Bravo, Boys

By |2022-08-27T20:38:57-04:00August 27th, 2022|Snippets|

Today, as I write this, Abe Pugh and Alice Drayer’s Trakehner stallion Elfenperfekt placed fifth in the nation at the USEF Festival of Champions in the Grand Prix division, the highest championship division we offer in the United States.

I don’t know exactly how Abe and I met – I think we just said “hi, how are you” at enough horse shows until one day, voila, we were friends. But I do remember watching him ride Elfenperfekt – Pistol to his friends – at a show, noting that no one was there coaching him. I then remembered that, years before, a guy I barely knew named Michael Barisone came up to me and, politely, said that I looked like I needed a coach, and offered help.

So I put on my big girl pants, marched over to Abe, and said that if he wanted, I’d be happy to help him, with the exact same promise that Michael had made to me years before: I’d be there when Abe needed me, I’d be nice to his clients, and I’d never, ever try and take his horse away from him.

That was almost six years ago. Since then, Abe and Pistol have won a World Cup Qualifier, countless regional championships, and many year end titles, as well as top placing at CDIs and USDF Finals. I’ve taught Abe to be more diligent, to take it all a bit more seriously, and about throughness. Abe’s taught me about courage, about balance, and about fighting for your dreams. I make Abe tuck his shirt in, and fuss at him about his rogue elbows; he tells me to ask my horses for more, and to be brave when my baby horses feel wicked. I tell him to wrap better; he tells me to try and chill out when I go on vacation. And I offer to drive and fly all over for him, just as he offers to help me fix the floors in my basement. I don’t have a big brother, but I imagine this is what it’s like.

And then there’s that tremendous horse, Pistol, my goodness. What does one say about such a creature, one who gives his whole heart, every day? Pistol has given us all the incredible gift of his wisdom, his trainability, his kindness. My top Grand Prix horse, Elvis, knows how to piaffe because Pistol showed me what was possible. Every horse that both Abe and I will ever have will be better for having known Pistol.

Thank you, Alice, for making that amazing horse, and for letting all of us go all the places we’ve gone together. Thank you, Pistol, for showing us all what is possible on the back of a great horse. A MASSIVE thank you to Ali Brock for pinch hitting for me on Freestyle day – I had to fly home after the first two days of the Championships to coach one of my international level eventer students AND then show myself, along with some clients, at a local show here – as well as to everyone at Virginia Equine Imaging for all they’ve done for all of us to keep that tremendous beast performing his best.

Lastly, to Abe, my friend, my big brother, thank you for letting me help you. It’s been a remarkable ride! (Now get back to work on those elbows.)

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No, I’m Not Dead: a State-of-the-Situation Snippet

By |2022-08-11T12:19:34-04:00August 6th, 2022|Snippets|

Hi everyone. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m doing fine. You haven’t heard from me via blog or Snippet in a while, and whenever that happens, I inevitably get a few sweet messages about “are you ok?! what’s going on?!” So: yes, I’m ok. The horses are great. 

I’ve been radio silent for a few reasons. One is that nothing’s going on; our show season is set up such that we get a big long break from mid-July to the end of August, and so my horses get to go on Summer Vacation. Puck and Elvis are both on light work, doing lots of walking, letting their bodies have a break before the Autumn push. The babies are going, but the babies are just that – babies – so their day to day experience just isn’t all that exciting. 

Which doesn’t mean that I’m not focused, nor does it mean they’re not making progress. Puck and I are on a bending jihad. I always think about self-carriage with Elvis, but I had a little epiphany last week about trying to ride him 3-and-1, where both curb reins end up in one hand, and then I just have the one snaffle rein in the other; its really let me think about how he answers the half halt in a cool way.

The babies are doing their thing. Maddie went to two horse shows this summer, and behaved splendidly both times, so now I get to put my energy into training; however, she’s 17.3, so I’m not feeling in an overwhelming hurry to accomplish anything. We work on throughness, and she has graduated in my esteem to earning her own equipment, so she sees my wonderful bit fitter friend Stephanie Brown-Beamer of Horse by Horse, to maximize her comfort. (The rule at my house is that you don’t your own gear until I’m sure you’re staying.)

