Confidence Is King

It’s been a year of growing for me on a professional level, which is usually followed by some personal growth. Like most dedicated athletes we want “It” so badly. “It” is different for most people. When I ask my students their goals,  I find a common theme that is no surprise. We all want to push ourselves to be better. Whether it’s cantering on a 20 meter circle or getting your gold medal, we all want to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and not sheepishly hide under a rock. This is why we work so hard.

There are a lot of variables in Dressage. More than  I realized, Dressage is a mental game.IMG_2732 This summer I have once again had the chance to show some really cool horses. My horse Felix and I are dipping our toes in some small tour CDIs, where you can’t help but feel like a small fish in a big pond. It’s hard for me not to wear that, “oh my,  I’m going to make an idiot out of myself” feeling directly on my sleeve. Anyone that rides knows how this negatively only allows the tension to creep in and affect how well the body functions. My brain is constantly questioning if I’m doing everything I can to achieve “It” and therefore my riding sometimes is like weeding through the mist of feelings and emotions, usually resulting  in me going off course, sometimes even trying to convince the judge I did not go off course, and more recently owing $200 to my bossy trainer as punishment for going off course. That is the lovely mental game of Dressage. My trainer has been on me to stop wanting “It” so bad, prepare for what’s coming, ride like I know how, and stop thinking so much. So I need to stop being the old me that  screws up royally in the show ring holding onto that negativity like a child clutching her mother’s hand on the first day of kindergarten. I watch as other riders have tests with honest unfortunate mistakes and they come out of the ring with a smile on there face oozing confidence and looking at the positive. Funny, because I sometimes want to heave myself on the ground and cry when someone asks me, “how was your ride” and  I can hardly stop my face from scrunching into a miserable looking expression. I’m a horrible liar and faking it till you make is has never been my strong suit.

IMG_2859Dressage is a sport of perfection and so it’s easy to be your own worst critic. So this past weekend,  I went to a smaller show and tried out my new method. Shocking, it works. My mother has always said that life is about perception. If you ride every test like you are on the brink of chaos and failure then most likely you will be on the brink of chaos and failure. So the novel concept of thinking you are the cats meow, you are not going to royally screw up,  and you know what you are doing, does the trick. They call that confidence.

The next two months are lined with the most important shows of the season.  Felix and I are competing in the small tour at regionals, also showing my sometimes naughty mostly brilliant six year old second level, a couple green four year olds. Then we are  headed to Devon to once again get our feet wet with the small tour CDI. Finally (fingers crossed), heading to nationals. So my goal is not to win or get the highest scores of my life, IMG_2641although that sounds nice, but think in the ring, prevent mistakes from happening, take each ride as gaining more experience and not get so wrapped up in my score. I’m going to enjoy  the horses I love riding and training with confidence.

Some people are born with natural confidence. People like myself need to fight for it. I am super lucky to have a huge support system and to be able to surround myself with people who give me confidence, inspire me, motivate me to be better, never kick me when I am down and help me find what my “It” is going to be. It’s been a super season so far and I’m ready to give the next two months hell!

 

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Ride the Rut

MM-Dressage-Logo-2Well my first year competing as a pro is coming to a close. Its been something that’s for sure. Life has a funny way of working. The start of the season I unexpectedly had to retire my five year old mare. Broke up with my long term boyfriend, us horse girls know how hard it is to find a solid horse friendly man. I had a mirage of lame horses and my show season was not looking promising. In the midst of that I started my own business. The opportunity arose for me to sell the horse love of my life, and it was a very tough decision. Looking at the larger picture I decided my horse Flyboy would be happier with a more laid back lifestyle. I couldn’t have been a better decision. I bought two prospect horses. I got a handful of new clients. These big things just kept coming up.

