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!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Media Training

My first instruction about the media came three years ago at the first Robert Dover Horsemastership Week.  Mary Phelps of Dressage Daily told us about some of the potential strengths and weaknesses we might have when dealing with the media.  Some of the advice seemed straightforward.  She said to always smile, give basic information like your name and your horse’s name.  We practiced doing some interview questions.  I was really excited by the idea that someday I might get to experience being asked questions by a journalists.  One of the things I took to heart that first year was when Mary said to be interesting.  She said that journalist hear the same things over and over, “I love my horse.”  “He did a great job.”  Yes, you want to be gracious and thankful but also give them something to write about. It is hard to come up with new and interesting articles and topics.  However, I can tell you from experience that being ‘interesting’can work both for you and against you! Do not be too interesting!  This I have been told is one of my problems.  I tend to over share or wander off topic.  I am a very open person and I like to talk.  This is a benefit sometimes because it helps me to meet people and learn new things.  It also means I sometimes talk too much!  I noticed this tendency the most when my best friend Genay and I did a recent interview together.  She is very good at answering questions.  She leaned forward, she made eye contact.  She thought through her answers and was to the point.  I was leaning back in my chair or leaning forward and using my hands to gesture in an animated way.  I sometimes got into a story and forgot what the question was that led me to the story.  But my style has its strengths too, it makes me very personable and relatable.  I need to rein in more and maybe Genay can relax more.  (That is another great thing about making such great friends at this event.  You learn from each other.)
    Another way to see what to do or not to do in interviews is to watch some of them.  They interview all the NAJYRC Gold Medal winners so there are lots of examples on youtube.  There are even ones of multiple riders together which gives you good contrast on styles.  Watch them. See the strengths and weaknesses of all the interviewees. The youtube fun chat with Devon, Jamie and I after the Young Rider award ceremony is a really good example.  One thing I was embarrassed about right away is none of us knew our regions!  So I learned after that question to be prepared!  Know your stuff. Know your region, your city, your horse and even the city you are competing in.  I was once asked in a radio show what I liked to do outside of the KHP in Lexington.  I hadn’t really been anywhere or seen anything so I tried to wing it.  It turned out ok but it could have been better!  I said seeing the caves because there was a small cave at the place we rented.  I commented I didn’t know Kentucky had caves.  Well most of you know they have many giant famous caves!  So I sounded a little silly on that one.  
    Another problem I have encountered is in not thinking about how things might sound to others.  I might joke about how I would starve to death in a pile of my own dirty laundry if it wasn’t for my grandmother.  To my grandmother and I this is a personal inside joke and lets her know how much I appreciate her living with me.  To others it might seem like I am lazy or inept.  I do laundry.  I know how.  It is just a joke but things might not seem the same to others.  So be careful.  If you think a question might be tricky or you need to think about your answertake a second.  Adjust your mic. Drink your water.  Take off your gloves.  Do something that gives you time to think before you speak again.
    Don’t be upset if you get misquoted.  It happens all the time.  Also don’t get upset if they don’t tell that little anecdote you told or they didn’t list your sponsors.  Journalists don’t have space to write your thank you list.  Lists of sponsors are boring and not news.  They have a job and they need to makeinteresting articles that draw attention.  Make sure you mention your sponsors in your interview but don’t expect to control what gets printed.  You can try to get sponsors in with photos.  For example, ask to have the interview at the barn.  Have the banner on the stall door, the hat on your head and feed the cookie to your horse as you talk about why they are his favorite.  Another way is to try to include your sponsor as part of the exciting story.  I remember the only time I think my sponsor’s name got in an article was when I was asked what was going through my head after my first gold medal win as a Junior.  My answer was that I was thinking “Thanks mom, Thanks Dad, Thanks Schleese!”  These types of quotes might get printed because they are part of the story.
    Another thing I have been told to work on this last year is to try to turn to the conversation to the points I want to make.  I need to learn to not be passive in my interviews.  Use the questions to state your points or agenda.  For example, I need more horses to ride.  So whenever I can work that into the question, I need to.  Like when I am asked about my long term or short term goals.  The media is there to do a job but they also love our industry and they want to support us so they are also a tool to help us.
    This year at the RDHMW Ken Braddick of Dressage News spoke to our group.  He gave us some very practical advice about the media.  Again it seemed to be very straight forward.  They have a job to do.  They love our sport and are not paid a lot, if any money to do that job.  Be respectful.  Be open and courteous.  If they ask for an interview or a quote work with them.  It might not be the best time as you are heading in to the warm up but don’t be rude.  Give them alternatives.  I can’t talk now but let’s do lunch Friday.  We have to see the media as a positive tool to help us build our industry and our careers.  They are not the enemy.  They can be invaluable friends.  I can tell you even before the clinic this year I realized this.  I try to stay in touch and show the media my gratitude.  I send them emails, notes and even Christmas cards.  I sometimes send them stories I have written that they might use. I try to always be grateful and receptive and when something is really amazing and well written, I let them know.  Everyone likes to be noticed for doing a great job.  We like the pats on the back for our 70s.  They like “Hey, well written.  I really enjoyed the piece.”  
    Finally, Ken noted that in comparison to Europe and other place we often don’t treat the media well.  (I think this might be true of how we treat judges too!).  We make them stand in the long lines to get food; we don’t give them special seats or a spot in the shade.  We make it difficult to get passes to get in to talk to riders.  This, Ken argued, was not the best advice to help to grow our sport in the US.  The journalists have 100’s of thousands of readers.  The more we can interest a broader audience in our sport and our riders the better off we all are.  So the next time you are at a show and you see a member of the press or a judge, be kind.  Smile.  Ask if they need anything.  Show them how much we appreciate their work and efforts!  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Robert Dover Lecture

