Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Change is gonna come

A few years ago, while I was still in corporate I sat down with a friend over a few drinks. As we chatted away they had asked me what I wanted to do, obviously knowing I was, despite good paycheck and vacation days, unhappy with my then-present situation. I don't remember much about the conversation, but it involved a lot of mention about changing.

2014 was one of those seasons that involved a steep learning curve, it was my first year as a professional, it was my first year out of the traditional corporate structure, it also involved in a lot of letting go, and finding out what needs to be done for the future. In short, it involved change.

Change is funny that way, you don't see it coming but, it's always happening. I really don't think I would be pursuing what I'm pursuing if this year had not happened the way it happened. I'd still be planning Florida with the pony and Haiku, I'd still be involved with Reba. Haiku and Flair I don't know if they would be even in the picture. Germany would be a non-entity. Whether you call it luck, karma or anything else, I do feel that I'm doing what I've meant to be doing; and despite all the upheavals over the past 12 months, I'm alright with things.

Part of that is very much due to the team, sponsors and ownership behind the horses. Pennfields, Rood and Riddle (Dr. Laurie Metcalfe and Dr. Ashley Embly), SunShine Meadows, A&G Investments, CORE Therapies, Rosanna and Carey Gage, Noble Spirit Stables, Equissentials Breeches, and many others who coaxed, cajoled, and flagged waved along the way.

Truth is, I've only really accomplished two goals for 2014. Which for who I am, is really frustrating. There was so much I wanted to do this year.  But in honesty, this year reached more towards the overall goals versus the month-to-month, year-to-year things. I'm looking forward to 2015, and the string of horses I have.

2014 Goals:
1. Start Gold Medal. Be schooling the majority of GP.
No. But before Sinari's semi-retirement, we were schooling all the canter tour of the GP, minus 15 ones (she batted off 9). My plans for the USDF Gold are temporarily shelved for a variety of reasons. First being my FEI horse was decidedly not going to physically hold up, and secondly, after seeing a few of my professionals pursue, and received their's with barely-pushing 60 percent (with the ambition that they will be successful at CDI level with current mounts), it gave me new perspective on what kind of quality I want to be known in addition and the fairness aspect of pushing a horse that far. It's still on the goal list, but it's going to be more about the right time, right place.  

2. Have national rankings on each horse. End up in the year end awards for All Breeds and at minimum be qualified for regionals.
No. With Sinari out, and Danzador experiencing intermittent, bad-timing cellulitis and Flair being barefoot and pregnant, all competitive goals were not met. By the time Haiku came onto the scene, the year was over. 

3. Increase fitness (human and horse).
Achieved. I go to yoga two to three days a week between riding horses. I plan on adding more cardio in 2015, but yoga has given me a lot of strength and body awareness in the tack. Only downside of it is that I have to shove myself to the studio, which isn't as habitual as going to the barn. Plus some bonus items that allowed me to work through some mental garbage. All my horses were fitter (well, Sinari got fatter, Flair became more pregnant-y). Even Haiku is pretty fit as a two year old, Danzador, up until he was sold could do a solid trot set and canter work. 

4. Expand clients, horses in training, and investments that are capable, at minimum of shining on the national stage, also continue to remain fiscally solvent.
Achieved. I expanded my clients and investors. Fiscally speaking, it ended as a good year. I had a few horses in training earlier this year, but they and their ownership wasn't the quality I was wanting to represent so they were sent home. I picked up regular lessons, in addition to some work for a few eventers that need help with their dressage. I also received opportunities to go abroad and work, and began thinking about the long-term quality I want to be sustaining and what stage I want to campaign 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. 

2. Continue to increase fitness (human and horse).

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. 

4. Dedicate personal educational opportunities once a quarter with my coaches (in a non-clinic capacity) to keep developing. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Everywhere I Go

First, thank you all for the well-wishes and support. After the last post, the phone, Facebook and my email filled up really quick with support and good tidings for the upcoming trip. A few close readers even sent some wool knit products as a surprise, which is beyond generous.

All of this was actually rather unexpected.

I've always kind of done my own thing. Notoriously, sometimes stubbornly and stupidly have gone my own way. I don't expect support because I was raised taught you do what you feel is right, and often times, it means going against what is popular or what other people feel you should do. The support comes at a time when I'm transitioning from the image of being the amateur / organizer to a professional rider. That one image has dominated the conversation all year, and breaking with it while still keeping parts of that identity, such as the organizer part, is tough. So when people actually flag wave and support, it's a very pleasant surprise.

Right now, there's a lot of holiday bustle at the barn and trying to finish up the last part of the year. Haiku is working three days a week, and going swimmingly. She's doing very well for herself and maturing quickly into lovely dressage horse. She is talented, and is very reflective of her pedigree gait-wise. When she gets more strength and maturity she's going to be much like Gal's Undercover, not uber flashy, but very much a power horse.

Sinari has been back out walking and keeping company with Haiku when she hacks out. Recovery is slow, as are all things when it comes with being older and tendons. At this point we put the idea of lease on hold until she's fitter. She's the same as ever, chipper, but five laps around the arena and she's pretty winded. I can only guess what her resolution is going to be in the New Year.

Flair's drop date has been set, she will be here shortly after the new year. I wish we could have shipped sooner as I would have liked to had more time with her before leaving, but there will be plenty of time after I get back to continue the relationship.

The big news is that Danzador has been sold, but will remain close to home (actually, same stall, same facility) as the other half of the ownership has obtained my share and now owns him outright. He truly is a lovely amateur's horse and should be happy being spoiled.

Cleaning has also being going full throttle for my departure.

I dumped my tack trunk out and sorted through all the odds and ends. Gone are the old, outdated, half full bottles of God-know's-what, evicted is the last of the summer laundry, gathered items in for repair (those five muzzles will be reinforced...), halters that were too destroyed were tossed, those that looked salvageable went in, took home the quarter sheets, the fleece and knits for washing, monogramming to go with the girls. Even the feed bins were wiped, labeled and sterilized.

In are the fresh supplies for the girls for the three or four months I'll be away.

Shampoos, soaps, liniments, a 90 plus day supply of feed and supplements, fresh supplies of medications, clean pads, rags, standing wraps and fresh sponges that aren't harboring strange new life; topped off spray bottles,  and put back clean brushes. Everything has been Sharpie'd, taped off, tagged or monogrammed so none of it would be lost or "confused" with other items.

There's still a few more things to purchase. Like bungee cords, a wash garment bag, a new trash bin for a separate type of feed, a few locks, and maybe if they're on sale- box fans.

Things that aren't going with the mares, or won't be used, will go home.

Thankfully, the human side looks easier to pack, as all the laundry from the prior trip was stuffed into the laundry basket as soon as I got home. But even then there are bits and bobs everywhere. Taking a chapter from my running friends, I went to the Under Armor outlet to get some base layers. Also, thankfully SmartPak was having a sale and I found a pair of nice schooling gloves and liners so I don't experience bleeding fingers again (or being cold).

My leave date has been also appointed as well, I'm officially out January 12th, with the Haiku leaving on the 31st. Sinari will be staying field boarded through winter.

Which makes planning a show season a little tricky and with the focus on the USDF BC's it means hauling, and with one, maybe two qualifiers around Kentucky and Ohio, it means also making sure the truck and trailer are in running order when I come back.

I also sat down with my students and began developing their plans for the 2015 calendar. One part of me wants to stay and push their development more over winter, the other part of me goes, I can't develop them unless I come back more developed. It's a tricky Catch 22.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

It's been close to impossible writing this post and so it's been kind of quiet here.

I've tried so many drafts each kind of close but not really right. How do you break news that will very much alter your world and your perception of it?

After two successful back to back clinics with Mary King, I hopped one more flight. This time to the Netherlands. It's been awhile since I've been, and last time I travelled there, I was much younger and there for different reasons. 

