Sunday, July 24, 2016

I'm a sucker for pain

I'm a sucker for mares. Pony mares are truly my soft spot when it comes to things. 

So when I sold Fahrenheit and became in between serious sales horses I started wandering around the internet just looking at things. 

I had a few owners looking in the market but they were looking for broodmares or lovely young horse resell projects. I wanted really wanted something with no expectation. In short, I was wanting a summer project to fill a gap.

I never particularly commented or showed interest in anything I saw. They were just horses that I knew were not in the best of ways or needed a lifestyle change, they would get those with  the people responding to them. 

When I stumbled across an ad for a free RPSI pony via a friend, I stopped and responded. 

She was pretty, fairly good type and relatively near.

So I jaunted out to see her. 

She was less than impressive with her presentation. The owners had cut her tail off, wretchedly kept feet, covered in dew poisoning, unhandled, and her mane was wild dreadlocks. In many ways, it reminded me of when I pulled Sinari out of the backwoods ghetto tobacco field at three.

She was the essence of ghetto and the definition of redneck. But still all the parts were in the right places. The then owners were basically going to give her to the Amish, and knowing what unbroke, slightly opinionated ponies do, it would have not been a good ending for either pony or human.

A few phone calls, I convinced an owner to take her on, so a few weeks later after we cleared the health papers and paperwork she got into my trailer with some chemical and physical assistance and headed to a new life. 

When she stepped off the trailer, the mutual reaction of people was of general concern for my mental health.

The problem is after you've had a Haiku, a Fahrenheit, a Flair and even a Sinari, the expectation becomes a double edged sword. On one hand, you have really nice horses, that have gone on and done good things, and the assumption is that you'll continue on this path. On the other hand, the perception is you've had it easy and those nice horses were just flukes.  

Truth is, in this industry, you're only as good as your last horse and while I choose nice horses, my team and I have to make them even nicer. 

The first days were interesting. She stuck out like a sore thumb with her tail bobbed off, and lack of social skills in a herd of 16 plus hand mares. Her world, basically was turned upside down. Everyone thought she was a yearling with her size and lack of maturity.

She became a project, first were the feet and teeth, then it was getting her into a nutritional program that wouldn't overwhelm her. She was groomed, daily, and taught to tie. Then the work began.

She took to it, happy to have something to do. She liked the attention and every time out she improved a little. There was never a real issue that she could do whatever job I asked. 

21 days later she's started, and already she's showing good talent and what's more is she's unafraid. It's an asset to have any horse like this, it makes working them easier, and it's a gift especially with the ones that for the first three-quarters of a decade haven't done anything except eat and loaf. 

While I know my barn will be full again with super horses in a very short time- I'm enjoying the little downtime with this one, and also the several  the mental health questioning and seeing where this takes us all. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mountain at my gate

Summers are a balance between financials and goals. 

On one hand you have the pursuit of goals, hours are spent at home riding, plotting, planning from early in the year. 

On the other hand your wallet screams in pain at every rip of the check book when the vet, farrier, coach, voodoo priestess, nomination, registration, show/clinic entry comes along. 

It's a nice relationship. They play, I pay.

My team and I have started a little later for our qualifiers, and this year the big goal is the USEF Four Year Old Finals in August. 

The calendar year for qualifying is short, and not every show counts for scores. There is only one qualifying class in the entire show and you need two scores, preferably three. 

 On top of this you have to count for growth spurts, horses doing stupid things to themselves, weather, crazy judge panels and a few other things. 

I'm also notoriously choosy about shows. Having been to the majority of grounds in the U.S., I know what I like and what I don't like. I also know since it's my money that I'm bleeding I get to make that decision. 

Our first qualifier is later than expected, Kentucky was a nice stepping stone but with young horses and KHP you never know what you're going to bring out. We were lucky that it went well on a basic level for materiale. 

Two weeks later there was another semi local qualifier that we passed on due to footing, panel and prep time. 

