Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Whew! It has been a while since I last posted to this blog.

I believe it is going to be a very busy winter season here in the southeast. There are more opportunities for local competition than there have been in a long time. I don't know if the GMO's are taking advantage of the fact that people are trying to save money (rated shows are expensive!!), or some other reason, but I am glad for it. Not that there has been a decrease in the number of rated shows scheduled for here, either! I am looking forward to all of it!

I have also noticed that my own business has actually increased. I am contacted by potential new students daily, and my regular students are taking more lessons than they were even one year ago. This is a very good problem to have as a business owner! It is a challenge, however, since I am only one person, and there are only so many hours in the business week. It isn't like selling a product, since I can't "make more" or be much more efficient (although time management is something that I work on all the time).

I feel that I am very lucky, and if I had to identify a reason for this increase, I would have to guess that people are spending a larger percentage of any discretionary income on self-improvement and continuing education rather than travel and luxury expenditures that will be gone as soon as the trip is over.

Long term enhancement is much preferable to instant gratification. I have long thought that people are much more happy when they focus on self-improvement than when they chase material possessions. I wonder if the recession might be the best thing (long term) to happen in a very long time?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Premium Florida Equestrian Home and Property for Sale

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7 minutes from Atlantic Ocean!

Well, at least, the farm :-)

If you are looking for a beautiful winter home, close to WEF and Orlando, 7 minutes from pristine Atlantic beaches, then look no further. Click on the title or this link to view more pictures and some details of this incredible property, whether it is for your seasonal home for the Winter Equestrian Festival, or whether you choose to live here year-round!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The On-Again Dressage Show

Whew. Bogart is officially completely sound, and I have sent my entries off for the recognized show, Dressage on the Beach, for June 19-20. Now, to lose 10 pounds by then.
Think I can't do it? Watch me! I know, I know, you are probably thinking, that is a bad way to diet. Yes, it is. but still......
I have all the patience in the world for training horses and students, and abolutely no patience at all for any other aspect of my life. If I don't lose 1 pound per day, I feel like I am not trying hard enough. The key, though, is to balance good nutrition into those few calories that I allow myself to eat for these days that I am losing weight.
I feel like high protein, low fat, low carb, lots of dark green veggies, and 'grazing' rather than sitting down to a meal work best for me. Today, I have probably gone to the fridge five times, and taken out about 1/2 ounce of seared top sirloin slices each time, and at noon (or thereabouts) I steamed about 1 cup of broccoli and grated 1/2 ounce of Irish Cheddar Cheese over top. I will steam some more broccoli/cheese around dinner time, and might have another 1/2 ounce or so of steak if I feel like I need something heavier on my stomach. Then tomorrow I will trade the steak for either turkey or tuna for the protein and maybe asparagus or zucchini for the veggie. I will continue on this until I reach the weight goal, and then will add in some starch like rice. It should take about 10 or 12 days.
Then I will be in good shape for the show clothes. I am riding two to three horses per day now, so the fitness level is good, it is just my penchant for great food--I love to cook gourmet meals for my hubby and myself--that is my downfall. But I certainly don't suffer when I want to lose some weight. I love the food I eat on my "diet". I don't deprive myself of anything; I just think of it as simplifying.
Now that I have gone off on this tangent, I will post more about the show later.......

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Hazards of Goals with an Old Horse

Bogart is lame. Well, not three-legged lame, but uncomfortable in work at the trot. It is not anything that is injury-related; just old-horse related. Typically, when we start a work session, he is a little uneven, but works out of it within a few trot circles. Not so the other day. He started out a bit more stiff than usual, and even though he was working very well, he got a bit more uncomfortable after a few trot circles, so I got off and fussed over him for a while to make him feel special and then turned him back out.

Since he is 25 years old, I guess I should not be as disappointed as I am, but nevertheless, I am. He has been so sound for his age that I can't help it.

Fortunately, I have not sent off my entries for the June 19-20 Silver Sands Dressage Show yet, and I still have time to make a decision if he gets to feeling better. He is due for his monthly Adequan shot (it is an injectable joint supplement), so I may give him a loading-series over the course of four days and see what happens. The closing date is not until June 7, so we do have time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Pursuit of USDF Dressage Awards

I have let this blog sit idle for a while. I have been very busy with lessons, horse-buying, consulting with people in setting up horse businesses of their own, helping with riding programs, and generally more hands on work lately.
I posted last September that I wanted to work towards getting USDF rider awards for myself. I have never pursued this before, because my focus was always the horses. You can read more about that here if you want.

I found out that USDF has added more awards to their programs! There are performance certificates for Training Level through Second Level, and of course the USDF Medal Program (Bronze-2 scores above 60% at each of First, Second and Third Levels; Silver-2 scores above 60% at Fourth and Prix St. George; and Gold-two scores at each of Intermediarre and Grand Prix).

