Sunday, November 14, 2010

USDF "L" Program

Just over a year has passed since the A Session last October in Park City, UT, and now I have completed the entire course. I took the final exam last weekend in Scottsdale, AZ. It has been an amazing and transforming journey. I will never be the same. Obviously I hope I pass, maybe even with distinction, but irrespective of how my final standings shake out, I have learned so much, and am a different rider, horse trainer, and coach because of this program. If I could get one message across, it would be: JUST DO IT. If a program is put on by your GMO, or a neighboring GMO, you must sign up. Honestly, had I known how time consuming and expensive it was going to be, I probably would not have done it. My annual "Stacy's Hobby" budget was blown to bits this year, in part because of this, so know going in: it is a big committment. But there is nothing you can do for yourself as a coach or ambitious rider in this country that is better for your base of knowledge than this program. It is very widely respected throughout the world, for good reason. Every minute and every dime is worth it. You will leave with so much information, and so much deeper an understanding of many aspects of the sport of dressage. When I first signed up for this program, I did so with the thought that this would prepare me for USDF Instructor Certification, which I had set as a goal a couple of years ago, after realizing(and being rather taken aback by that realization) that people really can just hang out a sign and call themselves a dressage instructor and trainer. I was a little surprised that instructor certification required that you already have four years of experience, and when my GMO, the Utah Dressage Society, mentioned the possibility of an L Program, I immediately said I would sign up. I knew that I needed real information and real training by a respected organization. Of course there are apprenticeship opportunities out there, I had done two such apprenticeships. What I came away with was this: where was the standardization?? My degree is in education. I wanted an education, not opinions...and not just any education either. I wanted a relevant and respected education, for the discipline I chose: Dressage, in the "classical" format, with competitive applications. I believe competitive and classical dressage should not be different, and this program proves it. I have had some very good instructors through the years. But this program, the USDF "L" program, provides a depth of scientific knowledge and real world experience that draws from many backgrounds. An entire panel puts together the instruction manual, and it is updated yearly. It is very thorough. There are no superstitions or's all very specific, and you will never ride, coach, or train the same again if you go through this program. I would even support requiring this program of anyone who receives remuneration for the instruction of Dressage, I believe it is that good.
If you sign up for the "L" Program, expect to be challenged, to step out of your comfort zone, to realize you've been wrong about some things you thought you knew, to meet some amazingly dedicated leaders in our sport, and to connect with a class from all walks of life and make lasting friendships. There is no way the instructors can possibly be paid enough for this job. If you think the job of a judge is grueling, what these instructors take on, for the love of the horse and the discipline(there can't be any other reason!), is mind-boggling. The USDF "L" Program brings together great minds, big hearts, and an outstanding curriculum. Yes it is the first step on the path to being a Dressage judge. But you do not need to have a desire to be a judge to do this. In fact, this program is probably even more valuable to coaches than it is to prospective judges. The trickle-down effect of getting this information out there could transform our sport. You-any of you...riders, trainers, coaches...should absolutely take advantage of this amazing opportunity. Yes it might take time from your students, but ask mine: every minute I spent working on this program was worth a thousand minutes of greatly increased effectiveness in my ability to communicate on a much more sophisticated level with them. They definitely got their money's worth from my time spent away. And the horses I ride are thanking me too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ride Your Horse, Not The Test

I've been studying really hard for the Final Exam of the "L" Program, which I take next weekend, November 5th & 6th. One of the concepts the instructors really wanted us to understand is how important the General Impressions are. It is easy to sit and give a "play by play" of what is happening. But, can we actually assess and communicate to the rider what is missing from the picture, as it relates to the Training Scale, and the General Impressions? While accuracy is very important-it increases the difficulty and shows careful preparation-it is like the pennies in your pocket as compared to the dollars and fifty cent pieces...those being the Gaits and the training of the horse. At Training Level, there's not much to it, and riding with accuracy, both in your figures and the placement of your transitions, will earn you very respectable scores even with an average horse. But as you go up the levels, the expectations increase exponentially: the Gaits must not only be preserved, but enhanced; the degree of balance and self-carriage expected increases; the need for absolute acceptance of the aids and connection is imperative to proper development of the horse's musculature; and thus, the rider must quickly shift roles from being a benevolent leader at Training level, to becoming very effective with her aids in such a way to improve all of the aspects laid out in the General Impressions. Have you actually read the General Impressions on your test sheet? Have you read the directives of the movements? Have you read the purpose on the top of the test sheet? Have you read the Dressage rule book? Do you know what the purpose and essence is of each movement that you ride? If you read this information, really read it and try to understand it, you will quickly realize that how you influence your horse, how you train him, how you present the aids and the contact, are the most important part of this sport. Sheri Dumonceaux always told me "It isn't about the movements". I always tell my riders "Pretty is as pretty does".
The point I'm trying to make is this...the next time you are schooling, don't just go through the motions and ride your test movements. Know why certain things are required at certain levels. Take the shoulder-in for example. Once it is introduced at Second level, this movement becomes an integral part of the rest of your dressage career. Do you even know why you have to show this movement? Do you know what its purpose is? What is the essence, it's most important reason for being?? And more importantly, do you realize that you don't just wake up one day and decide your horse will now be required to demonstrate shoulder in? Have you been preparing your horse, day after day, ride after ride, circle after circle, to lower and engage his inside hind leg? If you have, well, shoulder in will "be there" when your horse's balance and the coordination of your aids reaches that level of sophistication. If instead, you've been allowing his hind legs to swing out as you round corners or make turns, if you've not developed control over his shoulders in the leg yields, if you've failed to pay attention to whether or not he truly stretches into your outside rein and yields his body to your inside leg, then shoulder in will bedevil you. Your horse will wonder why, suddenly, he has to show balance, bend, honest connection to the outside rein, and load his inside hind leg, and you will encounter much resistance. You may find yourself contorting your legs and body in a vain attempt to get the angle, bend, and uphill balance inherent in the movement. Think of the shoulder in in terms of the General Impressions. Does the horse maintain the regularity in his trot? Does he show freedom and elasticity with his shoulder? Does he lower the inside hip, thereby engaging the hind legs and improving the uphill balance? Does he accept the inside leg and go confidently into your outside rein? If so, the picture you will present is a horse that is working with a soft inside rein, has a slight bend-just enough to allow the inside hip to lower and step toward the center of gravity(underneath your inside seatbone), has the impression of growing taller at the wither and more compact in his body, and shows a marked increase in freedom of the forward reach of the front legs as well as a deepening of the flexion of the hind legs as they take more weight during the stance phase. Because you have developed his understanding of the connection from inside leg to outside rein over the years, your position will remain subtle and correct with no crossed or restricting reins or exaggerated leg positioning, because your horse has gradually built up the strength needed to do this well, and is confident and obedient, offering himself lightly to your aids, letting them through. All this comes together to produce cadence and balance, and over time will develop a very straight, collected horse moving in an uphill balance with a great deal of confidence in the connection to his rider. Here is an excellent photo of just such a shoulder in, with all credits due to Heather Mason, Flying Change Farm, and the photographer:
So the next time you ride...ask yourself, can I get "there", whatever you perceive "there" to be, from "here"? Are you setting your horse, and yourself, up for success, by always riding him, and not just the test?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Las Vegas Schooling Show