Instead, we traveled to Tryon over Majestic (six hour drive versus an hour) for better footing and a better panel. It's also the last score Fahrenheit needs for HOY materiale. 

The facility, which is new, is beautiful. You cannot really want for anything out there. The stalls are
great, matted, with fans. They lead out directly to the arenas. There is a dedicated horse path that takes you around the property and there are shaded wash racks. Live scoring, shopping, restaurants  and accommodation on site. If you live locally, you can haul in and out and work off the trailer for the day. It makes showing much more easy. 

They're still expanding. A new covered arena is developing, the cross country course for AECs is finalizing. You can see direction and joyfully, logic, for competitors and spectators. 

The show itself for us was a mixed bag. The first day was brilliant, Fahrenheit scored beyond expectations, a 79,9 with a giddy judge panel that confirmed what we've always known- he's a horse with a stellar future. They gave us things to work on.

 The materiale was better but, the score wasn't reflected, we still out scored the other horse by a solid 10 percentage points, but it brought our average down. Sitting second in the nation isn't such a bad thing especially given who is leading. 

The next day we were all exhausted. Between running around getting the truck fixed on the road, showing, socializing, strange beds all week (I shifted houses since my air conditioning broke and it was 100 degree heat index) and scheduling things, we made a calculated error in over warming him up. He lost the electric sparkle but still put in an obedient, quality test for a middle of the pack placing with a fair yet tough international panel. Impressively he still scored a 7,9 on the canter work. 

We are a bit bummed by not achieving that one goal this year, but really at the end of the day it's about producing an FEI horse. He will easily be that. 

Also in perspective we achieved something in 90 days of work (you're average horse has had about a year of under saddle time doing this program and has at least three shows already this year) that stood up to a good standard, it was a positive experience for him and for us and we're into our second year of producing from gate to arena. 

We're thrilled about the initial successes and what's coming down the pike, we got home safe, and the horse had a positive experience. You can't ask for much more.

Perhaps then it's a bit ironic and bittersweet that because we do so well in developing, that they sell well. 

It was exactly three days after the show, that a professional came in looking for her next Grand Prix horse and scooped him up. It's an excellent match, and she clearly adores him and will do a fabulous job and we're excited and pleased. 

But it means, as usual that we begin again. It's the nature of sales and young horses that we always start over and there is a lack of permanence in the barn. But we're not for wanting, there are two new horses coming in, one sales, one long term horse, and my breeders are breeding or buying more with their now consistent income from the work from my team. 

Flair is still being aimed for Fall shows and the IBOP, so I'm not without a ride. However, the barn will feel a little emptier and a bit more quiet that the goofy German chestnut is gone. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I spent a lot of nights on the run

It's been a few months since an update happened here.

It's not because there isn't anything going on, it's actually the opposite. Myself and my team have been busy, and to the point where I just didn't have time to update. 

Spring is here, and that means a lot of things in this region. It mostly means that we've stepped up to a full week of training, that foals are being born, dams are being rebred, horses are being sold, and the rigs remained fully hitched to go places. 

It's been a lovely blur. 

May we started back out showing. 

First up was the Spy Coast Young Horse Series, a show that I've come to love and really appreciate as a relaxed starter for my guys. We brought everyone out except Flair (who aged out of contention this year), and came away with qualified horses, ribbons, highpoint and cash. 

We then turned to Kentucky Dressage Association's Annual.  

This has been a staple in the community for 30 years, and I occasionally come to play there. It's my way of catching up with people, saying hello, and getting to sleep in my own bed at the end of the day, which if you travel the circuit, you come to really appreciate. 

It's not my favorite to bring untested young horses out since the atmosphere can be too intimidating, but we took Fahrenheit out for just a materiale class. 

The problem is that both Mike and I couldn't ride. Mike had to have some unexpected time off (he's fine), and my allergies had become so bad I had to carry an epipen incase I went into some weird attack or had a reaction to whatever happened to be in the air. 

