Two Great Teachers: Failure And Ellegria

By |2023-07-14T19:43:17-04:00July 14th, 2023|COTH Posts|

She was 5 but green broke, still owned by her breeder. I was 21, a veteran of the Young Rider and U25 programs, and as such I thought I knew a few things about horse training. I was wrong, as young people filled with hubris are often are. But I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Ellegria.

“Ella’s” real name was, tragically, Elly McBeal, which clearly had to go. She was a Westphalian of great old German breeding (Ehrentanz I—Patrizia, Philipo) and one of three Grand Prix horses her mother produced, with a coat like a copper penny, and a tanky body that belied her 16.1 hands. She had an extended trot that would knock your socks off, a gift for passage and a 10 extended walk.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Begin As You Mean To Go On

By |2023-06-21T20:03:47-04:00June 21st, 2023|COTH Posts|

Dogs, horses, humans—we’re all malleable, but never more than as youngsters. Our early years are so terribly critical. It’s why the folks who take Thoroughbreds off the track, or who fetch neglect cases from the auction, and make them into good citizens in sport disciplines are really so extraordinary. It’s much easier to teach something well the first time than it is to install it as an after-market add-on.

As a horse person who generally has had enough money to get nice young things but not nicely trained things, this has worked out fine for me. I was never someone who started babies, but even getting them at 3 and 4, and immediately thinking about turning nicely, adjusting nicely, taking my big ol’ leg and big ol’ seat, and generally fitting into my program and my style from the beginning means that becomes their native tongue. They are imprinted into my way. My way works well for me, and thus far has produced lots of horses that are both good at dressage and good at life. These horses also seem to do well in their next homes, even ones with people shaped differently than me, or who ride differently than me. That’s lovely. And I’m not unique in this—most dressage trainers follow the German Riding System of leg-seat-hand because it works. Most trainers install things like ground manners and standing at the mounting block and going away from home like a good boy instead of like a feral beast because most trainers don’t want to die.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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A Week In The Life: A European Horse-Shopping Trip

By |2023-04-30T12:13:37-04:00April 11th, 2023|COTH Posts|

This winter, I sold my top Grand Prix horse, Guernsey Elvis, who was owned by an amazing syndicate of supporters. Nearly all of them wanted to continue the partnership and invest in another horse for me to bring up the levels. While I always exhaust my American contacts first, the reality of shopping for international-caliber horses is that our European friends make more of them than we do here in the United States—and in countries that are much smaller than ours—so shopping in Europe is often more efficient. Add in that U.S. horse prices are still really pretty wild at the high end. So I recently found myself in the fortunate position of organizing an adventure to Denmark—my first in the several years since the pandemic paused easy travel—guided by my friends and agents of the past 15 years, Babsi Neidhardt-Clark and Martha Thomas.

I prefer to be guided by an agent rather than try to wing it myself, so for this trip, I gave Babsi and Martha a price-point ceiling and a general type: 6-8 years old with a flying change, big enough for my 5’10” self and keen but not totally feral. Then we picked a week where I could get away from my day job, booked tickets to Denmark, and off I went!

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Just Lucky, I Guess

By |2023-03-29T05:21:51-04:00March 29th, 2023|COTH Posts|

I went to groom for Carol Lavell when I was 22. I had done Young Riders, I had done the U25 Championships, and I thought I was quite the fancy thing. She offered me cash, which I took, of course, but I also asked for two lessons a week to be included in my salary. In my first lesson, I brought my Grand Prix horse. Carol and I worked on steering, mostly at the walk, because she said I didn’t know how, and how could I move on to the big things until I could turn at the walk?

Humbling, to say the least. Carol had that tough, no-nonsense New England way about her, too. While she was never mean, she certainly did not give a whole lot of a damn about my feelings. We got along swimmingly because, little egotistical thing that I was, I was still a good soldier, and I think Carol appreciated that about me, because soon not only did I get to ride my own horses in my own lessons, but I got to ride some of her young horses as well.

Her lessons were intense. Carol was a true genius, which meant that her brain operated at a rate of speed that even my fairly bright one could hardly keep up with. She was extremely thorough in all things, including the precise order and manner in which she wanted her horses groomed and tacked, and that she wanted her day to flow. That precision, that thoughtfulness behind everything she did, were really my first lessons in care at the international level, and I’ve held to some of those ideas in the barn still today.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse.

