A rider biomechanics clinic, Winter Adult Camp weekends and all the news that’s fit to print is in our September e-newsletter. Read all about it here, and sign up to receive it directly in your inbox!
1. Riding corners. It’s so easy at home to get just a little lazy about corners, and that’s an expensive mistake. Because then when you start putting tests together, surprise! There are corners in those! And even just in regular schooling, corners are where all the prep lives for your lateral work, for your turns, for your transitions. Corners are where the magic happens, and when they become a habit, they require less conscious thought when the chips are down.
2. Practicing good mounting block etiquette. We’ve all been there, right? Our left foot is in, we start to swing over, and our horse starts to meander off. Do you stop and fix it, or do you just let it slide, just this once? “Just this once” quickly becomes a habit, and it’s not a great one. What if you ever have a sore back, or a bum ankle, and you need to take a minute to mount that your horse isn’t going to give you? What if you lose your balance and your horse is already on his way out from underneath you? Or what if you ever want to sell your horse to someone who requires that their horse stand perfectly still? This is an easy thing to practice and make a good habit, and it also sets your ride off from the right foot, one where your horse patiently awaits further instructions, instead of calling shots on his own.
Want the easiest way to fix this? Keep a treat in your pocket. Horsey doesn’t get said treat unless he’s immobile. It’ll fix it right quick (though sometimes EDDIE I’M LOOKING AT YOU you’ll create a monster who likes to swing his head around to your boot while mounting. But then I just give him the treat from the other side. They’re fortunately not all that hard to outfox.)
3. Letting your aids go to 0. I promise you that you are not taking your leg off enough. And I can similarly promise you that you’re not giving the reins enough. Überstreichen – the German word for the act of putting slack in the reins for a stride or two by straightening the rider’s elbow – is a a beautiful thing, and a test of your horse’s self carriage. Your horse should maintain his own balance and posture for the strides of the release. It also allows the rider to retake less contact than they had before, by resetting the contact to zero.
Ditto taking the leg off. Remove it altogether, from the hip, once in a while. Your horse should maintain the same posture, gait and energy level without your leg as with it, and will allow you to do more from less leg once you put it back on. Work smarter, not harder, my friends. It’ll save you money on bits and spurs, not to mention being, you know, good riding.
4. Cleaning your buckles and stitching. Bridles and girths are the big offenders here, and I know how easy it is to just pop a little tack soap on a sponge and wipe things down. But you need to get into buckles, including undoing them, cleaning, and redoing them. Same story with the stitching on your leatherwork, especially high-sweat things like riding boots and girths. Get in there with your tack soap, and get hair out with a hoof pick or stiff brush. Dirt, sweat and moldy hair can break down your stitching over time, and nothing says fun like breaking a girth while riding. Take the time.
5. Replacing your helmet. Many – though certainly not most! – of us are good about replacing helmets after a fall, even if you don’t see any damage to the hat. But did you know that helmets have a lifespan, even if they haven’t had any trauma? The foam and other materials inside helmets do break down, and so it’s recommended that you replace your helmet every 4-5 years, no matter what, and possibly more often if you, like me, are in your helmet for hours a day.
Here’s a great article from my friends at OneK about the whys and wherefores of helmet replacement. And if you’re reading this going “Uh oh, I’m guilty!” then your timing is impeccable, because Helmet Awareness Day is upon us! There’s usually lots of great sales on OneK helmets that weekend, including my favorite, the Avance CCS, which features their cool color change system, a wide brim for sun protection, and the absolutely-critical MIPS safety functionality, which helps protect your brain from shearing forces better than a traditional helmet.
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I’ve been home from the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions for a week, and this is the first time I’ve had five minutes to actually sit down and write about it. I am so grateful to my awesome team for letting me sneak away for a week, and for letting my head be 100 percent in the zone while I was there and for the week or two before. But the penance for that, of course, is now being screamingly behind in my office work, up to my eyeballs in lessons and riding, and generally being a bit insane.
But I’ll pay that toll every time, because the big shows are where the magic is.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
Huzzah! I’m qualified for the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. I’ll ride The Elvis Syndicate’s wonderful Guernsey Elvis in the Developing Grand Prix Championship, for 8- to 10-year-old horses at the Grand Prix level. It’s a big deal, and it was my big goal for the year. Mission: accomplished.
