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Jen Blake


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Where Is ‘That Little Girl…’ Now?

Lex and Ashley, owned by C. and K. Barsuhn. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Blake.

As I watch memories pop up on Facebook of the Richland Park Horse Trials, it makes me smile and shake my head in wonder. I think back to five years ago when a little girl met a horse named Leroi … the horse that started it all.

You see, I am that little (not so little now) girl’s mother. Five years ago, at the 2014 Richland Park Horse Trials, that 8-year-old little girl was offered the chance to pet a horse who was in the cross country warm-up. The few minutes the rider gave to that little girl that day has shaped her waking world from that moment on throughout the last five years.

Lex and Ashley, owned by C. and K. Barsuhn. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Blake.

Alexiea, that “Little Girl [who found] Love In Amy Tryon’s Former Ride,” is now competing at Beginner Novice level and has never once stopped wanting to train under Lauren in these five years since she first shyly waved at the young lady in cross country warm up.

Over the past five years, Alexiea has taken lessons on an ungaited Tennessee Walker who has a heart of gold and patience of a saint, free-leased a chestnut mare pony named Sparkle (yep, you read right, a Chestnut+Mare+Pony) who taught her a lot about riding  … and a lot about how to keep her seat (or at least how to land after being dismounted involuntarily), joined Pony Club and much more.

Lex and Sparkle, owned by C. Strenger. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Blake.

She has learned the heartbreak of giving up a pony after outgrowing her. She has learned the joy of purchasing her own horse — a gray (which seems to be her preference, Lord help us all!), 14.1 HH Pony/Appendix QH cross named Boo who is her best friend. She has learned horses need care seven days a week, regardless of the summer heat and the (Michigan) winter freeze because the animals come first no matter what; that little girl now has horses of her own and is the one who sets her alarm to do chores every morning before school and again every night, even on weekends, without hesitation or reminder. She has learned both success and failure, not only as a rider but also as a person, with her own horses and her competition horse, Ashley, owned by K. Barsuhn.

Of all the things to be proud of her for, from her hard work ethic to her ability to just go with the flow of the horse world, the one thing I am most proud of Alexiea for is her heart and her unbridled inner joy for the animals and the other riders and life itself. No matter how her run ends (or regrettably retires on course), she takes care of her horse and then is back out there smiling and rooting for the next rider. I truly believe this is due to some of the great role-models she has had to look up to in the horse world around her, from Kaitlin. V. to Tara E./ Ken S. to Allison T. at TNT Farms, to Lorin P. and Craig and Karen B. at Wintergreen Farms/ Pony Club and so many others, including the LF Eventing Team members
themselves. These people have all taught her that it is the love of the ride and the animal that matters, not the competition placement or the gear price tag. For that alone, I will be forever thankful.

We do get down to Kentucky several times a year to visit the LF Eventing Team and the ever faithful Leroi. They have become more than just a team to us; they are considered family.

As I said in my very first email to Lauren on that long ago day in August, “You took five minutes out of your day to be nice to a little girl and her brother today but that five minutes to this little girl was worth a lifetime. My daughter will remember you and Landretti for a very, very long time.”

If you see Lauren around, make sure to tell her “Thank you.” Thank you for passing on this sport to another generation. Thank you for opening a door to a whole new world of wonder for a little girl on that long-ago day. Thank you for being one of the most generous, kind and heart-felt people I know; I am honored to be able to call you my friend.

An Outsider’s Inside View: A Horse Hangover

Photo by Leslie Wylie. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Horse Hang-over:


  1. The mind-numbing feeling a non-horse person has on Sunday morning after spending the entire 5-day event such as the Richland Horse Park Trials in the trenches with eventing friends.

Most lay-people can relate to this feeling by recognizing the following symptoms: Complete physical and mental breakdown. Looking at other non-horse people with a blank look on your face as they talk to you, with you nodding your head and then doing the sloooowww eye blink as your mind tries its hardest to figure out what gibberish they are saying to you since the words didn’t contain “nay,” “yea” or “hay.” Finally, when you realize you are nodding like a loose bobble-head, you say, “What did you say?”

When they repeat themselves, you try to squint and focus on their mouths with your droopy, blood-shot, sun- and wind-burned eyeballs since the path from your ears to your brain seem to be failing you; maybe you can lip-read instead.

