Friday, November 23, 2012

Inspired by Training

Besides the day-to-day teaching and training that is my job description here at SFD, my calendar gets filled with lots of other activities. I tend to mentally divide those extra activities into 3 categories: things I do to make me a better trainer, things I do to let other folks know I’m a better trainer, and things I do to make other riders better trainers. In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to do all three, and in that order.

The first event was the Young Dressage Horse Trainer’s Symposium.  This is an annual event in my calendar. Each November Hassler Dressage and Harmony Sporthorses sponsor this amazing event.  In this event, a group of trainers get together with some big-name expert-from-out-of town to discuss the training process of young horses from 3 to 7 years old.  This year we had two expert trainers, Ingo Pape and Oliver Oelrich, who along with Scott Hassler, lead the discussions about the training priorities and challenges at each stage of the young horse’s education.

This event is unique among the clinics I attend in several ways. First, Scott selects a bunch of horses aged 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 years old.  We see them all, one after another, staring with the 3-year-olds.  Getting the opportunity to see the training continuum of a young horse’s education all at once, and see how their mental and physical maturity is carefully considered at each training stage is really unique.

Second, this symposium is typically led by two like-minded trainers, with them alternating teaching of each student.  After each lesson, the other clinician joins the discussion about the effectiveness of the training approach, and where to go next with each horse’s training. Getting to see two different trainer’s approaches back-to-back really stimulates a lot of thoughtful discussion. 

Third, this symposium is big on discussion.  Horse folks tend to be opinionated, and Scott does a great job of keeping all of our discussions on topic in a positive way.  Most of us trainers do the bulk of our training alone, and getting the chance to discuss training with a bunch of like-minded and like-experienced professionals in a positive, supportive setting is really neat.  This symposium has, in a large part, improved and clarified my approach to developing young dressage horses.  As always, I come away from this event inspired to start my winter training.

The Symposium ended on Saturday night, so on I took Secret to be demonstration riders for DVCTA’s L program.  We rode in groups, with Secret and I in the 2nd level group. The rides and discussion were directed by the instructor, Jayne Ayers.  
The L program is the first step to becoming a USEF Dressage judge, and as an L graduate myself, I feel the need to help out as the guinea pig in their educations.  Plus the candidates and auditors get to see me in action, something they don’t necessarily see at a show. Let’s face it, few people watch dressage shows (because if all goes well, the rides are smooth, flowing, and, especially at the lower levels, dull), so I try to take advantage of any non-competitive opportunities that come up to let auditors to see me train.  Since I ride so many non-traditional dressage breeds, the ribbons at the super-competitive shows in this area really don’t tell the whole story anyway. 

The format, in which we warmed up, then stood around and waited for the instructor to need us to demonstrate different movements, made it tough to present horses at their best.  Plus Secret came out of the trailer feeling pretty frisky.  Secret showed her friskiness as she usually does, by showing the L candidates that shortening the Friesian neck in an attempt to collect the trot really isn’t collection. Happily, she redeemed herself in the canter, allowing Ayers to point out that although Secret didn’t have as much innate elasticity as the fancy imported warmblood in our group, she had just as much collection.

Then, last weekend, I got to go back to Standing Ovation Farm outside of State College, PA, to teach.  This is the 5th time I’ve been up that way, and many of the riders are repeat students. I am starting to see some really amazing changes in the horses and the riders, which makes me super excited, especially since most of the riders are young people.  Who says kids can’t do dressage? Of course they can. They have great feel, and they often have the luxury of parental support to focus on their riding.

The trips to State College are additionally fun for me because I get to help Lindsay Armstrong, head trainer at Standing Ovation. As you probably gathered from the start of the blog, training horses with another trusted trainer is really fun.  Lindsay and I worked with two mares last weekend, and discussed what she feels and what I see, and using both her feel and my eye, came up with a training path to hopefully have both mares show ring ready by spring. 

As cheesy as it sounds, getting to do these three things in this short of a time makes me feel nostalgic of how this whole trainer-student-trainer continuum is supposed to work.  I became the student at the symposium, and was able to then become the trainer in the days that followed.  Getting input on my knowledge from students and other trainers broadens my knowledge, and explaining what I have learned clarifies my thought process on what I know, in essence making me a student of my own teaching, which of course inspires my teaching and training. The circle of trainer-student-trainer creates its own inspiration.  Which is exactly how it is supposed to work.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hurricane photos

We had quite minimal damage, 4 trees down and one section of the roof damaged. We are really thankful, it could have been quite worse.

The calm before the storm. Obviously, the storm preparations
really stressed our horses out.
The tree that stole our power
Seeing the bottom of trees is kinda freaky....

