An Open Letter to Bill Moroney

Dear Bill Moroney,

A year ago the actions of the USHJA made me very mad. I don’t think I was mad with you personally, because I was so mad I didn’t even know what I was mad about. But I was mad enough to open my computer and tap away furiously at the keyboard for days. And with that first piece I sweated over, lost sleep over, and thought ultimately I was going to have to go back to eventing over, I conquered a huge fear.

I didn’t ever think I deserved to be heard, I didn’t think I would be welcome at a convention or annual meeting. I never believed my stupid little shaky public speaking voice mattered. And I wasn’t alone. Even though you kept saying you wanted us to be more involved, I didn’t believe you, I couldn’t get past all the previous annual meeting experiences, which were so volatile, so explosive, and so seemingly unconstructive, that imagining myself at an event like that ever again was out of the question. Yet, I did return. I tossed a suitcase in the back of my car and drove south. And I experienced a newer, more mature, solid, even comprehensible meeting, with only one or two mild and silly explosions. That was Orlando a year ago. You were able to prove to me (and everyone else) that you could make an organization evolve.

Then I started paying closer attention. I did become involved. I thought about everything, people approached me to spark discussion. I discussed it all with them. I researched, I read books, I wondered how we got here and where we are going. At times I didn’t want to think about horse shows and branched out to other areas of the horse industry to reach people just as important, thinking maybe other people deserve to be part of the conversation, too, which they did and they helped me.

I don’t think that it really matters if I agree or disagree with programs or events, or whatever is being offered through the USHJA, but I do think it matters that just because I found the courage to speak up about them, in the end, I was never crucified for it. I wasn’t ignored, or turned away, but somehow you managed to see through my frustrations and just allow me to work through it all. And I thank you for it. I thank you for everything. I am pretty sure my readers and friends do, too. They should. We all should thank you.  Whether or not people agree with what I write and put out there does not matter. You are the one person I owe for giving me enough courage to push ‘publish’ for the first time, and time and time again. I hope you know in the beginning it was never a personal attack, I am not that kind of person, but thanking you is personal, and I will never forget you for it. Your influence with my writing is reaching people all over the world. The discussions continue to happen.

Congratulations on your decade long leadership with the USHJA. I can’t imagine what you went through to get here today, but you should be proud of the work you did. It was worth it. Now, go help fix the Federation. Please.

Very Truly Yours, Deloise Noble-Strong

Is that ship sailing? America’s Young Horse.

If you know me very well at all, you will know I have a particular disdain for ponies. My chemistry does not work with ponies. You could offer to pay me a million dollars to train a family full of ponies, and i would actually hesitate, force back a full facial grimace, then the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up, then I would picture Ed, and a million dollars would abruptly float its way out of my life.

However, I am not stupid enough to not have a tremendous amount of respect for what pony breeders have done for this country, and enjoy other people’s success in the pony ring. It is truly astonishing. In my mind, what works so well for pony divisions is the insistent concern for conformation and movement as part of the final score for a pony in the regular hunter divisions, as well as for pony finals. Now some will argue that they really concern themselves with the quality of canter and the jump over the rest, which is not wrong, BUT, aside from personal differences, a show pony in America is of very high quality and is generally put together very, very well. Some judges might grumble from time to time about having to move a pony back in the order over poor conformation and the look on the kids face is despair and disappointment, but really that’s just a life lesson, come on. That kid is going to see far worse disappointments, believe me. And hopefully, the kid will know better than to love her pony any less, and refrain from telling her mother she needs a better model because fluffy monster is too sway backed. …. just kidding, that never happened.

If you don’t know, ponies at Pony Finals are scored in three parts  – Conformation, movement in the hack class, and an over fences score. This Holy Grail of the pony world, which takes place currently in Kentucky in August, has worked hand in hand with the one amazing thing equine America has to offer – Great Pony Breeding. When we are searching for the next bright and shining pony star for our precious child, we aren’t going over seas. That much. Maybe a few here and there come from some random German Sport Pony Line, but not that many. We are going right into our own backyard, looking for the Woodlands, Farnley’s, Glenmoore’s, Land’s End the Foxhalls and dozens and dozens of other lines we have created here in the United States. I looked into where all those ponies originally came from and had to write a whole separate piece about it……Who knew the history would be so interesting?   See this….https://deloiseinamerica.com/2016/12/09/the-pony-side/

Despite tiny signs of progress, I still have concerns about breeding for the hunter and sport horse in this country as it pertains to the show world, and worry we are seriously missing the boat on an integral change in our show world. So what are we doing with the horses? Anything? We have some major changes in divisions coming our way for 2017 for the USHJA and USEF, including the Young Hunter division, and a complete revamp of the Green Hunter division, which is an evolvement of the Pre-Green, First and Second Year Hunter divisions. The Young Hunters will consist of horses under the age of 7, the Green hunter division is open to all ages, and will probably take a year or two for everyone to sort out where they want their horses competing in, but it will serve all horses showing in the hunters, with strict guidelines, it has all has changed, we have to deal with it. But still one thing is missing. Whatever we have done with the ponies, we aren’t seeing with Young Hunters. The format is not including conformation, which might be really important.

In the horse show world there is one existing division for Green Conformation hunters (3’6”) and one existing division left for High Performance Conformation Hunters (4’) . Few horses in this country participate in these two divisions, and it is no surprise why. the lack of education is astounding.  The judges are left to look for SIMPLE Conformation flaws, like splints, and sickle hocks, crooked toes, small feet, whatever, but what a shame. The best out of the worst wins? ok. Why the resistance to judge conformation?? Too much of a chance of more level playing field? If your response to me is stop whining and go put your horses in Green Conformation, I think you might be missing the point. This is not about me, this is about taking a hard look at what we do in this country for horses, riders, judges, and an industry. The dominant divisions in the Hunter horse show world today are at 3’. Hundreds of horses are sold BEFORE they make it to 3’6”, and some NEVER compete to 3’6” because they are sold to child/adult riders as soon as they have a year or two under their belts in the 3’, 3’3” rings. That means HUNDREDS of riders never have to look at their horses for conformation. So, by NOT incorporating it into divisions with more people, we are making that education gap even wider.

When I registered my first horse up for the Pre-Green incentives, I went along for the ride, thinking this must be a good answer for us, everybody is so hyped up about it, the money being thrown around and talked about is glamorous, spectacular, breathing life into a dying division, which made me pause, because usually the Pre-Green divisions are the strongest of divisions at National and Premier Horse shows, compared to First Years, Second Years, or sadly, High Performance. I traveled to Kentucky for the Final, my horse jumped around two courses, there were 150 in my class, and I witnessed a fair amount of wild and outrageous competitiveness, and thought to myself, well this is an interesting event. Might as well be an auction, but ok. AND……why does it not reflect a working and logical format we already have in place?? If the Pre-Green Incentive Finals were really a true showcase of young horses in America, it would follow exactly the same format as Pony Finals, having a conformation, under saddle, and an over fences portion. That way it would be more of an even playing field, say your horse had spectacular movement, but lacked in the jumping technique, well, this would be noted, as years and years of Pony Finals have been noted. And eventually the best overall horse WOULD win, not just the best jumper, which may or may not have had the best pilot on it’s back. I discussed it with several people, filled out all the forms feedback questionnaires with the same thoughts, asked why is the format the way it is? “Time in the schedule, people like it the way it is. blah blah blah. This works for us……” Who? Who is it working for? I don’t expect it to work for people, I expect it to work for the industry, and the sport.

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first horse about to enter the ring after the national anthem. Peter Pletcher. Incentive Finals. 

And then a new division crept into our lives, shaking up competitors left and right. Talk about a frenzy, geesh, the backlash of adding a new division has been comical, if it weren’t so depressing to listen to the feedback. And it hasn’t even begun yet. Which makes me feel that there are still so many unhappy members out there.

So, are we missing the boat with the new evolvement of showing Young Horses?? We have a brand new division, which excludes Conformation entirely, which will provide no education to Sport Horse Breeders, no incentives, and in short, people will still insist on shopping abroad, despite the difficulty in finding the next hunter superstar over there. Hence, American Breeders once again, get the short stick. What if we could just add a class in the Young Hunter Division for conformation like we do the ponies? First over fences, there done. Slowly, riders would start to get an idea of what conformation is all about, what to look for, what will help, what will not help, I see it! A slow, painful, decade or more long education, but I see it. I can envision it. I can see a pipeline into the regular working conformations. If your argument is going to be time, I think you need to find a new argument. Or, not horse show. We absolutely need to use horse showing to evolve into a more educated, more thought provoking group of professionals, and if not through horse showing, where?

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a small conformation division, but it only needs three to fill! 

I threw myself into the Young Horse Show Series this year. If you followed me on Facebook, or any social media, I was rabid about it, drumming up interest for it. I truly believe in the series, in what Jean-Yves Tola is doing for breeders in America, all over the country, and for baby horses. He offers options for all horses, from yearlings on up to six year olds, and it is amazing. Jump Chute, In Hand, At Liberty, Dressage, Flat classes, Jumping Classes, all reflecting what is done for horses in Europe, where Sport Horse Breeding is miles ahead of what happens in America.

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YHS  2016 yearling winner in hand, Kadeau HF (Bordeaux/UB40) owned and bred by Julie Haralson. photo courtesy of Victoria DeMore Photography

 The finals take place currently in Tryon, at the Equestrian Center, and the judges are given a microphone, and all weekend long, they explain what they are looking at, why they scored the way they did, and what they want to see more of from a horse. Each Horse. Every Horse. If you read that long, run on sentence too fast, go back and look. The. Judges. Are. Given. A. Microphone. Do you think this happened because a couple of German guys like to hear themselves talk and it was an ego trip? Really? All weekend long I had three years, at least, worth of education thrown at me for over 100 horses. So did the boy next to me helping with the jump chute on the final day. He was from Atlanta, I think his name was Travis, and he had followed his girlfriend up to help her with her adorable Haflinger to compete in the final, and meanwhile we borrowed them to guide the babies through the chute on Sunday.. She helped at the ingate. The first half of the day we all just listened to every word they had to say about each horse, but by the afternoon, we were using what had already been discussed to apply to the older horses coming through, and we all could start identifying and PREDICTING whether or not the horse would jump well in the chute…. Just looking at the quality alone compared to last year was remarkably improved. Horses from EVERY registry showed up. This kind of exposure was a dream come true for a kid like Travis, and his girlfriend, not to mention the crowd listening in and watching, and learning. Travis may never have the means to have a full blown breeding operation, but you can be damn sure he can spot a good jumper from a mile away now. That will be useful in his future. And that is the kind of education which sticks for a lifetime.

This year Jean-Yves wanted a Stallion exhibition. He envisioned around 25 Stallions to be showcased over a three day period, with each stallion allotted up to 15 minutes to show itself off, along with music, video, ballerinas, or whatever you wanted as part of your Sales Pitch for your stallion. This is what takes place all over Europe, and is super important for attracting mares, and potential clients, plus offering education to people who may not have been exposed to this all of their lives. Since this years Final was also coinciding with the American Trakehner Association’s Convention, it seemed like an ideal achievement. The ATA also brought many Trakehner stallions and had a fairly impressive Showcase of their own Saturday Night in the ever impressive George Morris Arena. All disciplines were represented, dressage, eventing, and showjumping, and an incredibly well orchestrated verbal and musical display of horses was viewed by the spectators.

He took me up on my offer to volunteer my services to find stallions in America to participate. We both thought what a great opportunity, we will have no trouble finding stallions to showcase,and I assured him I would even successfully lure a sponsor to offer Live Feed for the three days, and won’t America be blown away with this amazing event!!!

In reality, I struggled to convince any stallion owners to talk to me, much less attend. I am a serious traveler on the struggle bus when it comes to cold calls, but I pushed my way through the fear to make dozens and dozens of calls to unfamiliar names only to receive a bit of silence on the other end of the phone. I was surprised, there may have been dozens of reasons why Stallion owners would rather not attend a showcase. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking how does one miss this opportunity? Too many other shows to attend? Too much travel? Bad timing? What is it exactly that needs to happen to get a group of stallions together for the world to see? In the end, we had about 6 stallions for the Showcase. All Ages, disciplines, and I learned a lot. We used the GM arena each day, and I more or less organized them all to show up at the right time, enter the ring,  get their bios read, a photo op, and if they wanted particular music, the Tryon staff was patient to find the requests and work it out. (I owe those electronic geeks lunch, by the way.) Some horses were ridden, like the beautiful Hero, showcased by Justine Wilson, and some were handled by two of the most amazing runners I know, (Quinnten Alston, and Klaus Schengber), like Balta C’zar and Finishing Touch. Spy Coast Farm had a couple of stallions, one ridden over fences by young Irishman David O’Brian, and the other handled by a member of the Spy Coast staff, which was cute. I had to pull the mane comb out of his back pocket before he entered the ring, but he seemed very proud to lead the stallion back and forth in the spotlight for a moment. 

 

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Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve (Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve x Capital/Lys De Darmen) approved BWP, SBS, NAS, owned by Spy Coast Farm.

 

We set up the spectator area for sponsor tables, and four or five people maybe showed up to watch each day. I tried not to let the lack of participation get to me. JY seemed very French about it, saying you have to keep trying until it works for the people. He also shared a story about the time of his life he was in a band, and so excited to do his first few gigs, where they played for empty rooms more often than not, but never got discouraged, eventually, after time, the rooms slowly started to fill up, and his music was heard. So I looked at the Stallion Showcase we put on as a sort of dress rehearsal for the next time…. it was super successful in our eyes, and the participants, but next time or the time after, we hope you all will be watching, too. Having the ATA convention coincide with the YHS Final was a great idea, and I learned a tremendous amount just from watching their program alone.

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Hero BHS, part of the Stallion Exhibition and also winner of the 4 year under saddle. (Cover Story/Prestige VDL) bred by M Van Norel, owned by Breezy Hill South, ridden by Justine Wilson. pc Victoria DeMore Photography

Improvements? Breed Registries? Can we all just get along now? Work together? Some registries in the United States have recognized Jean-Yves work and are now on board with using his shows as a viable resource for approvals. The young horses competing now must be a member of a breed registry recognized either by USEF or the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH). Why? Responsible breeding. Furthermore, the registries of Selle Francais (SF), Belgian Warmblood (BWP), and North American Studbook (NAS) are using certain classes in the YHS to count toward life time approval status for stallions, which is tremendous, and smart, giving stallion owners more opportunity to achieve a higher status. More registries really need to get on board with this. The formula Jean-Yves for his shows is the exact formula which has been the standard in Europe for a very, very long time. The distances for the jump chute are calculated, and measure for each age group, all of which is explained in great detail in the prize list. Since the classes and rules never change, the format is practiced and proven over and over again, and the horses get the same experience over and over again at each show.

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3 yr old Winner In Hand – Finishing Touch (Foundation x Beltain) bred by S&H Juergen Rode, owned by High Point Hanoverian. pc Victoria DeMore Photography

If breeders are joining breed registries to help with promoting their mares and stallions, then it would be extremely helpful for registries to advertise the shows, remind breeders to attend one in their area, and figure out some sort of way to offer an award for the high point horse at the Final. The more participation the better, because this is what drives up the quality of horseflesh at the end of the year. We want to see participants keep sharing their experiences with other people, promote the success stories online, or in publications, and keep giving feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.

The more people pay attention to this series and start to get involved the quicker expansion can happen. The possibility of franchising the series is very real, and ideally having multiple Finals in the Midwest, Northeast, South, and West Coast would benefit everyone. Like everyone. The format works, it has been proving itself over and over again the last five years, and it is VERY inclusive. Just ask the exhibitors, not many frowny faces around these shows.

   

When I returned to the hunter land after the YHS was over, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the two worlds of horse showing I witnessed this year, and wondered if there would ever be a fluid cohesiveness between the two. I hope the ship hasn’t sailed for the opportunity to see conformation in the new Young Horse division, even if we tried it for a year or two then abandon it because….people. I don’t know what to think about the Incentive Finals, maybe it works for some people, but I wish it would follow an actual SUCCESSFUL Format which already exists with the Pony Finals. Hack classes are used in the division for a reason, SO many people WANT to BUY good movers, so excluding the movement from the Incentive finals is a bit weird. But maybe this has already been discussed, and is not a popular opinion. I am ok with that, but I feel sad for the next generation. You will have your work cut out for you for sure. Good luck with that. We didn’t provide too much of a horsemanship background while we were too busy getting you prepped for the show ring, and now we are furthering the basic knowledge gap each year, but hopefully you will find your way back to horse anatomy, and understand what sickle hock is. or a splint. or what an upright pastern is. roach back. or WHY that horse is a hack winner. etc, etc. Maybe its all in the Horsemanship Quiz, and maybe your trainer will suggest you take it. Who knows.

What about the people who argue Conformation means nothing to the current Sport Horse?

I will NEVER be an advocate of “every horse has to have perfect conformation”, because I know better. I am not striving for the perfect horse here. I am striving for a new generation of horsemen who know what to look for. IN. A. HORSE. 

In Germany, Holland, and Belgium, there have been generations of horsemen who can look at a FOAL, and predict whether or not it has the POTENTIAL to be successful as a sport horse. Not just this generation, mind you. We are talking about a massive amount of real, true horse people who can see something pop out of a mare, stand up on its spindly little limbs for the first time, and go DAMN, I’ve hit the lottery.  Or, damn, this is toast. meh. You think I am exaggerating? ok. These geniuses have stared at enough horses, done their homework, experimented, failed, and succeeded on so many levels, that they will continue to hold the advantage over us for a long, long time. So in my mind what could possibly be the solution to this vast gap in American knowledge? Aside from recreating European breeding on this side of the ocean, I would have to say, we should start with following the formula which already exists, but on a better level. Get the conformation, anatomy, and structure of the horse ingrained on every young person we can reach, and insist, beg, plead, and implore them to run with the format.

I am aware of the exceptions, most notably recently with the little shade thrown at KWPN for long ago not approving Valegro, whom has since danced into the hearts of a million fans world wide, including mine, and is retiring as an Olympic champion. Not every successful competition horse needs the approval of a registry, but maybe if we can all appreciate the standards which were set in place for a reason, then maybe we will all have a more solid foundation for American Breeders and horse show competitors in the future. Let’s hope we can work together for it. Wouldn’t that just be amazing.

The Pony Side.

There are too many ponies in North America. Just kidding. Sort of. But really, wow, there are a lot of ponies here. It is not surprising how well the pony establishment is surviving, even though there continually still struggles and setbacks. This is more about passion over money, and from what I have learned you are in the pony breeding business because of a very personal reason, and that passion is what holds the fabric of that community together.

So as an outsider looking in, and gathering endless input from lovely people all over the country, I immediately started seeing why pony breeding flourishes here in the U.S. There has been quite the head start. Even though Welsh ponies in the United Kingdom can be tracked all the way back to the 1400’s, (and really references to ponies and cobs were found as early as 930 A.D), it took until 1901 to form the Welsh Pony and Cob Association. Welsh Ponies were already being imported to the Americas in the late 1880’s.

Apparently, they are famously hardy animals by not only surviving the treacherous moors of Wales, but also because some idiot King by the name of Henry VIII got it into his heavily pickled and idiotic brain that little horses were vermin, and crazily sought out to destroy every horse he could find under 15 hands. Imagine having a bunch of knights show up on you doorstep and be like ‘hey your child’s love of her life is too small to exist, so yeah, we are gonna go ahead and chop him up here. thanks, bye’….. huh?? That was in 1540, when the women in Henry’s life were also getting beheaded on a regular basis, and the entire kingdom was probably wondering who let this creep on the throne. Who the heck orders a decree to kill ponies?? I mean I don’t like them, but I just ignore them, I wouldn’t for a second think a Ponycide was necessary.

For a more eloquent rendition of the history lesson, Leslie Wylde does a pretty good job. http://www.horsenation.com/2012/04/30/horses-in-history-the-welsh-ponys-worst-enemy/#comments

Back across the pond and fast forward to 1907, after a couple of decades of George E. Brown ( Auroa, Illinois)  importing a whole bunch of Welsh Ponies, he and John Alexander formed The Welsh Pony Society of America. A century later, this country has a pretty substantial grip on Welsh ponies in and out of competition. There are a lot of standards when breeding a Welsh pony. Certain colors are not allowed….there are sections which relate to height. A, B, and C and D.   One of the main differences from breaking away from the British Society is the possibility that here in America, the ponies were primarily continued to be bred for ‘Sport’ rather than back in the U.K. where they had a tendency to be bred for less jumping and more for ‘Show’ . Hence we have, on our own, created an ideal riding and jumping pony for the typical American child. It seems logical ponies were being bred at an easier and quicker rate, because they were generally being used for recreation, for wealthier children at that time, for pleasure, and they were smaller, easier to feed and store in the backyard. Keep in mind horses were still being used, especially outside of the North East, as means of transportation, work, racing, or fox hunting, rather than sole sport of horse showing. Horse racing was the dominant money maker for breeders, and money came hard and fast in an industry that spent horses just as hard and fast. In The Breeders Gazette, a popular publication which covered all areas of livestock breeding, suggestions were made for breeding all kinds of horses, from shetlands to Shires, (and pigs to lambs) but the concern was primarily for anything but horse showing. Early on, horses may have shown, but they normally had a primary purpose or were useful in other areas of life. Not to imply that ALL ponies bred here were automatically show ponies, some of them actually worked very hard, were actively being used in coal mines, or feed mills, and being used in delivery service well into the 20th century.

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Dyoll Starlight

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Ta-Y-Bwlch Berwyn

What you see today in the show ring is primarily of Welsh breeding. Famous early pony stallions of the Welsh line circa 1890- 1930’s include Dyoll Starlight, Ta-Y-Bwlch Berwyn, and Grove Ballistite.

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Grove Ballistite

 Interestingly Dyoll Starlight can be found on both sides of the pedigree for Cymraeg Rain Beau, a 1974 pony Stallion which many recognizable ponies can be traced back to today, including Buzz Light Year, Blue Mist, Beaujolais, Remember the Laughter, Millbrook’s Tiny Bubbles, Knickerbocker, and more and more and more….……  Molly Sorge wrote this about Marguerite Taylor-Jones in 2010…http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/marguerite-taylor-jones-changed-face-pony-breeding

However, earlier in the mid 20th Century, Joan Dunning was an astonishing contributor to the Welsh lines and had a certain tenacity about her which made her steadfast in her dedication to keep certain standards very high for her ponies. She was a hardcore conformation critic, and I can imagine ruffled enough feathers in her loyalty to the pony over the person. My favorite line I found written about her was this “ She was an acute judge of conformation, and strongly opposed breeding to extremes of appearance at the expense of the animal’s health, intelligence or character. As a longtime director and president of the Welsh Pony Society of America she was a major influence on the development of the breed in this country, insisting always on maintaining the hardiness and intelligence of the original pony type”  Well, take that Henry VIII!

She loaded herself onto a boat to go back to the U.K. multiple times following WW II  in order to find the perfect mares to bring back to her farm in Virginia, quite often accompanying the ponies and terriers she accumulated during those buying trips on the way home, probably secretly giving the ghost of that old King the middle finger each time leaving England.  (yes, literally on a boat, no Horseflight back then, so about ten days to make the crossing, not 7 hours).

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This horse is going to India, and I like to think ponies simply walked into the cargo bay of a ship, but alas, probably not…

Joan used her wealth to a more than admiral contribution to society on many levels, even outside horses, and now you know a little more about her. Her first stallion born here in the U.S.?

Farnley Sirius. Farnley Sirius eventually led to Farnley Lustre…….

Farnley Farm & Shenandoah ponies are everywhere, thanks to this incredibly dedicated woman, and please do not take offense to silly humor I carry around in my imagination.

In all seriousness, she was probably the most humble person out there, probably never gave the finger to anyone, even secretly, and on the Farnley Farm website, she announces herself, she did not put the energy she could have into promoting the Dartmoor pony (a similar breed) and feels she could have done much better by them. I maintain my ultimate respect for Joan and strive to be half the woman she must have been.  However, I will not apologize for the opinion I carry for Henry VIII. 

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In an article I requested from a generous The Chronicle of the Horse,  here appears Lustre, but photos of him are trickier than you would think to find. 

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That portrait is Farnley Lustre!! Originally painted for and given to Joan Dunning, it eventually was presented to a very deserving Marguerite Taylor for her Lifetime Achievment award. 

What about Farnley Lustre? It has been said he may have been the stallion of the Century, which is quite a powerful statement. Think first of the fact that he sired just over 150 foals, first. 150. So imagine 25 of them being kept as stallions. Getting the picture? Those 25 sired countless foals! Frankly Lustre’s reach is so deep into the ponies we see today, it is hard to imagine where we would be without him today. I think it might be a completely different world. I am also beginning to think there is no match today on Joan’s obsession with conformation, like for real, she was a hardcore adamant conformation geek, which has to contribute to the success of her stud. Anyone care to guess who might have been in Farnley’s Lustre’s pedigree around the turn of the 20th century….? I’ll give you a hint, he was grey.

Also? nice to have a good Stallion manager, http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/stud-manager-hershell-shull-finds-his-niche-farnley-farm

Times are a changing in this century

One of the more famously pony obsessed breeders and contributors to the magazine the Paisley pony was Thalia Gentzel, and her knowledge on all things pony was immeasurable. She wrote constantly about lines and kept extensive records on seemingly all the Welsh ponies in North America. Her articles can be found through many issues, and she was highly respected throughout her lifetime, including earning a Lifetime Achievement awards from the Welsh Association. Her Helicon Sport Ponies were epic winners. Her writings can be found everywhere, and I could spend months trying to track her work down.

In 2001, she wrote in the Chronicle of the Horse that most of the ponies today are derived from about four major pony lines. (more I would say) Farnley Lustre, Cymraeg Rain Beau, Blue Danube and Carolina’s Red Fox. Yet, she couldn’t finish the article without mentioning other sires leading to other famous show ponies. In all reality, following the ponies needs an encyclopedia all it’s own.

Thalia was a real push into meeting the breeders and meeting the ponies, universally, it seems, and I hope we have another Thalia around today? Do we?

Also interestingly, without Cheryll Frank, recording sires might still be unavailable today, which is super important. I can hardly believe it took until the year 2000 to establish a database with the Federation, but it did finally happen, with someone clearly more outspoken than I am, and she wrote to the Chronicle this little bit of awesomeness “The American Equestrian public desperately needs an impartial database that records the facts, without prejudice for or against any breed, horse, rider, trainer, or owner. Without such a tool, our industry is based on advertising budgets, rumor, prejudice, bogus claims, and old wives’ tales”

I think I could easily be bff’s with Cheryll Frank. Recording stallions with the Federation is key for established breeders, as well as the next generation coming up, because that is basically your education of who is what and what they produced, without it, you are guessing.

If Amy Rosi had not written The Pony Book about Emerson Burr, we would be left without most useful source of information out there. He painstakingly explained every detail on how to care for, manage, breed, raise, ride and show ponies produced for an entire generation who lacked the internet. This book was wildly popular and shared all of his knowledge and expertise, including interviews with Breeders across the country, and trophy winners from major competitions (WIHS) for the spanse of over two decades. Thankfully the Federation continues to recognize his lifetime of dedication to ponies and children through various horsemanship awards and programs. But really? Any child who reads and memorizes The Pony Book will never need a horsemanship quiz, because guess what? It is ALL covered in that tome.

The Shetland Pony. You know you love them, you see them flying about like mad these days thanks to tireless efforts of U.S. Pony racing.  These were serious coal mining ponies until the need for them dissipated in the mid 1900’s and they instantly started finding better lives, especially in America. Eli Elliott (also in the Midwest), started bringing these creatures over from Scotland during the same time frame as George with the Welsh’s, late 1800’s. Everything was carefully recorded and as early as 1888, Shetlands had their first association (the American Shetland Pony Club) with two Studbooks. Shetlands are used for everything child related, even adult related when they are used for driving. Even I could appreciate seeing so many little ones at the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show this summer

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 Maybe not the ideal hunter show pony standard, but still important enough to include them in our horse show lives. The trend to offer shetland pony racing at our biggest competitions across the country doesn’t seem to be disappearing. We hope. It is not difficult to see how a pony racing kid can transition to a children’s jumper pretty handily, hence earning a spot on a team headed for a championship. Do not underestimate a kid who has started on a shetland, these scrappy riders learn EVERYTHING about speed. Mini Kent Farringtons are scattered all over the countryside and you are cheering for them at WIHS every year.

But is the Shetland pony heading for dire straits? A serious divide amongst shetland pony breeders may be the biggest concern of the sustainability of this adorable breed. Should you care? Well, yes, if its popularity continues to gain momentum, there is a viable market here for shetland ponies again. Foundation ponies are the core to keeping the standards even and true, and if breeders break away over dissent, will the breed be forever altered and irreparable? The fall in interest in Shetlands is highly disturbing and the big picture is getting overlooked again and again. When I looked at the American Shetland Pony website I have to admit I was totally confused at what i was looking at with breeders all over the country. They didn’t look like shetland pony breeders at all! Miniature horses yes, Arabian type little beasts, yes, but shaggy fat short little locomotives like what I am used to seeing? no way. Solutions have to be out there, but again, people really need to find a cohesiveness through the industry and sport, not let personal experience bewilder the next generation of riders and enthusiasts.

Ironically, what many of you know as the Shetland pony because of the races you have seen is not necessarily supported by the American Shetland Pony Club, and you will almost NO reference to racing shetlands on their website. I saw one small picture.  You will find a show schedule for the ponies, however, and there are two shows for shetlands that exist today. So why do we see a tiny revival of sorts with Shetlands? Because some very keen person involved with the Washington International Horse Show witnessed pony racing in the U.K., reached out to U.S. Pony racing  here in America, and said “WE WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AT OUR SHOW”. Vision meet Action. Now hopefully Action will meet Sustainability.  

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I was told this was a shetland pony.

