Monday, May 31, 2010

Running a Business Part 1

I love to ride, and wanted to learn to ride better. That’s how this all got started.  College left me a bit fried, so I decided to take a year off to ride before going to vet school. So I packed my dogs and cat and belongings into a Budget moving truck and headed south. One year turned into 4, with 3 different working student positions, and when I had enough of those arrangements, I entered the horse world as a “professional.”
Now keep in mind, I went off to learn to ride.  Not to run a business, but to ride. 

In fairness, Claudia Garner, tried very hard to get me to focus on the business side of it – we spent time discussing promoting myself, creating a professional image, etc.  And John Krueger made efforts to go over the numbers of running a business with me.  I paid attention, but none of this prepared me for the hardest parts of running a business.

So I thought I’d write a bit about my process of trying to learn to be a boss. This will take a few posts, so here’s the first.

Staff Skills Part 1

Yea, horses are easy, people are hard.  As any of you that know me in real life know, I’m probably not the most user-friendly person. I try to be, honest I do, but my red-headed sarcastic side dominates most communication.  Combine that with a rather blunt honesty, and I spend a lot of time with my foot in my mouth.  When I was 20, everyone said tact would come with age.  If this is true, at my current rate of improved-tactfulness, I’m not sure I will live long enough.

If dressage teaches us anything, it teaches us to practice, to study, and to get help.  A funny thing about help, it tends to show up on its own time and place. Like this video, about what motivates people, showed up in a French horn blog I follow.  Not exactly what I was expecting when I went looking for advice on improving my horn playing, but cross-training is good, even cross-training of advice.

I watched the marker go over the board (why is watching anyone draw so completely addictive???), he hit the point of what motivates people.  As a boss in the oh-so-lucrative horse industry, his points that increased monetary incentive does not cause increased production is, frankly, a huge relief. 

Then he talks about what does motivate staff.  In short, the video says staff is happiest and most creative when they are left to be happy and creative, without their boss breathing over their shoulder.  This rings true with me.  I am always at my most productive when I generate the idea and have minimal oversight in getting it done.  My inner boss thinks I should follow this idea.

My inner boss has presented me with quite a challenge. 

You see, when I really look at the business of SFD, there’s the boss I want to be, and the boss I see myself becoming.

The pictures don’t really match.

Let’s be real, I’m a Dressage Geek. This defines me as a red-headed, type-A, detail-oriented control freak who knows she is right.  Trusting others with details is tough.  Especially since these are MY training horses, MY business, MY dream.  Heck, I hired Cheryle specifically to help me with the details of all of my crazy ideas.  But do I allow room for other folks ideas? Probably not.

SFD, which turned 5 this month, has grown beyond me.   Somehow, the MY needs to become OUR.  I need to figure out how to inspire ideas, then quit micro-managing, and trust my staff to be as motivated and high-standarded (is that a word? It should be) as I am. 

I write this as I am preparing for a breakfast staff meeting.  The meeting was originally set to go over feed stuff, but somehow I think this topic will trickle in.  I’ll let you know how.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pictures from the Region 1 Adult Dressage Symposium

Cara and I watched from the doorway, so we could stand in the warm sun :-)

Charlotte stressed that the walk work had to have lots of forward movement with a round neck, and had us spend our breaks in the extended walk instead of the free walk.

I know my head is cut off, but look at her balance!

Secret and I grooming each other is a regular ritual, at home and away. This horse is such a joy.

Clinic Report - Region 1 Adult Dressage Symposium with Charlotte Baker

Clinics are risky.  No matter how well you do your homework, you won’t know if you, your horse, and the clinician will be a good fit until the lesson actually starts.  In a regular lesson, if it’s a bad fit, you can just head home and forget about it.  But clinics usually come with auditors, so if it goes badly, well, it goes badly in public.

The good news is the Region 1 Adult Dressage Symposium’s clinician, Charlotte Baker, and Secret and I were a good fit.

Secret is not a warmblood.  She is a Friesian/Arabian cross, which means she has the drama of the Friesian with the intelligence of the Arabian. 

Unfortunately, she also has the upright neck of the Friesian with the tight back of the Arabian.  Many clinicians have seen that neck and missed the tight back.  Those clinicians have coached me to lengthen my reins, with the goal of getting Secret’s neck as long as possible.  But with her tight back, that just doesn’t work.  We end up with her poll getting low, her nose coming behind the vertical, and her strides getting quick. 