This roof panel was sheared and banging in the storm. This wonderful mare controlled her fear and let me lead her out of her stall in the dark.  It could have ended badly...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Horses in a Hurricane, a little late - pics to follow

I wrote this last Tuesday night, when we were on day 2 of no power. Power came back to the barn on Thursday, but not to the house until Saturday, with internet restored yesterday.  Tethering my phone to the computer gave me limited access, but not enough to blog, so here's the better-late-than-never update on how we fared.

With Sandy’s untimely visit, Facebook abounds with photos of the incredible amount of destruction brought by Sandy’s torrential rain combined with the cold front.  With all the hype the media has given this storm (I suspect because reporters are tired of reporting about the election…), many friends and family have checked in to see how we managed on the farm. For readers who keep horses, this post is going to be kinda dull, but for my rare non-horse-keeping readers, who we will now refer to as NHKs, well, this blog is for you. 

For starters, PA is not really known for hurricanes. Usually by the time they get to us, it’s just a nasty storm with a lot of wind. That being said, we have our fair share of weather-related disasters, usually blizzards, and with so many animals dependent on us, we learn to be prepared. 

The big concern for horse owners during a natural disaster, well, really anytime, is colic.  Colic, for the NHKs, is the biggest fear of horse owners. If you, as an NHK, want to see looks of horror and grief, ask your horse keeping friends about it. But be prepared to hear all of the horror stories of all of their horse friends, who of course you haven’t met, who has lost a horse to this horrible thing. Yes, horses really do die from a belly ache. 

Horses, like us, have only one chamber in their stomachs, so are prone to all of the same GI issues as humans – gas pain, ulcers, constipation, etc. But with horses, with ¼ mile of intestine wrapping around inside of their body cavity with just one attachment spot, all GI issues are a bit more volatile. A horse’s intestine, when under stress, can wrap itself around into all kinds of inappropriate knots.  

The best defense horse owners have against colic is hydration and consistency.  The first item, hydration, becomes much more complicated during a natural disaster.

In pretty much any natural disaster, on a farm, loss of power is a given. In the country, this creates a huge problem—no power means no water. For townies, if you lose power, your water still runs. Not so in the country, as wells require electricity.  And horses drink a LOT of water-on average 15 gallons a day.  Hurricanes come with lots of water, so barring trees falling on buildings or fence lines, a minor hurricane can be easier to deal with than a blizzard. 

To prepare for our water shortage, Doug put water barrels at the ends of the downspouts.  All told, we can collect over 300 gallons of rainwater from the barn roofs.  Plus, prior to Sandy’s arrival, he made sure all of the troughs in the fields were full, in case we needed to bucket-brigade from there.  Several times a day, Amy, Maddy or I faithfully make sure all stall water buckets are full to the top, using water from the rainwater catches, so the catches could refill.  Yes, that means I can’t keep my normally high standards of super-clean-or-else water buckets, but it is a hurricane, I do have to let my standards drop a little.

Once hydration is established, horse owners turn their attention to thier next best defense --consistency. Consistent turnout (NHK translation - time in the grassy fields), consistent diet, consistent exercise, consistent temperatures. But natural disasters, by their very nature, disrupt all consistency. So we do our best to keep the things we can control as consistent as possible. 

Turnout isn’t really an option, and because of that, their diets are missing several hours of grazing. But with our indoor arena (NHK translation – huge, warehouse-style room with a sand floor), we can at least keep them moving.  So once chores were done (by flashlight – we have an impressive flashlight collection these days), we got all of the horses in the arena a bit.  The bare minimum was 20 minutes of hand walking, and everyone pitched in to help.  Some of the boarders were still house-bound by downed trees, but the boarders that could make it happily walked, lunged (NHK translation – human stands in the middle holding a really long rope and the horse makes circles around the human), or rode an extra horse while they were at the barn.  All the horses have been super, no loony bucking or goofing off under saddle. On the lunge line or loose in the arena, well, that was another story.  Harry, at the ripe old age of 4 months, is playful on a normal day. His acrobatics in the arena have been a source of much laughter for all of us.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime Wednesday, so hopefully the horses can get back to their normal routine on Thursday.  Peco still has no idea when they will restore our power, so for now the house is running on our generator. It powers the furnace, the house well (we can schlep water over to the horses once the rain catches run out), and the living room outlets.  The barn doesn’t have a generator, which means no lessons once the sun goes down.  So tonight I enjoyed a couple of good beers, had some pulled pork BBQ that Doug had made ahead, and watched the extended version of Lord of the Rings.  Then attempt to tether my phone to my computer to borrow some internet, and post this masterpiece. 

Stay dry, and enjoy your running water for me.