Every year Robert starts his clinic with a lecture on the principals of dressage. In fact, he said he starts every new client and every clinic the same way, with the same speech. Some of you have probably heard it already but if it is that important to our Olympic team coach it is probably worth repeating a lot. So here it is.
He begins by stating that our goal on any horse is to get them to move forward. Whether it is the  motion in a half pass or a flying change; we want to move forward. He then asked us “what are the natural aids we could use to achieve this result”? To be a natural aid an aid has to by virtue of its use, independently at least partially produce the desired result. There are 3 natural driving aids used to achieve the goal of moving forward. These are the seat, the left leg and the right leg.
So what is the first step of using the aids to go forward? This is a part I love about listening to Robert. He is one of those natural teachers that can break down complex ideas into single stories and make a mass audience not only understand;, but enjoy the story. So he had us sit in our chairs envisioning going forward. Before we use the leg to kick him to go what do we do?
First, he says to always begin everything with a vision of what you are trying to achieve. See in you ‘mind’s eye’ what you want. Don’t just envision going forward in extended trot. See the grandest, biggest version of extended trot you can in your mind. Imagine Vallegro or Totillas. 
Then when you have that picture, we breathe in and sit up. This is the first natural aid because as we breathe in and sit up we apply our seat. We turn a passive seat into an active one. If this is enough to move forward; great! Robert spoke on always using the lightest amount of aid for the greatest possible result.
The seat can be active, passive or bracing. This means we can use if for three purposes. The first one is non-use. A passive seat means we aren’t using the aid, like before we breathe in sit up and ask for the forward. An active seat means we use and activate the use of the seat. A bracing seat means we work against the forward motion. This is done obviously to quit going forward. The legs are used for direction in forward. 
Another issue we have when we go forward is whether the horse is straight or bending. Straightness is the ability of the horse to overlap the line he is traveling over. For this goal we use the three bending aids. These are the inside leg, the outside leg and the inside rein. The inside leg is placed on at the girth (the horse’s center of gravity). The outside leg is behind the girth as a barrier for the motion. The inside rein is used to ask for bend in front to be the same as the back.
A final natural aid is called the aid of opposition. This is the outside rein. It is used as a set of aids by itself to counter the first two sets of aids. Its job is to restrain how fast and how much the driving and bending aids do.
All three sets of aids are used in the space of a single breath. This is the perfect half halt. By its definition the half halt is the calling of the horse to a perfect state of balance and attention. As that moment all things you can see in your mind’s eye are possible. The inhalation is attention and vision. The exhalation of half halt is the reward for doing what we asked. We relax the outside fist and open the imaginary door.
After discussing the aids we talked a bit about non-natural aids; like the whip. This seemed a prevalent theme at the clinic this year. Perhaps this was due to all of the press attached to care and treatment of horses. There was even disagreement among the speakers about the use of the whip. Robert was adamant and reiterated multiple times that we use the lightest aid possible. He spoke the first day at length about the best interest of the horse and following our gut feelings about this issue.
Finally, he closed that first lecture with the thought that if you can control balance you can control the four major elements of dressage: rhythm, tempo, frame and the length of stride. Several times during the week he pointed out that rhythm and tempo are not the same thing. Rhythm is the number of footfalls in each gate; for example, a four beat walk or a three beat canter. Tempo is how fast the horse goes over every meter forward. If you own the half halt, if you are in balance you own all these things.
Then came my favorite quote of the week. Robert asked us all “Who is in charge of your movie? Is it the horse, your parents, your trainer or you?” We each need to see and control in our mind’s eye our own movies. So I think I’ll add a few things, like perhaps a leading man other than SJ!” Maybe some new young horses might be in the next chapters. I guess I am working on some rewrites!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

