Welcome to the dressage spot, a place for the young (or young at heart) dressage riders wanting to gain information on the sport of dressage, training tips, equine health care, maintenance and fun!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oh Decisions!

The big decisions of adulthood come upon us so quickly.  One minute you are playing in the mud and looking for fairy rings and the next it is time to make college choices.  What do you want to be?  Where do you want to go?  The pressure and choices seem limitless and limited at the same time.  Family, friends, dreams, finances and horses all rolled into trying to decide.  I think so many of the junior and young riders want the same things but we feel torn apart.  Over the years I have observed that dressage youths tend to be quite good students.  I know from my Region 9 days, girls studying engineering at Rice, at UT, SMU and A & M.  Some of my East Coast friends are headed to Georgetown, Columbia, and NYU.  I don’t know what it is about dressage that so many science oriented brains are drawn to it; maybe it’s the geometry of our tests. J 

     But does this mean we have to by necessity decrease our riding time or leave the horses or dressage?  For the sake of our industry it seems that we spend so much time and money training top riders as youths and then they head off to college and disappear for years.  Some come back, some don’t; but either way, momentum and resources are lost.  I know it was discussed at EDAP that perhaps college could be deferred.  But given most of our high achieving parents and the pressure of paying for this sport that is not a likely scenario.  Even my mom, a college professor who sees people ‘return’ to school all the time (and is trying to be supportive no matter my decision) has to swallow bile any time I hint at taking any time off.  So what do we do?  How can we have both?

     I think the answer is planning.  Two years ago as a high school junior I wrote to Jeremy Steinberg about my long term goals.  I wanted riding and college.  I reviewed colleges that had programs I thought were a good fit for me (and that my parents would let me go to).  I drew a one hour drive circle around those colleges; and determined what trainers were available within that distance from those schools.  I found 5 in the US that I considered as having the skills, training style and character for a good match with me.  I then wrote to Jeremy about who he thought would consider training me.  I wanted to move before senior year in order to get in state tuition to whatever school I picked.  This would be a five year commitment. 

     After some emails back and forth and a visit to Kirkland, I left my parents, friends and beloved Texas and moved here.  Last fall I applied to five colleges.  You know the for sure school, the dream school and a few in the middle.  I found out this month that I got in to all of them.  I also found out that I got enough money from scholarships to pick wherever I wanted.  After a day of basking in the fact that Cornell even wanted me, I face new quandaries.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to only get one acceptance?  Then I wouldn’t have to make choices.  But now, I have a crossroads again. 

     In the last year and a half I have changed my decision on what to study.  I originally was planning on genetics, but after meeting and being helped by Dr. Susser the sports psychologist; I have really been considering following in her path!  This slightly changes the schooling plans but I refuse to go where my horse isn’t within an hour from school.  I refuse to go where I can’t have a top trainer near.  So I have to compromise.  I contacted Cornell and they have agreed to let me have a guaranteed transfer later if I want to attend at a later date.  So I don’t have to give up that connection or possibility forever but for now (at least the next two years minimum), I will stay in Kirkland. 

     I went with my Grandma to visit Seattle University’s campus today.  I took a tour a few months ago of UW.  I think they will be very different types of schools.  UW will have the big college experience, over 40,000 students and a football team! Seattle has only 7,000 but has much smaller class sizes, and is ranked in the top ten by US News and World Report.  Either way, to keep riding I will have to live at home and not in the dorms. But compromise is perhaps the part I have learned about growing up.  If I want to succeed and I want both an education and riding; I can’t have dorms and parties and Cornell.  But I can have something different.  I can have something that gives me pieces of both and allows me to continue to move forward with my love of dressage, horses and my long term goal for the Olympics! 

     So I guess the point of this blog; fellow young people, is that your life is your dream.  Planning, research, commitment and a willingness to compromise and sacrifice can make it come true.  Just stick to your vision, not others.  Be ready to be bold for your dreams. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jan Ebeling Clinic

So after last week’s quick run-down to Las Angeles I had only three days at home until a quick turnaround to fly out to Sacramento to stay with Genay for the Jan Ebeling clinic.  I was really excited to go because after meeting at working with Jan at EDAP in January I was interested for a longer, full three days of spending time getting to know his style a bit better; but also I wanted to spend time with my ‘big’ sis.  Although Genay and I have met at several competitions it wasn’t until EDAP that we realized how alike we were.  We even agree that our moms are freakishly similar; both unable to sit still, both extremely capable of getting so much done in little time! 

