On a more Serious Note…


I usually try to avoid news related topics, as news is more accurately reported on news sites, this forum is generally based on my opinion but it seems pertinent to address the recent tragic accident of America’s Olympian Courtney King-Dye.  If anyone is still unaware of the accident she was riding a young horse in warm-up at a competition when the horse slipped and fell, fracturing Courtney’s skull.  Courtney is still in a coma at the time of this writing.  Horse Channel.com has an article with more details on the accident and an address to Courtney’s Facebook page as well as a mailing address for well wishers.  I will include them at the bottom of this post as well.

This accident has stirred a lot of debate in the dressage community concerning mandatory use of helmets at competitions.  I received a letter from my local GMO yesterday requesting feedback from members of the equestrian community, as horse show organizers are fearful that if they alone enforce such mandatory regulations they may suffer loss of entries to shows that do not enforce the safety measures.  While I understand that entry money is what makes horse shows possible, hiring judges possible, etc. I am saddened that cash flow is the determining factor in most every decision that arises anymore.  It seems that competition dressage should now be termed commercial dressage.

As those who know me can testify I rarely, if ever, wear a helmet.  I am certainly not bragging about this, just stating the facts before someone else does in my comment section!!  In fact, I was forced to purchase one to ride while schooling some riders on a cross-country course a few years ago and in mock protest picked one with a picture of Mickey Mouse riding a horse on it.  After that day, I wore it very rarely.  It is not that I consciously disagree with the use of helmets,  I wore them when riding as a child and when I used to jump.  I believe I am of the age that safety was not as stringently observed and regulated as it is now.  Seatbelts were not mandatory and I’m not sure many people used them when I was young.  Nobody wore helmets when riding a bike, or skating as they do now.

I was, however, bucked off a horse a few months ago that was startled by my swishy jacket (see my first blog post!).  The next time I rode the horse, I removed my jacket! and asked the owner if I could use her helmet.  She had a Charles Owen helmet and it fit me perfectly.  The horse behaved wonderfully and luckily I didn’t have to test the helmet but I must admit I did feel safer and rode less apprehensively wearing the helmet.  After the ride I examined the construction and realized they have come a long way from the Mickey Mouse helmet that was little more than thin plastic over egg cartons.

Ever since riding with that helmet I tossed around the idea of purchasing one of my own.  Oddly enough I bought one the day before Courtney’s accident.  It is still not a natural instinct for me to grab it and wear it every time I ride, but I did yesterday and I do see the value in it.  I don’t yet know where I stand on mandatory helmet rules.  This opens up more questions like wearing protective vests or break-away stirrups.  I am coming around myself, however, to wearing the helmet, both for my own safety and as an example for the kids I teach.  As for the adults, that is a decision they can make for themselves.

I sympathize greatly with Courtney and her family and wish her the speediest recovery.  Please send her your well-wishes on Facebook or by mail.  Every acknowledgement and intention of well-being goes a long way in helping the recovery process.  She is a great rider and an inspiration to all dressage enthusiasts.  It is an unfortunate reality that no matter how many safety regulations are enforced, there is always a risk of injury when riding a horse, no matter how accomplished the rider or how quiet the horse.

Check out Behind the Bit’s post today for some interesting information on head injuries.

We’re all rooting for your recovery Courtney, get back in the saddle soon.

Dye’s Facebook page

Courtney Dye
2442 Muir Circle
Wellington, FL 33414


Anyone wishing to donate to the Medical Assistance Fund can make checks payable to:

Courtney King-Dye
c/o Lendon Gray
25 Lake Ave.
Bedford, NY 10506

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!

Horsey Lessons from The Birdhouse Chick…..

Life as a horse trainer, at least the kind that works out of many barns, is a particularly transient one.  Either because of the nature of my business, or that I grew up a military brat (I haven’t figured out which) I move every few years.  Because I meet most of my roommates at the barns or stables where I work, I tend to live with dedicated animal lovers.  As anyone who knows her can tell you, Animal lover, in respect to my roommate, Beth Wheeler, is an understatement!

Beth, the proprietor and namesake of  the unique bird house boutique, The Birdhouse Chick, is one of the most dedicated stewards of the environment that I know.  An entire blog could be written on her selfless acts of caring for stray dogs and cats, and her yard is a testament to her love for birds and other wildlife.  Check out her website and daily blog, she is the one that started me blogging.

Beth also has a horse, Sweets, that she keeps at Moonlight Equestrian Center.  While I was racking my brain for a blog topic, Beth was washing some blankets for an older horse at the barn.  She suggested I relay what she does with the dryer lint and horsehair cleaned from the washer after we wash our blankets, saddlepads, etc. 

Brilliant…Take a mesh produce bag- the kind you buy your horse’s apples in- and begin filling it with the hair, (body and tail),  from the lint trap of your dryer, and from the inside of the washer and dryer after washing dirty horse items.  You can also supplement the bag with mane and tail hair from your tail brush or from pulling your horse’s mane.  When the bag is full, tie it off and hang it from a branch in a nearby tree.  The birds love to use the hair to build their nests!  I have picked up  used nests at barns that were made entirely of horse hair! 

I have attached a picture of a horsehair nesting ball that Beth made for our yard.  We have the happiest birds around, and it is a joy to watch them in the morning before I set off to see the horses.  Take some time to check out her website- the birds will love you for it!

