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.

 

 

Check the Frequency

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ~ Nikola Tesla

frequency

 

Whether you’re looking for a new horse or just lucky enough for the opportunity to ride many different horses it is important for a rider to gauge the “frequency” or energy level of the horse to be ridden.  People with a lot of experience or particularly good feel do this, on a subconscious level, by sensing tension in the horse’s body and observing body language and facial expressions that indicate the horse’s reaction to the rider or environment.  A misjudgment of the frequency can not only make for a bad ride but can be dangerous to the horse and rider as well.

Like the horse, a rider carries an innate level of energy.  A particularly fearful, or frenetic rider carries what I would describe as a high frequency. This type of rider generally does well on a lazier, or low frequency horse.  With little effort the lazy horse moves more forward when paired with the high frequency rider.  This same rider on a high frequency or hot blooded horse causes chaos and runs the risk of being out of control.

Similarly the low frequency rider, one that is not easily rattled and carries themselves with a sense of calm, is best suited for the high frequency horse.  The pairing of the low frequency rider on a low frequency horse generally makes for a painfully sluggish and boring ride.  This rider lends a calming effect to the high frequency horse, pulling the frequency down to a ridable level.  To be able to successfully ride all types of horses a rider must be able to control and alter their own frequency level.

Like most exercises, learning to alter your energy level begins in a contrived fashion; however, with time and practice this becomes second nature.  Using imagery and breathing techniques common to meditation, practice exhaling tension out of your body and relaxing your muscles consciously when your horse’s energy level rises, even if you are mentally anxious.  Expect that when you exaggerate your relaxation it will pull the frequency level of your horse down, closer to a level where communication can continue.  If your horse is lazy, a low frequency type, imagine an electric current vibrating through your body and mentally increase the voltage until you notice your horse reacting to your aids more promptly.

Whether it is learned or inherent in a rider, a relative gauge of frequency  is necessary for effective communication to be achieved.   Understand the frequency and master controlling it and you will positively increase the level of communication you share with your horse.  Better communication between you and your horse causes good vibrations.  Ohm…..

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Sometimes it’s easier to sit than post….

It looks likes it’s going to be another blogging year.  My first attempt at blogging brought many unexpected results and events.  Some of the changes brought about feelings of pride and a sense of self-worth.  Other changes, while still enlightening,  forced reflection on aspects of dressage, or organized horse-sport in general,  that I had never before contemplated.  While I feel overloaded with ideas to blog about, my less naive side now worries that every story will read as either self-aggrandizing, cynical or sales pitchy.  When these feelings start making me avoid the vulnerability of writing this blog my new inspiration is to go back to the relationship between the rider and the horse, a relationship without angles or agendas.  Following is a letter from a student that I received about a year ago.  When the distractions of competition, politics and profits get me down, letters like this one, and others from students past bring me back to that concept of what “success” in the “horse industry” means to me.

This is published with permission from the author.  Thanks Jess, your unabashed sincerity humbles me.

Meet Mr. Smeets….

 

Ron helps Lauren with the connection

Ok, ok…It’s hard to think of a catchy title that rhymes with Smeets!  That’s what I have to work with however, as it was the second day of another great clinic with international rider and trainer Ron Smeets from The Netherlands.  Anyone that has visited my website, Tango Dressage, knows I am a big fan of Mr. Smeets.  He travels to the U.S. on a regular basis in order to  maintain a consistent training program.  I try to ride with Ron every opportunity I get, however, unable to ride this weekend I observed from the sidelines as several of my students took advantage of his expertise.

This is the forty-fifth post I have published on this blog and several times leading up to the weekend of the clinic I felt it would boost rider entries to post an article about Ron and previous clinics, however, these attempts remain unpublished as I have come to realize that if the intentions of my posts are anything other than my sincere feelings or opinions at the time of writing than they are nothing but advertisements and advertisements are always biased to favor the advertised.

Sincerity is the trait that I admire most in Ron’s professional dealings.  When you ride with Ron it is evident that he cares if you understand what he is trying to convey in the lesson.  This is not just true of upper-level or potential horse purchasing clients.  Ron routinely spends as much time and energy as is necessary to make sure even more novice riders understand and benefit from their ride, even if his lunch break or rest breaks are depleted by doing so.

The same sincerity that conveys concern for the rider’s education also puts the rider in the hot seat at times.  Don’t expect phony compliments or platitudes from Smeets.  His concern is with the education of the rider and the welfare of the horse and if a mistake is made and repeated, expect to hear about it until it is corrected!  He is never unkind or condescending but instead determines what a rider is capable of and pushes them to meet that mark.  It is a quality in a clinician that I greatly admire as so many clinicians I see under-challenge or placate riders, as they wish to maintain a loyal following, but platitudes do not make a Grand Prix rider.

This is the last day of Ron’s clinic and I look forward to riding with him when he returns in June.  His dressage knowledge and teaching style make him an excellent trainer.  His sincerity and candor make him an exceptional person.

Click here to visit Ron’s website R.S.D.H. in the Netherlands.  He has exceptional dressage horses for sale and is available for training at his new facility.

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!

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.