 

   

The Dartmoor Pony

Also from the U.K. specifically surrounding Devon (that is the U.K Devon, not Pennsylvania Devon), these ponies are probably the most suitable kids pony, (with all my pony expertise), they seem to be the safest, soundest riding pony out there, but because they aren’t fancy show ponies, we may not see them around much longer. They do EVERYTHING a child really wants to do with their pony, from swimming to running around cross country, jumping, fox hunting, driving, western, and more, more, more.  I can see why Joan regretted not promoting this pony as much as her other famous ones. It is a really, really cool breed. There are only six breeders listed on the Dartmoor Pony website (www.dartmoorpony.com), Farnley Farm being one of them still plugging away at their survival.  Interestingly, the Dartmoor pony might be in peril in the U.K. as well. I found lots of whackadoodle articles regaling the emotional culling of herds growing out of control and the outrage of it all, but I also found one woman who filmed a short and dramatic documentary featured in the Equus Film Festival which can be found here. Keep in mind, livestock such as sheep and cattle are considered the same as ponies outside of America. Grazing rights are more complicated than just owning a farm, there is territory owned by the crown where livestock can ‘graze’ or roam freely and farmers obtain these grazing rights for their animals, without having to actually own the land. Sometimes multiple animals share common land, because different animals eat different things.    http://theinsiderein.com/2016/05/24/monday-night-movie-dartmoor-ponies-the-final-round-up/

Watch the film that goes along with that article.  https://vimeo.com/139357727 Do any similar things pop up about our own wild horses out west? And then there is the gut wrenching moment when I suddenly realized… what if Henry VIII was not pickled in the brain after all and the wild ponies had multiplied so rapidly in the 1500’s that he had NO CHOICE but to cull the herds?? Shit. See what the internet can do to a person? Sure enough, back to researching came up with this blog piece. http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2014/10/04/new-forest-unusual-tails/  and this one from the same site. http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2014/05/26/stallions-on-the-new-forest/ And when Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, eventually became known as the ‘Savior of the Ponies’ for removing her father’s edict, she actually was thinking the forest couldn’t sustain a larger horse’s appetite, and thought the shorter ones would simply eat less and save the forest. Omg. SIGH. 

Reminiscent of the Chincoteague Ponies. Chincoteague ponies are highly monitored and if you know little of this special local phenomenon, you can read all about it here. http://www.chincoteague.com/ponies.html Not to slight the pony in the least, but that website covers all the bases. I grew up reading Misty of Chincoteague, written by Marguerite Henry, which chronicled the shipwrecked ponies in legendary fashion, and was all true, she was famous for her obsession with the island living ponies, and dedicated her life to telling their stories. I would think it would be nearly impossible to find any horse person in my generation and older who did not read her tales and become an instant addict. I have ultimate respect for Marguerite, because she never dumbed down her writings to appease a certain audience, she felt her books should be adored by all ages, if you didn’t understand a word, she simply expected you to look it up, duh, that is why a dictionary exists. She recognized kids were so hungry for knowledge, that when interested, they would overcome vocabulary challenges to follow a good story.  She was not wrong then, nor would she be wrong today, I still believe kids want to learn, we just spend too much time tryna keep them smiling all the time, that we don’t even give them a chance to be knowledgeable.

American Sport Pony – these ponies seem totally kick ass in multiple disciplines, and seem to be as a result of the warmblood influx we have seen during the past few decades. The lines are traced back to warmbloods in the mother countries (lol), not welsh’s and they are all over the dressage, eventing and showjumping world. I am sure there are a few hunters as well, but they are not nearly as dominant as the Welsh. Thankfully there is a way to keep track of all the little monsters out there through the North American Sportpony Registry, who seem really organized, have a great website, and offer incentives and good prize monies. What more do you need?  http://americansportpony.com/

Hackney – Whether you care for these little speed demons or not, if you respect horse showing in America, you can’t ever throw shade at these guys. Hackney ponies were bred for a very specific reason, because someone was always late for a meeting, or really, really wanted to be the first to arrive. Way before cars were even dreamt about, aaaaand also in the late 1800’s a hotter blooded horse was coming over on the ships that sailed from England. The Hackney Horse was useful, but people wanted a smaller Porsche in their shed, so they mixed a couple of welsh lines with the Hackney horse and came up with the Hackney Pony. Quick moving, especially with a lighter souped up set of wheels, easy keeper, good with kids, and this breed took off like wildfire. Two different people claim to have initiated the Hackney phenomenon, a Christopher Wilson of Westmoreland, U.K. in 1872, when he started introducing the Welsh and Fell lines to the Hackney Horse, and also the first importer, a Mr. A.J. Cassatt from Philadelphia who brought over the first hackney pony ’239 Stella’ in 1878. There were a lot of wealthy people in Philadelphia before the turn of the century and the Great Depression, and wealthy people were starting to use the railroad to get out of the dirty city and find summer homes to build for their families. Fresh air for all. But if you took the railroad to get to the countryside, what then? You needed to start finding a way to get around your summer countryside, and start putting together your stable full of steeds. The Devon Horse Show was a concept that came to fruition out of a need to bring all the viable stock in the countryside to one place in late spring, show them off for potential buyers, and at the end of the day, a LOT of horses and ponies had new addresses. The idea was soooooo successful, that it started turning into a really fancy pants event, and eventually would make so much money they needed to find an outlet to give a little of that money back, hence the beneficiary becoming the Bryn Mawr Hospital in 1919. The horse show has evolved tremendously with time, eventually becoming less elitist and more inclusive through the 20th century, it’s history captivating with it’s growth and drama, but it still gives homage to the original exhibitor to this day in its logo, and still entertains carriage driving in it’s prize list, which I hope more of you will watch in the future, now that you know why you are lucky enough to show at Devon today.

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So what does this all mean? So what if there are a lot of ponies in North America? There are still loads of issues going unresolved with pony breeders here in the U.S. The rule changes within the Federations are constantly upheaving normally acceptable standards, the expense of upkeep is still staggering compared to other countries, opinions differ more greatly than the amount of sports teams in the country, and the ride on the struggle bus is still pretty high. Measurements of ponies are not permanent until age 8. So some breeders have to hang on until they are totally sure the pony will measure? ugh, what in heaven’s name were people thinking?  Did anyone think about the breeders when this rule was pushed through? Without some other viable source of income, I don’t even see how you could make a living just off making little pony babies and selling them. Does that mean we should we give up on pony breeding? Or power through the difficulties and philosophical differences, and pray for the best? Maybe the good riding kids today aren’t all that interested in breaking the ponies and bringing them along all the necessary years it takes to develop a good pony, but that would be a real shame. They should be interested, somehow, or at least know where to go to get interested. My guess is most kids don’t know what is out there for them to try. 

I am not sure, but I do think the lessons we have all learned from following the format of pony breeding are good lessons, and could be applied to horse breeding in America, and we may stand a chance to succeed with the animals above 14.2 hands. It is all right in front of us, we just have to look harder. 

commission me.

What is exactly in a commission?

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Your child wants a horse. You have been taking your child for lessons from a trainer down the street. That trainer has been teaching your child amazing things. Your child has borrowed a trainers horse to learn her diagonals, maybe jump a small course for the first time, maybe even traveled to her first show, and the trainer is essentially investing a large amount of time in introducing your child to the horse show world. You think your child has a great relationship with the trainer, and your $65 a week is starting to show in your child’s demeanor. She is suddenly really looking forward to barn time. Her grades are looking better, and you are starting to get keen on how to hold lessons over your child in order to get the trash taken out, and her room clean. Now your child wants a horse. Her own horse. A horse who will have its own original hashtag.

But instead of sitting down with the trainer, who your child has been learning from for months and months (maybe even years), you decide to handle the process of acquiring a horse on your own. You look on Craig’s List. You look at forums on FB.  You join horsemen’s classifieds and are very impressed with the pictures, the sales ads, the impressive “Got this home from the track next door/kill pen/someone’s field six hours ago and he is already jumping a full course!” This apparently highly intellectual animal has suddenly gripped your family as the smartest and safest horse on the planet and ABSOLUTELY must share a last name with you. He probably even has a heart shaped star on his forehead which, let’s face it, is just screaming kismet! What other signs from God do we need?? The budget you have envisioned for the future family member, in your mind, seems so easy to locate online and the horse will only increase in value with your child’s training/riding right? (But your trainer might have been thinking this budget would be a suitable 12 month lease put into a stepping stone horse for your child to learn all the ropes, then maybe upgrade to a fancier, younger, and sounder model when the time is appropriate. Because your trainer has the professionalism to see the big picture.)

You and your child go try this horse, you show up on time, are greeted with the biggest smiles you have ever seen,your child hops right on, and in five minutes is positively glowing, you would even swear her equitation is rock star perfect on this adorable creature, and easily overlook the fact that it is kind of gimpy for the first twelve minutes your child is riding it, because your toothy fairy Charmster has spun you a simple tale of this amazing blacksmith whose wife just left him (because he works too hard)  but she can’t call anyone else to sub because he is simply the best, so the three missing shoes will be fixed the following Monday because I just need to give him some time to figure out his personal life. I mean, I would expect the same from my friends, you know? By the time the explanation is over, the horse is already looking pretty good! You see his willy kind of low, but since you don’t reaaaaallly know what a low willy is, you think oh, he is so laid back he cannot even put the energy into putting his penis where it belongs and suddenly a low willy is a sign that the horse is super safe.

Your child jumps a cross rail two times, and the adorable toothy handler says, that was amazing, he is so green, you should really end on a good note ok?! He will pick this up so fast, he is totally unfazed by jumping, but he has done a lot this week, and is super tired from all the change, but I promise you all the jumps in his future will feel exactly like that cross rail!! Your child gives the kismet horse a giant hug and he even turns his head around to acknowledge her hug and nuzzle her for a treat, which you didn’t think to bring with you, so your poor child looks at you like omg mom, he NEEDS a treat, what are we neanderthals?? The Teeth just smile and say oh my gosh, don’t sweat it, we have loads of treats we spoil this one so bad, because he is literally the best behaved horse we have EVER had! and we have had a lot, let me tell you!! Then she does.

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On your way home, your child is literally bursting at the seams with pride and excitement from the experience. She recaps every step, every transition, she feels he has wings at the canter, omg mom did you see when he tried to do that lead change, he was telling me he could do it! He just needed like a little more room at the end of the ring! I mean, that ring was soooooo small, I just couldn’t steer in a ring that small…….But in a normal ring, he could totally get it, I just know it, he really tried for me.

You have never seen your child this happy. You get home, share the experience with the rest of the family, and by morning you are budgeting the new family member into place. You call the Teeth and thank her for an amazing trial, and assure her you are very interested, you just have to call your trainer down the street to inform her of the horse, but all is good, no worries, my child LOVES the horse!! The Teeth respond “I’m so glad you came, but last night I had seventy more inquiries from an ad I forgot I placed in a local paper and it just came out this morning! The phone has been ringing off the hook!! Please try to make a decision by the end of the day so I can line up more people to try him! I am sure you understand!”

So you call your trainer down the street who (unbeknownst to you) has been patiently inquiring to her network of other professionals that you have a new novice kid who needs a specific type of horse, size, age, blood type, naturally an older horse, coming down from the adult amateurs but 2’6” winner, maybe needs a bar shoe or little maintenance, no problem. She has envisioned an appropriate match and been using her little black book of contacts to find just the right type. But when you ‘inform’ her of your little adventure and let her know of the urgency, she hesitates, trying to take in all that you have just told her. You mistake her hesitancy for something else, maybe that you feel she doesn’t think your child is actually ready for her own horse, and start to question the trainer your child has trusted for a very long time. You get defensive, and feel like you are being tricked. Meanwhile, your trainer is inwardly reeling and desperately trying to form the words needed to save this situation which really, can’t be saved. Of course she wants your child to have her own horse, she likes your child and wants her to be included with the other children who may have their own horses, too. But that is not the problem.

In the back of your mind, you have made the ultimate decision that it just cannot be that difficult to buy a horse, and the idea of paying a commission to someone else for such an easy task of acquiring a very large animal which may or may not require a lot of professional training and guidance down the road is just not worth an additional 10-20%.

And you could not be more wrong.

This scenario I have described is among thousands which happen every day, with a few variations, which, to those who have been in the horse business for more than ten minutes already know about, have experienced, and have been burned from. The trainers who are asking for, say, a 15% commission are not stealing from you. They are using EVERYTHING they have learned, paid dearly for, and have the position of trainer today because of that education, to PROTECT you from making a bad decision. Should any other profession require payment for services? I had my hair done the other day by a professional which was amazing. It was expensive, $125. I could do it myself for $8.99 with a box from Clairol. But after several tries doing it myself and looking at the grey hairs which never captured the coloring quite right and my inability to see the back of my head, which means a LOT of grey hairs show when I have a ponytail, I decided I can’t do it myself with good results, and a professional will stand behind his/her work, so if I am unhappy, they will fix it free of charge. If my box of Clairol doesn’t satisfy me and the results are disastrous, I still have to go back to a professional and say FIX ME! Then I will have to pay  $125 on top of the $8.99 and twice the time is spent on hair……

You pay trainers a commission because the job they have to find you a suitable horse is a service they are providing. Maybe it takes longer than you had hoped, yep, sometimes the horse your child requires is just not out there at that particular moment. But you wait until your trainer is satisfied with the creature that IS appropriate for your child. This could have involved three phone calls, but it could have involved 155 phone calls. You don’t know, nor is it your business, most likely if the perfect horse was a result of three phone calls, it is actually the 155 previous phone calls which led her to an easy transaction that time.  Believe me, I have a list of clients waiting on horses which will ever only require one phone call. But that is because the four decades of calls I have made contributed to me knowing EXACTLY what my clients are looking for. Your trainer will ultimately have to stand behind the horse that is chosen for your child, so it is less likely an unsuitable one will appear on your doorstep.

Don’t shortchange an important figure in your child’s life, you cannot negotiate with a University for education, don’t try to negotiate with the hard working individuals of the show world.  If you have done your homework and you have joined a good and reputable show barn, which has been around of years, then the professional there is going to use his/her small network of other professionals to keep you from getting duped by the liars, thieves, and cheaters in this business. That is why they are a good and reputable show barn. They are involved in the show world community, they probably serve on committees which work to improve membership relations with horse show associations and Federations. Of course, it is YOUR responsibility to seek out trainers who hold a higher standard of integrity, even if it means you are going to have to deal with a longer commute a couple times a week, but this is all on you. The information is all out there. It is a tight community. Just shopping for your child’s first helmet at the local tack store will probably be a valuable resource for information.

And I don’t really have a problem with internet shopping, some great horse relationships have been a result of online ‘matchmaking’. But take a well respected, reputable trainer with you, especially the first time, so they can tell you what exactly you are looking at. An unbiased opinion will save you thousands of dollars.

So then we try to deal with the flip side. Say your child is off to college, and the decision is made to sell the horse with it’s original hashtag. It has been a successful show horse for your child. Your trainer has advised you of the appropriate market for the type of horse you have, and you expect to pay a commission for the sale, but have a bottom line set. Anything over that is up to the trainer to manage. How many commissions is too many commissions? It seems like EVERYONE has their hand out for access to their little black book of contacts, and suddenly your children’s or junior hunter is stacking up tens of thousands of dollars on top of what you were told was a fair price for your horse? Is this fair? Should there be a limit?  Can it be controlled? No, probably not, but do you want to run the risk of a no sale because of your fear of too many people receiving commissions? Ugh, the dirty side of horse dealing has finally raised its head too high. And this dirty side might be what is fueling just enough of the rumors to keep the newest members into the show world from paying a reputable trainer a commission for the very first horse. Is there enough room for transparency in this trade business? I usually find if you are just upfront with the whole process, that it helps. We are seeing more and more interest in online agencies facilitating horse deals, like the Equine Exchange, offering legally binding contracts to protect both buyer and seller, which might be the way of the next generation, but not exactly getting us out of sticky situations right now.

https://equineexchange.com/

Yet, I worry about where we keep heading. Each year that creeps by seems to bring us closer to a Federation controlling sales of horses, like in Real Estate, And if we took a vote today on how many people would be in favor of a Federation controlled sale, what would be the guess of percentage in favor? 2%? seems high, actually. So now we look the other way when we know people are being silly about how much they are charging for their contact info, because we need each other to stay in business and if one us starts speaking up, people will think twice about dealing with them. I get that. I have seen it. For me, I have been doing this so long, I could care less what other people make, I just have a bottom line for each horse, and whatever happens past that is fine. I have a percentage I keep across the board for ANY transaction, on ANY level of price up to 100k. Above that mark, even if the horse is being brokered for 300k, my contact info is still only going to cost you 10k. Because that is what I feel people understand, and it is a formula which works for me in the business I have created for myself. If people feel that I deserve more for brokering a fancy expensive horse, they write a bigger check if the deal gets completed.

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Some trainers have all of this wrapped up in a boarding or lesson agreement, which spells out all the scenarios in a simple paragraph, and it possibly could even be written into the Waiver of Liability form.  This business, i.e.: Noble Stables, charges UP TO 15% for a sale/lease/brokered transaction. This is brilliant, because it suggests flexibility for a less expensive horse. And it introduces a conversation about the service the business is providing. Give a trainer a chance to be flexible in order to make a good sale go through.

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The horse business can wreak havoc on individuals who LOVE horses and work hard for them, and clients who believe it is not a real job, and you are entertaining their offspring because it is fun, always fun. Like a game. But it is not a game. It is still a business, like any other sport, a trainer is taking responsibility for very important decisions, and they should be able to answer all the questions you have at all times, and be given a chance to make the right decision.

Owning one horse for a short amount of time is not always going to be completely satisfying, but the more you sort of go with the flow, learn from mistakes, find your ‘horse professional’ you can basically trust, and see more long term issues in the horse business than short term, the easier it will be to balance out the dollars. You win some, you lose some like when faced with buying stock for the first time. There are no guarantees in the stock market, no way, no how… And what does the stock broker say? The longer you are in it, the better your results.

the 2016 USEF Medal Finals

I don’t believe in Courses dictating the winners of hunter and equitation classes. What is to judge when it is a survival game? Anyone can judge it. In the jumper ring the course usually does dictate the winner, because you are jumping for a clean round, not for style, so no one cares what you look like, essentially. We see some very charismatic and unusual riding styles at the top sport all the time, but at then end of the day, clean fast rounds win the money. You aren’t being judged for use of aids and position. You only have to look to the French Showjumping team for good examples. Bosty won’t be winning any equitation classes against Kevin Staut, that’s for sure. However, both are winners.

The difference in developing a stylish rider through an Equitation Final is to push through riders with good composition, but weak aids, not punish the horse by inventing complicated questions only seen at the very top of sport. If you are a seriously dedicated Course Designer and set courses for Equitation riders all year long, you will know that it doesn’t take an overly technical course to weed out the weakest riders. Then judges will be able to concentrate on awarding actual equitation. Course Designers work very hard all year long, year after year, setting different combinations of jumps for different parts of the country for different classes. Just because you can RIDE a course, doesn’t mean you can BUILD a course. Those are two very different things. Course building takes forever to get just right, you have to practice a lot, you have to be licensed for it by the USEF, you need a mentor to teach you, but apparently at the most prestigious class of the country, those licenses are not required. How is this possible? Why do the rules not apply to the Medal Finals? Isn’t it a USEF rated show? If I were riding, I would want a licensed Course Designer to build my track. However, the rules clearly state the Judges MUST design the Medal Finals Class, but it doesn’t state WHY the judges must design it. And it does not require those judges to be licensed Course Designers.  Is the rule outdated for today’s riders? Is that the right direction to head?

Yes, I understand all of these questions asked this year of the 2016 USEF Medal Finals are questions we all should be able to answer, go forward here, add there, but this year there was a major difference.

What I hated about the course this year, is that it seemed to really punish the horses. It wasn’t ridable, and lacked flow.  Even if riders could muddle through, the horses were totally overwhelmed and maxed out to all of their scope. One moment they were being kicked hard to clear a giant over with zero approach and the next you had to pull their faces off to fit three strides into a two stride, which didn’t make any sense. Not in this ring, anyway. Maybe in an outdoor Grand Prix ring, but the PA Farm Show Arena? It is one of the smallest rings we ride in. You could set a course of cross rails and it would be challenging enough. The winner will still stand out. But when horse after horse after horse is excused after being trapped by the course itself, you know something isn’t right. The horses have little or no chance. Really high quality animals were put into a situation where no rider could just excuse themselves after a major fault. On the International Grand Prix Circuit, two rails will fall, and often the rider will save his horse and pull up. These young, inexperienced riders won’t know to do that. They will not pull up even after obliterating the second jump, with a  wave of the hand to the judges, despite there being no chance to make the cutoff. Trainers would not permit riders to just give up and leave. Later in the class, the judges were excusing riders for just one refusal over three, I am assuming because the time it took to get riders through three refusals was ridiculous, or because even the judges couldn’t stomach the carnage. I am not a supporter of punishing equitation horses. They endure thousands of jumps in their lifetime as it is and are not exactly protected, despite new rules being set in place for the future. So few of the 276 horses performed without some sort of stress from the questions asked, that I am surprised the ASPCA wasn’t there protesting. Those rails are not made out of PVC.

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big crowd for this class

 

The Judges making the courses, based on what they want to see out of the class, seems like a dangerous precedent to set and unfortunately failed this year as we watched rider after rider attempting what could have been a jump off round in a million dollar grand prix in Saugerties. But these kids aren’t riding for any amount of money, much less a million dollars. However, the ones with Grand Prix experience certainly answered the questions on very talented animals. And in the end, the winner most certainly deserved to win.

If the idea of this class is to prepare the riders to become Grand Prix riders, what should we do for the ones who don’t have grand prix classes in their future? Tell them not to bother? Some riders could become very nice hunter riders, actually, but I’m not seeing any relevance with this class on a hunter rider’s resume, and if I had a kid entering this year on her junior hunter I would have probably suggested he or she scratch to protect the horse. I actually like when juniors can ride their hunters in an equitation class, I think it shows a well-rounded athlete in both horse and rider. I didn’t see any today.

The same applies for hunter courses in general, whether it is a derby, handy, or classic round. Let the judge do the job of actual judging the best horse, not let the course dictate the winners with rails, refusals, and general confusion. That is the point of having a judge in the hunter rings, after all.

Some don’t want the judges to actually have to provide their opinions too much for classes this large or even on the winners of these  eq classes, but then why do we even need judges? Someone has to pick the winner, and yes someone’s opinion does matter, because it is a SUBJECTIVE sport. Maybe a nice balance between the course dictating, and judge’s opinion would be healthier. Or, we could have a popular vote by audience participation. Like “the Voice”.

As far as the Medal Finals, I am sympathetic to the couple hundred kids who had no chance today, I have no explanation for you, and hope you didn’t have high hopes for this class. Life is tough, in a few weeks it won’t matter if you made it through or not, but for sure I am way more sympathetic toward the horses. My heart aches for them. Over 100 horses had refusals, which means at least 100 horses knew they weren’t able to help their riders. At least a 100 horses had their careers shortened even more today.

If we are going to keep Live Streaming up for the general public to get more educated, and more involved, we might need to rethink the licensing of the judges if they are going to continue building these major tracks. Or not, who knows. For almost three hundred competitors, there are three hundred opinions. Mine means little. In the past there have been judges who have elected to let the course designer design a track, and worked with them to tweak certain areas weeks in advance to get it all set. Those judges wanted to judge, not course design. Regardless of general opinions, I still believe the job of a Course Designer is a paid position for a reason. And I believe if you are getting paid to judge something as important as the USEF Medal Finals which calls 276 riders from all over the country to one venue, you should clearly be prepared to judge 276 riders on their equitation.

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second course made more sense than the first

On the flip side, the second course for the top 25 riders called back was great and allowed the riders to be shown off a little, while still asking hard questions. It seemed like the audience breathed a sigh of relief when it was clear no one was going to see an untimely death in the middle of the ring. The pattern made sense, flowed, and gave a clearer sense that riders were going to be judged on actual equitation. The horses, for the first time, seemed to enjoy their jobs just a little bit.

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top four called back for further testing , McKayla, T.J. Annabel, and Taylor

 

Whatever you believe should have been accomplished with this class, just remember the future depends on the horses willing to participate in these classes, without them, we are nothing.

We are halfway through a very busy fall season for horses, let’s hope the horses survive it.  The Grand Prix horses will probably be ok, the rest, I am not so confident about.

Good Luck everyone.

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warm up ring

Ludwig who?

 

Where are you? Brooke asked with utter confusion over the phone. Ludwig’s Corner! I replied, nearly shouting over the noise around me. Who’s Ludwig? she asked. I don’t know, I said, but his corner is pretty amazing.

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Main Hunter

I have been to a lot of horse shows. East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, Canada, Mexico, Europe, you get the point. Well traveled. Almost exactly one year ago I had just about enough of the “Rated” shows in this country, and took a few moments to vent my frustration. Then I started looking outside my little bubble. At the time, Ludwig’s Corner had just finished their Labor Day horse show and County Fair, and Andy Kocher had popped up in my news feed as winning the 2015 5k Mini-Prix/jumper Classic. I raised an eyebrow. Why would Andy pick this horse show to attend? Maddy forwarded me all the rest of the info on the horse show in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, (about a 2 hour drive from us) and firmly insisted that next year, we are going. She received no argument from me.

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Ring 3

Maryland has plenty of horse shows, and we now have an incredible mix of Recognized shows and Regional shows, so for several trainers in our area, our travel times are not severe before we can arrive at a pretty decent show grounds and spend some money for a ribbon, so admittedly, this show hasn’t really popped up on the radar of equestrians further to the South. Yes, some people know about it, and it has been going strong for 75 years, but generally outside of Eastern PA and NJ, it is still a bit of a mystery. Maddy wasn’t taking no for an answer, and spent all week organizing how to get her two horses there for Sunday, eyeing the hunter derby with one horse, and the Melvin Dutton Hunter division for the other horse.  She brought her boyfriend to hold the end of a lead shank and help with the drive. Quite the scenic drive, btw.

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Corey’s job for the day

I met her there, had no trouble finding it, and was directed by several people on where to park, it was clearly a well rehearsed routine. They were preparing for a huge crowd, and were diligent with spacial usage of the grounds. From the parking lot I had to walk through the setup for the fair to get to the rings. I noticed two things immediately….a mechanical bull, and a rock climbing tower in the middle of the vendor and food tents. hmmm. I kept walking, taking note. There were three show rings, all beautifully prepared, good footing (newish I understand), normal courses, nothing trappy or complicated. It was starting on time at 8 am. Since Maddy had entered the first few Adult equitation classes, I was able to see firsthand how everyone involved with the show started their day. My first impression was the fact that everything ran like a normal recognized show, the staff was incredibly capable, professional, and this was not their first rodeo. The secretary I knew, so no problems entering, the announcer I also knew, he does almost all of the big shows in Eastern PA, so his voice reassured me he wold know when to announce and for what, and would be properly informed as the day progressed. I was not disappointed.

Maddy and her horse bounced around the first few classes, which were not crowded, judging was correct, we collected a few ribbons, and then stuck both horses back on the trailer to investigate further. By 9 am the Fair side was really just waking up, and vendors were only just starting to unravel the tent flaps, and get organized. We walked through and made our way back toward the secretary stand to check out the Awards table. It was nothing short of ridiculous. Champion and Reserve Champion winners of each divisions were getting totally spoiled, and the table was rivaling most year end Association prizes. Not only that, but attached to each prize was an invitation to compete at the November CCHSA Final Horse Show at Wyndsor farm. Not going to be in the running for a tricolor? No problem, you can still buy a raffle ticket for a beautiful horse jump for $20.

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Noble Outfitters in the house!!

There was a volunteer tent, complete with cases of water for volunteers, a proper coordinator, located at the top of the hill overlooking the rings. Next to that was the rather large Sponsor tent, which I gather there are many of. The souvenir tent let you take pics in the rather clever hand held Instagram frame, so we did, hashtagging and snapping our way through the day. There was an abundance of food. Everywhere.

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When Mads is right she’s right! She’s had her eye on this show for one year! And now I ‘m sold. It’s a fair, it’s a horse show and it is awesome. They have thought of everything. Pony rides. Hay wagon rides. No USEF fees. Derby. Good footing. Carriage driving. Mini Prix. No USEF fees. Mechanical Bull. Rock climbing wall. Bungee jumping.  Beer. Food. Stellar prizes. Did I mention no USEF fees? Ludwig’s Corner #Fan4Life

^^Insta post ^^

By noon, the fair was in full swing, so as we grew bored of watching the hunters, we just shifted our location over to watch all the regular people and their kids play and scream their way through the fun. Dozens of vendors surrounded the main fair attractions, although not large, it accommodated the locals nicely. We watched little kids scale the rock wall, attempt the mechanical bull, do bungee jumping jacks, or slide down an inflatable slide. Just past the line of vendor tents, half a dozen ponies were available for pony rides. Want to see what the big kids were doing with their ponies? Walk a hundred yards back to the show rings and see for yourself. All these discussions the USHJA is having about how to grow the sport and apparently this horse show has been answering all those problems for the last 75 years.

 

I know there are a couple of shows attracting the general public, Devon coincides with it’s fair, Tryon International Equestrian Center is exceptional in everything they do with the public to fill the stands for Saturday Night Lights, but there is one MAJOR difference at Ludwig’s Corner. There are NO USEF fees. All this tremendous fun and exposure to ALL kinds of disciplines, pomp, circumstance, and flare, and the USEF/USHJA is not invited. I love it. With the exception of the commendable USHJA Foundation, which is a partner, they might as well not have existed. Maddy could afford to show BOTH of her horses in an appropriate atmosphere, with proper company, a proper facility, and walk away satisfied.

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A costume class!

There are plenty of county shows coinciding with fairs across the country, but this event was clearly a well-established result of an incredibly dedicated team to raise the standards a bit, and it is working. Working really well.

Fail.

Of course, there had to be a fail. But the Fail did not come from the horse show itself. It came from the Exhibitors.

