Riding Sidesaddle, Part 1: Learning the Sport

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Lady Mary in a scene from Downton Abbey

Jane Smiley’s Horse Country, a piece published last year in the New York Times, describes grass and sky and mist over Virginia and the wide, flat expanse of Maryland – both regaled horse countries. The tiny taste I got while driving through the Adirondack Mountains and experiencing the rich horse culture of Saratoga Springs left me with nothing but good things to say about the eastern United States.

I’m going to hedge a guess, based on what I’ve read and heard from friends, that the horsey culture of the rest of other eastern states is equally valued or perhaps even more potent than what I experienced around Saratoga Springs.  I have a friend from Maryland who tells me I’m missing out, and know folks from Pennsylvania who say there’s nothing better. Continue reading

High and Tight

The trials and tribulations of buying new English horseback riding boots

For equestrians, skin-tight pants and tall black boots are completely normal daily attire for the barn, school library, Walmart — the venue doesn’t matter. To anyone of the non-horsey persuasion or unfamiliar with equestrian couture, seeing someone dressed like this might make you question their fashion sense and/or wonder if they’re merging attire for their night job with their day job, if ya catch my drift. But I can assure you that my night job involves nothing more than homework.

Anyhow, my latest project has been breaking in new field boots, so I’ve been wearing them in public (AKA not the barn) quite often lately.

For my non horse-people readers, field boots are tall black boots with laces in the front used for certain types of English riding. Not only are they difficult to fit, as you have to consider calf size and height, but they’re expensive as heck and real buggers to break in.

When you buy field boots, they’re generally at least an inch taller than you want because they drop in height as the leather relaxes. Plus they should be almost as tight as you can bear so they don’t become too loose around your calves as they stretch. Continue reading

The Final First Ride

Senior year of college marks my final year competing on the NDSU Equestrian Team

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Team captain Becky Prasch and I pose with our Champion and Reserve Champion ribbons at a show last fall

Today I attended my final NDSU homecoming parade as an actual student. If and when I go next year, I’ll be an alum, and I’m A-OK with that. Just over a month into my senior year, I’m beginning to relate with the well-known Captain Jack Sparrow on a sinking ship meme that circulates Facebook every now and then, symbolizing the various stages of your college career. At this point, I’m quite ready to hop off the ship and onto the dock, and set sail to another sea far away from homework and classrooms.

Despite my excitement for graduation, endings don’t happen without a bit of nostalgia. Tomorrow morning I depart for my final first show of the season of my IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) career. For those of you who are new to my blog or the world of collegiate horse showing, IHSA is an association that allows equestrians to compete affordably during college. Universities that host shows provide horses, and we draw horse names at random to determine who to ride. Riders are only allowed to watch the horse warm up before entering the arena to compete. The idea is that all competitors are on a level playing field, and it’s amazing in so many ways. From the adrenaline rush of getting on a new horse for the first time, to the opportunity of being able to ride competitively while attending school.

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Competing at University of Wisconsin River Falls

Tomorrow is the last first time I’ll smush into a van next to my teammates and drive five hours to a horse show. The last first time I’ll step onto a mounting block and get on a horse I’ve never ridden before, taking advice from my coach as she adjusts my stirrups. And the last first time I’ll collect my reins, nudge that horse forward and make an impression on a judge that will hopefully score points for NDSU. Continue reading

Saturday Suggestion: Get up, get going

Seven tips for getting mOTIVATED

My mind wanders as I sit at the kitchen table, alternating between reading ancient Latin American history and scrolling Twitter to ogle all the pictures of the big horse races going on around the country.

One moment I’m glancing through the feats of Hernando Cortes, and the next I’m posting selfies with Songbird to Instagram, hopefully sending good juju her way before her run in today’s Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania. For my readers who don’t know what a graded stake is, I highly encourage you to follow me on Instagram @annises_anecdotes, where I’ll explain it in one of my upcoming posts this week!