You grab the muck bucket and the pitchfork, nudge the thousand-pound, ginormous non-stop poop-maker out of your way and begin sifting and shoveling. Those horses were so sweet looking when they arrived here Wednesday. Even Thursday wasn’t so bad, as you were thinking their digestive systems were just in overdrive from the traveling.

By Friday and Saturday, you start considering throwing all their hay out with the poop while mucking and not refilling. Maybe they would be able to refrain from having a bowel movement the instant you walked out from mucking the damn stall. You grab the pails of water off their hooks and begin filling the water buckets, not noticing that your hands don’t hurt anymore from carrying them since you have developed callouses.

You hang the pails back in place managing to not dump half of the water on yourself like you did the first two days you did this particular chore. The horses have long necks, can’t they just drink from a pail on the floor?! Giraffes can bend down and drink from a river for crying out loud.

Emptying the muck buckets is a chore that first day, gingerly tipping the cart to dump out the waste while trying to not step in it at the same time. By Sunday, it is a race as you walk right into the pile, dump the cart and are back in the stall within 90 seconds. Go you! PS – you’ll remember to take your boots off before you walk into the house this time around.

Then there is the food and snack set up. What is this tom-foolery? With so much horse stuff, the human food area is quite limited. Things are so packed in together, you have to move 10 things just to get to the cooler, not to mention once you open the cooler, you have to pull everything out just to find what you are looking for in the first place. Cooler-fishing is an event all in itself!

Speaking of eating, on Wednesday when you first start eating, you use a sanitary wipe to wash off your hands, after-all you did just put a cute, sweet, fury animal. By Friday, you realize that when you pet them, they had just rolled in their own poop, which they let go right after you finished mucking the stall; you know this as you saw the smile on their face and glint in their eye when you walked out of their clean stall and heard the inevitable “plop… plop”.

So you scrub your hands pretty well with that wipe since now you know what you were actually petting. By Sunday, you just grab a cracker and shove it in your mouth while moving the muck bucket around a tack box with both hands. Who the hell cares, the beast will probably step on you or bite you in any case, might as well get a last meal in while you can.

As for the events themselves, you feed and muck and water and wash and scrape and polish and groom, tack and wrap at all hours of the morning and night just for anywhere from 82 (or Sharon White’s  beautiful 78) seconds to 5 and a half minutes! Just to then work all over again- cool them down, take temps, cool, scrape, wash, cool, scrape, wash, and repeat until they are feeling great.

By the way, when was the last time YOU actually had a shower yourself or wore clean clothes for longer than 5 minutes, you equine scratching post you?

On Thursday, I felt so awesome being trusted to hold the lead rope on a grazing horse while the rider was nearby lunging another. By Sunday morning, I was given two horses on leads at once while they grazed, each going in a separate direction pulling my arms out to the scarecrow position, while the owner ran off to the far corners of the park to find her runaway dog. Trust me when I say don’t coil the rope in your hand as you see in Western movies. Definitely not a good move.

Yep, this is definitely the definition of a “horse hangover.” But it was so worth it. These creatures are smart and gorgeous and finicky and temperamental and all sorts of combinations of crazy psycho and so are their horses. But I loved it- every aching, mind-blowing second. The moments of comradery that are so very special to this sport, the assistance you get when you are up to your eyebrows in braids to meeting new friends, seeing old friends and getting to know your barn mates that you are crammed in with elbow to elbow.

I even over-heard one coach being nice enough to tell her girls, “Girls, you are both pretty.” Of course, that was during a tense moment of hard stares, loud mutters and some serious finger pointing, so, on second-thought, that might have been just pure sarcasm at its best.

People are in abundance at these shows, from vendors, animal rescues, veterinarians, volunteers, spectators, medical personal to riders, trainers, coaches and their superb supporters. Emotions and caffeine usage are high as are the stakes. Food and energy are low as can be the self-confidence after the difficult water hole combo during cross-country.

This Outsider’s Inside View: These rider and horse athletes are absolutely amazing. They do all of these things I noted above day in and day out during events plus much, much more. Then when Sunday is over, for most, it is back to day jobs and night training/coaching with no rest for the weary.

I was in awe to watch the Richland Horse Park Trials this year and honored to be part of the behind the scenes activities that go on. I truly enjoyed the moments of comradery and conversations and getting to know even more riders/sportsmen and women. Bob and Kay Willmarth, once again, you rocked it out this year. Best. Event. Ever.

A Little Girl Finds Love In Amy Tryon’s Former Ride

Alexiea Blake and Landretti. Photo by Jen Blake. Alexiea Blake and Landretti. Photo by Jen Blake.

