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Monday, January 28, 2008, 8:24 a.m.
California here we come! Part 1

Good morning, all!

It’s a much warmer day here in Monterey, California, than it was in Washington. Seven-year-old “Tilly” [registerd name Cantilator, race record 16-0-0-3, $3,151] and I just finished the first step of our trip competing in California this spring at the Ram Tap Combined Test in Fresno. I’m going to try and do updates to keep everyone posted on our ups and downs, so this is the first installment.

We left Washington last Wednesday morning at 2:30 a.m. from Annie’s place in Olympia. It was about 15 degrees outside! My worry was the Siskiyous, since Stephanie – who I’m living with on this adventure – had quite a time getting south when she and her husband moved here in early December. Well, we lucked out and hit the California border at about 11 a.m. We spent the night in Redding. Tilly got to be turned out without all his blankets on for the first time in months and was obviously thrilled to be running around naked! He didn’t know whether to run, roll or eat the lush grass!

We headed south to Fresno the next morning around 9 a.m., arriving at Ram Tap at about 3:00 p.m. It hasn’t changed at all in 13 years. Stephanie also got to Ram Tap around 3:00, so we could go out and get some cross-country schooling in. The rain had finally ceased, so we were able to have decent footing. Tilly demonstrated his agile ability, clearing the prelim [preliminary division] gallop fences like there were two stacked on top of one another! There is nothing like a good gallop to clear your mind and lungs. We jumped all the drops into water and Tilly was a beast through it all. This definitely showed that we’ve spent some good time preparing.

Dressage was on Saturday, and the sun graced us with its presence. In fact, we wound up wearing tank tops, since it topped out at 65 degrees! We rode at 11:15, so Steph lunged Tilly for me while I got dressed. Our warm-up was BRILLIANT! At one time, Steph came over to give us water and had tears in her eyes. She’s seen him go through the good and the bad and was totally surprised that this little horse was so amazing! I’ve been saying all along how great he has been, but you have to see it to believe it. Another woman commented that he was the most beautiful horse there. Nice, huh?

As the judge’s rang the bell, I told Tilly to show them how we do it in Washington! And he did! A few little hiccups (we had to do shoulder in, 10 meter circles, counter canter and medium canter), but we finished with a 43.8 (the smaller the score the better with eventing). It put us in fifth place, with a tie for third just .5 ahead of us! The judge commented that I have a “very lovely young horse with unlimited potential,” but that if I could just ride accurately. . .It’s always my fault. He beat me on HIS scores this time, but I’ll get him!

It rained all night on Saturday, so show jumping was a bit wet. Folks were withdrawing and horses were hav-ing stops left and right in our divi-sion. Then it was our turn. . .and he was excellent! The distances were rough for the wet footing, but he had one rail [down] at a VERY forward one-stride vertical-to-vertical [fence combination]. And we had a few time penalties – not a big deal. For our first outing at prelim, I was thrilled and there were no melt downs! Well, until we walked back to the barn and Tilly wanted all the horses in front of him to know how spectacular he was. We wound up in fifth with a score of 53.8. Definitely some work to do there, but we’re well on our way!

This coming weekend is in Galway Downs in Temecula, California, so we’ll be up and on our way either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, depending on the weather. Tilly wears his Delineator–Charla nameplate very proudly and is without a doubt one of the nicest horses around, even with all the money that is at these events. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make his sire Delineator and Washington families proud. Amazing that this little OTTB [off the track Thoroughbred] can be up there with the big boys and prove that Thoroughbreds aren’t just a thing of the past!

I hope you’re all doing well and can’t wait to see everyone again!

Until next time,
Tilly and Mellisa

Monday, February 4, 2008, 8:40 a.m.
Proud to be Washington-bred! Part 2

Good morning, all!

It’s a beautiful day in Monterey after a weekend of rain and wind! We left Friday at 4:00 a.m. for Temecula and drove over nine hours (thanks to traffic). Galway Downs is an amazing facility that recently had their cross-country course redesigned by Ian Stark (a Scotsman who has ridden on many Olympic teams). It is just brilliant!

On Saturday morning we rode dressage at 9:00 a.m., but there were horses galloping until after 10:00 a.m. on the track! Poor little Tilly thought he was having the worst flashbacks and had to begin his warm-up nearly two hours before his test. Just about 10 minutes into his lunging, some hot air balloons cruised right overhead. Poor little pony thought the world was coming to an end! Not only were horses running right at him (we had to warm up about 30 feet from the track), but these giant balloons were careening down on him! Much to our surprise, he held it together, but was quite literally done lunging after about an hour and a half. So, I hopped on him and after a nice warm-up, we were into the arena, with horses still breezing by and a few getting “blown out.”