Brenda and I took Cookie down to Las Vegas for their schooling show this past weekend. We showed in the same classes as at the CCEC schooling show last weekend. I think we did very well, in heavy competition. Brenda earned a 66+% in Training level test 1, winning a very large class. She earned a 65% on Training level test 4, placing second, again in a very large class and with some much more mature horses as competition. I rode First level test 1, with the goal of riding her a bit more forward than at last weekend's show. Our early trot work was a little less bold than I would have liked, but this time I think the nerves were all mine. As I settled in and realized she was really going to need to be pushed this time, I rode more boldly, and all the work improved. We had a couple bobbles in the canter work, she was getting tired, but all in all turned in a nice performance. We earned a 64.6%, and second place, in a good-sized class against much older, more mature horses. I was happy with her trot lengthenings-they need more power, scope and steadiness but the quality is there, and I was also very happy with her straightness, something that is not always a given when riding a young horse, and her throughness is really starting to come along. This was an excellent dress rehearsal for the Fall Fling in November. We will only show her in two tests each day, now that she is getting the hang of this show thing and settling in faster. Brenda will ride Training level test 4 with an eye toward qualifying for the Regional Championships and the CDS Adult Amateur championships. I will ride First level test 1, with an eye toward preparing Cookie for the USEF and FEI 4 Yr Old tests by May. Dressage...selling hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CCEC October Schooling Show at Lava Bluffs, and CCEC Year End Results

Thanks to all the hard work everyone put in, our last show of the season went off without a hitch. It was a small entry but that made for lovely gifts for every single rider, and very nice championship prizes. Each rider was given a gift bag from GEMTack , containing samples of Effol leather care products, clear braiding elastics, and BeetTreats from Emerald Valley, along with a set of polo wraps embroidered with the logo of Lava Bluffs Equestrian Center All this just for showing up! Champions received a 50 lb. bag of Omega Grand Complete from OmegaFields or a set of three pairs of pearl earrings from Morgan Jewelers Champions of the show were: Intro Level-Sarah Glidden and Beau Dazzler with a score of 67.5; Training Level-Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice with a score of 70.87; First Level-Linda Thompson and Master with a score of 66.579; and Second Level-Linda Thompson and Master with a score of 63.784. Show High Point was Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice with a score of 70.87, and Reserve High Point was Stacy Williams and Bergdalen Marit with a score of 68.696. Many thanks to our judge, Trisha Kerwin, our scribe, Beth Hart, the Gardner family for all the hard work getting everything ship-shape, Cindy and Mary Ellen for video-taping the rides, and Jenny Campos for running the show-day operation for me so I could concentrate on the horses and riders. Thanks to Linda for helping Jenny with the scoring, and for managing the year end tabulations. Thanks to all my girls for all your help, to me, as well as to each other. We have a very cohesive, supportive group and I am both prideful of, and humbled , by this.
As we close out the show season, the results are in for the year end awards with Color Country Equestrian Club in the Dressage category.
Intro Level Champion: Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice
Intro Level Reserve Champion: Sarah Glidden and Beau Dazzler
Training Level Champion-Vintage: Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice
Training Level Reserve Champion-Vintage: Karen Martz and Tanner
Training Level Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Anvil's Rethel
Training Level Reserve Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Bergdalen Marit
Training Level Champion-Cowboy: Karen Dixon and Easy Hollywood Buck
First Level Champion-Amateur: Jenny Campos and Brendijs
First Level Reserve Champion-Amateur: Linda Thompson and Master
First Level Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Beau Dazzler
Second Level Champion: Linda Thompson and Master

Congratulations to all! Linda, Brenda and I will head into the beginning of the 2011 USDF show season now. Linda's goal is to show Second level at the recognized shows. Brenda and I will start Cookie's official show career, Brenda with an eye toward qualifying for the Regional and CDS Adult Amateur Championships at Training level. I will ride Cookie at First level, to test the waters to see if we can begin the spring of 2011 campaigning Cookie in the USEF 4 Yr Old Young Horse test. It is a big challenge, one I don't take lightly. I am very excited for this talented young mare's future.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We Do Not Own Tomorrow

We also cannot live in yesterday. All we have is now. This isn't to say that we should not plan and prepare for the future, of course I would never suggest that. All I want to say to myself, and to my audience, is, BE HERE NOW. Live, right now. Enjoy, right now. Cherish, right now. Pursue your passion, right now. You cannot know what tomorrow brings.

As I stood in the Indian Summer sun Tuesday afternoon dragging back the edges of the arena, a hot, laborious, but necessary job, I had to come to grips with the fact that I am about to ride in the first dressage show of my riding career without my mare. I remembered all our trials, and all our successes, both as friends and as a riding partnership.

My sadness is not only for the loss of my best friend for 12 years, but also, the loss of what I had hoped would be our future. It may sound crazy, with all we'd been through, for me to have even dreamed of a future show career. I did cherish every moment, but every dressage rider is a pursuer of hope. Dressage is all about selling hope, the future. We just cannot forget about today in pursuit of our tomorrows. Charisma is the first horse I've brought through the levels of dressage. We made our way to Third level on three separate occasions, knocked back once by the joy of a foal, a second time by colic surgery, and the third try at Third level was the charm. The 2010 show season was our best ever. This summer, we were nailing our four and three tempis, and schooling the pirouette canter. On my last ride before she died, it clicked, she got it, the rhythm of the tempis, and we even managed a one tempi. I dared to hope for Fourth level in the fall, I dared to dream of Prix St. Georges in the spring, I was already picturing myself in tails. Those dreams were gone in an instant. I am now "relegated" to showing at the basic levels again, with a variety of client horses. Should I hide under a rock and refuse to come out again until I can perform at the same level or higher? No, because you know what I've come to understand? I don't own tomorrow. I just don't. I can hope, dream and plan. But I must be humble. I'd better live today. I can go ride my clients' wonderful horses this weekend, these horses who have each come together to heal my broken heart , and I can cherish the gifts they each have to give me. I will ride my heart out, give each horse my every breath and thought, and try to perform the most compelling Training and First Level tests we can muster. We will ride for today, and let tomorrow come as it may. We will ride in Charisma's honor. I miss you so much Charisma. I will never forget you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do Not Forget What You Already Know