One who’s still in hand-me-downs is four-year-old Velcro, though I must say, I don’t think he’s going anywhere either; he’s endlessly kind but man, he has a mind at work! He’s super smart, very easy to engage with, and is doing great. He had a minor medical procedure this Spring – why I could afford him – and he’s doing great, but between the time off for that and the long trip from Kansas and growing to be an absolutely giant four year old, he arrived on my doorstep quite thin, and it took a long time to add enough calories to him to even think about getting to work. So we’ve just introduced exciting things like turning, but he’s going to be wicked, wicked cool.

Baby Lala, the one I’ve owned from a foal, is now 3, and is working smartly under saddle in Pennsylvania with my wonderful friend and student Abe Pugh. She is also giant, at least 17.1 at 3 years old, so none of us are feeling a burning desire to push on her any harder (honestly, what is there to do except walk, trot, canter, and steer a 3-year-old anyway?), so she trundles along, and will do so all winter, with the idea of coming home to me Spring of next year, when we’re home from FL.

I’m riding some wonderful horses for clients too, including Rowan, a 7-year-old Irish Draught owned by Mary Ewing. I’ve not experienced many drafts, but if they’re all like Rowan, then we should all ride drafts. He’s remarkably agile, he’s terribly smart, and he smoked around at his first horse show, including beating Maddie one day, which is hard to do!

I’m also in that time of year where I’m teaching clinics like a madman, at least two a month if not three, and I’m very VERY excited that we have Starlink internet access now at the farm, so I am teaching virtual lessons all across the country (and even internationally!), with easy sign up via our e-scheduling website, instead of my having to sprint back to my house in town in order to teach them. You can sign up for one here, if you’d like!

I tried my hand at taking a family vacation, and I’m predictably terrible at them. My garden is going gangbusters. Nike, the world’s best Pibble, had surgery in the spring to fix yet another busted cruciate ligament, but he’s recovered well; Georgia, NOT the world’s best Pibble, was a remarkably gentle nursemaid, which was actually quite cute, and maybe earned her a few points in my book (though she pooped in the car the other day, so net-net…)

My knee is feeling great after having it injected with PRP, so I am now all the more a fan of good veterinary care. Summer vegetables are wonderful, but summer cocktails are even better. I am still waiting on my wedding photos. And that’s all the news from the home front! I hope you all are staying cool and making progress. Thanks for checking on me!

We are still waiting on the major dump of our wedding photos, but at least we finally have a few to share.

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Barn Tech, Summer 2022 Edition

By |2022-06-01T13:49:44-04:00June 1st, 2022|Snippets|

Technology is all over the horse world now – new and better vet diagnostics and treatments, virtual lessons, wearables; you name it, and someone’s trying to make it, or improve it, with modern tech. Here at Sprieser Sporthorse we use all sorts of great tech to make our lives run easier, and here are a few of my favorite things this year.

In The Barn: Horse Report System 

We run a HUGE program, with as many as 24 horses in full training at any particular time, some long term and some short, and in two locations – Virginia and Florida. It’s a huge amount of cats to herd, and so having all our horse health records in one spot, accessible from anywhere in the world, is critical. But we’ve used every barn management system in existence and found them all to have problems and challenges.

Then we were introduced last year to Horse Report System. Initial set up of each horse takes time, of course, but not nearly as much time as other systems have taken us. And once the horse is in the system, it’s a breeze. We can bulk-add appointments like vaccines and dewormer, make notes about what vet work was done to each horse and when with just a few clicks, and not only upload receipts and vet notes but also search them by keyword.

And there’s SO many functionalities, way more than we use in our program. Users can make notes on each horse’s workouts, upload test or show results, even see a horse or stable’s activity in calendar form (a great way for looking at the big picture!)

We just love it, and there’s a 30-day free trial you can take advantage of. We use HRS all the time, especially because it’s a great way to organize our documents, like our before and after photos, as well as the docs we need at horse shows like coggins and vaccination reports. Speaking of…

At The Shows: Horse Show Office

COVID made us all turn to online-only show entry systems. That’s great, but the systems that are unwieldy or, even worse, charge a substantial fee to use them? Utter nonsense. Kevin Bradbury’s Horse Show Office is by far the best option I’ve used to enter recognized shows. I don’t need to have an account set up; I can just enter my horse’s USDF number and I’m halfway home. Uploading coggins, signature pages, etc is a breeze. And I’ve yet to pay a fee, probably because I can pay by e-check or PayPal rather than having to use a credit card (and forcing a 3% fee on someone).