Its crazy how it all works. The daily ups and downs. No one really ever tells you how hard it is to fill those “professional shoes.” Walking around NEDA fall festival I thought about what kind of professional I want to be. What kind of image I want to give off, and what do I really want to accomplish. As a young rider I always thought that it was just the score that mattered and the place. But this last year I’ve fallen in love with the training process. The small wins. That good canter transition, or that balanced halt. Just how much I have to learn, and how many different kind of horses exist in this world. I ride a lot of youngsters. It’s that moment when they trust you, or that time they impress you. One of my horses isn’t always so great in the warmup, this past few days he handled it like a champ, he trusted me. It was great.

There was a awhile there was I was not ready to declare myself as a pro and even say the words out loud. I wanted to be a nurse, have a normal job, not rely on clients for income. Sometimes the horse industry is so hard. That is something that everyone tells you. There are times when my brain hurts, just as much as my tired seat bones, and skinned crotch. There are moments where I think I’ve really lost my mind when all my normal friends are spending there money on cute dresses, and clubbing. When I’m having a bad day I want to run back to normal life. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. Few people have the joys of being so passionate about something like us horse people are. My whole childhood I said to myself I never wanted to do this for a living. I was wrong.

As I lay here reflecting on my weekend showing, I feel good. I am so lucky. I have wonderful people that support my riding. I have two horses going to the finals in Kentucky, A wonderful boyfriend who is always there for me, Two three year olds showing at Devon and a first season planned in Florida with client horses. The downs stink but ups make it worth it.

Here’s to many more goods and bads and all in between!

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A wonderful year!

I have been back to school for a little over a month now. After the most amazing year of my life I have spent a lot of time reflecting.

It started with going to the London 2012 Olympics with Donna Ponessa as her aid. This 550198_127778594041221_1067047929_nexperience was life changing. One where I met some amazing people, who impacted my life in ways I’m forever grateful for. This is where I met Jonathan Wentz a great friend and equestrian who has inspired me to push my riding to new levels.

Then my journey took me to Wellington Florida where I participated In Lendon grays winter intensive training program. My horse Flyboy and I completed out first Prix. St. George. I rode with fabulous trainers such a Tuny Page, Courtney king-dye, Juan manual Diaz, Chris Hickey, and of course Lendon gray. As a group we got to go to the trainers conference and watched Stephen peters and Scott Hassler teach and ride. I had the chance to meet a group of 560481_3816245942978_110764790_nkids that were just like me and for three months we were a family. I’ve never felt more like I belonged somewhere in my life.

I came home from Florida and continued to show and train having a wonderful show season on Flyboy and qualifying for our regional championships. I started my three-year-old Rosenthal filly.

I applied for the Olympic dream team program thinking that photo 1if I was invited on that program then my life would be complete. To my amazement I was accepted. The trip was ten days total. Three days visiting the top trainers in England such as Laura Tomplison, kyra Kyrklund, and Carl Hester. Then the next seven days in Germany. Three days at the young horse championships in Verden, then to the Balkenhauls, the DOKR, Hebertus Shmidts. This was such a spectacular trip. There was three other participants and two chaperones we had a great time.

The year finished off with showing at regional championships. I had recently moved my horses to a new farm and started training with Olav Drehn in conjunction with Lendon Gray. They amped up my riding. Olav with his focus on the horse and rider being a balanced team and Lendon continued to help me improve my test movements and keep my position in line. FlyBoy photo 3was going better than ever headed into championships. Flyboy and I have had a long relationships and I wanted more than anything for us to have our best test of the season. For me riding is such a mental game, I loose confidence in myself and frankly ride like crap. I forget that this is supposed to be fun. Well after I gave myself a real talking to I decided I was not going to do this. This was my last show as a young rider and I was going to have fun and show off my fancy Flyboy. That’s exactly what I did, I had the loveliest ride I have had in the show ring in a long time and it showed. We won the region 8 young rider title.  I have never been so proud of my horse.

