt whiskey.) These are myths with which we, as a culture, are most familiar.

For me, the most intriguing equines in the Harry Potter universe are the thestrals. Described in book 5 of the series:

“A pair of blank, white, shining eyes were growing larger through the gloom and a moment later the dragonish face, neck and then skeletal body of a great, black, winged horse emerged from the darkness … swishing its long black tail”

There’s no conclusive evidence where exactly the idea of the thestrals came to J.K. Rowling.  The most popular fan theory is the thestrals originated from a Celtic Myth entitled “N’oun Doare.” It’s a story of a prodigal son returning home to his kingdom and having to go through a series of tasks to earn his rightful place on the throne. His tools for the success of the mission include weapons and a fantastical horse that looks like a nag.

As the story goes, the prince can see past the skeletally thin mare and appreciate her for her keen sense of direction, loyalty and magical transportation abilities (whenever a knot on her halter is undone, she transports you 500 leagues instantly). In some translations the mare is called, “The Mare of Doom.” (***GREAT show name alert***).

The hosts of the Binge Mode: Harry Potter podcast, Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion, sum up the thestrals’ skills as:

“They have incredible sense of smell and direction. Unlike most animals, they can understand exactly where to go, even if just given the destination, rather than specific, step-by-step instructions. They can carry human riders and fly very fast.”

On Pottermore, J.K. Rowling, herself, writes, “While somewhat intimidating in appearance, these carnivorous horses are emblematic of a journey to another dimension, and reward all who trust them with faithfulness and obedience.”

Screenshot: Warner Brothers

Thestrals play a key role in the plot, however their metaphor about beauty and death and grief is one of the most thematically relevant of the entire Harry Potter series. Characters that can see thestrals are some of the most empathetic in the entire series. A key component of the thestrals’ visibility is only people who have seen death AND processed its greater significance can see them. This allows only the most empathetic characters to connect and interact with the winged-beasts.

I think if you asked most people what’s the character of Harry Potter’s greatest strength, then you’d get a myriad of response like: ‘brave,’  ‘loyal to his friends,’ ‘standing up for what is right in the face of evil.’ However, I would argue that Harry’s most powerful attribute is his empathy.  His empathy makes all the aforementioned qualities possible. The thestrals in the Order of the Phoenix really illustrate this concept; their scary, almost demonic, appearance belie an innate gentleness. 

The thestrals are the epitome of beauty and kindness born out of death. Only empathy and acceptance of grief allow people to see and command a thestral. Harry’s embrace of love and empathy makes his grief a tool. It’s almost a superpower against his greatest enemy, Voldemort, a character defined by a fear of death and an apathy to the hurt and suffering of other beings.

I think that J.K. Rowling intentionally chose a horse-like creature to illustrate grief and the metaphor of empathy and vulnerability.

Binge Mode cites the thestrals as, “a signature J.K. Rowling achievement to take something many people think of as fearful and shameful and dirty and wrong, and to say, ‘no’ and say, ‘this is about growth and understanding’.”

A defining feature of the modern equine is dependence on humans, which requires empathy from us, or else we will never fully unlock the wonderful rewards these creatures can bestow in our lives.

All of us must embrace empathy. It’s a crucial tenet to any successful rider. Empathy as a rider allows us to teach our horses in the best way possible. Empathy as an owner means they get the best care. Empathy for our fellow competitor engenders the wonderful community in which we, as eventers, pride ourselves. 

Don’t Waste Your Winter

Esse, the 6 year old stallion of which dreams are made. Photo by Mary-Hollis Baird.

A few years ago, I had a great opportunity to ride some nice horses for a couple months while the owner was out of town. One of the horses was a lovely, inordinately sweet 6-year-old dressage stallion. This horse already knew more about dressage at 6-years-old than I did as an adult two-star event rider. It was an utterly delightful and educational time.

Even being a very mellow stallion, if this guy didn’t do some proper work every once in a while he got a bit frisky. So one day, after warming him up long and low I thought, “Let’s pick this guy up and play a bit.” He was utterly bored with me practicing our trot half-pass. So, as we moved up into canter, I started working renvers on a circle transitioning into a half-pass on the long side … Now at some point I think I actually did the exercise correctly because that stallion’s hind end came powering up underneath him and OMG.

I’ve never felt anything like it, I had access to all the power of this horse at my fingertips. If I’d shifted my hips one way or the other he’d become more collected, or extended, or go left or right, or upside down, or teleport in space and time. It’s like he was just constantly asking me, “What do I do?” and any answer I gave was correct. It was a profound moment of harmony, and I finally understood how people only ride dressage day in and day out.