The trip actually started in August when I saw everyone's plans for Florida. 

I love Florida.

Who wouldn't? It's warm, it has all the major competitions within a four month span, plus prize money. You're neighbors with top riders, who you can extend your education with easily. The selling market is pretty good, in addition to all the fun social stuff that goes with the temporary office space and socially starved riders.

I, like many other riders worship at Our Lady of Palm Beach come January. The last winter being the bad exception to that streak. This year, I was unsure of where I was going to end up. My rides are very young, 2, 5, 4 and 15. Sinari doesn't need to go down to the fishbowl, neither do the kids. I was left facing some choices including an eternal winter to face and not a whole lot of riding or teaching if winter turned south. 

I thought a working student position would be a good idea. But being over qualified and 30 against 20 something's has its own set of issues. Time was running short, everyone was confirming their plans and I felt very much stuck. 

During a few conversations my mentors and friends suggested I expand my search, knowing that if I went after anything less than something that would have a good ROI in terms of network, learning or career advancement I would be terribly angry with myself. 

That search lead to Holland. 

I went over not expecting much, if anything I was expecting the comments to be along the lines of nice, but American. 

So, I rode, worked, drank coffee, rode, worked some more, showed up and kept my head down. 

By Tuesday I found my routine, and I stuck to it. By my last day, I found myself at home with the head riders helping me through some sticky areas.  I barely know anything in another language, and while lonely, horse in any language creates a common bond. In a short week I received an eye opening education and came away with more things I wanted to do than have time for. 

Before I left an offer came through for a barn in Germany and, like in 2002 when I received my first acceptance letters to University, I felt like I took one huge step to put myself forward into my career. 

So, in short, I will be riding and campaigning in Europe for the winter months. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Spark of Madness

I grew up incredibly awkward as a child.

Attending public school, I was the odd kid out who did the weird sport and often spent lunches in the library so I can avoid the cafeteria, which was pure terror (they still scare me, never know where to sit). I never attended a party. I went to bed at 10.

My social life was devoted to two things: school and horses. School was alright. I did my work, got reasonable grades, and for the most part, had really wonderful teachers. My second school, the barn, was also pretty cool. I also grew up in an old school professional's barn, where children are seen and not heard- it was tough, but gave me a lot of the essential tools that I still use today.

I was a barn rat ala working student. I spent every possible moment I could there. I read everything about horses, I rode everything I could get my hands on. I researched, participated, volunteered, and I dreamed that someday I would dominate the large European eventing tracks (Badminton was my favorite). I was very cocksure around a horse, around people, not so much.

It took me a long time, and an entire business to learn to reach out to people, even at the fear of rejection. While I don't harbor a single desire for clearing solid obstacles, I still have an overseas ambition. My people skills are vastly improved, and I'm not a wallflower.

When I turned professional, I faced a huge amount of challenges. I felt I wasn't enough.

I wasn't ready enough to impart what I had learned, so I shunned teaching for a long time.  I felt  I wasn't good enough for investment horses or training horses, so I stuck to my basics- quietly buying, breeding and selling for myself. Thinking that I made it to the holy grail of Grand Prix I would finally get fulfillment.

15 years after I graduated high school, I was back at the cafeteria wondering where to sit and debating if there was a quiet corner in the stacks to eat a sandwich while I read a book. Who would want to take a lesson with me, or why would anyone plunk even a dollar down for a nice horse for essentially a no-name can ride? Or who would train me consistently?

I essentially lost my way.

I was begging for a corporate job by mid-year. I wanted to run back to the safety of the doldrum office, comforted by business casual dress and clinging to my stacks of emails, settling for a consistent paycheck, happy weekends off and late nights schooling my herd.  Knowing it would be the death of whatever happiness I built up leaving corporate America to begin with, but still, it was a safety blanket.

I lacked confidence in what I was doing.

Combined with a rough show season, situations happening, being around drama llamas- people who breathed for conflict, and having a blasé routine (wake up, work out, ride) it pushed my perception of my world around.

Then things started to change. I picked up some extra work for another trainer, I have a regular local clinic I teach, the other side of the business of sales, improved, picking up Haiku G and having a drop date for Flair was a relief. Sinari continues to mend, Danzador continues to improve.

So, as I end my first year of living off the corporate grid, and being a professional I find myself again moving and breaking out.

I'm incredibly thankful for my students and clients, but again I find the same fear of settling has started creeping in as winter approaches.

I have one more trip on the docket for this year that will hopefully prove game changing. I feel though that my luck and my time is stretching a tad thin at this point with back to back successful clinics and good investors this year. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hot, flat and crowded

I rarely talk about the day-to-day realities of being a pro. One side of it is that it's busy, so the ability to write and write well about any subject but carving out 20 meters in my sand box tends to get lost around 8pm. The second reason is that like the Great and Powerful Oz, there are certain things that should be left behind the curtain at the end of the day.

Being a professional in any industry is tough. But when you're industry is more luxury versus necessity, the playing field for capital resources tends to be very tight and ultra-competitive.

Capital resources in the equestrian community can run physical, such as barns, arenas, horses; to the human element, specifically speaking, ownership.

I have zero qualms with putting out there that the majority of my horses, minus Sinari, are either owned or co-owned. My ownership is diverse ranging from breeders to PhDs to Executives of major corporations. There's not a day that goes by that I feel that I'm not appreciative of the business they've allowed me to have.

My business is run more as open community. While some people (namely the attorneys) view this as a socialist experiment with hippie-dippy flower power, I realized a long time ago that I cannot be everything to everyone. Nor can I got out and make every horse an FEI horse (nor do I want to). In short, no person is an island.

A prime point for this are the babies.

I stopped backing horses years ago. I really feel that I'm not in a position anymore to a) take that risk or b) be fair to a horse that's just starting out. I hand the reins over to a rider who does nothing but babies. It's a great relationship. He rides quality horses and moves his career further in the direction he wants, and I get a sane baby  with a job description at the end of it.

Same goes with horses that I don't get along with or who are really out of my depth. Over this year, I've given up two rides to other riders who the horse simply went better for them. There's no guilt or shame over it.

So, for a lack of better term, I outsource.

Outsourcing, which is usually a negative thing, is a great resource for professional riders building their community and network. Got a horse that doesn't go well for you? Find a rider that will make them shine so they can be sold on to another home. Need help finding a barn for that big clinic because your barn can't handle the capacity? Network so both facilities can benefit. Student having trouble? So and so has this neat-o exercise to give a go. Or my favorite- co-oping through outside disciplines to source good horses (e.g. one man's trash is another man's GP horse).

But this kind of relationship is a two way street. Yes, it does take an understanding. Also, unfortunately on some occasions made people overstep bounds and pilfer or use the reference as an excuse to behave in a less than stellar fashion.

I had this happen three times recently. Once, with a young rider, once with a client and one professional in the community that indefinitely overstepped their boundaries. Each time I was lucky, either the damage was minimal or the ownership and contract was in place to secure my spot; and the rides were unavailable.

Pilfering is nothing new in the community. It happens, a lot. It's why riders vanguard their owners heavily throughout their careers with them. Owners are huge investments for riders and finding good ones, are like finding rare gems and developing a long term relationship is a very big deal.

 Which in many ways is sad as well because owners, like the Mrs. Mars, the Akiko's, the Thomas' should be shared and developed within a community of riders to help them achieve goals. Because even though we are a global sport with a long reach, the truth is, our overall resources are shrinking and the competitive landscape has become much more hot, flat and crowded within the last decade or so.

So while those peoples' ambitions and actions were incredibly short sighted it reminds me that while the community is changing with an overall perspective more in mind, it's not very long before the overall community's perception is changing for the better.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I never watch the stars, there’s so much down here

The last few weeks have been a blur.

Since Haiku has arrived, things have been in overtime. I'm out at the barn now at least twice a day with her and working with the others, in addition to planning the final clinics of the season and alongside trying to sort winter plans.

