Saturday, November 28, 2009

2009 American Riding Instructor Convention

The 2009 American Riding Instructor's Association International Convention was held Novemer 18-21, in Naples, Florida. The weather was perfect, the agenda of networking, education, research, products and speakers was amazing, as always. The group picture above pretty much says it all.

Featured speakers were Jane Savoie (Dressage), Denny Emerson (Eventing), George Morris (Hunter/Jumper), Susan Harris (Balanced Seat Riding), Rhonda Watts-Hettinger (Sidesaddle), Peggy Brown (Centered Riding), Julie Fershtman (Equine Law), Shirley Boone (Insurance for Instructors and Facilities), Bob Allen (Business Aspects), Sgt. Jerry Mayo (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Rod Bergen (Equine Stress Management), Kimberly Carlton (Teaching Aspects), Judi Whipple (Teaching Aspects), and product representatives, Jochen Schleese (Schleese Saddlery), Suzanne Johnston (Cover-all Building Systems), Roy Burek (Charles Owen Helmets and Vests), and many other sponsors and vendors who did not speak but had lots of products available for inspection and sale.

Instructors came from as far away as Australia and Spain, and also from every state in the U.S. The networking opportunities were endless and everyone was taking advantage of finally meeting people we have communicated with over the phone or internet--in some cases, for years! It is great to be able to put a face with the name you have become familiar with and know you can trust.

All the instructors who are certified through ARIA that I have come to know have a standardized foundation in their rding and teaching philosophies (no matter what specialty they teach), and all I know uphold the Code of Ethics of ARIA. I feel lucky to know them.

There is probably an ARIA certified instructor in your area. Look at the ARIA website in the instructor directory, and you will find a listing of instructors by state. Each listing has their name, address, phone number, what their specialty(ies) are, and what level certification they hold. Level I is "instructor in training", Level II is "basic instructor", and Level III is "advanced instructor". Level III is the highest regular certification ARIA offers. If you are looking for a qualified riding instructor, this is a very good place to find one in your area. If you are a professional who is thinking about getting certified, contact one (or more) of the ARIA instructors in your area, and ask them questions--all the certified instructors that I know are more than happy to answer questions about ARIA! I know I am! :-)

I believe that every instructor who offers lessons to people should be certified by a nationally or internationally recognized certifying association (like ARIA). The public who comes to us to learn to ride has no basis for recognizing safety and quality in our programs, and so we, as a group, need to willingly prove to our students and potential clients that we have the skills to teach them to understand and ride horses.

We all know that there is no mandatory licensing of riding instructors, and anyone can "hang out their shingle", whether they know anything or not, so it is up to us to self-regulate our industry. Becoming an ARIA certified instructor is a major step in the right direction. Taking the next step and continuing our education through clinics, symposiums, seminars, conventions, and yes, through horseshows keeps showing our students and potential clients that they can have confidence in our abilities as they discover all the layers of horsemanship.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More on the FEI and the Rollkur

I found out a couple days ago that the FEI will be holding discussions about the recent upheaval over the Rollkur. It seems that they are adding it to the agenda of the FEI's Annual Meeting in Copenhagen, scheduled in the next few weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark.

There is a good press release about it that you can view on

I hope that the petitions will be presented to them, and that they will finally act in the best interest of the horses. I know that Patrik Kittel has been burnt at the stake for the video on YouTube, but in the interest of fair play--technically--he didn't do anything that is currently against the rules of the FEI; in fact, I believe it is because of the FEI's weenie position that this occurred and continues to occur at every FEI sanctioned event, and gains momentum because of the judges' willingness to reward the flamboyant movement and turn a blind eye to the fundamental flaws in the quality of the horse's performance overall.

Now, judges might fairly say that this crisis has been coming for a long time, and the way the tests are written and the rules and guidelines have developed has set this ball in motion by setting the piaffe/passage tour as the most weighted elements of the GP Special, and emphasis on the P/P and canter elements in the GP, and minimalizing scores for walk and transitions. And they might point out (justifiably) that they can only judge what they see from the point that the horse enters at A.

But I would say, that they have taken the easy way out. They have succumbed to the pressures of the politics, and have "saved their jobs" over saving the principles of dressage.
I know that a good number of FEI judges have a problem with horses trained in the Rollkur method, but they say they can only judge what they see in front of them. In a perfect world, that might be true.

I say that the dressage community at large should embrace any judge that now has the courage to severely deduct points for insufficient collection (especially in passage), irregularity, tenseness/lack of quality in the walk, lack of obedience/submission in halts or anywhere else in the test that the horse shows these fundamental weaknesses. Make a difference now by upholding the principles of dressage and not make excuses for shortcomings...whether Rollkur is involved or not. And judges should take a look at how the horse is being warmed up if there is an opportunity.

This is the perfect opportunity and permission to get back to judging according to the rules of international dressage competition. The judges need to lead the way. Don't wait for the FEI to condemn Rollkur--my hope is that they take a decisive stand on this issue as well, but again, judges, don't wait for the rules to be re-written to include specific language against rollkur--you KNOW this is abuse. You do have the authority to stop this--but do you have the Kohonas?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rollkur, and the "Blue Tongue"

Last night, I did something I "never" do. I signed a petition asking (hopefully demanding) that the FEI condemn the practice of Rollkur, and ban the use of it at FEI sanctioned dressage competitions.

There has been a video listed on YouTube, which has gone viral in record time:

The most disturbing thing, for me, is not the tongue hanging out, or the fact that it becomes bluish (in response to the circulation being cut off). That is just the proof that Rollkur demonstrates the extreme force exerted on the horse, physically and psychologically...and here is my opinion.

When a horse is being ridden (properly), s/he will sometimes put their tongue over, or in between in the case of a double bridle, the bit. That happens. But now we must ask ourselves, what is a horse's normal reaction when that happens?

In my experience, in every single case, the horse has a violent reaction and comes above the bit, slams on the brakes, and lets the rider know in NO uncertain terms that something is VERY wrong, and s/he is in extreme pain.

In this video, the horse continues for over one minute (that we can see, and it may have been more to produce the discoloration of the tongue) before the rider even notices that the tongue is in between the bits and lolling out the side of the mouth. And here is the key....the horse continued on the whole time, showing the rider no sign that he is extremely uncomfortable/painful.

The pain and discomfort of the Rollkur position is so extreme that the horse is unable to exhibit any reaction AT ALL to the discomfort of his tongue being pinched between the bits to the point that circulation is cut off! Can you imagine what pain the horse was in as a result of the tongue-pinch? So, which is the bigger cruelty? And what can we glean from this very apparent comparisons of pain--one which under normal circumstances of training produces an immediate and violent reaction to pain, and the other which overrides that normal reaction to the point that the horse is completely shut down to the original pain and just keeps going while his tongue turns blue? Again, which is the bigger cruelty?

To my mind, there is no room for doubt and this is the video that finally proves just how cruel Rollkur is. The poor horse's pinched tongue being turned blue due to lack of circulation (for at least one minute) is not even enough to override the pain and force of the rollkur position.

How can the FEI condone and REWARD this cruelty through scores of over 90% now? How can WE as a dressage community condone this practice?? We must send a loud and clear message as a cohesive international community that we will not stand by and do nothing anymore.

There is a title link to the same petition that I signed last night at the top of this post. I welcome all comments here, but even if you do not comment here, please go to the petition, read some of the comments attributed to the signers, and consider signing.

You may even sign anonymously, but remember, if the FEI is anything like the U.S. government, an anonymous signature does not count. Please consider signing your name--I did, and I am a dressage professional.

Thanks for reading this post.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

USDF/USEF Region III Dressage Championships

The Region III Dressage Championships are being held (today is the last day) this year in Wellington at the Jim Brandon Arena. I mentioned this when I listed the results for IRIDE Dressage in the post on 9/21/09 in this blog.

Friday and Saturday was the pre-show qualifier, and the Championships are on Saturday and Sunday.

I decided to drive down and watch Saturday's competition, since all levels were scheduled, plus the Freestyles in each level were ridden Saturday afternoon, and I love watching freestyles as much as anyone else. All four arenas had rides scheduled from 8am to almost 5:30pm--no sign of a recession here.

Judging are Gary Rockwell, Thomas Poulin, Dinah Babcock, Mary Lewis, Lois Yukins, and Joan Humphries. Each ring had a judge at C and a judge at B--who judged where and when is listed for each class on the results pages available on

Full results from Friday and Saturday's pre-show qualifiers are already posted on the linked page. Scroll down towards the bottom of that page and you will see the show listed and the results by day. Saturday had not been posted yet, as of this writing, but this management team is phenominal with publishing results in a timely manner, so I am sure they will all be available within 48 hours of the show's end.