From show management’s perspective, I’m told by the best organizers in the business that HSO is also vastly superior to anything else out there, and I’m sure it’s a relief for organizers to be able to just use one company, rather than accept entries on one system and then put out show results on another.

I hope that all our local shows (hint hint) consider switching over to HSO. It’s a much, MUCH easier experience for everyone around, and I’m sure they’d appreciate more complete entries… wink wink, nudge nudge.

In The Arena: Pivo

COVID also made me get serious about virtual lessons, both offering them and taking them. We’re challenged in the more rural parts of the world by the speed of our internet access, but that wasn’t my initial problem: I’d put a thousand bucks into a certain VERY expensive French system that I couldn’t get to work in my arena, with beacons and watches and all sorts of moving parts that didn’t seem to want to reliably talk to one another. I tried FaceTime, which is easy enough, but just not designed for that purpose, so the quality can get janky.

I’d owned a Pivo for a while to try and record my rides, and sometimes it’s a champion and sometimes it’s not (my Pivo was obsessed with a palm tree in Florida that really does not look anything like a horse, and sometimes it would pull an Exorcist in front of the arena mirrors and spin around). But I had someone ask to be taught a virtual lesson via their Pivo… and a love affair was born.

Bang for your buck-wise, it’s the superior system. The compression algorithm of the video quality is just as good as the more expensive systems, but set up is SO much easier (just put the thing on your tripod, click in your phone, press a few buttons and you’re good to go). And whereas sometimes in just recording a video the Pivo can get lost in the woods (or the mirrors, or the palm trees), when teaching a lesson via Pivo, the instructor can take over the robot and control it. I had a lesson with Ali at the last show, in the warmup arena, with multiple horses in the space, and she just took over the robot so she could follow me with it herself. Amazing! And it’s just $150 – WAY better than anything else on the market doing the same thing.

Now if only we could invent some tech to remind me to half halt more and to stop doing that weird thing I do with my right foot!

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Wedding Magic Requires a Gaggle of Great Wizards

By |2022-05-09T13:49:07-04:00May 9th, 2022|Snippets|

When even the bartender says your wedding is the most fun he’s ever worked, your wedding was really, really fun. And I’m leaving glowing Google reviews for all of our stellar cast of vendors, but that didn’t feel like enough. So here’s the whole scoop on everyone who made our day so magical!

When Ravi proposed in December 2020, our first action item was to hire a wedding planner. We interviewed several, but Jessica Maskell endeared herself to me with the following two lines. First, “Lauren, you’re a dressage trainer, Ravi’s an engineer, and you have 18 months to do this. You’ll be fine.” Second, “My job is to make sure everything gets done and that the groom and his groomsmen don’t get too drunk too early.” She was the (wo)man for the job.

Even better, Jessica came with a +1: her husband, Mark, is a DJ. Mark handled our needs with aplomb, including some great Indian music picked by Ravi’s family, and lit the space beautifully.

Speaking of the space: next up was picking our venue. I really liked 6 Pastures from the photos, but Ravi – bless him – was in charge of the search, because I was already in Florida. But then my distinctly indoorsy fella called and said that hands down, no questions asked, beautiful pastoral 6 Pastures was our space. Their reclaimed hay barn was both exquisite AND sufficiently large to hold both our ceremony and our reception, so we were safe from foul weather AND with great airflow for COVID safety. And the bridal suite, where my bridesmaids and I got ready for the day, is stunning.

Then it was on to catering. We tried one caterer – perfectly reasonable rubber-chicken party food – and Ravi, a guy who eats to live, declared them satisfactory. “Lauren,” he said, “when have you ever been to a wedding where you remembered the food after?” But I live to eat, and we already had an appointment with Downtown Catering on the books, so off we went. And thank goodness, because Therese makes meals that aren’t just checking a box – it was a restaurant-quality experience. Fresh ingredients, beautifully prepared. The food was a joy, and their organization of all our other reception related details like rentals and bartenders was swift and easy.

