Inside Starbound

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

The Best Dog Ever

I had many dogs growing up.  Mutts, a Brittany Spanial, an American Eskimo, German Shepard, a Husky, a Keeshond, and a Norwegian Elkhound.  But I always had an idea of what the perfect dog for me was.  I wanted a dog that was loyal, who I could leave off the leash and know that he would never leave me.  I wanted a dog who loved to go on adventures and rides in the car.  Who wanted to go swimming, play fetch, catch a frisbee.  I wanted a best friend to take with me everywhere.

While all the dogs that I had as a child brought me great pleasure, none of them shared all the qualities I wanted.  This was partly my fault as I didn’t commit to their training as an immature adolescent.  When I was younger, I could hardly take care of myself, let alone another living being.  To be perfectly honest, I can say those poor animals were neglected.  They had food and shelter and the bare necessities, but in order for a dog to be at it’s best, it needs discipline and and commitment.  Something I knew nothing about.

When I rescued Jagger as an 8 week old pup, my son was 5 years old.  If my son survived that long and wasn’t a total spaz, I could handle a dog.  When I rescued Jagger, I committed to not making the same mistakes that I had made with all my other pups.  I was going to exercise  him daily, socialize him, train him, and he was going to go everywhere with me, instead of staying at home, locked in a crate for hours.  Since I had just started my professional career as an equestrian, it would be easy to take him to the barn with me.  I bought a portable crate which was like the doggie version of a pack and play, and if I was on a horse, he would stay there with a chew toy filled with peanut butter to keep him busy until I could let him out to socialize with people, horses, cats and other dogs.

At the time, Chaise was in kindergarten and his school was just a few blocks from our house.  So everyday, we would walk to school and Jagger got to play with the kids before the bell rang.  I taught him that he had to sit and wait patiently before anyone was allowed to touch him.  After the kids went to their classrooms, Jagger would play with the other dogs who also came to school.

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Jagger and Chaise – 4 months

When I rescued jagger, he was infested with worms and other parasites, so he wasn’t full of energy.  It took a few weeks before he could make the entire 4 block trek to Baker Elementary and I would have to carry him the rest of the way.  When he got stronger, we would walk around the block before returning home.  Eventually, we spent an hour walking around the neighborhood in the morning before our trip to the barn.  Needless to say, after all our daily adventures, Jagger had no problem passing out when the day was done.

Jagger’s favorite toy was a jolly ball.  I made the mistake of teaching him to bark at me when he wanted me to throw it.  Did I mention Jagger is part Lab?  If you’ve ever had a Lab, or a Lab mix, you know that they will play fetch until their legs fall off.  So imagine this clumsy, 65 pound puppy running at you with a ball that is bigger than his head, dropping it at your feet and demanding that you throw it so he can repeat the process again… and again……… and again……………. and again………………………. and again……… You get the point.

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Jagger and his favorite toy – Jolly Ball

When Jagger was about 6 months old we bought the farm- 54 acres with a trail that surrounded the property.  By this time, He was pretty athletic, so I would run him along side the John Deer Gator until he was pooped.  True to Lab form, this also became an obsession of his.  If the gator went anywhere, he was either in it, or running beside it, directing the driver where to go.

While Jagger is true to his Lab side, there is also no denying the Doberman in him.  He is loyal and protective and his main priority has always been me.  You can’t blame him.  When he was 8 weeks old and split from his litter, I was his soft place to fall.  Since he didn’t want to sleep alone, and I wan’t losing a minute of sleep listening to him cry, he spent his nights snuggled in my bed next to me – which made him real easy to potty train as he was too small to jump off the bed and there was no way in hell I would allow my slumberdome to be spoiled by urine.  Let’s just say we had a great line of communication from the beginning.

None of this even begins to explain the power that Jagger has over not only people, but animals.  He’s like a Jedi.  New boarders would come to the farm, and when Jagger came to greet their horse, they would warn how their horse does not like dogs and to watch out because they might bite him.  Before this newbie could finish explaining their horses distain for dogs, we would turn and see Jagger being groomed by said horse.  If a dog or cat didn’t like Jagger, he wouldn’t pressure them.  He would wait until curiosity got the best of them and they would be forced to inspect him, only to be met with the true definition of a gentleman.

