Horses are Welcome too!!

Me and Sam in England ’75
Me and Sammy in Germany ’79. Ponies make great teachers!

Saturday promises to be exciting as I am spending the day with some of my best friends, Ponies!   The Atlanta Pony Club is meeting me at Foxberry Farms in Dallas, Georgia for a full day of dressage lessons.

This is not my first time teaching the ponyclubbers and I hope I will be invited again.  Having started riding in England I had a short brush with the

British Pony Club and have a great deal of respect for the organization.  Any rider that has earned the rating of “A” ponyclubber is not only qualified to be a professional rider but has proven to be an expert in horse and barn management as well.  To check how you measure up click here for the United State’s Pony Club’s  Standards of Proficiency for H-B, HH-A Levels (the horse management section of the “A” level).  The Dressage Specialty Riding Test is no walk in the park either!

As riders “rate” through the system, starting with the fundamentals of horsecare and riding, they prove their skills through testings.  These are no easy tests!  Safety and the integrity of the ratings are a priority and much preparation, instruction and hard work goes into preparing the riders for their ratings.  Rallies are held for concentrated coaching before rating sessions and the ponyclubbers must work together with a team in all areas of barn management.  To make sure the kids are focused and learning the information themselves, parents are not allowed in the barn area at rallies.

Don’t get the idea that Ponyclub is all work and testing!  Ponyclubbers learn while having  fun!  Jumping, gymkhana, eventing, foxhunting, all types of English riding opportunities abound, both at the local and national level. Scholarships are even available for hard-working applicants.  If you are a young rider or if you have a young rider in the family I strongly recommend Ponyclub for a well-rounded horseman’s education.  It’s a well-known fact, no one can teach you more than a pony!

United States Pony Club

Atlanta Pony Club

It’s About Time….

“If your early you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re late you’re left behind.”

A successful competitor prepares ahead for the next exercise!

Despite the less-than-cooperative weather we’ve encountered this winter the competition season is upon us.  Time to start navigating through the tests and working out the geometry of the arena.  Just the mention of test riding has a paralyzing effect on many riders.  It may be more productive and less fear inducing to think of it as a demonstration of your training rather than a “test”.

A ride in front of a judge, (as well as at home for that matter) should always demonstrate the rider’s understanding that maintaining and/or improving the horse’s natural gaits are the top priority.  A quality transition ridden a stride late is more acceptable than an abrupt, unbalanced transition ridden precisely at the marker.  While riding the diagrams accurately is always important, the test is designed to demonstrate that the rider has an understanding of the correct fundamentals of the level being shown.  Of course, an accurately ridden figure is ideal, but never sacrifice the balance!

Preparation for each movement is the responsibility of the rider.  This is what the corners of the arena are made for!   There are two opportunities (corners) before each movement to make sure that the horse is forward, engaged and on the rider’s aids.  The set-up for the next exercise should be done in the corner before it is performed.  If the rider fails to utilize the corners to adequately prepare the horse, resulting in a movement that is marred by a loss of rhythm or balance, the price will be paid in the rider’s collective marks.

Several times before the show, have someone videotape your test ride.  It is not uncommon to feel that the horse is clipping along in a forward fashion, only to see the ride on a video later and realize it was actually painfully sluggish.  The opposite is also true, I have ridden many tests that I thought were nice and steady only to see them on video and realize I was rushing the horse off his feet.  Ride the rhythm of the gait and work the exercises around it.

In the end, nobody, including the judge, is expecting perfection from your horse.  The show is designed to demonstrate that your training is progressing correctly to continue through the levels.  Ride your horse proudly and be forgiving if he is less than perfect.  Even if there are errors in your ride, a tactful rider that is grateful for the ride is a winner in any good horseman’s eyes every time.

And the Winner is…..

It’s always exciting when I receive feedback from readers of the blog.  Today’s comments brought an extra-special surprise….. An Award!!!!  Yes, a fellow blogger, The Literary Horse, has bestowed upon me the coveted “Beautiful Blogger Award”!!  I’m very flattered as her blog is brilliant!  If you haven’t already started following her blog it is linked under my blogroll on every post.  Why she is doing her blog for free when I would gladly buy her writings if they were published is beyond me, but I’ll take it while I can!   There are fifteen other recipients of the award listed on her site, some of them I have read previously and some I have just found today but will be following from now on.

The award comes with two stipulations.  I must list seven things my readers may not know about me (hmmm..scary!)  and I must choose fifteen blogs in which to bestow the award.  The seven things I can manage.  The fifteen blogs will be a little trickier, as I have only been blogging a couple of months and haven’t had time to build a large base of other blogs to follow.  In order to provide the links I will post the links of the other recipients, as I have previewed them all tonight and they are all great.  As a matter of fact they are so good I am afraid I will lose my readers to them, but I greedily want to post my award so I will do it, and add one that I like as well!

