Hocus Pocus- and the article is done!

 

caitlyn3As a writer it’s flattering to be asked to write an article or a piece to help promote a horse show, horse event or horse related charity.  It’s especially exciting when the show is located here in the Atlanta area and will attract top riders as it’s the first CDI3* to be held in Georgia.  As much as I would like to say I penned the following piece for the GDCTA newsletter, I instead made the brilliant decision to delegate it to one of my young riders that is also an aspiring writer, Caitlyn Bennett!!!

In addition to being a dedicated eventer Caitlyn has written several pieces for the GDCTA newsletter and is also a talented fiction writer.  She gets inspiration from her adventures with her self started Mustang,  Hocus Pocus, and the rest of the gang of barn rats at North Atlanta Equestrian Center in Cartersville, Georgia.

Much thanks to Caitlyn for helping me meet a deadline and writing an article that is as much fun as she is!!  If any of my other students, or any other readers, young or otherwise would like to submit a horse related writing of any genre to be considered for my blog please feel free to contact me at tangodressage@yahoo.com.

Caitlyn and Hocus Pocus will be at the show April 7-10 with many other students from Tango Dressage so come on out and meet us and enjoy some top riding- and some of the other Olympic hopefuls too!!!

Official show information can be reached here!

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Caitlyn and Hocus

The Following was written for the GDCTA by Caitlyn Bennett, 13 years old:

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to compete on the same grounds at the same time as Olympic hopefuls? Well, here’s your opportunity. The Greater Atlanta Dressage Southern (GADS) horse show is held the same weekend as the prestigious CDI3*, the last qualifier for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

The CDI3* will take place April 7-10 at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, with the GADS show starting on the 8th and ending the 10th. GADS provides a great opportunity for riders of all levels to be able compete, watch Olympic hopefuls, and meet the “best of the best,” who will possibly represent our country in Rio this summer.

 

Having the CDI3* at the park that Atlanta built for the 1996 Olympics and being where those athletes competed is special in itself, but it is a really big deal because this is the first time the event will be held in Georgia. Even better, they chose GDCTA to host it!

 

Why is it so important that you go? By participating in GADS I and II ( both USDF recognized dressage shows) and by being a spectator or competitor for the CDI3*, you are part of history in the making when GDCTA brings CDI3* to the Peach State.

 

The CDI3* is free to watch. The GADS shows will open on February 15, 2016 with a closing date of March 16th. Slots will fill up fast, so what are you waiting for?  Join all of your GDCTA a friends and get yourself and your mount registered for GADS I and II and come watch and/or compete in the CDI3* and show your love for U.S. Dressage in Georgia.

 

Besides, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of putting on your best show clothes and posing next to your horse as you prepare to participate in GADS I and II, and then posting something like this to your social media channel of choice: “We’ve made it to the Olympic qualifiers in Atlanta.  Wish you were here!”

Doesn’t Matter

Me and Jim Dorsett after my fall
Me and Jim Dorsett after my fall

Admittedly it took me smashing both my legs and spending a year in a wheelchair before I felt empathy for fearful riders.  Although I knew all the catch phrases to try and teach someone that was afraid,- “he’s not going to do anything”, “nothing’s going to happen”, “doesn’t matter”, I really didn’t understand that it was a physical problem to be frightened, not a mental one.

It’s easy to stand on the ground when someone is fearful and logically explain why they have nothing to fear, or even what to do if they experience loss of control.  These are things most people can understand and conceptualize, however; when a person has been hurt, or just has a fear of being hurt no logical understanding overrides the blast of adrenaline that shoots through their body causing a cold sweat to break out on their forehead.

If you are trying to teach, or help someone that has this fear, understand that they want to get through it or they wouldn’t be there.  If possible get on the horse first and show them how quietly he goes around the arena without spooking or falling.  Sometimes it’s helpful when the rider is on the horse to get them talking about something else in their life, maybe their family or their job, to distract them from the situation for a minute.  This will keep them from over analyzing their ride.  Put a grab strap on the saddle or a stirrup leather around the horse’s neck for them to grab if they feel the need to.  If they become overwhelmed with fear and feel like they must get off the horse try to be supportive and understanding, even if you have never felt this way yourself.  Everything doesn’t have to be conquered in one day.

If you are a rider that has experienced a bad fall or is fearful for some other reason, realize you are not alone.  Many people feel fear and express it as anger or frustration.  Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your trainer about your fears.  This will save a lot of time and confusion if the fear is getting in the way of training.  Never feel “less than” because you are afraid.  Eventually most everyone gets to experience this most unpleasant of feelings.

It took a long time after I began riding again to feel confident enough to train a horse again as opposed to just sitting there fear struck.  Fear can be overcome but it never goes away completely once it  becomes a part of your psyche.  If you have a bad day just spend the time on the ground with your horse and don’t let one uncomfortable feeling keep you from what you love. Get back in the saddle tomorrow, it will be a better day.  I promise.

 

 

Back! Back in the Saddle Again….

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Thanks Dad, for everything

 

Well, Back to the blog again anyway! It’s been quite a hiatus and I’ve missed my readers and fellow bloggers, but like true friendships a time lapse won’t matter.