For some beautiful pictures of the competitor's, visit the official photographer's site click on Photos on the top menu bar, and it will open the picture galleries. It usually takes them a few days to a week to post pictures, and the show isn't even over yet, so be patient. You can always come back here to get the link to check on the pictures. WARNING-when they do get posted, these photos are copyrighted, and are the property of Horse Sports Photography. You may look, but you may not copy or use these photos in any fashion....doing so is a violation of copyright law.

To give a general preview of Saturday until the results are posted officially, I checked the scoreboard at about 3pm. Most scores for the day were in the range of the 60's with a few 50's and a few 70's for Saturday.

Some of the more nationally recognized names who competed are Michael Poulin, Bent Jensen, Lisa Wilcox, Marco Bernal, Gwen Poulin, Linda Alicki, Heather Bender, just to name a few.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

American Riding Instructor Association's 25th Convention!

I will be going to the ARIA 25th Convention on November 18-22, 2009. It is held in Naples, Florida (which makes it even better for our friends from the cold climes!) and it is a BLAST! I have been to two of the other conventions since 2004, when I became certified, and it has never disappointed!

I have met some wonderful fellow trainer/instructors, been able to network with many, many people that I have admired for my entire riding life, and have picked up (or been reminded of) a ton of equine- and teaching-related information.

The whole convention is geared towards the sharing of information and contacts for our businesses. I touched on discussing how we operate and market our businesses in the last post, dated 10/08/09 on this blog, and this is a major one for me. It is not necessarily a direct advertising outlet to my consumers (students or potential students), but gaining the recognition, education, contacts and networking prospects is crucial to any business venture. Having people who "do what you do" creates a camaraderie because they "are where you are" in terms of problem-solving, idea-creation, marketing-solutions, etc. This is a valuable resource which only makes your own business more reputable, and recognized.

Charlotte Kneeland, the founder and director of ARIA, has built this organization into an internationally recognized and respected certifying agency for riding instructors, and was recently awarded the Equine Industry's Equestrian Vision Award for her service to the equestrian world. Drop her an email, and be sure to check out the website--it is full of information about certification, has a directory of certified instructors by state with all their contact information, and has a great bookstore/reading list, as well. It also has an explanation of the different levels of certification and disciplines that they certify instructors for that would be a great help to the consumer (potential student) when seeking an instructor.

The ARIA website is linked to the title of this post. I hope you will check it out, and I hope it moves you to attend the Convention. Even though it is almost here, it is not too late to sign up for it. You do not have to be a certified instructor to attend. We have some awesome keynote speakers lined up for this Silver Anniversary Convention, including Jane Savoie, Denny Emerson, Susan Harris, George Morris, and Julie Fershtman, among others and the exchange of information and ideas is always well worth the convention price. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shark Tank

I love the ABC show "Shark Tank". I think it is genius! It is the very best reality show on television now, and maybe ever. Why, you say? Because it is entertaining, educational, and inspiring.

I also love the "Sharks". They are real. What I mean by that is they are real people, with personalities that they are proud of and don't mind sharing with the audience. I know that there is a lot of prep work and auditions that we don't see, and that we only see a staged glimpse of what goes on in the real world, but what separates this show from the other reality shows is that every other situation is contrived--it is not really the way things would happen. Not the case, here. I have a feeling that this is very on-point with the way things happen on this level of the business world.

It is hard to pick a favorite shark, but I actually like Kevin O'Leary best. I identify with his style of business approach. Unemotional (and I will talk more about this later) is the only way to do business--any business. But I also believe that he shines (for me) as much because of the interactions with the other personalities in the room as anything else. I love the way their characters have developed over the course of the series so far, and I think this show has unlimited potential for subsequent seasons, as I think the American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well--and in this economy, searching for alternative funding and capital investment. The banks surely aren't our friends anymore (were they, ever?).

I do have the entrepreneurial spirit, in spades. My business is successful, in its niche. My business certainly wouldn't be attractive to the sharks, because it is a niche-business, and is wholly based on in-person services at this point. That doesn't mean that it might not evolve into something that would be attractive to them, as I am always thinking, planning, assessing and adjusting my business model to keep bringing added-value to my customers and keep my business fresh and interesting. I believe I have made the correct business decisions and am constantly researching and re-assessing every aspect of my business. This benefits my clients, and when I benefit my clients, I benefit my business.

I would LOVE to hear from you guys and gals who are reading this blog--do you watch this show?, what you think of it?, and do you see any correlation between what is happening for the people on the show and how YOU do business? Please leave a comment! I would love to hear your take on this, and if there is enough interest, maybe I will do a poll......

In subsequent posts, and based on any feedback I get from the posts, I want to talk about the relationship between what we are seeing on the show, and how it relates to and can benefit YOUR business to watch this show, not only for the entertainment value, but for the educational value that is imparted from both sides of the negotiations...and yes, I believe it DOES relate to our horse BUSINESS, too. After all, business is business. Stay tuned for my take

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dressage Blogs

I love blogging.

It builds a community of conversations among diverse people with a common interest(s), who may never have crossed paths otherwise. And I appreciate the people who read my blog regularly and/or who subscribe and/or follow.

As a matter of fact, if you find it difficult to figure out how to subscribe or follow, please let me know. I am rather new to all this, and there are a LOT of gadgets and widgets and add-ons and plug-ins, and I am still sorting through it all! LOL

This blog will change in layout, design and color from time to time, but it will always be about dressage and things having to do with horses and the business of horses. I hope that is part of what will keep it fresh. I also would love to build the community of readers that subscribe to or follow this blog. I am extremely grateful to the 11 people who currently subscibe--thanks, guys!

I love the fact that you can enter a search word, and basically have the world's opinion at your fingertips.

I think the biggest challenge is filtering ALL the information into the specific realm of interest that you really have. For instance, if you submit the word "dressage" (which sounds specific to those of us that do it), about 4 million results pop are listed in the results. If you narrow the search by submitting "dressage videos" you get down to 3 million results. Oy veh.

I would love to know, and as always, I encourage you to leave a comment about how you:

1. submit your searches for blogs

2. filter your results

3. decide what you will read

4. decide what (blogs) you might be interested in following, and

5. do you ever actually sign up to follow (or subscribe to) a blog

5a. if you don't ever follow, why not?

5b. if you never comment, why not?

You may always post to my blog anonymously (it is very easy to post a comment!), I never ask you to identify yourself if you don't want to, and even if you do sign in and post publicly, I will never pass on your information to any other entity or individual. I may reference your comment, but will never reveal a source.

I have received comments on several posts on this blog (even though it is fairly new) and I appreciate you more than you can imagine!

One of my goals is to build this blog into a community of dressage enthusiasts who would like to learn, teach, discuss and debate all things dressage, and occasionally something rather off-topic or indirectly related, but no less timely or important.

I am currently subscribed to a blog called Blog for Profit and they are doing an email series called 31 days to Kick Your Blog in the Butt
It is very helpful if you are writing a blog, even if it is not a "for profit" blog. We are 13 days into the project, and I am finding it incredibly useful! It gives you a lot of guidance on what to include, what not to include, (layout and settings-wise); it explains how to organize the community you build, to interact with your readers, how to find content, and much, much more! I have to thank the blog author, Grant Griffith! If you write a blog, or are thinking of writing a blog, check it out!

As I learn more about all the ins and outs of blogging (ad-ons, gadgets, subscriptions, re-mailing, newsletters, linking to other pages and websites, etc.) I will make use of these very cool things. I am learning more and more every time I blog. I also want to learn from you, the people who take the time to read my posts. I am not moderating any comments, and as long as I don't get any comments which are unethical, illegal, or immoral I will continue to allow posts to be immediately available without my interference. I will delete spam, however, but that hasn't been a problem yet.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wellington Dressage Fall Classic results for IRIDE

On August 17, I posted that I was renewing memberships and planning to enter a dressage show down in Wellington this month.

Well, we showed at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in Wellington over the weekend at the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge Series' Wellington Fall Classic. This is the first show of the series each year.

September in Florida is really iffy weather--on occasion it can be wonderful, or more often it can be blistering hot; feel like you are drowning when it is not even raining; lightning and thundering, or all is also the most active month for hurricanes. So I sent off my entries for the show....this is what we Floridians do. LOL

We had a bit of lightning early on Saturday, and they called a lightning postponment for 20 minutes. Most of us took it in stride, and by the time the break was over, even the riders who had their horses all warmed up and ready to go literally "20 minutes ago", sucked it up and made their classes. A few of the horses were disturbed by the hiccup, but unfortunately that is part of the chance you take when you choose to show (not to be callous to the plight of those riders)....actually, the timing of the warmup is probably the most frustrating part of the whole show experience for everyone (if they are being honest), because you can be as prepared as you can possibly be at home, and then you get to the show and everything is going super, and you get to the warmup, and if things don't fall into place, you may either not have enough time to warmup, too long to warmup, etc. and the performance isn't as good as it could be. Depending on your particular horse's nerves and/or prior show experience, too, it may be a disaster to not have good timing for the warmup.

