#mayfaireoakslife

We all know how difficult it is to find a place for our equine friends to call home. It has to be the kind of place where both you and your horses can feel at ease. It’s so difficult that many of us give up and build our own happy place where our horses get exactly the care they need. Hey, if you want something done right….

I got lucky when I came down to Florida. Before I made the move I flew down for a week in August to check out homes and farms. I wanted a place that was reasonably priced, well maintained, clean and offered dry stalls. I wasn’t ready to hand the reins over to someone to care for my horses and I rather enjoy handling the care myself.  A farm within hacking distance of the WEF showgrounds was a plus.

I used a number of different sights to find a facility. I had numerous correspondence with potential farms. Many of them were quite beautiful and fit most of my needs. I had almost settled on one in Palm Beach Point. It was within my budget, well maintained AND hacking distance to the showgrounds. However, there was no one occupying the farm in the summer and I was coming down with 2 three year olds and a stallion. All of which were very well mannered, but still, not the best idea to be riding alone.  So I decided to take a drive around one morning and see if I couldn’t find a barn that appeared to have some activity.  If you are at all familiar with the Wellington\Loxahatchee region I feel this is really the best way to find your dream barn since we have 5 acre farm next to 5 acre farm everywhere you go. The summer months are quite dead, however, so although I passed dozens of stables, I only found one where I caught a single horse being exercised.

I immediately pulled over and googled the address to find it was named May Faire Oaks. I clicked on the link for the website and called the contact. I asked if they offered annual dry stalls, she said yes, and I scheduled an appointment to check it out.

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Upon arriving at the farm the next day, I was greeted by a number of boarders, including a few I had met the year before as a seasonal boarder at another facility.  People I had also shown with in Michigan during the summers.  I felt like this barn had been tucked away just waiting for me to find it.

When I met Kim Jackson, I felt at ease. We shared many of the same ideas and I could tell she was also a snob about horse care. A compliment in my book. She had a great deal of knowledge about horse breeding and caring for young horses as they mature.  I felt like I could sleep sound at night knowing my fur babies would be tucked in tight at night check – and I was right.  Kim’s attention to detail has never slipped in the last 5 years and it’s rare that I notice even the slightest scratch before her or one of her grooms.  The care is so good, in fact, that my horses are now on full care with Kim’s grooms handling everything from feeding to tacking up.  All I have to do is show up and ride.  While I miss some of the work, I ride 5-8 horses a day at various barns and time is limited.  It’s a blessing that I have found someone I trust with my best horses to ease my workload.

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Aside from the attention to detail, the impeccable maintenance, and the brand new covered arena put in last summer, the camaraderie at May Faire Oaks is what I can never replace.  I might be able to find another barn with great care, but I will never find another farm with the May Faire Oaks Team.  We’ve been working together for years.  We understand each other.  We help each other.  We compliment each other.  It’s rare to witness a group of professional equestrians working under the same roof without ripping each others eyes out to earn a buck, let alone working together to cultivate each others development.  We genuinely enjoy watching each other flourish.  Don’t get me wrong, we are all women, so we have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day we want nothing more that to see each other succeed.

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I’d like to give a big THANK YOU to Kim Jackson for providing such a wonderful home for our beloved animals and for somehow managing to pick the cream of the crop in South Florida that is the May Faire Oaks Team.  But most importantly, I can’t finish this without recognizing all the hard work you put into making sure our horses are happy and healthy.  You have gone ABOVE and BEYOND to care for my horses in sickness and in health.  From trailering my horse to the vet in the middle of the night, to attending vet calls when I can’t be there, to putting up with my slightly possessed chestnut mare attacking ghosts in the middle of the night.  I’ve watched you go out of your way providing care to boarders horses whenever they need special attention or medication.  Not many farms come with a vet tech on call.

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Kim Jackson, YOU ARE APPRECIATED.

 

A big thanks again to Carmen Franco for the wonderful photos.  You have made my blogs 100% more interesting.  You too are appreciated!

A Break for the Young Horses

We’ve had record highs theses past few weeks which have made just standing still pretty unbearable. I’m typically soaked in sweat by 8 am and by the end of the day I’m verging on having heat stroke.

While I can handle it, especially knowing relief is just around the corner, I’ve decided to give the youngsters a break from work before the busy season hits here in November. They’ve worked hard all summer and I want to make sure they don’t burn out during the most important time of year – WEF 2018!

We may go on a few hacks and gallops just to stretch their legs, but no real education or work for the next two weeks!

Miss Belle will continue her training as time off has never really served her well. We are entered in the White Fences Summer Fun show next weekend which will hopefully be out last attempt at 4-3 before finally making our Prix St. George debut. Wish us luck!

