Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dead Birds and Horse Show Superstitions

Every athlete, no matter what sport, has some superstition or ritual they hold dear. For years I wouldn’t compete unless I was wearing Mickey Mouse socks.  The socks developed holes and my horses continued to do well, so I haven’t felt a need to replace them lately.  Besides, Linda, Secret’s mom, has it covered.

It all started at the Region 8 show in Saugerties, NY last September.  When Linda was setting up Secret’s stall, she found a dead bird. Secret did super that weekend, the little Frie-Rab holding her own among some tough warmblood competition. 

At Morven Park this May, Secret was not herself.  She was hormonal, crampy, tense, grumpy, and really wanted to stay in her stall with a heating pad and a box of chocolate. Our performances in the ring were further hampered by some biased judging--the judge actually wrote on the score sheet “limited by genetics.”  I tend to agree with the judge, but the gene I blamed was the x-chromosome, not the bloodlines.  And there was no dead bird.

Last month, we went to New Jersey for the Memorial Day show, and as Linda was cleaning Secret’s stall, she unearthed a dead bird. Secret proceeded to do awesome, placing high in really tough classes against some really fancy horses. 

Then, on Friday, as we were loading for Ride for Life, Linda found a dead bird in the hay loft. And yes, you guessed it, Secret rocked our world. She danced her way through all of her tests, earning a career 3rd level high score of 65% for a red ribbon.

I was beginning to worry that we would have to start sacrificing birds before each show, when thankfully Rebecca came to the rescue. One of the vendors at the show was selling dog toys, and one looked amazing like a dead bird. Linda bought it, and then hung it from baling twine next to our ribbons. Yea, our barn has a weird sense of humor….

Another weird quirk in our barn is naming things. We name everything. My rolling tool box that holds my grooming and show equipment is Max, the chest that lives in the trailer with the “life ends if we forget this” stuff in it (extra standing wraps/girth/reins, light bulbs, and the ever-important roll of toilet paper, etc.) is called Stanley, and the big box that holds the tack stall set-up equipment is Corry. The bird needed a name. So Cara dubbed the bird Ted. 

Ted, bring us luck in two weeks at Region 15. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

PVDA Ride For Life

When I was putting this year’s show calendar together, I saw PVDA’s Ride for Life,  a show that benefits breast cancer research. Someone along the way, my grandmother I think, equipped me with a sense of social responsibility. I get to play with the ponies all day, so I kinda feel like I cheat on it a bit. This show was perfect--it met my need to feel socially responsible while I played with the ponies. Plus, most of us have been touched by breast cancer in some way.

My touch came through Sue Steele, my first “real” dressage instructor. When I decided I wanted to learn real dressage, not just dressage-to-get-to-the-cross-country-course, I tried the instructors in my area. In the not-so-ripe dressage Mecca of central Illinois, that gave me few choices. When I tried Sue, her approach to my education was so markedly different than the others that I stuck with her. 

Sue was exactly what I needed. She was straight forward with her instruction, patient with all of my questions, and understood that, although I had ridden and competed since a young age, I was new to dressage. I needed time to develop some things, but could be pushed in others. Her direct, clear instruction brought me from learning the bending aids to competing 2nd level in two short years. When I had the opportunity, she encouraged me to take my first working student position where I could continue to grow as a rider. 

Sue wasn’t warm and fuzzy. A mutual friend described her as crusty, but as cliche as it sounds, under that crust was a heart of gold. Her Midwestern directness allowed few complements, so when she labeled me her “star student” shortly before I left Illinois, I was surprised and flattered. Her belief in me was a source of strength during the fatigue and insecurity of my working student years. 

Shortly after I moved to South Carolina, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent the usual treatment. It went into recession for a while, and then returned. This time the cancer won.  Sue faced her disease with the same direct, straight forward approach she took to dressage and to life.  

I think of Sue whenever I fix my rebellious right leg or use one of her exercises in a lesson. She shaped me into the instructor and trainer I am today.