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By |2023-03-07T11:47:33-05:00March 7th, 2023|COTH Posts|

Four years ago last month, Facebook reminded me, was Elvis’ debut into the American dressage world: We’d been selected to ride in a master class with the legendary Isabell Werth. He went in the ring second in a long list of fabulous horses, following a fantastic youngster from Helgstrand, and succeeded by more experienced horses with bigger gaits.

That night, we demonstrated the correctness of his development, his confidence in a big environment and his terrific heart, in that I could put into him the power and expression—still in small doses as he was not yet 8—that I’d felt the day I met him. We demonstrated that day that there was more to Elvis, a little brown horse of common breeding, than met the eye.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Stop Prioritizing Emotion Over Evidence On Social Media

By |2023-03-04T12:09:13-05:00February 28th, 2023|COTH Posts|

At January’s U.S. Equestrian Federation Annual Meeting, participants talked extensively about “social license to operate.” The phrase refers to how the world views something, and whether people consider it acceptable in modern society. Google tells me the term originally developed in reference to extraction of natural resources—mining, an industry that is certainly plagued with environmental and human rights problems, and drilling for fossil fuels, for example.

But for sure it’s on our doorstep in the horse industry. And as I read the Chronicle’s coverage of the USEF meeting, I read this quote: “We might think racing and dressage are light years apart, but to most of the general public it’s horse sport,” according to equine behaviorist Dr. Camie Heleski. “For them there’s no difference between an FEI-regulated sport and a non-FEI-regulated sport.

And the killer: “The public prioritizes emotion over evidence.”

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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The New Year Is An Opportunity For Change

By |2023-01-30T06:07:37-05:00January 18th, 2023|COTH Posts|

What a long strange trip it’s been, 2022. In all things with horses, we plan, and God laughs, so it’s never really a shocker to me when whatever the plan was in January stops being the plan about 837 times before the year’s end. Add in a pandemic coming to a… well, “end” isn’t quite right, but at least a new phase—plus an economic boom, an economic bust, life, death, losing a work wife and gaining a husband, and it’s been a year for the books.

It’s all left me in a place of opportunity, a place to make some changes in how I do things. As I’ve gotten older, I’m just a little less scared by the changes, the departures, the surprises. I now see them more as exciting moments for growth rather than calamities. It doesn’t make them easy, but I’m getting better at it.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Toughen Up or Soften Up? Striking A Balance In Equine Hiring

By |2023-01-30T06:09:51-05:00December 19th, 2022|COTH Posts|

There’s a real hiring crisis right now, and it’s across all industries, not just ours. The COVID pandemic has been unkind on so many fronts. To me, we’ve got two problems. One is about the expectations of those who think they want to work in the horse industry, about what a day, a week, a year in the life looks like. And the other is a serious problem with our industry and how we shape our business models.

Let’s begin with the latter. Most equine businesses rely on less skilled, less trained workers to do the unsexy parts of horse care: stall mucking, barn cleaning, schlepping through the mud and the heat and the flies. For some, that’s low-cost labor in the form of paid grooms. But for others, that’s working students, those interns who are paid few (or sometimes even no) dollars but gain experience and resume line-items that help them climb the ladder to better-paying jobs within the industry.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Peace in Nowhereland

By |2022-11-01T14:43:09-04:00November 1st, 2022|COTH Posts|

Hello. It’s October. You haven’t heard from me since the end of August. I’m fine; nothing’s happened of note. I’m just… nowhere.

The hours are long right now. I’m pulling long days and longer weekends. And as an extrovert who recharges by socializing with others, having no time to do so has left me feeling a bit gray. Nothing serious. No one’s dying. I’m old enough and wise enough to know that this will end, and that’s a comfort. But I’m just nowhere.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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When A Trainer Says They’ve Done It, Check Them Out

By |2022-06-26T17:25:04-04:00June 26th, 2022|COTH Posts|

There are many factors to consider when looking for a coach. The person must be a good personality fit and offer lessons and coaching in a style that suits your learning type. They need to be logistically convenient, either in a location that’s easy for you to get to, or with technology that makes virtual coaching possible. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that they can do the job you need them to do: bring horses up to the level you want your horse brought up to, and bring humans up to the level you want to be brought up to. 

To pick a coach, you’ll want to watch them teach and ride, speak to their students, ask for references. But you can also use technology to do a little dressage credit-checking. So let’s talk about how to verify a trainer’s credentials.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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