I’ve always made a point to give my horses, especially those 5 and under, ample vacation time throughout the year. I never worry about what type of horse I will be faced with after their break and I’ve never been given reason to worry. Sure, they may be a little excited day one, but they are smart. I’ve already taught them the difference between work and play, and they tend to respect that. And they enjoy working, so they are always happy to get back to it.

In the meantime, I will most likely be posting some older content on my horses. Maybe I’ll even pull out some videos from horses past if I can find them. I will also be including some guest horses and trainers, so the site will continue to stay active.

Stay tuned and stay cool!

Gridwork With Grady: Feeling and Setting Leads While Jumping

Today’s exercise is quite simple and great for both horse and rider.  It is also very flexible.  You can adjust the grid to whatever strides you prefer and you also have the option of setting it to trot in, or canter in.  I like to trot into grids most of the time because I like that my horse is positioned on his hind end, and it also sets a more relaxed tone for horses that may have a tendency to rush a combination, like grady sometimes does.

I set this grid trotting in with 3 trot poles to a cross rail (helps you to start out in the center of the combination and encourages a square front end) to a bounce (15′) to 3 strides to my left or right lead option.

The purpose is to either feel your lead, and pick the option on that lead -for example, if you land on the right lead, you would choose the right option – or decide upon entering the combination which option you will choose and try to get your horse to land on that lead.

This exercise is pretty easy for myself and Grady because Grady is a mind reader.  If I think left, he will land left.  If I think right, you know….

Its still a great exercise for him because it encourages him to land on both leads and it also just reinstates the settle communication between us that makes us a great team.

Try it at home and let us know how it went!

Does the Perfect Trainer Exist?

I think it’s safe to say that I feel we have a serious issue revolving around trainers in our sport if you read ‘Raising the Client-Trainer Standard‘ where I discussed the expectations each side should hold each other to, or A Letter to my Former Trainer about my experience being let down.  Which raises the question: Does the ‘perfect trainer’ exist?

Well, none of us are perfect, but I believe I have found the perfect trainer for me.

So what is it about her that makes her just the right fit?

First of all, she gets me. I understand that I can be difficult. While I am very eager to learn and willing to put in the work, I also have to challenge everything I don’t understand. This is not because I don’t trust her – in fact, I think she’s quite a genius and her techniques have never failed me. But I’m a Mare, and I want everything to be my idea. So when I huff and puff because I’m frustrated and can’t make sense of something, she doesn’t take it personally.  She either finds a way to work me through it, or she finds another way to show me.

She’s way too laid back to let this get the best of her and even when dealing with the horses, if her training is challenged, she stays calm and collected, but persists. If she still isn’t getting through, she will find another solution, and always with a giggle and a smile.

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She has a way of projecting her joy of training onto horses and students alike.

Which brings me to my second point: my horses LOVE her. Because she is so tactful and patient, my horses trust her and enjoy working for her. They even enjoy my lessons with her.  I have lessoned on horses she has never ridden, but they just seem to know I am going to ride better that day.  Her voice alone has the ability to relax them if they are tense at a show, and during our lessons at home, I can sense them looking for her approval as we trot past the gazebo where she sits.

Third: her tool chest of techniques and exercises is never-ending.  There are days where I am trying to overcome a problem that I feel is monumental and will take months to fix.  Sue comes along, tells me to put their haunches here, or their shoulder there, turn here, or move my leg there and POOF!  Problem solved!

Which is why number four is no surprise:  She can turn a 4 into an 8.  I have seen her get on a horse and make it unrecognizable (literally, I have to ask who the horse is, only to find out it is a horse that I have known for years) because she brings out the best in every horse and every rider she trains.  Sure, we’ve all seen auction riders get on a horse and spin it around in a forced frame and push the biggest possible movement the horse can give for a 30 minute ride, but she takes her time.  She puts in the work and makes the results last with patient and methodical training.

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Coaching Carmen Franco at Global Dressage

Number five is most important and almost makes reasons 1-4 irrelevant:  She believes in me.

When I met Sue Jaccoma, I had decided I was the baby whisperer.  That is the niche that I had found worked for me, and I settled myself there.  I love starting babies and I’m good at it, so I had given up my big dreams of FEI and Grand Prix and Sue brought me back to my place where nothing is impossible.  A place I had allowed neigh-sayers to push me out of and a place that brings me to life.  I’m not sure she even realized it, and she may be kicking herself in the *$$ for waking the lion, but I feel like Jasmine on a flying carpet and Susan is singing “I can show you the world!”

O.K, it’s not really that romantic, but Sue has been an inspiration, mentor and friend.  When I get down on myself and I think I’m no good, in her motherly way, she will kick me in the rear for being ungrateful and remind me of how far I’ve come, the achievements I’ve made, and that following my dreams is no easy task.

