Designing A Show Season

By |2022-01-21T05:32:07-05:00January 18th, 2022|COTH Posts|

Joanna Jodko photo.

It’s the beginning of a new year, and for those of us with horses, it means thinking about what we’d like to achieve with them and mapping out how to get there. Show calendars are online, and I put together a schedule for where my group of riders might go to show. There’s qualifying criteria for the various regional and national-level championships, including lists of shows for those championships that are dedicated qualifying events. And there’s the long, hard look in the mirror about where a horse or rider is at this moment and what reasonable progress might occur between now and that first show, to set a realistic goal for the season. Here’s how we do it at my house.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

The Florida Set-Up

By |2022-01-05T14:18:30-05:00January 4th, 2022|COTH Posts|

I took you all through the insanity of the past few months in my last blog. Now join me on the past few weeks: our trip to our winter location outside Wellington, Florida.

This is, I believe, my 10th consecutive winter in Welly-World, so I’m not a rookie. But this year is different on a few fronts. While we’ve taken more horses every year, this is the first year where we’ve had so many going—and so few left behind—that we decided to close my Virginia operation down. This required a lot of shuffling, to get our handful of non-Florida-bound horses to their winter gigs, and a little creativity with my staff and where they were going.

This year is also different because it is the first at a new facility for us: Perfect Cadence, bought this spring by amazing longtime clients and friends. It’ll be amazing; they’re committed to turning the farm into a world-class facility with a covered arena, substantial turnout, a hacking path around the whole facility and more. The problem? Between all the challenges of getting plans approved by Palm Beach County and an HOA under normal circumstances, plus the joys of building during a global health crisis, we are pretty much nowhere. We have the existing farm, which is perfectly lovely, but we’ve never been there before, so everything will be a first-time experience.

But we have a plan. First, the great exit, in stages.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

The End-of-Year Sprint

By |2021-12-27T05:18:22-05:00December 7th, 2021|COTH Posts|

Folks, it’s crazy time. Autumn is always a little nuts, but… well, let me show you.

Let us begin in OCTOBER. Activities include the GAIG/USEF Regional Championships (amazing and educational); a clinic at my farm with my fantastic friend and biomechanics expert Suzanne Galdun (amazing); and attending the U.S. Para-Dressage National Championships (educational).

My assistant trainer, who is newly engaged, gives me her notice—a surprise, since we’d originally planned on her departure after Florida— leaving me scrambling. It’s OK; I’m at my best with my back against a wall. And sometimes the universe hands you what you need: Three days later I’ve hired Sam, who’s both a beautiful and experienced rider, and while she’s never taught before, she’s got the right temperament and intellect for the job. And I like teaching, so I’ll teach her how to teach.

It remains a good thing I’m at my best with my back against the wall, because I also get fantastically unloaded off a young horse and earn myself my first concussion. Naturally, I do not tell anyone and just casually teach in sunglasses for the next few days. The timing is good because everyone hits pause on their lessons this time of year. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

Learning Lessons, Keeping Perspective At The U.S. Dressage Finals

By |2021-11-17T05:11:26-05:00November 16th, 2021|COTH Posts|

The U.S. Dressage Finals is one of my favorite shows, for a few reasons. It’s a big-deal show, at a fantastic venue. The team that runs it is the All-Stars, the best of the nation’s various show management companies all coming together. It’s a great way to get the young horses some mileage in a big environment, and success here is a nice feather in your marketing cap. But none of those are the biggest reason I love the U.S. Dressage Finals. Let me explain.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

Horse, Know Thyself

By |2021-11-11T04:48:01-05:00October 21st, 2021|COTH Posts|

The weather is turning, and our horses coats are growing. Last week my 6-year-old, Eddie, was clipped, his first time doing so in my owning him. He was perfect, the clip came out great, and the next day, I went to ride him. The second the saddle pad hit his back, he curled up and froze. He held his breath. His eyes went wide. He walked around the arena in hand for a bit, but discretion being the better part of valor, I stuck him on the lunge line. And he exploded, huge bucks, over and over and over. I’ve never seen anything like it. I struck a balance in my lunging between letting him let the energy out (honestly, I didn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter), and making transitions so he had to stay at least vaguely present and with me.
It was unbelievably naughty. And it was unbelievably out of character. Eddie is a kind, gentle-natured horse. He’s bright and engaging, with a soft eye. I’ve also learned in our 8 months together that he’s a little insecure, particularly about his back and his hind legs. So when I saw that look in his eye, saw him hump his back up underneath the saddle and walk like he’d been hobbled, it reminded me of a look I sometimes see in my human students’ eyes, when they’ve had a bad day at work, or they’ve had a bad night of sleep, or they’re going through a divorce, or they’re feeling the pressure of an upcoming show. Sometimes the barn is the best place for them, when they’re dealing with difficult moments, but sometimes they can’t check it at the door.
Read the rest at Noelle Floyd!

…And Then What Happened At The Big Show

By |2021-09-12T08:52:43-04:00September 9th, 2021|COTH Posts|

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!

What Happens At Home Before The Big Show

By |2021-09-12T08:54:59-04:00August 10th, 2021|COTH Posts|

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!

A Week In Their Words

By |2021-07-26T14:29:29-04:00July 26th, 2021|COTH Posts|

TUESDAY
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!

Reiten Lernt Man Durch Kehren

By |2021-07-14T07:52:52-04:00July 14th, 2021|COTH Posts|

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!

Pick & Shovel Work

By |2021-07-04T16:28:27-04:00June 22nd, 2021|COTH Posts|

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!

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