Chapter 3 of Emerald Quality

Yikes, some time has passed. I hate that. It is bewildering to think it is already the end of August, and this past year has swirled around like some windstorm, peppered with occasional golf ball sized hail. When I last wrote about Emerald Quality (Emmie) it was a new year – 2016 – January, in fact, I was coming off my hysterectomy, and sort of standing around unable to participate in any of the breaking, training, or handling of this recently purchased young mare. It snowed a lot. I remember it being particularly cold and useless as far as much training could be accomplished, but this was not a deterrent for the girls. Stacey showed a rare determination to see this filly through the worst months of the winter and come out ahead by spring. I let her.

Following that surgery, when I was finally able to step into the tack at home, I had maybe a week or two before leaving for Gulfport, so I only sat on Emmie once before heading south. I remember choosing the most bitter cold and windy day to haul all of the horses to the McDonogh School for the use of their indoor, and in the back of my mind some strange voice was saying really? Going to pick the two greenest and youngest horses you have today? you sure? oooook, but you are a dumbass! I told that voice to hush, I needed to get fit in a hurry, otherwise what good would I be in Gulfport?

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The McDonogh School indoor

 

Both horses made me work. The first one, a newish gelding, just had to make a big deal about being in a strange surrounding, and had to be ridden with a rather firm set of legs and hands until he gave up the fight and steam rose from both of our bodies. He was good practice for what I expected in Gulfport. Horses are always wild the first day or two when you go south, so it was good for me to be reminded of how to deal with it. Then I moved on to Emmie.

Emmie had mastered the trot with Stacey, but not the canter. She was proving to be quite lazy, and in need of convincing that she had one more gait to acquire before we attempted any jumping. Like a lot of convincing. I was quite winded, actually, in my efforts to get two laps of the canter in each direction, and I am not even sure we accomplished the correct leads. But we did it. And besides her solo head shake and ears pinning with one of my rather fierce kicks in her booty, she ultimately did not protest. This was important for Stacey to see, as she was going to be the one left behind to work it all out, and had already doubted Emmie’s capability to move past the walk and trot. Exhausted, we finished the lot, loaded up and headed home.

A few days later I packed up a couple of other older horses and headed away from the snow banks of Maryland to the flat and strange coast of Mississippi for a couple of blissful weeks of sun, horse showing, and good company…. We all know what happened next.

Recovering from a broken leg just takes time. There isn’t anything else. Just time. It is the same for everyone. The clock ticks by, and your biggest challenge becomes dealing with that time. You suddenly realize your normal routine is out the window, and you now have all day to figure out three of the most basic human needs. How to get to the bathroom to pee, how to arrange the pillows, and how you are going to get food. Occasionally you sleep. Maybe read something. But basically for hours, days and weeks on end, you only think about when to pee, your pillows, and food.

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Deze nugs tho sleep more than i do 

Social Media did save me. I couldn’t write, I could barely read the one book I had, the pain killers just don’t allow for anything more productive than useless trivia and cat videos, but I was able to keep people engaged through simple updates, musing maybe a little more about the powers of Facebook connecting all of our lives all of the time. I was touched by the amount of friends reaching out, knowing I was sitting around doing nothing, and willing to call me to keep my spirits up. That was cool.

My horses had to be dealt with by other people. And they were. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the best in the business. I know this.  I trusted all of them, and they did not let me down. There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t even think about them, so I didn’t. So many people offered to help, and I took advantage of all of them. For weeks. For months. My gratitude for each and every one of you is officially eternal.

I listened to the doctors. I returned to Baltimore after a month in New Orleans and underwent the major surgery to install the hardware I needed. I let my husband be my nurse a second time in four months. Shockingly, we are still married. I requested a date I would be allowed to be back in the saddle, and was told by the amazing Hopkins surgeon July 1st. In a routine checkup in May, he bumped the date up to the middle of June and I nearly fainted. Suddenly time was moving a little faster, and my heart was starting to pound a little harder.

Despite the crutches, I was keeping busy with other things, which I am very proud to be a part of, but the deepest part of my soul was eyeing the middle of June with an uncontrollable desire to feel my own boots, my own chaps, smell my own horse, and feel of my own saddle. God, I was so ready.

I didn’t really hesitate in my thinking to pick Emmie to ride for the first time back. Why should I? I mean, besides the fact she probably hasn’t even seen her fourth birthday, but what does that matter? A good horse is a good horse, right? Right. So far we hadn’t seen even an inkling of what her full brother, Mark Q, apparently was capable of when he was four years of age (level 9 naughtiness).

I was still on crutches when I hobbled into the barn and spent twenty minutes in the heat trying to get my boots and chaps sorted out to fit over my swollen ankle. I groomed her, with a crutch under one arm, and brush in the other, and she never flinched. She just peered at me with big brown eyes. I tacked her up and leaned on her as I hobbled out of the barn to the mounting blocks (yes plural) with treats in my pocket and parked her on the off-side. I couldn’t mount from the left. I had to teach her to let me mount from the right. I also had to spend five minutes on the bench reminding myself how to mount from the right side. Have you ever tried to do that? #mindf**k. Once I was on, Stacey patiently holding her head, I fed her a treat thanking her for standing so quiet, and then had to cross my stirrups. I wasn’t ready to put weight on my bad leg, and knew if I managed five minutes of walk I would be a happy camper. My mom came out from the house and took pictures of me. she was so pleased, and I was like, Mom really? My outfit is completely wrong for this moment, but she didn’t care. She immediately told the world on FB. I walked, trotted a few steps in each direction and was satisfied. It felt great.

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It is now August. I am juggling several projects, clients, lessons and rides, and the leg is healing, getting stronger by the day. I have ventured into the dark side of dressage with one of my other horses even, and found it is quite gratifying. My fitness is returning in the saddle. Meanwhile, I have been wanting to get Emmie to her first horse show, so I earmarked a weekend for a baby green debut. She is developing a following on both sides of the Atlantic, she is the star of a lot of snapchat stories, and I am always answering questions on how she is doing, so I knew it was time. I chose a regional show in Maryland because…. it’s cheaper. Why spend the extra dollars for a rated show when your own state boasts the best Regional Program in the country? Yes, yes we do.

I chose to head to the Black Eyed Susan Horse Show, held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center last Friday to school Emmie over the little jumps to check her mental attitude. I had literally no idea what to expect. We had managed only one day of putting half a dozen jumps together at home the week before. It was HOT. Traffic was HORRENDOUS. A normally hour and fifteen minute drive took TWO HOURS. She was sweating when Stacey and I pulled her off the trailer. I felt bad. She was wide eyed. Did I lunge her? No. Did she whinny? Yes. Did I put ear plugs in? no. She has never worn ear plugs. Did she kick out when her tail wrap was being pulled off? well, kind of. Did she make contact? no. She has a thing about her bum. Not bad, but still, we have to watch her bum.  Might have been a fly, I don’t know, she hasn’t done that since, but I took a small note. Am I being too honest? Probably, but I have years of not caring behind me to be able to sleep at night knowing she is one of the best horses I have ever had to sell, so being too honest is not going to worry me much.

The test run was successful. Emmie LOVED the utter chaos of schooling day. I was conservative and warmed up in an arena without much traffic before moving into the actual show ring. I prepared myself for the worst and trotted up to the first flowered gate with all my weight in the backseat, heels down, hands up like “What if she stops??” She simply trotted over the flowered gate. I did this two more times before I realized this filly isn’t scared of anything, and within two minutes she had completed her first show practice course. Like pushing the Staples button, I thought, that was easy.

 practice day: https://youtu.be/y5P_0L6GBL0

Show day was next. I was totally not getting up early enough to school in the ring again, so she was going to have to remember what she learned the day before. Only this time the jumps were bigger, and she was going to be quite alone. Traffic on the way to the show was not as horrendous, but the temperatures were even higher, and she desperately needed a bath even before showing. We had just enough time. As she almost was dry we tossed the tack on her and headed to the warm up ring. I think I jumped four jumps. We headed to the gate and before too long we were in the ring, alone, and neither of us knew what to expect. Would I be able to keep her cantering? Would she spook, spin, forget what she learned? Do anything remotely expected of a coming four year old? Well, no not really. She had trouble with steering (normal) and one corner of the ring which had a major drop off surprised her, although given one more minute to comprehend would have been solved, but alas, we were not allowed to take the time to investigate.