I began the pursuit last September with successful scores in each level (Training and First Level), and got half the scores I need for the performance certificates at both levels. The First Level scores also gave me the scores I need for the First Level requirements for the Bronze Medal) I have a show scheduled for June at New Smyrna Beach, and if Bogart and I are successful, we will have achieved all the scores we need for the performance certificates at Training and First Level! Even at 25 years old, I know he can do it! He is such a good boy.

I don't know, however, if he will be able to do Second Level competitively. He can (and does) do all the elements of second level in training sessions, but asking for 100% all the way through a test is another story. We will see, and I will make an evaluation before the next show in September. If he can do Second Level, I will have two-thirds of the required scores for the Bronze Medal.

Then, I will have to see about a horse who can do third level, or train one of the horses I am now riding up to that level--I have a 3 year old who is just starting his dressage training, an 8 year old, who is at first level now, and a 12 year old who is confirmed first level, doing well at the second level movements, and working some of the third level movements, but I don't know if he is strong enough for good, clean flying changes. We will see.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How do you learn about horseback riding?

How do books factor into your riding education? Do you read about horses in general, riding? Do you peruse or pour over the how-to books? Do you use them as a theoretical base, and then support that with regular lessons, or clinics?
I am very curious as to what other people's plan for progression is.
I would love to get some comments with answers to some questions--

1. Do you take lessons or clinics and if so, how often?

2. Do you depend on horseshows to rate how you are progressing--in other words, how well you do in shows lets you know how well your training/riding regime is going?

3. Do you just ride for pleasure with no instruction (or training for your horse), and don't show?

4. Do you pick up tips by reading books, or magazine articles (or on the internet)?

5. Do you pick up tips by talking to other horsepeople that you feel know more than you?

Long or short answers, whatever you feel like. And feel free to add your own questions if you think of any additional ones that would fit with this topic. Thanks!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Henk van Bergen Clinic April 13-14

Riding in a clinic is not easy. Teaching a clinic is not easy. Typically, the clinician and the rider have never seen each other, so they have not developed an understanding of the other--for the clinician, that means not knowing where the student is in terms of their riding/learning journey, how solid (and compatible) the student's understanding of the basics is, what their fitness level is, etc. And for the student, the clinician's accent and terminology may be difficult to understand in a teaching situation, his/her methodology may be unlike their regular instructor's, and if the student works without an instructor they may be unused to listening to someone as they are riding. And then there is always the challenge of a clear understanding of the system (which I interpret as the Training Scale).
It seems, in this country (and I suspect, many others), that people see a horse/rider combination that is successful at a competition, and they want to jump on the clinic bandwagon with this person without really knowing if they are going to be a good clinician or not. Basing their quality as a clinician on their quality as a rider at a competition is not the best way to go about picking a clinician.

There are clinicians that may be very good (or great) riders or trainers, but may fall short as clinicians or instructors because when you add the necessity for human communication, they either don't have the desire to impart information to the human that is struggling to understand and apply the skills needed to communicate with the horse, or they can't.

Henk van Bergen is probably the best clinician I have ever come across. There are others that I have audited and admired (and might take a clinic-lesson from), but Henk is the culmination of all the good qualities I have seen in other clinicians. He talks about the system of riding and training (which is, of course, the training scale), and has the ability to not only focus in on the "priority"--he speaks of this a lot--himself, but also give the student the tools to focus on the correct principle at the level that each student rides. In other words, he will focus in on a particular fundamental aspect of the training scale, and suggest an exercise that respects the rider's and horse's level of training (whether it is training level or Grand Prix) that will improve the priority that he sees that the horse needs at that particular moment.

For those of you who haven't heard of Henk van Bergen, He is from Holland, became a certified riding instructor there in 1966, has coached the Dutch Dressage Team at the 1972 and 1992 Olympics, coached the Japanese Dressage Team at the 1988 Olympic Games, and coached private students at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA In 1988 he was also appointed the Dutch National rainer, and has coached the British National Young Riders Team for the last eight years. He sold his farm in Holland and "retired" last year from the British team, and now travels exclusively giving clinics in England, Spain, and the U.S. He was the featured presenter of the 2009 and 2010 Succeed/USDF FEI Level Dressage Trainers' Conference here in Florida.

At the risk of making him so popular that we can no longer book him to come to Palm City, Henk van Bergen is probably one of the most qualified and able clinicians I have ever had the privilege of riding with. I am SO happy that I will get the chance to ride with him on a regular basis in clinics, since he is planning to come to our area of Florida on a quarterly basis. Enjoy these pictures of Austin and me and I will be posting some of my recollections of the clinic as we go along.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dressage Clinics

I signed up to ride in a Henk van Bergen clinic on April 13-14th. I am very excited about it, because in my opinion he is one of the masters of dressage instruction. One of the first things I considered in deciding whether to fork over the money (and it is a LOT of money!) was, what are my goals for this clinic?

