The Passing of a King

Tears flow as I write a tribute that I know can never measure up to the great horse King owned by my dear friend Kim Abernathy. King passed away last week at the age of 25.

I’ve started and then erased this post many times now as the words I put down just feel flat compared to the respect I sincerely have for a horse that has touched and changed the lives of so many people.

I’ll try instead with an open letter to King.himself.

Dear King,

I hope wherever you are you are as happy as you have made so many people while you were here with us. Kim’s facebook page is full of posts with pictures of you from people that have loved you and learned from you for so many years. You were a loyal friend to Kim and helped her become the amazing teacher she is today. You gave Lauren your all and gave her the foundation to be the beautiful rider and trainer that she has become. As you grew older you patiently and lovingly helped countless kids learn not only to ride but how to love and respect animals in a way that people can’t teach them. Please know that you were truly a King among horses and everyone that had the pleasure to have known you is richer for it. Rest peacefully my friend.

Much love- Suzanne

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Keep the helmet, ditch the Tux…

 

“Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.”  Jane Austen

Understandably there has been a lot of controversy lately over the possibility of mandatory helmet rules for dressage competition.  Although personal safety should be an individual’s choice it is difficult to defend the decision of  not protecting one’s own head.

The main concern for not mandating helmets seems to lie in the fact that helmets are not as visually appealing when worn with the customary dressage attire, particularly the shadbelly jacket.  A top hat, which offers little to no protection at all, is far more appealing when wearing such an outfit.  Recently, as a possible alternative to helmets, companies have been designing “hard-hat” type top hats as they have for cowboy hats for western rider’s safety.  These hats, while safer to ride in, are bulky and clumsy, thus negating the point of having a visually appealing hat.

Although this suggestion may upset some classicists I believe it may be time to consider embracing the helmet and updating the attire.  Yes, that means quit competing in tuxedos.  Tuxedos are certainly classy outfits for weddings or the opera but not necessarily clothes that inspire athleticism.  Many other athletic events require helmets and  maintain a dignified but athletic turnout.  In addition to being visually compatible with safety gear, more athletic attire can be manufactured with fabrics that are more conducive to sports functionality.  Wearing a blazer and an Ascot with leather boots while participating in an athletic event in the deep South in September seems somehow non-sporty.

While I have a deep respect for tradition and believe that the principles of  riding and training should be passed from generation to generation, the time may have come to consider updating the attire of the modern equestrian.  Athletes in every sport benefit from advances in fabrics and modern technological design for comfort and performance, why not us?  If we want the rest of the world to respect our sport as an Olympic discipline we may have to suit up looking like the athletes that we are.

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!

On a more Serious Note…

 

I usually try to avoid news related topics, as news is more accurately reported on news sites, this forum is generally based on my opinion but it seems pertinent to address the recent tragic accident of America’s Olympian Courtney King-Dye.  If anyone is still unaware of the accident she was riding a young horse in warm-up at a competition when the horse slipped and fell, fracturing Courtney’s skull.  Courtney is still in a coma at the time of this writing.  Horse Channel.com has an article with more details on the accident and an address to Courtney’s Facebook page as well as a mailing address for well wishers.  I will include them at the bottom of this post as well.

This accident has stirred a lot of debate in the dressage community concerning mandatory use of helmets at competitions.  I received a letter from my local GMO yesterday requesting feedback from members of the equestrian community, as horse show organizers are fearful that if they alone enforce such mandatory regulations they may suffer loss of entries to shows that do not enforce the safety measures.  While I understand that entry money is what makes horse shows possible, hiring judges possible, etc. I am saddened that cash flow is the determining factor in most every decision that arises anymore.  It seems that competition dressage should now be termed commercial dressage.

As those who know me can testify I rarely, if ever, wear a helmet.  I am certainly not bragging about this, just stating the facts before someone else does in my comment section!!  In fact, I was forced to purchase one to ride while schooling some riders on a cross-country course a few years ago and in mock protest picked one with a picture of Mickey Mouse riding a horse on it.  After that day, I wore it very rarely.  It is not that I consciously disagree with the use of helmets,  I wore them when riding as a child and when I used to jump.  I believe I am of the age that safety was not as stringently observed and regulated as it is now.  Seatbelts were not mandatory and I’m not sure many people used them when I was young.  Nobody wore helmets when riding a bike, or skating as they do now.

I was, however, bucked off a horse a few months ago that was startled by my swishy jacket (see my first blog post!).  The next time I rode the horse, I removed my jacket! and asked the owner if I could use her helmet.  She had a Charles Owen helmet and it fit me perfectly.  The horse behaved wonderfully and luckily I didn’t have to test the helmet but I must admit I did feel safer and rode less apprehensively wearing the helmet.  After the ride I examined the construction and realized they have come a long way from the Mickey Mouse helmet that was little more than thin plastic over egg cartons.

Ever since riding with that helmet I tossed around the idea of purchasing one of my own.  Oddly enough I bought one the day before Courtney’s accident.  It is still not a natural instinct for me to grab it and wear it every time I ride, but I did yesterday and I do see the value in it.  I don’t yet know where I stand on mandatory helmet rules.  This opens up more questions like wearing protective vests or break-away stirrups.  I am coming around myself, however, to wearing the helmet, both for my own safety and as an example for the kids I teach.  As for the adults, that is a decision they can make for themselves.