Luckily, Bogart is patient and resilient. He is also used to the heat (as much as any horse can be), and is a real steady-eddie, not needing too much of the warmup to settle his mind. I also had some wonderful help in the grooming department from one of my young rider students, and his mother (who is also my student). They were a huge help, and I am so glad that they were there! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

So, the results are:


Training Level, Test Two-- 67.500% which tied for 1st place, but we lost the tie breaker and ended up second. Funny thing is, at the first turn in the M corner, something caught his eye, we lost the power-steering momentarily and he actually stepped out of the ring with one foot--LOL. He recovered immediately, but that one small bobble (which was as much my fault for not being more prepared for it as it was his for losing concentration) cost us first place....but that is quite all right. Remember, this is his first rated dressage show EVER, as far as I know. He was an open jumper before he was imported.

First Level, Test Two--65.000% which put him second...if I hadn't gone off-course (went the wrong way in the first leg yield, DUH), again, we would have scored well enough to be first. Those 2 little error points--totally my fault (and it was a great leg yield, too! LOL). But also, I have to say here, that that ride felt SO good...he was lively in his trot work, lighter on the forehand in his canter work than usual, and totally on my aids...I believe this was actually the best test (for us) of the show.


Training Level, Test Four--66.000% for fourth place out of 18 rides! I was really proud of him, but I could tell he was starting to get tired, and it was supported by the comments in the test, too. This class also had the most entries of the whole show, since it was the qualifying class for the Regionals, so I was very proud of both the score and the placing!

First Level, Test One--65.000% for second place. I almost scratched this class, because he was tired, but we had a long break (3 hours) between TLT4 and this class, and he still looked perky and interested when he was resting in his stall, and in the warmup he was still willing, although not quite as lively. Basically, the warmup consisted of 10 minutes of walk on long rein and then 2 transitions from halt to trot to halt, and 2 transitions walk/canter/walk. I am glad that I made the decision to go, because Bogart proved just what a special horse he is. He gave everything he had, even though I know he was honestly tired. I could not ask for a more willing, giving, special horse. I was ecstatic!!!

Also, I really like the new Jim Brandon Equestrian Center facility! The stalls are wonderful, the footing is good, even when it is soggy, the rings are convenient to the barns, the show staff and the facility staff are very nice and helpful; they are very well-organized, entries are a breeze (online!), and I will definitely show there again.

Regional Championships are there October 22-25, 2009. It promises to be a great time! I will be there, will you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Young Horses

I am helping my friend/fellow trainer start her young horse under saddle. I think I have mentioned him (and her) before, and how nice he is. Starting him has been very nice, because she has done the proper ground-work with him and has given him time to grow up both mentally and physically, without pushing him beyond his capacity.

I used to start young horses almost exclusively, a long time ago, and moved away from it because, in starting the young horses, MY OWN dressage education had kind of plateaued and was not moving beyond the "second-level" experience, mostly because all the horses that I was riding were sold before they reached that level (happy problem to have, I know). So I re-organized my business and set out to gain experience and education in riding/training horses all the way through to the upper levels.

I have had an amazing journey, and I consider myself lucky to have trained with some of the most respected horsemen in the world (some of them now gone). But along the way, I have gotten away from starting/training young horses, and do not even have the necessary tools at my own facility to do this anymore.

But lately, I have been missing it. Not enough to gravitate back to that focus myself for the bulk of my business, but enough to thoroughly enjoy helping my friend. It also "grounds" me a bit in the basics of riding/training. We both (fellow trainer and I) have to be so focused on the body language and expression of the horse, since he is a baby and his comfort (both mental and physical) is so important yet so fragile at this stage. He is taking his lessons like the superstar that he is, but we both have to be oh-so-careful about what we are doing---pushing the envelope, testing his abilities, but not only not allowing ourselves to push too-fast-too-soon, but also not allowing HIM to push too fast too soon. It is all so interesting, so familiar, so comfortable to me after all these years...but I can't let myself go back to that time.

What I can do is encourage younger riders to get the training and the mentoring that they need in order to start young horses correctly. This is an area in this country that has a big void of talented people--we seem to be a country of Olympic-wannabes (and I don't mean that as an insult!), but few people are interested in being the ones who make sure that the young EQUINE superstars are carefully and correctly started, as well as brought along.

If there is anyone reading this who is interested in making a career out of this VERY important aspect of our industry, please let me know. I am in a location (on the beach in FL) and in a position to make that a reality. Email me at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Henk van Bergen clinic Labor Day weekend

I attended a Henk van Bergen clinic over the weekend that was not too far from my home. I found out about it last-minute from a friend/fellow trainer, and I am so glad that we took the time to attend.

Mr. Van Bergen has a long and impressive resume of riding, training and coaching internationally. I won't go into it here, as it would take up too much of the post, and I want to preserve the space for more current musings. I provided the link over his name and a few more here to make it easy for you to research his history.

short bio on USDF website about the 2009 FEI Trainer's Conference:

I am always impressed by the quiet effectiveness of the masters that I have had the opportunity to observe (and train with). Mr. Van Bergen is certainly no exception, as I got to watch him ride a horse that had been ridden by his regular trainer the day before. The regular trainer, Luiz Denizard (who hosted the clinic), had done a very good job with the horse the day before, no doubt, and I certainly don't want to minimize his work...however, when Mr. van Bergen worked the horse through the session, the reason that I include Mr. Van Bergen in the class of "master" was apparent, and I think that Lu would certainly agree with me, since it is to HIS credit that he seeks guidance from Mr. Van Bergen, and is also generous enough to share the clinic with outside riders and auditors (spectators).

The quality of the horses and the riders was very high overall. Lu was incredibly welcoming, the other riders were warm and friendly, and the facility was beautifully maintained and the covered arena was superb. It was also "private" enough that one didn't feel like a "number", or an inconvenience. I can't say enough about it.

I also have to say, in closing, that Mr. Van Bergen is one of the most articulate, accomodating, humorous and generous horsemen I have ever met. He and I had a couple of fairly long conversations during the breaks, and we covered many topics both general and specific, and he is down to earth, straight to the point, honest and generous all at once. His knowledge of the inner workings of the competition world and the FEI is as valuable as his training knowledge.

I am looking forward to the next clinic, and I will make sure that if there is a spot after Lu and his students, that I get a spot to ride. :-)

Also, for those of you that are farther away, he will again be the clinician at the 2010 FEI trainers clinic in Loxahatchee, FL (Wellington area) in January. He did the clinic in 2009, and was invited back by the USDF, because of the great praise for the 2009 clinic. I did not attend the 2009 clinic, but I know exactly why he received such high praise and the return invitation. I have attached a couple links (above) so you can read up about him. I know I don't normally "jump on the bandwagon" in terms of BNT's (Big Name Trainers), but I do recognize a master when I meet one and see him work, and to find a master with not only the skill for the horse, but the skill to IMPART the knowledge to every level of rider is truly special. Henk van Bergen is that master.

I thank Franzi Pfeiffer (my friend/fellow trainer) for letting me know about the clinic, and Luiz Denizard (whom I had not heard of before, but who I hope will become a friend/fellow trainer) for hosting the clinic and making me and my young rider student who accompanied me to the clinic feel so welcome. Auditors are not always treated so well.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Love Ponies!

It's true. I love ponies. Children are the future of our sport, as well as the rest of the future stuff. They are who will take care of us in our old age. Would you rather be taken care of by a person who was raised in front of the television and computer, or one who was raised in the company of horses (and ponies)?

Let's face it, if a child's first experience has to be on the back of a horse, the most important life lessons have to be put off (grooming, leading, haltering, handling, etc.), just because of the size difference. A good pony levels the playing field. The kid can groom it thoroughly, pick up its feet, tack it by themselves, and be responsible for the bulk of its general care. This teaches them responsibility, independence, leadership, hard work, teamwork, and so forth from a much different perspective...they do it themselves, rather than have an adult do everything for them until the are big enough.

Pony breeding has come a long way in the United States. If ponies were ever as bad as their reputation, that is no longer the case. These days, there are a great many ponies who have wonderful, calm dispositions, good, balanced conformation, and good to very good gaits. To a point, the issue of good training is still a challenge, but there are capable adults who are small enough to start and train ponies for the children.