OK.  Seven things nobody knows (or not many people anyway!)

1.  I have a tattoo of my late Malamute, Samson’s, paw print and name on my leg.

2.  I went to bartending school, but never tended bar.

3.  My Mom washes my show clothes and mails them back to me because she gets them the whitest.

4.  I don’t own a television- hence the blog!

5.  I still think I’m a teenager, but my license says I’m 42.

6.  I once hiked 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

7.  I tilt my head at a ridiculous angle when I teach and can’t stop no matter how hard I try!  (What’s the deal with trainers and head tilting?)

The Literary Horse’s Beautiful Blogger Award Recipients:

In addition to Jane’s blog I would add Retired Racehorse as a recipient.  Natalie is a frequent blogger with a great site heralding the Thoroughbred.  Her posts and her comments on other’s posts are always insightful and funny.  I will post more recipients as I commit to reading more blogs.

Sincere thanks to Jane at The Literary Horse for reading and acknowledging my blog and congratulations to the other award recipients!  I consider myself in fine company.   I encourage everyone to check out the links to the other award winners that Jane honored.  There is a lot of pertinent information and positive energy being exchanged on these forums.  If you are so inclined you may want to start a blog of your own.  Everyone’s point of view is important and you never know, you might even win an award!!!

Anything worth Doing….

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly!”  Zig Ziglar

Goodwood the greatest schoolmaster of all let me make lots of mistakes!

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when pursuing dressage is perfectionism.  This is a problem especially pervasive to the adult amateur.  Most young riders seem content to attempt an exercise repeatedly, with no apparent doubt that eventually they will get it right.  This is generally not so with adults.  It is not uncommon for adults to worry if the first or second attempt at an exercise does not “feel” right.  This worry is usually a result of erring on the side of kindness, as the rider expresses concern for not confusing or “messing up” the horse. 

I believe that one cause of this confusion is that many of the classical dressage books are written from the perspective that a rider will be learning on a horse that is more educated than the rider.  In this case, when the proper aids are given, the results will be consistent.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, particularly in America, this is not so common.  Frequently an instructor is training a horse and rider combination through the levels together.  It is a lucky rider that has access to schoolmasters in which to learn the exercises properly before attempting them on their own horse.

Another aspect of perfectionism that inhibits a rider’s learning process is the reluctance to show imperfections in front of spectators.  When others are watching, particularly those perceived to be negative in nature, many riders become very distracted and unwilling to attempt new or difficult exercises.  This is problematic for the trainer as a productive training session should revolve around exercises in which the horse and rider are having difficulties.  A minority of the lesson time should be spent covering exercises that have already been mastered. 

So, keep in mind that it is fine to make mistakes, the horse will forgive you and you will never get it right without working out all of the possible errors.  If it were so easy to perfect the exercises in one or two attempts we would all be riding Grand Prix in two months!  If the people watching don’t understand why you are incorrectly riding that half-pass over and over again, be patient.  In time it will be perfect and you will have the scores to validate your efforts.  It is not important, or likely that everyone will understand.  Give yourself a break and go out and do it poorly!  It’s worth it!

Don’t miss the Rest of the Show…

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage…” 

Auguries of Innocence William Blake


Lots has been said of the horse’s life at a barn.  Studies have been made to translate what each twitch and gesture communicates to the rest of the herd.  An equal amount of less scientific study has been done to analyze the human residents at the barn as well.  Most of these are comical in nature.  EquineInks post yesterday is one of these studies that shouldn’t be missed!

It is a sad thing indeed, however, if while at the barn one gets too concentrated on the discipline of riding and the social opportunities at every washrack to enjoy the abundant nature reserve they’re visiting.    A few silent moments is all that is needed to appreciate a conversation between the birds in the trees or the rhythm of the water in a creek.  If you don’t have time to stray from the barn there is still plenty of wildlife all around you.  Now is the time the barn swallows are building their nests preparing for spring.   Some barn owners consider them a nuisance and go to efforts to discourage them from nesting  in the barn, but I enjoy seeing the baby birds poking their heads out of the nests high above the stalls until they are ready to fly on their own!

Several barns I visit have barn owls which are more difficult to spot during the day but have made the occasional appearance, and their “hoot hooting” is unmistakable.  Blue Herons are one of my favorite residents at barns that have bodies of water to host them.  Care must be taken, however when riding by them as their sudden flight may startle a horse.  Still worth having them around!

