Lila Gendal is the newest edition to our family of bloggers here on EN, and she comes with a particularly interesting perspective. Lila lives in Vermont, and works for the famed Denny Emerson at Tamarack Hill Farm, and when she’s not buried in snow, she is privy to the inner workings of one of the Eventing world’s most illustrious program. Lila has an amazing mare named Valonia that she has been slowly bringing up through the ranks, and is able to ride many of Denny’s young horses, and learn the “old school” way of doing everything. Welcome, and take it away Lila!
“Learning From a Legend”
I am 27 years old and I am living the Eventing dream because I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. That place is Tamarack Hill Farm, in Strafford VT, where my riding career really catapulted off the ground. Of course, in the beginning, the only thing catapulting was me….into thin air every time I jumped up my horse’s neck and vastly missed my distance. Ahhh — those memorable moments of flying into the air and before I even hit the ground, Denny yelling, “BOSTON CREAM FOR ME!” because Rule Number 1 at Tamarack: when a rider falls on the premises, he or she must go out and buy donuts for everyone. A slightly humiliating, but effective teaching mechanism.
My family lives a few doors down from Tamarack, so in 2006, after taking a short break from college, my family and I thought it would make the most sense to go ride and train with someone who lives nearby. Well, if someone could have sat me down seven years ago and explained how my life was about to drastically change I would have never believed them.
That summer, I awkwardly went up the street to meet my idol. I drove in his driveway in my Mom’s old beat up Saab and was just about to park my car when Denny, of all people, gestured to me to roll down my window. I stupidly thought he was introducing himself to me. Denny: “Can you NOT park here. I am trying to weed whack right around here.” This was not how I envisioned our first conversation. I was polite, yet so scared, and deathly intimidated by the entire farm and especially the master of the farm.
I started off as a working student for Denny and have ended up becoming, unofficially, part of the family. I have learned more from him than I can put down on paper. To put it simply, Denny has taught me how to ride, and the tools I need in order to become the most successful rider and trainer I can be. I am not the scared, vulnerable, deathly afraid student that showed up in his driveway seven years ago. I may be slightly awkward, sarcastic and infinitely more comfortable around animals than I am around people, but I have grown as a person and as a rider because I came knocking at his door. For that I am eternally grateful.
I grew up in the breathtaking Green Mountains in Vermont. Cows, sheep, donkeys, climbing trees, rope swings in the Ompompanoosuc River, and so much more shaped my life. Of course, horses were inevitable in this upbringing. When I was a tiny girl, my Mom asked me, “Honey, do you want to be a ballerina like your big sister, or do you want to try horseback riding?” Quite decisively, I responded, “horses.” My poor mother, if she could only have looked into her glass ball to see what the future would hold for me, she wouldn’t have given me a choice….she would have told me my first dance class was in the morning. Hindsight — what can ya do?!
Those childhood dreams I once had of making the US Team have subsided and been replaced by more attainable goals. Personally, I feel that goals that can actually be achieved are far more alluring and inviting. For instance, I have a lovely Holsteiner mare (Contester x Parlona) that is turning eight this spring and my short term goal with her is to go Training this summer and move up to Preliminary in the fall. “If you keep trying, there’s no guarantee that you WILL get better. But if you quit, it’s an absolute guarantee that you WON’T” (Denny Emerson).
Valonia has everything I have ever wanted in a single horse. She is large, athletic, beautiful, unbelievably powerful and personable. I honestly never imagined that I would have a horse as special as her. Denny is the reason why I have this incredible horse, as he pushed me to go see her as a 4 yo. Valonia and I had a slightly rough beginning. She was a huge, opinionated and green mare. Similarly, I am opinionated and like things my way. My dressage trainer always refers to us as sisters. It took months of hacking up and down mountains, but eventually this enormous mare came into herself and we started to put all the pieces together.
I’ll never forget our first outing together, we were eliminated in dressage after I attempted to make a 20 meter circle at A and Valonia decided the grass on the outside of the ring looked far more appealing. Since then we have grown as a team. She and I both came to Tamarack as awkward, unsure and confused young girls, to winning events and moving up to training level last summer. She is just the coolest and I have never had such an amazing relationship with a horse.
I am in a unique situation here at Tamarack. Summer days are filled with setting jumps, going out for long hacks, hanging out by the pond, watching lessons, and just being a Tamarack groupie! Winters I spend training, boarding, riding and praying for spring. I’ve heard all the jokes, all the lessons, all the quotes, and yet there’s always something new to learn every time Denny opens his mouth. I never dreamed that I would be a member of Tamarack Hill Farm, and now that I am I wouldn’t change any of it. Tamarack has been and continues to be a place full of surprises. I’m sure several people who have come in contact with Denny have had similar life changing stories, but my story doesn’t end here. The jokes, the laughs, the Denny humor, the lessons, the advice, the wisdom, and the encouragement—that continues on.