As I get in the swing of my nursing clinical I’m sad that my year of fun is over but excited to start a new chapter. My goal for next year is to show Flyboy I1, and show Riley in the FEI four year photo 4olds.  Riley is improving by the weeks and is quite a little firecracker; she’s a joy to ride and is a real natural. I plan on taking both of them to ride in a Lilo Fore clinic at Bel Air farm in November.
Overall, this last year has just been amazing. I can’t thank my parents enough. They support me till the end. Lendon gray who has given me the chance to improve my riding and get my face out there, and Betsy Labelle for being a constant advocate for young riders and providing us a chance to get our names out there.

The DOKR

IMG_1581We got the chance to get a private tour of the DOKR. The DOKR, is the place where they German riding team trains.  Since 1912 Germany holds 39 gold metals, 20 silver metals, and 24 bronze IMG_1582metals in equestrian sports. This facility contains 3 indoor arenas, one for jumping, one for dressage, and one multi purpose arena. The DOKR also has a really nifty lunging arena. The have four out door arenas, one that is used for jumping, two for dressage, and another arena that has cross country jumps. Along with that they have a cross-country course and a 600-meter racecourse. This place is well equipped.  Its on 80 acres total, 12 of those acres are paddocks. There are 110 stalls on premises, a hot walker, and a treadmill.  The DOKR isn’t only used as a training facility but national and international shows take place there such as the IMG_1589bundeschampionat, which is large young horse show. Some of the tasks the DOKR strive to accomplish: guidance of trainers, help top young riders reach their goals, young IMG_1592rider army training, selection and prep of Olympic squads, and scientific projects. The DOKR is funded by the Olympic penny, Olympic riders, and the rest of the funding comes from supporters. This facility was very well done. It would be hard to have a facility like this in the united states because America is so large, however, I think we should strive towards making a few of these facilities, maybe one on each coast and another in the Midwest.IMG_1608IMG_1603IMG_1599IMG_1602IMG_1596

The balkenhol’s!

1170809_10201276339423026_364535621_n The Balkenhaul’s was a very exciting place to visit. They are just such a well known family in the dressage community I couldn’t wait to see their facility. The facility looks like it came out of a storybook with its large brick buildings and impressive flower gardens.

Anabelle Balkenhaul and David Blake from the U.S. immediately greeted us and David and 577262_10201275147913239_651863616_nGunther Sidel had been at the Balkenhaul’s training for the last six weeks. We walked around the barn to the out door where Guenther Seidel was riding his Wylea.  She was a very large mare and Gunther made her look like a ballerina, light on her toes. He was schooling a lot of forward and back in the trot, moving from a collected trot to a passage. His body position was flawless and it looked liked someone molded him into the saddle. He sat perfectly upright and his legs hung straight down with not an inch of tension or gripping on the saddle. It was remarkable. His corrections 537204_10201275152993366_1616521130_nwere small but made an impact. He made that mare collect like an accordion with just the use of his seat.  Then David came out on his Grand Prix horse. He kept the horse very slow and on the aids. He was focusing on keeping the horses weight on his hind end. This horse had a very active hind end It was lofty and his hocks would bend a ton when he moved. David did tons of transitions from passage to halt, or passage to working trot very similarly to Gunther. The moment David would stop his seat the horse would immediately stop with such grace. It was pretty cool.

1157390_10201275155073418_1154404097_nThe first horse Anabelle rode was a six year old that is owned by the Hanoverian Society. It was really cool to watch her ride. She did a lot of transitions within the gate. Anabelle also rode Diamond Star, a ten-year-old stallion out of Diamond Hit and Feiner Stein. This was a really cool stallion. He schooled all the Grand Prix movements.

We also got to watch some of their working students ride. They all had impeccable positions, and looked so focused when they were riding. I feel like focus is something I sometimes lack in my riding, I get easily distracted. When I go home its something I will make an effort to improve. The Balkenhaul family is very nice. We were very lucky and got to have lunch with Anabel Balkenhaul and Ms. Balkenhaul, and later a fun dinner with Anabel Balkenhaul, 1173880_10201278421835085_373345805_nDavid Blake, and Sara Rogers one of the Balkenhauls long time working students.

