In Praise Of The Schooling Show

By |2024-04-16T13:45:29-04:00April 16th, 2024|COTH Posts|

A million years ago, in a time of much healthier knees, I did triathlons. If you’ve never stood next to me, I’m 5’10” and built like a refrigerator, so when I tell you I did triathlons, I did them slowly, and I did the shortest distance class: a sprint, which is usually about a half-mile swim, 15-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run. I could do one in about two hours. Competition in these things is often by age group, but because I’m no pixie, I competed in something called the Athena division, for female athletes over 165 pounds. (Lest you were curious, the men’s division, for athletes over 200 pounds, is called the Clydesdale division.)

When you go to a local sprint-distance triathlon, you see all shapes and sizes. You see weekend warriors like me. You see the more ambitious amateur athletes, really going for it. And you’ll often see a few pros that are doing a little sprint to stay sharp, or begin a season, or test the waters recovering from an injury, or maybe just there to inspire their local triathlon club. There are prizes, pizza and beer at the end. It is an absolute hoot.

One of the many things I love about dressage is what I loved about local sprint-distance triathlons: There’s a level, and a competition, for everyone.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Go Where The Wisdom Is

By |2024-04-06T13:11:59-04:00April 3rd, 2024|COTH Posts|

Cadeau, my top horse, has weird feet. They’re small and a little upright, and like everything that comes from Europe, he struggled a bit to adjust to the concrete block that is the ground in a Virginia summer. One of the 10 million reasons I use my excellent farrier Sean Crocker is because he believes in the team approach: He listens to my also-excellent sports medicine veterinarian Dr. Cricket Russillo, and he listens to me when I tell him how the horses are going.

So when he said to me, “Sprieser, Cadeau’s feet are making me nervous, and I want to make sure I’m doing the best for him. Can we get a consult in Wellington with one of the best farriers on the planet?” of course I agreed.

I grew up far away from the equestrian centers of our country, finding my love for horses at local barns and then graduating to competing at the national levels. But I left for a reason, and that reason was that international-caliber training and horse management was much harder to find there. Going to college on the East Coast and spending time in elite-level barns there blew my young mind, because I didn’t even know how little I knew.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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The Rider’s Training Pyramid

By |2024-04-06T13:09:13-04:00February 26th, 2024|COTH Posts|

Sometimes my team and I are really rolling, with lots of horses and humans showing and getting somewhere and grinding it out. Other times, the youngsters are all youngstering, and I didn’t book a lot of clinics in January and February because the weather usually stinks, and we’re mostly just logging miles and waiting for something to happen. This is one of those times. But it’s meant that I’ve had time—time to go and watch the warmup at the CDIs, time to get caught up on office work, and time to do some continuing education.

One of those opportunities was Lendon Gray’s Training4Teaching program, which offers free lectures by extremely credentialed people about teaching riders, a topic we don’t talk enough about in dressage. (We say lots about horse training, but not enough about human training.) In addition to some great pearls of wisdom from a whole panel of excellent instructors, Lendon also assigned us some homework: to develop a “Rider Training Scale” to mirror that which already exists for training the horse.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Rooting For The Home Team—And The Homegrown

By |2024-01-20T13:21:14-05:00January 16th, 2024|COTH Posts|

We’ve all been reading about the sales of international Grand Prix horses to new riders lately because, in order to qualify for an Olympics under Fédération Equestre International rules, a horse has to have at least one owner of the same nationality as its rider by Jan. 15 of the Games year. That deadline was Monday, and many investors both in the U.S. and abroad have made major purchases in the past month or so to bolster their riders’ chances of securing an elusive team spot.

The people who sponsor riders are amazing, and we can’t be grateful enough to them. This is a wildly expensive sport no matter how one does it, and having help along the way is critical for those of us trying to do it, and do it well. Lessons, clinics, sales commissions—those are just so rarely enough to support a horse at the top levels, particularly if you have to take time off from that teaching/riding day job order to campaign that horse.