Walkin’ the Dog….

It’s analogy time again!  Had to come up with some way to describe a consistent rein contact while still invoking a feeling of giving, or riding towards the horse’s mouth.  I think I’ve seen a wheelbarrow used to describe such a connection, but I thought updating the analogy with a more modern apparatus that had a lighter appeal might be effective.

Then it came to me.  Of course! The invisible dog!!!  Remember the 80’s gag leash that had a collar attached to the end, and appeared to be harnessed to an invisible dog? (see photo above)  If you don’t, you might as well go ahead and read one of my other blog entries because this will make no sense at all!  I asked a few of my students this week to imagine each of their reins as if they were one of these leashes and that they were connected to the bit in the usual fashion.

Instead of constantly giving, taking, retracting, then dumping the contact for the sake of lightness, they could pretend they instead were walking two invisible dogs.  The reins (leashes) must keep enough connection to avoid any loops and must never be pulled backwards toward the rider.  Who would walk an invisible dog like that anyway?  The contact is steady and consistent, giving the horse a reliable reference for balance.  It also gives the rider the desired feeling of riding toward the horse’s mouth without abandoning the connection, thus creating a sense of trust and allowing for engagement of the hind end. 

Maybe they got it and maybe not…we’ll see next week if I’m in the doghouse!

Checking in to the Clinic…

Lisa Wilcox helps Suzanne and Wango Tango

I love clinics! Riding clinics that is!  I love teaching them, riding in them, and auditing them.  I have never audited, or ridden in a clinic where I left feeling disappointed.  As an instructor I love to listen to great trainers teach.  There is no better money spent than an auditing fee that covers an entire day of lesson watching from a top trainer.  I am always amazed at the small turnout of auditors when an international caliber trainer comes to town.  In the Atlanta area alone there are always a number of great clinics available to audit or ride in.  The GDCTA calendar is a good place to check for upcoming events. 

It is a good idea to audit a few clinics to check out the protocol before signing up to ride, and if you have a trainer, it is best to confer with him or her  before riding with a clinician.  A good trainer won’t mind a client riding with a reputable clinician; however, it is helpful to determine  if the philosophy of the clinician is a good match for your current program.  There are several different schools of thought that all produce effective results, but the components of the programs are not always interchangeable.  Mixing and matching the philosophies can be very confusing to the student and very irritating to the trainer!

Enough can’t be said for auditing a clinic.  It gives you a chance to learn from outstanding trainers as they teach multiple horse and rider combinations.  Many new concepts can be learned, and sometimes a concept that has been difficult to grasp, when explained in a different way, makes complete sense!  Taking a notepad and pen is a great way to jot down the ideas that you want to mull over later.  I once sat next to an international judge, at a clinic, that kept a three-ring binder with notes from every clinic she had attended, dating back to the seventies.  I would like to have had a copy of that book!

When auditing I think I speak for the entire horse community when I say, please keep quiet if you’re within earshot of anyone that’s interested in actually hearing the clinician.  I have sat at countless clinics and repressed shrieking when otherwise very nice people talk the entire time a clinician is teaching.  I don’t know why it feels too rude to jump up and stalk off, but I usually just sit there instead, being very angry and wondering why anyone would pay money to come sit and talk when they could do it for free at home.  Any other time, I’d love to hear the anecdotes, but in the dressage world, many of these clinicians are the PhD’s of the discipline, and deserve the respect that would be given any professor.

So, check your GMO calendar or local newsletter.  Be willing to drive a little if needed.  Bring your writing materials and a comfortable chair and be ready to sit awhile.  Your time won’t be wasted.

And the deciding vote goes to Axel..I mean Simon!!

Inspiration comes from unlikely places sometimes.  With the competition season coming up tensions are running high.  The warm-up arena, to some people, is far more daunting than the competition arena itself.  Everyone in the warm-up arena seems so confident and prepared,  flawless in their preparations.  It’s easy to feel diminished if you compare yourself with the competitors that grace the pages of “Dressage Today”.  With the ever-increasing quality of dressage horse breeding, and the widening gap between those that can compete at the top-level and those whose purse can’t match their ambition, it is important to remember that the beauty of dressage competition is that the competition is with yourself.  Your horse, on his best ride may not have the natural movement to score in the 70% bracket but that does not prevent you from competing him all the way to the Grand Prix.  An honest, less than flashy mover that can earn in the 60%s all the way to Grand Prix is an admirable horse indeed.  Your co-workers and some of your barnmates may not understand this logic and possibly never will.  If you do and your horse does that is all that matters.  

We’ve all heard this rhetoric before and sometimes it is more obvious in other arenas in life than our own.  Watching “Britain’s Got Talent” on YouTube one day I saw a clip from a show that featured a dance group from London named Flawless.  Their obvious determination and focus on themselves is summed up when Simon Cowell asks the leader what the “dream” is and the young dancer confidently replies, “chase the dream, not the competition”.  Seems like a good way to keep your positive energy focused on what’s important, your dressage dream, whether it involves competition or not.  It’s become a mantra for me whenever I fall into the trap of comparing myself  to others.  I guess I’ll take the inspiration from wherever it comes as long as it comes…

Click here to see Flawless on Britain’s got Talent