But Jagger is not perfect.  Like all of us, he has his vices and his vice is food.  I don’t think there is enough space on the internet for me to share all the hilarious stories about Jagger’s quest to fill his belly.  In fact, if you asked him, his stomach has more room than the internet.  My favorite story?  Some friends of mine came over and we were going to grill some ribeye.  I seasoned 3 succulent 8 ounce steaks and I left them waiting on the counter as we went to the porch to start the grill.  As I walked out the door, I stopped and asked “Wait, where is Jagger?”  Before I could turn back to the kitchen to check on our dinner, he had already swallowed one whole and was working on the second.  He was a stealth.  He knew how to wait until no one was watching and swallow as much as possible before he was caught.

I think it goes without saying that this dog has brought me nothing but joy in the years that I have owned him.  From snuggling in bed after a long day at the barn, to days at the beach and hours at the barn.  But he is 10 now and has undergone 3 knee surgeries.  His days of fetching and running and demanding someone join in on his fun are over.  He’s on joint supplements and pain meds and now requires a wheelchair to relive himself.

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Jaggers muscles have atrophied from his hind end up his spine and my heart is heavy with the knowledge that our time is limited.  I know that I will never find another best friend like him and I’m troubled by the fact that I know I will eventually have to make the impossible decision to say goodbye.  I contemplate daily if I am holding on too long.  As you can see from the picture above, even when he’s stuck, he has not lost his positive attitude about life.

No matter what Jagger is dealt with, he faces it with a happy heart and positive spirit.  No matter what, I will always remember this and try to take a page from his book.  Jagger was dumped at the pound before he was even weaned from his mother, and lucky for him, this is the only real struggle he has ever known.  I can take solace in the fact that I gave a creature of this earth the best life he could possibly have, but no one will ever be able to fill his shoes and the thought of waking up without his face greeting me first thing leaves me feeling empty.

I fear that he will always greet me with a smile, so how will I know when it is time?  My instinct tells me that when he no longer has the desire to eat, I will have to face my difficult choice.  However, I know that he has a degenreative joint disease that will eventually spread to his front limbs and as long as his tummy says ‘FEED ME SEYMORE’ he will want to feast.  I’ve never had to make a choice like this, so how do I know when to say goodbye??

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My best friend forever and always

 

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.

Going Solo: My Gamble in the Jumper Ring

I’ve been riding as a professional for a while now, but it isn’t typical that you will find me at a horse show without a trainer  This weekend, I decided to step outside of my usual box and brave the WEF Summer series sans trainer.  This isn’t because I’ve reached a place where I feel like I no longer need help – I don’t believe that day should ever come – but because sometimes I just need to do it by myself.  Because I’m tired of paying someone to tell me to stop making the mistakes I already know I’m making.

I’ve always been the type of person who HAS to make my own mistakes in order to learn.  If someone tells me not to do something, I have to do it anyway, just to see.  This isn’t always a conscious thought.  When my father told me not to max out my credit cards, I didn’t think “I want to find out what will happen if I exceed my limit.”  It just happened.  And at 23 years of age, I had to deal with the consequences.

When a trainer tells me not to override, it’s not that I enjoy overworking and getting minimal results, but somewhere along the line, it became my instinct and it takes a lot of concentration to catch myself AND reverse habits.  A level of concentration that is hard to keep with a 3′ jump coming with no distance in sight, a voice yelling in the background “Give! Give!”, and the voices in my head telling me I’m about to F*** up royally, accompanied by visions of poles flying everywhere as I crash my horse into the jump.

Besides, there is a certain feeling that you get when you make a mistake and you dust yourself off, try it again, and succeed.  It’s called confidence.  And confidence is one of the major building blocks to becoming better at anything.  If you have confidence, it’s easier to get up after a fall.  You forgive yourself for your mistakes and you try again because you KNOW you can do better, and you won’t give up until you reach your potential.

I’ve struggled with confidence in the jumper ring.  I make mistakes that I KNOW I shouldn’t be making and I kick myself for doing so.  The fact that making those mistakes had become a subconscious ritual for me, was making me a bad rider.  I expected to fail, and hoped I would succeed.  When a jump is coming at you in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you can’t just hold on and hope that it works out.  You have to know that you have a the correct stride and impulsion and time to make a proper correction without overdoing it.

How many of us can agree that 90% of the mistakes we make over fences come from an “Oh Shit!” state of mind?  Either you didn’t act at all because you were too afraid, or you put your hand in a hat and pulled out a solution and threw it at your horse as quick as you could without contemplating the circumstances.  Panic makes you kick and pull, confidence gives you the ability to stay steady and know that you have time to contemplate the right choice AND trust your horse to react.