But now that I’m qualified, I have to, you know, go.
I’m in the middle of a four-week gap between my last outing and the championships, and I’m making the most of that time to get Elvis and I as ready as possible. He had a little downtime after that show in July, the last in a long slog of competitions. I’ve spent this entire spring and summer addressing his fitness. As I’ve mentioned before, Elvis isn’t a super hot horse by nature, so I’ve needed to make a concentrated effort to increase his conditioning. By the time we leave for the Festival of Champions, being held Aug. 24-29 at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, he’ll be walking five days a week for north of 40 minutes, up and down my Virginia hills, in addition to his daily dressage work.
But there’s more than just dressage, and even more than just fitness, involved in successfully getting down centerline at a big show. Here’s what I’m up to this month.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
It’s been a minute (or three months, oops) since our latest newsletter, but we haven’t been bored! We’ve been up to our winning ways, including some high score awards, some medal scores, and sending two homemade Grand Prix horses to the USEF National Championships. Read on to learn all about it, and sign up to receive our monthly (or, you know, whenever we have time) newsletters directly in your inbox!
There’ve been a lot of horsey news stories in the last few weeks, between the Olympics, and various things happening in domestic horse sport management. I don’t have enough thoughts on any one individual phenomenon to write a proper blog about it, so here’s a bunch of little, well, snippets.
On dressage at the Olympics: First all, way to go, Team USA Dressage. I met Sabine when Sanceo was a young horse, and she rode him at the 5- or 6-year-old national championships, I forget which. I remember being staggeringly impressed – something I am usually not at that age of horse – because it was both such a quality test, and so clearly a horse that was going to go to the upper levels, not just be a young hotshot that never learned to close. I remember seeking Sabine out because the judges were not impressed, and I went over to be like dude, WTF, this horse is awesome. Sabine was gracious and classy about it. So Sabine, you rock, and you showed ‘em.
Second, a huge thank you to whoever unearthed the videos of Dalera and Gio as young horses. Gio at 4 would have been interesting to me, but I must confess that I would have said “isn’t that a nice future amateur horse!” watching the video of Dalera at 7. It is so, so inspiring to see that brilliant Grand Prix horses are made, not born, and not necessarily made from $400,000 3 year olds. There’s hope for us all.
On Olympic dressage in the world at large: horse crip walking, my friends. I LOVE this (if you’re aghast at the lack of seriousness about our sport, get a big ol’ grip, friend), and Mr. Dogg, if you’re reading this, I volunteer as tribute to participate in your next video. I have a pretty prancy palomino who would love to channel his inner gangsta.
Also, I loved Steffen’s music, as did the internet, but as usual, I found much of the rest of the freestyle music to be fairly painful. A little more rock concert and a little less Grey Poupon in international horse sport might make the sport a little sexier, y’all.
On other Olympic horse sports: I ran triathlons for a little while. I loved running, and I LOVED swimming. But I was a sucky cyclist, and so I’d usually smoke around the swim, lose a ton of ground on the bike, and then play catch up in the run to finish 2nd or 3rd in my division every time. Someone at some point told me this: you cannot win a triathlon on your swim, but you can certainly lose.
I recognize that I have no business telling any rider at any level how to jump their horse over anything, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for American event riders to get a little bit more serious about dressage.
On other Olympic horse sports, part 2: wow, pentathlon riding is tremendously bad.
On USEF horse news: They’re trying to make the amateur rule better and fairer. This is fantastic, and much needed. But I think breaking classes down by one’s occupation is a dumb way of breaking classes down, and that breaking them down by rider experience would be way better.
One’s job title doesn’t mean one is a good or bad rider. I know lots of extremely competent amateurs. I know lots of mediocre pros. One of the beautiful things about dressage is that we get a score at the end, and while there’s judges who are tough and judges who are like Christmas and a whole lot of judges in between, at least we can recognize that someone who places fifth on a 72% was probably better than a winner on 57%.