I sympathize greatly with Courtney and her family and wish her the speediest recovery.  Please send her your well-wishes on Facebook or by mail.  Every acknowledgement and intention of well-being goes a long way in helping the recovery process.  She is a great rider and an inspiration to all dressage enthusiasts.  It is an unfortunate reality that no matter how many safety regulations are enforced, there is always a risk of injury when riding a horse, no matter how accomplished the rider or how quiet the horse.

Check out Behind the Bit’s post today for some interesting information on head injuries.

We’re all rooting for your recovery Courtney, get back in the saddle soon.

Dye’s Facebook page

Courtney Dye
2442 Muir Circle
Wellington, FL 33414

comebackcourt@gmail.com

Anyone wishing to donate to the Medical Assistance Fund can make checks payable to:

Courtney King-Dye
c/o Lendon Gray
25 Lake Ave.
Bedford, NY 10506

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

It’s About Time….

“If your early you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re late you’re left behind.”

A successful competitor prepares ahead for the next exercise!

Despite the less-than-cooperative weather we’ve encountered this winter the competition season is upon us.  Time to start navigating through the tests and working out the geometry of the arena.  Just the mention of test riding has a paralyzing effect on many riders.  It may be more productive and less fear inducing to think of it as a demonstration of your training rather than a “test”.

A ride in front of a judge, (as well as at home for that matter) should always demonstrate the rider’s understanding that maintaining and/or improving the horse’s natural gaits are the top priority.  A quality transition ridden a stride late is more acceptable than an abrupt, unbalanced transition ridden precisely at the marker.  While riding the diagrams accurately is always important, the test is designed to demonstrate that the rider has an understanding of the correct fundamentals of the level being shown.  Of course, an accurately ridden figure is ideal, but never sacrifice the balance!

Preparation for each movement is the responsibility of the rider.  This is what the corners of the arena are made for!   There are two opportunities (corners) before each movement to make sure that the horse is forward, engaged and on the rider’s aids.  The set-up for the next exercise should be done in the corner before it is performed.  If the rider fails to utilize the corners to adequately prepare the horse, resulting in a movement that is marred by a loss of rhythm or balance, the price will be paid in the rider’s collective marks.

Several times before the show, have someone videotape your test ride.  It is not uncommon to feel that the horse is clipping along in a forward fashion, only to see the ride on a video later and realize it was actually painfully sluggish.  The opposite is also true, I have ridden many tests that I thought were nice and steady only to see them on video and realize I was rushing the horse off his feet.  Ride the rhythm of the gait and work the exercises around it.

In the end, nobody, including the judge, is expecting perfection from your horse.  The show is designed to demonstrate that your training is progressing correctly to continue through the levels.  Ride your horse proudly and be forgiving if he is less than perfect.  Even if there are errors in your ride, a tactful rider that is grateful for the ride is a winner in any good horseman’s eyes every time.

And the Winner is…..

It’s always exciting when I receive feedback from readers of the blog.  Today’s comments brought an extra-special surprise….. An Award!!!!  Yes, a fellow blogger, The Literary Horse, has bestowed upon me the coveted “Beautiful Blogger Award”!!  I’m very flattered as her blog is brilliant!  If you haven’t already started following her blog it is linked under my blogroll on every post.  Why she is doing her blog for free when I would gladly buy her writings if they were published is beyond me, but I’ll take it while I can!   There are fifteen other recipients of the award listed on her site, some of them I have read previously and some I have just found today but will be following from now on.

The award comes with two stipulations.  I must list seven things my readers may not know about me (hmmm..scary!)  and I must choose fifteen blogs in which to bestow the award.  The seven things I can manage.  The fifteen blogs will be a little trickier, as I have only been blogging a couple of months and haven’t had time to build a large base of other blogs to follow.  In order to provide the links I will post the links of the other recipients, as I have previewed them all tonight and they are all great.  As a matter of fact they are so good I am afraid I will lose my readers to them, but I greedily want to post my award so I will do it, and add one that I like as well!

OK.  Seven things nobody knows (or not many people anyway!)

1.  I have a tattoo of my late Malamute, Samson’s, paw print and name on my leg.

2.  I went to bartending school, but never tended bar.

3.  My Mom washes my show clothes and mails them back to me because she gets them the whitest.

4.  I don’t own a television- hence the blog!

5.  I still think I’m a teenager, but my license says I’m 42.

6.  I once hiked 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

7.  I tilt my head at a ridiculous angle when I teach and can’t stop no matter how hard I try!  (What’s the deal with trainers and head tilting?)

The Literary Horse’s Beautiful Blogger Award Recipients:

In addition to Jane’s blog I would add Retired Racehorse as a recipient.  Natalie is a frequent blogger with a great site heralding the Thoroughbred.  Her posts and her comments on other’s posts are always insightful and funny.  I will post more recipients as I commit to reading more blogs.

Sincere thanks to Jane at The Literary Horse for reading and acknowledging my blog and congratulations to the other award recipients!  I consider myself in fine company.   I encourage everyone to check out the links to the other award winners that Jane honored.  There is a lot of pertinent information and positive energy being exchanged on these forums.  If you are so inclined you may want to start a blog of your own.  Everyone’s point of view is important and you never know, you might even win an award!!!