Addressing tough topics for me is not terribly difficult, but I do resent feeling like the Principle of a High School when it comes to “Show Etiquette”. Maybe I should let bad behavior slide, as many people seem ok looking the other way when human beings become utterly unglued over nothing, but then, what would be the point of this blog?

I struggled with this all the way home, not sure whether to ruin a perfectly good blog post about a wonderful show I have every intention of supporting in the future with two aggravating details that make me want to issue yellow cards.

One reason I may not be the best future ‘Horse Show Manager’ is that I will have no problem throwing your ass out on the street, along with any number of horses you brought with you, should you feel arrogant enough to berate a member of my staff, rather loudly, and in ridiculous fashion. I literally have no idea what would possess someone to have an indescribable meltdown to the person behind the wheel of a water truck simply trying to do his job to prepare the surface in a warm up ring to your liking, but this guy did. And most of the horse show was witness to it. Also, it was 7:45 in the morning.

Let’s get one thing straight. The two people driving the water truck and tractor with the drag are employed by the MANAGER of a horse show to do one thing. Prepare the ring.  There is not one person on the showgrounds who should interfere with these two employees under any circumstance as far as I can think of, outside of an emergency. IS THERE?? Am I missing something? Can I just state how bad you make the rest of us look? It is like interfering with a TSA agent trying to do his/her job at the airport, do you think the agents ENJOY touching several hundred people a day looking for weapons of mass destruction? ok, well, maybe a slight stretch of a comparison, but still, I would have thrown this jerk out.

The other peculiar behavior I witnessed was the nearly half hour stretch between the 2nd and 3rd horse in the Hunter Derby.

The morning schedule of adult and children hunters finished at the proper time, and as stated in the prize list, the afternoon ceremonies would begin with a flag presentation, national anthem, followed by a carriage horse demonstration and Derby at 2pm. A slight hiccup with the Carriage Drivers being delayed pushed the Derby back one hour. We were all aware of the delay. Posted order, 26 entries, all timed and displayed at the ingate and the office. Meanwhile, we enjoyed watching the slew of carriages once they finally made an appearance. All Good. Water and drag, set for the derby. First rider standing at the gate, guess where she was from? Maryland. Second rider kind of casually strolled up to the gate, not eager to get in the ring, but was there, regardess, went in, did her thing, came out. I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, nothing. Like literally, nothing. I looked at the ingate, no one was there, I glanced at Maddy holding her horse, and we made those questionable scrunched up faces at each other like uh…now what? I looked into the warmup ring to see a madhouse of dozens of riders in shadbellies all flying around frantically prepping their horses and couldn’t figure out for the life of me what they were doing!

The pregnant pause went on for so long, and was so painful, the announcer finally said, “well I guess no one else is interested in showing in this class, so we can move on”, and the threat DIDNT EVEN WORK! The poor girl begging people to just come up and go out of order was exhausted and clearly defeated by the lack of willingness to participate in the derby. People watching from the hill, baking in the sun, got up and returned to the fair.

Again, I am left wondering, IS this behavior ok? It was so awkward, because had Maddy and I known this was going to happen, I would have GLADLY moved her up from 18th in the order to go 3rd, but it really didn’t seem like reality, so we were stuck, thinking surely the next rider is coming up any second, right? OH! I spotted her, here she comes, we all breathed a sigh of relief as one person casually walked out of the warm up ring up ready to compete! NOPE, just kidding, she actually was just letting horse stand at the gate for her real turn, much later in the class, I think she went in the ring just before Maddy.

I have to be careful here, but I definitely have noticed a difference when showing in the North East versus showing in the South, MidWest or West. The temperature does change. I can be a stranger in a lot of places outside of Maryland, and in my own personal experience, I have noticed trainers interacting with each other with either warmth or coolness, and today I noticed a particular coolness. The strain of an empty ring is very real when outsiders are looking in. If you went to the circus and stared at an empty ring with no elephants for half an hour, my guess is you would complain to the people putting on the circus. But I witnessed trainers not working together to solve the problem of an empty ring, and I was saddened by it. Despite the fact that it isn’t my circus, and not my monkeys, I think it is a problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of our sport. If you don’t want to go into the ring for your class, why are you at the horse show? On the flip side I don’t want to hear rude ingate operators berating exhibitors at 7:15 in the morning, but we really need a common ground here, I think the word I am looking for is respect.

Sigh, enough about the two Fails. Maddy enjoyed herself immensely, I snapped a nearly two hour long story, and loaded my phone up with dozens of pictures, she continued on with her young horse to the Melvin Dutton hunter division (named after a legendary horseman in his own right who has touched the lives of literally hundreds of horsemen) and left completely satisfied with the day. On a pleasant side note Melvin Dutton was there for the ribbons, which I was so glad to hear, after his tremendous recovery from last year, and Maddy was thanked for showing in his namesake division, a touching moment for those of you who know him. If you do not know him, here is a tiny description:

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/horse_racing/20070201_He_has_a_way_with_horses.html

 It was a good day. It was a great day. I’ll be back for more of the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show in the future, and I bet a few more Marylanders will be making those stall reservations, too, so plan ahead.

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stunning

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A prompt Marylander Brianna Kenerson, first to go in the Derby. She walked in as soon as the tractor was clear of the gate.

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Maryland native Megan Miller showing in the Derby

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The jump I need to win. #feelingconfident

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Mads earned several ribbons, but we were most proud of her Adult eq over fences class and 2nd place.

Labor Day Weekend just got a lot more interesting. #LCHS for the win this week.

Summer in the City

Baltimore is a complicated city. It is a hard city to explain to outsiders. Quite often, it is a hard city to explain to insiders. In other expanding, growing urban environments, development is quicker, neighborhoods change, growth dominates and pushes through walls and forces tolerance and integration. However, Baltimore seems a bit stuck in a time warp, and urban development doesn’t match the likes of San Francisco, Cleveland, Atlanta, or Miami. We tried to affectionately call our city Charm City, but the irony was and is not lost on the generations of families living here, and around the city. Whenever I think about all of the crimes against me in all parts of the world, the drunk fights, the carjackings, the robberies, muggings, chasing away bullies, broken bones, or whatever, the tough girl always tried to come out of me to fight back because, hon, I’m from Baltimore.

So I might as well answer the two most often asked questions of the last four months. How did I become involved with the Arabbers of Baltimore City? And who are the Arabbers of Baltimore City?

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Haul for the day

Arabbers have been around forever, long before cars, and people used to sell every known item under the sun off the back of a cart, which was attached to a horse, which traveled up and down city streets like the ice cream truck and the Arabber (pronounced A – rabber) would shout or “holler” about the items in the cart as he (or she) passed through your neighborhood. Generally around here, since cars and trucks have really taken over, Arabbers have had to fight with the city to keep their tradition alive, mostly by insisting that the produce they carry is the only produce being offered in an alarmingly large portion of Baltimore City. It is true. The massive amount of concrete jungle on which nothing but a tiny, heavily barred and surviellanced corner store exists is frightening and depressing. And in those corner stores, there isn’t likely to be any fruit. I’m not kidding. Add to the lack of grocery stores, poor urban development, and unwillingness of banking institutions and other businesses to open in certain areas, and you have what is popularly known as a ‘food desert’. What happens if you don’t have a car? Guess what, a lot of people in Baltimore City do not own a car. What happens when it is not possible for you to leave your home? Another guess, most people are not able to spend an entire day trekking around town, waiting in the heat for a bus that might show up, (or spending more money on transportation than groceries), looking for proper nutrition. Or an open bank. Baltimore city has one of the largest food deserts in the country and is not likely to be changing anytime soon. Growth is so damn slow around here, it is no wonder we are considered a city stuck in a time warp. We have major issues, endless obstacles, and even when it seems one hurdle is cleared, we might be moving forward, at least a half a dozen fresh problems pop up, and boom, we are back at square one. This summer was particularly bloody for reasons most of will never really be able to comprehend, and the grief lingers with the haze, making you want to push the awfulness aside and search for ANY positivity in ANY corner of the world.

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The City Paper posted a convenient map. the RED is the food desert. not good.

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a couple of these exist

Without having broken my leg, (for which I should have been resting quietly in bed), the Arabbers never would have crossed my line of vision, and I would have only been updated through Equiery posts, or brief mentions of their problems somewhere in the City Paper. However, within under a week post surgery, I had just about enough of staring at my own walls, and begged someone to come pick me up and take me to a horse related meeting. I was looking for my next blog post.

Watching a room full of horse people is hilarious to me, my sarcasm radar gets sharper, my face develops a tiny smirk, and my eyes twitch with this weird battle to prevent an unwitting eye roll.  Way better than Netflix. For real.

The meeting carried on, I took a few notes, checked Facebook thirty or forty times, and made a mental list of things I should really order on Amazon, now that I had upgraded to Prime. Then the floor opened up to New Business, and someone captured my attention. This strange looking and not really horsey man had ventured up to our little meeting to tell us the situation with the Arabbers in Baltimore City, and ask for ideas on how to move forward. I was totally hooked the second he opened his mouth. I wanted to write that story. It had everything I wanted in a piece, and despite only ten minutes of exposure to it, I knew I was totally throwing myself into it. I friended two names immediately on FB, and sent a group message saying I wanted to write their story, please let me, maybe I can bring some attention to you and let’s see what happens. By the time I stood up to leave, Holden was gone, disappearing from the dullness of horsey things being covered in the State of Maryland by an enthusiastic group, and I could hardly chase him down on one leg, and I needed to eat. He did, however, respond to my message, and invited me to the work detail to help clean up the yard.

That was in four months ago in April. Now they can’t get rid of me. Before I could even walk I was hobbling around their yard on pink crutches, absorbing every little detail, desperately trying to learn names of people, names of horses, make countless mental lists and written lists about improvements, clean up, direction, and survival. I met a whole slew of new people sharing the same drive to keep the doors open, and think it is an incredible team. We might be in a constant state of “where do we begin?” but at least the energy is there.

The horses look great, all sorts of junk has been hauled off, making room for future improvements, equipment areas gutted and cleaned. “Fruit”, who is in charge of the yard, hustles all sorts of horse related business on the side, showing up with ponies at birthday parties, taking prom queens for a carriage ride, weddings, funerals, you name it, he can probably swing it. The main priority is keeping food flowing through the neighborhoods, and keeping the horses around that are capable of doing that, but there is still the concrete cowboy in Fruit who deserves to see the city from a back of a horse. And he wants the next generation to have that access as well. #inspiration. I have always firmly believed in animals integrating into city life, but not just cats and dogs, larger ones, too. There are so many city dwellers who NEVER learn what it is like to be around a pony or a horse and that simply just doesn’t seem fair. Everyone deserves to know a horse, learn about one, feel, one, smell one, learn to lead one, draw one, photograph one, learn to feed one a carrot. There is no reason horses should be limited to people outside the city who are lucky enough to drive a car and travel down country roads. If horses were our main mode of transport as they were 100 years ago, it would never occur to any of us that city horses are rare, because last century, the city was full of stables.

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I met a lady Arabber. I didn’t even realize there were any lady Arabbers, but I met one! Jackie just strolled in one day while I was hanging around the horses, and she just started chatting away, telling us all sorts of stories about who she knew, where she Arabbed, and what was going on now. She didn’t know the Fremont Avenue Stables, (I think she came from the old Bruce Street Stable before she retired) so thought she would check it out, see if she could bring her husband along one day and go for a ride. How awesome is that? She described her past horses in incredible detail, had learned the tradition from her father, and was on the streets hollerin for a good twenty years.

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Jackie once Arabbed the streets of baltimore

There is nothing easy about being an Arabber, you don’t do it for the money, I can assure you. It is work, real work, and you are always repairing your cart, chasing down runaway melons that plop off the side, or getting soaked in the rain. If you don’t have a clear cart when you head back home, you walk it in, if you have sold every piece of fruit on your wagon, you can ride in. Each little detail has come from some tradition passed down in families, learned from a grandfather, or cousin, and the will to keep it all alive is incredibly fierce. Every single Arabber has a story to tell, and the ones no longer around have their faces painted on walls around the neighborhoods to remind us all of their own colorful lives.

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BJ getting Tony ready

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BJ’s shadow, future Arabber

  

Community support has been tremendous, I have to admit. Everyone wants to talk about it, contribute, volunteer, offer something, anything, a load of hay, ‘squishy’ horses, books for the coming library, and we are definitely heading in the right direction, despite the usual hurdles and complications. I have learned a lot. I have lost a lot of sleep over it. The sheer magnitude of capital improvements needed in the yard would normally be shouldered on people with maybe a tad more experience, and better connections, but non the less, we all get along and envision the same thing for the city stables. In the past, the horses have bounced around several locations, but now have a permanent home on Fremont Avenue in Sandtown, which the non-profit (The Arabber Preservation Society) currently owns. We envision the property being an open, operational Horse Discovery Center, fully licensed by the city and the State, a safe zone for children, a learning center for anyone who wants it, and a thriving hub for produce on the edge of a massive food desert.  We have already accomplished a lot, but have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us.

You can tell me I am going to fail, you can look at me sideways while you are trying to figure out what in the world has possessed me to become involved with this particular Non-Profit organization. It won’t matter to me or the team, we are doing this. We are going to do something.

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teaching this little guy about cleaning tack

The tumultuous year in Baltimore that seems to keep the helicopters buzzing and funeral directors afloat has not been lost on me. I get that most of our country is actually deeply wounded, and will take an incredible amount of tiny miracles to heal, if it ever even does, who knows. It is partly why I have been desperately seeking attention from one other slightly smaller stable in Charm City, located on another side of town, yet directly under a popular highway linking Maryland’s infamous horse country in Greenspring Valley to Fells Point. The two city stables are ten minutes apart by car, but worlds apart on every other level. And no less fascinating.

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The stables for the BCMP are underneath that highway

I finally gained entrance into the Holliday Street Stables to talk to the men and women who may have a completely different take on city living than anyone else I know. However they all tack up horses the exact same way you and I do and exactly the same way the Arabbers do, one ear at a time.

These working horses are massive, all draft crosses, one named Hercules is an impressive 18 plus hands, and grey, poor thing, so he sees a lot of baths. There are only 6 at the moment, the wish list has four more on it, but regardless, it is not a large unit compared to other cities. There is no sergeant at the moment. The closest to that rank is Janine Gilley, a ridiculously capable woman with nearly two decades in the Baltimore Mounted Police Unit. Not only can she ride, and police, but she shoulders all of the training, choosing of the horses, feed, bedding, grain, vet, blacksmith, staff, and hundreds of other details that come with horse management. If you ever need a reality check and are feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, take a moment to wrap your head around what she does and you will instantaneously feel better. Trust me. You can’t do what she does. Because she is superwoman and does everything, then uses horses to roam the streets for bad guys and hauls their asses in when they break the law. Her tiny army of 6 is a cohesive group. Some of them are from around Baltimore, some are from places like Jersey, or the Carolinas. They all had to take an intensive six week training course on not only learning how to ride, but on all horse management skills, feeding, mucking, identifying lameness, and troubleshooting everything horse related. The rest they picked up on the city streets.

From what I could learn about a regular police horse day, it is generally evening work on the weekends. And it is work on the Block. For those of you unfamiliar with the Block, it is a part of Baltimore Street, which holds a variety of strip clubs, and bars, and sees a fair amount of illegal activity involving guns, drug trafficking, stolen cars, etc. – use your imagination for the general content or remember pretty much every case seen on The Wire. You get the idea. The weekend night shift is like 7pm to 3am, and the advantages of using horses to police comes from several angles.

Height for one. You can only see so high in a squad car. But on a towering draft or draft cross, you can see almost to the second floor of a building, above crowds, and further down a city block.

Agility… Yep, those big lumbering horses move way quicker than a squad car, and acceleration in a foot chase is unmatched. These horses even know how to sort of pin an assailant into a corner and just leeeean on them.

Smells. If you pull up to a stoplight, are smoking weed and your sunroof is open, I am gonna guess John Potter and his pal Hercules are probably gonna identify the issue rather quickly, step all 2400 pounds in front of the vehicle and tell you to find the gear for park…

Outside of the evening work on the Block there is other stuff. Crowd control is key to these horses. Ray Lewis knows this first hand when fans were getting a teensy bit too dramatic and wanting to invade his personal space and it took every one of the six horses to intervene and keep his limbs intact in that infamous Ravens parade.

Drill team exercises are practiced constantly to work crowds, changing the formation to adapt to an environment, and tight ranks is the ‘survive or die’ tactic used to keep these officers on their steeds. Paramount in our city.

During the week the daytime shift is significantly earlier, and they work through neighborhoods like Mount Vernon, close to the stables, and following them out one day, I watched people react to the horses walking past, and passengers in cars snapping away at them. Jersey Girl always waved, seriously quick to engage eye contact with people in cars, on the street, and even above on scaffolding.

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Janine Gilley finds most of these animals from the Amish, and I can assure you each and every one is ever so thankful to leave that Amish life behind to be a city horse with steady meals, fresh water, and exceptional vet care. She pushed the lighter breeds out for sturdier types, which has worked remarkably well.  After other cities started pulling shoes for the draft horses, Janine followed suit, discovering almost 7 years ago, the traction was better, and after training her riders to keep a slightly keener eye on the ground, it became pretty natural of them to go barefoot. I think this can be used in the other city stables, actually, because many of those horses have weekend jobs and shoes seem sort of pointless. Plus, hello? Can we please the budget director any more than saving on that big ole blacksmith bill?? I did notice the saddles were all Stubben Siegfrieds, which I thought a little peculiar, but there has been some consideration to switching to Western, which might provide more comfort, stickability, and why not be able to lasso a robber and keep him handcuffed to the horn? lol, brilliant, and it worked for that one guy out West who recently caught the purse snatcher from the back of his horse at Target, right? I don’t know if the BCMP has the luxury of switching gear that easily, but it is something to consider for the future. My ass is sore just thinking about those Stubbens. No offense Stubben, but really, what gives with that seat?

I met Janine ages ago through Maryland Saddlery, and have followed the BCMP off and on over the years, many of my friends have offered up their farms for officer training, so the entire unit is well known with horse people in Baltimore, Harford, and Howard Counties, and she has been an incredible ambassador for the City Police. Not only is she genuinely a nice human being, she is supremely dedicated to the history of the mounted police throughout their last 128 years. Almost every scrap of newsprint or media has been captured in album after album, which she put together, and her knowledge of Baltimore, and of Maryland is hard to fathom. I just wanted to know when the first woman joined the unit, because you know, #gurlpower, and as it turns out, we not only boasted the first woman to join the City Unit, she is considered the first woman in the COUNTRY to join a mounted unit, and awesomely, she was African – American!! Her name was Janis West. An article in the Baltimore Sun says Janis had no experience riding a horse at the age of 23, but in 1979, her bosses decided they wanted to see women riding horses in the mounted unit, and she, “being an adventurous type”, jumped at the opportunity and proved to be worthy in every kind of detail, in every kind of neighborhood, for the next 20 years. She rode an ex-racehorse named Cady, and apparently generated an enormous amount of income for the city by distributing a prolific amount of tickets near Lexington Market, and I gather there was no middle ground on whether or not you liked Janis West, depending on whether or not you ever bothered to put money in your parking meter… She served for twenty years.

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So much documentation of the history of Mounted Police

The Baltimore Sun has followed the Mounted Police extensively for years, and every once in a while will glorify a bad accident involving a horse, because… Media. But as a rule there are far more city horses retiring to farms in the counties (waiting list, don’t even try) than tragically in the streets. If you spend your life as a horseman you will experience horses living, or dying at inopportune times, but country horses have more untimely deaths than city horses, trust me. Paddock accidents happen everywhere. We have all had them. Don’t even try to argue with me.

One of the more bizarre stories that came out from the officers, was the day they all learned they were out of a job by way of a newspaper. No warning, no notice, just the front page of the Baltimore Sun announcing city budget cuts, and whoosh, mounted patrol gone, kind of like learning you are broken up by your boyfriend by way of a post it note. Yeah, people actually do that. Even more peculiar was that when word spread of the impending doom of the horses and riders which had also served as ambassadors for the City Police since 1888, an anonymous donor stepped in and said, uh no, the horses stay, and here is TWO YEARS worth of funding to keep them here… Blink… Blink….Blink.  Our community has spoken about how they feel about equines, apparently. And someone privately held police horse duties to a very high level, which is not surprising when you think about it. How many people do you know want to take a selfie with a police horse? Pet one? Good grief, I have done it all over the world. Police horses are easy to identify with in the street, like the carriage horses in NYC, they just scream PET ME. And it is allowed here, encouraged, as long as you don’t put a finger or five too close to the teeth like an idiot.

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In Mount Vernon

These horses lead to engagement, conversation, and connection, which we all need more of in this city. The outreach to schools and youth keeps the unit furiously busy year round. Like Janine said, you can’t just pet a squad car, that would be weird. I have heard our newest police commissioner has put an enormous amount of pressure on officers to actually get out of their cars and engage with residents rather than slinking around like robots, which has garnered more respect than normal for someone in his position. We need this, he is right. We need a lot more, but it is a good start. The Mounted Police have been doing this all along, but it is a small group, a wildly respected group, but maybe if every single officer could experience one day or one week from the back of a horse we would have a much different city than we do today. Just speculation but still. I am a firm believer in courage. I am also a firm believer in engagement.  Proper engagement, respectable engagement, conversations which don’t erupt into awkward situations.

Maybe the way forward is to be set by example from our horsemen and women around the city of Baltimore. Charm City. Less of Murderland, more of Maryland. 

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Going to work, Washington Monument in background

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.

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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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Hold the reins of Ambition

I wonder if we talk about ambition enough. Where does it come from, how much does one need in the show world, when is there too much… What an incredible scale to have almost no ambition (1) that you can barely even bother to show up to show your horse, or so much ambition (10) you would go too far to achieve some title only a few people will even remember when you are gone, maybe even putting your own horse in danger.  Should we be discussing it? Is anyone talking to future riders about it? Is it recognizable enough?  The rules we have in place may be there because some people with too much ambition couldn’t contain themselves and put horses in jeopardy, yet other people might be criticized for never having enough ambition, and dragging their feet, or wasting a trainer’s time, which leads to unintended discontent.

As a young person getting into ponies for the first time, (maybe because your parents thought it was a good idea), how large a role should ambition play? A child should have enough to want to learn how to groom a pony, pick out the feet, tack up, post on the correct diagonal, correct lead, and even learn to jump. What is a good age to start seeing ambition? 5 years? I have no idea, but I do know most trainers gets pretty excited when they see real ambition at a young age, as well as real involvement. It tends to inspire trainers to offer more knowledge and help more while the ambition exists, regardless of what is in your bank account.

I reached out to quite a few people involved with horses for input on Ambition and Inspiration, since I can only really only know how ambitious I am alone, and the responses varied. Some people never responded. Some people responded immediately.

There is a lot of consideration taken as to the people I ask questions like this, and I am not likely to pursue people just because they exist or win a lot. I don’t need extra friends, I can assure you. (I now have at least 10!). I look for people who also make good role models, or set good examples, and even if their personal lives are chaotic, imperfect, messy, absolutely wonderful, or too good to be true,  their horsey involvement seems to be pretty healthy.

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Bethany Baumgardner being fierce 

Bethany Baumgardner races horses. She is from Maryland, I know her from watching her race around timber fences practically in my backyard (those are stationary wooden objects in a field, with no brush or groundline and met at a speed of oh, I don’t know,  30 miles an hour? give or take, and on a teeny tiny little saddle with two teeny tiny little stirrups). She wins a lot, and maybe most applauded for crossing the finish line in first place last year at the Maryland National Hunt Cup, only to discover her lead weights had tragically jumped off her pad mid-race which led to a devastating disqualification due to the weight requirements. Her name won’t be put on that trophy from 2015, but I am pretty sure she has her eyes on it for 2016. And I use the word devastating, because her fans were feeling the pain. Bethany knows full well where she finished in that race. She gave a very thoughtful view on Ambition. “I believe ambition is something you are born with. Throughout history there are the people who pave new roads, push boundaries,  leave their mark and this is not without mistake. Whether this person studies and has dreams of breakthroughs in science or an athlete who wants to break records, each will need the drive and motivation to put in the work to get there. Other people are quite content with getting by. They get through school, get a job, and they support themselves. Life is great, (it may seem uneventful to some of us) but it is great and exactly what they want their life to be. Inspiration, on the other hand, everyone can find in particular places in their life. Possibly even inspiration can bring out the ambitious side of a person. Either way, I believe in dreaming big, pushing your luck, taking chances, and never looking back”.

Makayla Benjamin is a college student at Sweet Briar University in Virginia. Her solid performances in college riding earned her a spot on the Student Rider Nations Cup team, which is kind of a huge deal. It is a World Final. Not only did she make the trip to Germany to compete, she won the whole dang thing! It took me a while to figure out the format, but I eventually found this…click this: http://studentridersusa.webs.com/competitions.htm….. Makalya’s response was no less thoughtful, she looked up the actual definition, saw the words ‘earnest desire’ and feels “that if you want to be great at a sport, you have to dedicate yourself entirely. My ambition comes from within because I always try and push myself to be better. When I see riders like Beezie Madden on Cortes C, and Tori Colvin on Way Cool, or even Harry de Layer on Snowman, I wish to have that strong of a bond with all of the horses I get on. These riders inspire me to seek out that bond every time I get on a horse, even if it is only for one round – I want to know how I can get the best out of this horse.”

Maybe it is just me, but she seems concerned with the connection of horses rather than the winning with horses. Interestingly enough Psychology Today popped this article out claiming “If your eyes are on the prize, they may not be on the ballhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199711/athletes-blind-ambition

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Richard Spooner (you know that no hands dude who has represented our country multiple times on the International level) also thought about my question and came back with this. “To me Ambition is the spur in my side. It drives me to act and compels me to push forward when the path is unclear. Ambition has enabled me to accomplish things that I never knew I could, but be mindful of Ambition. Ambition isn’t synonymous with balance nor does it illuminate the pathway to happiness. Ambition is just a spur and it is up to you to hold the reins.”

He might have won the award for most clever response. Someone should frame those words.

And in case you haven’t actually seen him know when to drop the reins, here ya go – you are welcome >  https://youtu.be/gtv2sK6jbp4

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Emily Williams riding Strapless 

Emily Lynne Williams. Now, if you are too young to remember Emily Williams riding a special mare named Strapless, I truly feel so sad for you. It was like watching a magic show, the duo was just incredibly poetic in everything they did together. I don’t know how else to put it. If you are like me and did happen to watch Strapless and Emily win the class of a lifetime in Florida (2003 USHJA WCHR $100,000 Hunter Spectacular), you might have to give her credit for why you are riding hunters. Everyone aspired to be her. She also won as a junior in the Equitation ring, taking home the trophy in 1999 for the USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay. So I asked her. I was curious if she thought about Ambition. I think she absolutely does……“To me Ambition is something money can’t buy. You either have it or you don’t. It’s that drive that continues to make you strive to be better no matter how much success you have already had. It is also what keeps you from giving up when the going gets tough. It reminds me that this life is a gift every day, and reminds me to keep pursuing my goals and to never give up on my dreams.”

I have a feeling she can attest for when the going gets tough, and I commend her for contributing to this piece today. It probably wasn’t easy.

If we don’t talk to students about ambition, will they end up taking an undesirable path to success? Yes, I mean cheating. Whose responsibility is it? Can you be a 10 on the scale but not put your horse at risk? Maybe every rider thinks he/she is really ambitious, yet walks up to the ring without having studied a course map. Does this rider not want to dedicate him/herself entirely? When you fail, or think you fail, do you have enough ambition to overcome rock bottom and push through, maybe earning respect from the next up and coming group of riders or even just your peers?  Can you think about the impression you are giving others?

I watched a rider at a local medal final last year so beautifully turned out, perfectly matched with her horse, lay down a lovely trip which earned her a spot in the top four to return for a test. She was a regular competitor in the junior division, and obviously had enough experience to qualify for this particular weekend class. She sat beautifully on a horse, yet could not perform the test very well that was asked from the judges. It happens. The exasperated trainer happened to be standing right next to me, and when I looked over with sympathy, he asked me “Why don’t they want it enough? They just don’t want it like we did. I have done everything in my power to get her here, but I can’t make her want it.” I knew what he was talking about, we have all been seeing the demographics change over the years, and it seems to be greatly impacting not only our aging trainers, but younger, less jaded trainers as well…. I wish we could find a simple solution, but we can’t, there isn’t one. If we want better horsemen for the future, we have to break it all down, take responsibility for ourselves, our kids, our future, and start turning it around to give hope for the next generation. Maybe really taking that hard look at the connection, not just the winning.

There isn’t really a requirement to be ambitious to be surrounded by horses, but the role it plays reflects on the industry in general. It reflects a variety of things like education, competition, performance, results, failures, and money.  Where are you on the scale? 4-6? Do you think it matters? It certainly matters to me. I want a better sport, I want a better horse industry, I for sure want everyone to experience some sort of healthy success in whatever area they are involved in, and I am ambitious enough to look for ways to see how we can make those success stories happen.

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I often wonder why riders who say they want to win or be better riders never utilize the one thing, the one FREE thing, that is at their disposal all the time. Riding outside the ring. I hear every excuse in the book, and I could care less what yours might be, but riding outside the ring is the of the most underutilized tools of becoming a stellar rider, and stellar horse, especially pertaining to the hunter rings. Yep – that “Cross-Country” term that brings people to firmly shake their heads, quiver in their boots, and refuse to even consider.

Yet, those who are keeping an open mind about progressing as a rider and actually do venture out into a field or woods, quite often have better equitation and better instincts in the actual show ring. And it costs absolutely nothing.

Your heels automatically go further down – Those thousands of dollars you are tossing out the window to hear your instructor/trainer/coach to remind you to put your heels down 10,000 times a year is basically achieved after one month of going outside of the ring, up and down hills, and standing in two point for a gallop (or brisk trot out, whatever). Your body has reflexes, and when you don’t want to lose your stirrups as the horse you are on is jumping sideways from a bird, guess what? Permanent Heel Down Syndrome. It is a proven science, trust me. Walking a mile back home on your own two feet is not normally an appealing option.