But Charlotte wasn’t going to make that mistake. 

Charlotte immediately identified Secret’s problem (and neatly coached the auditors into also seeing) as a need for more suppleness in the back, and set to work loosening the dramatic little black mare.  She gave us several leg yield exercises, from the standard leg yield from centerline to the rail in trot and canter, nose to the wall leg yield in trot, and a nifty leg yield from x to the corner followed by a canter depart.  She followed that up with some lateral work in trot. These worked like a charm, and Secret’s back got softer and softer, and her neck came longer and longer.

Then Charlotte wanted to see our counter canter. Counter canter has been our nemesis ever since last fall, when I started playing with lead changes. I have put the lead changes on the shelf, but Secret, in that wonderful I-can-do-whatever-my-human-wants-if-I-just-try-a-little-harder mare attitude, still wants to show off her new trick.  She will maintain counter canter from the walk without anticipating a lead change, but if we change directions from true canter to counter canter, well, Secret knows exactly where to put the lead change, whether I cue it or not.  The right lead is significantly more prone to random lead swapping. And the more pressure we add (like a clinic or a show), harder she tries, and the more she swaps leads. 

Charlotte has this great technique for when things go wrong.  Instead of trying to push through it, she steps back and breaks the exercise into its component parts – the buttons that need to work in order for the exercise to be easy for the horse.  After a little exploring, we found that, when in the right lead canter, Secret’s reaction to my left leg is to tighten her topline and hurry, throwing her off balance. Then she uses the lead change to correct her balance.
Then Charlotte did something uncharacteristic in a clinician. She broke the rules.  She said “Generally, we don’t want to have a horse go with his haunches in while cantering, but for this horse, this is the correct correction.”  She did an excellent job of making sure everyone understood why this unconventional correction was correct.

We put Secret on a circle and worked with her to get her to give me haunches in on the circle, while maintaining her tempo, and bend, and a soft neck.  This was no easy feat.   Charlotte tactfully interspersed humor when things started to get tight with an “On the bit? Oh, yea, that too.”  Maybe Secret wasn’t the only over-achiever in the ring…

We didn’t get it 100% at the clinic, but the amount of suppleness we did create gave us a much better collected canter. In the week working with this since the clinic, she has gotten much more supple and relaxed about my left leg. I have not tried any challenging counter-canter lines yet, as Charlotte’s advice for me was to focus just on the canter haunches in for a little bit, then go back to the counter canter. 

On day two of the clinic, Secret’s soft back and longer neck proved that Charlotte was on the right path.  We continued with more suppleness work, this time utilizing bend changes in the lateral work (shoulder in to renvers, half pass to leg yield).  We also spent some time playing with transitions within the canter.  Charlotte made Linda, Secret’s owner, and I beam like kids at Christmas with the words “this mare has a lot of ability in the collected canter.” Watch out warmbloods!

In addition to my lessons, I took pages of notes, writing down the different suppleness-generating exercises Charlotte used for each level.  My horses at home have been reaping the benefits.

Thank you USDF, for making this excellent clinician affordable, to OVCTA’s great organizing, and Hassler Dressage for their incredible footing (the barn is nice too).  The clinic was truly a joy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Here we go Again

Tomorrow I head down to Hassler’s to ride in the Region 1 Adult Dressage Symposium. The clinician is Charlotte Baker. 

When I first heard that Secret and I had been accepted, it was a couple weeks after the Klimke clinic, and my first reaction was “Oh no… not again.”  But this clinic will go better. 

For starters, this week ran smoothly.  It was packed to the gills, which is pretty normal for this time of year, but no major disasters occurred (yet), which is good.  I haven’t slept on the barn floor once this week.

Plus this time I’m going with friends.  Cara was also selected, so she, Linda and I got a room at the guest house.  I know several other riders as well. 

But most importantly, I know I am a skilled trainer. My happy, progressing horses say so.  And no two-legged authority figure is going to override their opinions.  If it all falls apart and I ride poorly in front of an audience again, the sun will rise the next day, and I put my breeches on, and go to the barn and ride.  I ride because I love to ride, and no one’s opinion will take that away from me. 

I won’t make that mistake again.

And if I do, may every one of you point me back to this blog.