 Anyway when I arrived, Genay was away at school and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon.  So I got to sleep in and really wander around Starr Vaughn Industries facilities.  AMAZING!  The barns (which are of course the first thing we horse people care about) were amazing, and the pastures seemed to be endless green rolling hills.  It made me think about the “California Cows” commercial.  You know the one, where everyone wants to be a California cow and not a Wisconsin or Texas cow because in California the grass is always green, the sun always shines, and everyone is always happy.  Looking around I just felt happy and peaceful.  The main covered arena had Euroturf footing and almost made me sigh in happiness.

On Friday night Genay, her mom and I went to Leatherby’s.  We shared the most gigantic ice cream ever.  Check out the picture on my Facebook page!  Saturday I watched some really great riding.  A few things I wanted to share with you about the clinic was sometimes if “you have to change direction, you might as well do a half-pass;” and to “help avoid disrupting the horses balance, try to do as little as possible with the hands.”  He also noted that you control the speed and tempo of the horse with your seat and leg.  To slow down, slow the movement of your hips.  Finally, try to give your aids to the horse in conjunction with his rhythm. 

Saturday night I had the great privilege to go to dinner with Jan, Genay ,her mom and some friends.  It was a really fun and happy group.  They particularly laughed when we were walking to the parking lot and in my too high heels I almost bought it!  I was definitely not graceful and looked like Bambi on ice. 

Sunday was the last day I would get to bask in the California sun.  Early Monday morning I would be headed home to cold Kirkland.  In the morning clinic I learned a key component to Jan’s training: TRANSITIONS.  He is all about transitions.  He can’t get enough transitions.  On a funny note, when something doesn’t work out he said a few times “ahhh Buffalo.”  At first, I thought this was a German word I couldn’t quite understand; but I called my dad (a fellow German) and asked. Maybe that meant when things weren’t right the horse looked like a buffalo?  Or maybe he just likes the sound of the word.  My dad was like that when he learned English.  He liked the word turtle and would say it over and over for different things.  I don’t know why that was so funny to me but, we all have our quirks.

Sunday afternoon Genay and I got time to vegetate in the sun by the pool.  She has three GIGANTIC Rottweilers.  They literally looked big enough to eat you.  But luckily they were just really big teddy bears; or I might not be here writing to you.  I did lay out a bit too long and got badly sunburned.  I am so thankful for Aloe Vera.  

As I headed home Monday, I had visions of the future that looked bright.  Genay and her mom made me feel so welcome and a part of something special.  I really appreciated their amazing welcome and their energy.  I felt motivated for the next few months.  As I closed my eyes for a much needed nap I started to see my first enter, halt, salute of the season; soon to be upon me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


    As I sit, tired and slightly sunburned here in LAX I look back at an amazing weekend.  It all began on Friday night.  I flew in to this same place, full of anticipation and excitement.  I was going to La, to Hollywood, to the land of dreams!  I have seen pretty woman.  I held visions of Rodeo Drive and Spago in my head.  Never having been to LAX I didn’t know how soiled and pampered SeaTac and DFW have made me in my traveling ways; such confusion was overwhelming.  Shuttle buses, terminal changes and construction had me so backward and lost.  At one point I thought I had awoken in an old Godzilla movie; and I was Godzilla.  I was overcome by a swarm of bodies.  They all looked to be replicas of the same person, and all at least a foot shorter than me and male.  It was surreal.  Looking back at the strange characters in unusual costumes I saw all weekend the Godzilla feeling was one of the most ‘normal’ moments of my trip!  I saw Jesus, the joker and the mad hatter within hours of landing.

     The first night was about greeting old friends and getting the weekend plans underway. We had come to meet mom’s childhood friend Guy Eckstine.  He is a music producer who sits on the Grammy’s board.  He was just finishing an album for a new young artist and offered to help me with my freestyle music.  I learned a lot from him this weekend.  His patient over view of the process, and stepping in only when necessary with pertinent questions was a lesson for me.  I even got to hear the last three tracks of the album months before its release!  Good luck Grant I loved the tunes.

      The best part of spending time with Guy was that he knew mom when she was my age.  It was strange to hear about mom as a force of nature for fun and breaking rules instead of enforcing them.  Saturday morning it was up and headed to Del Mar to Evan Marks’ home studio for recording.  We took the scenic route along the ocean and saw so many famous landmarks.  Once we arrived in Del Mar I tried to coordinate seeing Brandi, but she was (can you believe it) at a horse show.  We went to Jake’s on the beach for lunch and watched people’s antics from the amazing view.  There was even a guy trying to play Frisbee with himself.  I would definitely recommend Jake’s to anyone who happens to find themselves in Del Mar.  After lunch it was off to Evan’s to mix some music!  The amount of detail that goes into splicing music is unbelievable.  We have fade ins, fade outs, and instruments added to the high or low “stuff”.  I was trying to sound like I learned a lot there but it got so overwhelming fast I can’t remember half of what we did in the 3 hours we were there. 