So, I asked a favor and got a nice junior rider to pilot him instead. With four rides, he confidently put 
out a great result (78,9 and 81,5), and handled everything that the Kentucky Horse Park threw at him.    We're now focused on USEF Four Year Old Qualifiers at Tryon, Dressage at Lexington and a sale. 

Then there's Flair, who has become savant-like with work. On great days, she gives you changes (right to left is fab, left to right is... interpretive), piaffe/passage work, working pirouettes, walk pirouettes, super lateral work; and on the bad days well... the walls take a beating. 

She went in front of JJ in April and we've been taking semi regularly lessons off the farm.  It's been a tremendous amount of help in developing her since it's been a bit of time since my last young horse and my expectations have undoubtably changed. 

But putting it in perspective is that she's only been under tack for a grand total of a year. She's vastly 
changed from the Alberta Brown Cow to a lovely, modern sport horse.  

This year she has IBOP on the menu and I would really like to get her out at third if we can get our acts together.  

Then there's the steady drippings of sales, and looking at prospects. Already this year two have sold sight unseen. Justus SSM (Diamond Stud/Flemmingh/Ferro) and Mirage CBF (Balta C'zar) sold pretty quickly to their respective homes. 

My contacts in Germany are already looking at another young horse to come in, I have another client wanting to breed mares, and then there's another partnership in the works with another nice, young, horse, which will be sorted as soon as everything else gets sorted out. 

As for the rest of the year, Tryon will play a pivotal role as to if we pursue the rest of the Young Horse classes, or if we go more for the HOY items. Then there's the year end things of Inspection and Keuring, with no less than two or three to attend to in the fall, and the fall clinic schedule to host. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Take time, don't waste time

Spring is here, and very fortunately for myself and my crew we were spared the majority of winter.

Instead, it arrived all at once in two, one week spouts and then promptly melted off to a consistent 50 degrees.

It didn't prevent me from going to Florida for a few days in February for business, but at the same time, it allowed me to continue on with training.
My winter barn was full of young, green horses. Some client owned, some of them are my partnered horses, all of them are warmbloods from the Dutch or German books. 

The oldest of the bunch were currently five rising six and the youngest were three. My time was and
is still split between two properties at the moment. Winter was also a time that we really focused in on basics, and addressing some other things.

While there were several people aiming for an early start to the season, my season doesn't really kick off until May, at the Spy Coast Young Horse Show, so it's nice to take a breather from the constant push.

For me, winter is the "off time", despite still maintaining a six day a week schedule when the weather allows. The kids are still in school, just relaxed.

The relaxed time also means I get to catch up on my desk, and let's face it when I'm bored or trying to avoid reading the latest email, I read OpEd from the horse world. 

Young horses have recently become very popular to write about within social media.

It's been great to hear about other people's experiences and opinions on their own programs and theory. It's been interesting to hear perspective, from multiple sources, of a number of subjects, including the state of America's/Europe's breeding programs, Euro versus American breeding, import versus local, the use of Thoroughbred blood in the modern sport horse, thoroughbreds in sport, developing stages of the young horse, how horses "should" be developed, everything under the sun- if it was there I read it in the hours before I conked out for the evening.

While a few blogs grabbed me this season, two entries really stood out. The blog, written by a local Adult Amateur who rehabs, shows and sells thoroughbreds for herself and others, they write effectively, and entertainingly. They have a good platform, and for OpEd pieces they're easy, quick reads.

Therein lies the problem, when you have a platform and it's popular, I think due diligence on what you write is very needed. 

I don't know whether it's a lack of individual understanding, or a lack of general public knowledge, but where we are with young horses, isn't the same even from five years ago. Where we are as riders and a pool of specialist who do ride, and develop the young guys has evolved. 

Over ten years ago, we did not have a single championship for Young Horses, in any discipline, then the powers that be in USEF decided to pilot a program for dressage.