Here is a fun picture of Frisco playing while I am riding Charisma. He was such a funny and cute baby! I've been sorting through all my Charisma related stuff lately, trying to get everything organized so that I can create a little "shrine" if you will. I happened upon my journal from when I was a working student for Sheri Dumonceaux, and once I started reading, I could not stop. I can ride her in my memory, when I read my notes. I remember it all like it was yesterday. And what I most need to remember is this....I cannot forget all that I already know. Charisma was "The Great One", my Professor. I feel very guilty that such a kind and noble mare had to be my guinea pig. Maybe it is because only a kind and noble mare could remain so generous as I grew, and change with me. So much, really almost everything, of what I have learned, I have learned with Charisma. So long as I continue to learn, and to teach what I have learned to clients, I can continue to share her great gift with others. She will live forever this way. I write a lot, it helps me learn, so I've always made notes from my lessons, even when I first was learning. I still have all my notes. It is hard to believe that going forward, when I write about what I am learning, I will not be writing about it with Charisma included in the experience. I hope and pray that I have many, many years ahead of me to write more, except that Frisco will be the star. Everything that I learn going forward will be without her, however it will be BECAUSE of her...her gift to me. I hope to make myself worthy. Everything she taught me will cast a hue on everything new that I learn.
Today-well actually yesterday-was my first experience with learning something from Frisco. He has been the easiest horse in the world to start, almost couldn't wait to be ridden. So easy that, I tend to overlook the ground manners, because it is SO FUN to ride him, and in my mind he is still that hilarious and adorable colt you see in the picture above. So I just think to myself...he'll grow up eventually, no need to be stern with him when most of the time he is so good. But yesterday, he just walked away when I removed the halter to put the bridle on. You can't really punish at that moment, because then the horse will just run away-he was loose afterall!! I managed to wrestle the bridle onto a thousand pound moving target, and then drag him to the mounting block. He wasn't really doing anything bad or trying to get out of being ridden, he just wanted to play with my stuff on the ground and go see the horse at the other tie rack. He is a kid afterall, and a social butterfly. Once at the mounting block, he was ready to go!! To go out and see much so that he kept walking off. Still I wasn't in a position to punish him, because I'd kind of set the tone already. I just ignored all the crap, and we went on with our ride, which as usual was really great. Did I mention he loves to be ridden?! But I realized we needed to go back to kindergarten on certain things. So I decided that today, I would tack him up as usual, all except for the bridle, and put him in the round pen. I've mentioned that Frisco loves to be ridden. Have I mentioned how much he hates the round pen?! He knows that's for bad ponies, and plus, he can't see a damned thing, it's boring. I sent him around a few minutes each direction until I was really sure his attention was on me. The second I allowed it, he immediately turned to me for approval and I allowed him to come to the center. I removed his halter the way our second favorite cowboy taught us...head DOWN. Then, I put his bridle on the same way...head DOWN. He knows when I put pressure on his neck, he is to drop his head for me. He didn't forget a thing. Then we went to the mounting block. A couple taps with the whip on his chest, then a patient minute spent standing once I was in the saddle, and he was allowed to quietly walk off to see the exciting world. Horses don't forget. People do. The next time you are having a problem with something, something you thought had already been dealt with, you need to take the time to step back. In the end, it will be the fastest way. Our kindergarten session lasted all of ten minutes today. Go back to the beginning, rack your brain for the answers, read your old notes, try to remember what your trainer said. You probably already know it, and your horse is just patiently waiting for you to remember.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the Loss of my Beloved Mare

Time finally caught up, I thought we could beat the odds. I really did, because we always have. I was wrong this time. Charisma colicked again. She had another "episode" on the morning of September 1st, a Wednesday, but she was fine when I left at 3:30, just like all the other episodes. She ate her supper and was fine at night check. Thursday morning the barn manager found her, she was already in shock. It was too late. The vet came, he didn't want to take her to surgery. He talked to Dr. Schur in Las Vegas, her surgeon, gave her the details, and they both said it would not likely go well. I had told myself I would not put her through a second surgery, but I think I needed to hear it from them too, because my heart was not willing to face this. We had to set her free. Dow, and BJ were there, we held her, and, Frisco and her friends Casper and Blue stood quietly by. She rests at Ironhill, Priddis, Alberta. "Devastated" does not do justice to the loss we feel.
I need animals in my life, I think they make us more human. Losing them, knowing full well that we will outlive them, and still being willing to give our hearts to them, I've never known another way of being. It's too easy to avoid the pain. How shallow would that make me? Deep down, I knew this was coming, she has never been right since the surgery. On her good days, and it was mostly good days, she was better than she ever had been before. We had our best show season ever, and aside from that, we both cherished our time together. But on her bad days, it was clear that all was not well. Selfishly, I am angry, and feel cheated, that my self-perceived dedication and devotion could not have garnered me even more time. But I must be thankful for the time I got, I can't become bitter for having tried, and yet ultimately failing. I have some guilt that I could maybe have made different decisions. I don't think I could have done MORE, just, maybe, different. Hindsight is 20-20. Any decisions I made were because I thought at the time with the information I had that it was the right decision, that much I do know. All I can do is learn all there is to learn from this lesson. I realize that if I only have 14 more years with Frisco, if he only lives to 16 like his mother, or God forbid, less, I for certain must set about now to assure that my horse leads the happiest life possible. I've learned so much about diet, nutrition, and equine management in the past year. I can't forget these lessons. Even if I never own another horse, and it's possible that I won't, I can apply all this knowledge to the one horse I do still own, and my clients' horses, to make him, and them, the happiest, healthiest equine athletes he, and they, can be.
I am trying to figure out why I feel compelled to ride them, that maybe Charisma would have been happiest had I not brought her back as a riding horse, if I'd just turned her out to pasture instead she maybe would have lived. Logically, I know this would not have saved her, but, I can't help this guilt I feel. I think I must want to be one with them, to be a part of them, not just brush them and admire them, sort of like some people need to climb the mountains rather than just sit on the deck and enjoy the view of them. The universe surely had to know, I was not one to just be a horse owner, when it sent me Charisma. I will have to make certain Frisco retains the wonder and intrigue for being ridden that he has now. The discipline of dressage is unique in that the whole purpose and aim of the riding is to develop a longterm, close partnership with your horse, to develop a system of communication that involves no words, only a highly sophisticated sequence of physical indicators, so minute that they are invisible to a bystander. To lose a dressage horse is to lose years upon years of study, practice, and is an irreplacable partnership. My horses have always been members of the family, so I have not only lost a family member, but a highly educated dance partner. The years it will take to establish this same level of communication with Charisma's son is a bit daunting at the moment.
When I walked through the woods with BJ and Charisma after my dog India(BJ's mother) died, I believe she visited us, in the form of a beautiful waxwing, who followed us from branch to branch. I've never seen a waxwing travel by itself, before, or since. When my grandfather died, I saw a raven circling inside a double sundog. I've never seen that before, or since. I know Charisma will visit me once more. In fact, I do not believe she is done here, I am sure she will be back.
This will make me a better, deeper, more spiritual person, I am sure of it. I can't believe I married the one person in the world who loves animals as much as I do, in the same way. Many spouses would be kind and supportive, but, how many would shed every tear with you? Share every emotion, from fear, guilt, anger, denial, to the good emotions, the good memories? We all were meant to be together...we are a chain of souls meant to link up. The links break but we will always be bound, and will keep looking for each other. I believe we have been together before, and will be again, all of us. I must believe this. I don't think I can cope with the loss without this hope.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When the Student is Ready, the Master Appears