Writing itself has been troublesome, every time I start a post, I get distracted, my poor feed is littered with half-completed thoughts.

The weather hasn't been cooperating either. The region has been slammed with storms, most notably over the last week were we experienced what felt like two feet of water. Region 2 Championships were utter slop, and I ended up scratching anyways due to the usual pre-show culprit of cellulitis.

I don't think I missed much, except the effects on my wallet. The quality of the horses were really nice, and the show was huge with about 1,700 rides over the four days. It still makes me highly eager to get out and do something in 2015 and kinda disappointed it probably won't come back until 2016, which makes me ship out to either Missouri, Michigan or Virginia.

I was still out there coaching, and my students had decent results under a solid panel of judges. Many of whom got valuable lessons in riding and perspective.  In all cases, I was proud of them under the given sloppy circumstances and how they cared for their horses afterward.

The idea that the year has passed by this quickly is scary. While it doesn't feel like I went out there and beat the band for results, I still feel I accomplished something. Things are progressing, the quality is growing and the clients and roster of students are developing. At least one of my students will be cantering down the centerline of their first PSG next year.

Sinari continues to recover, we're up to four days of trotting, cantering and tack walking. She seems very happy to back at the center of things and with the reduced expectation of going back to FEI. She however, is fat as ever, in her full winter coat. I have no intentions of changing this aspect.

Danzador is spending his first part of winter being bored, we're waiting for the cut that caused the cellulitis to heal up to return to work. The last thing I would want is to irritate the leg from arena sand.

Haiku is about perfect for a two year old. My investors got really lucky with what we ended up. The mare is a workaholic. While still a little unsure of herself, I've never met a two year old that picks up on things as quickly as she does. If everything goes right for November, the plan is to do 15 days of backing and then leave her for winter and readdress in the spring.

Flair is also set to make her way down to Kentucky within the next two months, and I can't wait to see her, as out of shape as she is.

Otherwise, we're set to sit in for a long winter and hopefully an interesting end of the year.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This is how we do

A few weeks ago, I took a road trip up to the middle of nowhere on a lead on a horse who bloodlines
were really nice. I seen the ad floating around for a little while. The video wasn't a selling point, it was utter blurry crap, and the photos really didn't do her any favors.

This chance trip was right before I was supposed to step foot on a plane to Europe to go look at horses for the same clients (my trip is on, just pushed back), so really, I didn't expect much considering the quality that the poor beast was being stacked up against. But I went anyways, needing to get out of town for the day and away from my day-to-day stuff.

The trip which I thought would just be a jaunt in and out, turned out to be more than your typical three hour tour. It was a 10 hour round trip which included a few torrential storms and ending up in a soybean field next to some cows at one point.

In a way, it reminded me a lot of the trip I took to initially look at Sinari about 12 years ago, eerily enough, same week as well.

She was a leggy, modern, statuesque filly. Highly aware of everything and everyone. Adventurous, unafraid, and already fairly bored with people around her, but always affectionate.

Flash forward through the oddest try out, scrambling to find a vet to travel out to the middle of nowhere, a shipper and several laundry lists of things to do in the meantime- she's mine.

Haiku G., by the epic, proven combination Jazz out of an Olympic Ferro mare, is now apart of Team EnGaged Dressage. She is a diva in the making, and everything the breeding represents.

It has been a long and strange journey, but honestly, it's only just started. I'm sorry I don't have pictures to reflect her (cell phones just don't cut it these days), but they'll come with time.

Speaking of mare power, Sinari is back in action. We're clear to start legging up three days a week, at 10 minute increments. I started back yesterday and it was already so much fun to be sitting behind those little foxy ears. She's lost a lot of her original fitness, looking more like a fuzzy beach ball than a dressage pony. True to form, she was her old self. A little hot to start, but settled in to the work of walking laps like the old pro that she is.  I think she's just happy to get her spice drops.

Danzador continues to progress forward, as much as I want to crack him into second level, I want the mediums to be much stronger and sitting before I go there. So far, they're good, but he can't sustain the power for a full 60 meters, so we'll keep this at schooling show level until he gets the strength. His canter work is fabulous as always, confirmed all the third level work off of him minus changes. Half passes are playful, and he's doing large walk pir's once a week.   I desperately wanted him to have his changes more confirmed this year- however, like every five year old out there, he just needs maturity and strength before he seriously starts tackling them. He has a show in two weeks, just training and first level, so no big deal for a horse that is confirmed out the majority of the work way above him.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Running down to the riptide

The past few weeks have been incredibly active, with horses going all over the place, shows, the start of keuring season, training, teaching, travel and work in general.

Danzador has been on a relatively easy schedule, focusing on going forward and doing lateral work. My initial plan was to do MSEDA, but the USPS mail ate my entry... again. I love the MSEDA show, not for the open part, but for National Dressage Pony Cup. Jenny Carol has done a stellar job over the years putting on this show, and now expanding it to all sorts of regions as partner shows.

It's not the first time that documents have wandered. It ate several important documents to Europe and Canada, plus a number of entries over the past year. So we're re-routed to October. Not ideal, but it'll do.

Sinari is due for her 60 day re-check sometime this week or the next, which means we'll know how to proceed from there. She's fat, very fat, dapply, and happy. It's already been decided that she'll step down from the regular FEI levels and be a horse for one of my juniors who wants to start in equitation and then break into the pony division.

If you personally asked me how it felt, I would say it sucks. Loosing a good horse is never fun. We've had a decade of training together. I'm more intimate with Sinari than any other horse in the barn, and for the last decade plus we've been each others partner in the arena. Which makes the break a little harder. But, it's not personal, it's about what's fair and best for her. It would be selfish otherwise to not put my girl first.

As much as I want to continue on in that route to Grand Prix with her, how I want her to finish her career is out on top in a fair way. Being an FEI horse is tough. You have to have a sound mind and a sound body that can handle the training and conditioning almost daily.

Coming back from injury as a 15 year old is tough enough. I also know how lucky I am it wasn't something career ending or worse, life ending. But building back into the FEI is even harder, with a greater chance of career ending injury of just doing it. I couldn't live with myself if I repeated the past.  So, it's just time.

My students still continue to improve, I'm thoroughly tickled with this year's results already- the eventing group is scoring into the 30's, my regular dressage students are scoring upper 60's consistently.

Many of the eventing group have already expressed their want to do pure dressage and pursue their USDF medals alongside aiming for AEC's in it's final year in Texas. Which really makes me happy at the idea of helping people medal themselves.

This weekend is more coaching at shows, also getting to watch other people go is equally as fun.

Horse shopping has also been a never ending chore. My European trip got pushed back a few weeks, so it leaves me with some idle time to go look more locally. I'm went up to Ohio to look at some KWPN's and will possibly go down to the Carolina's to look at a few Hanovarians. I don't expect much but at the same time, I would enjoy supporting American breeders who are making an effort to bring the best lines home.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thirty n' flirty

My 30th was a few weeks ago. Even though I'm now considered adult, and many a teenager's eyes
"old" (just you guys wait...) I pretty much went kicking and screaming into it.

Honestly, the 20's were not all that fabulous. University was great, but it was a huge struggle to establish myself personally and professionally in a sport that is dominated by people twice my age. It was a huge period of upheaval, change, poverty, and dealing with coming fully into adulthood.

I did get wonderful things, both tangible and intangible.

I had a fabulous few lessons with JJ, and Danzador rode exceptionally well. It's great to know that the training that you've put on a young horse is exactly on track. She helped tweak the program a bit to really help his hind end and back develop better. She also put down this great striding the circle exercise that has become a quick staple in short order. The focus over the past few rides on what she focused in on has improved the trot work. Something that, while he has a good trot, it's not as strong as his canter.

A few friends took me out to a few dinner(s) out at some of my favorite spots.