The pony in the pictures is one of my very favorite ponies! His name was D'Apples, and he was the heart and soul of all the children at Windsor when I was the director there. He was a grey Welsh Cob and was 13.3hh. His disposition was unparalleled, he had really good gaits and was willing to try anything. I showed him at a local show in the off-season for Windsor (the kids were not there to show him themselves) and received scores of 66% and 68% at Training Level (that was his only show that I know about). He died way too young at 13 years old from Melanoma. It was the worst case I have ever seen, and if he had not received the stellar care (due to his owners at Windsor and a great vet), he would not have lasted as long as he did.

But he is not an exception....there are many, many great ponies out there. The Hunter/Jumper world utilizes ponies very well, but I would love to see a much more wide use of ponies in the dressage world. After all, a foundation in dressage should be what we are teaching our ponies AND our kids at the beginning, before they specialize in any discipline....even before Hunters--I see too many kids going over cross-rails long before they have the seat and effectiveness of the aids which is what makes it safer. Most of them survive, a slight majority of them even stay interested in horses, but at some point, all need remedial lessons in their seat and position to keep moving forward in their riding. Wouldn't it be easier to learn the foundation at the beginning than to have to go back and UNlearn the bad habits and replace them with good ones?

I would love to hear from people who have had (or known) great ponies. If you email me their pictures and stories, I will post some of them here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

90.7% What do you think?

I can say that this is an amazing ride. I can also say that I enjoyed watching it, and I put it in my favorites on my account at Youtube. :-)

I wonder, now that we have broken through the "glass ceiling" of 90% (it wasn't that long ago that 80% was unimaginable), if we are going the way of other olympic judged events (I am thinking of ice-skating, gymnastics and diving, for instance) that we will soon have to re-think our scoring system....because after 100%, where do we go?

Now, before you start thinking, "well that won't happen, because how often do you see a perfect ride?", remember--a score of ten does not mean it is "perfect"; a score of ten means it is "excellent"...and we don't even have the luxury of tenths of points (yes, I know--halfpoints for freestyle) It is not just semantics. There are real consequences to approaching 100% scores, and there are widespread ramifications. I wonder if anyone at the FEI organizational level is thinking about this--I wonder if our FEI judges are thinking about this?

But then, watch the video, and ask yourself--"where would I have taken away points?" I understand the score, and agree with it when it is judged against our current standard and methodology, but this is what begs my question in the first place.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Arabian Dressage Horse

This was my first serious dressage competition horse. She was a purebred Arabian mare, and for you Arab owners and lovers, she was an Ivanhoe Tsultan daughter out of a pure Crabbet mare. For those of you who are not familiar with Arab bloodlines, she had really good breeding for dressage.

She was lovely, and I had her for 14 years. I actually saw her for the first time two years before I bought her, and her initial trainer had her earmarked to be a western pleasure horse, and even had shown her a couple times in "maiden" western pleasure classes, with a bit of success, but he also was a good enough trainer that he followed the training scale principles, even though he had probably never heard of it.

But when I tried her, I knew she had the qualities I was looking for....she was forward, and calm, and naturally pretty balanced for an Arab. I was actually looking more for the breeding than what kind of training the horse had. She also had an awesome disposition. She was an amazing horse. She would go anywhere, preferred the company of humans over horses, was bonded to me wholeheartedly, she was great at shows, didn't mind being by herself, calm, trusting, willing, and had so much "try" in her, that I swear she would do anything.

This is the horse that I could let loose to graze and would stay around the house before we had fencing, looking through the windows every now and then to make sure we were still around; would lower her head for a small child to put the bridle on; knew when a person had a learning or physical disability and would adjust herself to accomodate that person in whatever way they needed; would puff up in the show arena and bang out a relaxed and flawless test after just almost getting run over by the 17hh fire-breathing-dragon in the warm-up ring (and best that ruddy-warmblooded-horse, just for good measure LOL); who would give true collection and self-carriage to a student, if she sensed that is what they were trying for, even if the aids were not quite there, but would absolutely not transition from walk to trot if she felt that the rider could not balance, even if they were giving the aids for that transition....I could go on and on. She was self-assured, but incredibly generous to her humans. And that is an inherent trait in Arabs. I love them for that. A well-trained Arab is the consummate amateur's mount. They are intelligent, and sensitive, and generous of nature. They can do anything pretty well, and some things they can do better than anyone. :-)
I still miss her. She was put down in 2004, just after the hurricanes (which she weathered with the grace and courage that made her who she was) due to complications from Cushings Disease, and she is buried in her front pasture.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Other" breeds in Dressage

I have ridden, trained, and/or owned many different breeds and types of horses. I have also ridden and/or competed in many different disciplines. I won't list them all, but suffice it to say that in everything, the underlying principles of riding have been the same.

I believe (and practice) the same principles of riding and training the horse, no matter what breed or type it is, for the foundation of the horse's training. No matter what the horse will specialize in, the foundation is built according to the Training Scale guidelines (or pyramid, as some call it) of the USDF and the German FN, up through about third level (single flying changes and all lateral movements).

This has served my horses well, so the (what I call) standard principles of training carry over into all types of competition, and across all saddle-type breeds (walk/trot/canter breeds, that is--the gaited breeds need special consideration in the training scale, and will specialize much earlier in the training process, and I do not have much experience with them at all).

But, do all breeds carry over into dressage competition with the same consistency? In other words, is it a level playing field in dressage competition for all breeds? The one-word answer is "no". The qualifier is "with the same consistency". And it has nothing to do with not liking a particular breed on the judge's part. Dressage judges judge according to an ideal standard of quality and training, which are outlined in the USEF rules for dressage. And dressage judges, in my experience, have been the most educated, methodical, and fair group of judges among ALL the disciplines.

ALL 3-gaited breeds and types--they don't even need to be breed-registered, are (and should be) able to compete in dressage competitions, but when it comes to dispersing more favorable scores and awards, there is a component of judging that separates the breeds that are developed specifically with the sporting disciplines (dressage, jumping) in mind from those breeds developed for other purposes (flat racing, endurance, sprinters, pulling, etc.).

That component is quantified in the first of the collective scores (Gaits), but it is also the underlying theme throughout all of the figures and movements of the entire test. It is more than "gaits". It is the quality of those gaits, and it goes to the genetic physical and psychological type.

These (yes, I am talking about the warmbloods) breeds are developed with an "uphill" conformation that makes it easier to shift their point of balance back for greater collection, and move freely through their backs and shoulders; they have large open joints that make elasticity and collection easier for them; great strength through their loin areas, as well as other physical attributes that have been proven to be desirable specifically in the sporting disciplines.

We hear about "rideability" a lot in descriptions of the warmbloods, which speaks also to the psychological attributes of the horse allowing himself to be guided in all sorts of contortions, and remain calm and relaxed (this is quantified in the "submission" score in the collectives), and to not resist the rider. The horse gives himself to the rider; body and spirit and accepts the rider's guidance completely. These are the ideals that are in the forefront of the breeders' philosophies.

Other light horse breeds have been developed with other factors more in focus--run fast, jump high, be brave/bold (Thoroughbreds), think on its own, crouch down and pivot (quarter horses), pull heavy loads, take small steps and push weight through the chest (drafts), etc. Which is not to say that those breeds don't possess any amount of the same qualities that the warmbloods do--it is just that the emphasis of the physical and psychological aspects are different.

And that is one reason that ALL breeds can and should "do dressage"--(refer to my previous post from 7/25/09 "Is it REALLY dressage"), the "other breeds" will have a more difficult time winning in dressage competition against the warmblood types, all other things being equal. Of course there will be exceptions that prove the rule, and when it all comes down to it, TRAINING is key. If you spend the time necessary to develop a solid foundation on any breed or type of horse, you will get your share of the ribbons, and the scores as well.

I have found that the key to riding an "other breed" in dressage competition and winning is in the quality of the correct training that can garner enough points to win more and higher scores and ribbons in competition against the warmbloods--technically correct, well-ridden, and total focus by the partnership on each other makes a formidable presentation.

Just know that you have to be patient, and get help from a trainer/instructor that has experience with the breed you are working with. The journey is much easier if you have quality help.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Horses I have known and loved

I am very fortunate. I have heard lots of people say
"Consider yourself lucky if you own one truly great horse in your life". I have owned several, and have worked with
many! I was reminded of this when I found these old photos I have of Aize, a wonderful Friesian gelding, owned by a student of mine.

I knew I had some pictures of her riding him, but I forgot about the ones of me riding him in a clinic with Joaquin Orth! (at right~~~>)

Aize was such a pleasure. He was boarded and in training with me, both at Windsor when I was the Director of Equestrian, and at my home before that. He had a LOT of hair (about an hour's worth of grooming every day)! But he was fabulous to work around and to ride.

My student, a junior rider, has since gone to college, and made the difficult and very mature decision to sell
him (to another dedicated young rider, who still owns him).