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I wonder if showing the video of a horse at it’s greenest is the smartest thing to do, but when I started this blog about Emerald Quality, I had a gut instinct she would be ok in the end. I decided to endure the criticism, to be forthcoming about her, because I believe in what I do, I believe in the horses I choose, and I wanted to put it all out there about the length of time it takes to bring a young horse along in the United States, no matter where it comes from. You know the story, you have followed it from the beginning. So here she is, the little bay mare from the Goresbridge Auction, nothing more than a jump chute for me to decide that her life should continue here, in Maryland, in America, as a hunter prospect. You can come to your own conclusions, I am happy with what I have, and happy knowing what she will be in the future. And I am so happy she was the horse I chose to bring me back from the broken leg to the show ring in a matter of a few months. It is ok if she doesn’t go in a perfectly straight line the first time in the show ring, she will be better next time.

Now all that time I spent healing is behind me, and no matter what happens in the future, Emmie will be remembered as the one horse I felt so comfortable with mounting from the wrong side on June 20th, 2016.

Video of Emmie’s first hunter rounds : https://youtu.be/1Wq-yKW5H5k

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Speed of life

When I was 15 years old, I had a riding accident. It was early in the morning, and I was doing my side job of exercising racehorses at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore city. It was a Saturday. We had a few sets to get out, (I rode for a busy training stable, and sets of two or three a couple times each morning was common) and I wasn’t really thinking about much, just taking note of who was in the stables, who might have been hot walking, my egg sandwich waiting for me at the track kitchen later, or which horses we had planned to school the gate.

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I didn’t check my girth twice like normal before heading out to the racetrack. I also wasn’t really supposed to be there. At the age of 15, it is not possible to acquire a license to be galloping horses on the racetrack. You had to be sneaky. I was a year away from the legal age. My parents didn’t really know about this rule, so when I rode my bike to the stable down the street at 5:00 in the morning and I climbed into the truck to head to the track, they were pretty much clueless (and still asleep). I knew what was going on, but was willing to be sneaky as hell in order to get a chance to breeze those horses on the track. It was everything to me. I loved to go fast. I loved every single moment of what I was doing. At home my event horse was fast, like super fast, and it took every little pound of me to keep him in some sort of respectable speed in each phase, and he might have been my first introduction to creative bits to tap into that control factor. I discovered the benefits of a pelham. The racehorses trained me, and I used it in the Three day eventing world. Daily.

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My friends at school were more concerned about how to obtain a fake id to get into bars, and I was more concerned about my track license. I was still six months away from a legal license, and obsessed with looking old enough to be there. I cut my hair so short that patrons of the McDonalds around the corner questioned my presence in the ladies bathroom. I once had to show my bra strap to prove I was a girl. The irony of North Carolina does not escape me. I smoked my first cigarette, and learned having a lighter on your body was a viable tool against sketchy hot walkers.

Yet, one morning, I had to pay the price for my mind wandering. It was such a cute horse, bay, young, and sensible. We could trot around the entire mile length track going the opposite direction without even a head toss at the other horses flying by him. I was relaxed, he was relaxed, and the horse we were in company with jigged and danced, but we ignored him as a team. We turned around where the starting gate hangs out in the mornings, and picked up an easy gallop along the backstretch. The plan was to hit the turn and pick up to a full breeze toward the wire. I egged him on past the backside stables, it felt good, we were keeping pace on the outside of the greener horse who was just learning the ropes. It was my job to keep my horse just outside that greener horse who was on the rail. We hit the turn, and I felt the normal adrenaline take over as we started to to go flat out. Then I felt the saddle slip. I immediately felt my mouth curse two words out loud and it was over.

I woke up in the ambulance. There was a woman asking me if I could tell her my name. What an odd question I thought, of course I could tell her my name. And I did. I think I got it right. She asked me the year. She asked me who was president. I answered her, but oddly, I hadn’t figured out why I was being asked these questions. Then she asked me my age. I replied 15. She paused. She asked me again. Then I finally remembered where I was. Oh my Lord, I forgot to lie.

My hospital stay revealed a fractured vertebrae, mild concussion, and the doctors said sit tight for the rest of the season, and don’t get on a horse again for a few months. I sort of listened, but at the age of 15, what are you really going to do with all of that free time? Within a few weeks I was back on my horse at home and focusing on eventing. I was banned from the racetrack until my November birthday, but not from the race stable, so I soon returned to trot or gallop babies around the farm, or swim them in the pond at the bottom of their hill.

I finally turned 16, and obtained a legal exercise license and continued to ride racehorses before school every morning, desperately trying to avoid demerits from my school’s student advisor for being late all of the time. I showered occasionally on campus in the dormitories, or just sought out the back of the room for a seat and suffered the endless teacher criticism for being removed or unfocused. In reality, I knew I just smelled like the barn.

My equestrian career flourished, yet the details blurred together and throughout the years, I recognize my experiences have been healthy, I have enjoyed many moments, helped secure my presence in this horse show world just enough for my own personal satisfaction. I have no complaints, it has been good. I love racing, love OTTB’s. I also love warmbloods. I listen well, I hear people’s thoughts, I want what is best for the entire show world. I work like every one else works in the horse world, hard.

Then I broke my leg. At the age of 44, it was the only time I could remember time actually standing still. For months.

Horse people have a ridiculous time frame in their heads when they have to sit still. It is like one week is equivalent to one year. I couldn’t believe what was happening but couldn’t complain because I know it could have been so much worse. I thought of Todd Minikus and his groin injury which had prevented him from competing most of the winter despite it being an Olympic year, and would it diminish his chances of making the team for Rio when he had a barn full of top potential candidates? I thought of Peter Pletcher breaking his arm at the beginning of WEF and all of the people who stepped up to help him get through those important weeks for his clients while he stood from the in-gate. My friends did the same for me. I became incredibly sad for the Eventing world, and hash tagged my way through every fatality, thinking to myself, when is this going to end and what can we do to help this sport? I used to compete in 3-day, I should be able to come up with a solution. Yet, I am still thinking about it… I witnessed countless people react to drunk driving, and wondered why they hadn’t reacted as strongly before this year? I mean really, MADD was created decades ago by distraught mothers. I looked outside of the A-circuit for the first time in years and discovered maybe I could be useful to educational programs, unrecognized circuits, and even kids in the city looking for options besides heroin and crack. Good kids. Kids with hope on their side. I found myself desperately wanting to support people with a carriage business, fruit cart, and even simply being amazed at vaulters. Why isn’t vaulting on everyone’s radar? Or jousting, or polocrosse?  I have more time to watch televised events all over the world, subscribe to every horse channel, and witness every majestic moment or tragedy through my computer. I question my own state facilities, wondering what we can do to make them better, make them competitive on the international circuit.

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Photo Credit M Holden Warren


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Photo Credit Larry Cohen

I understand when horse people are so focused on their own lives, they are too exhausted to think outside the box, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that an entire population of horse people exist (and all over the world). Racing saw a badly needed hero in American Pharoah, maybe this year’s favorite Nyquist will follow suit to truly inspire race fans worldwide, and maybe those same racing fans will further recognize the second careers of those horses, each discipline needs to remember they are not the only exclusive horse people out there, and we need to think together, think like a horse, think like a solid community. The next few years are going to be incredibly important, we are going to see some big changes in all of our horse disciplines, horse management, tolerance, welfare, and education. Hopefully we see more horse movies like Harry and Snowman to encourage all of us. (Personally, the Black Stallion catapulted my desire to speak with all animals, not just the horse) If we could find a way to see more of those kinds of films, maybe we would see less abuse in our communities. If we can figure out a way to work together, we could bring extraordinary and badly needed change.

We are the same, don’t ever forget it, every soft touch to the muzzle, no matter the background, is the same for all of us, and we need each other to stay in this world we can never let go of. The horse world. Your world, my world, our world. Yet, I am also reminding people for every one of your own accomplishments, it might be equally important to recognize someone else’s accomplishments. Without that tool, we may never be able to find solutions in an ever evolving horse world, we may not ever be able to work together, all horse sports and lifestyles included. You need to celebrate your own successful moment? Good, celebrate someone else’s successful moment with it. It will do you good. It will do all of us some good.

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I am so glad I was hurt on March 11th, 2016. It truly may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Yes it’s awkward, everything hurts all of the time, but really, who cares about that? The broken leg will heal, eventually. The benefits from my accident could fill pages and pages with stories, about new friendships, new projects, encouragement, relationships, goals, survival, creative teaching, and most of all a new perspective on the horse world. If you haven’t given yourself a reality check in a while, now might be the time to do it, regardless of age. Make sure you are leading the life you want to lead, starting now, make sure you are taking care of the one body you have, so that you stick around to take care of the horses you love. Then try to give back to your community.