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Trying to be like Sue

She has never put herself on a pedestal and tried to pretend she is perfect.  She knows who she is and is incapable of being anything but genuine and always candid about her aptitudes as well as her insecurities.  Her attitude about the trials and tribulations and the highs and lows that come with being an equestrian is always positive and forward thinking.  Tomorrow is a new day.  She’s not in this sport for anything but the love of the animal.

So, thank you, Sue Jaccoma, for being the perfect trainer for me.  Thank you for all the time and effort you have put in to molding me into the rider I am today.  Thank you for supporting me and for all the opportunities you have provided me, from showing one of your young horses, to allowing me to learn on your own prized possessions.  While you are only there for me in the Dressage Ring, you have made me an overall better horseman and rider and even my jumpers thank you!  I look forward to many years and ribbons ahead!

I’d like to give special thanks to Queca Franco for capturing all these moments that so perfectly represent Sue’s carefree personality.  The time that you have committed to the May Faire Oaks Team, capturing our highlights – and some of the lows – and tending to us at the ring when you aren’t showing and could be at home, resting, has not gone unrecognized.  We couldn’t do it without you

A Letter to my Former Trainer

I want to start by thanking you for everything you taught me.  With you, I learned more than just how to ride.  I learned horsemanship.  I learned networking.  I learned business skills from within the equestrian world.  I watched you, a successful equestrian entrepreneur, juggle clients, horses and grooms.  Your farm was a well oiled machine that spit dollars and ribbons.  I was in awe.

When I first started riding with you I felt like I had hit the jackpot.  I felt like I had an encyclopedia of equi-knowledge right at my fingertips.  I had someone in my corner with the ability to give me everything I needed to build my career.  My dream was to have a successful sales barn and you could sell ice to an eskimo.

What I didn’t realize was that you had the ability to bring me down.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to blame you for this.  I honestly think that the negativity that spews from your mouth comes from a good place.  You are instinctually a teacher and a leader.  People are drawn to you and they naturally look up to you, as I did, so it’s understandable that I believed you when you told me that neither I, or my horses, were good enough to make it in this business.

I didn’t start riding as a child, like many other professionals out there.  I started when I was 18 and right before I turned 21 I quit for 5 years.  I don’t have the mileage under my belt that most riders have, so it’s understandable that my green mistakes would put you off.

While you were focused on everything I was doing wrong, you failed to acknowledge the bigger picture.  You live in a world of polished professionals and finished horses, so I get why you would overlook the diamond in the rough.  Why waste your time and tarnish your golden reputation on such shitty horses and an inexperienced professional.  I imagine you worked long and hard to get to a place where you no longer have to invest so much in such a high risk stock.

I guess this is why you and I didn’t work out in the end.  I love the underdog.  I love the Secretariats and the Sea Biscuits.  Nobody is ever going to make a movie about the horse that was bought for half a million and won the Hunter Derby.  We see it everyday.  With every horse there are ups and downs, but that horse doesn’t have the whole world watching, waiting for it to fail.  And when it succeeds, no one really cares.

But this isn’t just about validation for me.  This is about inspiring others.  All the riders who have the drive, and the willingness to work their asses off to get the chance to swim with the sharks.  The riders who are willing to put in the time on the horse they bought for $1000 so they can steal the blue ribbon from the 6 figure horse.  The ones who groom all day long so they can come home with an hour of daylight to ride their horse after 4 hours of sleep so they can wake up again at 5am.  The ones you said weren’t good enough because they don’t know what it’s like to sit on the horse that has already won 5 championships because the only horse they have ever sat on were the ones they bought at an auction.

So, regarding your advice to give up training and work at a desk-  Thanks, but no thanks, because I don’t belong behind a desk, I belong in the saddle.  In the next few years, you may see me in the ring and I’ll make a mistake and you’ll laugh at how I should have listened when you told me to hang up my boots.  I can see you telling others how you gave me such good advice, but I didn’t listen.  That’s fine.  Keep watching.  There is going to come a day when you have to do a double take because you don’t recognize me.  You will think it’s a fluke, because we all have really good days.  But it will happen again…. and again….. and again.  Till one day, you realize, you got it wrong.  Because I will stick my neck out there for you and everyone else to slice.  I’ll jump and fall flat on my face (maybe even literally), because I realize now that every cut and every bruise, every failure and embarrassment was placed there, not for me to run from, but as a building block to my dreams.

I didn’t name my business ‘Starbound’ for nothing.

Sincerely,

The Dark Horse

Gridwork with Grady: Trot Poles to an Oxer

One of my favorite exercises for strengthening a horses jump: Trot poles to an oxer. Engages the hind end, sets the pace and assists the distance. I like to put considerable height once the horse understands the exercise. Grady is only 5 and a little behind the learning curve so 2’9″ is plenty difficult. Soon, I would like to get to a 3′ square oxer. Some of my more experienced horses would trot a 4′ square.

