It’s nice to have Connections….

It’s no coincidence, the spring weather appeared and the blog posts disappeared!  Break’s over now and I’m back with enthusiasm!  Much of my enthusiasm has been influenced by two, yes two! awards bestowed upon me by my blogging friend, Bree Nicole at Cavalli Connections.  I couldn’t be more pleased with my awards, The Beautiful Blogger award, and The Classical Riding Awareness Award, an honor that Bree will be granting to one blogger every few months that she feels demonstrates compassion for horses, a thirst for equine kowledge and dedication to the classical principles of training and riding.  I hope I can live up to these admirable standards.  I certainly aspire to.

When I began Tango Dressage Blog in December ’09 I’m not sure I even knew what a blog was.  It seemed like a good way to overcome anxieties about writing, a problem I have sufferred from since childhood.  I didn’t realize that I would grow to enjoy the process and the people associated with it.   I have come to believe that the blog format will bring about a sense of honesty and sincerity in journalism.  The blogs I enjoy are not only as informative and well written as any magazine articles I read, they are generally less wordy, and less biased by advertisers (since there usually are none!).

If you haven’t already, please check out Bree’s blog, Cavalli Connections and the others I have listed on the right margin of this page under Blogroll.  They are all excellent blogs written by people that are so passionate about horses they are willing to put the evidence up for the world to read.  You may even want to start one of your own.  As a condition of my Beautiful Blogger award I must pick some beautiful blogs to bestow the award upon.  I don’t think this will be a problem, there are so many I have grown to love.  There will be a post listing them shortly.

Before I sign off to rest up for the horse show tomorrow I want to thank Bree once again for her kind words and thoughtful consideration.  I greatly admire her writing and passion for horses and consider her recognition of my blog a real honor.

Check in tomorrow for some horse show blogging!

Taken out of Reference….

On occasion I receive calls from prospective  schools or employers wishing to verify the integrity of  a current or previous student that has me listed as a personal reference.  These calls are usually unremarkable, a few sentences verifying how long I’ve known the applicant and a couple of obligatory questions regarding their work ethic.  Earlier this week I received one of these reference check calls regarding a student I have known for ten years, Lindsay Hildebrandt.  The business owner calling me was Linda Miller from Elkhorn Ranch in Montana.   Ms Miller’s warm sense of humor and sincere desire to hire the right person for her ranch made this call anything but unremarkable.

I have never been to Elkhorn Ranch but have many times thought I would like to take a summer off from teaching and spend it as a guide, or wrangler, taking people out on horseback treks through mountain passes, and enjoying horses without the pressures of daily commutes or the underlying intensity of competition training.  Unfortunately, however, Ms. Miller didn’t call to ask me out to Montana to be a wrangler for the summer, but instead to find out if I thought Lindsay Hildebrandt might be right for the job.  “You would be crazy not to hire her”, was my initial reaction, and I stand by it still.

Elkhorn Ranch, Montana

I assured Linda that Lindsay was nothing if not determined and hard-working.  Anyone that has ever met Lindsay’s horse, Prophet, can testify to that.  As charming and talented as Prophet is, I have never met a more challenging or difficult horse to train and Lindsay has persevered on him through the years, training him as a showjumper.  I’m sure there won’t be any horses at Elkhorn like Prophet, but if Linda needs any help with training horses for the trails, she’s getting her money’s worth with Lindsay.

A talented artist, Lindsay has designed logos for me, given me drawings and paintings that I cherish and created a beautiful wire sculpture of my horse, Wango Tango.  Before the advent of blogs I recruited Lindsay and her best friend Amber to write and illustrate my first newsletter, Hot2Trot.  It was a lot of work for the kids but they did a great job!   If Linda is as sneaky as I am, Elkhorn may have some new signs and artwork before the summer is up!

Wire Sculpture of Wango Tango

I could go on and on about traits that make Lindsay a great candidate for Elkhorn Ranch but I’d rather let Lindsay update us herself.  She’s leaving in June and staying for the summer.  I have a great feeling about Linda, she seems like a genuine person that cares about her guests, her horses and her staff.  One day Nickel (Wango Tango) and I hope to make it out to Montana to meet her and her horses.

Lindsay, good luck at your job and have a great time.  You have been promoted from Hot2Trot illustrator to blogospondent for Tango Dressage!  Send us updates and photos from your trip and put in a good word for me, I’ll be a wrangler one day soon!

Click here to visit Elkhorn Ranch Homepage

Meet Mr. Smeets….

 

Ron helps Lauren with the connection

Ok, ok…It’s hard to think of a catchy title that rhymes with Smeets!  That’s what I have to work with however, as it was the second day of another great clinic with international rider and trainer Ron Smeets from The Netherlands.  Anyone that has visited my website, Tango Dressage, knows I am a big fan of Mr. Smeets.  He travels to the U.S. on a regular basis in order to  maintain a consistent training program.  I try to ride with Ron every opportunity I get, however, unable to ride this weekend I observed from the sidelines as several of my students took advantage of his expertise.

This is the forty-fifth post I have published on this blog and several times leading up to the weekend of the clinic I felt it would boost rider entries to post an article about Ron and previous clinics, however, these attempts remain unpublished as I have come to realize that if the intentions of my posts are anything other than my sincere feelings or opinions at the time of writing than they are nothing but advertisements and advertisements are always biased to favor the advertised.

Sincerity is the trait that I admire most in Ron’s professional dealings.  When you ride with Ron it is evident that he cares if you understand what he is trying to convey in the lesson.  This is not just true of upper-level or potential horse purchasing clients.  Ron routinely spends as much time and energy as is necessary to make sure even more novice riders understand and benefit from their ride, even if his lunch break or rest breaks are depleted by doing so.