This morning I crawled out of bed way too early, got myself dressed and in the car, and drove to the Pimlico racetrack for their Sunrise Guided Tours put on by a slew of volunteers. I don’t like to get up early, I am tired of the rain, but someone in my head reminded me the people putting on events like these, are contributing immensely to the horse world, they are the ones inspiring little kids to maybe consider horses in their own futures, pushing a difficult industry into a positive light, and without them, we may not have anyone rooting for a Triple Crown Winner. Schools are sending groups of kids to take a tour of the facility, I ran into a slew of people I knew, without any prior planning to meet up. Quite simply it was just cool to be there having breakfast and watching horses galloping by. I’d do it again in a heart beat, and if you are anywhere around Baltimore City, you should, too. http://www.preakness.com/sunrise-tours-6 It is worth it. Coffee, drinks, and fruit on are on the house. I am excited for the Thoroughbreds in our country, I am glad there are many flourishing, I am glad we are making room for them at recognized shows, I want to see more of them each year, I want USEF to recognize multiple fence heights, if they will ever listen to my pleas.  I think they are amazing creatures. I also like seeing where they begin, from the foals at the various Maryland/Kentucky/Pennsylvania farms to the racetracks like Pimlico, Laurel, and hopefully to the shows I attend down the road.

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Darius Thorpe talking to kids

 PC jennifer Webster

 

I am looking at thoroughbreds again in the same way I did when I was 15, as athletic, powerful creatures, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for people working with them at the racetrack. I may have moved on from those thrilling days of speed, but I have no less admiration for them and I am constantly thinking how to connect the dots from the kids visiting city stables to jockeys at Pimlico. I think there is definitely an answer there. Hopefully we won’t lose Old Hilltop, but that reality is haunting us from the horizon. It certainly would make what I envision that much harder. If you have ideas, share your ideas, don’t sleep on them, don’t wait until you are sidelined with an injury to mention those ideas to someone, my biggest regret may actually be not stepping up to the plate earlier with my head full of similar thoughts. Just remember to respect all life with horses, no matter what. Because we are all the same.

And the next time you ride, make sure you tighten your girth.

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he can trot and tighten girth at same time

Maryland my Maryland

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Sarah and Maddy show their love for the state and build a MD jump

During the most inactive time of my entire life, due entirely to surgeries and broken bones, I have an extraordinary amount of time to explore some other events in the horse world, most people would consider boring events occurring around me. But they are far from boring, if you pay enough attention. Last year I was incensed over certain membership increases, so I delved into those organizations to explore reform. That still continues, and along the way I have re-discovered other organizations and the links between them. Luckily for me, I live in Maryland. I understand the small size of our state and the issues we have and how we have to be careful with in comparing the size of our industry patterns with say, California.

I started attending MD Horse Industry Board Meetings. Ours in Maryland has evolved over the years into a relatively small but focused group of horsemen representing all aspects of life among horses from over 35 different disciplines/lifestyles we offer in Maryland. Ten years ago I tried these meetings and walked away several times with a headache. Today, either my maturity and experience caught up with me or the meetings are actually really productive. Keep your ‘eye rolls’ at bay for a minute, believe me, I have had many over the years, but it is hard to deny inspiration and ideas can arise from a gathering of eclectic horse people, either for your own business, or for other organizations we shovel our money over to each year.

I like where our current MHIB is heading, there is a clearer picture presenting itself about how to connect the web of people involved in horses, and bring in fresh, new faces into our world, and keep the horse business a valid industry in our State. We need all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds to contribute to the future of horse sports, on all levels right? And provide options. There is a lot to be said for people burning out from one discipline, only to discover over 30 alternatives to keep them involved in horses. This may seem inconsequential to you at the moment, but your best friend maybe getting really, really tired of keeping her boarding/lesson facility afloat, want to sell and get out of it entirely, and may not know about the Horse Discovery Program offered which can revitalize a lesson facility with an influx of beginner riders. Adding that farm to the tour, along with a rescue donkey, might just be the answer she needs and you could be the one to offer that suggestion.

There are also parallels coming from within the meetings which could be compared to the USHJA and USEF. It is funny we all are looking for the same thing….. sport growth.

I hear rumors about other states reluctant to evolve, or push for licensed stables and public operations, but I can’t help feel that if we were all moving forward together, we would be waking up to less and less reports of animal neglect on farms across the nation. I know I would be happy to never, ever hear of a Peaceable Farms (Virginia) situation again, or last years Jessica York’s herd in Bangor, Maine which sounds equally messy. There are hundreds of ugly situations all over the country. Maybe if we were all checking on each other a little more frequently, these situations would become non-existent, and we would have less or no need for the ASPCA, PETA, or the Humane Society. How nice to be able to put those jerks out of business. However, I digress.

Sparking ideas is a legitimate reason to keep networking. I learned about the most exciting new circuit developing from an idea Patte Zumbrun has for young riders I can hardly contain my excitement for. This fall she is starting a new association similar to the structure of ANRC, but for high school students. The Horsemanship test is part of your overall score; shows will be provided, and a championship at the end of the year. What an incredible solution to the vast canyon IEA has left with barn owners struggling to provide horses for the ‘Ten Minute Rider’. I am personally a strong opposer to the IEA, I don’t support any equine activity in which the only requirement is the purchase of an outfit, and horses are considered disposable or somebody else’s problem at the end of the day. In my eyes, it is ludicrous, as well as dangerous, and not enough of those riders continue in the industry. This other proven model will broaden opportunities for young riders in different financial brackets, and open the doors for them professionally down the road, essentially grooming our future professionals from the beginning if Pony Club is unavailable to them. Some amount of philosophy is needed in all careers, equestrianism is no different, and it is a relief to see people unafraid to test new boundaries. I hope to follow her progress with enthusiasm.

Military. Maryland is apparently the place to be for Wounded Warriors. I find it dumbfounding there are over 20 stables offering programs to veterans, and thriving in this state. 20! That in itself is pretty incredible, and as far as I know there aren’t too many USEF Recognized Horse Shows raising money for veterans, so these programs are surviving on grants and private donors. Imagine if just 5 horse shows donated a tiny portion of their proceeds to these stables, what it could do for the veterans who served us so we can even have the freedom to run horse shows. Imagine if 10 people reading this called some of those programs and asked if they needed an extra hand or water bucket, halter, or hay…

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Hospital horses. Pet Therapy is one of the most effective ways to engage people and sadly one of the most under used tools in society today. What if you had a way to help brighten just one person’s day but no idea how to make that happen? Using your network might allow a few patients young and old to see more than the bedroom walls for an hour a month or more. Maybe an invitation to the Capital Challenge Horse Show might garner enough donations to make this little guy stay busy year round.  Watch the video, just watch. http://www.wbaltv.com/mini-horse-dog-help-patients-kids-cope-in-maryland/32420142

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Big Purple Barn

Find them on FB and like this photo of our mascot Violet if you love horses! Share this photo with a friend who wants to SHARE our love of horses! Meet Violet on 4/24!feeling in love at The Big Purple Barn.

Film Festival. If you haven’t heard of Harry & Snowman I don’t know what to do with you or even guess what you have been doing with your life. And if you haven’t seen it, here is your chance. The Senator Theatre in Baltimore is hosting the final screening before it goes public on Wednesday May 11th. There are 700 seats in the Senator Theatre. It is part of the Winners Tour of the EQUUS Film Festival, and a Spring “Barn Night” might become your best idea yet, if you post a sign in your barn saying “WE ARE GOING TO SEE HARRY & SNOWMAN MAY 11TH!!!!!!!” DO it, not since the Black Stallion has there been a horse movie like this.  Details are being finalized but you can basically see 2 or 3 films (some short) for $15 a ticket, or be included in the VIP reception for $50 and MEET the filmmakers. You should be there. Find the MHIB Facebook page for info.

Jousting. Yep, our state sport. Seriously though, what could be more fun than trying to poke a stick through a ring at 20-30 miles an hour? Heath Ledger made jousting sexy as hell in A Knights Tale, but few people know what it really entails unless you have been to Medieval Times or the Renaissance Festival, there are actually tourneys all over the State and all summer long, starting with one on May 7th in Glen Arm! Just for fun I googled the sight, and discovered there are over 150 riders doing this. Holy Crap. I must see this. www.marylandjousting.com or video: https://youtu.be/eTxkGlGfMmE

Steeplechase. We can’t get enough of Spring racing in our state, and back to back weekends full of horse racing and pink and green popping up all through the Valley, which the MD Hunt Cup is considered the holy grail of trophies to hold up in the air the final weekend in April on the famed horse farm of the Martin family. It’s ridiculous and dangerous, but sure is fun.  Some of these events host pony racing, (a lot less dangerous and more fun) which eventually bleeds over into the Shetland Pony races held at Washington International in the fall, a huge delight to crowds attending that event. Like seeing them at those big shows? Support them in the spring, too! www.usponyracing.com

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future of racing

Polo: It’s everywhere, but essentially Ladew Gardens is the place to find a lot of Polo, especially Fridays and Sundays, and July boasts a fundraiser for Shock Trauma (useful hospital for riders) called the Ronny Maher Benefit Polo Match. Good times, tix here www.ronnymahermemorial.org.