My horse is 25 years old, and is pretty sound in his training, but I really want an honest evaluation of what I can still expect from him (he is so happy to be ridden and give lessons to my students, and still does a good job in competitions, etc.) He gets great scores (65-70%) at training and first level in the shows, and at home we do the second level requirements and some of the third level requirements, but at home is different than the show ring.

At home, we can take breaks as frequently as he needs to, we can take smaller segments of true collection to perform say, a trot halfpass, and then some rising trot right away and let him return to a training/first level frame, and such.

Henk is really good at recognizing how far to push the envelope without pushing too far and risk hurting the horse (physically or mentally). I have a tendency to not push far enough and become complacent, and I do want Bogart to be the best he can be for as long as possible. I am hoping to determine a balance for Bogart.

I also want to get an evaluation of my current state of riding. One's riding has strong periods and weak periods--usually coinciding with the availability of regular riding and instruction. It has been a long time since I have had a proper dressage lesson, and I have fallen into some habits which I can't feel myself when I am on a horse.

It is nothing horrible, but I can feel that the efficiency of my riding needs a kick in the pants. And, I know I don't push myself hard enough, so I need eyes on the ground reminding me of how far I can be pushed--and maybe I will be able to maintain that level until he comes back next time.

I think those are specific enough goals, and not too ambitious for the clinic setting.
What are general goals that you set for yourself (and/or your horse) when you ride in a clinic?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Florida's Winter Weather

I am not usually one to complain about the weather. I know that (almost) everyone in New England and the Midwest long to spend the winter months on the horse show scene in Florida, whether it is Wellington, Orlando, Tampa, or Ocala (with Jacksonville sneaking in there, too).
Even though I am here year-round, I depend on our winter weather as much as anyone. It is not because I can't get anything done in the summer (I am used to the heat--kind of), but the show season doesn't adjust because we have crappy weather, and my seasonal students are only here from November through April.
There are two reasons that I will cancel lessons. Those are, wind and lightning. Lightning is fleeting (along with really heavy rain), and the lessons can be adjusted by a half hour or so to accomodate, so it is not usually a problem, and rarely occurs in the winter months anyway.
Wind is another story. I hate wind. Here in Florida it is usually on the cool side (this year on the cold side) when the wind blows more than 10 miles per hour....not counting hurricanes, but that is another story.
My point is (and yes, I am whining) that this year it has been cold and windy in the extreme. I have probably given up 1/4 of my lesson income this season, not to mention that my seasonal students are not getting the opportunity for advancing at the same rate as in years past.
It has been windy to the point that the students can't hear the instruction, and I am not one to use a megaphone. I could use the two-way systems, but the ones I have tried are affected by the wind, as well. Mind you, 8-10mph is okay, but we have had winds in excess of 15mph with higher gusts. And what is with these temps!?!?! LOL I feel like I am in Michigan on the banks on the Lake instead of the tropics.
Whew, I am finished with my vent.....anyone else care to share about the weather (good or bad) in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Donna Dora

Sometimes, a great opportunity comes along. That is what happened when I was looking for horses for a lesson program at Storm Grove Stables.
I had seen this mare when looking for a horse for another student of mine back in September, and was really impressed with her (but she wasn't for sale at the time).
To make a long story short, I contacted the trainer this time, looking for a horse, and she mentioned Dora to me, saying that she was now for sale. The partners at Storm Grove were actually considering a breeding program, and this mare would certainly fit into their vision. In addition, I am always certainly looking for great training prospects for dressage, and this mare certainly fit the bill in every way.
She has super rideability, great gaits and conformation, incredible temperament, and great bloodlines--she is by Donnerschlag (Donnerhall)x Dresden (Duellglanz) which is heavy Hanoverian breeding in the very important D-line. Her foal papers are Oldenburg, and she is entered into the Main Mare Book in the Holsteiner Studbook. She was one of the top-scoring mares at her inspection with 44 bonit points over 6766667.
We will probably also look into getting her entered into the Oldenburger Horse Breeders Society North American division of Verband der Zuchter des Oldenburger Pferdes e. V. mare book (we were told it would be no problem to get her in the main mare book, and one can only hope that she achieves premium status, as well). I will also have to look into whether she could be entered into the Hanoverian mare book, since she is heavily Hanoverian in her bloodlines. I am still learning about all that, since my main focus over the past 15 years has been riding and training, not breeding. But I have always thought about getting back into breeding a baby or two if the right quality mare came along. I have always admired the Donnerhall line, so this is the chance of a lifetime.