In the "L" Program study material there is a diagram depicting three different cycles. One is a bicycle with the tagalong bike behind, that two people can ride. One is a standard bicycle. And one is a unicycle. There is also another set of diagrams. One depicts the commonly seen drawing of a horse travelling on a bent line, with each foot falling as though the horse was a train on train tracks. Haven't we all been told that's how our horses should travel? Like a train on train tracks? The other depicts that same horse, but with the inside hind leg and the outside foreleg setting tracks down onto a single line, as though the horse was moving on a bent tightrope. The point of these diagrams is this: in order to gain greater access to all the parts of your horse, you must be able to narrow its base of support. The inside hind leg and outside fore leg must adduct towards the midline of your horse when travelling on a bent line. The only part about the train on tracks being correct is that you want your horse to do this without leaning in or out, and all the carts on the train have to stay in line. If you only ever ride your horse with the hind feet following exactly in line with the forefoot of the same side, the most you can ever hope for is a level balance, you will never get your horse's forehand lightened enough to develop an uphill balance. So how then do you get that horse's balance uphill and keep it from leaning in or out? Well, in addition to narrowing the base of support, you also must shorten your horse's base of have to slowly, step by step, bring the center of mass over the inside hind leg until your horse feels as though you are riding a unicycle. That sounds hard, doesn't it? Why would we want to bring our horses to such a fragile state of balance? Well, to gain access to his body. When we can keep our horses working towards a shorter, narrower base of support, that inside hind leg, then we have ultimate control over what happens next. And amazingly, when you really have your horse balanced over that inside hind leg, that quest for lightness of the forehand just happens.
I rode in a clinic with Crystal Kroetch this weekend, my second clinic with her. It was the first time in all the lessons I've taken that an instructor brought up that concept of bringing the inside hind and outside fore more onto a single line. I'd already been struggling with it, after studying it in our first "L" session, trying to figure out just how to make that happen. Turns out the missing ingredient was getting Charisma's base of support not just more narrow, but also shorter, and not by stopping the front end, but by riding the hind legs more and more underneath her, a little bit more every step, a little bit more every circle, a little bit more every day. Did she get-WE get-a little wobbly at times and feel like we might tip over? You betcha. That's where that core strength must come into play. If you tip the balance bar(the reins) too aggressively, you will fall flat. Little adjustments...a little outside thigh here, a little inside calf there, a little more push with the seat and calves-but don't get tight!, a little vibration on the rein she(we) like to hang on, et voila! ...a few steps of heaven. Bask, then, back to work. I remember looking in the mirror at one point during the lesson, while working shoulder-in. I was getting good feedback from Crystal, and in the mirror, Charisma suddenly looked just like a video I've never forgotten of Edward Gal riding VDL Prestige in shoulder in. The massive stallion suddenly looked very tall and slender. Now, we are certainly not in that league, don't get me wrong, but it's amazing how an image can stick in your mind, and you don't know why, and then one day it becomes "crystal" clear why it was so inspiring. Edward Gal had narrowed and shortened that mighty stallion's base of support so much that he was balanced over the inside hing leg just as though he were sitting on a unicycle. I remember being awed at how easy and light it looked. Now I know why.
I have said it to my students a million times...if you want to be a tourist, buy your husband a convertible, park yourself in the passenger seat, and watch the beautiful world go by. Dressage is not an easy discipline. You have to ride a 1300 lb animal, be precise, consistent, fair, strong, soft, flexible, and all the while keep breathing and look like you are doing nothing. Best learn to ride with your mind and not your might! You will make mistakes but that is how you learn. Mark Twain said "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned." Stay humble and willing to leave your comfort zone. As for me, I plan to buy a unicycle for crosstraining :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Leg Yield Demystified

Below is a link to a super article by Jane Savoie regarding the leg yield. In watching various horse/rider combinations during my L Program education, I am realizing this is a commonly misunderstood and therefore improperly ridden movement. The leg yield, along with lengthenings of stride, develop the thrust(pushing power) that is necessary at First level, and is a prerequisite to the carrying power required of Second level and beyond. It teaches the horse to adduct with the inside hind leg, knowledge he will need when you begin to develop the shoulder-in. Only when the horse learns to keep the inside hind leg underneath its center of mass will it then learn to lower that inside hip, which will allow him to develop the carrying power necessary for collection and cadence. Well ridden, with a nicely filled outside rein and a high degree of submission to the inside leg, this is also a super suppling and submission exercise for more advanced horses. Be creative: leg yield away from the rail, or, leg yield in one direction, straighten, and leg yield back, in a zig zag. This should provide you with an excellent clue as to which hind leg your horse can better adduct, valuable information for future development of straightness. You can also, when encountering resistance to the outside rein, turn that into a counterflexion and ride leg yield with nose to the rail. Keeping the distance covered in each direction symmetrical will also create muscle balance in your horse, and you. Start with a little and develop your horse's suppleness over several requests. But don't forget, forward before sideways, so never allow your horse to fall sideways. If the shoulders begin to lead too much(and anytime it is more than you decided, it is too much), half halt on the outside aids-more leg than rein. While the crossover of the legs is the essence of the exercise, do not sacrifice the thrust this exercise creates for the sake of sideways motion. Your horse's feet should not drag or create dust, and when you complete a well-ridden leg yield, you should feel your horse bounce lightly into your outside rein and carry forward with a nice cadence for at least a few strides. Scroll down to the bottom of this blog and find a picture of Anvil's Rethel, a rare white dun Norwegian Fjord, at just this perfect moment after a leg yield to see the beautiful cadence he has carried forward from the exercise. A well-timed subtle pet with the inside hand will reward your horse for this higher degree of balance, engagement and self-carriage, reaffirming that lightness we all seek. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I am always game to try different approaches and hear about alternative ways to resolve common riding problems. But the increasing popularity of "western dressage" and the proliferation of "natural horsemanship" guru's needs to be considered from all angles. I strongly believe that these different forms of riding can be very useful to those of us in the dressage community. I personally hired a working cow horse/reining trainer(who also happens to be a good friend I'd seen start colt after colt) to start my 2 yr. old. Will I keep all the things he taught Frisco? No. But, his help was invaluable to me, and I have taken many things he taught Frisco and reformulated them into a more dressage-specific language, and applied them to other horses. One of my longest-term clients(who again happens to be a good friend whom I'd seen start filly after filly) has a significant amount of experience with Parelli and its offshoots. These two people have filled a huge void in my education as a rider and instructor, by giving me wonderful background in some things dressage riders frequently overlook...ground manners, yielding to pressure, and ground work designed to establish the human as the leader.
But after sitting in the Utah Dressage Society's "L" Program D-2 session this past weekend and watching rider after rider go around the arena with zero contact on the reins, and the impact of that approach on the harmony of the picture, I think I must play devil's advocate with the whole "lightness/yield to pressure" mindset that seems to have infiltrated our sport. OF COURSE we seek lightness. OF COURSE we need our horses to yield to pressure. But, this sport requires a significant amount of core strength, self carriage, and balance from both the rider as well as the horse. One of the most important aspects of our sport, sitting just above rhythm and relaxation on the training pyramid, is...CONNECTION. It is simply impossible to correctly develop a dressage horse's musculature over the course of many years without it. Muscles can only develop when they are engaged and asked to work. Slack toplines and slack reins do not equal relaxation my friends. Sawing the reins in the quest for a yield to pressure does not develop acceptance of the bridle. It only irritates the poor horse, making him wonder when next his teeth will be chattered, and is a dead giveaway to the judge that the connection of your seat to your horse's back is non-existent. The only way a horse can carry itself around the arena with the rider bearing only the weight of the reins in her hands is if that horse, and that rider, are so completely engaged in their cores, and so completely in balance with each other, that the horse no longer needs the support of the reins, and can "push back" from the bit, in 100% self carriage. I saw a lot of slack reins, or worse, long reins, but, not one horse did I see pushing itself back off the bit and carrying itself with a rider in perfect harmony. I dare say this misguided obsession with light reins is actually more detrimental to the horse's back and brain than the tight, short reins of a horse being ridden front to back. At least the latter horse knows he's not going to get a punch in the mouth at the end of the long side, and has a shot at bracing his back and underneck to protect himself against that death grip and the inevitable behind the vertical position of the rider as she digs her seat bones in a quest for "forward". Neither picture sounds very pleasant, does it? Neither is on the right track when it comes to that third tier of the training pyramind, connection. All I'm asking, fellow riders, is that you consider all the ramifications when you try new things. There is a reason why all the old books, all the old masters, all the old school trainers, demand that you learn to use your seat and position correctly. There are simply no shortcuts in this sport. Don't be seduced!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Utah Summer Games 2010