There’s a championship here in the mid-Atlantic that’s been around forever – the CBLMs – that has two divisions for senior riders, the A division for riders without extensive experience above the level they’re showing, and the B division for riders that do. So at First Level, an adult amateur like my mom (who’s shown through I1) would compete her next young horse against professionals like me, and my beginner rider working student who’s in her first year of dressage showing but is (according to the USEF amateur rule) a professional would compete against amateurs in their first year of dressage showing. And at Intermediate I, my mom (see above) would compete against professionals like my assistant trainer, showing I1 for the first time as well, but amateurs like Alice Tarjan, with extensive Grand Prix experience, would compete against professionals like me.
It has to be possible for some sort of similar designation to be applied to riders in other disciplines, and it has to be possible for a relatively foolproof database to come into existence so show management can easily check their riders’ status.
On other USEF horse news, plus the news at large: the Delta Variant is real, and we’re definitely heading for another mask mandate, in some capacity, so gear up. More importantly, get freaking vaccinated already. If you’re eligible for a vaccine, and don’t have a health issue that prevents you from doing so, sign the hell up. Not doing so is cowardly and un-patriotic. Vaccinated octogenarian grandma immigrants are braver and better Americans than you.
Auditing is $40/day at the door, but an RSVP is requested. Masking will be required indoors (tack room, bathroom, etc. – not the indoor arena) even if vaccinated, and required everywhere for unvaccinated folks. Socially distant seating is available. Email email@example.com to let us know you’re coming!
8:00 Lauren Sprieser & Kingrose, 6 yr KWPN Gelding, 1st Level
8:45 Jean Loonam & Red Hot Chili Pepper, 15 yr Hanoverian Gelding, PSG
9:30 Lauren Sprieser & Helio, 10 yr Lusitano, I1+
10:15 Kaitlynn Mosing & Petacchi, 14 yr KWPN Gelding, I1
11 Lauren Sprieser & Gretzky, 10 yr KWPN Gelding, I1+
11:45 Kaitlynn Mosing & Riesling De Buissy, 16 yr Gelding, 4th Level
1 Liza Broadbent & Incroyable, 8 yr KWPN Mare, 3rd Level
1:45 Jodie Harney & Sullivan, 9 yr Oldenburg Gelding, 2nd Level
2:30 Heather Richards & Halcyon, 9 yr KWPN Mare, 3rd Level
3:15 Adrienne Pagalilauan & Viva Westfalia, 9 yr Westfalen Gelding, PSG
4 Nancy Sulek & Range Rover, 14 yr Oldenburg Gelding, PSG
4:45 Adrienne Pagalilauan & Deeclair, 13 yr KWPN Mare, I1+
6:45 Adrienne Pagalilauan & Viva Westfalia, 9 yr Westfalen Gelding, PSG
7:30 Lauren Sprieser & Gretzky, 10 yr KWPN Gelding, I1+
8:15 Adrienne Pagalilauan & Deeclair, 13 yr KWPN Mare, I1+
9 Lauren Sprieser & Helio, 10 yr Lusitano, I1+
9:45 Heather Richards & Halcyon, 9 yr KWPN Mare, 3rd Level
10:30 Nancy Sulek & Range Rover, 14 yr Oldenburg Gelding, PSG
11:45 Jodie Harney & Sullivan, 9 yr Oldenburg Gelding, 2nd Level
12:30 Kaitlynn Mosing & Petacchi, 14 yr KWPN Gelding, I1
1:15 Liza Broadbent & Incroyable, 8 yr KWPN Mare, 3rd Level
2:00 Kaitlynn Mosing & Riesling De Buissy, 16 yr Gelding, 4th Level
2:45 Lauren Sprieser & Kingrose, 6 yr KWPN Gelding, 1st Level
Elvis, 6:30 a.m.: Sigh. Another week of excellence. Lauren arrives around 6:15 every morning, gets her things organized, and then grabs me. Obviously she starts with me because she likes to start her day on a high note with the Greatest Horse in the Universe.
Today, Lauren makes me loose in my back and sharp to her leg and hand. Tuesdays I always feel a little asleep at the switch—what can I say, I like my Monday day off—and I like to pretend like I’m untrained, just to keep her on her toes.
Puck, 7:15 a.m.: Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, it’s Tuesday!! Another great week of adventure!! Mom always rides Elvis first, which is OK, because I like everyone. But then she rides ME, and it’s so great because it’s nice to feel like one of the big boys.