I got myself an early present in Flair (thanks SunShine Meadows), and they even sent on some current footage of the her and her colt the other day. They're looking fabulous.

I was given the go-ahead to go look at investment horses. Which means I sit in front of a computer, or on the phone looking at video after video after video of horses going around in circles.

For the most part, time was well spent. But, ultimately the theme has been perspective.

This year, things have changed a lot.

For starters, the time away from Sinari has so far served everyone well. It's hard watching her loaf around, now barefoot in a field during the day and in her stall in the evening. She's happy no matter where she's at, especially since there's always food.

We're going to be facing our 60 day check in September, our final Shockwave treatment this week, and go from there.

Honestly, I'm comfortable with her at this point.  If she comes back, she comes back. If she doesn't, well, I'm alright with that too. The pony doesn't owe me or anyone else anything. She's achieved far more than anyone else has expected her to, and it's been a joy to ride and develop her from a young horse. Everything else is icing on an already great career.

Speaking of kids, I've also come to find out that I really enjoy developing young horses as much as I like riding the upper levels. While I'm searching around still for an FEI schoolmaster to get the ride on, I'm looking at a lot of nice young horses.

In a lot of ways young horses are a little trickier than an older mature horse. Somedays, they're brilliant and you feel everything, other days, you can't turn left and you're looking like a monkey humping a football. But the way they develop is amazing to watch, and it doesn't hurt that a sense of humor and a glass of wine are must have's.

I've had fantastic opportunities within the past two years to work with wonderful breeders, like SunShine Meadows, great owners (Noble Spirit) and talented horses (Danzador, Flair). Even as my program progresses and evolves, the focus on quality becomes even more important.

What I ride, own (or have stakes in) and produce is good quality. But what I'm looking for in my next investment is the like the difference between a local painter, and Monet.

Also, as a good friend has said, they all cost the same to keep, you might as well choose the one that will advance your ambitions.

Buying is as tricky as selling, because people are emotionally invested into finding competitive homes like mine that will help bring their programs out to the next step. It's an honor to have people think of me in this regard, but at the same time it's hard to keep your perspective so you can go out and accomplish the larger goal at hand. The idea that their horse is going to be sold, and potentially re-sold is a hard one for anyone to swallow.

Saying 'no' to a lot of horses, that have the pedigree and would excel regionally, if not be well thought of nationally, is hard. These horses would make awesome competitive mounts into great homes or even a half way decent local Grand Prix horse. Truthfully, they all deserve to have owners who will cherish them and appreciate what they can offer.  It's not fair to push a horse into a level of competition that would only degrade him. The expectation itself sets everyone up for failure and frustration; and I believe that's where really abusive practices begin.

To be successful in dressage at the level I want to go at, you have to have at minimum, eight's immediately out of the box. Meaning at minimum, for example, you should have- 8's on gaits, 8's on general impression, 8's on submission, 8's on conformation. You get the gist, the horse is essentially born to do the sport and will score an 80 percent just walking into the arena.

This is where perception begins to get tricky. Because what is perceived as an 8 on one level is barely scratching a 6 at another, and the idea of elitism comes in.

I don't consider it elitist to make my job as a rider easier. Nor do I consider it a chore to manufacture things either (Sinari had weak mediums). Every horse has challenges and the sport is one giant challenge in itself. I enjoy making a horse better through correct work. It's what dressage is about. But at a certain point to be competitively placed, you need to start taking a hard look at where you start and where you want to end up.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

VCBH: We are young

I'm around a lot of young horses, and I shop for them frequently.

While I'll take an FEI horse in a New York minute, young horses are frequently more in my bracket and there's something pleasurable about creating something from barely broke. Young horses also present the alluring thought of potential, and really show the transformative effect of training. So watching and working with them, for me, provides the most entertainment.

I'm also lucky that I have good owners and breeders who provide and trust me with their kids.

My oldest youngster, Danzador, is a five year old, and my youngest, Flair, is a four year old.  However, where Flair is on hiatus, Danzador is being actively ridden and worked (sorry buddy, no maternity leave for you).

Danzador is a wonderful athlete. He's mastered a lot of concepts at an early age, where several professionals have complemented him on not only his basics, but his promise in the upper level work. At five, he already shows a more confirmed piaffe than a lot of Grand Prix horses showing today. Mentally, he's sharp and handles pressure exceptionally well. He's at a point in his development where he's very much set to go forward and shine in his career, especially start making steps to becoming an FEI horse.

Physically, he's catching up to the warmbloods- PRE's are notoriously slow to mature- and like all athletic young babies, somedays you are brilliant and par for course and other days you can't turn left to save your life.

Thus go the way of babies. No one said it wouldn't be interesting.

There's a lot of varying opinions on what a young horse should do and how fast they should progress. Everyone's program and horses are an individuals in that regard. Ultimately, my end goal with my horses is that I have an sound, happy athlete who is capable of going and doing the FEI levels.

In my book, the young horse years (three to seven year olds) are critical for putting the basics on some of the larger concepts.

Yes, they should forwardly walk/trot/canter on the bit and stretch to the connection, they should hack (preferably on a loose rein without killing you), they should tie and stand; they should mind their manners, and go places and not be total embarrassments.

They should be good citizens first, and athletes second. Simply because having a half-ton animal on top of you is not only rude, but dangerous. Respect is a universal concept.

But they should also know lateral work, they should be building strength to carry by learning to collect and extend the paces. They should be adjustable in the outline and learn extend their balance points. They should be playing with half steps, doing simple and flying changes. They should go in a variety of bits and bridle combinations as they progress.

In short you need to have expectations. Which when it comes to young horses, can be an unpopular thought.

They should, and deserve, to have a preview of the regular questions that are coming down the pike to help develop their physique and mental capacity to handle pressure. It's easy to become trapped in the time warp of Junior being five forever (seriously, I still think Sinari is 10), and perfecting the lower levels before moving on instead of creating a solid foundation of basics instead. It's not easy to get them out of their comfort zone because you're bound to get a reaction.

It shouldn't be perfect. It should be correct.

In a dressage horse's (and most sport horses') career, they'll actively face these questions time and time again, at each level with greater volume and intensity. It takes uninterrupted years of carefully building strength, balance and coordination up. In short, a horse will not magically be an upper level anything with a wish, a wink and a nod. You have to create and foster them through this by being consistent, and systematic.

It doesn't mean hammer on your five year old to do the entire Grand Prix piaffe/passage tour, or shove your three year old into a second level balance for 45 minutes or have your four year old do tempi's. It doesn't mean immediately take the horse who was back and broke 30 days ago and jump around a course of 3'0 questions, also doesn't mean go out and do it everyday until everyone is burned out, either.

It means this: school them in moderation but with the expectation that they go on, and have the capacity, physically and mentally to handle the work that lays ahead. Develop their toolbox. Support them with a good network of nutrition, farrier, vet, equipment and body work so they can do their jobs happily.  Above all: use common sense and be aware.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shake it out

It's finally July, the great and terrible month of the year. 

On one hand Danzador is doing great, he's progressing so much and physically looking like a dressage horse instead of a gawky leggy colt. We finally got his video up and loaded on YouTube, plus a little extra showing his ultra talented half steps in hand. He also has been actively being ramped up to show in August if not under contract by then. Seriously, whoever ends up with him will be incredibly lucky. There's not enough nice words in Webster to describe how genuinely cool he is. 

Flair finally foaled out as well! Couldn't be happier with the results of her first foal- a black/bay colt by Diamond Stud. He's aptly named Justus SSM. For a maiden's colt, he's huge, and shows zero fear. He's a brilliant little mover as well, showing the strengths of the Ferro/Donnerhall blood and the modernity of his dam's sire. Both mom and baby are doing great- Flair is reportedly good spirits, and is handling things in stride. I still can't wait to get the call come fall/winter that she's on the trailer to ship. She's my next long-term project and I feel that she is going to make a good horse. 

