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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
I’ve made many FEI dressage horses, most of them out of horses who were complete and utter ding-dongs as children but reformed enough by middle age to be able to do the top-level work on a combination of training and adrenaline. I’ve never really had to think about horse fitness before. But Elvis and Helio are really pleasant, agreeable fellows. They’re not nutty. And they’re not hot. So with Elvis’ Grand Prix debut, and Helio’s rapid approach to that level, I’ve realized that I need a lot more gas in their collective tanks to execute that level of work, with aplomb, and on a hot competition Sunday.
And I realized I don’t know how to do that. So I fumbled along for a while, and then I got some help from one of the best in the world.
Allow me to explain.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
When I was ten, I broke my femur, and had a pin put through my left knee for a month. It was removed, but that trauma, combined with years of running and triathlons, a genetic predisposition to crummy joints, and a lifetime of mounting from the left, that knee has ached for years. It’s been getting worse, so I finally made an appointment with a local orthopedist.
I was quizzed about my symptoms – aching or stabbing? localized or specific? when moving, or all the time? – on a form, and then shepherded into an exam room. The doctor spent about 2 minutes with me, moving my knee, putting her hand on it while it moved, and then sent me off to x-ray. 2, maybe 3 views? The doctor reviewed them, diagnosed me with deterioration of the cartilage above my knee, and then gave me three choices: a daily NSAID, joint injection with a steroid, or joint injection with Hyluronic Acid (which, by the way, she said was unlikely to be covered by my insurance until I’d tried the steroid, given my age).
It should go without saying that I had some questions.
When I think about how my horses are treated when they go see my exceptional sports medicine veterinary practice, Virginia Equine Imaging, it’s a very different experience. Their exam is thorough and holistic, even if I have a specific complaint; they watch my horses at rest and in motion, both free and with the rider if possible, and perform flexion tests. They rule things out one at a time, and it takes time.
Now horses can’t talk, so for sure the exam has a practical reason to look at the whole body instead of just the specific complaining part. And I recognize that VEI, and my vet, Dr. Cricket Russillo, are elite-level, world class sports medicine specialists, and so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to the local human orthopedist in my wee town. But whenever I have a horse see Dr. Russillo, the conversation always goes beyond pain management.
That was my first question for my orthopedist. Ok, cartilage doesn’t grow back, I know. But my options are whole body painkiller or local painkiller? What about something to help condition the cartilage? Not until I’d tried the painkiller, according to insurance.
Ok, I said, let’s think outside the box. Is there something like Adequan for humans? Nope. Legend? Nope. What about a biologic, like Platelet Rich Plasma? That exists in humans… but isn’t covered by insurance, so I’d have to pay for it out of pocket.
So that’s that. Apparently we do more to help slow the decline of a horse’s joints – horses, with a lifespan of 20 years – than we can do for humans. And it would seem to me that there would be some wisdom in getting ahead of problems like mine, that will inevitably be more expensive to treat down the road, with things like joint replacements. Fortunately for me, the NSAID is working great, and I’m able to go about my life like before. And also fortunately for me, I’ve got time, hopefully such that modern human medicine can catch up to all that we’ve learned to do to help our equine friends.
I like showing, but I’m not a maniac.
I don’t personally feel like there’s anything to be achieved by taking the same group of horses to two shows every month; I think training is done at home, and I think that I’m more likely to win at the show if I’ve logged sufficient training. That’s just how I do it—not how everyone does it, nor is it the only way it can be done—but it works for me.
What I really like is the puzzle of it all: how to plan a season, which shows to go to and when, to make for peak performances from my horses. And then there’s also the question of what to do in between those shows, how to give my horses sufficient down time so they can catch their breath and let their tired bodies recuperate, but also build condition, strength and new skills.
Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!
Here’s a list of things that make me nutsy. Most aren’t actual crimes, they’re just Lauren crimes. But crimes they are, in my mind, so spare my delicate sensibilities and don’t do them in my presence.
1. White ear bonnets. Just… don’t. It’s a FLASHING NEON SIGN drawing the eye of all – including the judge – to any moments of imperfection in the contact or self-carriage your horse may have. (Unless your horse is gray, obviously.)
2. Dirty bits. You should clean at LEAST your bridles and girths daily, and as part of bridle cleaning, you need to clean the bits. The goo that comes out of your horse’s mouth during work is bad for leather, and then hardens and gets icky when you have to put it back in your horse’s mouth. Water, a towel, and a little elbow grease. You can do it.
3. People who do it wrong the same way over and over. Whatever “it” is, in your lessons, make a new mistake. A fair amount of my annual income is spent repeating myself, so this is really against my financial interest to fix in humanity, but it can be rather annoying. Don’t worry about whether you’ll fail or not; just fail different. That’s how you figure out where the right answer is!
4. Hand walking around the arena at shows. You can’t see through your horse’s head, so you’re going to walk your horse in front of me. And either you’re nervous, in which case you should walk yourself around the arena and leave your poor horse alone in front of his fan with some hay, or your horse is a wing nut, in which case you’re going to cause a ruckus for those who are riding. Lunge it, get a trainer to ride it, something, but hand walking around the show ring is a good way to get someone hurt.
5. People who park badly at shows. In the parking lot, take your time and do it right. Others have to share that space with you. If you don’t know how to drive your trailer backwards, don’t drive it to the show until you do. And when you’re loading or unloading, do your best to not be a tool and block access into or around the barn. Easier said than done at some horse shows, but it’s better that you have to walk a bit than that you make everyone else’s life harder.
6. People who bitch at ring stewards, or rely on them to be their brains. Ring stewards are almost always volunteers, and sometimes they’re relatively new to the sport. Check in when you show up. Ask who you follow. Ask if the ring is on time. And then be a responsible adult and pay attention to what’s going on. The ring steward is not your mommy; it’s up to you to get yourself into the ring on time.
7. Nosebands that aren’t level. Cavessons need to be parallel to the ground, not up on one side and down on the other, but more importantly they need to be level from front of nose to back. If your flash is pulling your noseband down, your bridle isn’t the right size. Get some help in getting the right gear, because the wrong gear is both ineffective and uncomfortable for your horse.
8. Test readers. Memorize! Using a reader is like failing an open-book test. You have the answers in advance! And if you’re relying on a reader, you’re riding the moment, rather than riding the moment ten steps from now. You will score better when you know where you’re going.