Not to be outdone, Smiley’s Ice Cream capped the night. Ravi is an ice cream devotee, and the look on our guests faces when the ice cream truck pulled up… gold. Plus, let me tell you, taste testing ice cream to narrow down which flavors we wanted Smiley’s to bring? Not the worst hour of my life!

Makeup artist Elzi Camacho came highly recommended by our venue, and did not disappoint. She was exceptionally organized, communicated with me beautifully, and made my entire bridal party feel like a collection of princesses. My Maid of Honor said it best – it was a little devastating to take the makeup off at the end of the night!

Our hair was done by my long-suffering friend Chelsea of Scarlett and Sage. Chelsea has been cutting my hair for almost 15 years, and in that I am perhaps not the girliest of girls, she’s had to endure a lot of dumb questions, including memorably “Can you teach me how to use a round brush?” when I was just shy of 30 years old. Chelsea did a stunning job on a range of hair lengths and types, and made us all feel amazing.

We did most of our own decor, picking up bits and pieces from online wedding resale groups. Out of a desire to be both thrifty and environmentally friendly, we used sola wood flowers from Southern Blooms Co., sola wood being a fast-growing marshy tree. Our bouquets will last a lifetime, and were also as beautiful at my wedding as they were the day they arrived (months in advance, so I could cross them off my list of worries early on!). Here’s a cool review of their environmental impact. And I was also thrifty with my jewelry, picking up some fun costume pieces at a craft fair in Palm Beach.

Last, but far from least, on the list: dresses. Our color theme was purple, and Azazie offered an incredible range of dresses all made from the same color, so I picked Regency and turned my bridesmaids loose to pick their own style, with ties and pocket squares for the groomsmen to match. But for my own dress, after visiting a few bridal boutiques to try on the traditional big fluffy white dress, I was feeling a little uninspired by it all.

Which is when I saw a post on a wedding resale group on Facebook by a bride who’d had her dress made by a woman looking to break into the bespoke dress business, and her rates were unbelievably comparable to store-bought designs. What caught my eye about this bride’s dress was that it was pink, and an idea was born: I wanted a lavender dress. Kirah of Mrs. Jones Bridal and I met first online, to talk about what I wanted, and then a few times in person while she made my dress first out of muslin material, to get the size and shape perfect. It took time (which was fine, we had it), but that was a comfort; I remember that in one of our early appointments, Kirah spent about 20 minutes completely rebuilding one shoulder of the muslin mockup, to make sure she got it right.

The end result was so much more stunning that I could ever have imagined, an honest-to-god show stopper, and certainly unlike anything I could have bought in a store. And for an extra bit of fun, Kirah asked me to do a photo shoot in it for marketing purposes, and let me say that if you ever have the opportunity to have your hair and your makeup done for a photo shoot in an item of clothing made for you, do it do it do it. I’ve never felt more beautiful in my life – and as someone with a lifetime of body image issues, that is really, truly saying something!

 

This top-shelf team of vendors, led by Jessica, made for a day that – please don’t mistake this for hyperbole – was truly seamless, beyond my wildest dreams. Ravi and I had the great joy of just being able to kick back and relax, and enjoy the company of our fantastic families and friends. If you’ve got some impending nuptials, I wish you an equally glorious day!

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The Standing Offer

By |2022-03-05T11:30:32-05:00March 4th, 2022|Snippets|

We don’t make a ton of warmblood foals in this country. We breed a lot of horses, and it’s a big country, but unlike our European counterparts, our amazingly diverse number of disciplines and equine interests means that we breed lots of different type of horses – Thoroughbreds and Saddlebreds and Arabians and Quarter Horses, stock breeds and rail class breeds and race horses – while Germany and Holland and Sweden and Denmark basically make Olympic-discipline sport horses and not a whole lot else. 

And because the American market also wants warmbloods bred to be hunters – a sport that prizes flatter gaits – it means that every sporthorse foal with suspension and power and ability that takes its first breath on US soil is precious, precious, precious to those of us in dressage land. Of course some are going to break, or limp, or die. But the loss to sport is when they end up in hands that don’t maximize their potential. And there’s a breakdown somewhere in the communication lines, because there are plenty of us out there capable of developing a horse to the Big Levels who’ve never gotten a phone call from a breeder or young horse starter to say “Hey, I have something interesting you should see,” just as too many of us riders bypass American breeders and young horse starters and instead go right to Europe when shopping. 