Once upon a time … oh, no, wait. This is a real story so maybe it should start something like, “One fine day in August, 2014 … an 8-year-old little girl who had never really ridden a horse before waved shyly at a rider warming up for cross-country at the Richland Horse Park.

The young lady rider waved back, stopped her horse, walked over to the fence and said, “Would you like to pet him?” And that was it — hook, line and sinker. The child rubbed the horse’s muzzle and then stood in awe, rooted to the spot, watching the entire warm-up until the rider and horse crossed the walking path to the start line. The clock started counting down: “5, 4…” — and the rider looks over her shoulder at the little girl and waves — “2, 1…” and they’re off!

Whoa. No, not whoa as in stop the horse but, whoa-a as in: WHOA, amazing.

You see, I am the little girl’s mother. That day I saw a look on my daughter’s face that every parent longs (and dreads!) to see: the look of awe, love, fascination and curiosity all rolled into one. The look that tells you they have just taken the fall. At that moment, as she watched the horse and rider warm up, a thought flitted through my mind of, “Hmm, I wonder if this will be anything in a year’s time…”

Well, it is almost one year later and we have our very first horse show tomorrow.

Who is this young lady rider who stopped in the middle of her warm up time to say hi to a little girl? Her name is Lauren Ferguson. She is an amazing CIC3* rider and a phenomenally outstanding trainer living near Louisville, KY. The horse? Well, now, that is a bit of a story in itself.

You see his name is Landretti and he is owned by Greg Tryon. Lauren worked and trained alongside Amy Tryon for several years and after Amy passed away, Landretti went to Kentucky with Lauren to be under her training and showmanship. Landretti, also known as Leroi, is very special to Lauren as he is a link to the heartfelt friendship between Lauren and Amy.

Lauren Ferguson, Alexiea and Leroi. Photo by Jennifer Blake.

Lauren Ferguson, Alexiea and Leroi. Photo by Jen Blake.

For me, Leroi is special because he was the link for my daughter Alexiea to meet Lauren who is one of the most wonderful, generous people I have ever had the chance to meet. After we arrived home that fateful day in August, 2014, I wrote Lauren an email thanking her for her five minutes of attention towards my daughter.

Lauren read the email that evening, on the side of the road after a blow-out on her way back to KY. Read the events of that day from Lauren’s side on her blog and you will know why I stress what a wonderful person she is.

Oh, and there is more!

Alexiea has been riding almost every week since that day in August 2014. When it was too cold to ride in Jan and Feb (Michigan winters can be a bit harsh), she mucked stalls, cleaned arenas and groomed horses… in an unheated barn.

This summer, Lauren invited us down to Safe Harbour to spend a weekend with her and Leroi as a surprise to my daughter for her 9th birthday in June! With it being in the midst of such a busy season for her students, it was an amazingly gracious offer, and with Greg Tryon’s advice to take Lauren up on it, we did just that.

We went to Kentucky and had an absolutely amazing time. We met so many people whom just opened their lives to us. They loved meeting Alexiea, especially when Lauren introduced her as “that little girl from The Richland Horse Park who fell in love with Leroi”! A special thank you to Jackie and Robin LeMastus as well as Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, too!

So here we are, almost one year later after that one significant day in August when Alexiea first saw the infamous Leroi and amazing Ms. Lauren and lost her heart. We head to the barn here shortly this afternoon to prep for tomorrow … for Alexiea’s very first show.

Alexiea and Leroi. Photo by Jennifer Blake.

Alexiea and Leroi. Photo by Jen Blake.

The 2015 Richland Horse Park Trials will be held on August 20-23. Lauren and Landretti will be there. And my daughter and I will be there, too, in the front row, to cheer them on, muck stalls and whatever else is needed. It will be nothing short of a blast, a true celebration with friends.

You see, folks, Lauren Ferguson is one of the most incredible people I know. I will never be able to truly put into words how I feel when I look at my daughter as she rides these days. The love Alexiea has for those magnificent (and often temperamental!  ), 4-legged animals is beyond words.

And she found it all because of Lauren Ferguson, a true gem in the horse world. As I said in my very first email to Lauren on that long ago day in August, “You took five minutes out of your day to be nice to a little girl and her brother today but that 5 minutes to this little girl was worth a lifetime. My daughter will remember you and Landretti for a very, very long time.”

Thank you, Lauren. You are truly an amazing person.