They were both such a pleasure, and I am so happy to
be part of their lives. I will post some more stories of the horses I have known (that I have pictures of) in later posts. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

About Instructors and Giving Lessons

Wow, I forgot how many associations, federations, organizations, and subscriptions I had before I took a year off to help with an election. I spent all day today (and some of last night) updating, re-joining, and renewing all that stuff.

I also forgot how expensive the whole lot is. I mean, one organization at a time is not too bad, kind of like a monthly payment where you forget that the thing you bought is like, a gazillion dollars, because you don't have to come up with one lump sum.

I got this crazy notion that I would get quasi-serious about showing again. Now I HAVE to follow through with it because I have just renewed membership in USDF, USEF, gotten my HID and USDF Horse Registration, not to mention renewing my ARIA membership for certification (I have kept that current!), renewing my instructor's liability insurance, checking out the entry fees, show fees, stabling fees, USDF/USEF fees for showing, hotel fees, gas fees, etc. etc. etc.
Which is a great segway into the real topic of my post. :-)

I know that some people don't take lessons from me because of what I charge for a lesson. I do understand that, to the lay-person (which in this instance is someone who is unfamiliar with, or just starting to explore the world of horses and riding), what I charge seems expensive when compared alongside the person who is a trainer and instructor because they have owned a horse for a while, it hasn't killed them yet, and they "need the extra money". (Emphasis on the last clause)...I have seen people advertise that they give lessons (individual) for $10.00 or $15.00 per hour (!)

The problem is that it is not very easy to tell by looking at us, which one of us is more qualified than the other (or not qualified at all). In some cases, even the lay-person can get a gut feeling--well, "TrainerX" has a ribby nag with one shoe missing, his back leg cocked and ready and a nasty look in his eye, and he has no arena-just "over there in the corner of the pasture", is smoking a cigarette, and holds a finger up at them while telling the person on the cell phone--"hang on, a potential victi-I mean-customer just walked up" and IRIDE's facility is neat and tidy, the horse is shiny and looks happy to see Mary coming with the saddle, and the arena is clear, level, well-marked and maintained and there are signs to mark your path, and she smiles and greets you like she was expecting you--no, we all know those differences well. And I am certain that we ALL know a facility or two that would fit the "TrainerX" profile.

The big problem is that most examples are not that dramatic. How do you tell if the nice lady with the horse in her back yard and gives lessons to the meighborhood kids is really qualified to keep you (or your children!) relatively safe in your first experiences around horses, and knowledgeable enough to guide you to an effective position and foundation of riding and caring for a horse? Because they say so? Because they give lessons to other people like you?

Remember, there is no requirement for licensing or certification requirement, no proof of insurance requirment, no business license; no proof of anything required on any level--local, county, state, or federal--for most of us (the exception in MA, where there is licensing requirement for riding instructors, trainers, and boarding facilities, although I am not familiar with the specifics). And a LARGE number of trainers/instructors (even some with credentials) do not carry liability insurance...which can be a disaster, even with the best of intentions.

And here is the real kicker--somehow, the public (even a lot of us who have been involved in horses for a while) has gotten the notion that it is rude or improper to question the potential trainer/instructor about their education, background, philosophy and/or experience. If we research a professional at ALL, we simply ask around about what they (or their students) have "done at shows". And we are not very thorough about that, even. Most of the time the trainer with the most first-places wins our confidence and undying loyalty, and that part also makes me crazy.

And frankly, most of the time, the choice of who is going to teach you to ride comes right down to who is going to charge you the least amount of money. And there is a certain amount of perceived logic in that, because you figure that the more times you are on the horse in a given period of time, the faster you will gain the skills you desire.

The problem with this logic is that learning to ride can be dangerous. The whole reason you take lessons in the first place is to learn the skills necessary to understand and guide these magnificent (BIG) creatures and STAY SAFE while while having fun and the exhilerating experience of catapulting over the ground, flying through the air (attached to the horse, hopefully), and moving more gracefully and in harmony with another species than you could ever do alone. But people who have never (or seldom) ridden have no basis for understanding just what it takes to learn to ride and avoid serious injury. They hear, but have no basis for understanding just how educated and dedicated the instructor AND the school-horse have to be.

And before this post gets so long that I lose my entire audience due to death by words, here are some tips for choosing an instructor:

  • ASK for a resume or CV--if they cannot produce one, whether it is by deflecting, stalling, or getting offended that you would ask, don't walk away--run.
  • RESEARCH their claims--check to see if they have the certifications that they claim. If they list shows where they have earned certain awards, such as USDF shows, reults are published for the current year in most cases on the USDF website. If they only list local shows, you might want to expand your search for an instructor--although that shouldn't be the only criteria for elimination.
  • INSIST on a trainer with certification in one of the nationally-recognized associations...ARIA, USDF, CHA, and others. The instructor's CV should state what organization they are certified with, what their level of certification, and a website that will list them as certified--and check the wesite! Make sure they are telling the truth! I have seen personally four different people who have lied or seriously misled clients about being certified....they think you will not bother to check.
  • SET an initial appointment after you have done your research (and be prepared to pay for it--an instructor's time is what they get paid for, whether it is mounted or not) to discuss lesson rules, ettiquette, format, attire, and get a feel for the instructor's philosophy, temperament, protocol, etc.
  • SET an appointment (if possible) to watch a lesson that is approximate to the level of instruction you will be receiving (the instructor will guide you in this).
  • SET up a lesson, make sure you know what the price will be
  • BE on time for your lesson
  • BE prepared to pay a reasonable price for a lesson. My prices that I charge are listed on my website and I have paid as much as $200.00 to ride in a lesson with an instructor where I had to trailer my horse in, which adds to the cost of the lesson in terms of time and travel...and I was happy to pay it because of the credentials that this person has (and my horse and I are at the level where it was worth it). But for basic riding lessons--which means from first time on a horse up through "third level dressage" equivalent lessons, expect to pay between $50.00-$75.00 for a session on your own horse, and $70.00-$120.00 for a lesson on a schoolmaster provided by the instructor. If you are not paying this much for a standard lesson, then you are likely not getting what you are paying for, no matter how cheap it is, and add to this the fact that the less you are paying the more increased is the risk of serious injury to you.
  • BRING the agreed upon amount and method of payment with you to your lesson and present it as you start the lesson.

Only book for one lesson, initially, even if they offer a discount for a lesson-package. You should certainly come to the lesson expecting that you will have a great experience and will come back as often as you can (please try for AT LEAST once a week if you don't have your own horse), but, if for some reason the lesson doesn't work out the way you planned, and you decide not to return, things don't get complicated. :-)

These are only my own opinions, and I would love to hear others' opinions, as well as additional elements that I may have not thought about...this post is long enough, but any comments are most welcome and appreciated!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Past Reminisces and Future Goals

I posted a comment on a discussion page on Barnmice (great horsey social site, BTW!), and I started thinking....just how long has it been since I have been involved in recognized competition? I remembered my last show was in late 1994.

Then I subtracted that from the current year, and OMG!!!!!!! 15 years?!?!?! Now, to be fair, I have shown in a few recognized shows over the years since I was serious about competing my own horse; catch rides for students, one REALLY cute New Forest Pony that I showed for an acquaintance down in Wellington, and a few schooling shows over the years with clients' horses, but I have not thought about consistency, or awards, etc. in 15 years!

And the real crime is that when I was showing all those years ago, I never gave awards or certificates, or medals, or such, much thought. I briefly gave thought to the Bronze medal from USDF (two scores above 60% at each level 1st -3rd) and achieved all the scores except the third level scores. I was ready for the third level competitions, and then I got a bit disenfranchised over a perceived injustice (not to me directly, but involving a third party), and so I lost the desire--it was also just around the same time that I quit showing and concentrated on furthering MY education and training in dressage.

For the past fifteen years I have concentrated on MY learning to ride and train horses up to the highest levels of dressage, and giving lessons and clinics to students, so any ambition for showing and the medals and awards just went by the wayside.

Well, now I am re-thinking this whole showing thing. Thing is, I do miss it. I have a lovely horse, Bogart--the one in the picture (in my mind, he is perfect), but he is 24 years old. He is in great shape, and doing all the elements of the training scale through second level and into third.

He is my schoolmaster for those students who don't have horses of their own, or need to feel a particular thing on a horse that is already trained so they can transfer that to their own horse, or those who need/want to work on their position (he is a wonderful longe horse, as well), and that is part of the reason that I haven't really considered this earlier.

I actually had a thought that I might start looking for a new horse, and then scratched that idea (or, well, put it on a back burner), since that takes a LOT of time and money in itself (that I could use for lessons and showing).