I also have investors actively looking at horses for me. It's hard to realize that this is actually happening and I may be flying to some pretty cool places pretty soon. It seems like I've looked at 200 or so horses every week ala YouTube. They're mostly KWPN horses from every direction, but a few from the GOV and other books. 

I found a few that I like, but nothing to really make me jump up and down and scream like a kid in a toy store over a must have. I have a few other personal feelers out there and a few old industry friends are sending me tape on other horses as well, but show and breeding seasons are dominating their schedules, so I get to keep on waiting.  

Then there's the flip side that's been hanging around for a little while now.

After two trips, several blocks, a bone scan and several lameness evaluations, Sinari's intermittent lameness isn't really a outlier occurrence caused by a soreness. 

It's much more serious that involves extensive time off and therapy. The prognosis is more than good, but still we're really looking at a year out. The only way now is to go through rehab and proceed from there.

While I know (and was reassured by several DVMs who have been looking at her case study) there's nothing that could have been done- I still feel like kicking myself. It sucks. I can easily whine how it's not fair, or how karma is cruel or even how hopes/dreams/ect for FEI glory are dashed. It doesn't matter. At this point, I'm relieved that there is a diagnosis and wanting my horse back and sound. If she's going to compete again, we'll approach that hill when we get to it. Right now, it's just one day at a time. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Matchmaker make me a match

When I worked at a corporate coffee shop back in the day, I was surrounded by a lot old school New
York Hasidic Jewish women.

These women, at least once a week, would order their coffees and sit down and gab for a little while; talking just about everything.

Eventually, they pulled me aside and asked me if I was single, and why on earth I wasn't betrothed to a nice man. After being given the third degree, I found out that these women were professional matchmakers who set up arranged marriages much like I now set up breedings, weighing what both parents can contribute- in the phenotypic and qualitative departments.

I've since then found the nice man, but the concept of matchmaking is something that's kinda stuck with me.

I love to shop for horses, and I love pedigree (comes with the gig of working for breeders). I love matching riders to them. Pairing the right riders with the right horses is this fantastic alchemy that if done right is just magic.

In the time I've been selling, I've been lucky. I've had pretty good pairings.

The most recent being between two long-term clients that connected over a horse that needed a new direction. It's any agents wish to have that kind of connection.

With Danzador officially on the market, I hope whoever ends up with him enjoys just as much as I do. It goes for the same for any horse that I represent. I genuinely love my 'inventory'.

For as many love stories that are out there there is no shortage of horror stories.

With what amounts to an emotional investment equivalent from a new car all the way up to purchasing luxury real estate to a visit to outer space, it's a huge financial investment. Selling and buying amounts to a high stakes cash game where it's literally all or nothing.

I count myself, and the people I have dealings with as honest and transparent, but there are people who shockingly are still out there who just try to hide or do things less than above par. The bigger irony is many of these horses are in the low figures, and not the high six figure ones.

I've unfortunately been on both sides- as a buyer and as an agent when the sale goes south.

From my first buy when the former owner had sellers remorse and snuck on the property and took back the horse during after hours to dealing with an owner who violated several clauses within a contract via social media to finding out one of my horses was underweight at the sales barn to dealing with a seller that non-disclosed surgeries on a horse that were caught on the radiographs.

Eventually everything was resolved and it makes for entertaining drinking stories, but I wonder what thought ran through their heads to make those actions acceptable. Were there life lessons in those? Unfortunately, yes. Personally, I would rather not have a sale go through than face the consequences and heartbreak that happens if it goes wrong.

So what makes people fall in for a horse?

For me, I fell for Sinari not because she was conformationally awesome, but because she had an honest try in her- in my horse shopping experience (I usually end up in the worst situations), she was put through the tryout from hell, and passed, there wasn't, and still isn't a no in her. She had three elastic gaits and was hot enough I felt to do the FEI. She's also probably one of the soundest horses (knock wood) that's doing FEI today. She received her first injections at 15- and is maintained on a monthly joint supplement. The farrier adores her feet and bone, and most trainers who I work around complement her very correct basics.

My owner picked Danzador for me thinking he was a KWPN with a lot of hair. He didn't look like your typical PRE, and is conformationally very correct (straight, no sewing machine, a little paddling, three good gaits).

Flair happened in to my life after I began following the dam, and really fell for her personality.

The point is, that no horse is perfect and sometimes things just fall into your lap, but whoever you choose, love it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

If's, and's and but's

I've been very familiar with crowd-sourcing for awhile now.

The first time I experienced the collective capacity of a population was through my former corporate job when they reached into their network to launch a project that would allow research for the production of quickly decomposable plastics (really exciting stuff right?), and the technology to turn former plastic soda bottles into shipping packaging. By allowing the publicly to own it- it allowed the expansion to happen much faster.

Crowd Sourcing has been around the equestrian world for a little while as well. I've seen riders fund everything from breeding endeavors, to major vet bills to funding the next big horse to regular show seasons to Olympic ambitions and European tours. While some were successful, and some faded off, the ability to pull the crowd together was interesting to watch, and provided good lessons.

So when I started looking at the bigger picture, I needed to look at what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Danzador is on the market, he will be sold later this year. Sinari, while still climbing the levels, needs time to develop into that last push without feeling pressured. Then there's Flair- who isn't remotely ready to do anything but give birth, and a gaggle of kids behind that. All the basics are there, but there's gaps and pauses in the talent. For

Starting a few weeks ago, I started my own version of crowd sourcing.

Personally, putting your hand out and asking for hard money without something return innately seems wrong at my level, if not awkward. While I am very emotionally invested into my horses, business and my work- it's still a business. There are bottom line numbers hanging around, it's not a charity, nor would I ever expect anyone to give me a leg up without expecting something equitable in return.

My first foray was to find potential syndicate members for re-sell horses. While I didn't expect people to whip out their check books and frequent flier miles to head off to the Elite Auction, was honestly surprised at the response. It seems like a viable idea to create quality investment horses and cash options with multiple parties and interests. The full idea is being hashed out while I put my nose to the ground for viable young prospects.

It also started a dialog with potential investors that I don't think I would have been able to reach for single ownership options.

This kinda led me to another crowd sourcing endeavor: finding a Grand Prix horse, to lease.

If you think finding a quality Grand Prix horse is hard, try finding one as a slightly affordable lease. It's like finding hens teeth, or more appropriately- the perfect test. It's a very unique situation between owner and lessor that involves a lot of trust and leeway. Even worse, is finding a schoolmaster who

So I posted this to Facebook thinking I'd a) get no response and/or b) get laughed at:

In about 48 hours, the response was surprisingly, very positive. The dialogs have been really opened, and there are a few viable prospects. More so, I'm incredibly grateful that a lot of the other professionals in the community have reached out and have given support, whether it be a prospect or words of encouragement.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Glory and gore

It's late Spring and things are happening.

My initial plans for breeding are shelved until next season. A lot of last minute expenses cropped up
and I had to address it to keep functioning. The truck needed a new alternator, another vet bill, last minute clinic expenses, it added up to the fees for the doses I needed.

I'm still living vicariously through Flair, who is almost due with her Diamond Stud foal. Part of me is disappointed that she's not down here quite yet, but honestly, everything happens in the way it's supposed to happen.

Speaking of, the foal is going to be available for a seriously great price. Should be a super cross for both breeders and riders alike- high in rideability for dressage (seriously with a pedigree like: Diamond Hit, Don Schufro, Flemmingh you can't get much get much better) but it will be competitive mount as well- especially when you add in the Ferro from the dam (piaffe and passage anyone?). I would love to see this one come to the US and help further enrich the young horse population. So if you're interested, give me a shout.  

At home, we're also sitting unexpectedly on the sidelines this Spring as well. Between recovering from tweaked stifle for Sinari, and Danzador going through major growth spurts, it's just not feasible to go out and start hammering the show trail quite yet. We should be back on track by July if everything goes the way it should.