Verden !!!!

IMG_1579Verden was spectacular!  The show grounds are really great. Its all-permanent stabling and it’s located at the Hanoverian Society Headquarters. While we were there, we watched the five and six year old classes, the Prix St. George Special (which is like our developing prix St. George), the Grand Prix, and the Grand Prix Special.

602035_10201274924427652_156150779_nScott Hassler put some time aside to give us a little education session on Verden. Before this show was in Germany, it started in Holland 1998. At that time, they didn’t have great success with the show so the Hanoverian Society took it over in 2002. Verden is the World Breeding Championships. The population of breeding in a country establishes the number of horses each country brings to Verden. The USA can bring two horses, but this year we only brought one.  The young horse program is almost a stepping-stone for young riders.  It’s a good way for horses and riders to get noticed.972119_10201274933187871_1499822095_n

It was really enjoyable and educational watching the five and six year old classes. The young horse classes are judged on the three gates (walk, trot, canter), submission, and overall impression. The variety in breeding produces such differences in gaits from horse to horse. I have a hard time judging if the walk is pure and rhythmical sometimes.  Scott said that there are three ways to judge the walk; how the walk moves through the body, the over track of the hind legs, and the energy in transition (rhythm). I kept these three points in mind as I watched the young horses.IMG_1541

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It is great to see judges rewarded correct training. The mare that won the five-year-old class was so lovely. Lena Stegemann was the rider of Scara Boa, the five-year-old Hanoverian out of 1000940_10201274946308199_1591089045_nScoloari and Wolkenstein. Her scores were very impressive with a 9.5 on the trot, a 9.7 on walk, 9.0 in the canter, a perfect 10 submission score, and a 9.8 general impression. Impressing me most about the horse and rider combination is the flawless looking connection in the bridle. The horse didn’t have the biggest gates, but came powerfully pushing from behind. I believe this horse will be upper level without a doubt, with its quick hind leg, free shoulder, and great 1146688_10201274945668183_1003693557_nsubmission.

Watching the Prix St. George Special was very cool. It was for horses between the ages of 7-9.  Even though these horses were in a “developing” class, they were pretty well prepared to do the normal Prix. St. George. It was a reminder of how important it is to be solid in your schooling above the level you are showing, so that you can be very confirmed in all the movements.

13572_10201274953268373_1915335432_nThe Grand Prix was super cool to watch. The quality of horses was great, and it was one of the biggest Grand Prix classes I have been able to watch.

I have to say Verden is something that everyone should experience.

I quite enjoyed shopping at Verden. There is a pretty sweet trade show. Some of the best horse show food I have ever had, and some pretty comical dogs.  It seems like every one is touting around a dog and a good percent of them are IMG_1542not on leashes.  Typical horse people!  This was yet another experience on this trip I will never forget.

Dream big at Carl Hesters

photoThis trip has been so amazing so far, we are so lucky to have been selected.  We spend the day at Carl Hester’s farm. The farm is breath taking and in such a beautiful area.  It really reminds me of New England with its rolling hills and thick forests. The stalls are arranged in an oval with a courtyard in the middle. It was funny so see chickens running around everywhere, a large parrot cage outside the indoor and of course dogs all over the place.  This farm has a lot of character.

At this farm, there is an emphasis placed on keeping horses on a schedule. All the horses are hacked before and after they are worked. They only ride about 30 minutes of hard work, four days a week. They get one day off and one hack day. Almost all of the horses are turned out, mostly at night and mostly in groups of two or three. (This really shocked me!!!!).  A walker and IMG_1525aqua treadmill are used for top performance horses twice a week to keep horses fit and in shape. Carl emphasizes the importance of prevention by getting the horses scanned and x-rayed often. Most of the horses were worked in Amergio Saddles with polo wraps and no bell boots. The riders very rarely rode with whips. When would they ride with whips? To help with the rhythm of gates and to help with piaffe and passage.