So my plan now is to ride Bogart more regularly myself, and start taking clinics with Michael Poulin again, and get his opinion as to the show-worthiness of my old man.

I will show him through the levels as long as he is happy and sound, and it is not too much for him, and then I can take my time in looking for something younger and with more upwards potential (ahem, I mean, time).

So, I think this is a good plan--I am also looking on the USDF Website for the next scheduled Certified Instructor Testing. I went through the whole series of Workshops in 1999-2000, but they never offered the testing at the end.

I also audited the USDF L program way back in 1993-1994, and (of course hindsight being 20/20) should have gone through as a participant(!!) as they haven't offered another program here in Florida since then.

I know, I know, they have offered it in other parts of the country, but the way it is set up it would be WAY too expensive to go through because it is over 5 or six weekends, and the travel expense alone would kill me. Same with the Instructor Certification. Jeez, now I sound like I am whining.....sorry.
Sooooo, showing here I (we) come! First opportunity, Sept. 19-20, Wellington.......

Follow-up Thoughts

I love riding my horse. I just wanted to say that first.

I have been thinking a bit about the comments I received on the "whips" blog below. A couple of people commented that they agree with my post, but do not use whips/spurs on a daily basis because they do not need them. (Please read the comments--they are very good and very thoughtful) I see where they are coming from, but today, when i was riding my horse, I had kind of a lightbulb moment...not exactly the kind where you think "AHA! That is how it is done! or I feel it now! or I understand that point of theory now!" But a combination of all of that. When I was trying to explain why and how I use the whip/spurs in the post, I was clear in the explanation, but now I know it didn't go far enough into the theory behind the why and how (here is another level).

My horse is very responsive to my leg, but he is not explosive. That is a good thing because I DON'T want him explosive. I WANT him relaxed when I put my leg on him. I want his reaction to build smoothly and fairly quickly, but I don't want it to be "over-the-top", because that is always the result of tension. The whip (and/or spur) are used to indicate to him to shift to the "next gear" when he reaches the "RPMs" maximum of my leg aid....does that make sense? I don't WANT him to go into overdrive the second I put my leg on him...I want him to shift smoothly and effortlessly up and down--and for the record, horse gears don't necessarily mean just faster/slower, as we know. The whip and/or spur aids give me more adjustability in my horse. It brings the communication to an even higher level. That, in theory, is why spurs are mandatory at the FEI levels. I only wish that everyone learned, knew and practiced the CORRECT use of all the aids, natural and auxillary.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Should whips be banned?

I plagiarized the title from the survey since this was the catalyst for this duo of posts. My answer to the question is no, whips are fine; it is the people who abuse horses with whips/bats/crops, or anything else for that matter, that should be banned.

My standpoint is (as many of the other people in that other group concurred with) that 99% of the equipment that is available to use on horses has some value in training/riding. Depending on what piece of equipment we are talking about, that value ranges from carrying/using the equipment/tool/aid all the time right down to almost never or as a "last resort". I don't do "last resorts".

Let's stick with just the whip- type tool, because a post about all training aids would probably crash the world wide web....just as Al Gore invented the internet, I would single-handedly be responsible for frying it.....LOL

So. My standpoint is that I carry a dressage whip (32-36" because longer is not allowed in the competition arena) on most of the horses I ride. The only time I don't carry one is on a horse that is over-reactive to the whip, and then it is just until I can show the horse (from the ground) that I will not hurt it with the whip (some call it de-sensitizing, but I think horses should be sensitive to the whip, so it is a question of semantics).

The reason I carry a whip is that I communicate with the horse, not through a spoken dialogue, but through a physical one. I communicate with every part of the horse's body by touching, pressing, brushing, tickling, etc. I teach the horse, not to move because he already knows how to do that, but to move in the way that I want--to create the coreography for the dance, as it were....because, think about it; every time we ride, we (the horse and the rider) move together in balance and harmony. The rider is the lead partner, and the horse "follows" in the definition of dance. In otherwords, the horse is submissive and supple to the riders aids, allowing the guidance to "come through" its body and be expressed as it moves over the ground.

Our primary aids (seat, leg, hand) direct this to a certain extent, but when we want to ask for more than the horse understands to give, we have we apply the leg harder? Do we kick? Do we yank on the reins and hope that the horse understands that we want him to step more under with the hind leg, not just go faster or quicker? Or do we touch the horse with the whip a little closer to the hind leg and encourage that quicker, more engaged step from behind without having to be abusive on the reins by kicking the bejeebies out of him and yanking on the reins to prevent him from going faster over the ground? The correctly-applied whip aid helps the horse to understand the degree of "try" that we want.

Now, there are plenty of people who do not use the whip correctly. This group includes the people who abuse the horse with the whip, as well as people who are learning to use the whip correctly. It takes time to learn how, when, how much, and most important--when to cease using the whip. I mean, come on...if we take this to an extreme, we can call tickling or brushing the horse with the whip inavertently or for too long, abuse....because after all, this may annoy the horse, and may even lead to an adverse reaction from the horse, such as ears pinned, scooting forward, kicking out at the whip, or giving you a buck (I am being facetious).

So what is the definition of abuse? To me, if you even touch a horse with a whip when you are angry, frustrated, confused or scared, that is abuse. If you don't know WHY you used the whip (no matter how soft), you are abusing the horse. If you use the whip more than twice without allowing the horse the chance to respond, no matter how soft, you are abusing the horse.
It comes down to, what is the intent of the person using the whip that is the issue.

If you know the reason, are not emotional, try to use the correct timing/intensity/placement, and fail in that moment, you are not abusing the horse. You are human, after all, and you just need more practice. And the horse will forgive you. If you do use the whip in all its infinite ways to communicate with the horse on a higher level, you are not only not abusing the horse, you are creating a powerful and lasting partnership with a creature by communicating with it on ITS terms rather than anthropomorphizing the horse. You are respecting it for being a horse.

And one more thing while I am at it. I do not know ANY valid reason to "hit" or "whip" a horse. Anything beyond a tap is counter-productive and just shows that you do not know how to properly use a whip...which falls into the abuse category.

And that supports my original reply to the question, should whips be banned....

Whips should not be banned, people should. ;-)

Monday, August 3, 2009


A discussion came up the other day about the use of whips. I was going to give the whole background story, but it was long a boring, so I deleted it. Suffice it to say, that in a subgroup of a networking site that I am a member of, someone posted a "survey" about the use of whips that I thought took a rather slanted position (as most surveys do) to lead the answers to favor a certain outcome (that whips and their use should be banned). Now, in fairness, not everyone read this into the survey, and the author of the survey denied any preconceived ideas, or alterior motives in the survey.

I still take exception to the survey as it is presented (and true to my nature, was not at all bashful about sharing my viewpoint about the survey itself, and told everyone that read the discussion that I would not participate, and why). There was varied response to my position, and that is fine. I presented a viewpoint, and they could take from it what they would.

I also stated in the discussion that I would be more than happy to share my views in the comment section of the discussion board where the questions were open-ended and required essay type answers, not multiple choice.

The author of the survey was not really interested in this type of forum to get her questions answered, I guess, since she has not posted any directed at me since I made my position on the survey clear.

But I do want to discuss whips--the different types, uses, and abuses, because there is much to discuss. Her bottom line (and the title of the survey) was "should whips be banned?"
In the survey, if you had answered the questions in the affirmative, then it was an absolute. No whips, anywhere, anytime. If you had answered in the negative, he answer-choices would lead the reader of the survey to believe that you condone what most of us would consider abuse.

What kind of survey is that??

Okay--off the survey now, and onto the whip...I will tackle this in two posts, since it is a subject that has many layers. I gave the background, and now I will quantify whips as I see it.

Others may have different opinions, and I really do want to hear how others view whips, so please feel free to add or argue whatever points you want.

The categories of whips and their description as I see it.....

1. The Bat--a short stick (10-16" end-to-end), most of the time with a wrist-loop at the handle end and a wide leather, folded-over flap that is oval or round at the terminal end for "popping" a horse on the shoulder....should be used only on the shoulder, since the rider would have to twist around in the saddle, and take one hand away from the rein and stretch into an uncomfortable position in order to "pop" the horse on the rump or even behind the leg. It would be extremely difficult to physically cause harm to the horse if used even remotely close to the way it was intended. Typically, you see this in hunter-type or jumping-type uses, in which the reluctant horse is popped on the shoulder and the noise gives him encouragement (excites him a bit) just before take-off over the jump. I have also seen this used to correct a young horse that tended to fall over the inside (or outside) shoulder....

