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 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 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.