Speaking of reflexes, your other body parts sharpen drastically as they learn natural movements of the horse outside of the ring. A horse going around in his natural element is friskier, livelier, more on the defense from predators such as bunny rabbits, and believe me, you start to read his mind at every shudder, shake and start. Once back in the ring, everything will seem so much easier, you will be able to control the spooking before it even happens, and know to turn your horse’s head away from whatever is catching his attention.

Position. If you didn’t understand the three types of seats you are supposed to learn before going cross country, you will understand them by the time you get back. You need the two point for going up a steep incline, you need a half seat when you cross tricky terrain or a water crossing, and you fully comprehend deep seat when starting down any descent. Want to up the difficulty level? Drop your stirrups.

Have you ever been told you look down too much? Another 10k repeat from your trainer is my guess. I’ll give you a hint – looking down is kind of not a viable option for people riding outside the ring…Not only are you looking for every hazard known to man and beast, your life greatly benefits from you keeping a very keen relationship with the horizon. On the horizon could be lurking any potential suspect which might disrupt a perfectly sane outdoor experience. Your eyes will be up and in navigation mode. Permanently.

Confidence. This should be self-explanatory, but I can tell you about a hundred thousand stories of riders and horses gaining confidence merely by attempting a trek across a field, through the woods, over a log, and the giddiness that ensued. It has literally changed lives, and soaked up a fairly large portion of my monthly iPhone data with snaps, texts, and Facebook or Instagram tags. Frankly, there is not much more rewarding than someone frantically trying to recap every thrilling moment in their 15 minute escape around the farm on one of their favorite borrowed horses. I don’t now, maybe it is just me, but those moments are priceless.

So why don’t Americans go ride outside? Ten million reasons. But what a waste. The ultimate resource in advanced horsemanship and perfect position is completely accessible to thousands of young and old riders alike. No one seems to want to venture outside the gate, experiment with a trail ride, (or even hire trail horses), borrow friends ponies, sign up for an eventing clinic with Jimmy Wofford, or Dom Schramm, yet those same riders want to qualify for a Medal Final, win a derby, or compete at a league final. It makes no sense. There are thousands of exercises with cavalettis, poles, gymnastics and other tools suggested or sold to riders to try and improve your balance, reflexes, and sense of timing, when all you need is to find a local hunter pace or cross country course to school, and might cost at the most $20, if that.  Your trainer might frown upon your experiments, but I can guess why. Money. Maybe he or she cannot financially benefit from improvements you can make on your own. Whenever someone doesn’t want me to do something I always ask, why not? It usually is about money. Or maybe time. Time. So many horses to be ridden in that busy stable before 5 o’clock, there just isn’t enough time. You have soccer practice to get to. Well, when you or your parent writes that check to the horse show, how much time and money goes into that weekend? Did you win? Did you want to? How much was that check written for?

I can see the backlash now, ‘Oh No’, I couldn’t possibly allow my 6 figure imported horse to take a step in grass. He might go lame. He could go lame for any reason, but sure ok, whatever you want to believe. I personally think it is fun to teach an imported horse how to go up and down hills for the first time. Most of them come from the very flat Holland/Belgium or the part of Germany without inclines or turnout, and it is highly entertaining when a young horse experiences one of our hills. One descent and climb at the walk usually leaves them completely winded! It is comical for them to figure out how to navigate hills at the walk, trot, or canter, and then eventually become masters of descent!

With the increase in Derby classes I thought for sure I would see an increase in our hunter riders jumping cross country, but instead I have only seen people build crazy spooky courses in an indoor or fenced in arena where a horse is less likely to show his true colors. So what happens when the real derby asks the right questions? A whole lot of faults?

I don’t know actually, maybe this would answer my frustrations with the WIHS classes, when we are seeing horse after horse spooking at the trot jump. (read ‘Are You Judging Me?’)  Instead of having a schooling jump, maybe the horses need to just school cross country before showing at the most prestigious show of the year. Ugh, so many questions, so little opportunity for change.

Last year, while in Gulfport over the winter, I saw a couple of riders accessing the hill out by the trailer parking lot, and thought how smart! There is only one hill on the show grounds, but this father/daughter team was taking full advantage of conditioning their horses on that slight incline during their 6 week duration in Mississippi… Stumble or trip every once in a while? Probably, but they were out there for a reason, and it probably had to do with the benefits for horse and rider. I would imagine they were able to teach the horses how to overcome the occasional trip or stumble by changing the balance and placing more focus on the hind end rather than the forehand. Genius really, but then again, they were from Maryland, maybe it was just born into them.

Training on hills works, and this training center believed so much in the benefits of hills for racehorses, they actually built an uphill synthetic track for them. Wow. http://www.dceprofile.com/signature-projects/sport/ballarat-synthetic-uphill-training-track

I know, I know…… not everyone has access to the outdoors in an outdoor sport, but there are still loads of people NOT taking advantage of natural terrain, and that is a real shame for our sport. Not to mention the fun factor is literally being tossed out the window along with all those lesson dollars.  #makesnosense. #bringbackfun

If you are fortunate enough to be exposed to fox chasing, take full advantage of it, those tools learned last a lifetime. ^^same kid both pics^^

By the way, for fun I used The Google for locating State Parks that allowed trail riding? Guess what, every state has one.

Emerald Quality 2

Chapter Two of the starting of Emerald Quality, or Emma, Emmie, Pooface, or whatever her nicknames are depending on the day.

The first part of the winter season was mild, which has allowed the girls at the farm to accomplish a lot more than normal at this time of year, and it actually has been an enormous relief since I have been stuck in my own house for over five weeks, with only an occasional drive to the farm permitted to stand around to see the progress. Asking the girls to cope with piles of snow on the ground would have been rather inhumane at best.

Emmie hasn’t really reacted to her new surroundings at all. She likes her turnout, has a good view, is easy to catch, eats well, drinks well, keeps her blankets on, doesn’t run, and generally appears to be a pretty complacent animal. The older animals around the farm have been less well behaved. I don’t make it a common practice to give smooches, but Sarah PROUDLY proclaimed she snuck in a smooch without being bitten in return. Good, Sar, good. All of this fuss is more for reassurance toward the mare that the girls are here to help her learn, not hurt her chances of being successful, and it seems to be working. Emmie had a tendency to back up when you tried to put a blanket on, either out of confusion or curiosity, but a combined effort to distract her with even a modest amount of attention up front seem to help her.

The process of breaking her has been extraordinarily easy. The biggest complaint I heard in the beginning was that she wouldn’t go, so I warned the girls to please have someone on the ground encouraging her to go forward while she was learning how to get to the trot. The last thing I wanted was an attractive donkey to fool with. They figured it out, and spent an enormous amount of time doing transitions from walk to trot to halt to trot and back again. First on the lunge line unridden, then ridden, then free of the lunge line on the same circle, gradually increasing to use half the ring. Stacey was particularly religious about voice commands, something I have never mastered myself, but I can actually see a difference with the method. Emmie has also seen multiple riders, which I have always believed helps the young ones from being too keen with a certain person.

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So far everyone has agreed she is an exceptionally smart animal, showing little signs of fear, which will be a huge advantage to her future career. She could care less about stepping over poles, which we introduced after only the second week. Finding the trigger to the canter is proving the bigger challenge. Emmie doesn’t have a lot of ambition to go fast, and with the combination of the girls breaking a young horse for the first time, some days have proven quite comical. Stacey was the first to attempt the canter, and all I can say is THANK THE LORD it wasn’t summer, otherwise she might have passed out from the exertion to get to that final gait. There was so much grunting, groaning, and other expletives, it was just not possible for me to keep a straight face. We managed one lap to the right, and half a lap to the left after multiple failed attempts, but that is totally fine, I wasn’t worried. No bucking, no spooking, just a really beautiful extended trot for the most part. I carried a lunge whip from the ground to add encouragement, but she basically ignored me.

Besides finding the canter gear, the main challenge so far has been dismounting, it seemed odd for Emmie to comprehend that the rider should come off of her back after a ride. So Stacey has spent more time at the mounting block just working on getting up, down, standing, even using the mounting block to dismount (I KNOW, I told her to do this because of my own personal knee injury which prevents me from a proper dismount – hush)  There are days when the ground is frozen she can just work on this without having to do any other flatwork. Fine by me.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in people working with young horses, is the feeling that they should be ridden like old horses. I have never understood this. Young horses do not come with a prepaid education. They literally have no idea what the heck is going on.  There is no structure requiring you to have a Walk/Trot/Canter session in both directions and trot a cross rail. Some days just getting the tack on and standing around the ring or field is actually a very good lesson of the day. And healthy. Over achieving has never been my thing. Repetition works wonders. I could care less if you think it is boring, because repetition solidifies education – good or bad. Bad habits are hard to break for a reason. Well educated horses never waiver from what they have repeated ten thousand times. It is not that complicated. It is how we learned to write out the alphabet, one letter at a time over and over again.

The making of a childrens hunter, for example, is not a competition to see how much the horse can accomplish in the shortest amount of time. There needs to be an incredibly solid foundation, because that childrens hunter is going to see a lot of questionable rides in its future, and it needs to understand what tolerance is. Six weeks mastering steering and Trot/Walk/Halt transitions? Sounds good to me. When you can recognize that you have a little quality in your hands, you know six weeks is a blip on the screen of a young horses life.

Emma’s first road trip to an indoor was so easy. She loaded up with the older horses, and ate hay while waiting her turn. She thought she was supposed to paw, but we reminded her no, and it stopped. After the first set was finished, Stacey pulled her off, walked her into the indoor, I held her while she was tacked up, then she went for a short lunge and then short hack. We managed to get a bit of canter, with Stacey huffing and puffing, and then she hung out on a loopy rein while the other horse jumped around with Dani.

The temps are dropping quickly here in Maryland, we will finally see a bit of the real season, but I am pretty happy with her progress so far, I think this spring will be super fun for all of us.

The USEF wants you back

The 2016 USEF meeting in Lexington, KY. Good call having it close to home. Their home, not ours. Unraveling the mysteries of what has happened inside the USEF over the past couple years was overwhelming, at best. I came here as a normal person, like the rest of the horse show world, completely out of place, and a little clueless, having assumed for years the organizations run themselves;  we pay our dues, get a nice award if we are successful, and pay for a team to go to the Olympics, without actually putting any faces to the organization, or even knowing who to call when I have a question.  Well, guess what? Maybe my ignorance has served me well for 40 years, but it might be time to grow up a bit. I actually met a whole bunch of humans who actually care about the wild collection of horse people in this country. Dang it. I was not prepared for it at all.

Upon arrival I immediately learned that the giant jerk pickle leading the organization for the last 18 months was abruptly and unanimously kicked onto the street. You can use your imagination for the details. He didn’t care about any of us, you, me, the horses, none of it. He had his eye on some other unattainable position, and was merely using us as a springboard.  Bye Felicia. In the wake, a whole slew of PEOPLE who DO give a mouse’s butt what happens to all of us, (and the horses) is left behind. And everyone wants to get busy to repair the damage and come up out of the fog. Against every fiber in my body, I was super impressed.

Another Town Hall Meeting for Drugs and Medication…

Hearings are going to be published for us to view, starting after this next rash a lawsuits. That’s a good thing. I walked away with a clearer understanding about how the process works for drug infractions. Pamphlets have been made to guide you through exactly how they come to verdicts based on the severity of the infraction, (even though they do not have to stick to the exact printed formula). Sometimes penalties can be harsher, or lighter, but there is a guide at least. It is advised you come to a hearing if you have been issued an infraction, make it happen, get here to tell your story, even if you don’t have any more evidence or excuse for what happened to you. They cannot make decisions in the future for the rest of us without you showing up to tell your story. NO MATTER WHAT, SHOW UP. for more info, here https://www.usef.org/_iframes/drugs/rules.aspx. Do I think this is solving the real issues? meh, no, but publishing hearings is a good start. Go to the Chronicle for the more professional details. http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/usef-town-hall-tackles-doping-and-due-process

Some things being discussed for the future I have a hard time seeing implemented. For some reason, there is an urgency for all future horses (showing at recognized shows) to be subject to a necropsy, should they drop dead in the ring or on the grounds. I am suspect of this for many reasons. Why would they want to know? What do they think will be found? What if the only clinic able to perform one is 10 or more hours away? It is costly, and even with a small re-imbursement from the USEF, you are responsible for transport of a dead animal to a clinic. Regardless, it is still only being discussed. I think the main goal is for the vets within the USEF to have a more informative relationship with the vets at shows, so if disease out breaks occur, there is communication on how to handle it, and major inconveniences can be avoided. I have to say, the horse show management committee seems willing to work on ideas, at the very least find a way to isolate sick horses on show grounds. We actually do need this. Stephen Schumacher is incredibly patient, explains his position countless times, and I want to believe him, I really do. He will talk with me, or anyone when it comes to the vet side of the USEF. He seems to have good intentions for a really crappy job description. This piece was written in 2013 and echoes many of the same issues http://www.julieannafreund.com/apps/blog/usef-re-thinks-its-drug-policies

I was intrigued by the International Disciplines Committee, or IDC, in which Joe Mattingley  (CEO of the Galena Territory http://www.thegalenaterritory.com/GTA/The_Galena_Territory/About_The_Territory/GTA/Explore/About_The_Territory.aspx?hkey=2a2bc60d-95aa-4726-86c5-655f8510c809) gave an inspirational and passionate commentary on how the U.S. really needs more presence inside the FEI (currently we don’t have any); and also how the training of coaches, trainers, and teachers in the future could possibly be a lifesaver for our sport. Imagine if we were somehow providing education for our enthusiastic riders to become career coaches? To further discuss the possibility, Will Connell (http://www.usefnetwork.com/news/11422/2014/7/2/will_connell_named_as_usef_director.aspx) provided a Town Hall for us to throw out ideas on how to make this come about. He asked the legendary Yogi Breisner to Skype into the meeting and talk to how the program is Great Britain works, and rallied us all to want come up with ideas on how to do it. No idea how to fund it, but it would be an incredible asset to keep people in sport. Then maybe juniors won’t think their careers are over at the age of 18. Think again kids, coaches are needed, here is how to become one…….

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Other topics discussed? Bringing the USEF into this century. It is antiquated, electronically and with regard to accessibility. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out the ‘show pass fee’ debate. As far as entering shows online – it gets simpler every year, do it, pre-enter, be prepared as an exhibitor. Horse show managers will appreciate this, and run a better show for you, but it will also simplify a helluva lot of paperwork within the organization. Boring stuff, I know, but when your membership fees go up, part of it will be on you, me and our laziness. Know that a nonmember is going to part of your group this weekend? Plan ahead so USEF isn’t chasing you or your client around for $30. These things waste time and money they can’t afford to lose anymore. The former leader led the organization down a painful and expensive road. The tightening of the belt is upon all of us. You don’t want to see the fees raised next year? This is one step, only one. There are a hundred, but you are in control of proper paperwork at the very least.

The Board of Directors wants this to become a service organization again for the members, it was said over and over and over again. Service, service service. I didn’t find one person against making this a better and more friendly, fruitful, and important organization again. Can they do it? Overnight, no, eventually, absolutely.

I found two heroes this week. The first comes from marketing. Colby Connell is only 6 months into her new job. Guess what is in her background?? SMARTPAK. The Holy Grail of a small company gone large, right? Her team might be the freshest influx of talent I have ever seen. She had every magical word and phrase under the sun which sucked me right in. If she can make this work she will be sought after by every  major head hunter in the world. She WANTS more connection with the membership. She KNOWS the USEF works for the members, and she wants to try and prove it. She will use EVERY social media outlet to get you involved and inspired – even me – to the point I was offering up my own unprofessional services, I bounced up to her table and acted like a fool – PICK ME! PICK ME!! Blog about it! Use pictures! Instagram it! Tumblr it! I could not have been more awkward and she could not have been any nicer or more accommodating. All Hail team Colby. Have an idea?? email her right now!! Want to volunteer? (good for your career btw) email her. She is magical. cconnell@usef.org, or Andrea aevans@usef.org.

My second choice for the hero win is Lisa Roskins. She came here to pitch her ideas to USEF for next year.  Did you know the World Cup Final is coming to Omaha in 2017?? That is a city in Nebraska. It is in the center our country. Lisa was an integral part of getting it there, and she is determined to make it interesting. How? Get this – she wants an entire arena devoted to the HORSE – every horse, every discipline, every rider, every handler, every opportunity to educate, view, learn, feel, touch, smell, whatever the verb, it is going to be in that arena for the duration of the event… FREE. did i mention FREE, did you pick up on that word FREE?? You can imagine how I feel about a chance to show America about horses for free. AND THEN walk across the hall to watch a world class competition. (not free). An exposition with a competition. Think of ideas now, book your rooms, this is going to be incredible if she can get the support. Have an idea? Want to partake in the expo? Email her here! : contactOEF@omahaequestrian.com, or Patty LaVelle – plavelle@omahaequestrian.com.

I have to give an enormous amount of credit to Mary Babick. She was here all day every day in every meeting, solving rule change proposal problems, and working, working, working for all of us. I think she did the work of twenty people, just in this week, not to mention leading up to it. The research she had to compile was tremendous, and it is hard to argue against her logic. She strives for every positive trait this show world has to offer, and it is damn near impossible not to believe in her. I don’t really know what her role will be officially in the USHJA as they adjust to the changes made from the president Bill Moroney shifting roles, but I don’t think anyone else wants her in any other position than leader. Well, maybe one. But he wasn’t here this week. Regardless, she isn’t worried about it, she is working for us every single day, still teaching and running her Knightsbridge farm in New Jersey. http://www.knightsbridgefarms.com/

Everyone knows Bill Moroney as the role he played with USHJA has been a subject of my aggravation for ages, most publicly since September of 2015. If you read the first post of this blog, it is all spelled out for you, I never ever truly believed in the USHJA, but have taken a few small steps in regards to changing my opinion of it. I am trying to get myself better educated, more involved, grumpily maybe, but I am doing it. The programs might be good programs, but the implementation has always fallen short with hunter people, and we always find a way to get around using them, so they are a hard sell; then I get all bitter when I have to face raised dues. It is frustrating. However, this sudden upheaval which led to him being the current and new CEO of the USEF might actually be the proper role for him.  I don’t know where his clarity was in the past, but here I can honestly say I have never seen him be more well spoken, confident, and forward thinking. Ever. Maybe this problem solver situation is the answer, I have no idea how to predict it, but he gave a pretty darn good first impression as leader of the USEF. You know perfectly well how hard that is for me to admit. I don’t mind to give him a chance, at the very least.

I walked up to a few strangers and asked how they felt about the changes, not surprisingly, every one I asked was relieved, positive, and thankful we were back in the hands of a horse person.

You also might consider attending one of these annual meetings. The networking is amazing, and as everyone has to learn the hard way, it is networking which keeps you in the business of horses. If nothing else you can be in the same room with some famous people. (hint Beezie Madden!! David O’Connor!)

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I literally was two feet away from David O’Connor

In the next few years, these meetings might be able to become more like the USEA conventions, which are fun, provide educational seminars, and get people working together. Maybe they do not have as many rule changes to deal with or committee discussions, and let’s face it – the eventers know how to put on a convention, but the USEF and USHJA could do the same, follow up with the ideas, the fun, the learning, and encourage people to work together.

Either way, I am viewing from the outside in, I am not on a committee (yet), I am not sharing the inner workings like someone else could do, and gas is cheap right now, but I am kind of thinking this is the fresh start of the USEF for 2016.

Are you judging me?

I wonder if I am the only one out here that doesn’t have a problem with judging. The number one most complained about topic in the hunters – is judging. I can’t figure it out, people have asked me to write about it but I haven’t had much of a complaint about the way hunters are judged. Riding a show hunter is very difficult. Choosing a hunter is very difficult. Training a hunter is very difficult. There are no short cuts. The high difficulty level probably explains the rise in drug infractions in our sport, which should not be pinned on the hunter judges, that isn’t completely fair. Many of our judges are or were exhibitors themselves, or are still trainers in our business.  They really do pay attention when you walk in the ring, they do want every horse to be successful, and they get excited when horses perform well. They are perfectly aware of the time, money, and energy this sport consumes, and they do not take it lightly.

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Our lack of education might deserve more of the blame. For riders, the lack of hunter clinics versus the jumper clinics could be a good reason (let’s face it, jumper/equitation clinics far outnumber hunter clinics). Maybe everyone thinks they know it all already, or the clinics are too expensive, or the top riders don’t have enough time to spend teaching clinics, (fair assumption), but it seems to come back to education.

It is hard to find places to solely train on hunters, even in a highly dense area like mine, unless you are willing to be on the road. Really good trainers don’t stay home, they go compete, we don’t have the depth of horsemen unwilling to travel that will take the time to teach young (or any age) people the secrets of riding hunters for weeks or months at a time. In the eventing world there is a better chance of being an educated working student, because 3-day horses really cannot compete every weekend, so they spend more time at home. In the hunter world, good hunter riders/trainers get paid to ride on the circuit, and our shows start early in the week. How can you blame them for not being available at home long enough for a proper education? Those who make a living on the A-Circuit are only home on Mondays, if at all, and try to make an attempt to close the barn that day to catch up on some sort of life outside the stable. They have to make a living, somehow, and also be a human.  Hunter horses can show a lot more than 3-day horses, and an average hunter rider/trainer can get paid to show almost every week of the year, especially if they are catch riding for multiple trainers.

Over the past few years I have been paying closer and closer attention to scoring and judging, trying to look for patterns, and trying to make sense of what all the complaining is about, but I haven’t really been able to find anything remarkable about the process. A horse goes around, with its ears pricked; brings its knees up; uses its back; lands on the correct lead; seems to like his job; – then on to the next. To me, I see the most athletic horses winning, which is a good thing. Athleticism is key over beauty when it comes to portraying a show hunter. Beauty is kind of like the icing on top. Every person out there deserves an opinion on what a classic show hunter should be, and some days you are going to win, others, you will not be better than third. If a young horse gets wild in the ring guess what? His jump will be wild and too quick off the ground, and he won’t win. Maybe his rider just spurred him off the ground or was too stiff to cause that anxiety in the air. Who knows. We are not all perfect riders. The busier the show stable, the more difficult it is to gently prepare a young horse for the ring, but that is not the judge’s fault. I don’t believe in excessive lunging, either, but I have learned that I can no longer take 15-20 horses to a show and expect perfect results. I had to make a really tough choice based on what I could afford to do well, and what I wanted to do well.

There have been a few exceptional horses, of course, Rox Dene was the most classic hunter I can remember, and won an extraordinary amount in her career. Each decade seems to have a prominent classic winning hunter, but I don’t think muddying the waters with numerical scoring on each fault will solve the problem. I can’t support this. It has been suggested only a few points be detracted from the score for a rail falling on course.  A rail falling on course does not bring an Olympian a gold medal, so why should a rail falling in a hunter ring still bring a first place at Derby Finals?  Subjective scoring has a place here, otherwise there is a jumper division available.

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I think what keeps people coming back to the ring is the fact that everyone still has a chance to win that day depending on the judging. If the same horse wins EVERY weekend, why would anyone bother to show up to compete against it? The way it stands now, I actually have a chance to beat Kelley Farmer if she has a rail. It will be my day that day. I don’t think this is wrong, I think it is what keeps me in the sport. I like my horses, but I don’t prepare them like she does, so I can pretty happy when I jog at the top of a class at Upperville, for instance, despite the championship going to her or someone else. It is an honor to even be in the same class, really, but I have a realistic mindset about the ribbon color I am going to receive. It makes me be more selective about the competitions I choose, as well. I will choose where I LIKE to show more often than where the ‘trendy’ place to show is. For example, I will NEVER again show in a class with 150 other horses. To me, there is no point, even if my best friend thinks otherwise. I set my goals differently, and plan according to my own personal agenda. I am never going to show at a venue where show staff is mean to me, I am going to be handing my money to Classic Company, for example, because I have never been mistreated at any of their shows.

Education is the blame here, not necessarily the judging, I see judges trying really hard to do it right, and even more so now due to online streaming of major events. All the major venues are streaming live from here on out in our sport, more classes are being videotaped from beginning to end, (Tryon in N.C. and Swan Lake Stables in P.A. have EVERY round taped in each class for anyone to watch) and it seems that the judges are doing a better job. If they are not getting it right, they aren’t going to get those same jobs in the future, so why would they screw up now?

Politics probably still play a part, but it is waning more each year. The equitation ring might be different, but as far as watching the hunters, the judges can’t be held responsible for the detriments of our sport. It really has to come back to education. Our system isn’t quite set up as easily as training be a Grand Prix rider or winning 3-day rider. Don’t let the stigma of the hunter ring keep you from competing these days, the trick is figuring out how to do it all correctly, not quickly. Good show hunters take years, not months to make, and you may have to search for the right way to learn it;  this time it is not all right in front of you. You might even need a book!!

To me the most frustrating times when watching major events like WIHS, is when the horses don’t seem to have an even playing field. The numbers are no longer big in the professional divisions at that show, and I think it comes down to the aggravation of the venue. The ring is SO different to what the horses see all year long, and all of a sudden, these giant flowered pillars are squished together, and it becomes entirely a competition of who has the least spooky horse that day. It is painful to watch. If there was just ONE opportunity to jump one or two of those jumps before they head into the ring, we might be seeing a more even class. It isn’t fair, so each year owners balk at the thought of competing in downtown D.C., and rightly so. The lighting changes, the craziness of horses hacking at all hours of the night together is not only unsafe, but silly, there are merely a few poles with which to practice, no walls, no greens, and we end up having horses with scores in the 60’s pinning. I think this year only 6 conformation horses bothered to show up. My husband could have judged those classes, and it didn’t make for a very good competition for the supposedly best horses of the country. I still love the show, but I can’t convince my clients to fork over that much money for a 5% chance of success.

Progressive solutions need to come forward to help, not hurt the industry, not only for the public, but for the people involved: owners, riders, and trainers. And we need more hunter clinics. And at the very least, we need more hunter clinics for riders.

The door is also wide open for you to become a judge yourself. The age requirement? You must be over the age of 18. Get familiar with the rule book, get familiar with the process, there are a lot of horse shows out there, not enough judges to fill those slots. With the opening of some major venues over the last couple of years, and more divisions being offered, we need you on both sides of the in-gate.

Danny Robertshaw wrote a great article for Practical Horseman on judging hunters –  I think Betty Oare has done the same thing – certainly Linda Andrisani is very outspoken. She points out almost 30 faults she has to take into consideration when she is judging. She made an effort to explain it all to you in a DVD. Go read what they have to say, it makes a difference. Take their advice. Buy the DVD. It is good stuff.

http://askthehorseshowjudge.com/

http://practicalhorsemanmag.com/article/what-makes-winning-hunter-round-30510

http://www.thehorsestudio.com/dvd-the-judges-eye.html

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Dirty words

I would love to see this dirty phrase eradicated forever.  LAST JUNIOR YEAR.

This ‘term’ we have erroneously created in the horse show industry has been the detriment to teenagers across this country, and to this day, it continues to amaze me that juniors are thinking that at the age of 18, they will become worthless as riders. How did this happen? Who is responsible? Why would anyone stress about being 17 years old and have an upcoming birthday?? We don’t have enough classes and leagues for you to participate in as an Amateur? I’m kidding, we do, I assure you. Probably one of the greatest experiences of my life happened this year at WIHS with the 10k Adult classic, and I was just a small part of it.  There is actually more emphasis now being put on the adult divisions than ANY other divisions that are offered. There is even a new team championship offered from the USHJA, and it is expected to be a really big deal.

Is there too much concentration put on Big Equitation classes, that they have become the means to an end?  Most people who are serious about the sport of riding on the recognized show circuit  do keep riding after the age of 17, I can assure you. No other discipline has this ludicrous fear. Since I was immersed in the Eventing world at that age, I never heard the term before I started coaching kids at a school several years later. Then I realized it became a serious psychological malfunction of an already shaky teenager’s mind. It was so baffling. So, what, you might have to switch to a new horse once your Eq Horse lease is up? Is that the worst thing to happen?

Is it the end of riding in the Junior Hunters that is so unnerving? Were you a great catch rider for a 3’6” junior hunter that you didn’t own, and now you won’t be able to ride in the Amateur Owners because you don’t own it or can’t afford it? And maybe you feel you just figured out how to ride 3’6” well in the last six months? Maybe get on the board of USHJA and ask for a new division called Old People That Don’t Own A Horse, But Want to Jump 3’6”. Or, enter a Derby. You have options.

College riding is still riding. Loads of colleges have riding programs, teams, or are located near a place where you can to continue to ride, no matter the discipline. Your Last Junior Year is not a legitimate fear or stress factor, yet LOADS of junior riders have this stigma about it. Why? Are you freaking out because you can’t compete in the same division as your best friend? You both are attending the same show, share the same hotel room, carpool, eat every meal together, so whats the problem?

Or maybe it comes from the parents….. How could you possibly let them down? They are your parents whether you are successful or not, it is not possible for parents to love you less because you didn’t qualify for Devon. If they actually do behave like this, go get adopted by someone else, they are terrible parents.

Riding a horse, no matter the division, is a glorious privilege, your value as a person has never been based on the division you ride in, (or anything else for that matter) it is your personality which dictates your success in life. Maybe you restructure your junior years, then and spread out your talent, no one is forcing you to choose to JUST be an Equitation rider, there actually are options. If you didn’t make any sacrifices for the horse you rode as a 17 year old, yet your best friend did, was there a discussion about the pressure of winning with that horse? Sports psychologists sell all sorts of expensive material on how to overcome nervousness and incapacitating fears in the ring, when maybe all it has really become is a fear of turning 18.