     A few hints for freestyles; first don’t make an overly obvious entrance and exit halt.  If the music ends abruptly and you aren’t’ on your cue, or you get there early…the judges will know!  I put several possible beats close together so that the music allows a few spots close together which allows for a few possible halt spots.  Another hint, make the music varied enough (i.e. don’t loop the same notes repeatedly) because if you have several distinct marks in the music you can learn the feel of these as you practice.  This gives you a better measure of time and where you should be in the routine.  In case of a bolt or a bit of a rush to the test as sometimes happens in show conditions, you can adjust as needed.  Last year at NAJYRC this happened to me.  You can see this on the USEF Network website video.  Sjapoer’s eyes rolled up in his head, his ears flicked back and he made the trip across the diagonal as if it was a short side.  We weren’t even supposed to be on that side of the arena.  But I knew the spot in the music, because of a cue and estimated the remaining time.  I threw in an extra volte and then continued to where the program was supposed to be.  This is easier under rushed or crazy times if you have distinct cues in the music.

     Anyway I wanted to thank Evan Marks for his amazing work.  He even is keeping all my work so that if I want to make slight changes (even add or take out a second here or there) he can do it for me over the internet and send an updated program in minutes.  If anyone is looking for freestyle music help I suggest you email him at Mark Shapiro shapmark@me.com

    After we finished up it was back to LA with a quick stop at the house of one of Guy’s other new bands, “the Bolts.”  Great guys!  Their family was so welcoming and invited in for an impromptu party.  They even watched USEF videos to find out what ‘dressage’ was.  Reluctantly, after being invited back for a concert anytime, we headed home; ok with a quick stop at In and Out burger.  I guess this is a ‘must’ as Billy said for anyone visiting the area.  I have to admit though it was a pretty good burger.  However, the place was packed and when I told the guy behind the counter it was my first time to eat there he looked at me like I was from Mars. 

     Sunday was a relaxing day off.  We walked down Santa Monica pier, went to lunch with Billy’s friend Byron and his mom Barbara.  Then we went bowling in the afternoon and I lost second place to Byron by one pin. (I want a rematch!)  The evening was cut short to get back to the Hilton for an early Monday morning flight.  So I am headed home now for a short three days.  Then off to Sacramento to stay with Genay and attend the Jan Ebeling clinic.  Show season is almost here I am getting pumped.  First weekend in May at Whideby will be the start of the new dressage year for me.  I’m getting excited. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Focus and Visualization

     Dr. Susser had some amazing ideas as usual on how to focus, concentrate and succeed under the pressure of competition at EDAP.  I found some of my notes yesterday and wanted to share some additional thoughts with you.

     First, prepare for your events.  Make a list and be sure to follow the list.  Dr. S told an amazing story about a friend of hers that packed up, drove hours to a horse show, unloaded her equipment and then went to the back of the horse trailer, opened the doors and she had forgotten her horse!  He was still back in the barn in the cross ties waiting to be loaded.  So you know what you need to take to a show.  Make a list.  Check of the list.  Perhaps have it on the computer so you can print multiple copies. 

     Second she said to put more focus in the training sessions.  Be mentally focused on what you are doing.  She called it bringing the show ring into the home ring.  As you are tacking up, visualize what you want to do today.  She said just pick one thing you want to achieve.  Then in training or lessons spend 10 or 15 minutes focusing with show ring intensity on that item.  Use positive mental imagery to see it happen.

     Third, try not to get upset over silly things.  Think of ways to use that agitation or energy in a positive way.  Let yourself only be upset for 30-60 seconds, then breathe and move on.  Here I have to say I learned a valuable saying from my friend Mary Katheryn Nommensen’s trainer Anna Burtell.  She said when something really great or really bad happens, regardless of which you only get five minutes.  Five minutes to gloat or jump around like a fool.  Five minutes to cry or stamp your feet at something terrible.  (The only exception is getting tossed off a horse or winning a National Championship…then you get 10).  After that you put it behind you and it isn’t mentioned again.  I like the saying.  I have reminded myself of it several times. 

     Finally, she said to make sure you sleep well the week before the show.  This is often hard as you are in a hotel, or surrounded by people you haven’t seen in a while.  But get rest.  I know that I have talked to Brandi and Genay about their ‘show habits.’ And although there is some variation, prior to the show is not really the time for hanging out and visiting.  Everyone focuses on their objectives.  Each goes mentally to their place and tries to shut out distractions.  We do this not to be unsocial but to do as Dr. Susser teaches!  Visualize, focus and concentrate.  You can’t do those when you are distracted by a dozen other people’s issues, ideas or needs.  So I have realized to not bug other girls to go get something to eat, or go to the ‘shopping’ area.  Let everyone concentrate and focus before the show and then celebrate together after!