We survived our dressage test with a few nice moments, although we did break in a counter canter and he wasn’t so sure about a walk-canter transition to the right. His last halt was quite nice and we were pleased to have survived the first major test of the day. We wound up with a score of 40.0 penalties (about a 60 percent), but it consisted of mostly six’s and seven’s, although there were two four’s and a couple of five’s for him getting a little excited about the medium canters.

Less than an hour later, we were in the show jumping arena – studs and all, since it was on grass. Folks had been pulling as many as seven rails, with a triple combination and a double one-stride. Big fences and folks not prepared to be jumping on grass made for some excitement. Tilly was a bit tired after his long morning and not having much interest in breakfast, so we had a very uncharacteristic three rails [down], but were well within the time (something we struggled with the weekend prior).

Saturday night it rained and was quite windy. We watched a few intermediate cross-country riders go, and it was apparent that the going was a bit slower because of the mud. These Californians don’t know how to ride in mud and slick goings, but that’s where we Washingtonians have the advantage!

With little studs in front and something just mildly larger behind, we set out for our first prelim cross-country course! He came out the start box ready to go and with a vengeance. Although our second fence was a bit messy, the rest was foot perfect! We created our own paths to fences, then followed the same lines others had taken the last 10 strides. This saved us from slipping all over and allowed us to keep up the speed. Because the two water jumps were both huge hanging logs, we schooled through the beach first and then jumped in. I wanted qualifying rounds, not winning or hard rounds…yet. He was foot perfect through the coffin, which had gotten other horses, and even jumped something called a criss cross – combining a zig zag with a trakahner, where you have to jump into the arrowhead to make it the easiest. We finished with just a few time penalties, but best of all, completed our VERY FIRST QUALIFYING ROUND! We have just two more to go! I told Tilly in warm-up that this is what he’s been training for his whole life – he was bred to be an amazing distance horse on turf, but he has trained in the worst mud around, making this absolute cake for him! He is such a brave little horse and stoic on top of it. He hung his hind legs on a hanging log into a combination, but Steph had put grease on his stifles, so he slipped right off and continued on, totally unshaken.
So, everyone wants to know how we placed. Not that I cared, but we did rather well. In a starting field close to 20, we finished sixth! That brilliant little Washington-bred pony trudged through the mud, less than two years off the track and showed those Californians how they do it in Washington – with style and grace – oh, and with his rider yelling and screaming with joy the entire way! (I was quite hoarse when we finished the course with a bit of a sore throat from screaming through the wind at him for being so awesome.)

We got back to the barn at about 8:40 p.m. last night, shaving about an hour off our drive home. He was happy to see his buddies in the stalls next to him and was even more excited about the two large buckets of beet pulp and grain that were waiting for him.

Our next event is the 15-17 back at Ram Tap in Fresno. He’ll have a few days off; then it’s back to work. We have some work to do to better our dressage tests and clean up our jumping.

Take care!
Mellisa and Tilly

Mellisa Warden grew up in Washington and started riding when she was three years old. She owned her first OTTB, a grandson of Bold Ruler, when she was 11, at which point she began jumping and eventing. When Warden got married, she was told she could either have a wedding ring or another horse . . . she chose another horse. Warden hopes that Cantilator will be able to move up to intermediate level this fall. Her big goal is to compete at the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event in the next few years. Warden also owns a five-year-old appendix Quarter Horse named Paddy that raced in California.

Warden, her husband Steve and their two-year-old daughter Ainsley just moved to Southern California from Washington with the help and support of their families.

Warden said that Tilly has done an outstanding job of bringing the Washington-bred name to California. She is a proud promotor of OTTBs and can’t see herself riding anything that hasn’t been on the track.

“It means a lot that people all over are getting to see that OTTBs (particularly Washington-breds) can make it to the top and be prime competitors for professionals and amateurs alike,” Warden said. “I have been heard yelling at the top of my lungs on every cross-country course this spring, ‘Yeah, baby! That’s how Washington-bred Thoroughbreds do it!’”

Cantilator (WA), 2002, g., Delineator—Charla, by Taj Alriyadh.
Raced three years, 16-0-0-3, $3,151.

Photo © McCool Photography