If you think I can’t understand the fears rolling around heads of teenagers quickly approaching the December 1st career is over date, you are absolutely right. I can’t relate. I would no more go back to the age of 16 or 17 then poke my eyes out. I probably blocked a lot out. At that age, despite being an amazingly fearless rider, with many accomplishments,  my equine education, and sophistication of body control as a rider happened when I was more mature in my 20’s, when I wasn’t trying to get good scores on SAT’s and weary from other responsibilities and obligations. My talent was cultivated long after those endless, painful years of high school. If you are intending on keeping riding in your life, your best years are yet to come.

What can we do to reassure teenagers that the Last Junior Year is not a deadline? I asked Kori Pickett in Maryland what she thought about it, and she absolutely agreed many kids have a stigma about the end of the junior years, (she jokingly referred to it as the Apocalypse)  and how she handled it as she was off to college before Indoors started, but she chose to skip those competitions which kept her away from her studies her final year, despite qualifying for them. Did it affect her? Not really, she always knew horses would be a part of her life regardless, and could easily return to them between semesters, following graduation, and now around her job. And what did she just do this year that I only know a few people have been lucky enough to have experienced? A Fox hunting trip alongside her Dad… in Ireland!! Yes, she went hunting in Ireland (one of the most challenging terrains out there) with her DAD by her side! Not only that, she often hunts with him here in Maryland, or challenges him to an occasional gymkhana. What could possibly be more magical? Will Kori show more in the future? Sure, not that it matters, horses are a consistent part of her life, but I think she is pretty content what she is doing now, maybe the happiest I have ever seen her. Her values are placed elsewhere at the moment.

I placed the same question to a former student I had while teaching at Garrison Forest, Melanie O’Boyle. Her response was that her her accomplishments as a junior on her horse were, (in her mind), not living up to her expectations, and each time she gave her best performance but her horse let her down was another disappointment she felt drained the enthusiasm out of her. I looked at myself and saw someone who only had one horse so I couldn’t do all the things that famous young riders could. I had only done the jumpers a few times because getting Libby around the hunters was becoming too frustrating. But unfortunately aging doesn’t stop and I had to suck it up. We retired Libby after I finished high school and my parents practically begged me to take my first year of college off of riding. Being a person who hates to disappoint them, I listened, but I’m glad I did. The summer after my first year was when I realized that not being a junior wasn’t a bad thing. I thought your opportunities changed when you became an adult, but they don’t. You can still experiment in any discipline, you can still qualify for finals, you can still be a barn rat.”

Melanie went on to form an incredible bond with a trainer in Texas to this day has not been shaken. She has intrinsically become involved in almost every aspect of the barn, learning more about the horsemanship side of it now that she has the time to enjoy it.

Trevor Hawthorne also responded, he now runs an import business in Pennsylvania and can be found consistently winning and selling horses on the recognized circuit.

“The last junior year brings a daunting reality that comes along with the close of what most believe to be their only shot in this sport. But I couldn’t disagree more. While a majority of junior riders act as though life behind the junior hunters, junior jumpers, and equitation simply doesn’t exist, I was anxiously awaiting the dreaded term “aged out” because of all the new opportunities it would bring. In a sport centered around tradition and an industry that has evolved in so many ways recently, the transition from being a junior to an amateur or professional forces you to think about where you stand amongst it all. From school and career obligations to financial and relationship reasons, it becomes more difficult to balance life in and out of the horse world. This stark contrast between the junior career of chasing points and having the latest trendy show coat is frankly terrifying to most riders. But with that said, life goes on. Sure, the equitation ring has slipped away- but who really misses that? Not me! Life goes on after your junior career if you so choose. Sure, the real world can interrupt now and then and saddle time tends to dwindle, but if you want it bad enough- you’ll make it happen.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

first grade

What are you missing because you don’t know what to look for?

In this age of the Millennial horse show rider, it would seem so many little things get overlooked. We have catered to generations of riders who love to show up, sit on a horse, get to the show ring, navigate a few obstacles, receive a ribbon, return to soccer practice, or Gucci, Barney’s, or whatever. In busier show stables, if you don’t have the genuine heart of a groom who cares more about his/her horses than his/her paycheck, then suddenly a fine line is drawn in the sand. The burden of lameness issues is placed solely on someone without shares in the company. Hired help. Hired help that may or may not speak a different language, or have a life outside the stable.

Is it your responsibility as a rider to know how to look for the signs? If you see veins popping out on your horse standing on the cross ties, with the saddle on, bandages on, bridle on, with a halter placed over all that mess, maybe a nostril flaring, eye lids slightly lowered, would you draw a certain conclusion as to the condition of your horse you are about to have led to a mounting block for you to mount?

What if it were nothing more than passing a strange horse in a stall, and seeing those same veins popping throughout his body. Would you be able to associate that the adrenaline is coursing through his body, and because he cannot speak, he is silently struggling for air, or perhaps his complicated (and now twisted) intestines are causing a piercing sensation through his body that will in ten minutes cause him to throw his entire body on the ground in an effort to relieve the pain?? You keep walking.

You have one day of unsupervised riding a week, (along with your two other scheduled group lessons), which you look forward to because you know you aren’t going to be required to ride without stirrups, stay up in two point for ten minutes, or be bored with some other exercise. Yet that occasional strange step in his trot disappears at the canter, so you ignore it and make him canter for forty minutes so you don’t have to feel it. You don’t actually know enough to check his hooves for temperature, miss the fact that one foot is hot and he is probably suffering from an abcess festering, or, worse, all four feet are ten degrees higher than normal, and something much worse is happening to your beloved pet you just cantered around, hoping he would feel better at the end. The next day he is discovered crumpled in a corner, all four feet straight out in front of him, silently hoping his misery will end at feeding time, when someone finally notices he can’t stand up for breakfast. When your frantic trainer calls you to see if you noticed anything, out of complete fear, you deny feeling anything off.

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The refusal to educate our riders leads to all sorts of problematic situations across the country with horses and riders, but maybe the flip side is such a deterrent that no one really wants to take the time with people learning about horses. In a trainer’s mind, what is worse than a hypochondriac rider? Every stumble needs an answer, a missed lead change means a hock injection, every rail is a sign that donation is looming. Is there a drug for that? An answer for a bad day?? How many bad days in a row are acceptable before a vet is called in?

When a vet is hearing from an amateur client who takes care of her own horses, how is that relationship handled from both ends? What if the vet doesn’t want to listen to an amateur client? How hard does that amateur have to prove that he/she knows her horses well enough to know something is terribly wrong? Or even a little bit wrong?

The really, really good horsemen of the past actually spent so much time with so many horses, or learned about extra things like basic veterinary work, or farrier work, that signs of malfunction were recognizable almost before they even happened. The immediate reaction was to address the sign, before it became a real problem, and take the time to fix what was actually broken. The show ribbon was so far from their minds when they were in the barns, running hands down legs, feeling for abnormalities that weren’t there yesterday, evaluating the conditions of coats, wondering if a different wormer might be required because his coat isn’t quite as shiny as they remember from last year.

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big deal, or no big deal? 

This year (2015) we had a few very tragic losses in each discipline, very public, and due to our current relationship with social media, we were able to view it all at our desktop. Our new marriage with on-line streaming and YouTube is the epitome of a bipolar relationship, and we celebrated a few fabulous wins around the world, yet watched Totalis perform his last dressage test at Aachen, a junior hunter couldn’t complete his course at Devon, a New Zealand event rider lost her horse at Rolex from a re-injured suspensory during cross-country, and all these questions float around up in my head, what was missed? Or, even worse, was anything ignored?

Our junior riders at junior hunter finals can’t even identify where to put a thermometer, how will they be able to determine a hot splint? Some of these junior riders actually do become professionals down the road, by the way, in case you haven’t been following the horse industry very long, and their careers have been dependent on someone else identifying problems on the horses, not them with their non-existent Pony Club background.

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I don’t want to miss out, I don’t want to be that person standing at the in-gate knowing this could possibly be the last time I watch that horse navigate a bunch of silly hunter jumps, yet knowing the trainer next to me has probably hardened him/herself to that very possibility years ago, and will shrug, let it go in a matter of seconds, and we will all write a condolence message on the owner’s FB wall out of respect for the animal, and move on. I want to go back and feel my horses legs one more time before heading out that night, then have it be the first thing I do when I arrive the next morning. I want to be alarmed when I see two full water buckets in the stall after 8 hours pass by. I want my students to recognize a head bob at the walk, in muddy conditions in a field, and think to themselves, it looks lame everywhere, this cannot be right, (even though this horse arrived two days ago), and put in that call to the vet just in case something serious is brewing. I want the vet to show up.

Every barn has protocol on how to handle soundness issues, maybe your barn is perfect, maybe your barn manager cares for the horses so much, you never lose an ounce of sleep at night, and maybe today this moment, my opinion is irrelevant to you. But, tomorrow your life might change, your ability to be in a capable show stable will change, and you will have to make some serious life decisions about where to place your beloved creatures, your pets, you might even be bringing them home for the first time ever. And those people who made it look so easy for so long will not be able to stand there and notice your horse is not finishing his breakfast for a reason. Will the Pony Club manual have played a stronger role at this moment had you known about it?

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no panic, he is just napping, but i had to stare at him a while

Even at the highest level of our sport, we see multiple relationships. When you watch this video, it is hard to keep your attention away from the fact that without an incredibly invaluable person to oversee every little detail on horse happiness, a winning combination in the ring is not possible. https://vimeo.com/142108541

Yet that is not the children’s or adult hunter ring, it is a World Cup Qualifier. Those riders and grooms have very specific relationships with those horses. There is a difference. There is a pretty good chance those riders know all the warning signs for trouble in the horses they are riding, just as the caretakers can recognize a short step to the wash stall. Should you have the same chance? Would you blame someone else if you didn’t?

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when will someone notice he is not using the hoof plate properly? 

All the information you need is right in front of you, you simply have to go get it, learn it.

The Big Eq Guide

Big Equitation goals for 2016

Zone:

The 3’3” USHJA Medal Class – is offered to current USHJA members, and it looks like each Zone has to apply for a championship class. http://www.ushja.org/programs/jumpingmedal/jumpMedal_home.aspx

National:

The GM excellence in Equitation Class – Mar 23-27, Wellington, FL. Invitation only, looks like 25 riders are invited to compete. The class is by invitation only for junior riders. Riders must win one of the other “major” equitation classes held during the WEF Circuit to be invited. This championship is unique because it is a solo event for riders, meaning no help from trainers – not during the course walk, warmup, or during the competing rounds.

Ronnie Mutch Trophy – Awarded to equitation competitor with highest point accumulation of the USEF Medal, ASPCA Maclay, WIHS, and USEF Talent Search classes held at the Devon Horse Show. Not a class, but high honor.

Hunterdon Cup – Finals held in conjunction with Junior Hunter Finals, open to USHJA members who during the Qualifying Year June 1- May 31 have won one or more of the following – USEF Medal, ASPCA Maclay, WIHS Overall class, or USEF Talent Search. Three round format: Hunter round, Handy round, and a Work-Off. more info here: http://www.ushja.org/programs/hunterdon/hunterdon.aspx

USEF Medal – Finals held at the PA National Horse Show in Harrisburg, PA in October. Horses and riders need to be members of USEF and USHJA, and the point requirements vary by state depending on the density of Junior Riders. To view the scale go here: https://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsdisciplines/discipline/allhuntSeat/2016QualifyingCriteria.aspx

ASPCA Maclay – Finals held at the National Horse Show in Lexington, KY in November. Riders must go through a Regional Final before qualifying for Final. Riders and trainers need to be members. Point accumulation restrictions for this one – riders may not acquire more than 60 points. It is a rider’s responsibility to know where they stand in the points.

Membership fees: Juniors $35.00, Trainers $50.00. Apply here: https://maclay.showmanagementsystem.com/junior_trainer

WIHS Hunter, Jumper – Finals held at Washington International Horse Show in October. Two Phases in Final, one over a hunter course, one over a jumper course, but during the year you can accumulate points in each class held at shows.

Membership Fee $40.00, apply here: http://ryegate.com/Credit/members.htm For more info look here : http://www.wihs.org/wihs-equitation/

USEF Talent Search – East Coast Finals held in Gladstone, NJ early October, West Coast Finals held in San Juan Capistrano, CA in late September. Four phases, Young rider (up to 21) as well as Junior rider eligibility.  No additional membership fees other than USEF. For more info go here: https://www.usef.org/_iframes/breedsdisciplines/discipline/alljumping/sjtalentsearch.aspx

New England Equitation Championships – Finals held in West Springfield, MA in mid October. The New England Horsemen’s Council offers varying membership fees for horses and riders:

Apply Here: http://www.nehc.info/index.php/renew-membership-online, not sure but I believe membership is required.

the Finals info page is here: http://newenglandequitation.com/

West Coast Medal Finals – Finals held at the Las Vegas National in mid November, and other CPHA Medal Finals offered throughout California in the fall. Horses, riders and professionals need to be members of CPHA – A cheat sheet for CPHA Medals can be found here: http://cpha.org/pdfs/2015cheat%20sheet-2015.pdf

This page was the easiest for me to navigate in order to find more information on CPHA Medals: http://cpha.org/medal2016.php

Membership fees: Juniors $60.00, Professionals $130.00, Horses $50.00   Apply here: http://cpha.org/registration.php

***********WINNER OF BEST WEBSITE TO NAVIGATE*******

South East Equitation Finals – Finals held in mid September in Jacksonville, FL. Similar format to New England Medal Finals (events are offered for both Juniors and Amateurs)

***********WINNER OF BEST WEBSITE TO NAVIGATE*******

There is a $20.00 membership fee. Apply here: http://www.southeastmedalfinals.com/#!exhibitor-info/c1a4e

***********WINNER OF BEST WEBSITE TO NAVIGATE*******

Mid-Atlantic Equitation Finals – Finals held in mid November in Upper Marlboro, MD. Classes range at height, experience, and age level.No additional membership fees, but there are rider restrictions, multiple class levels offered.

Look here: http://www.midatlanticeq.com/qualifying/

State Medal Finals – All states and/or Zones can offer their own Association Medal Finals, need to be a member of each appropriate state organization. Riders need to be a member of each appropriate state organization. A great examples are the Maryland Horse Show Association which has medal classes such as Hunt Seat on Horses Medal Finals and the Gittings Horsemanship Finals. Check this example out here http://www.mdhsa.org/medals.aspx and the Virginia Horse Show Association has one of the best Big Eq Classes in the country due to the large portion of your final score being a hands on practicum with the horse. Don’t know how to take a temperature and bandage your horse? Don’t bother to participate. This is still one of the biggest honors to win this class on the East Coast. http://vhsa.com/

Read the rules, do the research, be educated!  http://www.horsecollaborative.com/getting-read-equitation-finals-vs-now/

Good luck!

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Emerald Quality

I recently accompanied a friend to Europe, including Ireland to shop for horses. I wasn’t expecting to find a hunter for myself in Ireland (rare to find potential show hunters in Ireland) but I was open to maybe trying a jumper prospect for the first time, as I have been dying to get back into that ring, and I was happy to tag along this time as a friend more than shopper anyway. I currently wasn’t actively looking, heading into winter, and had plenty to ride at home as it was. Fresh out of the Dublin airport, on no sleep, we were escorted by longtime friend Philip Horgan (from Cork) to the second day of demos at the Goresbridge auction, which I knew nothing about. My eyes glazed over as I watched a bunch of uninspiring animals stumble around the ring and hurl themselves over jumps in unimpressive form. I dozed off on a couch inside the dining hall. I woke up as they were setting up for the really young horses, three and under, and forming a paddock with ugly aluminum siding fencing, and big Horse trucks as walls behind the fencing. IMG_8841

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from inside someone’s Lorry looking into the ring.

Within the hour I found a hunter. I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or excited. It’s not like I could walk away from her either. She was adorable, small maybe, but adorable. We were all sitting on the couch in some strangers lorry surrounding the jump chute making fun of the other bad jumping horses and people standing outside on a porch visibly collapsing in front of our eyes from the weight of too many people. Then this creature entered the pen, and I sat up, and went s**t, that’s a hunter. This wasn’t an auction for hunters, it was for high end sport horses for jumping and eventing. I jumped out of the lorry, headed around the corner and climbed the fence along side the chute to film her jumping. She had little ambition to move forward despite her owner chasing her with a whip, and seemed to jump easily and softly enough. hmmm.

Everything was going against my normal process, however.. She was at auction, not just any auction, but the most popular one in Ireland. I hate auctions. You have to rely on pure instinct, and a bit of luck, and unless you live in the area, there is about five minutes you can spend with the horse to determine if it is right for you. We followed the little mare out of the pen, and talked to her owner for a while, getting the history. She was unbroken, not off the farm much, only 3 years old, and was standing there with the wind whipping around us like no big deal. She may have whinnied once. Around us other three year old were leaping around standing on hind legs, and dragging their handlers in every wrong direction. I called my sponsor.

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It’s pretty important to have a good sponsor when your business is importing young horses, and selling them within the American market. It’s also pretty important to have a pretty good track record with past horses, and I have been extremely lucky in the 20 plus years I have been doing this. He said go for it.

That night, after the demonstrations concluded, we headed to the banquet for the dinner and live auction. It was impressive, screens were set up with video previews of the horses, and a couple of hundred people filled the ballroom. Big players were certainly there, and speculations were flying around about the money coming in that night, and the horses that were about to be sold. I felt really out of place. I was also extremely nervous. I had an idea about how much I wanted to spend on this mare, but no way to predict if someone else would be bidding against me. We sort of gathered not many big jumper and event riders were looking for a little brown hunter type mare, but still, she had incredibly good breeding (full sister to Mark Q, a highly successful Grand Prix mount for Kevin Babington).

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Eventually, the auctioneer took his place on the stage and started the evening’s bidding. The first horse up had Nations Cup experience, an older gelding (Dougie Douglas) that was expected to be somebody’s Grand Prix horse. It went for 1.4 Million Euros. My heart sunk. 1.4 Million??? This was turning into some serious theatrics here, and I no longer felt I had a chance on the little brown hunter mare. From the beginning horses were going for crazy amounts of money, I couldn’t even keep track of it. Philip was beside me pointing out dealers and guessing as to where the horses were going to, who was bidding for whom, and it was making my head spin. Horses I wouldn’t give 20 grand for were going for over 100k. Maybe people were getting too drunk before they started bidding. I don’t know. I was also beginning to really doubt my instincts, but regardless, the evening carried on.

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Very few were no sales, most commanded large amounts of money, and it was long into dessert before the mare called Emerald Quality finally came up for bidding. My comparatively tiny budget was making me sweat, and I had to rely on Philip for bidding. For some reason, it worked, and we landed exactly on the amount I had allocated for her. We had one other person against us, and they gave up. I couldn’t believe it. I had just purchased a hunter mare at the very same Goresbridge Auction that Katie Dinan had just purchased Dougie Douglas for 1.4 million on my very first evening of a week long trip in Europe. Not weird at all.

Now what was I going to do with her? In my mind it was pretty bad timing to purchase an unbroken three year old mare, being November and all, and I had planned on taking 6 weeks off for a pretty major surgery, so there were only a few horses to be left at the farm in Maryland before I head to Gulfport in February, and I basically have an army of two doing the bulk of the work. Beside myself, it is another girl (Stacey) trading her board bill for feeding my horses when I am not around. Well, I had a while to work it out while the mare awaited her flight and went through a 3 week quarantine. In the meantime, I purchased a blanket to keep her warm, and a halter, then bid farewell.

A few days ago, she was released from Rigbie, so Stacey insisted on coming along for the trip up there, as she has never seen Rigbie Farm, and spent a great deal of time scolding me for being cranky during the drive. I was. What if this was a bad decision? What if she was a useless horse? What was I thinking buying horses going into the winter? I hadn’t thought this through at all, and the impending surgery was freaking me out. We got there and while we waited for Sharon and Liz to come out of the breeding shed, I followed someone down to her stall in the bank barn, and switched on the light to her stall. Stacey squealed with delight. I rolled my eyes. The mare turned her little head and from her pile of hay for about a second and gave us a completely unimpressed glance, then went back to eating. Ok, she was cute. But, still. It was just a horse.

Sharon and Liz run Rigbie Farm in Darlington, MD, I trust them to tell me every observation, and give me the run down on horses that spend time with them, but they were happy with her, she had given them no trouble whatsoever, knew the walker, and was easy to deal with. Shy maybe, but easy. They loaded her up, I took the paper work, and we headed home. Stacey decided right then and there she was going to take her on herself and have her broken and ready to go by the time I was able to return to the farm, in about 6 weeks. I said sure, why not, we can ask Maddy and Sarah to help when they have time (Christmas break and warm weather helps) and you can have at it Chica. We also decided it would be fun to blog about her progress, good, bad or ugly, since it doesn’t seem to have ever been done before, and why not? Can we track the success or failure of importing a horse from Europe and finding a new home for it? Am I willing to put it all out there for judgement?? Sure, let’s go for it. So here we are.

We arrived back at the farm, and I tranquilized her for the turnout (never can be too careful the first day) and she wandered around her paddock searching for the last few blades of grass. It was still surprisingly warm, so we made the decision to just leave them all out that night, and as I drove out the driveway, I thought well, this is a good test if she is still there in the morning.

She was. and still searching for grass. My head was completely distracted, I had started the pre-op process, and my body was tired already. I had errands to run, she seemed fine, so I left all the horses alone after the morning feeding, and went about my day. In the afternoon, my phone was being lit up by Stacey with pictures of the mare with a saddle on. Not wasting any time, apparently.

When I pulled back into the farm Stacey was leading “Emmie” around the farm, saddle on, looking like a leadline pony. So far so good, I thought. That night was the last night I would see the farm for a while, I have delegated the horses as best as I can, and now can only sit back and see what happens. The temps dropped immediately, winds have picked up, rain poured down, I went in for an early-in-life hysterectomy to avoid the complications of cervical cancer, and the next day as I was driven home in miserable weather, I thought well, she might not get broken until next year, now.

I was proven quite wrong. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. But my mice played well.

 

 

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a mouse in diznee

Well. Day two of the circus. Everyone must have had a good night sleep, because boy did people come out with a lot more emotion today. Exciting? You bet! Controversial? Absolutely! Mud slinging? Yes! By lunch time it was obvious people were just getting warmed up. Stepping up to the microphone was the trendy thing to do. It was almost contagious. One after the other, voices were heard, and really good topics were discussed. My general impression was of the membership complaining about transparency. What is that exactly?  We want to know more about the process of decision making behind the scenes, what are the factors? Who is deciding? How do we find these answers? Stop hiding in closed meetings and provide information. Period.

The demands people were making were legit. The concerns are real, the questions were not in any way frivolous. The USHJA committees wanted feedback? I’d say today they received it. The drama unfolding seemed new to a lot of people, although it is probably very typical of this type of convention. The first meeting I attended after the rule change updates and review was the International Hunter Derby Task Force. Discussion covered everything from how to apply handy points, to prize money offered (think 10k classes vs 35k) relative to difficulty levels, to course designer involvement and education, and basically an overall impression of how the last few years have grown. There was vigorous discussion on how to determine handy bonus points in an Int’l Derby. Should the handiest track taken reflect in your score despite what the judge thought of your horses style? Yes! Should the scale be changed from 1-10 to 1-5? Yes! No! Maybe! What? Part of the advantage of attending these meetings is clarification. I may not ever have this type of horse, but it does help to hear how the people that developed this class have come to the specifications that determine the factors that provide a high score. My interpretation was that the course designers have a personal vision that might not follow the Derby vision, and the judges have a personal style which also might not reflect the Derby vision. Yikes, this is actually kind of scary.

For example, two horses that choose the exact same path with the exact same inside turns, same amount of strides between the fences, should receive a similar bonus score. If they don’t then how do we have incentive for handiness? The ridability and style is reflected in the regular score, not the bonus score. How on earth are we able to fill all these holes in education?

Next I visited a meeting about Thoroughbreds. I think there was actually 100% participation from everyone in the room. That was fun because I brought up my personal observation that maybe the height of the USEF recognized division would be more prosperous and flourish at 2’9”, rather than 3’. Firestorm of opinions? YAAASSSS. How long has it been since Thoroughbreds were even discussed in such a manner?? Ummm, a long time. I would say this was progress alone. Do I care if the USEF makes money off the Thoroughbred division? Probably not. Do I care if Thoroughbreds make a comeback in our horse industry? Absolutely. They should and will, but not particularly through the USEF.

Next was a National Hunter Committee meeting and just as my eyes were glazing over, and I was considering a nap, I received a text that informed me Vick Russell had possession of the microphone, yet again, in another room across the hall, and was not showing any sign to relinquish it. I left everything behind and made a quick exit.  Now, if anyone reading this knows Vick Russell, you know this man has an opinion on everything. EVERYTHING. If he gets a hold of a microphone, it is probably for a very good reason. This is a contoversial horse person. 48 years of personal horse industry involvement, and just about every relative, cousin, sibling, parent, grandparent, great grand parent, and offspring. Google him. Or here is something http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2014/01/11/pensacola-winter-classics-show-continues-through-january-at-equestrian-center/4424283/ I have no personal allegiance with him. However, I do listen to him. It is hard not to. The passion that erupts from hardcore knowledge and experience from the trenches is fascinating and real. I mean really real. I mean Vogue versus People magazine. He absolutely is the voice of breeders, young horse development, rider development, American culture development, and holds true those legitimate values. He knows he is outnumbered, yet rolls on, his sentiment is outstanding on every level and hard to turn your eyes away from. You don’t have to agree with him, it doesn’t even matter. His worries concern the entire industry, the sport, where we get our future horseman from, the examples these organizations are setting, and the cheaters that f*** the system up, which creates over regulating, incomprehensible rule changes, new ridiculous rule changes and a bankrupt horse club. His passion around the 25k Grand Prix classes and the sneaky August 1st adjustment to the rule change is proof there might be a rat in the room.

The drugs and medication Town Hall meeting was packed. Surprise, surprise. The new accountability rule changes are a scary topic. Most of it was clarified, some of it was left open for too much interpretation. If you catch ride a horse and it eventually tests positive for a banned substance, you are not likely to be held accountable. Same goes with a braider, or groom hired for the day. There must be a clear connection proven between access to drugs and application of said drugs to the horse in order to be held accountable. If you are not a member of the USEF and still get held accountable you will simply be banned from entering a USEF sanctioned event. The word transparency was addressed again. Membership really really really wants hearings published. This is for education, more than wanting to figure out how to get around another rule, but USEF was slow to respond. They defended their stance over and over again about where they were coming from for a cleaner sport, a more even playing field. Security was addressed. Empty stables at night at a horse show was a concern I thought I had alone, I even have the security cameras ordered from Amazon, but I am definitely not alone. Our livelihoods are not being protected enough unless you show at Tryon International Equestrian Center, where cameras are installed already, and incidents have already been reported. FEI shows provide more security for those stabled horses, but the rest of us? Not so much. Some Florida venues are showing motivation for cameras due to the recent slaughter rise, but we have 49 other states to consider. The future is surveillance in the barns. Great. This is good for sport, right?

Today might have held more focus to the higher competitive aspects of our sport, which at first was a little alarming after yesterday’s pledge for grass roots recruitment, but I could absolutely see the connection to the big picture. Our sport has problems, our industry has problems, and many of them came out today. There might be too many finals in Kentucky, there might be a lack of pipe line for the young jumper riders that are going from junior to Young Rider, to Under 25 to Grand Prix (think development of riders and horses) because the gap is too large between the Juniors and Young Riders, and our horse and rider combinations are struggling.

The Microchip rule goes in for another rewrite but the majority felt this needs to happen. And it does. Pet identification is our future. Horses being microchipped is going to be our future.

I just spent twenty minutes thinking about a summary before realizing, there isn’t really a summary to be made. This is December 8th at the 2015 USHJA convention. I am tired. I have been inside a hotel for over two days straight. Ironically in 80 degree weather, yet somehow I am glad I am here. Somehow I am glad I am witnessing all that is taking place right in front of me. That’s just it. It is all right in front of me.

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Summary of Monday, December 7th at the USHJA Convention.

My expectations for the first day of the USHJA Convention were low. There are 138 pages of rule change proposals that people have been working on for months and months, that are to be read aloud, discussed, possibly altered, or language changed to satisfy the general membership. Breakfast is served at 6:45 am. The meeting begins at 7:30 in the morning, which means you are already fighting fatigue right off the bat (or at least some of us). I thought it a particular omen that the power to the sound system promptly went off as soon as the meeting started, but nonetheless, this was sorted out before 8 am.

Have you ever read 138 pages of any kind of material? It takes ALL DANG DAY. One lunch break, one afternoon break, otherwise you take a seat, and patiently listen. Luckily, a seasoned speaker was chosen. Luckily, there were fewer emotional pleas than normal. It went more smoothly than expected. People brought up good points. Promises for rewording were made and followed through on as best as I can tell.

Interestingly enough, there was a thorough acknowledgement of the USHJA’s areas of weakness. It is absolutely acknowledged that a 1% growth over the period of 9 years is not acceptable for sustainability. Better website design is desperately needed (think those raised fees you saw earlier) to clear the menus on menus within menus that are painful to navigate. Better use of Town Hall meetings are desperately needed. Better use of current social media venues are  desperately needed (think the FB page, Insta, and other resources). Personally, I want to see the programs explained by way of YouTube, by someone famous within our industry (and maybe hot), and make them humorous and fun, and short. Like a Smartpak video for us that we can make viral. How these programs get communicated to the membership is key, who is responsible for that? Does it come from advertising? Maybe Ambassadors to the sport, like The Plaid Horse has ambassadors for its magazine.

Probably the biggest point made was about the lack of focus on the youngest equestrians and a way to feed them into the pipeline; and finding a way to encourage anyone involved in riding, in whatever discipline, to eventually see a benefit for joining USHJA. Riding programs in schools were mentioned. The USHJA would recognize a defined curriculum, instructor criteria, levels of achievement by offering exams of different levels (think Pony Club), which would maybe connect a couple dots. maybe. Implementing is always the biggest challenge. That being said, it is a serious issue, and a social issue as well. The USHJA wants feedback, they want further analysis, they ask for broader involvement in specific initiatives…but the society isn’t exactly geared for positive feedback, it is generally geared for negative. What do we have to put aside in our own personal differences in order to figure out how to grow? The CEO of APPLE might have a different approach then the head of a horse club.  No less important, but different approach. The idea of Apple is user friendly – if you know how to use one device, you know how to use all of the devices. The organizations that work together and share information are going to be the ones that grow. So do you know how to use each device? Are we using all of the organizations to our advantage? Not yet, but the possibility does exist.

