Excerpt from an humble “expert”

“I hate writing, I love to have written.”  Dorothy Parker

Writing this blog, originally a writing exercise imposed upon me by my roommate, an avid birder that blogs daily at thebirdhousechick.com, has brought about many unexpected benefits and pleasures to my life.  While it sometimes seems like a chore to sit down and torture myself with self-doubt and criticism just to get three paragraphs completed, once it is finished I feel a sense of relief and am usually inspired for my next topic.

In addition to the cathartic experience of sharing issues that are dear to me I have met so many other bloggers, and many other riders that stumble across the writings and share their comments and insights. Some of them are professional trainers and many of them amateur riders that are passionate about their journey with riding.  Without the global reach of the world-wide web I would never have met these kindred souls that share my love of dressage or horses in general.  The comments and e-mail I receive as a result of my small blog have inspired me and made me feel part of a community in which I have never felt included.

It was a great surprise and admittedly a source of confusion when I received an e-mail from Frances Keller, an organizer from the historic and distinguished Dressage at Devon horse show.  The correspondence was an invitation to attend Devon as an “expert commentator” for the Prix St. George class held in the famous “Dixon Oval”.  My first response was that the e-mail must have been sent to me inadvertently so I replied to Ms. Keller to inquire why I had been included in the group of experts that featured top judges and top competitors from across the United States.  It seems she came across my website and blog while looking for Scott Peterson, a great trainer I have listed on my resume’.  After reading the site Ms. Keller invited me to be a commentator as she felt that some of the listeners may relate to my point of view as a contrast to the great judges they have scheduled to speak.  I am very humbled by the invitation and hope that her instincts prove correct.

Although I am nervous about the prospect of speaking to such a large audience without the time to edit and rewrite that I am afforded by writing a blog,  I am more afraid of “flinching out” on an opportunity to be included in such an esteemed panel at such a dignified event.  So Thursday I board the plane to face my fears and hopefully offer a perspective that remains true to myself and resounds with others.

If any of my fellow blogging friends, or others that follow the blog are going to be in attendance at Devon please let me know so we can finally meet.  I consider you all part of my journey and wouldn’t be included if it weren’t for your kind words and inspiration.

Check out the page of “experts” here.

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!

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

comebackcourt@gmail.com

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