So this weekend I decided to have a leap of faith.  Faith that I would ride with focus, certainty and patience.  Faith that I would not judge myself or be distracted by the judgments I presume everyone is making of me.  Most importantly, faith that I would accept the outcome and learn from my disappointments and become better as a result.

So here’s what happened:

First of all, I did not ride any worse, or any better than I would having a trainer present, but I saved about $255 (assuming a rate of $85/day, which is the average of trainers I would work with in my area).  Since I trailered in, my show fees were only $193, so I cut my expense by over half, but that’s not the important part.  That is just the icing on the cake.  The important part is that I was not thrilled with my ride on Friday, but I took all my pros and cons and used them to improve on Saturday.  I went into Saturday’s ride with more confidence than I had on Friday because I didn’t hold Friday’s ride against myself.  I knew where I needed to improve and that I was capable of improvement.

Insecurity was definitely riding on my shoulder both days.  More so on Friday, but even Saturday she put up a hard fight for the reins.  She is a beast that I have vowed to mute, but the only way I can win is to get in the ring and fight.

So the point of this blog isn’t to tell you to fire your trainer.  It’s to encourage you to bet on yourself.  What have you been dreaming about, but have been afraid to do?  What have you told yourself you can’t do?  If it’s something big, why can’t you take the steps to get there?  What’s holding you back?  Tell me why you can’t, and I’ll tell you why you can!  I dare you!

 

Beginning Gridwork with Grady

Fuerst Grande P, aka ‘Grady’, is a 2012 Hanovarian gelding by Fuerst Romancier.  Originally, Grady was meant to be a dressage horse.  However, when Grady came to me, he had a very weak hind end and would swap out his leads behind at the canter.  He was already a hot horse, which I love, but his heat came from a frantic place and when he lost his balance and coordination, he would panic, become very tense and run.  I knew that trying to control his canter with just the use of my aids above him would only create more tension and stress.  So what better way to strengthen a horses hind end and have a little fun than jumping?

I decided I would no longer canter Grady unless he had jumped first.  I found that jumping loosened up his back and made it easier for him to bend and come through in the hind.  I started by setting up a simple gymnastics.  I set a trot pole in front of an 18 inch vertical with another small vertical 15′ after with a landing pole behind (see video below).  I also included a landing pole after the first vertical.  I think of this as jumping with training wheels.  I gave him clear direction exactly where to place his feet which gives me less opportunity to get in his way.  Just point and shoot.

Grady had practiced this exercise a few times before we shot this video so he already had a general concept of jumping, but I still started simple with all ground poles and one very small vertical.  Had this been his first time, I would have started with all ground poles so he could figure out where to place his feet before intimidating him with any height.  I like to give my horses a chance to learn before I figure out how brave they are.

You can see from the video that he anticipates a lot which creates more tempo and a quicker jump than I would like, but there is much progress from our first try until our last.  I included some of his mistakes so you can watch him trying to figure out his job and see the end result for that day.

This video was shot a year ago.  Stay tuned to see how well Grady has progressed as I will be adding more ‘Gridwork with Grady’ each week!!

 

If you love gymnastics as much as I do, feel free to comment with your suggestions on exercises I should try!

When It’s Time to Move On

I fell in love with Pulsar the day I met him, which happens to be the day he was born.  He was large and gangly and quite skeptical which is ironic since he turned out to be one of the boldest and bravest horses I’ve ever known.  But as a baby, he would hide behind his mother and hardly let me near him.  I loved antagonizing him to play with me which his mother didn’t appreciate much.  I knew this because I came close enough to her mouth to count her teeth a few times when I wasn’t paying attention.  He was curious, but he was a mama’s boy, so he took advantage of her protection.

I wasn’t worried.  I knew he would come around.  And he did.  When he got weaned and he no longer had a mommy, someone had to fill her shoes.

Pulsar was one of the first horses I started, so I didn’t know a lot about bringing up babies and what to look for in a prospect.  I just knew I was going to make him mine.  He was going to be my jumper and we were going to Grand Prix.

He grew very fast but his hind end and his front end had different timelines, so when he was a yearling, he looked like an oversized donkey.  He was probably 16.1, YUGE head, large, floppy ears; his hind end was probably an entire hand taller than his wither and NO neck.  At this time, I wasn’t telling anyone my big plans for my superstar, because honestly, I didn’t know anything about competing a donkey.