I hope that everyone who has acquired a finished Grand Prix horse for this year achieves their dreams, and has a long, sound and healthy relationship with that new horse. I hope our riders earn medals, and our fans are inspired by excellent horsemanship.

And I also hope that at least one will be riding a horse they made themself.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Deferred Maintenance

By |2023-11-28T13:29:36-05:00November 28th, 2023|COTH Posts|

In Lauren’s Magical Universe of Joy and Rainbows, when I sell a horse, I get to take all that money and go get a new horse or two. While I don’t do sales for a living, and I don’t buy horses with the goal of resale, sometimes the young horses I bring up the levels don’t get far enough up the levels, or don’t get me to my goal of big, hairy, international things, and that means they get to be schoolmasters for other people. And then I have a chunk of change in my hand.

And yes, I get to put some of that into whatever critter comes next. But unfortunately, adulting is a thing too. So at least some of those funds need to go to other things. Let me introduce you all to my annoying friend, Deferred Maintenance.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Let’s Divide Dressage Classes By Experience Instead Of Occupation

By |2023-11-06T11:45:45-05:00November 6th, 2023|COTH Posts|

One of my favorite things about dressage is that there are so many ways to play. Schooling shows, recognized shows, little local ones, big hairy international ones, everything in between. There’s room in our sport for the person with the day job who are weekend warriors with their rescue pony, and there’s room in our sport for the independently wealthy with time and resources to ride at the top level. There’s room for the professional who teaches people how to do their first tests, and there’s room for the professional who brings them to the international ring. There’s lots of room.

But I’ve always felt that dividing classes by rider occupation was a silly line in the sand to draw. The working students of the world who come to their jobs not knowing much more than how to put their horses on the bit have to compete in their first-ever first level test against me on something with international ambitions, and that seems unfair. The weekend warrior on the pony has to compete against the amateur who’s made Grand Prix horses and is starting anew with something young, and that seems unfair.

And yeah, it’s just a ribbon. At the local shows, I don’t care, but some people do. And at the regional and national championships, a lot of people do. For some riders, that local show is their regionals, or their nationals or their Olympics.

What if, instead of dividing classes by rider occupation, we divided them by level of rider experience?

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Finding The Young-Horse Line Between Too Much And Not Enough

By |2023-11-06T11:43:00-05:00August 23rd, 2023|COTH Posts|

I bought Ojalá (Vitalis—Fienna, Sir Sinclair) from her breeder, Belinda Nairn, as a foal. She grew up in a field, learned to stand on crossties, lead, have a bath, be civilized. At 3, she was backed. She learned to walk, trot and canter on the bit like a lady, work with other horses in the ring, and hack out by the time I picked her, now 4, up in April of this year. I rode her and found her delightful, and then handed the keys to my wonderful assistant trainer, Ali Redston, who has a much greater affinity for the youngsters than I do. They went on an off-property outing, which was uninteresting. They went to a recognized show, where they performed admirably in two Materiale classes, and behaved to perfection.

And then I gave “Lala” a month off.

Why? She was sound. She was working well. She approached each day cheerfully, with good manners both on the ground and under saddle. She’s barefoot behind, clean legged and has a strong topline. Why stop?

Well … because I could. Because there really isn’t anything else I particularly care about for her right now. Lala happens to also be truly every inch of 18 hands, but I’m truthfully not sure I would have done anything differently if she were 16 hands. I came back to this: At 4 years old, there’s really not much to win, but plenty to lose by doing too much.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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Cool Ideas For Hot Weather Training

By |2023-11-06T11:41:14-05:00August 9th, 2023|COTH Posts|

I’m writing this blog from my couch, where it is a delightful 72 degrees. I have an iced coffee, some office work and a leisurely Monday afternoon ahead of me. I am just home from teaching a clinic in Texas, where the high each day was 102. It’s been marginally cooler here in Virginia, but not by much during our recent heatwave.

We could talk about global warming, but it’s not like summertime in Virginia was a balmy experience before humans started humaning. It’s hot here. It’s sticky here. It’s certainly not going away. So, we plan accordingly.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

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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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