I am also looking forward to continuing her dressage training, but the breeding comes first. I have a partnership on this mare, and we are looking for a stallion that we think will cross well on this mare. I am considering a few different stallions, but I keep coming back to Dresden Mann. He is Donnerhall as well, and I will have to ask the advice of breeders who are much more experienced with the lines than I am if this will be too close in the line, and I may need to consider a less closely related horse. But here is a link to Dresden Mann's video, so you can see why I like him....
Dresden Mann video on Youtube
I like that he is only 16.1 hands, since Dora is 16.2, and I want the resulting foal to stay between 15.3 and 16.2 if at all possible. I am not a fan of sheer size. I think the "smaller" horses are much more marketable, manageable, and are not as prone to maintenance issues. I have a 15.3 hh Dutch Warmblood gelding who did the meter-fours in Germany before being imported, jumped here in the U.S. until he was 14 or 15 years old; I "switched" him to dressage (although I still jump him lightly for fun) when he was 18, and now at 25 years old he is still sound with no "maintenance", and competitive at training/first level in Wellington. I don't think I could be saying the same if he were 17+hands.
Anyway, if anyone has any further thoughts or knowledge of Dresden Mann or his offspring, or any comments or suggestions for a possible match for Dora, I would love to have you post them!I am so much looking forward to all the possibilities with this mare!
Thanks also to Bianca Berktold for making this possible, and to Franzi Pfeiffer-Blackstone for advice, and to Storm Grove Stables (Nicole Baudo and Joy Nottage) for partnering with me in the purchase of this exquisite mare!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

GEF Statement on Rollkur

*author's note--(This post was originally published at 9:30ish this morning--Feb. 9th, and in my haste to get to the lesson I had to teach, I gave credit for the statement to FEI, not the GEF--I apologize for this mistake)...I have edited the original to this......

I imagine that this will be (or already is) viral, but this decision deserves blog space and accolades from every corner of the world.
The GEF (German Equesrian Federation) has made its official statement against Rollkur (hyperflexion), and has not only stepped up to the plate on the competition front, but also in training and exhibition contexts.
Finally, BRAVO to Germany's highest competition authority.
Now FEI needs to solidify the stand and issue a statement as strong as the GEF--the GEF's statement is courageous, and even if FEI doesn't completely step forward, every other NGB (national governing body--USEF in the USA) needs to issue a statement of their own, reflecting the courage of the language in the GEF's statement, and in addition, needs to pressure the FEI to do so as well, if need be.
To our international judges and stewards (and trickling down to every national organization), now you have a mandate with teeth towards standing up for our horses, who cannot speak for themselves. Please take it upon yourselves to finally do so.

Here is the link to the article in Eurodressage (thank you, Astrid, for being our ace reporter!):

Eurodressage News

I don't have time right now, because I am due to give a lesson, but I will add links as I read more about this.

All comments are welcome here. :-)

Further information:
10:34pm, Feb. 9th--

Barnmice.com member Barbara F. has added an interview post with the Equine Canada CEO Akaash Maharaj concerning the GEF statement and what it means for Canada, including his comment on what the FEI should do to follow this.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

World Dressage Masters Competition-one trainer’s opinion

First, the results:

Salinero, van Grunsven, 82.750 83.500 87.750 83.000 85.250, 84.450
Ravel, Peters, 83.500 80.250 84.750 80.750 79.250 81.700
Satchmo78, Werth, 77.500 80.250 81.250 79.750 76.000 78.950
Pop Art, Holzer, 74.500 77.000 78.000 76.750 75.250 76.300
Leonberg, Gunderse, 74.000 74.250 69.250 72.000 71.500 72.200
Ovation, Laarakkers, 71.750 72.000 70.250 68.750 73.000 71.150
CalectoV, Konyot, 72.000 67.500 70.750 72.500 70.750 70.700
LeMont d'Or, Ploenzke, 69.000 70.750 68.500 69.000 72.500 69.950

All the tests can be appreciated for the level of skill and quality of both horse and rider. There are two horses that I would like to ride...Ravel and Pop Art. In my opinion, the others were lacking in fundamentals in their training that would make them not fun to ride. Yes, those two also made mistakes, but they were either mistakes of the test, or of the night, but not mistakes of the training.

Salinero and Satchmo both were laterally supple, but showed an endemic lack of luppleness longitudinally, which affects collection and even more fundamentally, rhythm. Both showed a quickening of the rhythm in almost every movement, especially in the piaffe and tempi changes, and for Satchmo resulted in mistakes in the changes at the end, and his rhythm was even more affected than Salinero's.

The feeling I got was that the flambouyant articulation of the joints in Salinero, and the fact that he is laterally supple was more important to the judges than the fact that the collection was not enough for Grand Prix. His hind legs (even in piaffe and passage) were not quite under the optimum point of balance for the horse. If you look at the angles of the entire hindquarters in a good profile picture, the hindquarters do lower, but not from bringing both hind legs optimally under, but rather from sheer articulation of the joints. This is NOT true collection, and it speaks to the inherent quality of this horse that he is able to do that without breaking down, but do we really want to reward the sheer strength of articulation in one horse at the expense of the highest principle of riding (collection)?