I want to hear from those who have my next Fender, Midge and Lala, all sport horses bred here in the States. Sue Stickle photo.

Those lines of communication need to be more open. I want to be able to bridge that gap, find a way for us trainers and riders to be able to easily look under every American nook and cranny to find the top shelf horses that we’re producing here, and use our buying power to incentivize the breeding for the gaits and ability needed to succeed in the Big Ring.

And as such, I want the owners of interesting young talent to call me when they have something for sale. If it’s the right time for me to snatch it up, groovy. If it’s not, then I might know someone who is. And let me be clear on this: I’m not saying that breeders or young horse owners should be giving away their stock, sponsoring riders with a horse. If you want to do that, cool. But I expect to pay for quality horses, whether it’s money of my own or the sponsorship of an owner who believes in me. And every professional rider I know agrees with me. Good things cost money, and we know that. Wouldn’t we all rather it be spent here?

I hope my next Midge was bred here. Sue Stickle photo.

I don’t have a brilliant idea for a sweeping change to make, a better way to bridge the communication lines between breeders and riders. All I really know is what I personally want. So here’s my standing offer. I’m tall, so I need something that matures over 17h. Stallions will be gelded, unless you want to partner on them. I’m not a mare person at heart so if it’s a mare she needs to be more of the warrior woman mare and less of the pins-her-ears-for-fun mare. I prefer short coupled, and I tend to not like horses with Sandro Hit up close. And the pony-loving 12-year-old girl in me loves chestnuts and grays. If you have it, and you think it’s showing potential, I want you to call me. I’ll need to see X-rays, so if you don’t have recent ones – within 6 months – then I expect that the price reflect that. I tend to look for horses 3-4 and already under saddle, but if it’s a little younger or not yet broke, or if it’s a little older and behind in its training (but isn’t a wing nut), I want to know about it, too.

Here’s what you’ll get from me in exchange, if it’s the right horse at the right time. A fair price, first and foremost. You’ll also get a whole lot of promotion of your program. And your horse will be developed tactfully, correctly and well, in a tremendous environment that holistically cares for horses like they’re horses, not like they’re equipment. 

I’m starting to sniff around for what’s next for me, but this is an offer that isn’t time related. A year from now, three years from now, next Thursday, anytime. And if you have something special but it doesn’t sound like it’ll work for me, don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals you like. You never know!

Reach me via email!

For Want Of A Schoolmaster

By |2022-01-21T05:29:46-05:00January 21st, 2022|Snippets|

I have a hypothesis. And it’s only a hypothesis and not a theory because I have 0 data to back this up. But bear with me.

Everyone is always looking for some version of this horse: 8-15 years old, amateur temperament, easy to ride, trained to Prix St. Georges. We’ve never, ever had enough of them to satisfy the market. But man oh man, lately it’s like… where are they?

 

I could sell ten Fenders a day, if I had them to sell. Sue Stickle photo.

Now to the math part, and a trip on the Wayback Machine. Remember when the bottom fell out of the economy between 2008 and 2010? Horse breeders and horse trainers were affected, just like everyone else, so breeders made fewer babies between 2009 and 2011, and fewer quality trainers could afford to give the horses born in the few years before the the right start. Great horses are made between ages 3-6; from there, even if they’re waylaid for a few years, they can still make it up the levels, but if they don’t get pressure applied in the right way, and learn how to learn in those formative years, it makes the journey up the levels really hard.

So that economic downturn would have affected horses, roughly, born between 2003 and 2011. And in 2022, those horses would be between 11 and 19 years old, particularly at the bottom of that range. 

There’s a million other factors about why good horses are so hard to find right now, and the demand for youngstock is wild too. But the trickle down effect of that economic downturn might be a factor as well (and, unfortunately, one I don’t know how to solve!)

But certainly if you’ve got the time and the funds to invest in a quality young horse and park it under someone competent to make it, now’s a heck of a good time. Well trained horses will always be marketable!