Right now both are back in work. Danzador, who is bored-to-tears is power walking, trotting and cantering around in a stretch frame with some lateral work. To give him a bit of a break we tried him over a few small fences, which fell under the theme of: don't quit your day job kid. Otherwise, he's doing great, the idea to step back away from the intensity of the training was correct, it gave him time to mature and mentally develop. The pony is being hacked around as well, but is taking it much better than the kid. The slowness of coming back into fitness is one of the hardest things to experience.

It's also this living-vicariously-through-others where I pick up ideas for training. Training for me is as much about imparting as well as partaking. In a normal season I don't get to sit on the sidelines and watch people that often, but with the slow down- it's been a lovely chance to pick up ideas for technique and execution from different people. There's a lot of time now to give thought to the little details that have been somewhat glossed over.

The vicarious moments comes best with the students. I'm sincerely happy students and friends who have gone on and shown progress and started their seasons successfully. A dear friend, Karen over at CONTACT, who trains with another area rider, earned her final score Bronze this past week on Hampton, a horse she had chosen as an unbroken two-year-old and has done the majority of the training by herself. It's a huge milestone, and one she should be very proud of.

Then there's the one's who are having break throughs in their own riding, accomplishing things, large and small, that they set out for themselves. I couldn't be happier seeing them go on and do things, even if it feels like I'm twiddling my thumbs.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gravity wants to bring me down

Gravity got the best of me a few Tuesdays ago.

It's the joy of riding very fit babies in Spring. Even the best of them can have an ADD moment, and in the next instant you can be on the ground. Aside from bruised ego and soreness, everything is fine, got back on and rode through some of the issues.

I get some feedback occasionally about pushing young horses or having expectations. While I agree that there is an often fine line, the kids need to have expectations. They also need to know that there's a few things that are non-negotiable.

Sometimes, the side effect of those expectations (this goes for any horse), is that they push back and gravity takes over.  At least it's a lovely shade of blue that goes with the spring decor.

The last few weeks have been all over the place.

Danzador sat out on JJ's visit, which kind of disappointing, because JJ has so many good things to offer in between rounds.  But at Alfredo's, he was confirmed in what he needs to be confirmed in and is gearing in for the Sayre school show. At this stage of the game there's very little you can do except work on building things, one slow step at a time. The other day we diversified and took him over some jumps and on a hack. He was relatively good, but world-class show jumper he will not be any time soon.

Sinari also sat out JJ's clinic as well, despite feeling positive about her training since last year, she came out of the field looking a little wonky and so I made the decision to sit her out and get her checked by the vet. Nothing is worse when things are going so well to have a bump in the road.

A few tweaks in the support system and she's back into work preparing for Alfredo's clinic and preparing for the season. She's becoming much stronger. I really credit CORE Therapies, Dr. Tummlin, Dr. Metcalfe, Back on Track, Sore No More, Surpass and the new perspective from the ground. She's confirmed three's and two's, her half pass zig zag is really gaining power, and now, we're just putting together the I1 test. The pirouettes still suck, but she goes out and does five to six piaffe steps, so there's a trade off.

The spring also brings the busy season of babies. I'm no exception this year, breeding another prospect for the future. Flair also surprised both her breeder and myself turning up pregnant. Prior to her being sold to me, the plan was to do an ET in the summer of 2013, and then ship her down. We honestly thought she had reabsorbed (normal checking at 30, 60, and double checking at 90) and was just packing on the winter pudge, thankfully, she was ultra sounded and it revealed a healthy new baby running about 280 days at this point.

I'm sure she'll do everything with her usual style and panache and the foal will be beautiful.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mirror Mirror

It's April, and life has been one giant blur since mid-March.

Since Alfredo's visit, things have been kicked into high gear, despite minor herd reduction.

I walked into my arena when I got back to discover brand new sets of mirrors have been erected while away. My barn owners are awesome that way. I love them already and I don't know how I lived without for a lot of years. On the other hand, mirrors are hard. They're very much tattlers on your position, your body, your horse, just about everything you don't want to see, you see it in 20 foot glory.

My herd was reduced back to three with a few horses coming in and out with their riders for teaching.

While I love the fact my business expanded, I also enjoy the small, quality herd that I have. There are some things that haven't changed, that I ride everyone five to six days a week, and that I know all of them and their idiosyncrasies. But sometimes, adjusting to life on a time budget kinda sucks. When you have five in your barn and they all have to be ridden, tack cleaned, bathed, videoed, ect., you're going to have to limit time. On the upside it teaches you to ride very effectively.

The weather has cleared up consistently now to the point I don't have to worry about being frozen out. April brings rain and the ability to get out of the arena and go start conditioning for the season. We're backlogged for doing sets, and have lost a few weeks of regular training thanks to the horrid weather, pipe bursts and terrain.

Needless to say, Weight Watchers would have a field day.

We started last week taking the horses out, one by one on their first gallops of the season.

Sinari, who had the luxury of having the majority of the last few weeks off (weather, chiro, dentist, clinic, ect) went back into serious, consistent work. Last year's problems are fading away, especially since we've changed around the level of support care and the way we view things. The pirouettes are already stronger, the tempi-sequences are getting faster, and the pi/pa stuff is getting there.  But she lacks overall fitness that would help her endurance.

Yes, endurance.

With the FEI tests, the movements are secondary to fitness. The tests are much longer than even a second or third level tests and everyone is expected to be strong enough to hold themselves together for three to four minutes at a time going through the sequence. And from PSG out, the movements do not let up. 

Sinari has traditionally been very hard to condition from the get-go. She easily looses it and is hard to gain. So the sets help immensely with just getting around. Plus it's a nice mental break.

Her schedule at the moment is two days (barring weather) out in the field, five days in the arena. This might change as things progress. But for now, she's gearing in pretty rapidly.

I'm debating about which show to really start her in. The temptation is the KDA, the footing for the FEI classes is really nice, but it's also a CDI, where we're judged by panel and also judged alongside the CDI. Not exactly a nice move up show where we can bury our heads. So, time to shop around.

Danzador has also started doing little sets. His fitness is much better than Sinari's to begin with. He hasn't been out too much, much of the focus has been on developing him physically in the arena. Also mentally as well, even though he's great in the arena, he's still a kid and has a big case of baby ADD, so hacking him was always a challenge as a klutzy four year old.

He's still not ready to tackle the track Sinari has been doing, but he has been going for walks up and down hills in fenced off paddocks with a bunch of questions- like a smalls stream, uneven footing, rolling pitch, cows and a few other things.

He's doing better, where he would spook or be immature, he's now mentally buckling in and really settling into being a good egg despite distractions. He hasn't gone out and galloped, but he does decent trot sets in company.

The winter has done him a world of good, and he's already much more mature. The photos are slowly coming back from the clinic and he's already less of a stork. But, the ubiquitous solution to everything is: needs more top line, and he's no exception. He's come out of the clinic really well, not sore, and still on a progressive track forward in his training. Right now, aside from conditioning, it's about playing with more forward and back. Getting the medium trot in an uphill balance, and coming back and not loosing the balance or rhythm.

It's a huge challenge in the trot. But he's getting really well.

As for me, my own fitness has become a priority this year. Back in January, I started back on the treadmill, and going to yoga three times a week.

I hate doing this part of the job.

I was never a gym person, and I feel very socially odd in those settings. I can walk into any room normally and feel fine, but at a gym I feel compared, and very much lesser than the girl who just cranked out a six minute mile or who did that flow-y inversion thing to another difficult pose.

Plus there's the mental stigma. At one point I felt yoga was just about having that nice stretch and eating your random protein shake in your yoga pants while driving a compact hybrid to feel socially better about yourself. And running was running.  