This story popped into my head the other day when I came across this tweet about the term angle of repose

Essentially the angle of repose is the steepest angle that a collection of loose materials can exist and still maintain stability in the face of a myriad of factors, like gravity, wanting to pull it down and cause chaos. Think of it like a pile of rocks that is fine until a pebble or a gust of wind hits it in just the right way triggers a rock slide.

I feel this is a perfect metaphor for competitors. The gravity and changing environmental factors is the competition trying to destabilize you (the pile of rocks) within the competition. Therefore, the friction binding you and your horses performance together is your training and preparation.

Progressing up the levels require you to build your rock pile higher. For example if you build your partnership to the Preliminary level and then move up to Intermediate, the new challenges are going to easily pull down your Preliminary level rock pile. You have to build up and put in more skills, muscle and training in order to fortify you from all the forces trying to push you over.

It’s hard to stay motivated when you are staring down the barrel of months of cold and mud. So in order to be productive this winter, I’m envisioning that every cold, gross day stuck in the indoor is an opportunity to strengthen my pile of skills for the spring and be able to come out and swing for the fences.

Because only in those boring days of endless transitions and no-stirrup work is how you go on to have the rides like I did on the dressage stallion. A ride where no external factor matters because you have built a rock solid foundation that opens up a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities.

For all those not in California, Ocala, and/or Aiken, stay warm and Go Eventing (in a couple months)!

Off Topic Tuesday: 5 Random and/or Ridiculous Equine Pop Culture References

One of my favorite things when I’m watching a TV show or movie, reading a book, or listening to music is the sometimes random occurrence of a horse. Now, I’m not talking about Mr. Ed, War Horse, The Saddle Club TV show, or one of numerous equine-focused book series. I’m talking about the random pop-up of equines in otherwise-unrelated pop culture.

Usually these instances of random equine stories are a romantic horse and carriage ride and/or a horse poop joke. Yet, there are some pieces of pop culture that feature our favorite animal in utterly odd ways.

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix, animated, dark comedy about an aging sitcom star, who is an anthropomorphized horse. His hit show in the ’90s was Horsin’ Around, a Full House-esque show about a horseman who adopts three orphans … shenanigans ensue. As this review of Horsin’ Around illustrates, there’s nothing this show likes better than puns.

We all know there's no such things as too many horse puns

Photo credit: Netflix.

“Not to be a neigh-sayer but this family sitcom is so saddled with lame horse-themed puns it might have to be put out to pasture. Ratings remain stable despite the unbridled mediocrity of the acting and hackneyed, half-assed writing. The syrupy plots should be sent straight to the glue factory. If wishes were horses, beggars would beg to watch a different show. Frankly the pony gags tend to yield diminishing returns and the mane attraction of this rodeo is the talented young actress Sarah Lynn, who performance might shine if she were given better material. Skip this season and change the channel to a horse of a different color.”

In a recent season 5 episode, “Bojack the Feminist,” Bojack is going along with a PR strategy for his new show that includes being a ‘male feminist’ wearing a shirt with the slogan “Feminism is Bay” [here’s a primer on the bae meme, for anyone who is behind the internet times].

Photo credit: Netflix.

For being a show that’s literally about a horse, his equine nature doesn’t come up very often. However, there is a whole subplot about him being cast as the eponymous role in the Secretariat biopic.

Chestnut (2 Broke Girls)

Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS.

Bringing up another bay that should be a chestnut … there is a horse character in the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls. The premise of the show is obvious in the title. One of the broke girls used to be a rich Manhattan socialite, so obviously she had a horse: a champion jumper named Chestnut (yes, even though he’s bay).

Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS.

Chestnut lives in the middle of Brooklyn, in an apartment courtyard, no matter the weather. The plausibility of the storyline aside (Where does all the manure go? Who is their hay provider? Does he need wormer in the city?), the broke girls love Chestnut and end up finding a more responsible living situation for him later in the series.

Full House finale episode: “Michelle Rides Again”

Over the years there were a few equine stories on Full House, but who could forget the finale episode. For those who weren’t children in the ’90s. the Full House finale featured the youngest Tanner, Michelle (played alternately by the Olsen twins), falling off her pony in the woods instead of competing in the hunter show with her friend.

Michelle ends up having amnesia from the concussion (don’t worry, in true Full House fashion, she regains her memories and everyone is happy).

It’s a bit of a stretch as far as horse storylines go, however, the episode does portray some of the pressure of a horse show well.