The Writing Process, Or Lack Thereof

By |2021-12-30T15:22:11-05:00December 30th, 2021|Snippets|

Hello from Florida. We’re here. We’re set up. We’re riding, I’m teaching, I’m occasionally running out to grab something from Target or Lowe’s or the tack shops that we forgot. I’m exercising, I’m clawing my way out of my inbox, I’m making food and walking my dogs. I’m living my life. And I’m happy and healthy and well.

But man oh man, I am not writing.

At least I’m not writing well. I’m working on three different blogs, and I’m happy with none of them. The secret to my writing success over the years has been to never have a deadline, never be assigned a subject, and hardly ever take a second pass at anything. It’s why I can’t do it for a living, by the way, because that’s a pretty poor recipe for reliable job performance. But there’s a trope I like: my approach to writing is like a fart. If I have to force it, it’s probably shit.

And here I am, forcing it. 

I’ve had three different people ask me if I was ok because I hadn’t published a blog lately. And it’s funny, because I am, truly, fine. It’s also funny because, sometimes, I do my best writing when I’m really distraught. And it’s not like I haven’t had things to be distraught about – staffing challenges, financial challenges, the normal chaos of running one’s own business. But the longer I do this, the thicker the crust I’ve built to keep these things from really making me nutsy. The awfulness of 2016-2018 for me made me tougher, for sure! That which does not kill us and all, bla bla bla. It’s not like 2020 and 2021 haven’t been horribly wretched for a whole lot of people on a whole lot of fronts. I’ve just gotten better at handling it. And as such, apparently, I’ve had less to write about.

(Yes, I recognize the scary universe-tempting that I’m doing. I lean into chaos.)

So don’t worry about me. I’m here, going about my business, living the safest life I can (get your boosters and wear a mask, ya filthy animals!), and just also writing very, very poorly. When I get my writing mojo back, you’ll know it, because these pieces have the potential to be really quite good. They’re just definitely not right now. 

Holiday Gift Guide For Your Horse Professional 2021

By |2021-11-24T05:31:09-05:00November 24th, 2021|Snippets|

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! The time where you have to figure out how to not go into debt while also showing your love and appreciation for those you care about, and also where here in Virginia it’s 40* during the day but 20* at night so the ground is a shoe-sucking quagmire. (Ok, so maybe it’s the Second Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Or the Third. Whatever.)

I can’t solve the shoe sucking problem, but I can make some recommendations on what the horse professionals in your world would appreciate if you’re working on your holiday gift list.

1. New gloves. I can basically guarantee that your trainer and/or her working students needs new gloves. In our line of work even the best of the best don’t last all that terribly long, and we try and squeak as much time out of each pair as possible. I ride in Roeckls myself, and if you live in a place that experiences a cold winter, I can’t say enough nice things about the Roeckl-Grip Winter glove, which is on sale at Tack of The Day. They’re not so bulky that you can’t still feel the reins while riding. Love ’em.

2. A MIPS helmet. The science on MIPS technology is amazing – it is HUGELY better at protecting your brain in a fall than even the best of the ASTM approved helmets, and OneK makes one that’s not wild expensive (plus it comes with the fun CCS system so you can swap out the colors on the center details and make your hat your own).

3. New boots from Kingsley. Want to splurge on your favorite horse professional? Kingsley boots are my favorite, because they wear like iron, AND you can be as garish (or not) in your footwear choices because there’s colors and styles galore, at a range of price points. Plus, hypothetically speaking, playing with the Boot Configurator after a couple of cocktails is a barrel of fun. Not that I would know, of course.

4. Some self care. Book a session to care for your favorite rider (or favorite rider’s horse’s) body with an expert bodyworker like Meghan Brady, or their brain with an expert professional coach like Jen Verharen. Both of these amazing women keep me going, in more ways than one.

5. A custom saddle plate from Swanky Saddlery. I LOVE my fancy little logo plates, and they set my black saddles apart in a sea of black saddles. And it’s something that we professionals would never treat ourselves to.