Apart from one spook at the F corner (because of an enthusiastic crowd), and the want of a bit more activity in the piaffe, the partnership of Ravel and Steffen was flawless. He was truly collected. He showed lateral and longitudinal suppleness, his rhythm was impeccable throughout, his transitions in and out of movements were incredibly balanced, strong and supple, and you should have seen one particular point in the freestyle where he transitioned from canter pirouette, straight into piaffe, straight into extended walk--WOW. His degree of difficulty was outstanding and he stated in the press release at the awards ceremony that he wished in hindsight that he had risked the one-handed tempi-changes.

In my opinion (while that would have been great to see, and he could have totally pulled it off), it wasn't necessary for him to have won the class. He should have won it on the merits of the strength of his fundamentals, the super choice of music, and the degree of difficulty that he DID show....which was second to none.

Steffen was the absolute sportsman in the press release, giving compliments to the winner and the other riders, and I applaud him, even if I don't agree with him. ;-)
Here are some links to press releases and results of the show:

Exquis Palm Beach World Dressage Masters website

Dressage Daily awards ceremony press release

Dressage News results and press release

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dressage Clinics for "Newbies"

I teach all levels of dressage (riding), from first time on a horse through Grand Prix, but my students are generally at least in solid training level (or above), when they first seek lessons with me. There is still a disconnect in the general public's mind about what 'dressage' is. Our riding culture has developed the attitude that dressage is either "boring", or too difficult, and we 'dressage-types' haven't done enough to dispel this misunderstanding (myself included).

One of things I like best about teaching riding and dressage is bringing new people into the sport. I believe it is our responsibility as instructors to do this.

On January 16, I judged the dressage division of the Starwood Sporthorses Dressage and Hunter Schooling Show here in Indian River County, FL (where my dressage facility is also located, and where I am based most of the year).

The show manager, Liz Daniel, has combined the dressage and hunters in a smart move to initiate interest among the "hunter-types" to make the foundation of their training follow the principles of dressage. Most of the Indian River County riders have heard of me (truth or false, good or bad LOL), but there is a lot of misinformation about me as well (like, I charge $125.00 for a lesson-false, or that I only take upper-level riders-false, and I am a tough and exacting teacher--kind of true, but sounds a lot scarier than it really is, etc.).

Liz asked me to judge the schooling show, and I jumped at the chance, since it would give an opportunity for a large group of riders in the 'hunter world' to get to know the real Mary McGuire Smith, at least a little. The show actually generated a lot of interest among people who ride and show, but don't necessarily "do dressage". All of a sudden, I wasn't so "scary". LOL A long-time student of mine, Amy Chisholm, whose son also rides with me, was at the show, and talked with a lot of enthusiastic riders about doing a clinic with me at some point.

One of the first-time dressage riders was a young girl whose mother, Joy, is the manager/trainer at Abbey Road Stables, so Amy and Joy got together and organized a "fun dressage clinic". Abbey Road Stables hosted the clinic, and the facility owner (Barbara Lewis), their trainer (Joy Nottage) and the trainer's daughter rode in the clinic, as
well as a number of their boarders, and we had a few riders trailer in as well. We also had a number of auditors, despite the clinic happening so soon after the show, and without the chance to advertise! It was a well-hosted, well-organized and well-attended clinic, and many thanks to all who participated!
It was a very nice mix of riders and horses. The first to go were a couple of my current students, who gave an opportunity to the new riders to understand some of the terminology that we use, and see the figures ridden, and how the horses go (forward-not fast, and what "round" is, what 'connection' means, etc.).
Then the riders that were new to dressage had their lessons throughout the day. The weather was windy, which made it a challenge for the riders to hear sometimes, even though I was yelling as loud as I could (I am definitely investing in a mic system now--I have been on the fence about it). The forecasted rain held off and we got some great pictures of the clinic and the riders, some of which I have posted here, and some of which are in a collage on my website. Amy, the organizer (and multi-tasker extraordinaire), also took some great shots on three different cameras and posted some on Facebook.
I think one of the greatest things we can do for our sport is to encourage participation among young people (half the riders were under 16--yay!!), and riders from other disciplines. The horses were all nice examples of their breed-types with a lot of potential towards dressage. Somehow, people get the idea that just because they don't own a "warmblood", their horse is not suitable for dressage.
That is the farthest thing from the truth! We "dressage-types" have been lamenting this phenomenon from the beginning of time, blaming it on the "other disciplines" for not wanting to be open-minded and learn the true benefit of dressage training for horse and rider, and yet, the idea is still pervasive--could it be that WE are doing something (or are NOT doing something) to perpetuate this; that WE are the ones who are close-minded??
Although I was tired at the end of the day (as I think every instructor should be!), I had a lot of fun, and judging from the smiles all around, so did everyone else.
It is my mission to offer these clinics on an ongoing basis here in Indian River County, Florida, and to encourage younger people to incorporate the principles of dressage as their principles of riding...to lay the foundation for any specialized discipline(s) they ultimately choose for themselves and their horses. I believe every higher level dressage instructor who gives clinics should set aside a percentage of their time for "beginner" clinics at a reduced price, to encourage real knowledge about our sport and way of riding, and set it as the foundation of training. At present, I hear people saying "dressage is the basis for all riding", but the understanding of just what that means to them in their own everyday riding and training is still a mystery.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Kind of (Equine) Economic Stimulus Plan