It bridged the gap from three year olds to four through six, then it expanded to include the Developing FEI classes. It gave young horses and young horse riders a niche market. It actually helped drive value in the young horses, and now with a bunch of young guys, I find myself starting to participate in that program with great horses that are wonderfully marketable.

If you're curious, Eventing, Hunters and Show Jumping followed suit to various degrees of success, and now Combined Driving.

We have major national championships, field the teams to world championships, have a great, growing pool of people (younger and older) who specialize, and unparalleled access to resources (both equine and education). We have professionals looking for their next top horses as yearlings and two year olds now. We have people who are just as well known for producing babies as others are for FEI horses. Heck, we even have qualifiers within an hours drive in the majority of locations.

It's progress and it keeps progressing.

Which leads to this, because of the quality of horse, the specialist nature of babies, and the generally good quality of rider, horses can be produced a bit more efficiently. It doesn't mean we don't take time, it means that we don't waste it.

Like human kids, every horse has mile markers in it's age.

For dressage the hard and fast rule is: three year olds should be going training level, four year olds should be doing first level, five year olds should be developing for second, and by six you should have a change. The window to easily put fitness on a horse, to have it open to new things is short.

It's the same reason why we start human children reading as early as possible versus waiting until they're 10 years old.

I'm not saying that every horse needs to be an FEI horse by seven, and I'm not saying that this is a hard and fast thing- some horses need more time, some horses, like one of my own, are a year behind because of other things (Flair was a broodmare), but if we're doing our solid basics from day one- 30 days should be looking like this:

(that's 15 rides)
to this:

(that's actually 20 rides)

and this:

and maybe after 90 days this:

So, yes, while the horse dictates a lot of the job, we cannot waste the time and windows given to us. Training is hard, and I know all of mine would much rather be eating grass than having a job, it's always a fine line. But honestly, no one ever died from being worked six days a week in a fashion that was tailored to them.

Not every horse is bound for Rolex, or World Cup, but as young horse riders, we can give them a huge, solid foundation to be great for whoever inherits them next.

So if they want to spend the next ten years bopping around at Training level or Novice or going all the way, they have the luxury of doing so because we developed them, from the start to be relaxed, submissive, straight, forward and going into a good contact.

We cannot allow people behind keyboards to pass judgment us on moments in time (because babies have a lot of moments- good and bad), or to take it personally because it's window of time that will pass.

But because of the way the world is, we also can't shutter ourselves in. What we can do is educate them and use the platforms that we are given as trainers and let the results speak for themselves.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We can be heroes

I haven't talked about Sinari in a bit.

Sinari has been a mainstay in my barn for over a decade and is the reason behind my career, and this blog title. She is the original dressage pony of Dressage Pony.

Back in 2012, we finally made it to PSG, and in 2013 after much hammering at fourth level, we achieved the Silver. She also earned my Bronze as well. She still remains a firm highlight in my career so far; but in 2014 looking at her age, and how much effort it was taking to do the grinding work of the Grand Prix it was time to take a step back out of fairness and also to keep her in good health.

I was disappointed that we couldn't do it. It's was a huge thrill to knock on that door. At the end of the day- we had our time in the sun and more importantly, I have to do what is fair for her. 

I left for Germany, she stayed at home to winter, hacking occasionally with a friend, not really knowing what to do next.  Sinari has never been, and never will be for sale. She's earned her retirement, but at the same time, she's not ready to retire.

At first I really wanted a junior for the FEI ponies. It would professionally be a blast to have a kid reach the highest point in a pony ride. After interviewing a few kids, it wasn't 100 percent the right match, plus the idea of pursing USEF Championships, as tempting as that would be, wouldn't be the right thing for her at this time after a long four years of putting together two medals, she still needed time. After a little bit of time, I found that person and Sinari was pushed back down the levels for her new adult amateur.

I've been quietly sitting on the sidelines as they've been getting to know each other for the last few
months with the focus of getting Bronze scores, as Sinari regains fitness and as her rider figures out her the buttons are.