I am a month late in posting about the Summer Games, but I suppose better late than never! I can't begin to put into words how proud I am of my gals. Each of them worked very hard in the months preceding the show, to set personal goals, and make a plan to achieve those goals.
The weather was great, the organization was great, and the judge, Marlo Vivenzio(a current L Program Participant), put everyone at ease, even those with horses who were a little nervous.
I don't have all the pictures in yet, but I will post a few that I do have to the pictures page.
Karen has made the full switchover from western to dressage, having just bought a dressage saddle, half chaps and paddock boots, and breeches, in May. It's a big change to have to re-learn the seat, position, and aids, when the saddle changes so drastically. But it has been a great transformation, she and Tanner look fantastic together. Karen improved her score, and had to demonstrate her horsemanship and tact, because Tanner was not his usual go along, get along self this day. Even with her making the wise and quick decision to trot through the entire left canter portion of her test, she still managed a very respectable 58.6 on Training Test 2. That is amazing considering this choice meant she had three 0s to over come. But Tanner's "8" gaits came through, and he remained much more reliably on the bit for her than he ever has before. Believe me, I know, this is not an easy horse to keep going forward onto the bit, there is just a lot of real estate to get packaged!
Brenda rode Cookie(Poetic Justice is her real name) in her third show. Cookie is just three, but has a super work ethic and beautiful conformation and gaits. Brenda earned a 69% on Intro B, and a 71.3% on Training Test 1.
Sarah rode in only her second show ever, but looked like she'd been doing it all her life. She waltzed into the ring with a mere 10 minutes warmup and knocked out a 66% on Intro B with her amazing Arabian, Daz(Beau Dazzler).
Jenny and Brendijs improved their scores in First level drastically from the May show, with a 71.3% on First level test 1, and a 70.6% on First level test 2. The difference from May 1 to June 25 in Brendijs' balance and gaits was remarkable. Jenny worked very hard with me to bring out the best in this talented horse.
Linda capitalized on Master's high level of obedience and rode two extremely accurate tests, earning a 69.210% on First level Test 4, and a 67.020% on Second level Test 2. Linda and Jenny are of course always the most impeccably turned out riders at any show.
I was also very happy with the horses I rode. Marit, at just her second show, first away from home, made me very proud, bettering her scores from the May 1 show by about 1% each, on both Training level Tests 1 and 2, earning a 65 and a 68 respectively. She was the first horse in the ring at 7am, and understandably tense, so, all in all, I am really happy that she remembered her training and behaved very well for me. I rode a second Norwegian Fjord, named Rethel, that is owned by Lisa Pedersen, in the show. I had one ride on him the day before the show, but this horse has "been there, done that", and had no trouble adjusting to what I asked of him. He is an extremely rideable and talented horse. I have become a fan of Fjords, I must admit, they are a lot of horse in a small package. They have the ability to move like a warmblood, and always turn heads. I love this breed, but they do require a rider with some core strength. Rethel turned in fantastic scores, and in fact we were Open High Point together, with a 71.1% and a 71.3% on Training level Tests 1 & 2. I also rode Sarah's horse, Daz, in First level Test 4. He is such a SHOW HORSE, loves to show off and was really "up" for me. What a fun horse to ride. We earned a 69.211%. A horse like this, who can go gangbusters for me, as up and electric as I want him, and then turn around an hour later and quietly carry his very green owner around through a walk/trot test, is a rare horse indeed. He is a dream horse for Sarah.
The girls worked hard, and so did their ponies. We had a great time, enjoying each other's company, and that's the most important thing. I think we represented our home barn, Lava Bluffs Equestrian Center, very well indeed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

I am sad to report that my friend Jenny's mare, Jazzy, had to be humanely euthanized this morning, following a 24 hour-long battle with colic. Colic is a very scary word to those of us who love these big, brave, and surprisingly fragile creatures. Of the horses I've mentioned on this blog, four have suffered serious colics, and two died. The reasons tend to remain a mystery, but often, we can point to a recent stress or poor or uneducated care. Jazzy had foaled two months prior, and torsion colic is extremely common in mares within the first four months of foaling, for the obvious reason that their gut had to make room for a baby, and then, must migrate back into a fairly large space. That's the logical reason, but we'll really never know. Daz had been living in a field while leased by a young girl, and was not getting enough food, therefore developing a serious sand colic. His did not require surgery but it was touch and go for a few days. Mystic went too fast to even dream of getting her to a facility, and we will never know why she colicked. And of course my beloved Charisma battled a full torsion for 12 hours before she was on the surgery table. She had just made a two day trip in a trailer, returning to very hot temperatures, and I am fairly sure this caused her a great deal of stress and dehydration. The ensuing complications have been a constant source of stress, not to mention expense, nonetheless, I am thankful for each new day with her. I will never forget the morning I saw the sunrise reflected in her eyes as she nuzzled my foot to wake me, and I knew she'd live. Worth every second of stress, every night spent in a lawn chair outside an ICU stall, and every penny, but no place for the weary heart to tread, that is for sure. Surgery doesn't guarantee success, and, the complications can be endless and costly. Ten months later, I still have many a sleepless night and heart stopping episode to go through, as her body continues to sort out the internal changes. I pray to get her to the "magic" 12 months post-surgery, supposedly the point of proof that your horse is now no more likely to colic than any other horse-not much consolation actually. Weigh it all out, friends, and do what your heart tells you. We will all miss Jazzy very much, but we all, those of us who knew her, knew that surgery was not an option for her, and I have deep admiration and respect for my friend Jenny, who made a very difficult decision to free her mare from pain. Jenny provided love and good care to this OTTB rescue, and, thankfully, will get to go forward with her stunning son, Fabulux, by Rulon(Arthos). My thoughts are with you Jenny, and still with you Kayla. For those interested, here is a super article discussing the different types of colic, and has valuable information for what to do.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Number 1 in the US!!

Well for now anyway :)
Charisma is currently ranked number one, USDF All-Breed Awards, for the International Sporthorse Registry/Oldenburg N.A.'s Open Second Level Division. More than likely, she will be edged out as more horses qualify through the show season. So, we will revel in this short moment of glory!

Monday, June 21, 2010

USDF Bronze Medal!!!