Make sure that your horse understands how to trot through poles, otherwise he may try to jump them, in which case, you better hope your horse is coordinated.  For first timers, use just a ground pole in place of the jump and work your way up when your horse is sure where to place his feet.

If your horse gets anxious, like  Eager Beaver Grady,  he may still make a bounce out of the trot poles his first time.  I walked Grady up to the poles and picked up the trot over the first pole so he could figure out it what I was asking.  Unfortunately, I did not get this debacle on video.  🙂

Share your experience trying this exercise, or your favorite gymnastics exercise in the comments below.

Raising the Client-Trainer Standard

I have often said that choosing and keeping the right trainer is like dating.  When you first start riding, you probably pick the first one you find, not knowing what to look for.  As you start to learn a little more about the sport, you begin to broaden your horizons.  It may be that your first trainer is limited as to what he or she can offer you – Maybe their own knowledge is limited, or they aren’t going to the shows you’ve discovered you would like to attend.  It is also possible that you no longer agree with their training methods.  Maybe they are too harsh, or they have one method for every horse and every rider.

So you search for someone new.  Someone who better fits your current needs.  When you find them, it’s like the honeymoon period.  They are the best!  You’ve learned so many new techniques, your confidence is up, your horse is going better.  They may even help you find a more suitable horse with whom you move up a level or even two and win even more ribbons.  Everything is fabulous.  Until it isn’t again.  Maybe you plateau, maybe they don’t show up to school you at the show because they’re too busy with ‘more important clients’, or maybe you find out they have been ripping you off.  We all know the plethora of reasons for trainer-client break-ups.  At this point, you either decide to look for a new trainer, or a new trainer finds you.

Some repeat this process multiple times over and earn the label ‘Trainer Hopper,’ a stigma that most riders want to avoid.  However, I have to ask, why should you be frowned upon for having high expectations for yourself and for your trainer?  Why shouldn’t you desire the best match?  Your trainers job is to teach you to be a better rider.  If you don’t feel you are getting that result, then you need to change something.  Otherwise, what are you paying for?

I hear trainers getting frustrated with their riders because they tell them the same thing over and over again and the client doesn’t change.  Is that how you train a horse too?  Do you dismiss everyone that doesn’t respond to your methods of communication, or is it only the ones who are paying your bills?

As a trainer, if you are exhausting every option and not getting anywhere, maybe you need to explore the idea that it might be that you aren’t a great fit for your client.  And that’s ok, not everyone is compatible forever.  Or, maybe you are just stumped on one particular problem and you need another set of eyes, with a different form of communication to come in and say pretty much what you’ve been trying to convey all along – just different – to get you over the hump.  Maybe you just need to do a little research to find an exercise to give the rider a better feel.  But don’t blame your 3 foot amateur who spends $4000 a month just to have fun for being incompetent.  Embrace the challenge and find a better solution.

I’m not saying trainers should pamper their clients and make everything sunshine and rainbows.  That irritates me just as much.  They longe the horse before the client arrives, have it groomed and ready for the rider to just insert their foot in the stirrup and have a perfect lesson where they hardly break a sweat.  If the horse puts a foot out of place, take the rider off, put the horse back on the longe, or give it a school, place rider back in saddle.  When the horse finally refuses to work for the amateur after being yanked and poked and constantly asked impossible questions, he gets sold and a fresh ride takes his place.  The cycle continues and the only thing that changes is the horse and the number in the trainers bank account after all the commissions.  How about you teach the rider how to ride?  If they want to just sit there, give them directions to the local fair and have them ride the merry-go-round.  An equestrian who doesn’t want to learn their craft is the equivalent to a boxer who is afraid to get punched.  This is a sport – “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment (Oxford Dictionary)”

I always tell my friends when they are dating: “Your low expectations are setting the standard for everyone in the world.”  The same goes for riding:  It is just as much the clients responsibility to raise their expectations as it is the trainers responsibility to meet them.  It works both ways;  you shouldn’t want to work for someone who isn’t working for you.  And the more clients settle for less, the less trainers will give.  The more trainers expect less of their clients, the less clients will feel they have to give.  But hey, everyones making money off it, so what’s the big deal?

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Disclaimer: I understand that there are older amateurs out there who we want to keep safe.  The joy of our sport is that it is the only olympic sport with riders competing over 50.  I know a man who rode into his 90’s and still jumped 3 foot.  He looked like a sack of potatoes riding a 17 hand warmblood, but he was good!  This is an exception.  This man could have run over a small child with his Cadillac and not even know it, but he could probably beat me in any hunter class.  However, I still would have like to seen him wrapped in bubble wrap when he was mounted.