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the perfect Maryland outfits

Those are only a few examples, and people are involved with dozens more, Mounted Police, Arabbers, Therapeutic Riding, Eventing, Pony Club, Foxchasing, The State Fair, Horse Shows, Dressage, Rodeos, Calvary, Assateauge, breed shows, Racing, Special Olympics, and every thing else you can think of.

Change any preconceived notions about the MHIB, visit the site, look at the schedule, see what opportunities are available for you or children you know. There is so much more coming in the future we will all benefit from. If you are in the 49 other states, get motivated to make your Industry Board forward thinking. Create a model which can be used nationally for every discipline, for every horse, for every rider. It is about getting involved.

video:  https://youtu.be/mfa94Br9CB0

site: http://mda.maryland.gov/horseboard/pages/horse_board.aspx

schedule :

http://mda.maryland.gov/horseboard/Documents/2016-MHIB_Events-FINAL.pdf

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A super moment at Talisman Theraeutic

A Classic Tale

I made arrangements last year to show in Gulfport, Mississippi for this February – March circuit because it has long been one of my favorite show management companies, my former student Dani lives there now (mini-me), and they were offering a $5.00 pre-green division for circuit which I thought was such an incredibly generous move I could hardly pass it up. Westin could basically show for free. I also love the derbies held there, and Week V the derbies would be held on the grass Grand Prix field.

That’s the business side of showing, I guess. The flip side for me is the fact that I hate giving money to show management companies I don’t like, REGARDLESS of weather, location, or money offered. This is a personal decision, and could care less if I am criticized about it. We all have our own idiosyncrasies.

I like to be able to arrive to show grounds, when I am exhausted from a ridiculously long North to South drive, and be surrounded by friendly, helpful people who seemed genuinely glad to see me. The next morning when I walk in the show office, I like how absolutely everyone lifts their heads and takes the time to say hello, even if they are busy with another exhibitor checking in, no one seems to have forgotten their manners, and even the four legged show office dogs sniff your feet. I particularly like the cookies (Belgian cookies) and peppermints off to the side, and noticed my “lollipop for pap smear recipients” container is sitting on a shelf which leads me to spark that conversation all over again. In return, I was given an earful about the embarrassment of having to explain what a pap smear is to a 5 year old boy who wanted a lollipop. lol oops. This explains the height of the shelf the lollipop container now sits on.

The Classic Company motto has always been about providing horse show competition for every level of rider, and from various backgrounds. It is a transient group that follows the shows run by Classic, very few of them have purchased property around one of their circuits, and I have noticed it is a different category of people who work amazingly hard, have respect for their fellow horsemen, and share some tight camaraderie within the horse show community. You are going to see a lot of good sportsmanship at these shows. People show together, but also eat meals together, explore together and party together. A local church opens their doors for free dinners every Wednesday night to exhibitors, (which a handful of us never miss), and it is clear how hard the staff has worked to garner meet and greet parties on and off the show grounds to integrate not only all of us together, but all of us within parts of the community. It really is extraordinary to see the efforts. Casino life is a big life in and around the Gulf Coast, and it is very clearly incorporated through sponsorships and events held during the circuit. Every Monday night a selected casino hosts an exhibitor party.

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me, Bob Bell, Brooke Kemper, Grace McShane, Katherine LeBlanc and Drew Coster

They are also always open to ideas. Which I have a lot of. Maybe too many, but whatever. My plan in my head was to gather up all my ideas and present them to Bob Bell and Janet McCarroll at the end of circuit to think about for next year. However, Life had different plans than the ones in my head, and in a very freaky, unlikely mishap, I was spun of my horse and broke my leg one evening of Week V and have been in the hospital ever since. Crap.

One handicap about being a transient equestrian is the difficulty of traveling with special equipment for the horse(s). Unless you are local, and/or have an enormous operation, the ability to haul a treadmill, or multiple magna wave suits, or thera plate is often not a reality. At least not without a tractor trailer and an amazing amount of staff. Why not create a spa for horses. The space is available. If you want people to remain for the entire circuit and think more long term rather than a couple weeks here and there, create enough of an environment to make it plausible. More focus is going to be put on the welfare of horses in the future, and here is a great opportunity to be one of the first ones to provide more services for the horse. If Classic bought a thera plate, and a couple of magnetic blankets, hired a massage therapist, or chiropractor, or both, and set up shop in an area we all had access to, they could rent out these or other services. You could even have an aqua treadmill if you wanted! A complete service facility exclusively for the horse! If you had the incredible misfortune of bringing a clients horse down for circuit and it went lame week one, instead of losing that client altogether, you could participate in the rehab of that horse, and the owner might be really surprised by your efforts and be loyal for life. I would. If I had to turn to an owner and say we have to send your horse home lame or keep it locked in a stall to end of circuit, or here! – a mobile rehab facility is on the grounds let’s try this – what do you think I am going to do? Not only for horses that have unfortunate accidents, but horses are athletes too, and many of us want to be able to provide as many health services to them (but aren’t made of money) to keep them showing in top form. I would absolutely take full advantage of a valet service for my horse to give him an hour on the thera plate whenever he needed or wanted it. Thinking outside the box is what companies outside of Florida need to do in order to keep people coming in and staying for good during winter circuits. The $5 pregreen division worked this year, there were loads of young horses, and I hope that tradition continues into next year as well, but is it enough?

Classic has done everything to provide incredible footing and beautiful fences to jump, which we love, but the reality about the weather in Gulfport is that it is the number one deterrent for people deciding on winter circuits. It is pleasant only about 50% of the time. The airport is the other deterrent and access to the show for weekenders is expensive at best, which may have explained why Apollojets was a huge sponsor for one of the weeks, so they could get their information out to people considering alternatives in flight travel. Brian Hillen was an amazing advocate for the company, and even if this isn’t a viable solution for everyone at the moment, he might be able to provide options in the future.

But if horsemen knew they had access to equipment that would help keep their horses sound and happy through circuits, would it change their minds? And would it be enough? It possibly would be a good start. Classic runs shows all through the year, so the horse spa could travel to Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charleston, Pensacola, Gulfport, and be considered a regular feature included into whatever event wherever they are at any given moment. Grand Prix horses to small ponies would benefit from it, and you may even see some sponsorship opportunities come up from the creators of all those kinds of equipment.

I also bet a spa for people would close up that gap in vendor’s row pretty well, too. Girls need their nails done, you know, even horse girls. I remember pitching this idea with Mary Ruth last year. A group of ladies introduced one at Thermal to offset their showing costs, and it was a tremendous hit. Ohio has a mom spa, right by the pony ring. Still want to incorporate the locals? Then hire them to do the work. There is literally nothing more luxurious to a horse girl than to have someone else shampoo your hair every once in a while, and the reality of horse show life is that we just can’t always find the energy to deal with hair on a daily basis. Help us help ourselves from dirty hair syndrome.

Bring in hot dealers to help us learn how to waste our money in Casinos. I actually did have success with this suggestion, and if the Casino life is really that important and we should be honoring our sponsors, then we need confidence builders to educate  the few of us not comfortable pushing the doors open to casino and walking up to a blackjack table and taking a seat. However, if a hot dealer showed up and educated me on when to say “hit me” I would pounce my over confident butt right on in to the Beau Rivage, order a drink, and go for it!

Even if these ideas never gain momentum, Classic Company is still considered the nicest show management company around. This show has so much camaraderie going for it, it is almost impossible to feel like an outsider. We all help each other out when tragedy strikes, we all regard our fellow horsemen as just that –  fellow horsemen, we understand the need for us all to show up and work everyday in order for shows to go on, and we all have a more grounded outlook on the horse world. If you were going to let your kids roam free and learn from professionals from the sidelines, this is a pretty safe community to do that in. I wanted to offer a pony clinic for modeling and jogging and every trainer I approached about the idea was on board, and enthusiastic about the idea. If I hadn’t been tossed, it might have even happened. Crap again.

 

Week V offered an International Derby with the substantial amount of $77,700 in prize money offered. It was a big deal this year. It also was a big deal when the realization that a very notorious farm would be descending upon us with several horses to compete for said prize money. My brain was churning. It still is. When I started writing this blog, I had intended to address EVERY aspect of this world, the horse world, good, bad, and ugly, and without any planning, just delved into the far reaching corners of my brain to extract what was getting under my skin. The point is that the fear of the kind of person I become weighs heavily on every subject I bring to the table.