Beyoncé

A rule I live by is that any pop-culture list must include Beyoncé. She is the ruling queen of American media and must be treated as such. My personal favorite equine-and-Beyoncé moment is the money shot in her “Who Run the World (Girls)” music video…

via GIPHY

A gorgeous, rearing, black Friesian … I mean, what little horse-obsessed kid can’t relate to this image of empowerment.

Honorable mention: Science also named a horsefly after Beyonce because of its “spectacular gold color.” Now I know horseflies are not friends of our actual horses, but they are extremely important pollinators for the environment!

Honorable Honorable mention: Bojack Horseman featured a Beyonce and Jay-Zebra pun

Lil Sebastian (Parks and Recreation)

Screenshot: Netflix.

No equine pop culture list would be complete without a mention of Li’l Sebastian. Anyone who has watched the tv show Parks and Recreation will appreciate the grand importance of this miniature horse to the residents of Pawnee, Indiana.

Most of the shows Li’l Sebastian related humor is how everyone absolutely loves him except for the town transplant, Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott).

Li’l Sebastian also gets a song written about him by Andy (played by everyone’s favorite dinosaur wrangler, Chris Pratt).

While this is not a comprehensive list, it’s a few of my favorites. Let me know what random equine occurrences I missed and that you love!
Go Eventing.

Weekend Winners: Twin Rivers, Aspen, Marlborough, Flora Lea, Sundance, Meadowcreek, Cedar Ridge, Loch Moy

Fall eventing has officially begun! Temperatures are starting to slightly drop and days are getting a bit shorter. There were a few Championship divisions and Young and Future Event Horses showing off this weekend — we’ve highlighted those results with asterisks.

Shout out to Courtney Cooper and Caia Z for having the lowest finishing score in the country of 21.9 in the Open Training at Flora Lea H.T.

The next thing you know, the dreaded winter coats will start growing in earnest. Until then, we all can appreciate a lack of intense summer heat and slightly fresher horses in the morning.

Aspen Farms Fall Horse Trials [Results]
Tin Men Supply Advanced: Sabrina Glaser & Rembrandt (45.2)
Intermediate: Marc Grandia & Campari FFF (41)
*Intermediate Championship: Leah Breakey & Master Class (40.1)
Open Preliminary A: Molly Gibbons & Calico (29.6)
Open Preliminary B: Lilly Linder & Tucker Too (28.5)
*Preliminary Championship: Jordan Linstedt & Staccato (28.5)
*Jr. Training Championship: Makenna Henry & Hungarian Villian (31.4)
Open Training A: Tracey Trewin & Film Noir (34.4)
Open Training B: Sara Mackenzie & Cowboy Casanova (32.1)
*Open Training Championship: Erin Grandia & Indio BMW (24.3)
*Training Rider Championship: Madison Langerak & Normandy’s Kivalo (30.9)
*Jr. Novice Championship: Dane Padgett & Little Sure Shot (27.1)
Novice Rider Championship: Jackie Wich & Master Miller (31.9)
Open Novice A: Julia Ellison & Grady (30.7)
Open Novice B: Emilie Everett & Yankee Bay (29.3)
*Open Novice Championship: Lindsey Scharmach & Killswitch (25)
*Jr. Beginner Novice Championship: Makayla Watterson & Foxwood Belle (31.3)
Open Beginner Novice A: Anni Grandia-Dodson & Mr. Fluffy (27.3)
Open Beginner Novice B: Kate Suggs & Dragon Fly (31.8)
*Open Beginner Novice Championship: Sabine Prince & Donnerwein (28.8)