By the time he was two, he had grown to 17.2 hands and his body was starting to catch up with itself so I no longer felt the need to inquire if Select Breeders had been carrying any donkey sperm that may have been mixed with my stallions semen.

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Pulsar – 2 years

The funny thing about Pulsar was that other horses HATED him.  When he was young and he went out with a herd, he would stay on the other side of the paddock and if he attempted to come near them – which he always persisted – at least one of the herd would launch and bite at him.  Although he would be covered in bite and kick marks, he never gave up.  Maybe, on some subconscious level, this is why we bonded.   We were both ugly ducklings who never seemed to understand or care why the rest of the world couldn’t see how cool we were.

Maybe they were just intimidated because they knew he would grow into a cover model.

 

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Pulsar on the cover of Il Mio Cavallo. Photo by Bob Langrish

It didn’t matter that he didn’t get along with the other horses because people loved him and he loved those silly little two legged things that always came around and fed him and told him how great he was.  We were gods gift to him and I’m certain that the relationship that I developed with him during his early years is the reason he turned out to be such an amazing partner under saddle.  Most of the scores I received on him at Training Level – my first year showing dressage – were in the 70s.  Pulsar was consistent in the bridle, his 20 meter circles must have had an imaginary line for him to follow, his transitions were always balanced and on the aids and to top it off his oversized ears would just flop around throughout the ENTIRE test. But he was not a dressage horse.  He was too heavy and too slow and he liked it that way.pulsarhead

Besides, his passion was jumping anyway.  

Although I already had my professional status and rode about 6 other horses a day, I always treated Pulsar like my amateur horse.  I treated him like a pet and I did everything with him.  I never confined him to the arena to do the same thing everyday.  It drove my trainer at the time nuts because I would take him for hard gallops and let him run as fast as he wanted.  She was sure I would break him but I never wanted him to become sour.  We spent a lot of the time in the summer in the field or on trail.  If I wasn’t jumping, I didn’t want to be in the arena, unless it was winter and I had no other choice.  (I’m allergic to snow.)  I always wanted to go hunting with him, but never took the chance.  He would have loved it!

As pulsar began to mature and became slower and heavier, I started to come to terms with what everyone had suggested of him since I started him.  Pulsar was a hunter.  I rode him in the jumpers anyway and it was good for me because we never had a rushed round that just seemed hectic and unorganized and he took care of me no matter what. 

I had people mention the idea of selling Pulsar many times to which my response was always “Never! Not even for a million dollars.”  He was my best friend and there is no money that could buy that.  I loved the idea of keeping him forever and him being one of the few show horses in the world who never gets sold.  He would never lose his person.

Unfortunately, I was never the one footing the bill on this horse.  My father was.  Along with 23 other show horses, broodmares and babies.  He was trying to support my dream, but I could see that it was weighing on our relationship.  But I had bigger dreams.  I kept wanting to do more and more and he wanted to pay for less and less.  After Pulsar and I spent a winter in Wellington, Fl, along with my mothers horse Belle and our stallion Patrick it was clear to me I had hit the bottom of the barrel.  It was too much and for a business man, it was not yielding enough return.  I was just starting to salivate on the idea of winters in Florida and the lengths it could take me, and my father was lowering my credit line.

I understood that I couldn’t continue to juice my own father for everything he was worth, but I wasn’t willing to give up on my dreams.  I knew that he would continue to cut off funds and it was time to take matters into my own hands.  It was time to be realistic and understand that my best friend and I had different plans for the future.  No, Pulsar wasn’t making big plans, but he knew who he was.  He was a hunter.  For the past year, I had been trying to make him quicker and lighter to no gain.  As an amateur hunter, he was gold.  It didn’t matter what you did on top of him, he would keep a slow steady pace with every stride.  I knew he was worth a lot.  Enough to support me for plenty of time to plant my own roots and start my own business.  In Florida.

So I sold my best friend.  Wow.  What a terrible sentence.  Some may think “How could you make such a selfish choice?”  I know that my friend wants me to be happy, just like I want the same for him.  I sold him to one of my trainer’s clients because I knew that she recognized what an amazing horse he is and the life he deserves to have.  He’s even continued his modeling career and progressed into television!  http://www.fox2detroit.com/good-day/259460389-story

I think about Pulsar all the time and I check in on him regularly (thank you Facebook!)  just to make sure someone is still loving him as much as I did.  Mostly I think about how grateful I am for the gifts he gave me, especially the opportunity to live in Wellington, Fl and be surrounded by the top riders and trainers in the world.