2. The Crop--a bit longer than the bat (18-30"), still has a folded over leather flap at the terminal end, but it is thinner, and may be a bit longer from the stick to the fold. This is made to be used much in the same way as the bat, but may be used on a larger horse, and can also be used on the rump since it is longer, and would not put the rider out of position as much as the shorter bat (although the rider still has to take the whip hand off the rein in order to apply the crop behind the saddle). Again, the noise of the popper is the catalyst for the response from the horse in a well-timed and placed pop, not the strength of the pop. I have seen a crop that was dressage-whip length, but had the wide leather popper at the end, and can see a benefit of that in certain applications.

3. The dressage whip--this is a longer (30-48"), thinner, and more or less flexible shaft, very seldom includes a wrist loop (in fact, I have never seen a dressage whip with a wrist-loop), and at the terminal end is a lash (2-3") that may be made of leather or a woven or braided material. This is used to tickle, tap, brush, stroke, or vibrate behind the rider's leg (99% of the time) to encourage the horse to step forward with his hind legs, step more lively (in the higher collection), step over (in the lateral work), or lift its back or bring the hind legs more under by engaging the stomach muscles. This whip is and should be, in my opinion, part of our normal, everyday conversation with our horses......when applied correctly.

4. The in-hand whip--this is longer (48-60"), a bit stiffer generally than the dressage whip, and may carry a lash that is the same or a bit longer (up to 6") than the dressage whip, and is used in the same way, for the same purpose as the dressage whip.....only, from the ground and close to the horse.

5. The Longe whip--the shaft is generally 60" or so, and the lash is 60-80" in addition to the shaft, and is specifically for work on the single longe on the 10-20meter circle. In the educated riders hands, it is mostly used as a signal for the horse (walk/trot/canter, etc.) and does not touch the horse, but uses the noise of the lash end when popped in the air behind or on the side to encourage the horse forward. In more educated and skilled hands, the whip position is also part of the communication, and in the most educated and skilled hands, in addition to the position of the whip, the horse can be touched, flicked, or brushed with the whip on different parts of the body to indicate a higher level of communication. This level of longeing the horse is a wonder and a joy to behold. I fear that this level is becoming very scarce, as is true "in-hand" work. But that is a discussion for a different time.

There are other crops/whips that I know of that I did not mention here because their application is more specialized than the scope of our conversation, and I am sure there are whips out there that I do not know about. But for the sake of not boring you to death, I thought I would limit our conversation to the ones we typically use in the realm of "sporthorses". If I have missed one of the major ones, please let me know.

Next blog will give you my views on use/abuse issues with whips...and maybe other training aids and "aids" if I can't contain myself. ;-) Also, notice my spelling of Longe and Longeing, as we will most assuredly get into this at some point. That will most assuredly be a rant.....LOL

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Observations about horses from Herman Melville 1849

Forgive me for appearing to take the easy way out, but I was reading these quotes and couldn't help but nod my head in agreement with a man long dead. I hope he is with the horses that he held in such high esteem. He was obviously a very astute man. Rare for that day and age.....

"Among all the sights of the docks, the noble truck-horses are not the least striking to a stranger. They are large and powerful brutes, with such sleek and glossy coats, that they look as if brushed and put on by a valet every morning. They march with a slow and stately step, lifting their ponderous hoofs like royal Siam elephants. Thou shalt not lay stripes upon these Roman citizens; for their docility is such, they are guided without rein or lash; they go or come, halt or march on, at a whisper. So grave, dignified, gentlemanly, and courteous did these fine truck-horses look - so full of calm intelligence and sagacity, that often I endeavored to get into conversation with them, as they stood in contemplative attitudes while their loads were preparing. But all I could get from them was the mere recognition of a friendly neigh; though I would stake much upon it that, could I have spoken in their language, I would have derived from them a good deal of valuable information touching the docks, where they passed the whole of their dignified lives." ~Herman Melville, Redburn. His First Voyage, 1849

"There are unknown worlds of knowledge in brutes; and whenever you mark a horse, or a dog, with a peculiarly mild, calm, deep-seated eye, be sure he is an Aristotle or a Kant, tranquilly speculating upon the mysteries in man. No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses. They see through us at a glance. And after all, what is a horse but a species of four-footed dumb man, in a leathern overall, who happens to live upon oats, and toils for his masters, half-requited or abused, like the biped hewers of wood and drawers of water? But there is a touch of divinity even in brutes, and a special halo about a horse, that should forever exempt him from indignities. As for those majestic, magisterial truck-horses of the docks, I would as soon think of striking a judge on the bench, as to lay violent hand upon their holy hides." ~Herman Melville, Redburn. His First Voyage, 1849

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is it REALLY dressage?

Dressage means "training". We hear that phrase all the time now from people in specialties other than Dressage. The reason we are hearing this really has little to do with people actually believing that "dressage" has anything to do with the kind of training THEY are doing with their horses, but some BNT (Big Name Trainer) that is respected in their specialty said it, so they are just giving in and saying it too. It is kind of a slight, actually, since it is usually said in the context of "okay, not that dressage stuff again--here we go--yes, yes, dressage is the foundation of all riding...I know, I know, blah, blah, blah."

How did we get here? I think I can answer that question. As Dressage (the specialty) has developed here in the United States, and has gained a more mainstream understanding, more and more people have come to understand that the dressage principles DO apply to all primary training of the horse, no matter what the horse will specialize in as it progresses through its physical and psychological development.

And here is where I believe we get the misunderstandings, and hence, the eye-rolling dismissiveness. So let's try this. Let's compartmentalize the training of the horse away (or apart) from the specialties. Let's call the basic training of the horse just that. BASIC TRAINING. The basic training of the horse (and rider, for that matter) should be the same, no matter what s/he will specialize in later in their development.

The principles of this basic training should be the same as those applied in what is dressage. We (Dressage people) call it the Training Scale. The basic elements of the training scale are:


In other words--it is NOT DRESSAGE (yet). Those principles are the only correct path of BASIC TRAINING. It is the only set of principles that will lead you to having a horse that can specialize into any discipline they are physically and mentally capable of. Even for horses that will ultimately BE Dressage horses.

For the sake of argument, let's agree for a moment that Dressage is a specialty or discipline, just as Stock Seat, Western Pleasure, Hunt Seat, Polo, Jumpers, Gymkhana, Reining, Cutting, etc. etc. etc., are specialties or disciplines.

The basic training for all these disciplines should follow the same principles listed above and the same training scale (sequence and methodology of those principles)--to a point in their training where their specialty dictates that the horse acquire a different or specialized posture or level of tension (not the bad tension, but the good tension needed for movement at speed). That is why we call them specialties! And that is the point at which you listen to the horse to decide what his future path will be.

But let's define the goal of basic training a little more specifically.

I believe that a trained horse should be able to move in balance and relaxation through all the figures and movements through the third level movements in found in competition dressage tests. This means that the horse should be able to travel rhythmically (regular four-beat walk, two-beat trot, three-beat canter) on straight and bending lines down to the arc of the 10meter circle, change direction without losing balance under the rider at walk, trot, and canter (including single flying changes), go freely and willingly forward (suppleness) allowing itself to be molded by the seat/leg/rein aids (contact), have a spring in its step that coincides with its natural ability and conformation (impulsion), can shorten and lengthen its stride in all gaits, can move laterally in balance away from and into the direction of the bend, can come to halt and move from halt freely and confidently, and can halt/reinback straight and rhythmically/trot on. (straightness and the beginning of collection).

This addresses the elements of the BASIC training scale and allows the horse to move into its specialty with enough athletic development to be the best they can be in their specialty and as much as possible, prevent injury. At the very least, the horse will be a joy to ride, whether you use an English saddle or a Western one.

So here is my point to all this. I think we (dressage people) should stop calling “it” dressage until after third level, when it moves into the specialty phase of training. Let’s call the “lower levels” basic training. What say you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Competition Riding vs. riding for "fun"

There I go again...putting "fun" in quotations. Hey, for those of you that ride, you KNOW why that is! LOL For those of you that don't, riding is fun in the same way that a serious visit to the local gym is fun. It is hard work. Even when you aren't riding, horses are work; you clean the stall and paddock, you maintain the barn area, you groom the horse, you carry feed and hay and tack, etc.--it is physical (well, except for those of us that pay to have all that done for them). But even those of us that pay for all the extraneous physical work, there is no getting around the physical aspect of the riding itself. And all of you who don't ride, who are thinking "what do you mean, physical....the horse does all the work; you just sit there", I laugh hysterically, and then say, "let me give you a lesson sometime". (Seriously, I would love me) But I digress.

In spite of the work, riding is exhilerating. It allows you to run faster, jump higher, and be more graceful than you ever thought possible. It allows you to dance, and allows for an unspoken yet deeply personal partnership with another species. It allows more than a communication--it is a connection and understanding that is more profound than anything else I have experienced.

If I sound like I am waxing poetic, well, so be it. It is the truth.