Sportsmanship is such a tricky subject, but I am not sure why it should be so tricky. Fierce competitors claim that being the nice guy will not bring the first place prize, so they forgo manners for wins. In all sports, not just horses. Soccer parents are just as guilty as anyone when they are screaming obscenities from the sidelines. It’s gross. We all know it. The image bad sportsmanship behavior leaves behind actually does have an impact on young people and young people will be the future of sport. Whether you like it or not, SOMEONE IS ALWAYS WATCHING YOU AND LEARNING FROM YOU. Our tolerance for people who have major temper tantrums ringside is enormous. We all look at each other, stay silent, roll our eyes, and give thanks we don’t have to endure the side show on a regular basis. But I am sick of it. I am sick of fence lines being kicked out of frustration, I am sick of the shouting in the schooling area, I am sick of wondering what junior rider is influenced by the drama. There is no excuse for it. It is simply not that difficult to tone down the rhetoric, act like an adult, and quit with the insults.

Watching the International Derby in the absolute worst weather conditions possible with torrential rain that just would not give up, I was depressed about what I was seeing. It was clear we were watching for all the wrong reasons. Whether we had personal ties to some horses didn’t seem to matter, the lack of encouragement for certain riders was abundantly clear. I almost wish I was watching on the computer instead of live so I couldn’t witness the weak applause for the winner. I felt guilty and justified at the same time. What kind of person had I become? Probably not the person I want to be.

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starting to gather under tent for derby

That night I broke my leg. I remember every detail. I waited until late in the day to ride my horses because of the bad weather, and my only choice was to ride in the covered arena, a clay surface not ideal for much except rodeos. However, it is the only option in heavy rain. There was one other person schooling in the ring with me, but he left, walking out into the dark, back to his stall. My horse, never having been keen on being left alone, lifted his head to look for him outside the ring as I was cantering a circle in front of some jumps. In that moment of distraction we passed by some standards and when he brought his attention back to me, he was surprised by the proximity of the jumps and suddenly spun around in a panic, leaving me wholly unprepared and vulnerable. I spun off in spectacular fashion with one leg landing perfectly on the ground, only to see the second leg meet the clay right at ankle height, instantly snapping the bones off right through my clothes, and right through my chaps. If I was 5’8” instead of 5’10” I would have landed clean with no injury. It was gruesome and depressing all at once, and I just lay in a heap in utter shock at what I had done. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to call Brooke (who I knew was home on her couch drinking a beer), and suggested she call for help. She did.

Within minutes I was surrounded by wonderful, kind, caring friends, and as TJ held my head up out of the dirt and Paulie held my hand as the ambulance drivers cut off my boots and chaps, my main concern was not seeing any of them again before the end of circuit. I knew I wasn’t returning and I was heartbroken. I was leaving on such a sad note and didn’t want to. We still had one more church dinner left and they were baking a special chocolate cake just for me (I was insisting on the same icing as before and not switching to lemon) and we still had to get the popcorn machine going again because it was such a hit last weekend. Allen Reinheimer was pacing nervously and I am sure his thoughts about what I might blog about were swirling around in his head, but honestly I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be exactly right there at the time of that fall, knowing they would never, ever abandon me.

Brooke Kemper, Nigel Potts, Cathy Jolly, Tom and Tracey Brennan, TJ Le Blanc, Paul Jewel, Dani DiPietro and countless other people deserve more than just my thanks for seeing me to the hospital, taking care of the horses, packing my stuff at the show, and at the house, driving my horses home,and all the million other things that had to be done as a result. If you see any of these people around feel free to acknowledge their kindness and never forget your world can change forever in just a 5 second incident.

I will recover, I can still participate from the sidelines, I will finish reading the strange and disturbing auto biography of George Morris which was delivered a few days ago, I will continue to search for solutions for the horse organizations we are all members of, and I most definitely will return to the show ring, and Classic Company horse shows will still be at the top of my short list of competitions I love to attend.

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Kevin McQueen recipient of Sportsmanship award

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Dani showing Westin in adults

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family dinners

#ShowHuntersMatter

Riding hunters is not easy. Few people teach strictly hunters, and fewer people teach it well. It is a very difficult vocabulary, and is almost always interpreted incorrectly, there are too many components, which is mainly the reason so many drugs are used, and now we face a crisis with Carolina Gold, Gaba, Perfect Prep, Dormosedan, and whatever else used to quiet a horse down, found in horses all over the place, and people jumping to conclusions about all hunters using medication to compete. It makes buyers nervous to purchase horses actively showing, which doesn’t help the sport, doesn’t grow the sport, also inherently leading to an enormous amount of friction between the USEF and its members. People within that organization probably believe every hunter rider is cheating — which is not true.  It is so hard for the right people to stand up to cheaters because in the back of their minds, they could possibly be selling the next winner to them down the road. And they might need the money! Hello?  Calling a cheater out is painful and really impossible in this day and age.

The show hunter sport sure could use a facelift.

Many more people have to lunge horses, or the horses MUST get schooled from a professional before being handed off to an amateur or junior… This is not a bad thing, just the way it is right now. However, there is definitely a growing number of people who would prefer not to have to spin their expensive animal in a tiny circle for an hour before it heads to the ring. The National VP of USHJA would infuriate me constantly when he criticized riders/trainers with hot horses, spewing things like ‘you should have picked a better horse’, or ‘just buy something quieter.’ Like ‘disposable horses’ is something we should be encouraging. This happened at the last USHJA convention I attended and I could feel my face turning red, my blood pressure rising.  unproductive. dismissive.  The great GM would say the same thing. “Change that chestnut mare for something you can actually ride!!” ugh, get real. Maybe some of these poor disposable horses were actually nice at one time, but the drugs wore off! Who knows, but it is not a sentiment I want to continue to hear anymore.

Meanwhile hunter clinics are almost non-existent in today’s real world.

So what if we could invite an entire culture to re-learn how to ride a show hunter? The next generation? Would anyone be interested? Maybe a few, if taught properly. I know the horse is being judged, but the rider is responsible for the horse looking good, great, or normal, and everything in between.  I find there are a ton of people who give up riding hunters after years of frustration, only to find relaxation and exuberance in the jumper ring. Ride for a clean round, then ride for speed. No one can really blame them, can they?

I also like riding in the jumper ring, and even moved to Europe for a while to feed my inner ‘go fast, jump high’ child inside of me, but honestly, I ride hunters well, my body understands hunters, and even if at times, going around in circles is incredibly tiresome and dull, I get it. It is an art. It is magical, people notice it. They do. We do. People notice when they are watching something incredibly difficult look soooooooo easy, so, so easy. Ironically, last year I posted a video of Tori Colvin’s junior hunter round receiving a perfect score at Upperville and it received over 40k hits. I was dumbfounded and impressed at the same time. I think that recognition of beautiful riding and beautiful form from the horse is what keeps me doing it; besides the fact that if you can find a few good hunters to sell, the money is not bad.

https://www.facebook.com/deloise.noblestrong/videos/10153388841438899/?l=8945299746657361843

When I searched the web for instructional tools for hunters, I came up short. I noticed fun things like how to do a lead change, many dressage tutorials, eventing tutorials, equitation secrets, but the hunter information is lacking. We need show hunter information in order to keep the hunters relevant to our horse show world, but it is hard to find, and never free. Are there just too many variables? Like the wind? Rain?

There are so many things I have learned over the years from teaching new people how to ride better that fascinated me. No less than 80% of what I taught was entirely NEW information. Have instructors recycled certain teaching habits so much, there is little innovative language for hunters? What am I talking about? The perfect distance, for example? WTF? Why can’t people generally create their own distance to a fence? It is all I hear from students, the desire to find the perfect distance. I don’t understand how it can be left up to luck to get to the perfect distance. Math is involved. Course designers set a very mathematical pattern in a ring which is supposed to be followed… On a 12 foot stride (for a horse).

Do you understand how many strides you are supposed to get in a 72 foot line or do you just hope your trainer tells you the right thing when you are standing at the in-gate? I am not saying the perfect chocolate chip shouldn’t ever happen, because even the best riders miscalculate the math and what is happening inside their horse’s brains, but many chocolate chips can be prevented due to more information. Knowing how to count strides is simply part of hunters 101. In a 72 foot line for the 3’ hunters, you generally have three options – 4 strides (scary) or 5 strides (correct) or 6 strides (the add). The 72’ line in any ring anywhere should ride the same.

I want hunters to stick around. I think they are generally pretty, I think the challenge of a good hunter round is worth rewarding, I think we have a lot to gain for having hunters in our business, our industry, our sport, and I want a healthy relationship for hunter judges and competitors as well, without the weird brotherhood up the line we keep hearing about. It is education, it is tolerance, it is going to take a village. It is going to take mentors being really good mentors, it is about seasoned judges allowing up and coming judges to understand that even if mistakes are made they will still receive education, not be punished or not hired, maybe even the politics can fade out if we do this properly. I would like to see more younger professionals feel like they have a chance at really big competitions. Helping each other to help the sport.