This weekend, at Ride for Life, I ride in memory of Sue Steele, my first dressage instructor and my friend. You are not forgotten.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dressage Kids Round Three

Of the many things that kept me hopping this winter, the kids were the most fun. I love teaching kids dressage. I have taught many young dressage riders in my career, and they seem to come in waves. My first group of kids are now grownups (which makes me feel really old….), and my second round are now all either in college or recent graduates. I was beginning to think my clientele had changed, but then Wendy, who owns Slingshot and Glory Springs, where I teach several times a month, asked me to teach her daughter, Paige. One thing led to another, and now we have a third round of dressage kids.

Alexa on Maggie
Since I'm dang proud of my kids, I thought they deserved a blog. Plus their parents sent me some great photos.

I think adults sell kids short when it comes to dressage. If a kid can take up the violin at 5, or ballet at 4, then they can learn dressage--real dressage, not flatwork in circles, but real, through-the-back-and-to-the-bit dressage. 

In several ways, they are easier to teach than adults.  Kids have the luxury of complete focus—they don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner, or how to get everyone to soccer practice. They haven't lived long enough to pick up the baggage and self-esteem issues that cloud most adult riders. They can just focus on their riding.    

And boy are kids focused. They want to ride better, and they want to ride better now. If I tell a kid to spend 10 minutes every ride working on walk-trot transitions, or working without stirrups, because it will make their riding better, they do it. If I tell them to do sit ups and stretches off the horse, they do it. And they get better because of it.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that I short the kids on the technical stuff. They get the same dressage theory crammed into their lessons as the adults. Paige, age 11, and Alexa, age 16, can both tell you the purpose of intro and training levels. Paige and Jessica, age 11, can tell you the first three steps of the training scale, and if I ask them to describe what they feel in their ponies in terms of the training scale, they can. Heck, Alexa can give you all 6 steps, and tell you the purpose of first level. She could even describe the aids for a correct back-to-front half-halt and for shoulder in.

Alexa, Paige and Maggie
For a moment, please indulge my slightly-off-topic soap-box. Adults’ favorite excuse for being outridden by the kids is fear. They claim kids are braver than they are. Not so. Every young person I have ever helped has been afraid. Heck, most of the kids came to me because they were afraid of jumping, and I was one of the few instructors that wouldn't pressure them to go over fences. Kids often outride adults because they are more determined. They are willing to do the hard, hard work required to master this sport. They’ll do the no-stirrup work, they will trust my eye over their feel, and they will let the process of dressage training sculpt them into dressage riders. The only fear I see more often in adults than kids is fear of failure.

Lest you think I prefer teaching kids, adult students have their benefits too. Adults are more willing to indulge my dressage-geek long-winded bio-mechanical explanations. Plus it's socially unacceptable to share an after-lesson beer with an 11-year-old.

Alexa and Hakuna Matata, her new horse
Back to the kids – Alexa, Jessica and Paige, through the dedication and carpooling of their parents, spent quite a bit of time at SFD this winter. Alexa’s new horse is a 3-year-old (I know, kids should have older horses, but this isn't a normal 3-year-old, and Alexa isn't a normal kid), so she divided her time between several of the trained horses in the barn. 

She went into the winter with a blue from Dressage Seat Equitation already under her belt, so she looked pretty on a horse. This winter we made her effective. She learned to use her half halt to make a horse more uphill and increase the thoroughness, swing, and suspension. She also learned to ride leg yield, shoulder in and counter canter. Her new boy has benefited from her time on my schoolies, rewarding her with high-score intro at his first two shows. She also shared Maggie, Paige’s pony, for Pony Club Dressage Rally, where she earned high scoring C-level rider with a 70%. 