Charisma, Dow, BJ & I travelled to Heber City, UT, for the Sage Creek 1 & 2 shows this past weekend. The weather was perfect, and the stars aligned. Charisma and I earned the final score we needed for the requirements of the USDF Bronze medal. This medal requires six scores, two at First level, two at Second level, and two at Third level, of 60% or better, under six different judges, six different shows. I am thrilled to have achieved this goal with a horse that I trained myself. I've learned all the ropes of dressage on Charisma, and it means a lot to me, after her very trying winter, to have this medal with only her name on it. She has tried her heart out for me for all these years. We should also now have enough scores, with a high enough median average, to wind up with a ranking for the USDF All Breed Awards, for her breed registry(International Sporthorse Registry/Old. N.A.), in the Open Second Level division. Check out the latest photos I added to the Photo page, from the show. The whole family will make the trek to Alberta for the summer on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Las Vegas Dressage Spring Fling III

Charisma and I had a really successful show. She remained comfortable and happy throughout the weekend, the most important thing right now. I can't believe she lived, never mind, is back in the show ring. But the icing on the cake was the score we earned on Saturday to complete her requirements for the USDF Horse Performance Certificate for Second Level. I guess I can officially call her a Second Level Schoolmaster. And Sunday, we earned a 60.5% on Third level test 1. We now only require one more score for my USDF Bronze Medal. Patience and perserverance, not to mention, lots of luck along the way.
Brenda showed her 3 year old filly Poetic Justice, by Paganini, in the Training level Opportunity class. Cookie as she is better known behaved herself like a seasoned show horse. She's never seen mirrors or a judge's booth but after a couple of looks, went about her business like a pro. They came away with really strong scores for a first show-64+% and 62+%. As she gets stronger and steadier in the connection, and is better able to show off her gaits, these scores will only go up. I look forward to their future with great hope.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


During my recent trials and tribulations with helping Charisma regain her health, as well as, in dealing with age related setbacks with my nearly 14 year old Sheltie, BJ, I have "discovered" Dynamite products. My friend, Jennifer Smith, has long been a distributor, and recommended the products, first for BJ, and later, for Charisma. Count me sold. So much so that I am now a distributor myself. If you would like to learn more about the products, please check out this link.
Dynamite's products are natural and pesticide free. They are manufactured in a facility that contains zero cross-contamination with other livestock feeds. Certain additives to cattle feed can be deadly to horses, even in microscopic amounts. I highly recommend Free and Easy for your horse, dog, or even yourself. The aloe vera in this product is also wonderful for your horse's gutt, aloe being an excellent natural way to prevent ulcers. I also highly recommend Dynamite for horses, as a high end multivitamin and mineral product. A little goes a long way. And say good bye to pelleted horse feed products with contents you cannot pronounce. Pelleted Grain Ration is a very clean, natural pelleted horse ration that is easily digestible, and again, a little goes a long way.
I am thrilled to be a part of the team. Orders can be placed directly on my website link above.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thank You Stephanie & Marlo!

We had a great time at the CCEC Dressage at Lava Bluffs yesterday! I'd like to thank our judges, Stephanie Brown-Beamer, and Marlo Vivenzio, for making the trip down from Salt Lake and Heber City. I am grateful to Color Country Equestrian Club for continuing to support Dressage in our community, as interest does continue to grow. We are a small group, but, dedicated. Special thanks to Ryon and Holly Gardner for being such wonderful hosts and letting us take over Lava Bluffs for the day. I am really proud of everyone...Karen earned her best score yet as she continues to improve and become a partner with Tanner. Sarah made her show ring debut, and did an outstanding job. You've never seen anyone so lazer-focused! Brenda debuted her lovely three year old American Warmblood filly, Poetic Justice, by Paganini, to rave reviews from the judges, earning the Vintage High Point award and the third highest score of the day. I'm very proud of my horses...Charisma was really showing off her gaits in our Third Level ride, earning 65.384%. Maret, better known around the barn as Petunia, proved herself to be a real show horse. This was her first show, and she came within less than a percentage point(66.785%) of earning me the Open High Point, edged out slightly by the very talented Arlene Cunningham and her amazing mustang, Boots. I also rode Beau Dazzler, a 14 year old Arab gelding. This was his first dressage show, and he had not set foot in a show ring in some 9 years. He did me very proud, earning extremely solid scores of 64.5% and 65.135% on First level tests 1 & 2. Of course our favorite Cowboy, Ryon Gardner, had to keep all us Dressage Diva's humble by earning the highest score of the show, with a 68.477%. I must say, the Cowboy Dressage riders were very lovely to watch, the Dixons' and Ryon all doing a stellar job in unfamiliar territory. I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the world horse show management, and slept like a dead woman last night!

Friday, April 16, 2010

NEVER, ever, ever, ever....GIVE UP.

When I worked for Sheri Dumonceaux the winter of 2005/2006 as a working student, there was a cartoon she had pegged to her cork board in the barn. It was of a Heron attempting to swallow a frog, and the frog is reaching out of it's mouth, choking the Heron. I always thought that was a hilarious take on what I hold as a very important strong suit for me-perserverance. I don't quit. Neither does Charisma. Neither have my clients, Karen, Sarah, Brenda & Barbara. Neither has my dear friend Irene. I like fighters.
Charisma and I entered our first recognized show since her colic surgery. Despite the fact that we are still attempting to determine the root cause of some complications she continues to have(adhesions are tops on the list of theories at the moment-a not uncommon problem), we are firing on all cylinders, on her good days. I am learning to be really grateful for those, and, be her advocate and caretaker on the bad days. I take not one second of my time with her for granted. I am learning to take not one second of every day, with everyone, for granted. I am pleased to report, that under a strong judge, Donna Richardson, we were able to achieve some of our highest scores. All scores were 61% or better at Second level, and what that means is I have now earned enough scores to obtain my USDF Rider Achievement certificate at Second level. And Charisma now only requires one more score to earn her USDF Horse Performance Certificate at Second level. This is a demanding award-ten scores of 60% or better, under four different judges, with at least four tests being the highest test of the level. I'm proud to say, WHEN she receives this award, she will have earned it by performing at the test 3 and test 4 of the Level, an even more stringent bar to reach. Judges expect a horse performing these tests to be looking like they are ready to move on to Third level. I aim to have this certificate for her on my wall by summer...that's the plan anyway, good Lord willing, and the creek don't rise. No matter what the universe has in store for us, we WILL, we CAN, we will never, ever, ever, ever, GIVE UP.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Latest Gleanings from my progress in the "L" Program

The third weekend in February, at the Las Vegas Winter Fling II held at Cooper Ranch, I was privileged to scribe for and sit with Melissa Creswick, another very popular S judge, from Clovis, California. If you've followed my blog, you know that I've also already sat with Janet Curtis.

While the Utah Dressage Society is the organizer of this "L" Program, I live closer to the Las Vegas Chapter of the California Dressage Society. So, much of my training and showing revolved around this club. While the UDS has been amazing in hosting this program, I must say, I have been very surprised and humbled at the excitement and support shown by LVC-CDS with regard to my participation in this program. They have gone out of their way to facilitate my learning and seem genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect of having another graduate in their midst. They are doing all they can to help me prepare. I am very grateful for that!