So what can I offer?? The experiment, which undoubtedly someone else will perfect later down the road, or next week on some much bigger website.

I don’t know if this is much, but it certainly has helped a lot of people in the past. Just for a moment I want to skip ahead to  jumping over flatwork (which I am a strong believer in). If you are not doing all the moves on your hunter that an upper level dressage rider is doing with a horse, you are not doing it right. In my opinion. And all of these moves should happen before you actually step over your first jump. However, I am not an idiot, I know we get in a hurry to get to the show ring. But, if you need back up, ask Peter Wylde how he prepped his hunters for indoors. I read in an article last year (which I am still searching for) Louise Serio offered advice when he asked her (because she is incredibly knowledgable) on flatting his horses leading up to the indoor circuit, and she told him to ride them just as you would ride your Grand Prix jumping horses. Lengthen, collection, lateral work, perfect transitions, etc., etc. Fingers crossed I remember that correctly.

There are multiple types of hunters out there, this first one to address is a horse with it’s own motor…. Approximately 90% of new riders I have come across ‘encourage’ a horse to leave the ground at an obstacle. Why do you tell your horse to jump a fence when it is already okay with jumping said fence? It is not spooking at it, not balking, not green, not behind your leg, it is already like ‘sure mom, let’s do this!,’ and yet, as a rider, you are adding energy to the take off. No one wants you to add energy to the take off in a hunter round! Please add LESS energy as your horse gets closer to the fence, let your body breathe, melt, put your heels down, take your leg off, and RELAX. Have you ever heard the term, let the horse jump up to you?? LET THE HORSE JUMP UP TO YOU. Smoothly, on it’s own, in breathtaking fashion. make the jump last forever. pretend someone is trying to photograph that perfect moment and hold still……

Loads of people will argue with me all day long, criticize how I look, what I am doing, but in general, what I do works, and other people can do it, too.

Do I understand that hunters are judged on their own form and #kneesup, but the rider is not being judged?? Yes, of course I do!!  But I also know first hand that I AM AFFECTING HOW THAT HORSE PRODUCES A PERFECT ROUND. My body is equally responsible for a good hunter being a good hunter in the show ring.  #TheRiderMatters

A: Create a trot jump (cross rail) with a take off pole 6 feet in front of the jump in your ring.  ——>   I…6’…X …

B: Approach said trot jump. As you step over the pole in front of the jump, push your heel toward the shoulder of the horse and try to touch said shoulder. You can’t actually physically do this, no one can, but the action is what moves your leg to a better position over top of the cross rail. Your heel goes further down, away from the horse’s side, and you have successfully not encouraged your horse to jump, and are allowing him to jump to you. If your horse is over the age of 6, he probably already knows what to do, correct? Get to the other side? so, stay out of the way!  You have other things to worry about next.  Now many other variables come into play during the process, like release, seat, momentum, body control, but the general idea is the same for your leg every time: heels down, away from the horse.

———

Body position over a jump for a hunter rider. Often misinterpreted, rarely duplicated.

The SECOND most misused part of the body is the torso in mid-air over a jump in the hunter ring. Riders, for some reason, totally get into jumping. They want to jump more than their horse does! You see SO MANY RIDERS FLINGING their torsos over the jump in such dramatic fashion, you would think they were at the Olympic games jumping 1.60m. but in reality it is 2’6” or 3’ children’s or adult hunter class.

Slow down sista. Let that beast jump up to you. He is doing all of the work, please do not add to the magic. If you have perfected that leg thing up above, chances are pretty strong you can also smoothly allow your body to be following the horse in slow motion over top of a jump. Riders that jump with their bodies work very hard. Too hard. You see torsos twisting, elbows flapping, ducking, too much energy, whatever it is, it is too much. Hunt Tosh does not work very hard. He ALLOWS his body to just follow along and bend over slowly, smoothly, magically, until he lands on the other side. He has mastered the TWO-POINT position, is ready when needed to stay in that position, and his horses are ALWAYS jumping up to him. It is EASY for him.

to perfect this body position, try this:

A: Create that same trot jump I mentioned above. Perfect that leg position and heels down moment over top of the jump. For like a week. or ten weeks.

B: As your horse steps over the pole, SLOW DOWN the momentum of your body bending over in the air over top of the crossrail. It is almost like not bending over much at all, it is only a SLIGHT bend to the waist, relaxing, thinking about your heel down, magical, slow, and allowing your horse to jump up to you. Your elbow should feel squishy, light, and follow the horse’s mouth during the release, then rest back at your ribcage. I like to call it ELASTIC ELBOW.  Let your beautiful beast do all the work, show him/her off, let him/her be amazing. On a trot jump, it is kind of like finding the high part of your post and letting your arms simply follow through to the landing.

I was told several years ago, by a very prominent hunter trainer Jack Stedding, Sr., that a trot cross-rail in-and-out to an oxer is all you need to perfect timing, balance, scope, strength, body control, athleticism, form, style, and basically ALL of the things hunters need to be successful, and at first, my skepticism kept me from believing in this idealism. How could TWO JUMPS make a champion?? Yet, he is absolutely right, those two jumps can cover all rider errors and horse errors, and change them from losers into winners with enough repetition and accuracy. It actually does make a hunter a champion. He should know, he produced dozens and dozens of winners. And it does make a rider invaluable. So after working on that cross rail, measure 18’ and place the next fence, starting with a vertical, and ending up with an oxer.  The oxer can vary in height up or down, Swedish, ramped, or square.

I took two horses and broke it down as best as I could manage. This first video follows the leg. I am using the pole to remind myself to step down on the stirrup as I step over the pole, with my heel dropping lower so I am not ‘encouraging’ my horse to jump, just allowing.

https://youtu.be/d2WjhJLmbss

This second video follows the body control and degree of ‘bending over’ in the air over a jump. Everyone has a particular style, I prefer to keep mine as simple as possible. As straight as possible. I like my torso to allow my horse to come to me, rather than dive down to him.

https://youtu.be/tbKkxt5-woQ

This final video shows a few single jumps with each horse trying to put it all together. Hopefully it translates well enough, and again I don’t mind if people disagree with my particular style. It works for me, I think it can work for others, too.

https://youtu.be/ddEpJJgyOk4

Maybe you are thinking, well, those are only two variables out of 150. True. I could write a book on the 148 others, but I prefer to blog about it. Good hunter horses need good hunter pilots.

So as you scratch your head and wonder where I am going with this, try to keep in mind I, along with a few other professionals in the sport/industry, would like to see hunter horses continue to flourish, and not disappear. I am WILLING to teach more people in order to not lose riders to the jumper ring. I want to see free clinics offered throughout the country that focus solely on hunters.  Am I selfish? yes, of course, because as I watch countless sale horse videos on YouTube, I am thinking…who can I sell the next hunter prospect/winner to? Who wants the next special Derby horse? It is a business, as well as a sport, and it is up to us to keep it alive. We can produce, we can maintain. We can win.

Hunt Tosh riding a pre-green horse… https://youtu.be/-yFW2pDuz9M

Special thanks to the McDonogh School for use of their amazing arena. 

Americans in Showjumping

The American Showjumping World could use a bit of a connection with the real world. The incredible canyon between riders showing at the top level of the sport and potential fans is eroding wider and wider at a rapid rate, and it is fairly disturbing to watch. If you walk into a room and ask a bunch of people who own horses, but are showing locally (not in Wellington), it is difficult to find more than two people who can name more than one or two riders hoping to head to Rio for the Olympic Games this year. I think this is a problem.

I have watched countless live video feeds provided by the USEF Networks, Hits, or the U.S.  (Western) FEI Channel for classes held in the United States and Mexico lately and the commentators are on a serious struggle bus. No information is provided about the riders, and we are silently watching horses jump around a course (for an extremely high amount of money), with a “too bad that rail fell”, or “what a shame, just breathed on that rail, and it fell”. I am sorry, not sorry, if we have ANY chance to know who might be representing our country in International events, this might be a good time to fill us in on the details you should know or can find out in an email the day before. How old is the rider? 18? 38? 102? Where is their home location? How many Grand Prix horses do they ride? Who educated them? Who is helping them on the ground? How old is the horse they are riding? Where did it come from? What breed is it? Is it related to any others in the class? How tall is it? Mare? Gelding? Stallion? Does it like peppermints? Hate Bananas?