IMG_1534Throughout the day, Carl Hester hosted a symposium to show how a horse in his program develops up the levels. We saw many horses, starting from the lower levels young horses and worked up through Grand Prix.  Horses were given more advanced exercises as they moved up the levels. He spoke with us at great length regarding the theory behind each exercise.

IMG_1533When looking at young horse prospects, he doesn’t buy horses with big gates. Big gates can be developed. Their system for breaking babies starts at three. First they are started under saddle just for enough time that they are broke to saddle walk, trot, canter. Then they turn them back out until they are four. The way they started their young horses was very methodically. They are worked every day with the end result of Grand Prix in mind. Carl said, “you need to imagine what the change in lead or pirouette will look like”. He believes that young horses should be hacked before 20-30 minutes of working and hacked after, as well.

The rides started out with a lovely student riding a four year old.  The second horse we saw was IMG_1537five and Charlotte Dujardin was the mount!! She has an amazing position and able to constantly change the horse’s outline. She started out in a stretching trot. She would then pick the horse up for a few strides and add some power. It was amazing to watch the horse’s gates grow. When Charlotte moved into the canter, she really used her shoulders and upper body to help move the weight onto the horse’s hind legs and then allowed him to move forward. This was an extremely slight change in her upper body, but it made a huge difference in the degree of collection and forward advancement. This five year old had his changes, which led into a discussion. Carl said when changes are started, if the horse is late behind it’s no concern. The initial emphasis should be on the horse doing the change in a relaxed rhythm and later on the rider refining the timing to get the changes clean.  Changes are always done on the wall because it gives the young horse IMG_1536support and helps keep the horse straight.

The next horse we saw was seven years old. Charlotte also rode this horse. He was the coolest chestnut. He was so compact and went around with the most charming expression. With this horse, the exercise included a lot of haunches in, and making sure the haunches could be pushed in and moved back to the rail. This is to ensure the horse is pliable and supple. One exercise I really enjoyed was a schooling pirouette to a half pass to another schooling pirouette. This exercise gave Charlotte super control over the hind legs and helps a horse that was green in pirouette work not get stuck within a movement. Another great pirouette exercise was keeping the front legs on a ten-meter circle and putting the hind legs on an eight-meter circle and changing the tempos. This exercise was really great to develop the muscles needed for a pirouette.

IMG_1527Katherine Bateson Chandler from the US rode a Grand Prix stallion. (I’ve always admired her and) she did a really great job. When Catherine would prepare to make a transition from trot to passage, she would not slow down but add more push from behind. Carl said, “passage is about pushing and piaffe is about sitting”. Both piaffe and passage should have the same rhythm as the trot, just with varying degrees of collection. Catherine did tons of transitions from passage to piaffe. She would do some passage steps then one step in place then back to passage. It was very interesting to see considering I’ve seen so many horses showing the Grand Prix muddle the transition out of the piaffe. Another really great tool is doing a leg yield from wall to wall at the canter. Catherine did this exercise to help school the canter zigzag.

On a personal note, I’ve had trouble with my horse getting behind my leg.  Carl gave some really good tips.

  • Don’t continuously nag.  (Hard habit break)
  • Get after your horse immediately, and then relax your legs.
  • Send them forward and don’t take back on the reins. Let them slow down on their own. (Yes, even if you have just been taken off with and feel near to death.)

It was so amazing to see these top riders work their horses.  All the riders had great positions. It was so cool to see the connection each of the riders had with the horses’ hind legs. One cluck, squeeze or thrust of the seat bonce and the horses hind legs immediately became elevated more power was added. Once again, we got to see horses worked and not frazzled or stressed.  This is really nice to see and is something I will never forget.  Seeing these kinds of corrections make me realize how much I can improve my FEI horse Flyboy. I really can’t wait to get home and work on creating a better connection in the trot work, and add more power to his trot. Carl said that the trot is the easiest gate to influence and I’m hoping its something I achieve.