He was only 7 when I sold him, but we had developed such a tight bond in those 7 years.  The most important thing that he taught me, was how the relationship you have with your horse can drastically improve the results you achieve under saddle.  Almost every horses I work with is a sales horse, or a young horse that I will start and eventually pass on to it’s owner to continue it’s training.  Almost every single one will slip through my hands in the blink of an eye but I still focus my biggest priority on the relationship I have with that horse over any sort of training.  I fall in love with every horse I work with, and I make sure they fall for me.

I made this video for him after I sold him and I still cry the second I hit play.  

 Have you ever had to let a horse you loved dearly go?

 

Are Equestrians Athletes?

Ask that question to the majority of equestrians and they will give you the evil eye like you just asked a democrat if they like Donald Trump.  We can’t deny that the horse itself is an athlete.  It works out 4, 5, 6, sometimes even 7 times a week.  Some horses even do two a days.  Their nutrition is on par with Lance Armstrong.  Not to mention therapy, massages, acupuncture, proper shoeing and regular visits with a veterinarian just to make sure they don’t need a ‘tune up.’

So let me ask you this, equestrians:  When was the last time you went to the doctor?  The dentist?  Do you have your own therapy program to ensure your muscles don’t get too tight, causing you to overcompensate with other parts of your body?  More importantly, what do you eat?  When was the last time you set foot in a gym?

We ask so much of our horses then turn around and neglect ourselves, ignoring the pain in our backs or hips, eating processed foods caked in sugar, binge drinking, not getting enough sleep and telling ourselves we don’t have time to work out, or we are too tired.   (I would love to be there when someone tells George Morris they don’t work out because they don’t have time.) How can you ask an animal, who’s origin is a field of grass without a fence in sight and the freedom to eat, sleep and play at will, to stick to a strict regimen of work and little turnout when you can’t even do it yourself?  Better yet, how are you supposed to know how your horse feels when you ask it to do pirouette after pirouette, or jump after jump?  Do you know the effect taking just one week off from exercise has on your body?  Do you know how it feels to start working a part of your body that has just come back from an injury? Do you know how awkward it feels to learn a new exercise? Do you know the feeling of not being able to sit down on the toilet after leg day?  Well your horse does.  And he can’t always tell you he’s sore.  He can’t whine about how much it hurts.  He can’t always just give up. Because what happens when he does??

Now I know that this does not apply to every equestrian out there.  When I was working in a gym I saw many equestrians regularly.  George Morris, Anne Kursinski, Endel Ots.  They are some of the busiest equestrians out there and they manage to make exercise a priority.  They are taking care of their bodies because they want to perform at their best.  THIS is what real athletes do.  Just like you make your horse’s health a priority, so should you look after yourself.  Not only for performance reasons, but for discipline.  Because if you can’t discipline yourself enough to take care of your own body, how are you supposed to compete with those who do?

 

So let me ask you again.  Are YOU an athlete?
I wrote this blog over a year ago on another site I no longer maintain. I love the content and wanted to share it again. 

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.

 

The Faith to Win

I know many amateurs who get anxiety just thinking about filling out an entry form.  They don’t sleep the night before a show.  They can’t eat the entire day before they show and the only thing crossing their minds before they go into the ring is how badly they are about to embarrass themselves.  They focus on all the things that can and will go wrong.

I know this feeling.  I’ve gotten myself so worked up before a class that I almost puked.  I blame my anxiety for my drop from 4th in the warm up(right in front of George Williams and horizon: My claim to fame.) – down to 14th (last) in the 2011 USEF Markel 4 year old championships.  (Yes, I have to write out the entire class name.  You know.  Pride.)  I couldn’t get my head on straight that day.  All I could think about was how I didn’t deserve to be there with all of those huge names on beautiful imported warmbloods whose papers alone cost more than my car.  I knew it was going to affect me because I have never gone into the ring with that attitude and not been chewed up and spit out at least 5 times before leaving the ring.  Add to that, the fact that my horse is half thoroughbred and can read my mind and you get my most embarrassing moment to date.  For those of you who don’t know, these young horse classes are scored by 3 judges who announce their opinion of you over a microphone for everyone to hear.  People were there from all over the nation to compete and to watch the future of dressage.  I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