Not to mention my body is physically awkward in yoga, and holding the postures for four to five minutes at a time is a screamer. Running, well, I just hate running and I did two marathons.

While I do don yoga pants (I like getting my protein from a different source and I drive a truck), this yoga is anything but a gentle stretch and mediative period, it's active and it makes running look like a walk in the park.  But I'm glad I'm doing it, and I'm elated that there are two other people going through the same thing and keeping me motivated to keep going.

However, it doesn't make wearing white pants any better. Perhaps somethings will forever be uncool. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

I spend my money on regular miracles

The last week has been foot to the floor busy, not only are all horses training for full weeks and baths
have been administered, clip jobs have been dispensed, but with Spring in full force, it also means my season has kicked off (until Sunday, when the wintery beast returned and temps plummeted with "wintery mix").

First on the agenda was the Alfredo Hernandez clinic which, for me kicked off last Thursday with organizer duties. I was looking forward to seeing an dear friend and mentor as well as good clients. Wasn't disappointed. Alfredo is full of good insight, not just for the piaffe and passage work but for trouble shooting and gymnastic work.

Despite the up-down nature of weather, most of the horses have been fairly well prepared for this clinic. I was somewhat worried about Danzador, because he's my walking, talking results- for better and worse.

Danzador has had confirmed half steps in hand for awhile now, but I'm a little wonky for asking him under tack (my lack of coordination).  He also has a lot He's less fussy about the connection. He just does it, no fuss, no muss, just six quality steps than a couple laps around the arena. He accepts the bamboo as well.

It's almost his learning habits, where, he isn't comfortable, expresses it, and then over time just accepts the pressure. It's also really a useful tool, it's helped improve his balance and his trot and canter work, but to also identify where he's feeling particularly stuck that day.

He didn't really disappoint. For a four year old rising five in two months, he did a wonderful job, and was complemented on his correct basics and foundation. With Alfredo saying he's more than in the correct direction, and for all intensive purposes ahead of schedule. It's a huge sigh of relief especially after going foot to floor to play catch up on major holes in his training. He also complimented on his piaffe and passage work in hand.

It was also a good chance to get a game plan for him. At this point there's three ways of approaching the season. First is the FEI five year old path, which, while I want to do, I know that we're barely pushing the quality that we'll be going up against. Secondly is the national path, which is your normal tests, and finally there's the furlough path- where we take a light year.

Even though he's mentally progressed and is very fit, he's still physically gawky. He's a stork. He grew another inch, he's still gaining width, and needs, my solution for everything: needs more top line. His gaits are still developing into what they will be, and some days it's great and some days it's not. Part of me wants to just furlough for another year, take it light and then in the six year old year, hammer down and go on. But ownership (including myself) needs him to show to have some version of a record as a young horse, and getting him out and giving him exposure would be good too.

The advice was a light year at national shows wouldn't hurt, but let the focus in on developing the gaits and letting him mature physically. Develop the passage and piaffe to develop the canter and trot.

Overall, I'm very happy with him, and even kinda excited about having him develop so quickly. In short, he's fit, and he's ready to roll, now just to bite the bullet and start sending a few entries in. But I don't want to repeat the mistakes of other riders and push too far too soon, and we're carefully guarding him against it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Never change my pants Equissentials

People who know me best know that my clothes in general take a hard core beating day in and day
out. When I love an item, I really love it to death. It doesn't matter what it is, if it's good, I tend to take it to the limit.

I notoriously go through breeches.

In the beginning of my career, my mother had the forethought to buy things that last. This was true of anything we bought for the sport, it just had to last. My then coach, had introduced us to Equissentials, a unique clothing brand that makes breeches that utilizes doeskin leather and terrycloth. It was love at first sit. Forget your stick on spray, each pair locked me into position, they didn't grab or chafe and as someone who does have a figure, these were really flattering. They also offered free custom work on every pair, run regular specials and put their seconds on sale regularly for a fraction of the cost.

But where a lot of higher-end breeches failed at the end-life of their product, Equissentials succeeded.

They were definitely were into up cycling prior to it becoming on the rage in main stream culture. Instead of tossing away breeches, the company salvages them, putting old seats on new cloth (the leather is sewn on to instead of in to the cloth) to extend the lifetime use of the breech. For someone who can't justify dropping $200 plus on a new pair every time a hole appears, this is a definite blessing on my finances, plus makes my favorite hard-wearing pair last that much longer.

My oldest pair- my winter weight full seats- are now 12 plus years old and still going strong, my youngest pair is about six years old and were in regular daily rotation on four plus horses a day until recently.

In 2013, I was convinced by a good fashion friend to try a few different brands to supplement the slowly dying pairs that are still in rotation.

Minus a pair of Pikeurs, it was mostly a failure. At the end of the year there were holes in the nubuck/cloth. But everything from zippers, to buttons breaking down or falling off occurred. I couldn't interchange the cloth and leather, and what's worse it took awhile to feel secure in my seat again- the synthetic full seat material was very slippery. By the end, I had one standing pair left and it bore the brunt of my undying affections until it was cold enough to switch to my stand-by winter weight full seats.

That's when you go back to your first love, and what your mom taught you.

Flash forward to February 2014, I'm proud to announce sponsorship from Equissentials, the line of breeches that has been with me since I got on my first dressage horse and has outlasted many things since.

I'm proud to be apart of a company that not only stands behind the brand but is also innovative in the way they treat their products and people.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Eight days a week

This is the first real work week back for all horses, and in a way it felt like spring cleaning- a chance to air everything out and get the house in order.

It's the first time in a long time that all the tack was stripped, not just wiped down, that all the windows were open, that I didn't shy away from anything water based in fear that I would be frozen to it and I could wear a short sleeved polo instead of the eight layers of StayPuff jackets for warmness.

Also on the housekeeping list is updated videos, and photos of the horses and pony parlor days of grooming.

Because our show season was pushed back to April instead of February, it gives the opportunity to really prepare grooming wise. All this week horses were scrubbed, washed, a few had their mains pulled, the rest had their braids put in. Tails are being deep-washed, getting the grease and gunk out of them and then being conditioned and picked through regularly until the strands feel better. They also got their first taste of post-workout wash downs.

My wash rack looks like a disaster zone from the mud and embedded dirt that's come off the horses. But they're starting to get their blooms under the wiry winter hair. Hopefully the weather will keep going so they can really get the deep-set grime out.

Spring is also the time to evaluate feeding programs, so Pennfields is due out to look over the new horses, adjust the old, and see how things are going. Their regular bags- Fibregized and Ultra Balancer, have been staples in my barn now for the past five years.  I can't wait to add in the Progressive line again. Their electrolytes, Topline, and hind gut formulas are excellent complements to the Pennfields line.

Fantastic, shiny summer coats start with good baseline nutrition which is supported by good grooming.  It also gives me time to create a game plan for how each horse's meals should be developed to address their needs.

So while we're waiting on the visit, the stock in Suave has risen by a few cents due to massive purchases of coconut smelling shampoo and conditioner.

It's also time to break out the clippers and get goat hairs, old man hairy ears and strays out of the picture. The Hidden Pond Farm horses are going to get clipped so they don't look like they're out of the ice age.

But the best sight is the wet saddle pads hanging outside, showing proof the higher temps and sweating it out in the sandbox. I can't wait until the trails clear up and I can get back to conditioning, walking up and down the driveway is fun for all of five seconds.

Sinari continues to come back in good form, she's really becoming more solid in the FEI degree of self carriage. Its now just a question of sharpening the movements. Four's and threes are no issue, as are the trot half pass and mediums/extensions, I need to solidify the twos and keep working the full pirouettes. Her half steps are stronger, as are her pirouettes. I need to start playing with the zig-zag again.