Paige and Maggie
Paige’s pony, Maggie came down to SFD for a couple of months this winter. Last year, Paige competed Sweet Lilly, her oh-so-reliable pony, to OVCTA Intro Champion. Over the winter, we cemented Paige’s move up to the more-dramatic-moving Maggie. When they arrived, Paige wouldn’t mount Maggie unless I was in the ring, performed a rather fluid emergency dismount at the first sign of trouble, and cantered only when I begged. Before they went home, I would come to the arena for their lesson to find Paige warming Maggie up in all three gaits. This winter, she learned to trust Maggie by learning to channel that fancy, powerful hind leg. At this year's Pony Club Dressage Rally, the pair earned a 70% , for high-scoring D-level rider.

Jessica and Mohican
Jessica and her mom spent the fall looking for a large pony for her to move up to, and after looking at countless ponies, decided that they had the perfect pony in their own back yard. Cara and I spent April and May teaching Jessica and Mohican to slow and steady his tempo, rebalance from a lighter half halt, and to canter like a big boy. Since Jessica’s plans involve eventing, we even got to take Moe out for some gallops and school him over fences. That pony doesn’t say quit. Jessica went to Dressage Rally with Paige, and scored a 63.5 for a red ribbon, with their team bringing home second place overall. 

Jessica and Moe
Alexa and Paige have a summer of local dressage shows, including Dressage4Kids in July, and possibly a few Dressage Seat Equitation classes thrown in. I suspect Jessica and Moe will join them for some dressage shows this summer, but right now they are gearing up for Jump Rally and Event Rally in June.

Congratulations and more good luck ladies, go show ‘em how it’s done.

Gotta love that enthusiasm!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kristen's ride at Thorncroft Handicapped Rider's Event

Before Doug and I opened SFD, I spent two years as stable manager and instructor at Hope Springs Equestrian Therapy.  Since my background is able-bodied riding, not physical therapy, I taught students with mental handicaps and mild physical disabilities.  At Hope Springs, I learned as much as I taught - about caring for older horses, about breaking riding techniques into steps for every learning and physical ability, about the dedicated parents of kids with disabilities, and the courage of the kids themselves.  

When I went from freelance dressage instructor to renting a farm six years ago, I had to make the difficult decision to let Hope Springs go. A few of my Hope Springs students weren't happy with my decision. Kristen Chelmow was one of those students.  Since we first met, Kristen has finished high school, graduated college, and is now is working on her masters degree.  She is also a regular competitor at OVCTA schooling shows.  Watching her grow as a rider and as a person is one of the joys of my job.  Below is her story of competing in this year's Handicapped Rider's Event at Thorncroft. 


On May 28, 2011, I had the opportunity to represent Straight Forward Dressage at Thorncroft, the Handicapped Riders Division of the Devon Horseshow, located in Malvern, PA.  Victoria Franzen coached me as I rode her horse, Clyde, A.K.A. Silver Lining, in the advanced rider dressage test and equitation class. I had an amazing team rooting me on that included Joyce Faccenda, Jennifer Olson Bryant, who trailered us over there, her mom, and my mom.  I only had one goal at this show: to have fun.  I accomplished this due to Victoria’s wonderful coaching which helped calm my nerves and the fantastic staff at Thorncroft who encouraged me to smile my way through the dressage test.

The dressage portion of the competition required me to ride Intro Test B.  I enjoyed watching the other riders warm up, and I appreciated their enthusiasm and support as we each prepared to enter the show ring.  At the end of the test, everyone said that I seemed to enjoy myself.  Even though I thought that I had concentrated too hard to smile, the pictures don’t lie. 

With dressage completed, I could now turn my full attention to the equitation class.

Prior to the competition, Thorncroft organizers informed riders in the advanced classes about the possibility of including a Figure 8 in the equitation class.  In several lessons prior to the competition, Ange Bean worked with me to perfect the Figure 8 pattern.   I practiced and stressed about it, and of course, as it turns out, they never asked us to do one.  The caller asked the riders to trot, walk, circle, and change direction.  I received third place in Intro Test B and equitation, and consider it an honor to have competed with four fantastic riders including Special Olympians, Kate Burns and Leslie Hartman, Lauren Woodburn representing Freedom Hills and Kelly Rubin of Thorncroft.  Thank you so much to everyone at Straight Forward Dressage for your support and expertise.  I look forward to smiling my way through future competitions.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Photos of Moving Day

Special thanks goes to Linda and her new camera. She's getting really good with it.