I could have decided that I suck.  I should quit being a professional.  That I don’t have what it takes.  And I did for a moment, but that’s not how I work.  When I get knocked down, all I can think about is how I can redeem myself.  I focus on how my next move is going to make people forget about my failure.  The reality of that is that it is hard.  People tend to focus on the negative, so I most likely will need 5 positive events to cover that one negative ride.  It puts a lot of pressure on every ride, but I have faith.  Faith that I can do better.  Faith that I am better.  Faith that even if I fall, I can still rise another day.  Before I go into the ring, I try to focus my anxiety into excitement.  I’m so excited for my chance to win.  To show everyone my talent.  I’m excited to improve upon my last ride.  That doesn’t mean it always turns out as good as I hoped, but I’m not ready to puke before I go into the ring.

I think many people believe that if they don’t hype themselves up that they won’t have to deal with the disappointment of failure.  When have you ever come out of the ring after a bad ride and thought, “well, that’s cool, I knew I was going to suck.”  You’re still disappointed.  You’re still embarrassed.  The reality is that you set yourself up for failure.  You’ve stamped into your head that you aren’t capable – and so you aren’t.

People often despise cocky people like Donald Trump – “It’s going to be great!  It’s going to be Huge!” Or Rhonda Rousey whom they were so excited to see finally knocked out by Holly Holmes because she was an expert shit talker.  What they don’t realize is that they are announcing their affirmations out loud, to the world.  That’s brave!  If you’re over 30 you probably remember Stuart Smiley from Saturday Night Live:  “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it!  People like me!”  Yea, we laughed because it sounds ridiculous, but it works!  Ask any successful person.  Their affirmations may be subconscious, but they definitely never tell themselves they can’t.

Believing in yourself is not some special talent that only certain people were given.  It’s a learned habit.  Some people have learned to question their talent.  It’s understandable.  When you first started riding, maybe you thought you were good.  Until something happened that convinced you otherwise.  Maybe in your younger years you could compete and win, but now you just aren’t as good.  At some point, you told yourself that you could do it and you failed.  You lied, right?  And maybe you still thought you were ok, but then you failed again.  Lied again.  If a person lies to you more than once, you probably question everything they say from that point on.  Eventually, you will think everything they say is false.  Additionally, what happens if you are always around someone who tells you you aren’t good enough?  Someone who ridicules every single mistake you make over and over?  It would be hard not to believe.

What if you changed your perception?  What if you forgave your mistakes?  What if, instead of looking at your mistakes as a failure, you see them as a gift?  What?  That’s like wrapping up dog poop in a pretty box and calling it a gift!  Well, if you turned it into fertilizer, it could be!  The fact of the matter is, no successful person got where they are WITHOUT making mistakes.  What made them successful is what they did with those mistakes.  Those who choose to beat themselves up don’t grow, in fact, they shrink.  Those who choose to use those mistakes and build another step on the ladder grow more with every oops!

My mistake during the 2011 USEF/Markel Young Horse Championships (yes, every time) was doubting myself and trying to change my ride as a result.  I didn’t get there by mistake.  It’s good to improve a little with every ride, but what was I thinking trying to look like Edward Gal and Totalis overnight when I got there looking like Melissa Wanstreet and Petite Belle?  I had many trainers who hated my attitude.  My first dressage show, I wanted 70’s which I was told was impossible.  My dreams were always too big and needed to be dumbed down.  The one time I decided to see myself the way they saw me, I became just that.  Incapable.

So here’s my call to action: What if you told yourself how great you are?  What if, before you entered the ring, you visualized your excellent ride, over and over?  When you are learning your course in the jumpers, imagine your approach to each jump.  Imagine your horse moving forward and straight, you finding the perfect distance, waiting, jumping with balance and precision as you plan your next jump.  When you are reviewing your dressage test, imagine your prep before each movement, imagine executing each movement precisely.   Imagine a balanced and steady ride all the way through.  Imagine it 10 times over before you go into the ring.

If you’ve gotten this far and you think this is all a bunch of cheese, good for you, go back to hating yourself.  I was just trying to help.  But if you think there is even a 1% chance that this could help you, what do you have to lose?  What could you possibly lose by complimenting yourself?  What could you possibly lose by envisioning yourself winning?  Try it, and if it turns out to be the worst experience you’ve ever had, you can come back here and comment about what a idiot I am.

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