Twin Rivers Fall Horse Trials [Results]
Advanced: Frankie Thieriot Stutes & Chatwin (35.6)
Intermediate: James Alliston & Kilmountain Oreo (38.9)
Jr. Preliminary: Madison Temkin & Dr. Hart (37.4)
Open Preliminary: Alexis Helffrich & M Creme De La Creme SE (31.5)
Preliminary Rider: Kate Lathrop & Worth The Wait (36.5)
Jr. Training Rider A: Maya Clarkson & Snappy Comeback (28.2)
Jr. Training Rider B: Lauren Gillis & Under the Spotlight (23.6)
Open Training: Alexis Helffrich & Dexter (28.5)
Sr. Training Amateur: Camille Brewer & Cooley Rock Star (22.1)
Sr. Training Rider: Debbie Davis & Real Genius (25.2)
Jr. Novice Rider A: Sarah Ross & Murcielago (32.6)
Jr. Novice Rider B: Sloan Bryson & Red Cloud’s War (26.5)
Open Novice: Hannah Warner & Viva Apollo (31)
Sr. Novice Amateur: McKenzie Miller & Another Saturday Night (28.6)
Sr. Novice Rider: Cat Dubbs & Ballynoe Castleross (30.5)
Jr. Beginner Novice A: Halina Thole & Roma (23)
Jr. Beginner Novice B: Mia Boillot & Phoenix Belissima (26)
Open Beginner Novice: Olivia Loiacono & Eloquence (22)
Sr. Beginner Novice Rider: Debbie Fosmark & Larapin II (23.8)
Intro A: Pryce Chrisman & Tahoe Blue (31.7)
Intro B: Reagan Hammond & My Golden Ticket (34.7)
YEH-5: Madison Temkin & MVP Madbum (81.4)
YEH-4: Andrea Baxter & Melkenna (85.6)
FEH-4: Andrea Baxter & Coronado (85)
FEH-3: Michlynn Sterling & Kosmic Twist S (84.3)
FEH-2: Dede McCoy & Iconic (77.0)
FEH-Yr: Earl McFall & High Five DF (84.4)
*West Coast FEH-4 Championship: Andrea Baxter & Coronado (165.5)
*West Coast FEH-3 Championship: Jennifer McFall & Hallelujah DF (180.4)
*West Coast FEH-2 Championship: Earl McFall & Iluminada (88.4)
*West Coast FEH-Yr Championship: Earl McFall & Twain’s Fireflight DF (81.6)

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I am over the moon this weekend was incredible 💙🌙 Roma and I finished on our dressage score of 23% we were tied for 1st the whole show until we broke the tie when it came down to cross country. Our dressage and showjumping felt super good, and she was very trusting in my decisions on cross country today. Thank you tomato for giving me your all this weekend I’m so proud of you💓 – – – Thanks @kk_tasha for the vids🌈 ——————————————————— – – #horse #horsesofinstagram #3dayeventing #eventing #c4belts #areavi #jumping #crosscountry #mare #maresofinstagram #equestrian #dressage #c4equestrian #chestnut #twinrivers #oldenburg #xc #showjumping #tholefarms #kerritsrootd #kerrits #showjumping #jumpers #kasteldenmark #firstplace #beginnernovice #kerritsambassador #jump #showjumper #ariatequestrian #ogilvyequestrian

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Marlborough Horse Trials [Results]
Open Preliminary: Jan Byyny & Volcan de Caverie (27.2)
Preliminary Rider: Morgan Cillo & Benevolence (39.2)
Open Training: Jan Byyny & Kortina (29.3)
Training Rider A: Gabriella Rogers & Epona’s Mighty Warrior (32.6)
Training Rider B: Sofie Harangozo & Rain Dancer (29.5)
Novice Horse: Mary Clare & Furl The Main (35.9)
Novice Rider A: Francoise Marshall & Luray (32.4)
Novice Rider B: Sarah Crocker & Liberty River (26.9)
Open Novice: Ariana Freeman & Piper Saratoga (26.1)
Beginner Novice Horse: Suzy Gehris & Watch Me (31.7)
Beginner Novice Rider A: Hillary Marnane & Diablo Guapo (31.1)
Beginner Novice Rider B: Logan Yff & Mosey On Over (29.7)
Open Beginner Novice: Carley Taylor & Buck Naked (36.8)
Starter A: Lily Wyatt & Bento Box (34.4)
Starter B: Hana Hawthorne & Sonny (31.9)

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#mancrusheveryday

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Flora Lea Fall Horse Trials [Results]
Open Preliminary: Macee Morgan & Maldini (30.9)
Open Training: Courtney Cooper & Caia Z (21.9)
Training Rider: Amanda Monahan & Slow Heart Break (39.1)
Novice Rider: Stephanie Swites & Clonshire Le Roy (33.6)
Open Novice: Avonlea Mitchell & Red and White (25.2)
Open Beginner Novice: Avery Cascarino & Marine Hymn (28.3)

Sundance Farm Horse Trials [Results]
Preliminary/Training: Brynna Gang & Wise Guy (80.6)
Open Training: Kristin Kubsch & CMF Royal Diamond (30.4)
Jr. Novice Rider: Lily Allen & Cherry On Top (31.9)
Sr. Novice Rider: Jessica Doering & Jax (28.1)
Open Novice: Bernard Morauw & VC ATTILA D’ALLOU (27.6)
Open Beginner Novice: Bonnie Bowman & Steel Driven Dreams (33.2)
Beginner Novice Rider: Rebecca Roth & Brazilian Tommy (33.1)
Starter: Jessie Ackley & Ghost (37.2)