Sling obviously had a hard time adjusting to the new place :-).

Silly checking out the new place

The current tenant of Hickory Springs farm, Taco, doesn't seem at all upset by our moving in.

"Carrot-Lady-Liz, this doesn't look like a horse show."

If Amazing -Super-Working-Student Kelsey had more hands, she'd probably try to do even more than she already does....
Yep, I really got to ride on Sunday.  Amazing.   

A HUGE thank you to everyone who pitched in to make this move go so smoothly.  I owe you all big time.  I can't say thanks enough.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

SFD has a New Home

First, my apologies for the silent blog – I can’t believe I let two and a half months go by between posts. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I just haven’t been able to sit down and write.  Kelsey, the Amazing Super Working Student (yea, that is her official job title, especially after this weekend) is back, so I will be able to find the time to blog more consistently.

The big, time-absorbing event– we moved!!! I’m very excited about our new place.  We have 23 stalls, indoor and outdoor arenas, and –drum roll please – 24 acres of pasture divided into everything from tiny paddocks to a big, 8 acre field.  This is the best turnout I’ve had in Pennsylvania.  I can offer horses whatever they need – whether they need  a small, don’t-run-and-hurt-yourself postage-stamp sized paddocks, or a rolling hill to stroll up-and-down and strengthen their stifles.  I can customize my turnout as much as I already customize the grain and the stall choice.   

Our new location is at 9 Lyon’s Run Road, Glenmoore, PA – less than a mile from Journey’s End (we seriously considered hacking the horses over, but one section of road lacks a shoulder, so we decided to travel in trailers).  Banbury Cross has been there for a number of years, and when they relocated to Journey’s End, I jumped on the chance to grab the facility. 

This move, compared to the move from Red Bridge, was rather uneventful. Tylene only showed up for a few brief moments (and again, my apologies to anyone who happened to be around during those moments. I really shouldn’t let hoses get me that angry….).   Cheryle actually gets a lot of credit for keeping Tylene at bay.  She asked everyone to direct questions her way, instead of to already-overloaded Ange.  This let me focus on what I needed to focus on – getting horse management set up and horses settled.    

Before I begin describing the move, a huge thank-you to everyone who helped– you are special people to brave helping me with this move coming so soon after the last one.  You guys rock.

After Cara and I finished the training on Friday, Kelsey, Cara, Amy, Shelly, Cheryle, and I moved the bulk of the training equipment, medical equipment, extra blanket storage, fans and feed room, and set up the stalls.  Saturday, Cara and I moved the horses in the morning while Kelsey, Amy, and Joyce cleaned out our stalls at Journey’s End.  In the afternoon, while students were moving their trunks and equipment, Cara, Linda, Kelsey and I brought over the wheel barrows, tools, water tubs, and all of the other things that couldn’t leave Journey’s End until the horses did.   Kelsey and I spent Sunday putting things away and creating systems to keep everyone’s stuff organized.  And--brace yourself—Sunday I actually rode my horse.  This contrasts sharply to the 5-day riding dry-spell I had when moving to Journey’s End.  Riding is Prozac for me, so once I got on Venus, the manic voices in my head settled, and I started to be able to see clear pathways through the workload.

We have a lot of work to do to get the place up to where I want it, but the basic framework is in place.  The wash rack in the indoor arena has some flooding issues, the fences need to be Karison-proofed, and I need to buy a fun motorized toy to make mucking, watering, and moving hay easier.  And the whole place could benefit from a paintbrush, but with so many offers of help from students, I think a pizza/beer/painting party may be in the future. 

The horses have already settled. By Saturday night, only our hot-potatoes were unsettled. By Sunday, they all acted like they have been there for years. 

Linda was popping photos like a paparazzi, so hopefully I’ll have a photo-blog soon.

Happy riding,