When catching your horse from his paddock, check the fence line for hawks, they sit very still and wait for mice and other small animals to move in the field before snatching them up and flying off for dinner.  I have seen them carry away small snakes.  These birds are but a few of the ones you can see and the hundreds you can hear if you slow down, listen and observe what’s already there.

Slow down when you have the chance and listen to the wind, the gossiping birds and the horses happily snorting and stomping.  Experience life at the barn as your horse does, you won’t miss much if you take one less cellphone call to do it.  Don’t let the pressures of everyday life hurry you into missing all of the glimpses into nature’s conversations that we are privileged to by virtue of our horse’s friendship.

Don’t let the Ads fool you…..

1 Connemara + 2 shows = 1 Bronze Medal


Almost everyone in the dressage community can tell you the bloodlines of the horses winning in topsport dressage.  Breeding  programs in the United States have become increasingly popular and successful.  Almost every page in dressage magazines boasts advertisements of well-bred, super athletic, descendents of top scoring dressage horses.   If the price is right it is even possible to purchase a clone of one of these world-renowned athletes.  With the availability of these super athletes burgeoning every year there are only two questions left to answer.  Can I afford him?  Can I ride him?

While it is true that to place successfully in dressage, a warmblood of quality breeding is the most obvious choice; however, to show successfully or to ride successfully, a top-bred warmblood is not the only option.  In fact, depending on the experience and athleticism of the rider, a big, fancy moving horse can be intimidating and frustrating.  This is fantastic for the professional that needs a horse to compete, but can be heartbreaking for the amateur that would really like to participate in more than just paying the bills.

This is not to dissuade riders from purchasing warmbloods, I am a big fan and, in fact own a Contango baby myself.  This is instead to encourage owners of other breeds to continue in their pursuit of dressage, and to encourage prospective buyers not to rule out other breeds when selecting a suitable horse.   Whether you have chosen dressage for competition or just to enjoy the ride, most all breeds can be successful and fun.

As the sport evolves the trend is moving towards the lighter boned, more elastic warmbloods that produce extravagant gaits.  This is evidenced with horses like Totilis, a big moving warmblood that is setting world record dressage scores.   While some fault his gaits, there is no denying he is influencing what is considered “popular” in dressage today.   In order to refine the once heavier warmbloods breeders have skillfully introduced bloodlines of more “hot-blooded” horses.  The result of this selective breeding is horses that display much more fluid, dramatic gaits; however, with these extravagant gaits comes the hotter nature of the lines that are bred in.

As an instructor of riders of all levels I would rather teach a person how to improve the gaits, and master riding on a horse that they are physically and mentally capable of handling.  If that horse is a warmblood that’s great, it makes showing a lot easier.  If it’s an Andalusian, Connemara, Thoroughbred, Appendix, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, POA, Arab, whatever, bring it on.  Don’t let the advertisements scare you, when you can improve the gaits of any horse and promote the relaxation that the old-style warmbloods are known for, you are in the running.  See you at the score board!

That sounds Farrier…

Some of the most interesting barn conversation I have ever had has come from farriers.  I could write a whole series of blog posts on farriers I have known and the stories they have told but I wouldn’t want to be excluded from future stories, they’re too great!  Both horses had to be shod yesterday so Farrier and I had a long time to talk.  As horse professionals in the same community the experiences we have with different horses, owners, vets, barn owners and other members of the community parallel each other. 

We were talking about toe clips and side clips and the effect of each on different shaped hooves and he recounted a telephone conversation he had with a young farrier that had called him to ask a few questions about shoeing.  The young fellow had asked how he felt about toe clips, and the response was that he would have to see a picture of the hooves in question.  The question was, of course, hypothetical so the young farrier asked “just on the average, everyday horse”.  This is once again, an unanswerable question as the “everyday horse” varies widely depending on the individual’s clients and even among those clients the hooves will not be the same.

This is a question that mirrors one that I think about in the training process from time to time, especially when it comes to training horses that have come to a trainer with previous baggage or are horses non-traditional to the discipline in which they are being trained.  Many strict classicists write that there is one way to correctly train.  I am not disputing any of these techniques, they are all proven effective.   It is presumed in most writings, I believe, that the horse has been started correctly and that it is of an “everyday type of horse” that the author is used to seeing.  It would be difficult to write a book addressing every type of previous training issue or every approach for different breed types, but I contend that horses must be treated as individuals, and a classical approach should be the desired standard but allowances must be made for the individual.

Whether you are talking about hooves, horses or students a philosophy or program must have a sound and proven structure.  But the professional must be able to see the client as an individual, with a history of its own, in order to determine if inherent or learned traits must be addressed in a manner that humanely directs them back to the classical structure.    The goal is the same, the path must always be humane but the history, conformation, or psyche of the hoof, horse or client must be taken into consideration if a classical result is to be achieved.