Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keep Calm...

This highly praised wardrobe essential can be yours, but only for the next few days -- sales end April 21.  This is a Bonfire Fund Raising Campaign, and the way it works is for each t-shirt sold, $5 goes toward SFD's Instructor Education Fund. But it only goes through if 50 shirts are sold. If less than 50 are sold, no one gets charged and no shirts are mailed out.

I started this drive about a week and a half ago, and it's almost over. As of this writing, we only need to sell 7 more shirts. Who wouldn't want this amazing piece of cheezy horse wisdom?

But now to the inspiration behind turning me into a salesperson.

As I'm sure you've noticed, education is pretty important to me -- of my students, of my staff, of myself.  Heck, it's so important to me that we give it away for free in our Open Training Demos. 

So now I'm going to ask you to give back.  But you get something for it.  A cool t-shirt.

This an outgrowth of of my crazy idea I wrote about in a blog last August, about how if we really want to improve the quality of dressage in the states, we need to invest in our local instructors.  Of course, the most local instructors I know are, well, Maddy and I.  

Last year I applied for, and received, an awesome training grant from the American Morgan Horse Association.  With it, and help from some of my clients, I spent two weeks at Hassler Dressage really focusing on my skills. I came out of it a better rider, and therefore a better instructor.

I also came out of it hungry for more.  

So this year, I decided, in addition to our normal monthly investment in instructor education, SFD would ear-mark proceeds from our Schooling Show Series, including sponsorships, for instructor education.  

But that did leave a gap, for those who want to help on a smaller scale.  So I found this t-shirt fund-raising campaign, and decided to give it a try.  

The catch is we need to sell 50 shirts for it to fly.  So buy a shirt for you. Buy one for your friend. Buy one for your significant other. Heck, buy one for your dog. 

Then Maddy and I will go get an inspirational lesson, and come come home and pass that inspiration on to you. 

If you want to do more, like use our sponsorships to advertise at our facility during our many educational events and schooling shows, follow this link to more info, or contact me at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning to Ride

This is written by Maddy Mangan, SFD's Assistant trainer. I started teaching Maddy when she was in junior high, and after a break from riding while she was in college, I happily accepted her back as a working student two years ago.  Her work ethic and commitment to her education impressed me enough that after her time as working student was over, I offered her the title of Assistant trainer.  I asked her to write a blog about the difficult process of learning to ride in such a way to improve a horse's overall balance. I hope reading about her learning process helps you with yours. ~ Ange


 By Maddy Mangan

About a year ago, when I was offered the assistant position at SFD, I decided to take the plunge and go full time in horses. As a young professional, I knew I was sorely lacking in show miles. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a horse to compete on. So Ange so graciously offered to let me bring her big, black mare,Silhouette, back into competition after time off as a broodmare. I was thrilled except that there as another problem. I could not for the life of me figure out how to ride the black mare with a big engine and big attitude.

So the struggle began.

Ange warned me when this started that Silhouette is a tricky ride. She has a sensitive mouth and hates to go on the forehand, so riding her uphill from the seat and leg is really important. When the rider gets it right on Silhouette, she locks into a wonderful, uphill floaty gait. But if the rider doesn’t get it right, Silhouette tells on the rider by nodding her head like a bobble-head doll and squealing in the canter departs.

Ange’s goal, besides giving me a show mount, was to take my riding from the “steady-keep-you-head-down-horse stage” to learning to ride my horses with lowered hips and a more uphill balance.  Which, of course, takes that elusive dressage thing we call “feel.” In short, Ange’s goal was for Silhouette to teach me how to ride.

I took lesson after lesson trying to get the “feel.” This is one of the most difficult parts of dressage. Learning and teaching “feel” is tough because “feel” is a bit different for each rider. Ange had to translate how “feel” felt to her into words, and hope those words translated to something my body could lock into.  So much of dressage is figuring out the right balance and feel for each individual horse at each moment of the workout, so sorting this out at this stage of my riding career is pretty important.

Ange was trying so hard to help me. “Ride her hind end, don’t worry about her head,” “Don’t fight with her mouth.” And the list continues. I just could not figure out the balance of my aids to help Silhouette understand that I wanted her to carry herself more uphill.

It is not that I did not understand how Ange was trying to get me to ride this horse, but Silhouette and I just could not find the right place where we clicked. We just kept fighting with each other. There were some very good rides and I would think “yes I finally got it!” but the next ride I would just not be able to recreate the feel from the day before. I was getting very discouraged.

So Ange put me on Venus for a few rides. She is quite a different mare then Silhouette, more tolerant and very kind (no head bobbing or squealing or anything), so I felt a little more at ease on her. During a lesson on Venus, Ange had me working on transitions. We started with halt to walk, focusing on keeping Venus’ shoulders up-which is really easy to feel on Venus as the pommel of the saddle practically drops if she isn’t keeping her shoulders up. If she dropped her shoulders, I had to make her halt again. By the end of the ride, Venus was taller and more connected. It was like the front of the saddle not only lifted, it became connected right into my seat.

I took this back to Silhouette, hoping it was the missing piece. It certainly helped, but Silhouette seemed to still be getting trapped somewhere. I just could not carry it through like I could on Venus.

One day, Ange called me into the arena. She was riding one of the training horses and asked if I wanted to hop on a get a feel of her. I never turn down a ride. Ange told me that she had been working on the half halt, very similar to what I had been working on with Venus and attempting with Silhouette--half halting with my back and lower leg, asking her to carry on her hind end, and then release up and out. It was the same feeling of keeping the withers and shoulders up like on Venus, but for some reason on the training horse, the feeling was a light bulb moment for me. I had to hold her on my seat with shoulders and core but let it out in a controlled way. I had to own every step. I had to own the balance. Could this be the missing link for Silhouette? Was I just letting the energy spill out over the front of the saddle, instead of lifting the shoulders up, and letting her fall more on the forehand?

So again I brought this new light bulb moment to Silhouette. Half halt the balance onto her hind end, then own the motion and allow it through, controlling the out. I focused on keeping her shoulders more up and not letting the front of the saddle drop at all. And it finally clicked! Six months of struggling and I finally had found the key to the uphill balance that Silhouette needed to be through and connected.

Of course I was worried I would not be able to carry it to the next ride, but I got on telling myself that I could. And I did.

Silhouette and I still have a lot of work to do but I am happy to say that we are now working together and not fighting. And I certainly know that I have a horse to show this summer.

So Miss Silhouette, you are teaching me to ride!