There was a period of time where Mom rode me last. She said it was because she had to talk herself into it. I don’t know what that means! But here we are, together, my favorite person and me. I’m pretty much the same every day, so Mom will probably do some work on bending and canter work today.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
Working students come and working students go. It’s the nature of the business, and as much as it stresses me out, I expect it. It’s a job that young people keep for a little while to build a resume, to work their way up to other things. I get it. I did the same thing.
It’s also a job that separates the wheat from the chaff. It’s physical. It’s exhausting. It’s tedious and dirty, and it’s got long hours, and it doesn’t lead itself to a huge social circle outside of the barn, so making friends in a new part of the world can scare some people. Every trainer has a story about hiring some bright young thing only to have them get completely overwhelmed by the job and last only a handful of days.
Summertime is a popular start time for working students, and all over the country young people are graduating from high school or college and making their way to someone’s farm, moving in their stuff and preparing for tomorrow’s full day of work. Here’s a little advice on how to stick it out the awkward early days.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
You come out to ride, you groom, you tack up, you hop on… and your horse is lame. What do you do? You certainly can call the vet right away, but there’s a few things I like to rule out first, when I encounter a mild lameness.
First, I like to check for my favorite problem: acute foot pain. Dismount and check your horse’s feet. Did he step on a rock? (By the way, this is why you should pick your horse’s feet like Al Capone voted: early and often) Take out hoof testers, and put them to good use. Is there heat in the foot? Any discoloration? Is the shoe on correctly, or has he stepped on a nail? It’s a good starting place, and if you don’t know how to check out a foot, make sure your vet or farrier shows you next time you’re in their company.
On that note, you need to know when your horse was last shod, because if he comes up tender a day or two after shoeing, you could be dealing with a hot nail, a nail that was driven into the soft interior of the hoof instead of the exterior, which has no pain receptors, like our hair or fingernails.
If you’ve ruled out the foot, time to check up the leg. Skin irritations or “crud,” like scabs from dermatitis, can really irritate. If your horse has some crud, and is also wearing boots or wraps, pull the boot or wrap off and see if he’s sounder. I’ve had horses act like they had a broken leg simply because his skin hurt when rubbing against a soft polo wrap, poor delicate flower.
Swelling is the same – sometimes a horse gets a teeny tiny cut and it blows the whole leg up. Check for those sorts of things, and make sure to also take your horse’s temperature. A puffy leg plus a temperature can mean a serious infection, and your horse could need veterinary attention right away.
The last thing I check is for back pain. A lot of horses can experience lameness of limb because they’re trying to guard their backs or necks, which can hurt because of a myriad of reasons, including saddle fit, blanket fit, or just straight up hard work.
If there’s no obvious wounds, cuts, swelling, heat or scabs, no obvious foot pain, no obvious source of injury, you get to choose how much of an alarmist you would like to be. Unless I have a horse with an important outing on his event horizon, I like to take the Very Scientific Approach of waiting three days. I recently rolled my own ankle while undertaking a very serious and complicated athletic endeavor – walking on flat ground in appropriate shoes – and I figure if I’m that clumsy on two legs, a horse is capable of being that clumsy on four. A few days of “tack walking” for me, where I rode and strolled around and did not much else, and I was good as new.
So I give my horses the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’re sore and tired from training hard, maybe they slept funny, maybe they spooked in the field overnight and tripped and tweaked something. I personally don’t use NSAIDs to get through these timeframes, because I don’t want to mask anything more sinister. But I know others who do, and that works for them. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast wrong answer.
And it’s amazing how many come around the very next day, or maybe a day after that.
Of course, when things don’t resolve, I’m the first one in line at the vet’s office, using a quality sports medicine vet to guide me through the steps on whatever comes next. But I’ve never ever regretted a few days off for one of my horses out of an abundance of caution, and it’s often just what the doctor ordered.
Are you liking Snippets, my little bonus blogs? They began because I had all these little ideas for blogs that maybe weren’t long enough to be proper content for COTH, or weren’t horsey in nature. So they’re here. If you like them, leave a comment to let me know you’re seeing them. And if you like hearing EVEN MORE from me, consider joining the Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club! Your membership – for as little as $.25/week – helps me keep producing things like this, as well as all the special content Club Members get to see.