Meadowcreek Park – The Fall Social Event [Results]
Open Preliminary: Lauren Lambert & Cooley Renaissance Man (39.8)
Preliminary/Training: Stephanie Reimers & That’s What She Said (48.3)
Open Training: Camdyn Rahe & Orange Crush (36.6)
Training Rider: Katie Grace Bond & High Class (30.5)
*Novice Championship: Kimberly Stafford & Pik Coeur D’Or (28.0)
Novice Rider: Lawsyn Clements & Russell’s Reserve (23.9)
Open Novice: Jennifer Biles & Bad as Bandini (40.2)
*Beginner Novice Championship: Taylor Tiberg & Valedictorian (28.0)
Jr. Beginner Novice: Grace Thompson & Excessive Assault (34.4)
Sr. Beginner Novice: Julianne Foody & Step Right Up (37.5)
Open Beginner Novice: Rick Urban & Morally Flexible (35.5)
Starter: Aynsleigh Fettig & Aisling Dugan (28.6)

Cedar Ridge Horse Trials [Results]
Open Training: Alicia Harbin & Crowd Signal (35.2)
Open Novice: Kate Coleman & Tallawah (31.9)
Open Beginner Novice A: Harper Holland & Chips Ahoy (37.1)
Open Beginner Novice B: Mary Clare Owdziej & Deal Me In (35.6)
Starter: Aubrey Whalen & Gold Snatcher (40.8)

Loch Moy – Future Event Horse [Results]
FEH-4: Ashley Beheler & Jubilee (75)
FEH-3C: Lauren Welsh & Solo Hit (78.3)
FEH-3F: MaryAnn Luke & SF Rama (74.25)
FEH-2: Jordan LaPlaca & J-Low (77.2)
FEH-Yr: Emeraude Sharer & Knuit d’Emeraude (79.95)

Congrats to all. Go Eventing!

Out of the ‘Horse World’ and Into the ‘Real World’

Mary Hollis Baird galloping racehorses at the track in Ocala. Photo courtesy of Mary Hollis Baird.

Applying for jobs is not fun. It’s even less fun when the only references on your resumé are non-verbal, 1,200-pound quadrupeds.

I recently have made the transition out of the professional “horse world.” I went back to college after riding and working in Ocala for five years. Making the decision to get out of Florida and the professional equine industry for me was scary because all my past experiences and hard work might not matter to anyone else.

The thing about eventing employment, like managing barns and working student gigs, is that you work hard and build a very specific skill-set. Besides being an ace stall-mucker and barn-aisle blower, I gained valuable expertise, like: working in a team environment; training and managing new employees; making clients feel heard and happy. Translating your roster of equine abilities into a resume is not an entirely effortless endeavor.

Photo courtesy of Mary Hollis Baird.

So here are some hopefully useful resumé tips that might help:

1. Use numbers. People don’t always understand equine jargon, but if you can say something like, “Implemented a 30% more efficient daily routine, allowing our team to maximize the time in our day,” that’s just a fancy way of saying I saved time by keeping the horses in for the morning while we rode and then turning them out in the afternoon. It’s all about utilizing your vocabulary to get noticed.

Another way to use numbers is by assessing a value to the horses to help future employers understand the responsibility that you were tasked with everyday. For example, an ex-working student for a high performance barn in Ocala could say, “Provided daily care for 10 sport horses ranging in value from $10,000-$80,000.”

2. Brag! Don’t be shy about trying to impress people; for example, if you worked for an Olympic athlete, mention that! It connotes a level of competency into a context that non-equine professionals can understand.

3. Skills are skills are skills are skills. You can highlight soft skills on your resumé. Sometimes these will get you more traction with an employer than specific industry experience. For instance:

  • Any good horse show groom is a whiz at time management.
  • Managing an eventing barn makes you adopt effective organizational practices.
  • Motivating and directing your fellow barn workers is the same as working with any employees at other organizations.

4. References! You will need them, but definitely give people you are asking for references from a heads up. Horse people can be wonderful and charismatic; however, they might not quite realize what your future employer needs or wants to hear about you. Brief your references on the types of positions you are applying for and what you’d prefer them to convey — this way they are more prepared for the nature of questions that might be asked of them about you.

Having an out of the box resumé can be so helpful. Employers will notice you, it’s your job to make sure they notice the right things.

Good luck and Go Eventing (on the weekends because you have a real job now)!

Photo courtesy of Mary Hollis Baird.