The satirical essay below was sent to me via email by a horsey-friend of mine. I think it is priceless, and had to re-post it here, but I do not know who to give credit to. If anyone out there does know who wrote this priceless piece of advice to President Obama, please let me know and I will be happy to credit it here!

TO: President Barack Obama
RE: Economic Recovery Stimulus Ideas
Mr. President, it has come to my attention that you's having some challenges with the economy. If I understand things correctly, we're in a recession, consumer confidence and spending are down, credit is tight, investors are spooked, we need renewable energy, and health care costs are through the roof. Trillions of dollars, not to mention our future, are at stake. Mr. President, I'm just a regular citizen, but I think I have a solution.
Give every American a horse.
My proposal may not make sense to you at first, but let me give you a little background. First of all, horses in the U.S. are a multi-billion dollar industry, and that's just at my house. I suggest you have your economic advisors do a little research on the spending around horse ownership. You'd be surprised, Mr. President.
Start by visiting the tack and clothing retailers like State Line or Dover...look at the variety of goods available there. Now take into account that every horse owner, especially if it's a woman, is buying not just one or two, but tons of these items. Believe me.
So, my thinking is that if you give every American a horse, starting when they reach the horse-receptive age of 10, you're going to do two things: boost consumer confidence, and boost spending immediately.
Horses make us feel good, and once Americans all own horses (at the government's expense, of course), they will logically fall into the pattern that every horse owner succumbs to: Accessorizing.
For starters, we need horse-care implements like buckets and muck rakes, hoofpicks and curry combs. And we need at least basic tack--halter, leadline, saddle, saddle pad, bridle and bit. But then the fun begins.
Zebra print leg wraps, Neon-bright fly masks, an assortment of sheets and blankets for all seasons; your lightweight sheet, your medium blanket, your heavy blanket. Then there is your stable sheet and your pasture sheet. Also your hoodie, and tail wrap items.
And that's just the clothing for the horse. Don't get me started on the clothing for the rider, even if he or she doesn't show. Since most Americans don't have a basic riding wardrobe, the stores would be swamped for jeans, boots, breeches, T-shirts, dozens of pairs of cute boot socks, helmets and the ubiquitous ball cap. Tell the retailers to get ready. It'll be Christmas all year long.
Now let's talk about support industries. In addition to the usual vet and farrier expenditures, people also give their horse chiropractic, massage and accupuncture, not to mention buying more beauty products for their horses than they do for themselves. All those professions and industries will benefit. And of course, there will be a big spike in hay and grain demand, so the farmers will be happy, too.
You see, that's the secret to jump-starting consumer spending through my stimulus package. People will spend money on their horses when they won't spend money on anything else.
But, your advisors might say, there's a catch. Aren't we paying the price, in global warming, because of the large number of livestock animals we currently have? They all produce methane!
Ah, Mr. President, here is the real beauty of this idea. When you introduce th Methane-Assisted Natural Unrefined Renewable Energy (M.A.N.U.R.E.) plan, you'll be a hero for coming up with an alternative, renewable, home grown source of clean energy. Just challenge the energy gurus to come up with a methane gas collection system that can harness all the natural resource produced by all those horses to power our cities. Talk about shovel-ready projects: M.A.N.U.R.E. fits the bill!
And you keep stressing how we need new industries for investment; well, under the M.A.N.U.R.E. plan you can sell Petroleum Offset Opportunity units to investors. By buying these units, investors can help us gradually convert from a petroleum-based economy to one based on horse P.O.O.
Health care costs would go down, too, as everyone cares for their horses.
You can give tax credits based on the amount of time people spend working, riding, and hanging out with their horses, which will automatically make them healthier. (Don't tell the docs, but most horse owners already get their own basic healthcare from their vet.)
One more thing: everyone is annoyed be these corporate CEOs and their big bonuses in a down economy. So give the executives, say, one horse for every $100,000.00 of bonus money they've received. Those bonuses will be plowed right back into the economy in no time.
Finally, because you, Mrs. O, and the girls are such role models , you can encourage us all by getting a pony for Sasha and Malia. It will teach them responsibility, help the First Lady plow the garden, and as a bonus: free fertilizer for the Rose Garden.
If you don't believe me that horse ownership stimulates spending, go ahead, Mr. President. Buy that pony for your girls. You'll see.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Speaking of Budgeting for Dressage Lessons (and a bit about clinics)

(The preamble to this blog post was published here on 1/22/10)

Why should we budget for lessons? Don't most of us have lessons pretty much once a week?
To answer that question, look back at your check book over the last year. When did you write checks for lessons? List the dates. Notice the gaps. How many regular lessons did you REALLY take? How many weeks did you really skip? How consistent was your training, really?