6. Cash and gift cards are never the wrong answer, and I love shopping small whenever I can. Don’t forget that it’s possible to get gift cards to your trainer’s feed store, which we probably spend more money at than our local tack shop. And most veterinary practices will let you make a payment on your trainer’s account as well. And for the working students of the world, think about helping in the direction of the grocery store or gas station, especially in this tricky world we’re living in now. They’d be very grateful for the help!

Out Standing In His Field

By |2021-11-18T09:00:06-05:00November 17th, 2021|Snippets|

I was 19 or 20 years old, working summers for my childhood trainer outside Chicago. He’d been sent this shrimpy little three year old KWPN Harness-type stallion, cheeky as hell, lightly broke, and very, very spooky. I had to lead him with a whip, not because I was afraid of him, but because he wanted to balk and hide behind me as he walked. We restarted him, and then I had to have someone in the arena with a lunge whip for a while, because he’d suck back so badly about the corners of the indoor that I couldn’t make him go without assistance. He was a nuisance in the gelding field, constantly pestering the big draft cross – appropriately named Thunder – who had heretofore quietly run the herd with benevolence and grace, and instead had to contend, daily, with this annoying little Midge of a Dutch Horse… which led to his nickname. And when I went back to college in the fall, I didn’t give him a second thought.

Over the winter, the breeder – his owner – passed away, and my mother, apparently looking for a way to punish me, bought him (with no pre purchase exam, by the way), and declared him my college graduation project. I rolled my eyes and said fine, geld him, and I’ll deal with the madness when I come home in the Spring.

Gelding improved things. So did turning four. He grew to the towering height of 16h, and become actually very pleasant. I taught lessons on him. I jumped him over tiny things. I won things at horse shows. I left him in Illinois to grow up while I was a working student for Carol Lavell, and I figured I’d pick him back up in the Spring of his five year old year, do a few more shows, and sell him.

That was a nice thought I had. But at five, Midge – real name Victorious – became an absolute monster. No longer balky but still definitely spooky, I had to put him in the double bridle because, even though he was still maybe only 16.1 and I’m a big, strong lass, I could not stop him. He was strong as an ox, hot as hell, and couldn’t maintain an uphill balance at the canter unless he was going at warp speed. Famous people told me to get rid of him, so I put him on the market, and somehow, someone was just crazy enough to vet him. It was then that we discovered a chip in the right stifle, and so they passed. I went to my mom and said well, we’re stuck with him now, so I guess I’ll have to train him.

He was an extremely quick study, thank God. Midge learned his changes in a minute, and half steps about a minute after that. But he was so, so hot to the leg. I would tell people along the way that I put my leg on at the mounting block and took it off when he turned 10. And he was, much to my dismay, incredibly balanced on his hind legs. He could stand up and stay there, like something out of the Spanish Riding School, for as long as he chose, and I’d just sit up there and wait for him to land.

I was young and brave and I stuck it out. He showed Third Level. He showed Prix St. Georges. Along the way, his wagon horse roots kept his knees and hocks bending, but he learned how to canter, learned how to really piaffe (without a whip, by the way – if you tried to carry one, you’d die.) He got eliminated once at Prix St. Georges because he stood up for so long that the judge feared for my life. Another time a judge told me that it was time for me to stop riding rogues and try and ride nice horses for a change. But by then I was smitten, and you couldn’t have pried him out of my hands with a crowbar. I rode him bareback in the snow. I took him swimming in the pond. He was the pony I’d never had as a kid – stubborn like a pony, aggravating like a pony, but utterly my pony.

He made his Grand Prix debut at 10, including a ticket to the first ever Developing Grand Prix Championships. He learned to make extended trot. His piaffe and passage were phenomenal, and the entire canter tour was all 7.5 or better, every time. An Olympian approached me to ask if he was for sale. The president of the 2012 Olympics ground jury said he was in love. At 11, in the early days of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Midge won an open Grand Prix class in the international arena in front of the 5* judging panel, beating a class of team riders. And two days later, he just wasn’t quite right. We chased it around for 2 years – first lame behind, then in front, problem after problem. I couldn’t do it anymore – the heartache, the time, the money. I sent him to the retirement field, with the idea that I’d look at him again in six months, but I figured he was done.