The same sincerity that conveys concern for the rider’s education also puts the rider in the hot seat at times.  Don’t expect phony compliments or platitudes from Smeets.  His concern is with the education of the rider and the welfare of the horse and if a mistake is made and repeated, expect to hear about it until it is corrected!  He is never unkind or condescending but instead determines what a rider is capable of and pushes them to meet that mark.  It is a quality in a clinician that I greatly admire as so many clinicians I see under-challenge or placate riders, as they wish to maintain a loyal following, but platitudes do not make a Grand Prix rider.

This is the last day of Ron’s clinic and I look forward to riding with him when he returns in June.  His dressage knowledge and teaching style make him an excellent trainer.  His sincerity and candor make him an exceptional person.

Click here to visit Ron’s website R.S.D.H. in the Netherlands.  He has exceptional dressage horses for sale and is available for training at his new facility.

Keep the helmet, ditch the Tux…

 

“Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.”  Jane Austen

Understandably there has been a lot of controversy lately over the possibility of mandatory helmet rules for dressage competition.  Although personal safety should be an individual’s choice it is difficult to defend the decision of  not protecting one’s own head.

The main concern for not mandating helmets seems to lie in the fact that helmets are not as visually appealing when worn with the customary dressage attire, particularly the shadbelly jacket.  A top hat, which offers little to no protection at all, is far more appealing when wearing such an outfit.  Recently, as a possible alternative to helmets, companies have been designing “hard-hat” type top hats as they have for cowboy hats for western rider’s safety.  These hats, while safer to ride in, are bulky and clumsy, thus negating the point of having a visually appealing hat.

Although this suggestion may upset some classicists I believe it may be time to consider embracing the helmet and updating the attire.  Yes, that means quit competing in tuxedos.  Tuxedos are certainly classy outfits for weddings or the opera but not necessarily clothes that inspire athleticism.  Many other athletic events require helmets and  maintain a dignified but athletic turnout.  In addition to being visually compatible with safety gear, more athletic attire can be manufactured with fabrics that are more conducive to sports functionality.  Wearing a blazer and an Ascot with leather boots while participating in an athletic event in the deep South in September seems somehow non-sporty.

While I have a deep respect for tradition and believe that the principles of  riding and training should be passed from generation to generation, the time may have come to consider updating the attire of the modern equestrian.  Athletes in every sport benefit from advances in fabrics and modern technological design for comfort and performance, why not us?  If we want the rest of the world to respect our sport as an Olympic discipline we may have to suit up looking like the athletes that we are.

Don’t flip-flop about it…..

Four ibuprofen down the hatch as my right foot throbs!  Another job related injury!  The names of the parties involved have been changed to protect the victims, wait a minute, I am the victim!

I teach a lovely lady we’ll call “Bonnie” that owns a small riding facility at her home several miles from the barn in which I board my horses.  With a show a couple of weeks away it’s time to trailer the horses over to ride some tests while also getting them used to traveling off of the property.  Horses arrive, check out the place, walk into washracks, everything is fine.  Here’s where things take a turn.

The horse Bonnie is going to ride tacks up without incident.  My process does not go quite as smoothly.  My ride, we’ll call “Bernie” has a girthing issue, that I should have remembered, as I have tacked him up at his own house many times.  This is where I erred, as Bernie is one of several horses I have known over the years that if girthed too quickly will buckle at the knees.  This is exactly what happened.  I didn’t ratchet it up, however, there are certain horses that must be girthed very slowly to prevent such a reaction and care must be given every time.

I confidently put on the saddle, buckled the girth and walked out of the washrack to grab the bridle.  When I turned around with bridle in hand  Bernie’s legs buckled and he collapsed on to the mats of the washrack.  The fall frightened him, causing him to flip and thrash around in the crossties.  Luckily the crossties have quick release connections and one of them gave way.  After a couple of seconds that felt like hours, Bernie settled down and laid (lay, laid) down in the washrack, confused.  He was still enough that I approached his head and unclipped the crossties on each side of his halter and backed up so he could get back up on his feet.

I got two steps back when he launched himself up off the ground with his hoof pointed like a ballerina’s toe slamming straight down on top of my foot!  Wham!!!  My entire body got hot with adrenaline, followed by a cold, clammy sweat!  Yes, Yes, Bernie was fine!  However,  my foot felt shattered.  I was lucky to be wearing my riding boots at the time.  I know this incident is not uncommon.  We have all had hundreds of foot smashing, toe stepping incidents but it brings up a conversation I have every summer with students concerning barn footwear.

Invariably , every summer I will have a conversation with at least two or three different students who will show up at the barn for the day with flip-flops or sandals on.  I always say “you probably need to wear something more substantial, you might get your toes cut off”.   The reply that follows usually sounds something like “I’m not going to get my horse out of the stall, I’m not even going to lead a horse”.

This sounds fine, in theory.  However, you never know what might happen that you may have to become involved in.  If a horse gets loose and you have to help catch him, you are suddenly leading a horse.  If a horse gets tangled in a wire and needs immediate help, or falls in a crosstie, or a hundred other emergency scenarios and you are needed to jump in and help out, it is not practical to be wearing footwear that will compromise your feet.

Even here in the hot and humid South, and even as cute as your sandals are, and even if you are wearing shorts, sturdy boots or shoes are your best choice if you are at the barn for any period of time.  Dont fret, your Facebook pictures will look cuter with you with boots on than with you on crutches anyday!

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.