Back to today’s blog. While it might sound like scanning Twitter and reading history is a highly unproductive combination, I actually beg to differ. Not only did it help break up the monotony of a topic I only find moderately interesting, but changing the subject actually improved my focus.

Prior to my sitting, reading and scrolling, I woke up, baked pumpkin maple oatmeal for breakfast, washed three loads of dishes, worked out, created a checklist to guide my studying for the weekend, washed up and dove into homework. While a couple of those tasks were actually used as procrastination methods to prolong the time before I charged headlong into battle with my homework, they woke me up and kept me motivated.

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Larry and I taking a study break

As a self-proclaimed morning person who never feels like I have an accomplished day unless I check at least 10 tasks off my list, I’d like to share a few of my tips for waking up earlier and making the most of your day:  Continue reading

Slowing Down

My chance click on a podcast gave me a different outlook on being a “planner”

I listened to the BEST PODCAST the other day. I went to work out after a morning that left me feeling remotely discouraged about what to do with myself after college. I have a strong vision of where I want to be a year or two down the road, but it’s a matter of how to get there that leaves my brain in a jumble of worry and confusion.

It doesn’t help that I’m a planner. I like schedules, and checklists, and organization (except for my bedroom – that will never be organized as long as I live). However life isn’t always that simple. I can’t force anyone to hire me or fit into my agenda, and that often conflicts with my anxiety-driven desire to plan every step in my life.

I generally listen to the Horse Racing Radio Network while I work out. “Jock Talk,” “Trainer Talk,” and the “Equine Forum” are my favorites. The interviews with jockeys, trainers and other professionals in the racing industry are as delicious as listening to a good bedtime story. And I can almost forget that I’m sweating profusely as I tune into audios of champion racehorses battling down the stretch in memorable races. But on this particular day I was feeling something a bit more subdued as I scrolled through my app, and landed on a TED Radio Hour podcast called “Slowing Down.”

Hmm, sounds promising enough. I gave it a tap. Continue reading

Beautiful to the Core

An event I co-founded in 2013 continues to make a difference years later

When I was a senior in high school I had long, wavy brown hair. Then I cut it short the week before starting my freshman year of college. Now a senior at North Dakota State University, my hair is back to the same length it was in high school.

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With the 2016 BTTC speakers, from left to right: Emily Paulson, Dawn Gunderson, Jacky Arness, Bethany Peterson

The other night I introduced an event called “Beautiful to the Core,” which was inaugurated in the spring of 2013 by two of my dear friends, Ama Frederickson, Olivia Bergh and I. The name is a reflection of our mission to empower young women to embrace their inner beauty and channel their drive and determination into goals.

At the time of the first Beautiful to the Core, I had long hair and my future was uncertain. I knew that I would soon be off to college, carrying my hopes of making the NDSU equestrian team and aspirations of pursuing a career in the horse racing industry. I was determined to study abroad, probably in Costa Rica. Continue reading

Back at it… Mastering the grind of chaos

Classes, friends, extracurriculars… crazy y más crazy

As I write this, I’m sitting inside on a beautiful sunny day; 75 degrees with a gentle breeze. Such is life during the school year. After missing the first week of school to stay in Saratoga until Travers Day, I finally feel (sort of) caught up. But I can sense the winds of chaos blowing in as my school activities get rolling and the first exams linger in the not so distant future.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered the grind of college classes, competing on the NDSU hunt seat equestrian team, volunteering with church, 4-H, traveling and finding time in there for family, friends, my horses and keeping up with the latest horse racing industry news… but I can’t say I have. Maybe I’ll catch on by the end of my senior year, just in time to graduate and move on to the next adventure.