But Midge was not done. He came out of the field remarkably sound. And at the same time, a student named Liza came to the end of a bad string of her own horse luck, with two horses suffering from career-ending health conditions. Horseless, and one 3rd Level score away from her USDF Bronze Medal, I made her a deal: take Midge. If he breaks, no worries, he can go back to the field. As long as he stays sound, he’s yours.

Liza’s care and ministrations were meticulous. He came back, and while he was still hot and feral, time had mellowed him to the point of being vaguely dependable. They showed Third Level. She earned her Bronze, and he still looked good, so we said hey, let’s try Fourth. Then Prix St. Georges. Her USDF Silver Medal. He was still holding steady, so I sold him to Liza – for $1. Then they showed Intermediate II. Then Grand Prix, and her Gold Medal. Maybe we should be done, we thought.

But Midge was not yet done. COVID caused us to hit pause on competing him in 2020, but he continued to teach his family, and tortured more than one working student into tears as they tried to just do simple, low level work. He did Grand Prix demos, and became internet famous for a few one handed stupid pet tricks. This summer, at the age of 19, he took one of my employees around at Grand Prix as well. And only then did he start to show his age. There was a spot of not-quite-right behind that we could have gone on medical safari to treat, but with nothing left for him to give (and also because the little stinker was such a menace to the lower level girls), his amazing owner decided instead to send him back to the retirement field, this time for good.

Naturally, he bucked and squealed his way around his last few weeks with us, and then bronc’d his way around the field, stirring up the other senior citizens. But to the end of his time as a riding horse, he bore the look of eagles. And I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people who have provided loving homes for the horses I’ve brought up the levels, but the decision to retire, such a hard one already, is so much better made 6 months or 9 months or 12 months too early than five minutes too late.

Cheers, Midge. You, eventually, kicking and screaming, made believers out of everyone you met. Enjoy your golden years being your naughty pony self.

5 Things Trainers Wish You Knew: Sales Edition

By |2021-10-16T20:44:53-04:00October 15th, 2021|Snippets|

We’re coming into horse sale season, and particularly at a time when sales have been wacky for more than a year, it’s going to be an interesting ride this autumn. If you’re on the hunt for a new horse, here are a few things trainers wish you knew.

1. Often – not always, but often – you get what you pay for. If quality is what you want, you’re going to pay for it one way or another, either in the form of the expense of a trained horse, or the expense of the training help required to guide you into getting a prospect there. And let’s be clear: I’m not saying that getting a young horse is the wrong answer for a rider who wants to learn and go up the levels. Far from it, as I much prefer working with good raw material and helping my students install the training themselves, rather than trying to learn someone else’s work (and, often, undo someone else’s messes!). But just know that, especially if you’ve never done it before, you’re going to need some help molding that prospect into a useful citizen.

2. Horses do not stay trained on their own. If you go the schoolmaster route, there is no amount of money you can spend on the animal itself that will keep the horse sharp, supple and capable in spite of inexpert riding. It’s ok that you’re learning, and that you bumble around a bit while you do. But that bumbling is going to inevitably dull the horse you’ve bought. Staying in a program with a competent trainer can help you both maximize the opportunity to learn from an educated horse, and also protect your investment.

3. Selling a horse is not giving up, failing, or abandoning it. Anyone who gives you grief for selling a horse that isn’t working out for you can go right to hell. There’s a million reasons why a horse isn’t right for you, even when you did your due diligence in purchasing him in the first place. Or maybe you’ve invested in a project that you put your time in and want to move along. No matter what, it’s your business, and everyone else can stick it.

4. No matter how wonderful a new horse is, there will be a point in the “getting to know you” process where it stinks. The honeymoon tends to end at the 3-6 month mark. Try not to panic. It gets better. Listen to your coach. And yes, sometimes things go bad because you and the horse aren’t going to work out. But I’m a professional rider, and I’m a good one, and I usually hit a wall somewhere in that 3-6 month window, too. It happens.

5. Lastly, “maintenance” is not a sign that a horse has a problem. Maintenance is a sign the animal has been well cared for. A lack of maintenance isn’t a sign that the animal is healthy, a lack of maintenance is a sign that the animal’s veterinary needs may not have been met. And being proactive with veterinary needs reduces the likelihood, over time, of injury due to overcompensation, hurting one body part trying to avoid using another body part that hurts.

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