It hasn't always been easy to watch her with another rider; and I'm sure she hasn't been the easiest horse to figure out especially after being developed to be a hotrod. I'm also admittedly a bit jealous (this includes after getting the rides on Flair, Haiku and Fahrenheit) from time to time. I miss the familiarity.

It wasn't until the the other day though when I was sent some photos and I knew in an instant it was the right decision to do this, and I can't wait to be the loudest fan in the cheering section as Sinari brings another rider out and gives them the dream I have. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Blue on Black

I've had been sidelined until recently.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Fahrenheit, showed how athletic he could be, and cow kicked my upper thigh.

It wasn't his fault, he became scared over a noise and as young horses are, reacted. I was also at his shoulder, so for him to plant one solidly on my leg took some talent; I'm not only reminded of this from the lump but also from the increasing pile of dead bellboots from when he's having a '10' day.

It hasn't been my year for injuries. I went to keuring with a black eye, and I remember doing a few naughty things to myself in Germany. I'm a klutz of the first order for 2015.

So, I was temporarily sidelined with a sleeve of black and blue bruises and an Easter Egg sized lump. The lump has gone down, but for the first few weeks I was miserable.

I was cleared to ride again about two weeks after that, at the walk and the trot, I was still doing yoga and I went through the repetitive motions of lunging everyone as much as possible.

But honestly, when you're used to walking a half marathon everyday, five miles is boring. It wasn't until a week ago did I feel honestly comfortable enough to canter, and strong enough to really do good work.

As boring as my rides have been- they've been more productive and I've been able to address Flair's trot more and little habits.

Flair has been roughly under saddle for close to eight months.

She has vastly changed from the Alberta broodmare to a sport horse who keeps on developing day in and day out.

At first, we were just focused on getting through all the physicality that she had to process, and now, my main focus has been developing her carrying capacity and balance. It's a tricky line to walk with her. She gives as good as she gets. If she's feeling physically great, she gives you everything, if she feels less than stellar then you have to discuss things and keep her mentally fresh. 

This is a mare who finds all the upper level movements easy and without question, fun.  There's not a day that goes by that I don't feel that she will be a very competitive FEI horse, but apart of the entire lifestyle change that she underwent is keeping up and ahead of the physical upkeep, she's doing well.

Winter is going to be full of refining basics, which is a welcome relief versus gearing in for spring.

Fahrenheit continues to progress, he currently has nine rides under saddle and is solidly walk/trot/canter with a smidge of lateral work and lengthening. Outside the arena, he hacks. Alone.  He's a great combination of sensitive, forward but with a brain firmly between the ears. He's just a neat horse.

Sinari continues to work well for her AA rider. I'm really pleased with how this pairing has turned out. She spoils her more than I do. She's not fully accepting that she's not the FEI horse anymore but I think she's much more comfortable in her roll.

I'm ending my year at home, something I rarely do these days, as my current schedule is fairly booked. Something I didn't expect. But at the same time, it seems to be the theme of the year; not quite what I expected.

I ended up in Europe (subsequently I was invited back but had to defer this year due to obligations at home), I met amazing people, I developed riders to their first medals, coached riders to the FEI, sold horses world wide, I have two regular clinics in Ohio and in Virginia, I developed horses to the top 10 and number one spots for the KWPN NA, we took two green (and I mean out of the field unbroke) and won, a lot, with scores breaking in to the 80's. I started importing my own horses from my source in Germany, and my investors and partnerships continue to expand.

My team and I did it. We were on the books successful. 

But for every success there was a setback. There were untimely deaths, there were friends who contracted crappy diseases, there were accidents (both personal and from friends), political backbiting and unprofessional antics; some from the usual sources and many from unexpected sources, there were unexpected bills, there was heartbreak for both myself and friends, lots of proverbial slamming doors and lots of tears.

But like time, I and my team, kept going and will continue on.