But this relationship does not come easily. It is like a marriage, in that it requires commitment, empathy, patience, forgiveness, flexibility, persistence, focus, firmness, gentleness, and understanding. And no one thing is more important than the other. They are all absolutely imperative. Some say that it is too bad that horses can't talk, but I am thinking it is a good thing. Not only are the 911 lines not overburdened with complaints of abuse because Silver didn't get his dinner at 5pm sharp, but seriously, it forces us to find a way to make ourselves understood on a deeper level than merely speaking louder and louder at our partner.
This is riding, whether you compete or not.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as "competition riding", but that phrase is a covert insult (and well-deserved) to people who take any means or trick necessary to get an "appearance" for the show-ring. This rarely works at all, and never works for long. Head-sets are a perfect example. There is no principle of good training/riding involved in repeatedly yanking on a bit or applying artificial devices (think drawreins, chambons, gogues, tie-downs, etc.) to get a horse to lower its head and neck and "tuck his nose". This doesn't address (and, in effect, detrimentally affects) the rest of the body. That is only one example. There is a very long list of others.

I believe the reason for the existence of horse shows is to exhibit correct training. It is not a place to find out how much you think you know, or to overface your horse to gauge how much you are lacking. It is a place to show off what you and your horse absolutely know and have talent for compared to an ideal standard. It is the have prepared your horse and yourself; you know the routine and the qualities behind it and the reasons for it so that will get you the best outcome possible that day. You are compared against the preparedness and talent of other horses/riders, so set yourself up for success.

Get the best instruction available to you, prepare your horse and yourself AT HOME, get it right consistently and solidly beforehand, and then go show what you know! That is when it is the most fun--notwithstanding all the additional work it is. LOL

Competition isn't for everyone, but I do believe it is important. It will develop goal-setting, sportsmanship, teamwork, organization, timing, scheduling, and time-management, in addition to the qualitites mentioned above in the fourth paragraph (about the relationship with your horse). This is important in life in general. If parents knew what life-skills could be learned from horses, they would be pushing their kids into quality lessons from the second that "I want a pony" is first uttered.

I am a better person for having horses in my life. I am more well-rounded, more worldly, more empathetic, more accepting, more confident, more fit, communicate better, and am more of a leader than I think I ever would have been without them. I am also a better learner, and a better teacher because of them. And I know how to love.

So, no matter what your age or circumstance, take a chance. Get out and learn to ride from a quality instructor, include competition at some point, and keep learning. Riding is a lifetime commitment, but it is a commitment I couldn't live without.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I just had a great ride on my horse, Bogart. Of course, all my rides on him are wonderful, but it has been over a month since I have ridden him. I did not take him to Alabama with me when I was teaching at Valley View. A friend/student/fellow instructor of mine leased him for the month while her young horse was in training with another friend/fellow instructor of mine. If it sounds like musical horses, it kind of was...but in a good way!

Franzi has a young horse that was being started under saddle for a couple months by his breeder, and Franzi was just about to bring him home. Sandy's horse is well-started and she has been showing him successfully at training and first levels for the past couple years, and was starting the serious lateral work with him. My horse, Bogart is a great schoolmaster, and knows all the lateral this arrangement worked out very well. Franzi just had a baby (human) 7 months ago, and needed to get back into riding shape before her just-started horse came home. Sandy needed a horse to polish up on her aids for the lateral movements and to feel them on a finished horse. I needed to keep my horse in work for the month that I was giving lessons and clinics in the TAG (Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia) area. So it was a win-win situation for everyone.

It has been a very long time coming in my area, but I am grateful for the network of professionals that I am associated with. Sandy and Franzi are just two of the many fellow professionals that I work with on a freelance sort of relationship, both in Florida and in the TAG area...we cover each others' lessons if/when one of us is out of town; we consult with each other about horse or student challenges and issues; we share triumphs, both personal and professional; and we genuinely like each other. I have been espousing this philosophy for years, and now, more and more trainers/instructors are finally learning that we are all in this together, and it is much better to support each other than to gossip and backbite each other. There is enough work out there for all of us, and most important--the standard of instruction is finally starting to reach a higher level generally. I like to believe that this is all part of the fabric of advancing the quality of riding in general, and dressage specifically. And no matter where you are in your journey of riding, you always need lessons, you always need "eyes on the ground" at least part of the time, no matter how "good" or experienced a rider/trainer/instructor you are.

Fading (though not gone) are the days when one took lessons from the teenager next door because she had a horse and had won some ribbons at the local show. I hope that the economy doesn't allow this progress to be lost. It is very easy to "give lessons for some extra money" just because you own a horse, and the general public (read: moms and dads of little girls and boys who are clamoring for a pony) doesn't have a clue about how to go about finding a qualified instructor.

author's edit: Here is one way to find a qualified riding instructor-click on this link- and click on the link on the left of the page that says "find an instructor"--this is the American Riding Instructor Associations official website and list of certified riding instructors. Be sure to also click on the top tab that says "instructor certification" and then click on "certification levels", so that you get a clear picture of what you are getting in your potential instructor.
When you contact your potential instructor, be sure to ask lots of questions to make sure that they offer what you (your son or daughter) are looking for, and ask for the instructor's resume. Then set up an appointment to watch this instructor teach a lesson comparable to what you are looking for (beginner on school horse, beginner on own horse, inermediate on school horse, intermediate on own horse, etc.).

The biggest reason for that is that there is no licensing or certification requirement for "horse trainers" or "riding instructors" (although how this has escaped the claws of government has totally baffled me when almost everything else requires licensing and certification, if only for the revenue it generates for the various government agencies). The only basis of education proof we have is voluntary certification through many different entities. A few of the ones that I know of are the United States Dressage Federation, the American Riding Instructor Association, the Certified Horsemanship Association, and the Horsemanship Safety Association. I know there are many others, and it would be difficult at best for the parent who knows nothing about horses to even find out information about these entities, never mind wading through and deciphering the validity and scope of the certification.

I am certified in dressage through the highest level of the American Riding Instructor Association (ARIA), and in my opinion (and many others') it is the best general instructor certification that is available in the USA, and is recognized by many countries internationally as well. But how is the layperson supposed to know that? It sounds good, for sure, and it is! But again, how does the person that has no basis of knowledge know? It is a leap of faith, for sure.

But bottom line, certification IS A GOOD THING. It benefits the general public, and it benefits the instructor. It does give a certain level of confidence to the potential student/parent that the instructor has at least demonstrated a standard level of knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to their students.

Next blog will be about competition vs. riding for "fun". Try to guess why I put it in quotation marks. :-)

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I am good at compartmentalizing, and my patience is a perfect example of that. Let me explain.....
I have the patience of Job when it comes to training horses. I ask much, but accept any shred of correctness with lavish praise. But ask me to wait in line at the grocery store, and I seriously consider not eating dinner that night.
Explaining the minute details of what it means to be "in front of the leg" to a student may put me 'way behind in every other thing I have to do that day, and I will happily adjust my schedule, but having to deal with "customer service" over the phone for an issue with my computer will make me want to scream, and throw the computer in the pond.
So am I a patient person, or an impatient one?
I once took some film (you know, that stuff that you had to have developed when you took pictures with a camera from the dark ages?) in for said developing to a place that said "ONE HOUR PHOTO" right on the side of the building, and when the clerk took the film, he asked when I wanted the pictures back......and was surprised when I looked at him like he had three heads and said, "what do you mean?". He asked again if I wanted to come back "later" or tomorrow. I said, "look here, it says on the building 'one hour photo'...I am coming back in one hour. Patience is NOT my virtue".
But that isn't exactly true, because I DO have infinite patience for some things....just not for ALL things.
And what should be the limit to one's patience? There comes a point when it stops being patience and it becomes being taken advantage of. I have been taken advantage of a lot, and on many different levels. I try not to be taken advantage of more than once in any given way, but there again--when does it cross into cynicism, or general suspicion? But I digress......
I wonder what other people's definition of patience is?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bogart comes home today

Sandy G. just called and I am going to meet her to pick up Bogart. I am glad that she had the opportunity to lease him, but I am also glad that he is coming home. I will write more about this later today, after he is home......(to be continued...)

Bogart looks great! Gary (hubby) has been mowing the pasture a LOT since it's been raining all month, and the grass is thick, green and knee deep! Bogie is in heaven. He thinks. LOL I am looking forward to riding him. I only got to ride once while I was at Valley View, on a great trail ride, so I am looking forward to getting more time in the saddle. I won't ride him today, though...he got his shots on the way home, since Sandy and I met for the switch at the vet's office (Sandy was there to get a pre-purchase done on a horse for one of her students--hope everything goes as expected--he is a really nice horse!). I will ride Bogie tomorrow afternoon.