As usual, we know more about the European riders and their habits or horses they ride than we do our very own home grown riders. Commentators in Europe go to extreme lengths to interview riders beforehand, walk the course with them, ask them how they are all feeling, and feed ALL of that information back to us so we feel as if we are really wanting them to win!! Look at the utter compassion and support for Bertram Allen when they took away his win at Olympia last year due to an almost invisible spur mark following the jump-off! It was a worldwide explosion over an 18 year old kid who will, in all probability, win every major title available and they will have to invent new ones for him down the road because he is such a phenom and adored by everyone; thanks again to commentators. He is the shyest kid on the planet, not exactly doing an interview an hour, so we are getting our info from whom? FEI channel commentators in Europe and European magazines.

Why do I think we need to step it up? Because if what happened to Bertram Allen happened to one of our own 18-25 year old riders in America, our horse community would have had a VERY different reaction. Think about it for a second. or five.

On a personal note, I did not initially join in on all of the hoopla surrounding the spur mark, and several people asked me to comment on it. But I was adamant and slightly bitter, because it was not too many years ago we all had to suffer through a completely unfair and ridiculously false accusation of hyper sensitivity –  I watched in absolute horror as one of our very own was disqualified at a World Cup Final because she was simply a chestnut mare. I wasn’t even there and I was completely bewildered that a horse like Sapphire, beloved by an entire generation of horsemen could possibly fail a vet check because some idiot thought her legs were sensitive, thus being prevented from what would have been the last greatest accomplishment of her career. It infuriated me, and none of us could do a damn thing about it. There was a great deal more silence coming from the International community that time around as well. You can read more about it here:

http://www.dressage-news.com/?p=7070

I strongly suggest you go back and click on that link.

Part of educating the public is going to come from the riders themselves. They are going to have to write the dang bios, do the interviews, demand good commentators, help us help ourselves, basically.

There are all these woes and whines about not having Nike as a sponsor for major events, and having to depend on horsey related vendors to chip in for the bills. Yet, so few of our Grand Prix events are accessible to the public, so it is not a real surprise or shock that Nike doesn’t really care about us.

A) No hotels in Wellington, so if you are not already there, the logistics of attending an event requires essential planning. Parking? Traffic? Lodging?

B) Or let’s try the Hampton Classic! Has anyone ever tried to attend a Grand Prix at the Hampton Classic without actually owning a house in the Hamptons?

C) Catskills – the drive alone from any major city = headache. What do you do once the Grand Prix is over? Go to Woodstock?

D) The California Desert – ummm, it is literally in the desert. Someone from San Diego, or L.A. actually has to cross a giant mountain range to get to said desert.

Longings had a good start putting the Masters in Los Angeles last year, despite notorious L.A. traffic, and an event in Miami that drew a fabulous crowd (most of the weeks classes in Miami were free of charge), but are two events enough? I might even throw Las Vegas in the mix as a successful town if I believed enough horse people lived in Las Vegas, but I don’t think so. I have one friend in Nevada. She might go and watch one class in Vegas, but for her and for people around her, it is actually cheaper to drive to California to attend horse show and watch a big class there.

The President’s Cup in Washington, D.C.  has the heavy burden of being located in the second largest murder capitol of the country, while indeed it gets a pretty healthy turnout on Barn Night, it takes an exhausting effort from staff to pull off a successful week, and when that sniper was in town, he didn’t do any of us any favors.

So no, Nike is not likely to get on board with high end events when most of the public can’t even get to a Grand Prix, so we will keep our fingers crossed that someone will keep asking The Boss to host fundraisers for our Showjumping Team, but I would imagine without his daughter actually expecting to be on the U.S. Showjumping Squad for Rio, he might not spend all his energy raising funds for the team.

What is the answer? Better information from commentators for one. NEVER assume we know who we are watching, unless it is Beezie or McLain.

And it might be nice to have the expectation that if we are paying for a boat load of riders to compete in the Olympic Games, those riders are obligated to make an appearance to our Pony Club members to encourage them to become part of our sport. At no charge. Seriously – no charge. Help out the next up and coming talent. Do a good deed, the future depends on it, and we are paying part of your bill here so you can achieve your dreams. Then make your best friends do it. The future is pretty bleak without solutions popping up from the top level of sport.

The Equestrian World Cup Final is about a month away, held in Gothenburg, Sweden where it originated in 1979, and while yearly locations change, it is required to return there every few years or so; probably because Sweden wants young equestrians to be inspired by superstars so they wrote it into the bylaws…

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Conrad Homfeld on Balbuco

The Americans were all OVER this event in the very beginning, and with the exception of Hugo Simon from Austria winning the initial class all those years ago, Americans won the title an astounding 7 times in the first decade of it’s existence! Names like Conrad Homfeld (2x), Michael Matz, Melanie Smith, Norman Dello Joio, Leslie Lenehan, and Katherine Burdsall.

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Michael Matz on Jet Run

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Norman Dello Joio on I Love You

It took 15 years before Rich Fellers could finally snag an American win, followed by Beezie one year later.  So here we are, it is 2016. Can you name the top of the leaderboard who has enough points to head to Sweden this year? We normally send about 15 horse/rider combinations…. Go ahead, pick some names….tick….tock….

By the way, we have one year before the 2017 World Cup Equestrian Final is held on our own home turf in Omaha, Nebraska. We have one year to speed up our education on our beloved sport of Showjumping in the United States of America.

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Melanie Smith on Calypso

Game Changer

Game changers in the sport.

This week I ended up at the Country Heir Horse Show held at Roberts Arena in Wilmington, Ohio –  a good 8 hours away from my farm. I had heard about this random facility from another local horsewoman, Katie Petronelli, and remember her claiming how much she loved it there last year, she planned on returning, and her words had long been echoing in the back of my head. Without going into detail, she promised I would love it, but I am a cynic, I don’t love anything. All I really understood was that the management of Country Heir was renting the facility for a few weeks of shows.

I am especially not a fan of driving through mountain ranges, and the navigation gives three or four different options to cross them, which I can’t decide on, so I probably chose poorly, however, it did give me inspiration to attempt a solution for horse trailer driving which I will procure and provide to every horse person shipping themselves across the country very soon.

Fun fact: every local Ohioan driver sees a horse-trailer trying to turn into an intersection and promptly backs up 50 feet. If it happened once or twice, I would have considered it a coincidence. After four or five experiences I realized they all seem to just do it, and no I am not a bad driver….

Not Fun Fact: The last stretch of highway from Columbus to the show grounds is like driving on a cracked out Route 81 with everyone wearing blindfolds… It apparently is a major tractor-trailer route, from East to West, and equally apparent is the lack of Ohioan drivers behind the wheels of said tractor-trailers. Jerks, all of them. Oh, and shipping your packages Fed-Ex? There is a reason they get there so bloody fast, they have the ability to navigate their trucks at 100 mph.  You will understand the irony in a bit.

Arrival…Pulling into the driveway, the first thing I thankfully notice is a SHOW OFFICE sign, which indeed leads me directly to a real show office, and I am promptly welcomed, handed a back number, and a stall number, which was not very far away from where I was standing. I learned later that I might have been lucky, and upon further exploration the next day, discovered the maze of several hundred stalls located on multiple levels possibly could be a wee bit tricky to the first time exhibitor. Indeed it took three days to understand the proper placement of stall charts.  Awkward moments include crawling down multiple barn aisles in order to get to the main hunter ring….

Fun Fact: People here are sooooooooper nice, and have no problem helping you settle in, offering things like a hammer which you left on the desk at home, watering your horse, sweeping in front of your stall, giving directions, helping you video tape your rounds, whatever, those dang mid westerners are just plain friendly even if they don’t know you, and they do not seem to know how to STOP being friendly… so weird.   

Rings…After I unloaded, unpacked, got the horse settled, I took what I thought would be a quick trip around to locate the rings. It wasn’t quick, and the realization that every hallway, arena, barn, warm up ring, lungeing area, wash rack, coffee shop, restaurant, bathroom (all permanent), and show offices, were all under one roof was making my head spin. I literally never had to venture outside unless I wanted to get in my truck, or dump the manure. And the temps? 68-70 degrees, solid, throughout the facility. 100,000 square footage of ring space alone. I can only guess as to maybe 250,000 square feet of covered space for the rest.

Then I discovered where all the moms would be hanging out waiting for pony classes to be finished. Yup, the bar. White wine, red wine, or Stella Artois. A monitor with current status of each ring is prominently displayed at the counter.  Free WiFi. (stronger wifi would be good)

Housing…. There are cabins on the grounds housing around four or six, that you can rent by the week for around $800. There is a hotel or two kind of nearby. More housing is coming.  I am cheap, so I tend to go with AIRBNB options, which led to me to a nice apartment for $50 bucks a night with loads of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Sadly, it was a little further away from the show grounds than I would have liked, and if it snowed (which it didn’t)  I would have been screwed, but I also found diesel for UNDER $2 a gallon. #balance

Cabins:

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Fun Fact: there are loads of non show activities if necc. Mountain biking, check. Learning to fly a plane, check. Golf, check. Renaissance Fair, check. Want to spot a horse and buggy? check. Amusement park? check. Rodeo? check.  Shopping? check. There are brochures all over the place with over 50 options for stuff to do outside the grounds.