However, I have picked up a few “sanity maintenance” tricks over the years that I’d like to share. You might find them helpful, regardless of whether you’re a fellow student, have a professional career or whatever, plus I’ve thrown in a couple fun photos. Not gonna lie, these tips are pretty  obvious and self-explanatory (basically scream generic), but are often overlooked, so I’m sharing them anyway!  Continue reading

Thoughts from a journalist

The complete and utter truth about my experiences as a horse racing journalist

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what I want to do for a career. One thing is certain: I want to work in the horse racing industry. But I also want to travel, speak Spanish, be around horses, continue writing and work with people. If someone could please design a job to capture all of those things in one awesome package, it would be very much appreciated!

I’m grateful that I’ve had so many opportunities within the horse industry to try my hand at a variety of jobs and internships. The majority of them have been communications-related, but each one has taught me a number of different skills and lessons.

One of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I’ve ever done is worked as a journalist.

I cringe every time I see a blog titled “An open letter to ‘whatever blippity blah’…” because it’s so overdone, so I don’t want this to sound like that. However, I would like to lend my readers a bit of insight into the human interaction standpoint of journalism. I’ve met wonderful, sweet, kind, loving and thankful people. I’ve rooted for them, shared their emotions and sometimes even tears – internally more-so than outwardly because I have to remain unbiased. This piece is about my day-to-day work as a journalist at Saratoga Race Course this summer and last.

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Scanning the horizon for my next interviewee. Linzay Marks photo

You see me in the mornings, walking from one end of the racetrack to the other, always on a mission. One second I’m strolling past the clocker stand of the Oklahoma Training Track, on the hunt for a trainer, and the next I’m clear across Union Avenue, standing by the Morning Line Kitchen.

Only a few hours later you’d hardly recognize me. Like the racetrack version of Cinderella (except looking for horse owners, trainers, jockeys, anyone but a prince) I’ve transformed my baseball cap with a  tangled pony tail sticking out the back, jeans and dusty hiking shoes into a dress and curls. “Somebody’s wearing makeup today,” an acquaintance coyly comments as I walk into the paddock. In reality I’m not wearing any more than I put on when I crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., because who has time for that? Maybe I just look a little more awake now. Continue reading

Back from Saratoga

Transitioning from work life to school life (aka real life)

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How could I resist a selfie with the beautiful Songbird?!

I’m still used to waking up early. Six a.m., there are horses to be fed. My alarm goes off, the most annoying ringy-dingy sound I could possibly find on my phone. It reminds me of a circus. Our little hobby farm along the Red River is far from a circus. Saratoga was a little closer, mornings, days and nights never slowing down. Track work in the mornings, races in the afternoons, parties raging through the night (for people who don’t work for The Saratoga Special). Here we’re surrounded by farm fields. Green soybean plants, higher than my hip as far as I can see. A few fields over, corn and wheat.

The nice thing about the level horizon is the sunrises. A vivid pink haze, painted with purple streaks seeped into the morning sky today, reminding me of when you dunk a black tea bag into a steaming cup of water and the steeping spices meld with the liquid until it becomes a rich brown.

Saratoga has made me into a coffee addict. Three years of college and I never once relied on a caffeinated beverage to get me through a long night of writing essays. Continue reading

The Buildup

Tomorrow’s the big day! Here’s a recap of my latest adventures…

The good news is that I made it to Saratoga! The better news is that tomorrow is opening day. And the bad news…? Honestly, there really is no bad news, except for the impending doom of being a college senior and having to figure out where I want to go with my life.

But I won’t think about that now, because did I mention tomorrow is opening day at Saratoga?!

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View of the expanse where the Battle of Saratoga took place

As my mom I pulled off of Interstate 87 on Sunday and drove into Saratoga Springs, a strange sense of nostalgia washed over me. Time passes so quickly, but our recognition of places we love and fond memories we hold have this strange way of making you feel like not a single day has gone by. The scary part is that the vividness of this mental connection can make other things feel like they never happened. My last semester at NDSU might as well have been years ago, along with my travels to Kentucky for the Keeneland January sale, my visit to New York and not to mention 4 phenomenal months in Chile.

But here I am back in Saratoga, and it’s almost as if I never left. Continue reading