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Blog February 12th 2013

Blog February 12th

Penny Lane competing with Alexa Pessoa at WEF, Florida.

Penny Lane competing with Alexa Pessoa at WEF, Florida.

Florida has been a great experience so far! Such a different world out here and it’s great to be a part of it for the duration of the Winter Equestrian Festival. I’ve been riding at Pine Hollow Farm alongside David Blake for the last few weeks and I love it- there are great horses of all ages and types to work with which makes every day different and interesting. There are also some really talented kids that I’ve been helping with their flat and jumping training- there’s a very different system in the US, where the majority of kids will begin their equestrian careers in the hunter and equitation classes, and they usually progress from ponies to horses around the age of 12. I remember hardly having sat on a horse by the age of 16! However most of the Americans I speak to are shocked when I tell them our ponies compete at 1.30m+ as over here they jump much smaller. Each system produces a very different style of riding, but both produce very talented riders so it’s interesting to learn about the different styles and methods.

I’ve been competing some lovely horses out here and even managed a win in WEF week 1 on HJ Santa, an Argentinean-bred mare owned by Gus Sanchez. Some old equine friends of mine are out here too- the lovely Penny Lane, now ridden by Alexa Pessoa, looks amazing with her new rider and is going really well in the 8 year old and 1.35m classes. Emerald B, one I rode for Brian Bartley at the end of last year, is now with a student trained by Darragh Kerins and also going very well. Looping Star is another old partner of mine that I have seen around, and he’s now the schoolmaster for a young girl who’s cleaning up in the lower classes on him. It’s so rewarding to see all the training you put into a horse during its younger years paying off; I’m absolutely delighted to see that crew doing so well out here.

The highlight of each competition week is usually the Saturday night class which is run under lights, and quite the spectacle is put on for the very considerable crowd. Howard and Gwen Dvorkin, owners of Pine Hollow barn, have been kind enough to allow us to use their ringside table to watch the classes in the international ring, which is great fun.  The Charity Challenge night was on recently, where a relay team of one professional rider and two amateurs/juniors jumped different height courses one after another. It was a very exciting class, and incredibly competitive! David and the Pine Hollow team were unlucky to finish in 3rd place when the final fence fell adding two seconds to what would have been the fastest combined time of the competition. Even so, 3rd place earned the Junior League of Palm Beach charity $100,000, which will make a huge positive difference to many children’s lives.

Speaking of charities, I also attended the JustWorld Gala with the Horseware crew a few weeks back. There was more incredible generosity shown here, with a staggering $420,000 raised to go towards the JWI projects in Cambodia, Guatemala and Honduras. An incredible auction was held where the top lot was a day with Eric Lamaze and a private riding lesson, which went under the hammer for an amazing $16,000! Other items auctioned off included the cutest miniature pony I’ve ever seen (called Butterscotch), Nick Skelton’s Olympic helmet, and a round-trip flight from Europe to Florida- for a horse!

Emerald B with Darragh Kerins at WEF

Emerald B competing with Darragh Kerins at WEF, Florida.

It’s been great to spend some time with Lorraine, Tom and Aimee from Horseware, and hearing their exciting plans for new products and the company, particularly newly-acquired Alessandro Albanese. I also got to meet up with Aidan Keogh and Elaine Jenkins of Tredstep, my latest sponsor to come on board for this year. I’m very excited to be promoting the Tredstep products- I have been wearing the Tredstep Raphael long boot out here and they look and feel fantastic. I also got a peak at their new competition clothing range which is super sleek- keep an eye out for it over the next couple of months!

In non-equestrian activities, I’ve been making good use of my sacred Monday off by exploring what Florida has to offer. I am lucky that so many of my close friends are also out here- it’s almost like being in a very sunny Ireland sometimes! We’ve made trips to Orlando to go to Universal Studios (we went on the Hulk rollercoaster 3 times in a row…) and to the Everglades which was fantastic and not at all what I expected. Three million acres of shallow water that flows slowly through sawgrass over the lowlands of Florida, and absolutely full of wildlife. It was quite the experience, especially when an alligator appeared right beside our boat! We have also been lucky enough to spend time on beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, that’s warm enough to swim in without feeling hypothermic afterwards… A very pleasant change!

So I have but a few short weeks left here now- I can’t believe how the time has flown. I still have one big event coming up though… I’ve decided to do a skydive in aid of two charities that mean a great deal to me- The Irish Cancer Society and Just World. My mum lost her fight with cancer this month four years ago, and I’ve missed her every day since. Hopefully someday they’ll find a cure, and in the meantime awareness and  support are critical to help families to cope with the very difficult times that cancer brings, so any small amount that I can do to support the Cancer Society (even if it involves jumping out of a plane!) will make a positive difference. JWI projects use education to break the cycle of poverty for children with less opportunities in life than most- and in my opinion, education is the best way for children to reach their potential and empower them to change their lives.  So I’ll be looking for sponsorship- any amount, from €1 ($1 or £1!) to €1000 would be hugely appreciated, if you feel either of these causes is dear to you, or you would just like to pay me to jump out of a plane… There are a couple of things I should probably also mention… I’m terrified of both heights, and of flying. So please please please support my skydive!

Keep an eye on my Facebook page for more details of the skydive (you can reach it here) and if you would be interested in sponsoring, please message me or e-mail nicola@nicolafitzgibbon.com. No backing out now I guess, the countdown has begun…..‼

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