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Showing… This was a Country Heir Horse Show – Jumps are normal (by Fuzzy), footing is perfect (watered at night only and maintains the moisture through the day),  staff is efficient and fine as long as you show up when you say you are going to show up (normal), secretaries were friendly, schedule was loaded with classes which I am told will be scaled down in the future to get finished at a reasonable hour, warm-up rings for now are a bit tiny but doable, there are holding areas in front of the rings out of the way of people schooling. Kinks always have to get worked out in the beginning. A new mega Arena is in the works for next year to alleviate the too small lungeing areas, and lack of actual riding space, but again, next year it sounds like it will be ready. If anyone has been experiencing Tryon under construction, you will see similar activity here. I am pretty sure that skeleton of a barn I have been hearing being hammered into place will be finished by the time I leave on Sunday. All divisions filled. Even professional ones. There were almost 20 3’ pre green horses which I was a part of, and many good quality animals. This week there are probably around 450 horses showing. Lower jumper divisions were well attended, higher levels need help. All details are updated constantly by way of horseshowing.com, and emails sent out with any pertinent information.

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Conformation model

The more I watched during the week, the more impact this circuit had on me. This is what we talk about when we see Game Changers. Other show managers should be concerned. Now maybe I am understanding why Classic Company offered a $5 Pre Green division this year for their winter circuit. I think about points for Devon, or Indoors, when I see solid Junior Hunter and Pony divisions outside of the Florida circuits… I talked to people who normally do not have any show options over the winter suddenly committing to circuit stalls => guess how much? GUESS!! no, really you can’t guess, I will tell you….. $1,100 for a winter circuit stall. 8 weeks. Compare that to HITS at what $3-4k for 6 weeks? or Wellington at $5k for a disgusting tent stall with a view of the biggest manure pile known to man? and no flood control?   hmmmm.

The Tour… The facility manager, Dawn, agreed to give me a tour on Saturday, to tell me all the things planned for the future, the new FEI sized stalls going into place, the anti bacterial foam for disinfecting the stalls, the planned cross country course, and about a billion other things. We soon ran into the actual Roby Roberts, who insisted on leading the rest of the tour in his big truck. So they both took me around the facility, then across the street to the trailer park where Roby told me he once lived in as a child (this could be a tall tale and I could be too gullible) and has recently purchased only to tear down and rebuild with all new rentable trailers for the show; next was the school he is building for kids spending long amounts of time away from home; then on to his Heliport, to his personal barns and indoor/outdoor arenas —  all equipped with security cameras so even if you are riding in the indoor arena, you can keep an eye on the ponies in the paddocks by way of giant monitors on the walls (what?!), and finally the cabins being offered for exhibitors. Almost two hours to fill me in on all the details.

This guy even bought old missile silos down the road to re-design as a tourist attraction, to be completed with bizarre containers that open up to be apartments..

When I asked him what his inspiration was to do this??

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Roby

He is creating this mecca because he wants all kids from all backgrounds to have an opportunity to enjoy experiences with animals all through the year, particularly horses. That’s it. For the kids. Not himself, not to be famous. Not to compete with other people.  Just for the future horsemen of the world, especially his own. Plus he had a good time at the Ohio Horseman’s banquet, and wanted to replicate that experience all day every day here. (kidding. kind of.)

Yes, he says his family really did live in the trailer park across the street, and his father woke up one day and bid in an auction on what is now known as Roberts Arena, but back then it was just a farm. He got it, his wife, was like what? how you gonna pay for that? He said I don’t know yet, but somehow charmed three different banks to put the money up, and they packed up their things and moved across the street. Momma Roberts first got into llamas before quarter horses. Papa Roberts bought a truck to move some furniture around, which turned into a fleet,and every time you see an R&L truck on the road, think of them. MAJOR transport company. American dream.

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Friday Night lights…. I kept seeing posters around the grounds for horsemanship clinics and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about horsemanship in America. Below par. So I stayed to witness this developing concept. The posters said you could earn points which would turn into SHOW BUCKS, which you could apply to entry fees.

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The concept comes from the facility, not the horse show itself, but exhibitors are the beneficiaries for sure. Any kid can sign up for the clinic, get fed some pizza, have a shot to meet a celebrity (this week was Herbie the LOVE BUG), and learn about such things as grooming, blanketing, parts of the pony, and whatever else goes into the sort of education every kid needs. I saw 20 kids show up, pay attention to chosen leader of the week Anne Thornbury, touch, feel, help, ask questions, get answers, and be a part of something they WANTED to be a part of. Not only did they want to be taught, they wanted to be correct when attempting things on their own. I think kids are absolutely amazing. I can’t really teach the little ones because they cry when they see my resting b face which teenagers have ignored, but we don’t give them enough credit. I am telling you, I am assuring you, if you start out allowing them to learn, they will not let you down. When you witness a child actively involved in learning which part of the blanket to unbuckle first before removing it from the pony, you will understand exactly what I am talking about. (back to front for removal, front to back for placement)  It is all there right in front of us, we just have to supply it. I understand when trainers offer a full care service, you all need to make money, but come on, work with us a little, offer something that kids can be a part of so parents aren’t torn between paying for service so you can survive, and letting a kids have a hands on experience. Even if it is something small. And parents? it wouldn’t kill you to reassure your kids that it is ok to help out at the barn DESPITE the fact you are paying for full service care.

Following the horsemanship clinic, I witnessed half a dozen other trainers commending Roby and offering up their own barns, ponies, and even themselves for future demonstrations during the circuit, and even at multiple times through the weekend to make sure every kid had a chance to participate. What a desperately needed and wonderful concept to see fall into place. At least here in Ohio, I was seeing an entire future generation of riders wanting to learn about being good horsemen.

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Anne Thornbury guest hosting a clinic

I pulled some junior riders away from their breakfast on Saturday morning and interviewed them, and was relieved to know that at home, there wasn’t always full care service offered all the time, mainly at shows… They did have to tack up their own horses, they did have to participate in some of the care. These two girls from Michigan were totally into this horse show, returning to Ocala or WEF is no longer a consideration for them, the Florida experience was exhausting, they missed too much school, too much stress on travel time, and were much happier in an environment where they had more friends, could ride more, learn more, and their horses had way less stress. They were fully aware of how the demographics would change for getting into Devon, getting into Indoors, and felt pretty confident this year they would meet those goals. Wow. I was also happy to hear, they fully intend to stick with horses through college and are intending to become professionals, while they know this is not normal, and other barns are not as forward thinking, but at least I seemed to have found two girls that said some pretty awesome things to me. And, no I didn’t tell them anything about me before hand. Oddly enough they were regarding the Florida circuits as less about horses and horsemanship, and more about just simply being warm.

The point thing is unnerving, since obviously that is on a lot of people’s minds in this business. It is how money generates more money when you can get an animal qualified for a certain event in order to keep it’s value. But the amount of points needed to get into Devon will become staggering with this much more competition available. Going to Florida for Junior Hunters or First Years may not mean you are going to Indoors after all. The big Eq classes are super healthy here.

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Healthy Maclay turnout

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motivation much??

What a double edged sword we have in our hands. How much showing will become too much showing, just to get to what we have put on a a pedestal as a premier event? Will this open the door for something unique like maybe teaching better horsemanship skills? If I were a kid, I would want to be damn sure I learned how to ride better because this is going to be my year to get into something big. Something every kid claims they want on their resumé.

Horse people are going to make some big decisions regarding showing in the future, and the owner of the facility, Roby Roberts, has huge plans, and is not only motivated, but generous with the funds to make it work.

Now, I can’t deny there are still issues. Getting there in snow, for one.  I also want to know why there are layover fees when you commit to two weeks of showing, and don’t have the option to drive home Sunday only to return on Tuesday because you live too far away. I think exhibitors will take offense at being nickel and dimed around every corner, so maybe that needs to be worked out.

For the show, each ring is rented at a whopping average of $4,000 a day, so I can see the need to make sure exhibitors are coming through the doors at a rapid rate, and in this part of the country, people are pretty tolerant when they see a good thing coming. I really had to look hard for people to complain, and I tried, but honestly, when you can shed your parka, wear a t-shirt for 8 straight weeks and not worry about sunscreen?  Mid-Westerners are going to be ok with it, braiders never have to worry about cold fingers again, horses legs will never have to worry about scratches from bacterial infections, and most of those other little normally aggravating details don’t carry enough weight when you have something this amazing right in front of you.  Well played Country Heir and Roberts Arena, WELL PLAYED. http://www.robertsarena.com/

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