Tom Struzzeri, the head of HITS, which is the sponsor of this week’s events, took the time to walk up to a microphone today during the proceedings to commend the USHJA for shifting the focus back to the bread and butter of the horse show industry, and away from the top echelon of showing. This is huge. This is a direct consideration to all of the hard work people behind the scenes are volunteering their time to achieve. Volunteering. Maybe the largest proportion of members do not understand that the people here today are volunteering their time to interpret the rules for you, and sometimes without enough of your input. Are you filling out the forms at shows? Are you submitting suggestions? Solutions? I am not advocating either way, but I do not believe you think people within the USHJA are not getting paid. Does that make a difference? Do you feel people should be paid for your voice? Regardless, finally, after nearly a decade, it is pretty obvious people jumping and competing at a height lower than 3’6” might outnumber the people jumping above that particular height. This might be a “duh” moment for you, but it is a humble recognition for the organization. Now, do not be fooled. I do not believe a NATIONAL competition for a 2’ class on the opposite side of the country is reasonable. Do you want to see a 2’ National Final at Harrisburg?? Well, it could be a possibility.

Other issues I witnessed were specific. The stirrups might still be an issue. There is disagreement on use of safety stirrups; black stirrups versus old fashioned steel stirrups. Debbie Stephens firmly believes in the free jump stirrup technology which will inherently prevent a rider from being dragged in an accident, yet there is little ability to make those stirrups a grey color.

Safety vests are being discussed as to the need for you to have two for competition – one for over the jacket, one for over a polo shirt. Who wants to buy two? Well, you might need two for decorum sake.

My point is my interpretation of today was actually pretty interesting. And positive. If there was a way to make these meetings available on live feed so everyone in our community could witness the discussion, we might have the capability to move forward quicker. (Maybe for next year). So many issues have yet to be discussed. There are stigma issues in the hunter industry that might seem taboo here, but should be addressed. I hear them at zone meetings, but I’m not convinced I can bring them up in discussion here…maybe an outlet needs to be provided in a sort of suggestion box? In regard to the APPLE reference, the lack of education as far as navigation throughout horse shows alone is lacking. New exhibitors learning how to attend Premiere horse shows might find the process intimidating. From the office to the ingate, to the stabling manager, to the show pass fee discrepancy……not acceptable. So the spider web across the board has room for improvement, are you willing to help us? Am I willing to help the USHJA? Is there an app for that??

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#goals

I wonder if enough people in the horse show industry set goals for themselves. And if they are, are the goals being set revolving primarily around qualifying for something? Pony finals, EQ finals, League finals, Devon, Junior Hunter finals, Derby finals, Regional finals, Harrisburg, WIHS, the National, etc., etc.. Horse show careers are wildly based around forming a certain resumé for a person, or an animal. The better the resumé, the better the end product, right? Sure, sure.

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Trainers I would assume set goals in order to stay in business, get that overhead paid. They post a schedule of horse shows, expecting the clients to sign up for them, make arrangements, carry on through the year from show to show. They work like mad to make sure the clients achieve those goals, sit on the right mounts, win those ribbons, get those points. I wonder how many trainers are expecting to grow this year, or downsize and concentrate on different aspects of their businesses. Maybe discard a client or five, and concentrate on developing a young horse or two. Maybe take some time to consider options.

Everyone has his/her own feeling on point chasing, whether it is a broad spectrum, wanting to qualify for EVERYTHING, or maybe just one class somewhere during the show year. Hopefully people are smart enough to make time for the actual education when it comes to horsemanship and riding, find the balance between learning and these goals we are achieving. No, wait, no that doesn’t matter. There is a program for riders right? A horsemanship quiz or something.. that quiz asks all the right questions right? Everything you need to know on one piece of paper…  sigh.

Since the cost of overhead is enormous for most show stables, it is rarely even possible for the entire stable to take a month or two or more off and just spend it solely on education and learning. And each year it seems the attention span of a student grows smaller. What happens when you are qualified by April for all your finals? Are you doing the bare minimum it takes to get a Medal and Maclay on your resumé, just so you can relax and coast for the rest of the summer then scramble to take a whole bunch of last minute lessons right before you walk in the ring in the fall? Do you ever seek out more knowledge? Do you have ambition?  Is your manicure a higher priority?

Big operations have big bills. The people behind the scenes tend to come from the outside rather than the inside. Very few working students exist anymore compared to thirty years ago. Small operations are certainly not exempt either, and balancing the budget takes an enormous amount of energy. Every year costs go up, let’s face it, nothing will ever flatline, there is no more rent control. Trainers do favors to keep clients in the game, sometimes at tremendous cost to themselves. Other trainers don’t find any value in longevity with clients and work hard to make as much money off of them as possible in the shortest amount of time. Neither is healthy, of course, and everyone suffers.

This fall, across the country,  we all watched the sudden announcement of a renowned show stable in California closing it’s seemingly successful operation, and maybe to some of us it was surprising, almost shocking, but not incomprehensible. Karen mentioned the overhead was staggering, and keeping the standards high enough for her satisfaction was just not possible anymore. Why not? How high were those standards? Were the clients expectations of their own resumés and treatment spiraling too far upwards? How many people needed to be employed for that amount of horses? What exactly was considered appropriate involvement of a rider/client to her horse or horses? Who tacks up the horse and who wraps it at night? How did we get here? The questions roll on in my head. My first experience in California was showing up as a complete stranger on the doorstep of Hap Hansen Stables in Southern California twenty five years ago, a few weeks before heading to the winter circuit in Indio, and trying to wrap my head around the ability to take 60 plus horses to a horse show. HOW WAS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?? I still have no idea how we did it, but we all survived, and immediately I knew I had learned more in one month working for him than the past year back in Maryland. It was hard. I loved the few years I was there. But I do remember fully catering to every junior/amateur that walked through the barn aisle, down to offering to polish their own boots for them, and looking back, there wasn’t a whole lot of encouragement for me to mingle with clients outside of the show. I did anyway, for a while, eventually realizing I didn’t have much to contribute to any conversation that didn’t involve a horse, and my enthusiastic diatribes on poultices from around the world sort of flopped at any dinner table…

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Luckily for us, we are not losing Karen Healey altogether, but gaining what she feels is more important in her life right now. She is going to teach the hell out of American riders who want to be taught. She quite arguably is one of the best instructors this country has to offer, and I hope all 44,000 USHJA members can benefit from her decision this year in some capacity. Interesting where she is putting her focus, though, back into teaching, and education. Shedding the burden of the hay and feed bills to help fill that void we created here in America and meanwhile doing what she loves to do more than anything — To make you a better horseman.  I am confident her efforts will not be wasted.

As we set our goals for this year, what are we considering? How much emphasis is being put into actual horsemanship and education, so that the future of our industry is better prepared when the number of horses suddenly grows in the successful show stable down the road? As a junior rider, are you actually willing to spend more than the month of November without stirrups, like the rest of the world, or are you content to end it there?  Your goals do not need more than one month? It is so typical of Americans to create a one month fad that sends out exactly the wrong message about learning how to ride. “Don’t worry – to be successful you only need one month without stirrups”. Are you kidding me right now? Americans need a minimum of one year without stirrups somewhere in their lives before becoming at all effective as a rider. How did we get to one month?? The bare minimum. Again.

Your resumé as a junior rider will not affect your career as a professional as much as the location of your barn and your ability to be nice to people. It is lovely to have the background for your future students, but it absolutely does not make you a better person to have a slew of trophies on your shelf. Knowing how to make someone else’s experience better than your own is invaluable, of course, so as you are going through the motions, think about what improvements to make for the future riders.

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Do pony riders make goals for themselves, or are those goals coming from someone else? Parents maybe? How realistic are you as a parent when it comes to your expectations in the show ring? Short term? Long term? Fanciest bows? Best outfit? Are you seeking the best education for your child, or the best pony? Do you care either way? Are you hoping to be out of horses altogether by the time your child is 18? This thinking is what is creating a big gap by the way. Piano lessons and riding lessons are not the same thing. Dabbling in the sport of horses because you are bored is not really helping the industry as a whole. I can’t say don’t do it, but I encourage you to find more depth.

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Pony Club created four manuals on horsemanship, buy the first one for your child this holiday, and make a difference. Help us all out. Amazon has free delivery.

Everyone in this horse show industry is responsible for making it better, the shift does not go to one organization or another, or one individual over another, and when you do not educate yourselves properly, you are most likely the one ending up complaining about something trivial at the in-gate, so this year make a goal you would normally make for yourself, your student, client, or your child, and make one or two more that will help the industry, no matter how small. And for pete’s sake read a book about horsemanship. Let’s learn more about riding EVERY kind of horse, developing the young ones, improving the older ones, caring for, feeding, shoeing, bandaging, BASIC attention your horse needs, turnout schedules, and maybe move further away from the politics of the sport, the so-called popularity contests, the designer outfits, by celebrating long term goals, not short term achievements. Let’s see ONE kid at Junior Hunter Finals know how to take a temperature of a horse and not be grossed out… It is not like we aren’t capable. We have everything we need right in front of us.

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First answer

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Site of the Young Horse Show Final 2015. Tryon Equestrian Center

As promised, the adventure of the Young Horse Show (www.younghorseshow.com)…the greatest answer to the future of young horses in our country continues. Any horse, whether bred in the U.S. or elsewhere is welcome. We need this series. We want this series. The vision of catching up to Europe can happen, and as long as Americans understand the benefits without getting bored of the little things, we might figure out how to develop the young horse. I’m not holding my breath but I can be darn sure to support it instead of sneering at it. The timing of the Final is ideal. November. Over 100 horses ended up competing on the Qualifying day, many of them here to just experience the jump chute for the first time. No fancy tack room set ups, no pressure to get to the in-gate or else the class will be closed, judges card signed, JY (the organizer) is COMPLETELY aware baby horses don’t always go in the proper direction at the proper time, informing his staff to wait. You need an extra schooling jump? No problem. Take four.

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prizes and trophy

The format is fine, there are classes for dressage horses, or horses judged simply at the walk trot and canter, jumping classes for 4 and 5 yr olds, in hand classes, and age specific jump chute classes.

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Handler Quinnten Alston holding Double Tap (De Victor/Feinbrand 2013 G) bred by Annette Kewnyan

The nice thing about watching an afternoon of horses in the jump chute, is that just as your eyes start to glaze over, a special one walks in and and blows the competition away. Everybody applauds, and we all go, yep, that is what we strive for. That special horse is going to keep people interested. Now JY Tola has the added pressure to keep the classes for these horses coming. Choosing these horse shows over the A rated ones is not an incredibly difficult decision. The cost is ridiculously low…I think my bill for the Qualifier Day was $325, only slightly more than normal because it is held at the Tryon Equestrian Center. My included stall fee is for the WHOLE weekend, not just the first day. I won $200 (in CASH) back for winning both my classes. The Final has even more prize money.  Most manes are braided, but no tails. The handlers are hired by the horse show, have experience, and their fees are included in the classes. I have said before, but do not mind to repeat, HANDLERS are invaluable. There are very few of them, we need more of them, and as if you need more incentive, there are HANDLER competitions throughout the world if you so desire to add that accomplishment to a resume. Have patience? A bit of strength? Please learn to do this. The added bonus of this weekend’s handlers? They were hot.

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Jordan Bali holding Amorous (Amazing/Rapport, 2013 m) owned by Katie Ziggas, bred by Kimmy Risser

I chose to bring my hunter Westin (Under Cover). He is 5, the maximum allowed age. I entered an age appropriate flat and jumping class.  I knew the biggest challenge would be the fence height because I have been showing in the baby greens all year (2’6-2’9), keeping him eligible for the Pre-Green division this December per USEF rules. The 5 yr olds in this series are expected to jump the universal standard of 1.10m. Most of the jumps were typical jumper jumps, not hunter jumps. This series is not currently recognized by USEF.  However, they were involved, and provided a young horse clinic during the horse show to educate young USEF members as far as breeding, training, handling, and judging was concerned. #Wonderful #WIN. (Or at least one step forward). My only complaint about this opportunity to partake in a truly important, valuable clinic, was that the USEF chose to forward an email about the clinic to a small, teeny, tiny portion of it’s membership. I was too old to receive the email, apparently, and as a result I was furious. AS IF I AM INCAPABLE OF EDUCATING THE FUTURE  GENERATIONS, TOO?  The fact that USEF cannot recognize the need for people like me to know when to send forty people to an educational clinic with some of the most knowledgable, well driven speakers and breeders in the horse world is simply criminal and destructive to the entire industry as a whole. End rant…for now.

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attendees to USEF clinic

Westin was a leeeetle impressed on the Qualifying day, and I am guessing the thoughts running through his head were very similar to my own, especially in the first round, and contained many, many, MANY swear words. However, the most amazing thing happened right under me after we jumped fence 9, and cleared it by more than adequate height. He grew up. I walked, let out a loud sigh of relief…looked back at the course, which was a double the height of the baby green division, and went holy crap, we just jumped a solid, universal round…and it was fun.

Westin has a high price tag. I am not going to lie, I expect him to be a pretty exceptional Am/Jr/Derby horse one day for the  circuit, and am excited to have him as a Pre-Green horse for 2016. So far, he has proven himself a winner, and based on my experience, he should continue on the right track. But, when I picked up that Kelley Farmer gallop, (even posting to the canter to try to channel that uber confidence) to the first fence, I knew I could actually skip the pre-greens and go right into the First Years. It was amazing. I could not believe the difference I was feeling in just one demanding round. Westin melted with confidence; becoming butter in my hands.  I needed virtually no effort, whatsoever to complete round 2. I never touched his mouth. The scary Spy Coast plank in the out of the double proved no issue, I stopped the nervous posting after fence one, just rode like myself, and I knew immediately I had quadrupled his confidence. The first Pre-Green division at December Hunter Classic, at McDonogh School will be pretty freaking easy after today. (Don’t worry, I would never consider skipping an entire multi-tiered division.) As a result, and I feel confirmed with his price tag.

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Westin, aka Under Cover (Ustinov x Cavalier 2010 G)

Now, I am only speaking from my own experience, not everyone else’s, and there are obviously horses here that were nothing like Westin, some of them should maybe considering alternate careers, but if the better horses don’t participate, how will we be able to raise the standard in American breeding? It is one thing to hold the shows, it is quite another to understand the education that goes into holding shows and into breeding. Attending is educating. Watching is educating. Contributing is educating, and pretty much the only way it can all work for Jean Yves, his vision, and us in America. You have an idea for improving American breeding? Show me. Don’t be lazy, really, show me. Forward thinking, even if we all know it is a catch up game to the Europeans. It is not like we aren’t capable. But in general, we are lazy in comparison. Eventually I would like to see this series become exclusive for American bred horses…but that will not happen without participation. A-circuit exhibitors are really missing out by not being here…for sure, not that I want you all to rush on in, while I am winning all those Benjamins, but it is all here, right in front of you…for the taking. Some trainers will balk at not being able to make enough money by taking enough clients, and my argument is I wish primary school wasn’t twelve years long. Sacrifice a dang weekend for education.

The efforts from Aliboo Farm, Page Brook Farms, Spy Coast,  and several others is beyond tremendous. The exhibitor party (which was free) was a huge thank you to us for coming, well thought out, and we were even handed a breeding quiz to see how much knowledge we have as individuals of breeding in America. 99% of us used the Google to cheat. But the wine was plenty, food and chocolate exorbitant, and (most important) discussion real. No cliques anywhere, no insecurities. Every single person here has a very good grasp on the benefits of breeding in America, and is willing to continue the discussion.

If you are a young rider complaining about not having access to enough horses to ride…go to one of these shows and hand out your number. We have all let you down over the years by not providing a better growth system for our developing riders; here is your opportunity to help yourselves. Breeders shouldn’t have to pay a top show professional’s prices to start their young horses. It is far too expensive. You can contribute your services for gas money. You will get the mileage you need to become the best rider you can become. Why are the Irish riders seemingly so far advanced in the International circles? They ride anything. ANYTHING. And they go out looking for horses to ride. Afraid of getting bucked off a young horse? we all are. get over it or pick a different sport. wear a safety vest. Taylor Flury probably had other ideas about how her 4 yr old jumping Final was going to go when she suddenly hit the dirt in the warm up ring and woke up in an ambulance. Think that is going to stop her?? My guess is that it was very, very difficult to keep her OFF her horses the next day.

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Taylor Flury showing in the 4 yr olds

This weekend was not about the business of horse showing. It also lacked greed. This particular weekend, in November, in Tryon, was about the development of young horses. I had zero obligations to be at ring 5, at roughly 6:30pm, for the Marshall and Sterling/ NAL/WIHS whatever classic for a client. I wasn’t preoccupied with multiple conflicts, or wishing the day to be over by a certain hour. I was able to bathe and braid my horse before the show started, hence, I watched a lot of classes. The ring operators were volunteers from the local hunt club, and they took genuine interest in the horses competing. Due to the special animal I brought with me, I was actually PAID to watch these classes, a special added bonus (although I have to say Westin was just being Westin, and he has no idea he contributed to furthering my own education). Dinner was sponsored and served each night on the grounds, even if this is not the norm for the qualifiers throughout the year, it was genuinely appreciated for the Final. The need for this series was so evident simply by looking around me at the healthy attendance and support for this horse show. Let’s do more. We are capable.

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prizes and scorecard for winning the 5 yr jumping Final

The final round in the 5 yr Final…

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Under Cover (Ustinov x Cavalier)

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Special thanks to The Equine Media Project for the super fab photos. Go like them on FB.

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Reining in cheating?

Looking around at the people trying to bring some sort of integrity back into the horse show industry, I am amazed at the struggles they face. Are people with integrity really that outnumbered?

Europe started microchipping horses 10 years ago, to cut down on any confusion whatsoever regarding the identity of horses being bred, shown, sold, and shipped, and now almost all of their horses are currently carrying a chip rather than a tattoo or brand. EU horses (and all equidae)  are issued a ‘passport’ documenting all vaccinations from birth onwards, and all foals are issued a chip at the same time as the passport.  It doesn’t seem to be that much an issue for people who endorse it, yet confusion concerning it pops up almost immediately here in the States. Is the confusion a society thing? a Trainer thing? or a horse owner thing?  We are not likely to see the requirement of passports for our horses in America, however, the need for the microchip is quite real and should be an eventual mandate. and it is cheap. a cheap chip.

Keep in mind passports are required in Europe to ensure horse owners are vaccinating their animals. There is no argument here. Horses MUST be vaccinated. It is not a ‘constitutional right’ to be an irresponsible horse owner when it comes to vaccinations. EVER.

From the UK – http://www.county-vets.co.uk/veterinary-services/horses/passports-and-microchipping/

Our slowness to accept microchipping in horses is mind boggling. We chip our dogs, why wouldn’t we chip our bigger pets? If we are considering them as sacred as the cows in India, ( i.e.: refusing to slaughter them ), and keeping them forever in our backyards, it would be logical to want to protect them from things like theft, kill pens, hurricanes, fires, and spread of disease by sticking a microscopic information tool into them for a tiny ONE time cost and call it a day. Maybe because people can’t do it for themselves? There is no obvious shortcut to save on a $60 chip? Fear of it moving about inside the horse? REALLY? Irregular movement might have occurred with one or two animals in the beginning, but seriously, the technology has matured at a rapid rate since 2006.

I also personally feel any veterinarian attempting to remove a microchip should be fined 10k and license revoked on the spot. This is what the general population would consider an unethical business practice. Any cell phone footage leaking to youtube can guarantee an investigation. Do not be tempted by a bribe, please. I don’t care how much business you get a from a fancy show barn. You did not come into the business of being a horse doctor to eventually become an expert at removing microchips.

Shipping companies, especially smaller ones, could potentially have ZERO mistakes with mistaken identity with the wave of a wand, vaccination records could be stored to minimize multiple outbreaks of EHV-1 for example, causing expensive and harrowing quarantines, and horses that fall into the wrong hands could be found, identified, and the wrong doers hopefully held responsible. If you don’t think horse theft still exists, you aren’t really awake, are you?

Maybe it is the culture of how we go about asking for change. In Europe it was not left up to the riders to decide if microchipping should be required, but rather the major organizations (European Union), including the FEI, declaring ALL competition horses be chipped so the domino effect led to almost every single horse and donkey over there wearing a chip. Breeders need recognition, so they have no problem identifying their horses if it is felt their progeny has potential in sport. Don’t forget ALL of our horses, including American bred horses, are going to need a microchip for international competition.

In America, we seem to be leaving it up to a rule change proposal, not an actual mandate from the USEF, which may be slightly ridiculous, but the very least we can do is commend the people recognizing the need for change, and get behind them for pushing us into the current millennium. Evolving. Erasing the chances of confusion about horses competing in incorrect divisions. Age discrepancies would not be an issue either….. Once the major horse organizations are on board, the domino effect will occur, and eventually we will be able to control overbreeding in certain areas (omg!) of our horse industry.

Conspiracy theories about the eventuality of people being microchipped by the gov’t is especially favored by people watching too much television. Trust me, the gov’t doesn’t want to know how much time you spend in the casino. or with a hooker. in a brothel. at McDonald’s. speeding. no one cares.

Some horses can change color as they age. Grey horses are notorious for looking completely dark and steel upon birth and a few years later almost white. So you send a grey baby away to be broken, trained, shown, and you pop in to take a look and it doesn’t resemble the horse you put on the trailer a while back so you are to completely to trust the word of the person standing there telling you it is the same horse??

Maybe this is not the kind of person you are, but your neighbor might be, do not discard the possibility.

What happens when you send your beloved horse to a retirement home and want to pop in and check on him, only to realize the owner wasn’t exactly truthful about the operation she was running, and your once adored show horse is not at all recognizable? hmmm, that never happens.

This would be a good time for you to ask the right questions, look for that education. The Jockey Club is already moving forward with microchipping, the AQHA mentions this statement online (www.aqha.com)  CHRB staff also reported progress in the Microchip Pilot Project, which is developing techniques for horse identification and tracking purposes, as a precursor to a possible regulation that would require all horses racing in California to be microchipped.”   The USDA is discussing it for all livestock in the States, particularly animals traveling between countries (this is to protect you, hello), and when I talked with the two biggest shippers in the horse industry, there was agreement that it held nothing but benefits, one particularly stating that he would love to never have to photocopy a yellow coggins page again in his life because have you seen what the photocopier does to them?? NOTHING! it is a virtual Satan trick to get an actual LEGIBLE copy of that damn yellow carbon paper.  Ugh, so 20th century. Kudos to the electronic age, and I commend digital access to coggins paperwork, however, storage in a microchip is the simplest solution for the way forward.

I don’t really understand the dragging of feet for this movement. There are even people in the cattle industry using the technology for identifying their own steers in massive herds to prevent people from switching out ear tags, or getting confused about who owns who. Logical.

http://www.equinerescuenetwork.com/index.php/2014-05-01-19-54-12/introduction-to-microchipping

http://www.thehorse.com/articles/31549/microchip-safety-in-horses-evaluated

Challenges are not new in America. When cars were introduced to replace horses for transport there were similar reactions, but look where we are now. I bet you have a car. Certain states are mandating microchips on small animals, the trend will continue, and it is very possible we will be looking back in twenty years, saying what took us so long??

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OMG look! a famous person who endorses microchipping!! John French

pendulum of slaughter

So as we all sit and watch the horror unfolding in front of us about the slaughtered show jumper, and the sadness in Virginia, I wonder how we can ever get out of this mess. Sure, more legislation, but most people doing these things aren’t really scared of misdemeanors and jail time. Then you have to force authorities to chose between rapists and animal abusers for precious and overcrowded lock down space.

As we watch the consequences of closing the three legal slaughter houses in the US, (which the HSUS takes a large amount of responsibility for when they send their lobbyists to the fancy hotels on Capitol Hill and spend weeks and millions of dollars campaigning), we are witnessing criminals not really being choosy about how to fill their orders for horse meat in the illegal underground slaughter industry – they look for the big, fat ones. There are orders for it coming in from all over the world. Most European countries have it on the menu and sell it at the local butcher shop. There are chefs that came to America from France, demanding it in their kitchens and appalled we wouldn’t provide it. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/09/eating-wild-horsemeat-america Not only that, our neighbors to the south are big proponents of animal sacrifice, so what then, Americans have a right to tell other cultures what they can do on their own soil? oh yeah, I guess we are entitled enough to do so, huh. I can’t wait to see the countrymen of India, where cows are not permitted to be slaughtered for any reason, are sacred (and are permitted to tie up traffic if they feel like wandering into a street at rush hour), call out an entire worldwide industry which kills cows for bridles, boots, and saddles……no hypocrisy there at all.

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hihi, just steeeeerrr around us, ok? ok.

Eating horse meat is nothing new, we have been doing it as far back as 4500 BC if you believe the cave paintings in France. Soldiers commonly had to eat horse meat in order to survive during revolutions and wars, but since this country hasn’t ever had to face starvation on that kind of level, we cannot relate as easily. Only a few stories pop up from the Civil War era where it was the human or the horse. In Siberia, the Sakha people believe that eating the flesh of the Yakut horse gives them more spiritual connection with horses, similar to the belief of Christians drinking the blood of Christ. Certainly the biggest fear is capitalizing on horse meat and raising herds of horses instead of cattle specifically for their meat. No one wants to see that happen, nor should they. There are plenty of unwanted horses floating around – raising them for slaughter would not even be necessary. For more on the history, this guy did a helluva job.. http://priceonomics.com/when-americans-ate-horse-meat/

Selling horse meat is big business, and now even bigger, since closing the plants spiked the price of horse meat to triple the value from a few years earlier. In Florida alone, hundreds and hundreds of horses have been stolen and butchered for their meat since 2007. This example was only in July of this year,  but it didn’t hit our Facebook pages…  http://www.wsvn.com/story/29617604/horse-found-slaughtered-in-hialeah-field I don’t think we can really call for an entire world to go Vegan, that just isn’t going to happen. Meat is meat, whether it comes from a cow, deer, frog, pig or horse, and most people see it that way. There are websites promoting horse meat as being healthier because of the low fat content – http://www.eathorse.com/     yikes.   If everyone stopped eating animals, the animals would outnumber us and before you know it, wildlife would be getting cozy on the couch next to us and binge watching Netflix. Don’t believe me? Google ‘bear cubs come in house’, see what pops up.

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hi, got popcorn?

Oh wait, the gov’t thought it best to cull the overpopulation of bears in Florida this weekend, imagine the outcry on that one….

After being satisfied that bears can live peaceably with humans and no one is going to eat meat, we then would start to ask all the Lions to stop eating the Antelope. Excuse me Mr. Lion, do you mind making a better lifestyle choice for me, and stick to salads? thanks. He won’t mind, I am sure of it.

There are claims to save 150,000 horses a year all over the internet if you write your congressman and plead with him to further ban horse slaughter. The people opposing slaughter plants go to great lengths to terrify you on what happens inside those plants, yet those 150,000 horses end up at places like Peacable Farms, end up spending six months to ten years starving to death, and trying to eat their way out of their own stalls. How is that a solution? Which is more graphic? If you had to sit me down and ask me to choose between a bolt to a horse’s head for instant death and recycling of the body, or watching six months to ten years of starvation, with nothing but a rack of useless bones leftover, what do you think I am going to choose?? And it is not like Peacable Farms is the only farm starving animals to death. It is everywhere, in every state. Furthermore, these 150,000 unwanted horses are not ending up in show stables, but maybe they should? Maybe we should be expecting everyone with a USEF membership to house at least five babysitter horses for every ten active show horses. Is that fair? Dr. Betsee Parker wouldn’t mind, would she? Oh wait, maybe first better ask Inclusive how the care is….http://read.uberflip.com/i/588675-october-26-2015/15

Americans are the only ones that don’t see horses as livestock, but as pets, but then refuse to jump up and put a whole bunch of unwanted horses in their backyards as lawn ornaments and continue to feed them for two decades. It is not like you can take them to the store with you and shop with them, hey Pet Smart, do you mind if I bring my pet horse in to get fitted for a halter?? Horses need jobs, yet the HSUS doesn’t agree. They prefer ALL animals to NOT have jobs, but rather live in some sort of peaceful harmony with the rest of the world. The HSUS is after every sport that involves animals and will not stop with just one. They don’t even believe in K-9 units that actually save people. It is ludicrous, but they feed off of your compassion, take your money, and make everything a little more complicated for our society.

I like animals more than people, too, but I have concerns about who is responsible for the unwanted ones. I even like the idea of wild horses out West, but then hear disturbing accounts about how they multiply too quickly, and eat their resources faster than the resources can grow back. Well that doesn’t sound good, where will they get food if there isn’t any? It is like me asking where am I going to get money that isn’t there??  When I even try to do the math on the horse industry in America, I am wondering if the majority of the population in America is really affected by us and our horses. There are 300 million people here! Luckily, someone else actually did the numbers…. http://www.horsecouncil.org/national-economic-impact-us-horse-industry  and according to these guys 2 million people own horses but there are over 9 million horses in the US? Does that seem right? double yikes. Side note – the largest percentage of horse owners (46%) are in that 25k-75k income bracket. Think about that for a second.