2015 Goals:

1. Expand clients, horses in training and investments that are capable, at minimum, of shining on the national stage and continue to be fiscally solvent. 
Done and continuing. Haiku, Flair, Fahrenheit were wonderful additions to the 2015 herd. The herd is also set to temporarily grow again with two more training horses for winter. Still working on growing fiscally.

2. Continue to increase fitness (human and horse).
Done. My average walking distance (according to iPhone) is 10 miles. A day. I conservatively burn 1,500 calories from just walking. 

3. Pursue the young horse track. Develop horses for the USEF Young Horse Championships alongside the USDF Breeders Championships with the aim of looking toward Verden. 

Done in a big way. Flair is pursuing the Developing Horse track, we need more time. Fahrenheit is working towards the four year olds, and if someone doesn't buy him by the end of the four year old year, he will be my Verden bid. 

4. Dedicate personal educational opportunities once a quarter with my coaches (in a non-clinic capacity) to keep developing. 
Kinda done. My first quarter and my second quarters were booked with Germany. By third quarter, we were hitting our stride and four quarter was a flop.

2016 Goals:

1. Pursue young horse track. Get into the observation sessions. 
2. Continue to increase fitness (human and horse). 
3. Continue to sell and source horses world wide. 
4. Continue to create and dedicate personal educational opportunities once a quarter. 
5. Continue to develop Flair.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nothing ever lasts even a cold November rain

It's taken me a while to write this post.

My Fall was already packed and going strong but around the end of October, things took a quick turn south and then proceeded to turn more south.

Between William's accident, scrambling unsuccessfully for Mary King to come over, coordinating Fahrenheit's delayed arrival and keeping Flair going I was overwhelmed and very much running on empty.

Then came the series of minor little incidents. The time switch and I lost hours of daylight alongside the reminder that I'm not heading South for winter, not being in control of my own schedule, odd bills showing up, some random theft, some untimely deaths and a few other situations that just knocked me off my flow. I felt like I lost ground and whatever momentum I gained from the summer.

All of it happened within a span of two weeks, whatever motivation I had pretty much went out the window. It wasn't anyone's fault.
Things are slowly returning to a proverbial normal thanks to going and teaching, gaining a few new sponsors, some new clients, and planning 2016. It's still a long way off of wherever I feel like I need to be, and somedays are still tough.
The horses are thankfully, going right along. 

Flair continues to develop with me. She's solidly riding five days with me and going out and doing sets as long as the footing remains consistent.

Her personality has really come out, she, like Sinari, is the queen bee of the barn, you know exactly where you stand with her. She's more sensitive than the pony- both in personality and in physical nature.

There are days that her gut bothers her (rapid weather change isn't helping), or that she doesn't feel quite up to the task. Sometimes her personality is easily offended, which is to be expected, but for the most part she likes to work.

She has found more of her gaits, but the canter remains a tad overwhelmingly powerful. She's also starting to turn heads. She is also still playing catch up. The idea is to keep her developing throughout 2016 with minimal show obligations, going back to keuring and maybe going out to the shows as an HC. 

Fahrenheit has begun work. He's everything I remembered when I first saw him, incredible rideable
personality and three good gaits.

He's gone from unbroke to lunging in a matter of a week without so much as a hitch.

I have a few thoughts for his schedule but until he's actively under tack I'm holding off anything. He's set up to be backed next weekend by my usual guy. It was supposed to be this weekend, but I was feeling not so prudent about starting a horse in 30mph winds and a 30 degree temperature drop.

His focus is on the next 90 or so days, and developing condition to do the work for 2016. 

Joining the herd in the next few weeks are two more mares in for winter training (and one for sale). I'm really pleased to see the quality grow.

Europe has also been on my mind lately.

Not just for the attacks in Paris and abroad but the big question on everyone's mind is if I'll go back for an extended stay.

The short answer is no.

With horses actively developing under tack, coming in to ride, the most I can get away with is two weeks. So I'm trying to condense four countries, all the shopping, looking at horses, awards, and business meetings within those 14 days.

Overall, I'm already looking forward to spring.