Danzador is motoring, he's had a few intensive days of on the lunge with some p&p work to get his head back in the game. He also went through a growth spurt during the heavy part of the winter. He's gained height and looks like he's about ready to gain width again. He continues to be clever, finding his gears in the trot and schooling walk-canter, canter-halt transitions. I'm hoping by the end of spring we can put a change on him which should gear him nicely for the end of the year. I think the idea is to have him schooling close to third level and be showing/working second. I also need to start working through his lateral work and make it more educated and more on the spot.

Denia HPF is a little superstar. She's stepping out everyday trying to improve. While she doesn't have the gaits like Danzador or Asanto, she's a very game, balanced mare who is very clever and observant. Even though she's not very fit and doesn't last very long within the work, every day she's stepping out and accepting the progression. Her main challenge at this point is keeping the relaxation to maintain thoroughness, because she's so anxious to please often times she over thinks. The time with her is split lunging to help her gain her balance, and riding. She will be looking to do a couple small schooling shows in the next few weeks to get her around.

Asanto HPF is also progressing. His personality is actually growing on me. When he first came he was a bit stand-offish. But now, if he's not at the center of attention he will get it immediately with an playful little nip or lipping your hair. He's English schoolboy cheeky, and a pony stuck in a very large package. The main thing we've been focusing on is straightness, strength and like Denia HPF, relaxation. His time is also spent between the lunge and also playing in hand. Even though he has an uphill balance point, right now his hind end over powers the front because he can't hold himself together for more than 15 minutes, lunging helps strengthen him and the in hand piaffe/passage work helps him get the concept of straightness, sitting, pushing, upping the balance point and engaging without loosing the entire package.

Flemmiro SSM is preparing to make the trip down to the US shortly. I wish she would have come in January so Alfredo could see her in the March clinic and get a better idea about developing, but knowing what we went through this winter season, it wouldn't have happened anyways.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Only know you love her when you let her go

Photo: Alexa Snowden
Winter has been dealt a death blow around here with the temps rocking in to the 60's.

My productivity has finally shifted away from my desk to the barn. It was about time, I was running out of paperwork and at home projects. The horses are in regular work again, the schedule is going forward, the season with the entire team is preparing to get underway. I can't believe it's almost March.

My guys are gearing in for an active season. Asanto HPF, Denia HPF, Danzador MSM, Flair, Sinari and a few others in the wings are kicking into active training with shows, clinics and events on the near horizon.

Except for one.

My time with Reba has come to an unexpected close.

Reba is fine, physically doing great, and after a clinic looks like she's ready to come back into form. However, a situation occurred where, through social media, I found out some things that I wasn't aware of or included on. It changed the nature of my relationship with the team and opened up a conversation that was due. Through a lot of discussion and thought process, the lease has been handed over in it's entirety to Anna Kate and her mother.

It seems only fair for the little mare who has found her place not in 20x60 meter box but running meters per minute to have a rider that is just as enthusiastic and good with her. Going from pasture puff to fit to winning in about two years was an endeavor, one that I was apart of and was exciting to watch.

I think in another time and place she would have made a really good dressage horse, but her calling is jumping and with limited time and with the end result of creating a broodmare, you pick and choose your battles.

For the most part, I'm actually pleased at the way things have turned out. Were they perfect on my end? No. But that's the risk you take when you take on an unknown. In this case, it gave another rider a chance and Reba a career path, and I'm all for that.  I'm happy to see her onto her next phase and with a decent team.

Good luck to both of them and go Team Fancy Pants.

Friday, February 14, 2014

All you need is love

I and my horses for the better part of a week have been grounded and I've been spending more time at
my desk or at the gym working through the winter woes.

If there's an upside of this winter, it's that my shirked paperwork is getting done and I'm setting down a firmer calendar and there's a myriad of holidays that involve chocolate.

For the first time in three years, I'm at home with my other. Valentines day isn't so much a big holiday with us and normally he makes the visit to wherever I'm staying, but it is something we try sit down, have a nice meal and watch a few movies. My other isn't horsey, but for all the stuff that I do and the time I spend, he's my biggest of fans and supporter in this sport. I know I'm incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My other, however, isn't the first love of my life. Sinari is.

Sinari is one of those ponies that has always been there. She's really the foundation of everything that goes on in my life, she's the first to ride, and the first to really get the credit for where I'm at today. She's been my blackboard of mistakes, trial runs, first attempts and my go to when my confidence has taken a thorough pounding. While there will be many horses, there will always be her.

I know while I can never replace her I know I have to eventually choose another for the long haul. Danzador is great, crazy talented, but I also know that he's always on the market. As are many of the horses that are coming to me. I don't know if the relationship will last one month or nine. It's the way of things.

Leave it to Valentine's Day to really intercede.

A while back, I alluded to Flemmiro SSM a 2010 Canadian-bred KWPN filly by Flemming out of a Ferro mare. Flair, is that heir apparent. She's really good quality, and has the brains and ability for the upper levels. She was already to commit to come in for long term training, but with the breeder looking at the finances and the next horses down the pike (which are spectacular), we ended up striking a deal that would leave ownership to me and provide retirement to Flair when the time comes.

Seriously better than chocolate.

Video as a two year old here:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

No sleep till Brooklyn

We came back last Friday evening/Saturday morning to the frozen tundra that is Kentucky (12 am is an odd hour). I woke up to a complete white out nine hours later and an unplowed/salted road in front of my house. This weekend, it's gone from 60 and sunny to 40 and raining with another front rolling through with ice and misery following behind it.

I picked a ripe time to stay north.

I managed to start working horses not soon after the roads were cleared day after day, but even as I managed even stretch sessions or lunging or finding entertaining ways to keep everyone sane and fit in the indoor as temperatures plummet below sane working conditions.

Despite proverbial down time, I've made use of the time itself. I managed to design Team EnGaged Dressage's new website, in addition to giving the blog a spiffy revamp to make it look more streamlined and a little less emo-looking. The clinic site is next just to kinda regain some presence there as well and both will be moved over to actual domains. I'm e

The horses are still doing well also in light of the horrid on-again-off again schedule. The work, has mostly been focused on the basics.

With Denia HPF and Asanto HPF, fitness and relaxation have been the two biggest areas that have been focused on. From those two areas they're building a lot of strength, their paces are also getting more expressive as well. Denia's are becoming competitive, and she has one of the best walks I've seen on a PRE.

The fitness stuff doesn't end in the arena, it also helps that they're turned out on hills and walking them every day while they graze.

They're doing really well here and I'm excited to see both of them develop into their potential as spring comes on. They are wonderfully temperamented horses who are happy to work and enjoy their day to day routine. Whoever buys them will be very lucky, and very competitive wherever they take them.

Sinari is clipping along at a steady pace doing stretch work and focusing on cleaning up the basics. It's boring, tedious work, but it needs to be done to address strength and build back into things for spring. She's happily marching along in her program

Danzador is for all accounts the star of the group. He's rising five this year, and has already shot up another inch in the shoulder. He's now pushing a solid 16.2 and a quarter, but physically still looking a little gawky, but the time back on the lunge and the intermittent schedule has refreshed him. Yes, there's moments of the errant ADD young horse getting back into work, but for the most part he's mentally accepting everything. Lately, the emphasis has been developing medium and collected paces. His half halt, even at this stage of the game is a lot more refined than Sinari's and if the last series of tape that I saw with him, he's going to be really fun in the next two years.

PRE's and collection are naturally married together. It's easy for them and they can produce it without hesitation, but there's trade offs. It's the extension part that takes more strength for him. He's getting it with more fitness and more support from being shod and working on the lunge to develop the knowledge. Danzador gets it four to five strides at a time before loosing it and finding it again. Typical baby things.

Also despite weather and early year status, I've also begun looking at barns to be at next year in/around in Wellington. Needless to say, we've learned our lessons. The thought is, to co-op a group of professionals to drive down the cost, while sharing the benefits. If people are interested get in touch! Should promise to be an adventure either way.

But in the meantime, I do have my sights set roasting a certain rodent.