So we hit wild animals with our cars, make domesticated animals someone else’s problem with tainted non-profit organizations, then get burdened with saving them when the shit hits the fan. I could have used that money for fence repair, by the way, but I gave it to a rescue, because I was hoping other people would give, too.  Never mind the fact that the owner of the farm makes more money in one year than most of us will see in our lifetime. It’s gross, but we have done it to ourselves, so now let’s find a solution everyone can live with. Our fattest, largest show horses are genuinely at risk, cameras in place in stables are probably not going to deter thieves, and these black market butchers don’t really see the potential dangers of drugs or dewormer in the horse’s system, they are not likely educated enough for potential threats of Banamine, nor is anyone we know friends with them on Facebook, so it is going to have to be addressed in some other fashion.  A few people thought the loss of Debbie’s horse might have been personal, because the shock of it raised questions like maybe a former employee held a grudge. Other people wanted to know if the horse was insured. Get a grip people, this was not insurance fraud, not a disgruntled barn manager, but I do think the average person with questions like that is just reacting to the disgustingness of the crime. It was indeed gruesome. All of the stories about personal horses being stolen and cut up are. The butchers are taking the horses we love, not the ones we don’t want. We are probably going to see more of it in the future.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/27/sports/prized-horse-is-led-out-of-stall-and-butchered-in-florida.html?_r=0

Discussions on horse slaughter come up from all parts of history, this article, though long, is incredibly relevant even if written several years ago.  http://horsetalk.co.nz/2013/02/23/vatican-vikings-american-horse-eating-taboo/#axzz3po0u1ccp

Maybe we should just all be like this amazing couple. It is a big country, we can all find land for a farm, right?  Tracey wrote a book, I guess everyone needs to buy it. It is educational for the future gens searching for that elusive utopia. I don’t know how to get 300 million people to read it, but gotta start somewhere… Holidays are coming… http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/fashion/tracey-stewart-farm-sanctuary.html

p.s. the links are there for education, educate yourself. xoxo

monsters and men

In the world of horses we have created monsters and kings, and everything in between, and it seems this decade has brought every story right to our desktop, with the visual impact sending most of our animal community reeling. That loss of control of our environment is evident in our actions, and we have seen a lot more people wake up, look around and go wtf? It is hard to look at all the nonsense when you just want to turn your head to find an attractive face with perfect ears, and a big round eye staring back at you.

So when do you turn away? When do you give in, bury your head in the sand, and say ok, the devil wins today? Maybe I will find the strength next year to fight the poison that is destroying and dividing an industry and a way of life for so many people. The atrocities in the horse world will never go away, so waiting another year doesn’t seem so bad, does it? The overwhelming magnitude of people breaking the laws these days or breaking the moral code makes it really, really difficult for people NOT breaking any laws and trying to do the business correctly. More and more people question their own ability to stay in the business or to push for that positive influence. Major shifts need to happen here from the highest level of horse showing (like the Hampton Classic) all the way down the line to non-profit organizations stuffing animals in trailers and hiding the dirt and disgustingness in our own backyards. Money and greed is really taking front and center stage right now, and yes, I believe if that trend continues, we will wake up morning after morning to more horrendous stories.

As a society, it seems so much easier to go along with all of the seedy wrong doings in our world, because of the overwhelming anxiety it causes to speak up against it. Maybe it is too hard to be part of a positive trend, the one who believes in really correct equitation, and is not afraid to go up against the top names in the business and say ‘hey you are doing it wrong, do you mind?’ Is it too challenging to show horses without outside chemical advantages, and why try to stop now when it is obviously working for so many? Realistically, there are far too many hurdles people have to go through to make this industry start turning back to producing better horsemen instead of pharmacists, or plead with organizations that have no intention or incentive to work with their members, never mind the distractions from vile people that prove to be rather large road blocks. I would have liked nothing more than to be entirely on the other side of the world when I woke up yesterday to the discovery of what happened in Virginia, and turn my head and go what a shame, however, it would have been hypocritical for me to do nothing, just sit there and say I am so sorry for those creatures. So I spoke up, used awful language, looked at the pictures, scared the crap out of myself, filled out an application, and now wait for some miserable looking thing to arrive, stand next to my beautiful show horses and say ‘hi! I am here and I am hungry!’…. I certainly have no business taking in another mouth to feed right before winter, stressing my family, friends and helpers, but it happened. What those people did was wrong, and we, as a community, are paying the price. Half an hour down the road, one of the biggest horse shows in the country is taking place.

If you see something going wrong at a horse show, yet do nothing, are we all going to forgive you for it, because our tolerance for abuse is too high? And who is to judge what kind of abuse is tolerable and what isn’t since there are few guidelines for people to follow? Is it justifiable to shield yourself from all of the awful things, just because you can? I often wonder about the people that rise up in the face of adversity, and what kind of life they are coming from, affluent? middle-class? stretching the almighty dollar? Who are the people offering to help, and offering constructive advice to the future of our industry. The role models. Do we have enough of them?

I would love some answers, I would love to see more people actually understanding the sport rather than critiquing anonymously, would love to bring education and courage to the table, and I get excited when I see other people sharing my same beliefs also encouraging change, promoting horsemanship, and I am going to going to refuse to let the vile people have too much power inside my head and give them more credit than they deserve. I hope to acknowledge their actions as speed bumps, not road blocks, and for the people that disagree that change is needed in the entire horse world, I hope you have good enough reason for thinking this way. You are going to need it.

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the days I appreciate my life start like this

conformation?

Studying conformation in the hunter world. Every year the conformation classes get smaller and smaller, as the performance classes grow and grow. If we intend to catch up on breeding in America, somebody better start planning ahead to save these conformation divisions. The direct connection between conformation and breeding should be obvious, the better the horse, the more we should breed for that type right?

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hi, remember anatomy?

The regular pony divisions have kept conformation in the percentage of the judges score which could explain why pony breeding is stronger in America than anywhere else in the world. We have very specific guidelines on height, lines, performance, and seem to have a pretty good handle on producing nice hunter ponies for the Recognized show world. Just try to suggest removing conformation out of the division ponies and ten thousand pony people will stand up and start raising hell. lol.

Horses, on the other hand, have fallen way behind. In the 1900’s, classes for almost every breed and discipline were offered – cob, corinthian, lady’s hunter, gaited saddle horses, heavy hunter, green hunter, you name it, you saw it. For EVERY class, the bare minimum percentage of the conformation score was 25%. Thus, the education of how to breed to be the winner was addressed at every show. Now, in this millennium, there are TWO divisions that are judged on conformation?? How is this possible?

We have done a complete disservice to the horsemen of the future because of our impatience. We want to get the show over early, we are bored watching conformation classes, it takes up too much time in the schedule. Yada, Yada, Yada.  Well congratulations, now we have a whole bunch of people who don’t know why it is important to judge conformation. Since the ignorance runs so deep and for so long, we have a giant huge screaming gap of knowledge on how to breed horses.

Every horse at the show should be judged on conformation, every horse should have a known pedigree, every exhibitor and spectator should be told the sire and dam of each horse, every publication should print that pedigree, and we should start that education right now before it is too late. Don’t tell me it can’t be done, this is America, it can be done.

Peter Vischer was a well known writer for magazines across the country in the 1920’s and 30’s on all disciplines, and was quoted as saying “the business of racing should never be permitted to suffocate the sport”. The same applies today for horse shows. This mad business of horse shows has completely desecrated the sport, along with the understanding of horses, so we are all in it for the quick buck, not for the love, not for the future, not for the horsemen, not for the horses –  we have even turned some show grounds in the South into playgrounds for the wealthy, which is fine, but we better have an idea about how to climb out of the ignorance, or we all will be forced to shop at Barney’s of New York for the next amateur hunter.  You don’t think that is possible? They already sell our clothing, what makes you think they can’t sell our horseflesh?

If the media is not placing enough attention on certain aspects of our sport, like conformation hunters, no one will know what to look for and applaud. Will we rely on word of mouth? Are people writing books about these winning horses? Will anyone read those books? Who reads a book these days? I thought it was all about FB, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Forgetting or being too lazy to connect the dots (or closing that gap) seems to be common practice in the horse show industry, maybe because absolutely no one has any intention of ensuring some sort of legacy for future generations, or because we don’t have enough of generational riders, family businesses, thus we are stuck with more and more people that come and go in this sport on a whim and an inheritance. I don’t know, but there might be a way to start being less lazy, and more proactive with things like breeding and conformation. Why can’t we call back the top 8 pre-green horses to judge the conformation? Aren’t those horses our future amateur and children/junior hunters? Baby greens get a bonus for top conformation? Is there any viable solution here?

If riders/trainers end up focusing more on conformation, then maybe they can make better choices when purchasing horses. Or maybe they can make a better educated decision when that fancy mare retires from the show ring, and can have babies, match it up with an appropriate stallion, rather than donating it, selling it as a trail horse, or just leaving it to be someone else’s problem. Riders in Europe certainly have more knowledge from the beginning of a horses life to the end, why can’t American riders?

Do we need to start small? One horse show? An ALL Conformation Show……Or maybe an unrecognized show circuit that sees the value and importance of conformation, and is willing to help the future riders look for flaws, or identify athleticism, and doesn’t mind to take the time to do something different – educate those exhibitors on a budget, yet in it for the love.    

I do vaguely remember in my lifetime junior hunters being judged on conformation once, somewhere in the country, but trainers raised such an uproar because the perfect course was usurped by a better, structurally sound horse, and some kid cried all the way home, that it was taken out. (also stinks of politics) I thought we were supposed to be making kids tougher for the sport, not crybabies, but I guess not. To solve that problem you could just make one of the classes a bonus class for conformation. But whatever, I am not suggesting change overnight, I just think a little education would go a long way. Make it fun, though, education is nothing without the fun factor….

Epic battle! this is funny from 1960 —> CLICK ON LINK   http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/1960-conformation-hunter-report

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Elizabeth Solter competing the esteemed Conformation Hunter Rox Dene (by Aristos B), the ultimate legend, and what every breeder should strive for today.

If nothing else, anyone reading this today should be able to spell CONFORMATION correctly in the future.

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Rick Francher and the Conformation winner Hollywood. adorbz

Equitation

It is hard to watch the big equitation classes these days. The riding has changed so much over the years, and although the riders are so accurate and beautiful from the shoulders back, the part that turns my stomach is the action from the shoulders forward. It is certainly not the fault of the riders, they are just extremely good listeners and students. This action comes directly from the instruction they are receiving. The trainers of today are telling the riders to do this.

What are the main factors behind the new system of no release and elbows out? There are so many theories, but the main one, that is so obvious to me, is that the horseflesh has changed in this millenium compared to 40 years ago when the horses had loads more blood and carried the riders with more pace. Today, the scope that is needed for the actual courses has evolved to using horses that are bigger, heavier, slower, and stronger. Ironically, the initial purpose of using Equitation classes was to develop riders for the Olympics, yet we are not using Olympic type horses for the Equitation, so I am not exactly sure what we are teaching, other than maybe rewarding an accurate eye, and good leg position.  The horses used today are so much heavier, that if you actually were able to let go of their heads, they would probably all be landing on their noses. Harsher equipment would be necessary. Lord knows there is enough harshness in the life of an Equitation horse these days, so probably best to avoid any more punishing equipment.

It is almost like the Big Eq is the end game, no longer the stepping stone. If we are still to believe that the riders today are going to be at the top level sport, maybe it would be better to copy the riders ACTUALLY RIDING in the top level of sport.

I like this guy’s position…. (he may or may not be a Pessoa)

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The Big Eq is a highly lucrative business in this millennium. There is SO much money to be made on the actual good horses, it has skyrocketed to unbelievable proportions that even the Europeans are banking on it. Selling a good Equitation horse in Europe is about ten years of show fees for them. Who wouldn’t want to do that?? Here, the highly competitive schedule means more shows to attend, more lease fees to pay, more lessons, more of everything to get to the finals, that trainers can probably just run a business entirely around those classes alone. A small portion of trainers in the industry make really, really good money.

Sadly, there is little point of turnaround now. You need the big picture for change, not the short term goal. If these riders are thinking that the release of the Equitation ring is going to work in the World Cup, they won’t get very far, but most of them going that direction are good enough to figure it out, so who really cares if what we watch at 3’6’ is wrong? No horse in their right mind would jump like that at 4’6”, so it doesn’t really matter, right? Why suggest change now?

Well, I think it does matter when you think of how the other trainers in America are going to teach their students in the future. Where do you think they are getting their information? It is on TV! We are actually televising hundreds of riders putting their elbows out and a backwards release. People watching at home could be seeing this and developing riders at lower levels to do the exact same thing, which is the domino effect in our industry. That domino effect is exactly how we got here in the first place, and now that we are in a more technically advanced world, it will manifest even quicker. There are only a few trainers left really pushing for a correct release, but their voices are getting quieter every year, while the Equitation Mafia is winning at the gate, cashing in on that end game.

The course at the USEF Finals this year was beautiful and brilliant, it absolutely honored the outdoorsy hunt field type fences we are all supposed to have been exposed to growing up. It had technical lines to promote forward gaits to collected gaits, sweeping turns and roll backs, and great questions were asked. The horses against the course were a stark contrast to what we might have seen 40 years ago, however, and it was funny to see them try to look like field hunters. This may or may not have been intentional, a hint, maybe.  All year long these horses are probably seeing jumper courses, poles, planks, liver pools, and whatever else in Ring 6 at WEF, that some of them even protested the brush at the end of the ring, ‘wtf is that greenery?? heart attack!’ funny.

By no means do I mean to take anything away from the tremendously beautiful riding that we are witnessing of today’s junior riders, it is really not their fault at all what we are seeing, but maybe if enough of us question what happened to the influence of Gordon Wright, the future will bring us a release that follows the mouth of the horse and brings the elbows in……

I wish we had video feed of the classes from decades ago, instead of relying heavily on folklore and pictures, but we don’t, we have to trust, that the riding was indeed different, it has indeed evolved.

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1980 winner of AHSA Medal, Joan Scharffenburger.

Outstanding photo here, I could stare at this all day.

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1985 Winner of AHSA Medal Jenno Topping

the poison from one side

The dictionary version of the word definition of “entitlement”  the fact of having a right to something.  “full entitlement to fees and maintenance should be offered”

The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. “no wonder your kids have a sense of entitlement”. 

So why does it seem like ‘entitlement’ works as a sort of poison in hunter jumper industry, wielding it’s slimy head every where you turn, with regards to income, welfare, work ethic, treatment of animals and humans alike, tack trunk placement, stall placement, sponsorship, venues, show schedules, purchasing of animals, commissions, or trophies…..It is so far ingrained into our sport, it is almost impossible to take it completely out of the equation. When a football player joins the NFL, he joins a team, is told to play by the rules, not get in trouble and score as many touchdowns as possible with his team. Occasionally, that sport is riddled with various entitlement issues, arrogance, cheating, horrible personal issues, but, in general, the game moves forward, and we all follow along each season, the Super Bowl acts as a big finish, we have a party, then we all move on to the next seasonal sport. The good players start foundations and give back to the community.  In society, those same entitlement issues can be magnified intensely to things like gridlock in congress, international affairs, can lead to wars, etc.

In being part of the human race, we even have given ourselves permission to desecrate an entire planet, destroy entire species, and now have our eyes on the next one, because it is considered our right to go stake a claim to it. Poor Mars, he stands no chance, leave that poor bugger alone already.

In the horse show world, there has been a pretty dramatic shift which may have allowed certain entitlement factors to spiral out of control. 40 years ago, you wouldn’t dream of telling a Good Trainer what you wanted as far as horse showing and horse flesh, you were just pretty darn grateful and appreciative for the time of day from a Trainer. Maybe there were fewer of them. Today, in contrast,  probably due to lack of enough tradition and education, or whatever, the shift of decision-making relies more heavily either on the wealthiest client owning the most horses in the barn, or the parents of children seeking specific agendas for their children. (Not just in the horse world, either – how may times have you heard of parents interfering with teachers at college or high school?) And it super tricky to keep every single person happy, when clients come from all different backgrounds.

Most trainers don’t come from trust funds. NOR are they licensed therapists (no, really, get your own doctor). Most trainers in the horse business love to work around and ride horses, they probably grew up doing it, immersed themselves in it, then started accepting clients in order to stay in the business, and before you know it those same trainers find themselves wondering how long they can go without health or life insurance despite being in a rather dangerous sport. They stand in the check out lines in the show office on Sunday afternoons, trying to focus on tack room splits (with the small exception of advanced systems using credit card machines), hope the farrier, braiders and grooms all got paid, then get in the truck and drive an hour, or eight, only to unload horses, put them to bed, and worry if one of them isn’t drinking enough water. The next morning, while clients are sleeping in, at school, or at the spa, the trainers are probably: wondering about how to schedule the vet/blacksmith, order supplies, attempt billing, attend association meetings, scrolling through 98 pages of proposed rule changes for the USHJA, trying to figure out a way to fund that trip to the convention where they will be expected to have enough clarity to make beneficial decisions on the sport, get the leak in the truck addressed, find food, look at horse videos for clients, pay rent, and about a billion other things before Tuesday roles up and it is off to another show again.

Staying in business without clients is not an easy option, and rare. This sport is made up of professionals showing during the week, and clients showing on the weekends. hmm.

If trainers were like teachers, and went to school for eight years to learn how to deal with children in the classroom, and all the benefits that come with education, handling entitled clients might be easier. Obvi, this doesn’t happen. The tools are only learned along the way, and the emotional toll it takes shows itself down the road. Every professional in the horse show industry could write a long series of books on clients behaving badly. Refusing to pay for services rendered (stealing),  turning stables in to kindergarten class when the tack trunk isn’t facing the right direction, stall placements (like your trainer would not feed your horse?), making unwarranted demands on care, scheduling, showing, fake tails, yada, yada, yada, all seemingly justified behavior because they have brought in 6 horses for the trainer to have the pleasure of training, showing and the chance of being famous. It is too taxing, and not cool. Really good people have walked away form this sport because of the high price to pay from entitled clients.

Is there a better way to balance the trainer client relationships in the entire horse show world? If Trainers were fairly treated, and difficult clients turned into supportive human beings, knowing that they are involved in a business, and contributing to the success of said business, would the ripple effect in turn, allow trainers to make better decisions for the welfare of the horses, and the welfare of the entire sport? If someone is kind to me, do I turn around and pay that forward? In a society like ours, how impossible would that be to achieve? Is seeing the big picture, the forest through the trees, actually that difficult? The long term expectations are tricky to manage, most trainers see themselves in the business for great lengths of time, whereas not enough clients think past the horse(s) they are riding right now, nor do they see their need to contribute for the long haul. If more clients looked around past the little stable bubble, recognized where improvements could be made in the entire industry, and came up with ideas and solutions, would we be in a better place for it? I hate that so much bad press is really damaging to the hunter/jumper world, not really inviting enough to the outsiders, or even younger professionals and I wonder if there are enough good people truly trying to swing the industry in a better, more positive direction. The owners and clients really need to step up and be better role models. When I see good clients I get all excited for that trainer, and think how LUCKY they are to have them! And then I get depressed, because that is actually not the norm in this business. Many people are NOT lucky enough to have good clients.

Walking out on a board bill is not acceptable. It is like ordering a cheeseburger in the McyD’s drive through, and then not paying for it. So why does it seem like EVERY trainer has that story to tell? We accept it and move on, trying to forget about it, because making a scene is considered tacky and not going to solve anything, and most clients that do it know perfectly well the busy trainer isn’t likely to seek an attorney and rack up even more fees. It will be considered an unfortunate loss, and everyone moves on.

Does EVERY individual in the horse industry have a moral responsibility to make the entire industry better? Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you want that for the next generation? We all deserve to be here riding, training, and showing, (responsibly) and aren’t you thinking about the legacy you leave behind? The weight of entitlement is not on the Client/Owner at all times either. It is with all people involved in sport. Show Managers as well. Show Managers play a big part in industry change. They need to be watched carefully like everyone else, contribute to the welfare of the sport, listen to the bulk of their exhibitors showing, somehow, and respond tho their needs.… No one should be exempt. If you see the shift in control changing and can offer constructive structure, by all means do so. I just picked up an instruction manual from a show stable that spelled out roles for trainers, parents, and clients in about thirty pages of information. I bet it works for them. Certainly made sense to me, what a great idea. They have decades of experience, saw the need for clearer communication and bam! – an in house manual spelling out teamwork, with all the expectations spelled out clearly, and positive feedback about goals expected.

Maybe we need to start asking better questions. I do see a few amateur riders on boards of associations, which is super important, and cool, but even if an amateur is without a horse for a few years, can they be involved and included without judgement?  just because they don’t have a USEF?USHJA membership? Healthy industries are healthy because of positive influence, and when we are just dodging the bad press instead of making changes, our industry will not really be healthy. It will merely be self-serving. The ‘giving back’ will fall on just a few shoulders.

It is pretty easy to start small and grow from there. General treatment of people in the horse show industry, in my opinion, is pretty poor, and could stand some improvements.  The person taking numbers at the in-gate is your best friend from now on, start acting like an adult, and instead barking orders, maybe even start with “Good Morning!”.  Exchange simple details, like names. I don’t care who you are, how much or how little money you have, the simple fact that we cannot say hello to each other at a horse show is completely intolerable. And I am certainly no Susie Sunshine, I have been molded into the weirdo I am, have difficulties understanding many humans on the planet, my communication skills are substantially better with my horses, not my people, yet I still make an effort to show some manners, and a mass amount of respect for people in the same circus I contribute to.

Maybe if we started with some simple ideas, like pulling people like McLain Ward into the picture promoting basic horse care (PICK OUT THE FEET!! I CAN DO IT SO CAN YOU!!) have Beezie Madden give every child on the planet encoragement to tack up his or her own pony, hereby making other aspects of horsemanship more popular again,  we could watch our treatment of horses follow along the same lines? Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? We all slowly integrate and move forward as one healthy industry? We all become good role models for the future generation? We read more stories about wealthy clients helping working students achieve dreams?

We are constantly looking to social media for that utopia, that good news, those selfless pictures and stories, when we could be creating it all in our own backyards. everyday. every week, every year. Gotta start small though, one tiny baby step at a time. Wouldn’t want anyone having a panic attack over so much change….

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getting in focus

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Mini Derby: 3rd place Emily Ferrell rode Spot On, 2nd Place Joellina Stewart rode Confetti, and 1st Place Sierra Fentress rode Guess Again.

Finding the formula for success starts with a bright idea. Amy Moore and Miranda Kolbe had one together. The team at McDonogh School is no stranger to holding successful horse shows from A to Local, but this idea might be one of the best yet. The Derby and Medal Day. Riders have a chance to qualify throughout the show season, (a minimum of two ribbons won at separate shows is required to participate), and qualifying shows are both recognized (B rated) and unrecognized (Local). Classes are offered for short and long stirrup all the way up to 3’, 3’3” in the Equitation Medal classes and Derby classes. Braiding is optional, shadbellies are optional, the prizes are amazing, and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. FUN, the focus is on fun. Did you read the last line about fun?  Is this healthy for kids and adults alike to have fun?? Could this be a sign in the shift in the way people think about horse shows? I don’t know exactly, but the uncomplicated formula created here today (that easily could be followed by any group in the country) was a pretty clear indicator that exhibitors were enjoying being treated extremely well, and the tears? I saw no tears…

The courses were stellar, offered a challenge here and there, the judging was on point,  and there is a “Preview” class offered to help acclimate the derby ponies/horses to the course. Get this – a podium was brought into the ring for the awards ceremony for EVERY class, and a victory lap was taken at the end either at the trot, or canter. Safety first, of course.

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OMG look! kids actually learning their own courses before they walk up to the ingate on a horse!! What a novel idea!!

I didn’t see any grooms… Amy’s vision of getting your own pony or horse ready, learning from mistakes (without stress) and achieving a special goal works. (and really well.) Could they afford grooms? yep… Over 60 competitors competed in the inaugural year, two rings — one for the derbies, one for the medal classes and I would expect in the future, that number will increase dramatically, not that this needs to happen. It was more than enough for a full day of showing, money was made, bills were paid, and trailers were pulling out of the parking lot at 6pm. If you are living in Maryland get it on your schedule for next year right now. If you are even thinking about what a good idea this is for your part of the country? Get on board now.

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The owner of Prideland (Betty McCue) braids for rider Anastasia Vialov for the mini-derby

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holding two ponies for friends/barn mates during the course walk

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finishing touches by trainers, not grooms..

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can you just see the bike??

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Is this a big deal?? I am gonna go with the yes answer..picking out the loot..

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entering the ring with the podium…

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The Pony Derby 3rd place – Serena Wheaton rode Hakuna Matata, 2nd place – Summerlynd Nelson rode China Hill, and 1st Place – Hannah Downs rode Curious George.

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the classes offered

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on course in the pony derby

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sitting in the chair she just won 🙂

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Abigail is giving her mommas horse Shirlaine a hug before the handy round for good luck

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3rd place Serena Petronelli rode Made You Look, 2nd Place Sable Hughes rode Tattered Lace, and Winner Brittany Clapp rode Walk The Line in the 3′ McDonogh Derby.

Yes, I might have to invest in a new camera with some speed options. Do not judge. #EvolveTheHorseShowIndustry.

young professional

If you are considered a young professional in the horse industry, you may have quite a challenge in front of you. I am constantly looking around and wondering what hands our future is going be in, and I’m seeing a gap. Who is going to be the next up and coming competent group of professionals? I worry. If you are coming from a substantial amount of means then it doesn’t matter, I guess. I can’t relate. However, if you are not coming from means, and you are graduating out of the junior ranks, when you finally realize how difficult it actually is in this world, it is pretty easy to get discouraged, decide to marry rich and be happy deciding on being an amateur. Being a young professional sucks. The reality of expense, and failure hits home pretty quick and pretty hard. I certainly can’t solve any problems for you, but I can encourage you to think outside the box.

Think about where you came from, are you pretty confident you are going to mimic your trainer for the last undetermined amount of years?? Did you have a trainer? You should probably not bank on mimicking anyone, but better develop your own personal style along the way. Adapting to the environment is probably going to be more help to you than trying to make everyone around you adapt to you. When I see people unable to grasp the needs of people around them, I think wow, what a long road they are going to have. Know what you can do. I stay away from anything under 14.2 hands and humans under the age of 12. There are many more capable trainers for those things. And when I see young professionals who don’t drink try to teach adults? No chance. Those guys come with a certain wine obligation. I love my adults, but they are trained with grapes, not accolades.

Your job will be 80 percent problem solver and less than 20 percent ribbon winner. People are attracted to friendliness and capability more than extreme talent, especially in this current millennium. There is actually no guideline, no road map, so your personality will have to prevail in the end. What can you handle, what can you be humble about, what can you have foresight with? In the wake of bad press for some horses this year, here in the States as well as worldwide, there will probably be yet another shift with the majority of the horse world with more focus put on horse welfare, because too many people have witnessed too many horses winning or just showing at some strange and bitter cost. It is on peoples minds. The amount of classes a horse can go in will be addressed, the amount of horse shows a year a horse attends will come under more scrutiny in the future. Certainly not overnight, but it is probably coming soon enough.  There are so many more adults and children riding these days, the importance of riding is going to head in the direction of letting people have fun, loads of fun. Your personality will dictate the amount of business you can generate.  The shift of horse welfare will ultimately be on your shoulders in time to come. Parents are going to look for better role models when thinking about who their kids spend most of their time with, so not only will horse welfare get more attention, kid welfare will ultimately have to be in the spotlight, too.

When people ask me about being a working student, I always tell them please go work for the person with the worst reputation, so you can learn how NOT to do your business in the future. Be on that struggle bus for loads of time, because you are learning far more than the fancy stable down the road has to offer with all those ducks neatly laid in a row. In less than ten years no one will remember you did your time at that place, especially if you don’t brag about it every four seconds. This is reality folks, the horse business is painful, learn how to solve the hardest problems in the most difficult situations. This is the material that can harden you for difficult situations in the future which there will be plenty of. I absolutely came away with so much more information from those dark and seedy stables than I did from the stables involved with the highest levels of showing.

The saddle thing is a big issue with me. I cross the ocean a lot. I drive to other barns a lot. I pack a helmet, boots and half chaps. When I see professionals bringing a saddle on a plane, it absolutely scrambles my brain. What do you think, they don’t have saddles over there??  DO NOT DO THIS. If you can’t ride in every kind of saddle on the planet, something is seriously wrong, and if you haven’t ridden in 100 different saddles by the age of 25, you are really behind. It will be YOUR job to determine if a saddle is not fitting a horse properly, someone out there will depend on you to recognize this fact. So ride in all the saddles available!! I have had to jump horses in dressage saddles, western tack, bareback pads, you name it, this is what we call feel. If a customer says a particular saddle fits the horse and you pout because you can’t use your own Butet, it might be time to rethink your profession. Your body is mostly liquid, it can adapt to the strange saddle, as well as the horse. And if you blame the saddle for chipping a fence….? Actually, never mind, I can’t help you.

Recognizing when there is an issue with a saddle only comes from extreme knowledge of all types of makes and models. You will get to a certain age when you can make your whole barn ride in a certain brand, and even a certain kind of stirrup, but until you are truly invested in the sport, I am not going to recommend you start with dictating it’s the Butet or the highway. (no offense to Butet, you all make a lovely saddle, it’s just your name sort of rhymed with highway)  Try to remember customers come from all walks of life, having the ability to recommend an affordable safe saddle to the client on a budget will be one of your greatest assets.

Diversify to different disciplines. This is pretty crucial and I only see glimpses of this every once in a while. Truly great horsemen can ride in more than one discipline. Whether it be Dressage, Eventing, Arab, Morgan, Saddlebred, Western, there are so many things to do out there to help give you a better knowledge of horses. One of my truly gifted idols rode Saddlebreds before becoming one of the most famous hunter and Grand Prix riders ever. There are other Grand Prix jumper riders that can ride a Grand Prix Dressage test. Hunter riders that can do reigning. We need this more, not just a handful. Buddy up with an eventer and give it a try, you never know when said eventer is going to want to find a new job for his horse who hates cross country, and BAM, you have a very cool equitation horse. Make time for it, encourage your students to try it, it will open doors for you, guaranteed. If you think you are going to look foolish out there all awkward in a new discipline, you could be right, but chances are everyone else will see the big picture and applaud you for it. Do not forget about the Thoroughbred. These horses taught so many of our riders in the past how to ride, we lost them for decades, and now they are growing back into our sport, even in the upper levels of showing. I cannot emphasize enough that the ability to ride a TB is one of the true dysfunctions of todays young professionals, by no fault of your own. We did it to ourselves by dismissing them for so long, and now we have loads of people unable to teach other people how to ride a TB, or even riders unable to sit on them. This will resolve itself in a few years, but you will have the advantage if you start riding that TB properly now. I’ll give you a hint, sit still and put your heels further down.