I’m in a different state now, geographically anyway, and spend most of my day caring for my elderly father. Although it has altered the way my horse career operates I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am fortunate to have a career doing what I love because my family made the sacrifices necessary for a horse obsessed little girl. For that I will always be grateful.

This change in schedule has given me less time to teach, but more time to write and I’m hoping we can resume the conversations I have always appreciated with my old friends and hopefully some new ones too.

Say What?

Scott Peterson communicates with his horse before the show!

One of the challenges in teaching dressage lies in formulating analogies and phrases to evoke the proper “feeling” between the horse and rider.  On the technical side this includes teaching the mechanics of the movements, the relationship of the aids between the rider and horse,  and the systematic use of the training scale.  More imagination is required on the abstract side, as one must describe  feelings.  Elasticity, forwardness, throughness and many other dressage terms have either different definitions in the real world, or no  application whatsoever.

Many times word selection is pivotal in eliciting the right response from the rider, both physically and emotionally.  This obsession with word choice causes some clients annoyance as I use their questions and interpretations of their rides as indicators of their understanding of the training concepts and of their relationship with the horse.  An example that comes readily to mind is the common malady, “he keeps throwing his head up!”  Although visually this is true, the rider’s choice to focus on the horse’s head leads me to conclude that the rider does not understand that the horse’s head is not the problem, the problem is losing engagement and dropping the back, the head tossing is merely a symptom of this problem.  When focusing on the horse’s head position the rider will usually correct the head tossing with the reins.  This correction is temporary however, as the problem itself has been left unaddressed.  By asking the rider to think and speak in terms of the horse’s back, as opposed the head, it increases the likelihood that he will take the steps necessary to correct the source of the problem, and not patch it up for a few strides with force.

“He keeps drifting out!”  Another clue to a misunderstanding.  If the horse is drifting, breaking stride, speeding up, slowing down or any other deviance from the rider’s intent it is not “his” fault.  If he is doing it, it is likely that the rider is inadvertently asking him to do it.  Pointing out this word choice problem is not one of my more popular speeches.  It almost always merits an exasperated sigh and “you know what I mean”.  The problem here is that, yes, I know the rider is trying to convey the nature of the error, however the words selected indicate that the rider believes the horse is responsible for the failure of the exercise.  The same observation worded “I’m doing something that keeps allowing him to break or asking him to break” is more indicative that the rider is taking responsibility for the error, thus making correcting it a possibility.

A client of mine, a young rider that rehabilitates traumatized horses, used to describe resistance by the horse as “fighting”.  Although I know that she is not using the word literally, or in any way being unkind to the horse, I stop her explanation every time the word fighting is included.  It is important to me, as the trainer, that the relationship between the rider and the horse is one of teaching and understanding.  If the rider feels that the horse is malevolent as opposed to confused then the course of action will be disciplinary instead of instructive.  The word fighting indicates a combative stance with the horse that is not helpful in the training process.  It is the responsibility of the instructor to ascertain the rider’s understanding of the training relationship.  To assume an understanding, in spite of terminology to the contrary, can be a mistake the horse must pay for.

After each lesson use your own words to convey your understanding of the concepts addressed by your trainer.  Your explanation may illuminate misunderstandings that  prevent you from being  the partner your horse deserves.

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

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!

Horses are Welcome too!!

Me and Sam in England ’75
Me and Sammy in Germany ’79. Ponies make great teachers!

Saturday promises to be exciting as I am spending the day with some of my best friends, Ponies!   The Atlanta Pony Club is meeting me at Foxberry Farms in Dallas, Georgia for a full day of dressage lessons.

This is not my first time teaching the ponyclubbers and I hope I will be invited again.  Having started riding in England I had a short brush with the

British Pony Club and have a great deal of respect for the organization.  Any rider that has earned the rating of “A” ponyclubber is not only qualified to be a professional rider but has proven to be an expert in horse and barn management as well.  To check how you measure up click here for the United State’s Pony Club’s  Standards of Proficiency for H-B, HH-A Levels (the horse management section of the “A” level).  The Dressage Specialty Riding Test is no walk in the park either!

As riders “rate” through the system, starting with the fundamentals of horsecare and riding, they prove their skills through testings.  These are no easy tests!  Safety and the integrity of the ratings are a priority and much preparation, instruction and hard work goes into preparing the riders for their ratings.  Rallies are held for concentrated coaching before rating sessions and the ponyclubbers must work together with a team in all areas of barn management.  To make sure the kids are focused and learning the information themselves, parents are not allowed in the barn area at rallies.

Don’t get the idea that Ponyclub is all work and testing!  Ponyclubbers learn while having  fun!  Jumping, gymkhana, eventing, foxhunting, all types of English riding opportunities abound, both at the local and national level. Scholarships are even available for hard-working applicants.  If you are a young rider or if you have a young rider in the family I strongly recommend Ponyclub for a well-rounded horseman’s education.  It’s a well-known fact, no one can teach you more than a pony!

United States Pony Club

Atlanta Pony Club