When I sit and scribe at these shows, I am able to get insight not only into how to judge through Second level, but, through Advanced. The Prix St. George class was as big as the Training level Test 4 class. This is very important for me, in the learning process, because I am asked to watch a cross section in a single day. I am able to see the progression up the levels, and why certain things asked for at Training level through Second level really do matter if a rider wants her horse to be successful at the Advanced levels. Seeing this cross section in a single ring over a 7-8 hour period is really bringing the correlation home to me.

Melissa wanted riders to demonstrate clear transitions. Like Janet Curtis, she was not afraid to use the spectrum-as likely to give a 4 as a 9, when earned. I think this confidence is a hallmark of a well-seasoned and successful judge. She believed very strongly that a horse at Second level must be able to show a clear transition from canter to walk, or from medium to collected, if it is to be successful at the higher levels. She felt excessive reward of extravagent gaits at this level could easily doom this horse having a double bridle put on far too soon, in a misguided effort by the rider to move on to Third level too soon. What I loved about her judging style is that in everything she did, her comments, her scores, etc., she kept the future in mind for that particular horse. She was very careful to address the things most relevant. She reminded me several times to make dead sure I commented in such a way as to not send that horse home to be tortured. While Janet Foy had also discussed this in our B Session, seeing the theory in practice made a huge impression on me. She also stressed to me that comments must be framed in such a way that I do not promote hand riding. No question, she sees far more of this than she would like to see. And yet, she made certain I understood that the rider is my employer. I have to figure out a way to say what needs to be said in a way that the rider will look to herself to find a way to improve, without being unnecessarily harsh. I have found this to be my biggest challenge in this process. I want to pile all responsibility onto the rider, and in so doing, I will find it very difficult to ever give many scores of 6 or better to the rider. While it is true that the entire training process and the ride is the responsibility of the rider, nonetheless, I must take into account that each horse comes with its own set of challenges. I will need to have compassion, for the horse, as well as the rider. I found it interesting that Melissa would not remove her coat so long as the competitors were required to wear their coats.

A personal realization is also making itself known to me through this process. While I've always known, conceptually, that the judge can only judge what she/he sees in that seven minutes of time, sitting in the judge's booth is really bringing that home to me. So, to all you riders out there, and, note to self: realize that, the judge has no idea your horse has been sidelined for years, or, what your horse's breeding is, or its history and baggage. Even if she does know, she is not supposed to know, and therefore, must judge accordingly. So, if your goal is a safe and respectable 60% for the ride, be sure that you can perform all the criteria to a satisfactory degree at home nearly all the time. Also, don't get your feelings hurt if your score is not what you'd hoped. Read your tests and try to understand what the judge wants you to take from his or her comments, without any emotion. Understand that it's much more fun for the judge to be able to hand out higher scores, so, perhaps consider that in your choices. Or, if you know for sure you and your horse might never be capable of having "the look", but, you want to learn by progressing, develop a thick skin,and, try to progress in such a way as to not frighten your horse or make him feel insecure. Always take the time to prepare your horse, whether in the moment of the test situation, or, day to day in your training. Never take your horse up the levels too fast, it will only hurt their confidence at best, their bodies at worst. The judges cannot give you a gift because you've come a long way with your training, or your horse has issues to overcome. Bear this in mind, be grateful for what means progress to you, and, try very hard to understand what the judges want you to know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

USDF "L" Program

In the whirlwind of the last months, between actually studying and preparing for sessions A & B; getting my mare back to good health and the inevitable hours of research involved in making sure her diet is perfect; and keeping up with my clientele and life in general, I have not taken time to write about my experience thus far with the "L" Program.
I mentioned in a prior post months ago that I'd been fortunate to qualify for the program, and more importantly, land a spot in the current program being organized by the Utah Dressage Society. Seems there are not nearly enough programs to go around(we have candidates flying in from Ontario, Maryland, and California!), and I must again express my deepest thanks to the UDS for taking this on. It seems UDS has managed to draw more auditors than any other program.
We have now put two sessions in the books. Session A was taught by Sandy Howard, Session B by Janet Foy. Session A, hosted by The Promontory in Park City, UT, focused much of the information on the rules, conduct as a judge, judging methodology, and biomechanics. Session B, hosted by Sage Creek Equestrian in Charleston, UT, focused on judging criteria for gaits and paces, movements and figures, and discussed in detail the criteria of Training through Second level. Both sessions included the opportunity to view demonstration rides, and to practice honing not only our eyes(which frankly should be fairly honed at this stage in our learning), but also honing our ability to process visual input into a relevant comment and score to what we see, in a very short amount of time. The amount of territory these two sessions has covered is expansive. The scope of this program is impressive-I can't recommend it enough, to anyone-any aspiring trainer, judge, or amateur. The information is theoretical and practical, instantly useful. You will leave each session with enough knowledge to process for years. You do not have to be a candidate! Just audit, believe me, it is WORTH IT! The instructor judges who take on this task and agree to be a part of the education process of our judges are to be commended. This is a grueling job for them, so one can only assume they are doing this not for the money but for the betterment of the sport in our country. Our program for training judges is recognized worldwide for its thorough preparation of dressage judges.
There is no way I could do justice to the amount of information covered in this program in a single, or even daily, blog post. So, I won't attempt it. What I will do is attempt to stress to the riders I work with what the judges really want to see. The next time you think the judge has it in for you, make a point of offering to scribe at the next show. Among the requirements for this program are hours serving as a scribe, and hours "sitting" with a licensed judge. I have been able to sit with Janet Curtis already, and also served as her scribe. Trust me, folks, these judges want in the worst way to see a good ride. They want to give good scores. They do not enjoy being mean. Please don't make them work very hard just to find something nice to say. It is more often than I realized very hard for them to do this. Help yourself as a rider, help your horse, and make the judges happy, by actually reading the directives for the level at which you choose to ride. Read the definitions of the movements, it's all available for free to members on the USEF website! Know the directives for the movements, understand what the essence of each movement is, and understand the essence of the level at which you seek to ride. Know the Training Pyramid. Understand how it applies to your scores. Here's a tip: acceptance of the bridle is a requirement in dressage! Yes, even at Training level! Know where the movements begin and end. Prepare your horse for every transition and movement. Know where your horse's hind legs are. Know what your horse and you need to do, biomechanically speaking, to meet the criteria of the movements. Be honest with yourself if your horse's gaits are not clear. It really does matter! Dressage is not the movements-it's the quality...of the gaits, the connection, the riding, the execution of the criteria. Know what those numbers mean...10-Excellent; 9-very good; 8-good; 7-fairly good; 6-satisfactory; 5-marginal; 4-insufficient; 3-fairly bad; 2-bad; 1-very bad; 0-not performed. Next time you are happy with a 60%, enjoy that happiness for a moment, but when you go home, sit down and study that score sheet and really try to understand what the judge wants you to know. In the end, are you REALLY happy with just Satisfactory??? Maybe. Maybe your horse is not ideal for the sport. It is an Olympic sport afterall. Maybe you've just moved up a level. Maybe you or your horse has come back from injury or other reason to be sidelined. Maybe you don't get to train with a trainer on a regular basis. We all have our burdens to bear. Regardless of your station in life and as a dressage rider, consider this: Would it not be more noble to develop a very high quality Training level horse than to mindlessly move up the levels with no understanding of the requirements?
I challenge each of you: Pursue excellence in your riding and training. Believe me, you will not be viewed as a hero if you keep moving up the levels despite low scores. Judges would much rather see a good(80%-yes, 80% is only just "good"!) Training level ride than a marginal(50%) First level ride. When you look at it in light of this, does that 57% on Training level test 1 really seem like something to write home about? Now believe me, there is absolutely no shame in riding your average horse, and in being happy with a 57%. Like I said, we all have to start somewhere. Maybe a 57% on your horse is a 67% on another horse. And this certainly is not to say that riders should not be happy when they are consistently scoring above 60%, do not misunderstand. I am not minimizing anyone's accomplishments here, but at the same time, keep perspective. But as Janet Foy so aptly pointed out, this is an Olympic sport. The reality is, if your horse lacks the natural, God-given conformation and scope to its gaits necessary to perform the hardest movements with the greatest ease, then to expect the judge to be Santa Claus and give you 70% on a horse that doesn't even track up in the working trot or remain pure in its canter rhythm is unrealistic. There are some that will, from time to time, but do not expect this. I challenge you to be thorough and positive in your training. I also challenge you to be realistic in your expectations.
I started this program with no other goal than to learn as much as possible and make myself a more viable candidate for USDF Trainer certification. After two sessions, I now deeply desire to become a judge. I see it as an opportunity to, again as Janet Foy said so perfectly, "sell hope". Only those candidates who pass with distinction will be eligible to continue on to become a candidate for "r" designation-the right to judge through Second level at National competitions. This is no given. The last program, of ten candidates, only saw two pass with distinction. Regardless of my final evaluation by the instructors, I will leave this program deeply transformed as a trainer and rider.
I cannot thank enough the UDS, the USDF, the instructor judges, the hosting facilities, the demonstration riders(who by the way have to hear a lot of bad judging as we muddle through!), and the judges who allow candidates to sit with them. These people and groups make our education possible. They are what make our judge training program the envy of the world. I am humbled and honored to have my foot in the door.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A little bit about Frisco Bay's Sire, Fidertanz