Learn how to put on a horse show. At some point, you will be asked to help run a show, get in on that knowledge now so you are not scrambling with all the rules and guidelines down the road. One of the biggest advantages in the industry is having an understanding of every facet of sport. This will come in handy when you are sidelined from an injury and worried about income. All sides of showing are important, and when you are asked to participate in putting together a fundraising show, you won’t be blind going in, you will actually be able to get the show off the ground.

There is a very good reason we keep hearing about equestrians in the industry today lacking depth, or breadth or even 1/10th of the same knowledge as Jimmy Williams. It is easy to start the shift back to better horsemen for the future. All the information is right in front of you. Go get it.

Born in Elsinore and raised in El Monte, Williams showed horses for his father–a horse-trader and racehorse owner–at Los Angeles auctions when he was a child.

Quick-change Artist

“I learned to ride all kinds because he sold all kinds,” Williams said. Williams became a quick-change artist showing 75 to 100 horses a day–starting with fancy hunt duds to show thoroughbreds and ending with Western garb for quarter horses and stock horses.

“Dad carried a handful of rocks. If I rode sloppy, I’d get hit with one. He wanted me to sit straight, like an old Spaniard,” Williams said. “He taught me to ride like a gentleman.”

At 12 he began racing at fairs and became a stunt man in movies at 22. The handsome young Williams was under contract to 20th Century Fox as a stand-in for Tyrone Power for two years until the war interrupted his movie career.

After Williams was wounded in Italy, he was transferred from the infantry to the 2610 Remount Station near Florence. It was there that Williams learned dressage, a form of training in which the rider is able to control the horse in intricate maneuvers with very slight, imperceptible movements.

“A conversation with a horse is only the distribution of your weight,” Williams explained. “You lean forward, he goes up; you lean back, he stops.” Williams teaches his students to ride with no hands, getting the horse to respond to the pressure of their legs or feet.

Although Williams went back to the movies for a short time after returning from the war, the “hurry up and wait was too much like the Army” and he returned to his first love–he opened a training stable in Escondido. With the techniques learned in Europe, Williams was able to train horses in half the time.

“It takes three years to train a horse and about the same to train a rider,” Williams said, though he emphasizes that horse, rider and trainer never stop learning. “I’m still learning. I’m better this year than I was last year.”

“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that counts” is one of Williams’ favorite sayings. Fond of proverbs, his own and others’, he has them plastered on his horse trailers, pickup, golf cart and in his house.

Decorated in early Will Rogers, his ranch house at the riding club is a small hall of fame, sporting walls of pictures of former students, champion horses and three California governors presenting awards to Williams. He has a wall unit crammed with tarnished silver bowls, trays, cups and chafing dishes he has won over the years.

Piles of Silver

full article is here, well done, author.

http://articles.latimes.com/1986-07-18/news/vw-16753_1_jimmy-williams

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Jimmy riding Gemini

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Jimmy riding Fashion Plate

I know we will never have another legend like Jimmy Williams, and I don’t recommend throwing rocks to achieve better position, but he thought outside the box every dang day of his life.

motivation, not greed

What happens when people start exploring options? They start realizing there are a lot of options out there. I ventured up to Fair Hill this weekend for their TB Show and sat down with one of the organizers and asked how this horse show came to fruition.. She credited Louise Merryman looking for options for racehorses coming out of the racing industry. She and a friend got together and the Fair Hill TB Show was born. After four years of steady growth, there are now about 100 horses a day competing in either the hunters or the jumpers over the weekend. There is an enormous silent auction rivaling the nicest horse shows in the country benefitting the show with Fasig Tipton signs all over the place. People put right back into the show what they are getting out.  100% non- profit with everything coming in, going right back out.

With big sponsors, including Brookledge and New Bolton (University of PA)  donating generously to the horse show, the show is able to reward a respectable amount of prize money, happens once a year at the Fair Hill Equestrian Center, and the organizers seem pretty content with the way it is evolving. There are not even too many hopes of larger expansion, because it brings in a healthy amount of exhibitors already. A nutrition expert can weigh your horse and offer education about proper feeding. A 10 dollar wristband gets you all the food you can eat (YESSS) and your horse’s biography and breeding is read aloud by the announcer when you walk in the ring so the spectators know what they are looking at. Endearing and educational.

Probably the COOLEST part of the show is the scholarship fund provided by the Thoroughbred Education Research Foundation (TERF). The judge and the manager keep an eye out for exhibitors who might exemplify the behavior of a good ambassador for the TB sport, and offers eight $500 scholarships to exhibitors for further education. This can be used for lessons, clinics, or even a chance to show at the next level up, but can’t afford the fees…. the scholarship will cover the costs, and a potentially talented rider has the chance to achieve a dream of showing at a recognized competition. Brilliant. Forward thinking. Everyone showing here this weekend is participating in a chance for a second career for a thoroughbred, or somehow involved in the grass roots aspect of horse showing, whether they mean to or not.

If you own a TB, and haven’t put this show on your schedule, you should right now. like them, follow them, volunteer for them, maybe even help them set up an instagram account (important for the future gen).

http://www.fairhillthoroughbredshow.com/about.html

Other organizations involved in the horse show include the Foxie G foundation, a hardworking group of people intent on rehoming all TB’s that come through their doors. Any extra money left over from the show goes to Foxie G and Reyerss Farm to help horses in need and senior horses with no home of their own. Fabulous!

http://thefoxiegfoundation.org/59-2/

http://ryerssfarm.org/?page_id=4

Keep tabs on these two organizations, these are incredibly inspiring people. Visit, volunteer, educate yourself. something. do something.

The fact that these shows are not that complicated to put together, but just require a small group of people to work together (this group has 8) to see a vision will be a big indicator for people in the future, if it can be done for the Thoroughbreds, it can be done for all horses, not that this is anything new. Maryland has a substantial amount of local organizations. The Baltimore County Horse Show circuit alone has over 250 members right now. Howard County over 100. Many of the show grounds are the same as recognized shows. These smaller organizations have been around since the 70’s and are constantly evolving to adapt and appeal to its environment and exhibitors. If these smaller unrecognized horse shows continue to develop and grow, and people drop down from recognized showing, the quality of riding and horses will increase in a natural progression. These local regional shows offer many of the same classes as rated shows for 1/4 of the cost. There is nothing to stop each state from adopting the same format. It is not hard to rethink how to make the connections to bring in more business to the horse industry, but it does take effort on everyone’s part.

http://www.bchsa.org/

http://www.hchsa.net/

http://www.hhsamd.org/home.html

The very first page of the prize list for the TB horse show blew me away. Lisa Demars welcomed you with this incredible personal and insightful letter, and oh how right she is.

“Those of us who know an old-time horse person should count themselves as lucky. By Old-Time, I mean one who has a lifetime of varied horse-related experiences, has excelled at more than one, and has cared for and trained many horses. I would add that such a person, due to the history of the horse industry in the U.S., has a lot of experience in the thoroughbred industry. One is lucky if one knows such a person because of the wealth of information he or she can impart about horses, a wealth generally much deeper than today’s horsemen, who tend to have less breadth to their backgrounds.

Leslie Ducharme, a dear friend of many at the horse show, exemplified the kind of horse person I speak of. Leslie was probably best known in the hunter ring. However, she had experience in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, fox hunting, breeding, and the sales industry. She was a master at spotting a talented horse and bringing out the best.

I first encountered Leslie almost 40 years ago in the side-saddle ring, where she was, of course, winning. My next encounter was in a parade (!) – Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural parade to be exact – where she rode the same horse that had won the Side Saddle classes at Madison Square Garden two months before. A thoroughbred, of course, and ask yourselves how many of today’s horses and riders have done such different things!

In the last 40 years, I have been watching Leslie Ducharme and have had the privilege in recent years of becoming a friend. In those years of watching, I have learned some great lessons which I would like to share:

Conduct – I have never heard Leslie say any unkind word about anyone. Ever. I have seen her be upset with someone but never unkind. I can’t say what her thoughts might have been. Leslie’s first lesson is to conduct oneself like a lady or a gentleman, no matter what.

The Horse Comes First – One never saw Leslie’s horses looking anything but first-rate in public. They were beautiful because of the care they received, as well as their quality. Leslie spent time with them – time figuring out what made them tick, how to best ride them – and adapting her riding to bring out their best.

Experiment – Leslie did things because the horse went better because of them. A simple example is showing over fences without a martingale because the horse didn’t like to wear one. For most hunter riders, martingales are standard attire in the show ring.

Be Quiet – anyone who got the chance to watch Leslie ride could appreciate how quiet she was on a horse. One almost forgot she was aboard as her riding was never a distraction, either to the viewer or the mount. Her communication with her horses seemed to occur by magic.

Keep Coming Out Of the Corners – Leslie had chronic double-vision as a result of a childhood accident. She couldn’t see a jump accurately until she was straight to it and a certain distance. As a result, Leslie didn’t depend on “seeing a distance” because she couldn’t. Instead, she rode the horse’s rhythm all the way around and trusted the horse to meet the fence as it should. I don’t recall ever seeing her miss.

Be Generous with What You Know – I once called Leslie to ask her about a problem I was having. I chose to consult her because I felt the problem was unusual and in need in a creative solution. I expected to chat a few minutes on the phone, but Leslie was in my ring the next day watching and suggesting. I put those ideas to use daily.

If someone wrote 1/4 of that about me when I am gone, I would be more than honored.  Every single person on this planet, especially in this horse world is capable of making a big, big difference.

My frustrations with this industry come from a lifetime of being told what to do (from the very beginning) without feeling like I could question why. I thought I was doing everything right, I thought I would eventually see the benefits. I left the major decisions up to the people that I felt had tenure, and a deeper knowledge of the sport, despite my doubt. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t paying attention or involved, my family history proves it.  I was told I would have to play the game, yet, I still can’t even be sure what that game is because nobody else can figure it out either, or saying it out loud only leaves a bitter taste behind.

I still believe in education over a good pilot, and for the first time in my life, my faith in the two biggest organizations in the hunter/jumper world that have made all the rules and set all the the terms have fractured my ability to not only be loyal to them, but also forced me question my belief that hard work and a good track record to prevail as the true winner. Feeling like I just flushed half my life down the toilet is not a great feeling, not gonna lie about that one, and this is a sport I know I was meant for from the moment I stepped into the show ring, promptly fell off, climbed back on and tried again, but come on already, so many good people have walked out for very good reasons.

Being a sudden advocate for change and growth is not even what the tarot card lady saw coming, and I am perfectly aware that the USEF will eventually find a way to shut me up, mail me a letter, or something more drastic and painful, just like they have done to everyone else in the past they felt has not remained in line, but I do not really have any intention of giving up as long as there is hope for the future riders, trainers, professionals and amateurs alike to recognize the true history of riding horses and good horsemanship, honor it, preserve it, and give back to it in every facet of sport. If they do slap me with that life ban that everyone, including myself, thinks they will do, I have options, I don’t hold the highest level of showing up on that pedestal like others do. I put my values elsewhere.

I guess meanwhile I will be a horse show blogger, could be worse I guess.

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yes you can wear a tiara in the leadline, and this lovely horse took home 2nd place in the side- saddle at Devon! Lost Letter

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volunteers

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formal hunt attire 😉

  

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derby

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enormous silent auction

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prizes all the way down the line

fashion forward or backward

Promoting beauty and style in the horse world and is fashion replacing horsemanship?

It seems as though beauty and fashion have taken a severe upstage to actual horsemanship. I have no idea how this happened, but I am assuming it is because of a capitalist market, and loads of money is to be made in the industry. People love to sell crap. So the so called ‘role models’ we have created in the show horse world are dressed to the nines now. What kind of message is this sending to the rest of the world?  I feel like in a couple years, some rider from Untacked is going to fly down to the in-gate and shove a recorder into the winners face, and go “OMG you look amazing, can you tell the fans what you are wearing today and why??”

This obsession over the right kind of boot to wear is unreal. It is a boot. A boot that covers your leg from the knee down. It is black. a black boot. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to move fashion in the hunter world forward and evolve (kind of in slow motion), because it is fun, (and I am old, I want a chance to wear my sparkly coat!)  but are young riders actually thinking that the clothes they wear will give them an advantage in the ring, particularly in the Eq ring? I really think they are. Like some sort of mind wash, beauty sells, not picking out feet and learning how to bandage a horse (don’t even think about poultice landing on horse show clothing). Menial tasks are so boring apparently, and don’t sell. Well, not until you are 21 and you know about Noble Horse, because the hoof pick actually comes with a corkscrew or bottle opener at the other end (GENIUS!!!). Is Noble Horse trying to bring back horsemanship?? I never thought of that before now, those models. That corkscrew….

The more expensive, swanky saddle you buy, the more you will win, it is almost a guarantee! The more you pay for your boots, the more judges will notice you!! It is the only acceptable way! Being the cynic I am I would naturally think these people are crazy, just learn how to ride, it seems all so hilarious to me, however I absolutely cannot  deny the fact that I bought my first French saddle PURELY based on the hotness of the salesman Greg. OMG, Antares, thank you. And thank the lord you actually made a good product, because my horses would have been so screwed. THAT was a good sales team. (I since have switched to CWD for personally believing it is better for my horses)

What do trainers care if you show up with a fancy crazy expensive saddle? Good for you, now go tack up  – oh wait, go to the mounting block and your horse will be brought to you in four seconds.

Actual true horse people ignore this fashion frenzy most of the time, think it is funny, and when I wanted to wear a cute jacket with a sparkly collar in Kentucky, I was for-warned this would not be acceptable. Ok, take the fun out of it, no problem, but that was it, it was just fun for me. Moderation, I get it. like not eating too many french fries. Fashion should actually not have such an enormous role in the horse world, but it does, we can not escape it. I think people entering the sport ACTUALLY believe they are only allowed to wear one kind of riding pant. or boot. or shirt, or helmet. So they maybe get the wrong impression, because they are hearing other girls say other things –  “OMG you are still wearing that old thing? I totally got better results when I switched to my GPA Speed air evolution revolution silver gold yada yada yada.”  Jeepers. Thanks for making my job that much harder. I didn’t think we had enough self-esteem issues flying around. What is one more?

Hearing any discussion about fashion detracts from the actual horsemanship angle I really can’t let go of. The only valuable Equitation Final I have ever witnessed takes place in Virginia and it is not a fashion show. It is the VHSA Junior Medal, and ingenious on every level. A written test, practicum (hands on knowledge of your horse test), flat class and jumping class all calculated into your final score. The rider is largely responsible for his or her own score, and loads of effort is placed into every aspect possible at that level. It is a really, really big deal. Personally I want to see it in the children’s and pony level as well, since only a small percentage get a 3’6” horse, and you never know if those future kids will implement it into their own horse shows 20 years down the road.

I hope beyond hope it happens across the country in various other states, but I haven’t had time to research that. What I do know, is that it doesn’t happen at indoors. Fashion arguments happen at indoors. Somebody obviously felt the need for a little explanation (or damage control) and I found this break down of fall finals online. You tell me how it compares to the VHSA Final. And by the way that little shout out to the founding father of horsemanship is the most insulting thing I have EVER heard. I believe Horsemanship and forward seat riding started WAY EARLIER THAN THIS MILLENNIUM with people like V.S. Littauer in 1912 and the Russian Cavalry. Never in my life have I wanted to throw the book at someone more than when reading that statement. I wish I could sue for stupidity. But I can’t. Do your homework for Pete’s Sake. Bert De Nemethy,  Gordon Wright, HELLO???? ANYONE?? BEUHLLER??

http://kmthornton.com/blog/learn/the-fall-talent-finals

Our priorities are completely out of whack.

Real Talent:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/26/sports/bertalan-de-nemethy-90-equestrian-coach.html

100% Respect:

http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2010/07/four-showjumping-masters-part-4-gordon-wright/

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Russian Cavalry implementing forward seat riding

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For real reading

intimidating fire

Why does intimidation work? wow, what an effective tool, huh? We see it everywhere in society, schools, governments, countries, cities, mafia, we can’t seem to get away from it can we.  I guess the monks in Tibet have less intimidation issues, they seem to be super focused on meditating, robes and  that whole seated leg crossed position, but the rest of us are not so lucky. Especially as horse people. We use intimidation to get our animals to do what we want, our relationships to go a certain way, training, handling, competing, to get our help motivated, and our organization uses it to keep us in line. It works, to a point.

What is the counter to intimidation, the balance, that allows us to tolerate a certain amount, but not too much? Charity? A pat on the back for a job well done? Applause? what, then? Is finding the balance between membership and an organization too hard to attain? The utopia that doesn’t exist?

Apparently people out there believe to stop intimidation, you have to counter with intimidation. http://bobmaconbusiness.com/?p=4961 . Sobering thought. Maybe that is why there are uprisings in society, people find the courage to jump up and down, wave their hands around, and scream ‘enough already’ They hash it out with the intimidator, and everyone calms down and eventually we all proceed again.

So have we placed too much value on what we think our organizations have to offer? Maybe. What is the importance of the highest standard of showing? I have no idea. Will people eventually put less value on those highest standards and also on the most intimidating force in our horse show bubble that seems to make people quiver in fear? Probably. The trend in society certainly seems to dictate exactly that when you look at trying to close those gaps, and people don’t make the connections. What we know today might look drastically different tomorrow when people start placing those values elsewhere. I wonder if it is possible for a whole new organization to be born out of the rubble when people shift attention to more core values that match their current lifestyles. nah. doubt it.

I wonder if kindness acts as a counteractive to intimidation? Would kindness dissolve the fear? Or is that just a sign of weakness. Have we seen it before in our organizations? What if the USEF was able to LISTEN to its membership, say ‘we hear ya’ and we are on board with making positive change, we are gonna start by taking action here. These small shows that are on the struggle bus and not quite making the numbers needed for a B rating? We are going to give you a couple years and drop that required number down by ten, let you recover a bit and recruit members into our awesome organization which herein promotes safe sport!! The arbitrary suspensions we love to issue out?  we are going to form a baseline so EVERYONE understands what the heck is going and gets fair treatment – maybe even create a chart based on percentages of banned substance in the blood test… Meanwhile we are going to show our faith and appreciation to our community by donating a huge chunk of money to all of the animals affected by wildfire!! Wouldn’t that be incredible??

This show standard stuff is mind boggling, I don’t even know how we got so complicated, show managers are working overtime to meet standards from the USEF and USHJA at the same time. You can look for yourself and try to figure it out here.

https://www.ushja.org/programs/resources/documents/showstandards.pdf

But how do we keep people interested in entering the sport when the introductory kids are juggle academics, a 5 day a week sports commitment, music lessons, and the countless demands parents are thinking will make them “well- rounded” . It is not possible, it’s nuts. But our show standards to protect our horses remains pretty high, even in a fluctuating sport. Seems like those horses I saw earlier this year were doing ok at an unrecognized competition. Maybe there really are enough people in this top group to keep these organizations going, but it is hard to see it, where are the new people coming from? Who is responsible for bringing them in and making them members? Where are the incentives to keep showing? Do you have to just be born into it to remain interested? High point horse is really that much of an achievement? Are those high point horses all stallions we are going to breed to? I think it is pretty crucial to think about ALL of the things happening in your sport today, not just the ones that you can connect with. Someone is going to have to see the big picture at some point, and question the health of our industry, and really consider why the USHJA is asking us for more money?

The USEF has a disaster relief page on it’s website. I called the number, but it was the voice mail of someone in marketing, not Josh.  I left a message about where I could send money to help out those suffering. I also remember a farm burning down in Roswell, Georgia earlier this year, did the USEF give her anything to help rebuild? Shockingly, I haven’t heard back.

https://www.usef.org/_iframes/aboutus/donations.aspx

I don’t know if that is just another place to store money for taxes or what, (non-profit?) but I haven’t gotten an email about how the USEF is sending aid relief to the victims. I did, however, get an email asking me to buy Christmas cards. Shouldn’t we be going green and sending those out online? Are they made from recyclable materials?

The wildfires are really scary. If you are not living in that area, I don’t know if you can really get a sense of how bad it is. These people are going to need some serious help. I couldn’t find a satisfactory place to send money so I started a Go Fund Me account to help Charlie and Macella. Give if you can, you can always remain anonymous as a donor.

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soul searching

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wild burro thanking fireman for saving him, they had to spray him off when he emerged from the forest. after that he stayed by their side.

Perspective

I went back and forth about self esteem for days, because my last post was meant to be a sort of lead in to addressing self-esteem in the hunter and equitation rings, and it is a massive problem. It seeps through on every level from pony land all the way up to the top, recognized to unrecognized competition, doesn’t matter, it is everywhere and it needs to be considered.

I asked friends all over the world how to cope with this major issue in the sport and asked them to contribute to what their insights might be, because I literally cannot relate. I am a huge cynic. I can’t help it, I was born this way. I truly believe in my perspective of ‘we are playing with horses’ because it is true. I don’t mean to belittle everything you are doing, but when I watch what happens outside of the horse world bubble, I gotta admit, I am basically just thinking how lucky I am to have carved out a little place in the world surrounded by animals.  85% of the world ‘ain’t so lucky’. When my friends responded with how they had watched people deal with low self esteem, I wasn’t sure their answers were right either. I know what people in Europe do, they generally go around, at whatever levels they are competing in that day, and whatever ever happens happens, they put their horses on the trailer and go for a beer in the beer tent and commiserate together. It is not as rampant over there. Conceit may be a bigger problem.

I am HUGE loner, I know this,  I spend hours in the truck alone driving all over the country with my horses and I literally could care less what other people think about where I go, what I do or win. I do, however, strive for being a good person, friendly, supportive, sort of considerate with non-stupid people, etc. etc.  It is good for business, and people remember you for your friendliness, not what your success was in the ring. I think about the people worried about letting a trainer down.  Don’t worry about pleasing your trainer, he/she gets paid at the end of the day no matter what happens, they have their own personal issues to deal with, and could be downing a bottle of vodka every night for all you know (not that there is anything wrong with that), juggling two mortgage payments and that awesome car payment on a sports car. If your parents make you feel bad, because they spent all that money on a horse and expect perfect results with said horse, that is simple, find new parents. They should have known better in the first place.

I literally have no idea exactly how to handle the issue of low self esteem, and my only response is the same every time – knock it off, you deserve to be here. I don’t encourage to go full swing the other way and become a total arrogant prick, but maybe just try to find that happy medium, ok? I am not even sure how we got to the point of so much emphasis put on the Big Eq just to witness teenagers starving themselves like runway models. It seems odd for a rider to do that. Doesn’t starving just make you weaker? Aren’t you riding a horse?? How did these classes get insanely popular recently? Are we scrambling through the motions hoping to find our future Olympians in the Equitation Finals? Shouldn’t a future Olympian like to eat and already know what a spider wrap is by this point? DO any of them? 20 people are about to google spider wrap. eh, maybe 10.

Nervous energy is fabulous energy. It happens to every competitor on the planet, no matter the sport. People that never participate in a competition probably only feel this kind of energy on a blind date. or when robbing a house. It is normal adrenalin that courses through your veins when you are trying to make a good impression, and I love every second of it. It evaporates too quickly, but for those few seconds when I stand on deck at the In-gate, I think it is pretty awesome. It returns to all business as I approach the first fence, but for those fleeting seconds, I tend to embrace the butterflies, not fear them, they are butterflies for pete’s sake, I mean really. Maybe I should ink one of those little bugs, eh, idk. that might be weird. Anyway, learn to shed the fear, and accept the nervous energy. Fear is getting kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car, and stored in some lunatic’s house not knowing if you will ever see your family again. Standing at the In-gate of the Walnut ring wondering if you will go off course again is not a legitimate fear.

Trainers have a history of being mean, I could go on for days about the detrimental practices of various trainers in the sport, but it wouldn’t really solve anything. They would still be mean. Lining your own future up with a good perspective is probably the best way to go. Or find a nice trainer that responds well to your needs. If you are an evil person, by all means you certainly have my permission to stay with whatever crazy trainer you have (let’s face it I don’t care about evil people, this may or may not include spoiled brats that cry a lot), however, no one should feel like they cannot leave a bad situation just because rumors might or might not spread about them. Yes, many trainers are also judges, we can’t escape this fact, but deal with it. Lift your chin up, you will be fine. Accept the fact that you are ultimately going to have to compete in front of someone that you chose to leave two, five, or ten years ago and get over it. You are not the first person to experience this and who knows, maybe you get a lucky break that day and actually win a class, or ok, get fourth, whatever. Who really cares, in the end, all it does is make for a story at a cocktail party. (Notice I didn’t say good story.)

On any level, in any discipline, if you happen to be scared of the horse you are riding and are frozen into speechlessness for fear of letting someone else down, this line of thinking is going to get you hurt in a big way. It’s not funny. This is one of most damaging behaviors very few trainers can predict or see until it is far too late. Be honest with yourself and your coach, it is the only way. EVEN if you think a trainer will shame you, let them know when you are scared of your horse. It is NOT your problem if your trainer blows a gasket, and that person may just need a certain wake up call. Putting on a brave face when you literally can’t feel anything but sheer terror will affect everyone around you. It is dangerous. Remember: the level you are competing on does not define you as a person, being a person defines you as being a person.   

If you ARE the kind of cool individual that has a really good perspective, and would love to make the world a better place, or could use a little boost in your self-esteem, here is a pretty good way you can help. A couple of years ago a student of Virginia Intermont tragically lost her life in a car accident on the trip home from a horse show in Virginia and now an incredibly special person has gone to great lengths to keep her memory alive for her family through a scholarship fund. It is important! she was amazing. click here and give. and work on your perspective.

http://www.panational.org/index.php?pID=93

About Claire

http://www.panational.org/_files/live/ClairesStory.pdf

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Winning

Why is winning so dang important? It is not really our fault, actually, this is our society, winning is celebrated on every facet of sport, horses, or not. If we were all in Jamaica, it would be totally different, I am guessing we would all be too high to care about winning. Does winning define me as a person? no. Being a person defines me as being a person. You see it everywhere, though, winning seems to be the answer, in every magazine, all the stories seem to be about the winner, with a couple of do-gooder feely stories sprinkled in between, clients flip-flop around to trainers until they get satisfactory results,  or feel like they have the right presence at the in-gate, instructors and clinicians telling you have to look a certain way, ride a certain way, ride to win or don’t bother coming to the party. High school seniors feel like they need the winningest resume to be recruited by colleges. The excuses seem to be ‘well it makes you better horseman if you are the most competitive and winningest person out there’. WRONG. ‘Well, that is what builds character in young people, helping them find their ambition’, no I don’t agree, but ok.

Years ago, I accepted the fact that I would never have enough money for the top tier of our sport so I made the decision to trade in winning for actually learning how to ride. I left home. I went everywhere I could get my foot in the door, and figured out how to do all of the things the top riders were doing and was satisfied with what I eventually came back with. It was a personal decision, and I knew it worked for me to become the best rider I could possibly be, on my own. The rest of it all sort of worked out the way it did, I found my niche, and I carry on with all those young horses around me, go to horse shows, help people that need help, yada, yada, yada. Like everyone else, I love to win, and celebrate when it happens with a party and bottle of wine, but I don’t look for it every day. I can’t, it would make me crazy….

So, why do I get so upset when the fees get raised? Because as a society, we have been so focused in general, as a whole, on winning, we have dropped the fundamentals of how to actually get there, the education. Americans are so guilty of buying their way to the top, it has become a joke around the world. And now I have to pay for someone else’s education. The basics. So in order to actually go to a horse show, have fun, sell my horses, I am now giving an organization money to fill in the gaps we created a long, long time ago. Someone saw the need for it, had a vision, and boom, here we are today. 14 educational programs within the USHJA.

There is no excuse for what we have done, and very little escaping it at this point. The end game is the blue ribbon and the name on the trophy. When I read a quote from a really well known rider, it stunned me “I am so glad for this win, because when you are not winning, no one is thinking of you”. Jeepers, Is that what everyone thinks?? I thought it was ok to just show up, but her words echoed over and over again. It was why our organizations are chasing the cheaters, our manufacturers are spitting out products to give you that edge, it is why knee rolls, and thigh blocks were invented on a saddle, custom bits, drugs, it is why politics exist, it is the core of our sport, right down to the very bottom.

People complain over and over again, about how they worry they can’t break into this sport, so why bother trying, and I hear you, it is hard. But we can’t all win at the same time, we have to accept it is a fluctuating sport, a fluctuating market, wins will pop up here and there and be celebrated, and over time we should probably start worrying about filling those gaps In education ourselves, rather than depending on an organization to do it for us.

I tell people all the time I don’t care about being on the cover of a magazine, it is not the end game for me. That is for someone else, I cannot imagine the pressure of being there. And once you start, you can’t stop.  No, my end game is seeing the success in other people because of me, the satisfaction in their achievements allowing them to shine for a while. It works, then I go back and focus on my riding, and doddle along until the next big lucky break. I will eventually calm down and accept the fact that I am being taxed each year for laziness, just as I am in society, but it is sad and frustrating to see it all over the place.

Someone else recognized the need for education and has done a brilliant job in manufacturing the tools to get through to people, and it is probably making a fortune at it. Bernie Traurig. He saw the gaping holes we were creating and really saw an opportunity to help fix it, by developing Equestrian Coach. The whole time he was developing that product, I was mortified we needed it so badly. But he was right, absolutely right, and his answer might be the best one for right now. I have no idea what the future will bring, but, if you want your future horsemen to actually be horsemen, you better start doing something about it right now.

BTW, he credits pony club in his background (just saying)

http://www.equestriancoach.com/

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