Hocus Pocus- and the article is done!


caitlyn3As a writer it’s flattering to be asked to write an article or a piece to help promote a horse show, horse event or horse related charity.  It’s especially exciting when the show is located here in the Atlanta area and will attract top riders as it’s the first CDI3* to be held in Georgia.  As much as I would like to say I penned the following piece for the GDCTA newsletter, I instead made the brilliant decision to delegate it to one of my young riders that is also an aspiring writer, Caitlyn Bennett!!!

In addition to being a dedicated eventer Caitlyn has written several pieces for the GDCTA newsletter and is also a talented fiction writer.  She gets inspiration from her adventures with her self started Mustang,  Hocus Pocus, and the rest of the gang of barn rats at North Atlanta Equestrian Center in Cartersville, Georgia.

Much thanks to Caitlyn for helping me meet a deadline and writing an article that is as much fun as she is!!  If any of my other students, or any other readers, young or otherwise would like to submit a horse related writing of any genre to be considered for my blog please feel free to contact me at tangodressage@yahoo.com.

Caitlyn and Hocus Pocus will be at the show April 7-10 with many other students from Tango Dressage so come on out and meet us and enjoy some top riding- and some of the other Olympic hopefuls too!!!

Official show information can be reached here!

Caitlyn and Hocus

The Following was written for the GDCTA by Caitlyn Bennett, 13 years old:


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to compete on the same grounds at the same time as Olympic hopefuls? Well, here’s your opportunity. The Greater Atlanta Dressage Southern (GADS) horse show is held the same weekend as the prestigious CDI3*, the last qualifier for the 2016 Summer Olympics.


The CDI3* will take place April 7-10 at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, with the GADS show starting on the 8th and ending the 10th. GADS provides a great opportunity for riders of all levels to be able compete, watch Olympic hopefuls, and meet the “best of the best,” who will possibly represent our country in Rio this summer.


Having the CDI3* at the park that Atlanta built for the 1996 Olympics and being where those athletes competed is special in itself, but it is a really big deal because this is the first time the event will be held in Georgia. Even better, they chose GDCTA to host it!


Why is it so important that you go? By participating in GADS I and II ( both USDF recognized dressage shows) and by being a spectator or competitor for the CDI3*, you are part of history in the making when GDCTA brings CDI3* to the Peach State.


The CDI3* is free to watch. The GADS shows will open on February 15, 2016 with a closing date of March 16th. Slots will fill up fast, so what are you waiting for?  Join all of your GDCTA a friends and get yourself and your mount registered for GADS I and II and come watch and/or compete in the CDI3* and show your love for U.S. Dressage in Georgia.


Besides, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of putting on your best show clothes and posing next to your horse as you prepare to participate in GADS I and II, and then posting something like this to your social media channel of choice: “We’ve made it to the Olympic qualifiers in Atlanta.  Wish you were here!”

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2010. That’s about 24 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 47 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 50 posts. There were 95 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 133mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 31st with 150 views. The most popular post that day was Sweep your Cares Away…..

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, suzannekingdressage.com, equineink.com, blogger.com, and iamthesprinklerbandit.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for dressage blog, dressage blogs, lisa wilcox, ron smeets, and lisa wilcox dressage.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Sweep your Cares Away…. January 2010


About me December 2009


Say What? May 2010


Keep the helmet, ditch the Tux… March 2010


Meet Mr. Smeets…. March 2010

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!

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!

Uh…what was I saying again?

"It's a bear!"

As in my lessons, it is easy to get sidetracked in these blogs.  Yesterday, I had originally intended to use my video clip with Scott Hassler to stress how valuable it is to videotape lessons, shows, and practice rides.  It is difficult to override my admiration for trainers I deeply respect.  Now that I got that over with there is another theme to explore in the same clip.  If you didn’t see the clip, it is located at the bottom of the last post.

A common theme, especially with adult amateur riders, is how to handle a situation when a horse gets tense or spooks.  It is not uncommon for a student to give me a list of the items or situations that cause their horse to spook.  It is sometimes difficult for me to get the student to override their concern for these particular scenarios, and instead focus on the behaviour the horse is exhibiting when it encounters the fearful object or situation.  An example would be, fear of a mounting block in the corner of the arena.  The horse shies and runs sideways each time it approaches the mounting block.   Here it comes….”He’s afraid of the dang mounting block!”,  followed by kicking and fussing.

The mounting block, in this case, is immaterial…it could be a dog, a bucket, a plant, anything… the focus should be the loss of rhythm, and the falling in on the inside leg.  This is something that can be corrected.  You cannot predict every object you may come across in your horse’s life and train him not to be afraid of it.  You can instead, train him to move correctly on your aids, and soon his trust will build when he realizes that your decisions have kept him safe.  Having a conversation with your trainer about why he doesn’t like mounting blocks, hats, etc. is nice, but not conducive to fixing the problem. 

This is more aptly stated by Scott, in the video when an unseen person drops some folding chairs while I am cantering Lucy.  There is a sudden “Bang” and Lucy immediately tenses up (she doesn’t look that tense but she felt it!)  He calmly reassures me “There are no noises…just her body- if her body gets nervous, ride the body”.  He offers the disclaimer “This sounds so easy from the ground.”  But this is what we must aspire to.  Ignoring the stimulus, controlling our adrenalin and riding the horse’s body.  If the horse’s body is stiff (from fear) ride it the way you would ride a stiff horse.  Don’t add in the element of panic.  Nobody’s saying it will be easy.  It will take time, but the first step is visualizing.  Then practicing……then one day….Bang!!!!…Nothing.