FIDERTANZ;Licensed for Westphalia, Rhineland and OldenburgRhineland, Bay, Born 2002, 16.1 hands
He was the top star of the 14th Westphalian stallion licensing in 2004. With standing ovations he left the arena and became champion stallion. .His exceptional basic gaits, brilliant jumping manner, balanced nature and perfect conformation hasn’t given rise to any doubt about this victory. His sire Fidermark won the stallion performance test, was National Young Horse Champion, winner of the Optimum and Grand Prix tests. His dam sire Ravallo also won the stallion performance test with a total index of 155 points (dressage 157.52 points – 1st range, jumping 127.7 points – 5th range). Frühlingstraum II has been regarded as one of the pillars of the Westphalian breeding. With Romadour II Fidertanz has been inbred three times to the famous Ramzes x. Fidertanz’ dam, grand dam and grand-grand dam were state premium mares. Lots of approved stallions and highly successful sports horses derive from this damline. The Westfalian licensing champion of 2005, Fidertanz, was proclaimed Hauptpraemium Sieger during the stallion parade. Out of a group of 7 stallions, Fidertanz was selected as best stallion. Owned by Wahlers and Böckmann, Fidertanz scored well in his performance test and the Oldenburg Verband was especially impressed with his first crop of foals. Reason enough to make him the Hauptpraemium winner. In 2004 he was the unequivocal winner of his licensing in Westphalia , showing off his outstanding gaits, excellent jumping ability, correct conformation and easy temperament. He completed his 30 day tests at Neustadt-Dosse as the winner of the testing. As a three year old at the 2005 Bundeschampionate he finished second, scoring 9.5 for conformation, 9 for trot, 9 for canter, 8 for walk , and 9.5 for rideability. His sire Fidermark was reserve champion of the North Rhine-Westphalian approval in 1994, won the Warendorf state stallion performance test in 1995 convincingly, and in 1996 he won the German Federal Championship of four-year-olds. Under Marlies van Baalen he was highly successful through Grand Prix dressage competitions. He not only produced the 2004 NRW champion stallion Fidertanz, but also the Westphalian champion mare Falbala. Very unfortunately, Fidermark died at much too young an age in 2003. Fidertanz's damsire Ravallo was the 1990 winner of the stallion performance test in Medingen, with a total index of 155 points (dressage 157.52 points – 1st , jumping 127.7 points – 5th ). These scores were among the highest ever awarded at a performance test. He produced four approved sons in several breeding areas and many state premium mares. His offspring are known for versatility and talent at advanced levels. The grandam, state premium mare Frühlingssonne, also produced highly successful showjumpers as well as an approved stallion Disconot (by Diamantino). Fidertanz's maternal grand dam's sire Frühlingstraum II, who was awarded the I b premium at the DLG Show, was the 1970 approval champion in Westphalia, and spent many years stationed at Wadersloh. Frühlingstraum II produced a number of highly decorated mares, approved stallions and numerous performance horses for the North Rhine-Westphalian breeding region. The third dam, state premium mare Romana, produced the two approved stallions Frederiko (by Furioso II; private stallion Rhineland) and Paradiso (by Pilot; private stallion Rhineland ). Her sire was DLG winner Romadour II, a very versatile sire. Romadour was sire of the four time Olympic dressage horse Rembrandt, as well as numerous top showjumpers. Fidertanz derives from the damline of the mare Astfläche (by Assing I). This line is of Hanoverian origin. Apart from numerous advanced level sports horses, it also produced the approved stallions Faveur (Warendorf state stallion), Graditz (Dillenburg state stallion), Graphitan (private stallion Hanover, NED), Latent (private stallion Hanover), Orlando (Celle state stallion), Rastellani (private stallion Hesse), Remoir (private stallion Westphalia) and Royal Highness (private stallion Hanover) as well as the successful dressage horse Way Ahead/Alix Denkhaus and the internationally successful showjumper Filou le Rouge/Jörg Kreutzmann.

The mare being honored with the Graf Anton Günther von Oldenburg award for the top mare of 2009 inspection season was bred by Zuchtstall Kotschofsky in Vechta, Germany, and is owned by Nancy Holowesko of Crosiadore Farm in Trappe, Maryland. Fiderline is sired by Fidertanz, the 2004 Westphalian licensing champion. Fiderline's mare line is excellent as well. Her dam, Anna Karina is by the impressive stallion, Harvard, who is well known for his talent, type, and temperament which he scored a perfect 10 for in his performance test. Fiderline won the Mare Performance Test with the highest scores of either MPT, and was considered "competitive with the best mares in Germany" according to Katrin Burger of the Oldenburg Verband.
Here are some photos of Fidertanz.
And, here is a photo of Frisco Bay at 8 months.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Persistence and Determination

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unawarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone...has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." ~Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States
On that note, here are some photos captured from video my dearest friend and client Karen took for me on January 17th this year. This is Charisma, just 23 days back under saddle, 3 months and 23 days post surgery. This is no ordinary horse. The frame her fuzzy coated winter ears put around my view of the world is my favorite view. Every breath, every step, every half halt, every movement, EVERY RIDE is a gift that I never take for granted. Thank you Charisma.