It is very easy for time to slip away from us. And that is for those of us who take regular lessons from our regular instructor.

A lot of us depend on "clinics" for our "training". I put parentheses around those words, because here in the United States, the only training a lot of us get is in infrequent clinics; typically, clinics from different trainers each time, so we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Clinicians focus on one specific problem, and give pointed solutions for very narrow margins of improvement--that is all they can do in the limited time they have with a rider. That is their purpose...it is not to teach the clinic participants how to ride or train their horses. Ideally, the riders already know how to ride sufficiently, and can add the piece that the clinician suggests to their horse's training. That's it.

A long-time student of mine said "people that depend on clinics for their information go hoping to find that "magic bullet"; that one piece of information that they believe is going to make their horse look better, go better, get over a hump, or make them (the rider) sit better, or have better feel, or give them a good position, or show them how to train their horse. It isn't that simple, but you can't convince them of that, so they go, and they go, and they go, but they never progress. You can't convince them that they need to learn to ride according to the training scale and that takes a lot of dedicated work with an instructor that is there for them pretty much all the time, whether it is in person, in a lesson, or on the phone or by email to answer questions."

And as Henk van Bergen put it, in the FEI Level Trainers' Conference that I went to Jan. 18-19, "here in the U.S., and it happens in Europe, too, but not as much, the typical way of learning is to go to clinics. So you get a piece of the puzzle from here, and a piece from over there, and a piece from over there, and you gather them up, and try to put the pieces together, and all you have is a mess. They are good bits of information, but you have no system. You must learn one system, and for that you have to have one primary instructor. Then, when you learn his/her system, then you go to clinics and take the bits of information and you add them to what you know, because you have enough knowledge to think about those bits of information and determine if they will be of value to you. If you don't have a system already in place, then you don't know what bits to keep and what bits to discard."

Here are two people, pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum of dressage (my student is an adult amateur rider who has ridden with me for years, and now her son also rides with me and at the other end is Henk van Bergen who has been an instructor/coach at the top of the international level for many many years) who have figured it out. So it doesn't take a rocket scientist. It just takes a true student of riding.

And I agree with both of them. One of the things I tell potential students is, "find an instructor who has a system that you want to learn. Take regular lessons from that instructor, and learn that system. Once you understand the system's fundamentals, then you can enhance that education by going to clinics and learning from a different perspective, but the fundamentals have to be learned first.
There is only one way to ride and train horses, and that is the progressive athletic development of both the horse and rider. We call this system the Training Scale. It addresses all the concerns of the athletic development of both horse and rider. I can't imagine teaching anyone to ride without adhering to these principles."

And yet, many, many, people out there giving lessons, who call themselves "trainers" that have never even heard of it, let alone know how to teach this system.

If you are taking lessons, ask your trainer this simple question--"Have you ever heard of the training scale?" If they say no, I would go elsewhere for your lessons. If they say yes, ask them what the principles of the training scale are.

If they can't recite them to you on the spot--Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection--, find another instructor.

But I digress. If your trainer knows what the training scale is, commit to their system by budgeting for regular lessons; and scheduling them with your trainer is very important for your progress as well as your horse's. The easiest and fastest way to develop your horse's training and your riding ability is to take a lesson, do your homework for a period of time (whether it is a few days, one week, two weeks, whatever), take a lesson, do your homework for the same period of time, take a lesson, do your homework, and so on, without interruption. It also makes your trainer happy because then they can figure their budget, counting on the income from your lessons.

To be consistent, we need to figure out what we can afford for periods of a minimum of one year at a time. Write it down, schedule the lessons with the trainer, and then pay for them as you would pay for your horse's board--monthly, in advance. And remember, the more lessons you can take, the faster you will progress (but don't take more than two lessons per week unless you don't own your own horse...you need time to practice on your own, as well!).

This accomplishes two things. First, you have reserved your instructor's time on a certain day, at a certain time. Second, you have a standing appointment that you are less likely to forget.
Added bonuses are that you don't have to write checks every week, and it is more difficult for the trainer to back out of a lesson, and it is more difficult for you to back out of a lesson. So the stage is set for dedicated commitment and consistency. And that is a huge step in the direction of accomplishing your goals.

One Instructor's Budget for Dressage Education

We are three weeks into the new year. It is time for me to sit down and budget what I will spend on my (and my horse's) training.

To me, training means regular lessons (yes, even though I am a trainer and instructor myself, I still take lessons), clinics, symposiums, conferences, schooling shows and rated shows. My continuing education is very important to me, and at my level continuing education is very expensive, so I have to plan carefully so I don't overspend.

For instance, I charge my students between $50-$60.00 for a private 45 minute lesson on their own horse. I pay between $150-$200.00 to take a lesson myself. So I have to give 3-4 lessons just to break every time I take one.

The FEI Level Trainers' Conference that I just attended in Loxahatchee, FL cost me $275.00 for two days to audit, plus gas and also took away two days of lessons (if I gave even 4 lessons per day, that conference cost me at least $675.00+gas). An amateur has a job outside of the equine industry, and rides as a hobby, in their "free time", and so having a lesson only costs them the price of the lesson. Yes, they spend money for gas and their time, but they would be going to the barn and riding whether they took a lesson or not, so it isn't fair to count that. Riding instruction is my job, so I have to figure costs per lesson, time, gas, and loss of income, since I am not making money while I am receiving training myself.

So, my budget looks something like this:

Riding clinics (lessons): $2400.00 (one lesson per month at $200.00 per lesson)

Symposium/auditing: $800.00 (how many I do will vary, because auditing the clinics varies widely--anywhere from $25.00/day to $100.00/day)

Rated shows where I compete: $2000.00 (my target is two shows per year, sometimes I go under this budgeted amount, but I try not to go over) *note--this doesn't count shows that I take my students to, because I make money there, but I generally don't compete at those shows myself, since I want to give my students my full attention.

So my personal training/showing budget for this year is $5200.00. And I have to give enough lessons to cover that, as well as pay the regular household (and equine business-related) expenses.

Then I pick the ways and events in which I will spend my money. That is what I normally do.

This year will be a bit different, because I have additional goals this year, which I outlined in my last blog post. I want to become a USDF Certified Instructor this year (or at least, start the process), so I have to do some research to see what I will have to do to accomplish it. It would be easier to figure the budget if I were starting at the beginning, but I have already been through the workshops, and have done a pre-cert, so technically, all I would have to do is find a testing, but even that is not so simple.

But, organizers usually plan a whole series of workshops and provide the test at the end of the series, so the testing is already full (there is a limit on the number of participants). Soooo....I will probably have to go through the whole thing again. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because it was almost ten years ago that I did the last workshops. But it will cost me more money. i also have to see if the competition scores I received 14 years ago will be applicable, or whether I will have to get new scores.

So, here is the question...can I get enough new lessons to cover the workshops/testing as an additional expense, or do I adjust my normal goals for lessons/clinics/showing to accomodate this goal in the budget of $5200.00?

The way things are going, I am adding new lessons at a pleasantly surprising rate in spite of the economy, but I will have to add around 4-5 more new regular students to cover the cost of the USDF Certification.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Year, New Goals

Actually, first I am committed to finishing the goals I set at the beginning of the show season, which started in Sept. '09.

I competed in a USDF/USEF recognized dressage show in Wellington and started acquiring the scores needed to get the USDF Rider Awards in:

Rider Performance Certificates:

Training Level (got two scores above 60%--need two more)

First Level (got two scores above 60%--need two more)

Bronze Medal:

First Level (got two scores above 60%-finished this level at the September show)

Need two scores above 60% at second level

Need two scores above 60% at third level

Concerning the bronze medal award, I have a bit of a dilemma. This is not the first time I have competed at these levels, and acquired the qualifying scores. In fact, I already have the scores for first AND second level needed for the bronze medal, so technically all I need are the third level scores. But here is the rub...

I acquired those scores 14 years ago, and haven't competed seriously since. I have been told by several people (who would know) that the records of my scores are on the USDF database and all I have to do is contact USDF and my scores will count. And I could do that.....

But the rules for reporting scores for awards were different back then. Back then, you got a reporting sheet from USDF when you decided that you wanted to achieve your Bronze Medal, then you had to have each show secretary fill out and sign the sheet as proof that you did receive those scores at that show, under that judge. Then when you received and recorded the necessary scores in all the levels, you sent the sheet in to USDF and you received your award. Or you could send in a copy of the front page of the test that you receive when you show. I used to keep all the tests, and had them in a folder, but they were destroyed in the hurricane in 2005.

Same for the rider certificate at Training Level (first level and up performance awards didn't exist back then).

Ah, the age of the internet, and how much easier (and faster) things are now. I just don't want to get my hopes up and call USDF to have them tell me that those scores DON'T count. I would just rather start all over.

Besides, I think it would mean more if I achieved it all in a timely fashion, rather than depending on scores won so long ago.

On the other hand, my current horse is getting old, and while he is obviously still competitive at training and first levels, at 25 years old, I don't want to push him too hard, and although he still can do all the figures and movements of second level, being strong enough to do it in competition is another thing. Also, I would love to have people talk me out of having to work so hard, and spend so much money in this economy....LOL


Next.....considering the option of buying a younger horse to compete with for awards.