EDAP Farrier

So as a home school kid, I take crappy notes.  I will admit to that.  So this last week at the Robert Dover clinic I resorted to the modern alternative; video!  I got home and after settling in I started watching over and over the videos that I took (and mom on the last days when my phone and Ipad got full).  
    I've always had some shoeing questions so I wanted to start with Don Later's talk. 
First, I have to say that the thing that sticks with me the most is when he told us all to take off our shoes and exchange with the person next to us.  Then when we had on someone else's shoes that didn’t fit, he asked how it might affect our movement?  This was a bit of an “AHA” moment for me.  Anyway, I came out of the hour more aware of the total dependence we have as dressage riders on the quality and strategy of our farriers.  
So here are some of the things that really stood out to me during the live and video version.  Me. Kater said that “roll toed shoes let a horse break over what are called stress points.”  He said to look down at our own feet.  We mostly had on tennis shoes. In the front of our shoes we have the rubber sole up higher and rolled at the end of the shoe.  This is so that when we walk forward as the foot rolls up it gives more support in motion. This is like a roll tied horse show.  This isn’t on our casual walking shoes much but on our sport shoes.  Why?  The motion change makes the roll necessary for more support.  He said that if a horse was left barefoot and subject to wear and tear they would get worn on the roll of the front feet and their back feet would get very square.  That is the natural wear of their feet in the wild.  But he reminded us that we change the habits of our horses.  Their natural state in the wild is to graze about 20 hours a day.  This is just walking small distances with occasional speed over natural terrain.  We move our horses inside, often limit grazing, and put them on different surfaces.  All of these factors changes the use and wear of their feet.  
We discussed other types of shoes like egg bar shoes which look a bit like an egg and actually go all the way around the foot.  He said these were in vogue about 10-20 years ago.  They are still used for horses with injuries that need extra heel support but over all they are not used much. They add much weight on performance horses' feet.
Mr. Later explained that every time your horse’s foot hits the ground the motion creates the frog to expand and contract.  He had us put our hands up to our chests and our elbows out like we were about to do the chicken dance.  He then had us expand and contract our “frog like” arms to demonstrate the motion that occurs in our horses' feet. Then we moved our elbows into our stomachs and tried to do the same thing with restricted motion.  It was hard and we didn’t get the same motion.  He didn’t talk about it but I assume that would also restrict blood flow too.  The point was that shoes that restrict the movement of the frog were not optimal. So egg bar shoes he said restricted the motion of the frog.  
   Someone asked about thrush.  He noted this is the most over treated and under treated foot problem.  When it isn’t present it gets treated and often when it is; it doesn’t!  The easiest way to tell if your horse has thrush he said was to take your finger and rub it around the frog; then sniff your finger.  If it stinks your horse likely has thrush.  
    Another question led him to say that owner’s and riders need to understand the best thing a farrier can do is keep your horse sound and moving healthfully.  A properly shoed horse is done the same way regardless of breed or discipline.  Like our experiment with changing shoes, they need to fit and be made for the activity.  In the end they need to fit well.  Farriers can’t make a five mover a ten mover.  Then can keep a ten mover a ten mover.  They can also make a ten mover a five if shoes are done improperly!  When he said that is when I started getting nervous.
    He prefers to hot shoe and builds his own shoes in order to have a better shape.  Also he said that no matter how hard you try to make the foot flat, and the shoe flat when you put them together there are pressure points, dips etc.  So when you hot shoe it molds those areas.  He did warn that it should be done gently.  If the whole barn aisle is full of smoke and the smell of burning flesh fills the air; it is too much.
   Someone asked about types of materials used for shoes.  He said steel is by far the most common and most often the best.  Aluminum is often used on race horses as they are lighter. Because a race horse is running all out and putting so much stress on his legs, the less weight the better as it puts less stress on his feet.  Aluminum shoes would not be good on dressage horses because their stress patterns are different, they need more weight to protect the feet.  Titanium is an expensive light alternative but they can’t be reshaped as it cracks.  There are lots of new plastic products coming out. He said he was taking a wait and see attitude about those.
    Another warning, do not have your farrier go digging around deep for an abscess in the frog.  His advice was to let it come out.  This takes only a few days.  Digging deep often can set a horse off for a week or longer.  
   He said always research your farriers, always be there if you can to watch what is being done.  Both the farrier and client need to respect each other, be on time and have a good working environment for the job to get safely done. If your appoint is for ten, don’t give him a bath at 9:50and then he is wet when the farrier comes! His final advice, “if your horse is sound, he is happy, his shoes stay on, he is moving well then DON’T CHANGE anything.”  

Thursday, January 2, 2014


   I think we should start our little sessions with probably the biggest non riding lesson Jeremy has been telling me in the last 2 years.  
    What does it really mean to be a professional?  How do we make the transition from kid on a cute horse to being taken seriously as a force in the industry!  First and the most obvious places to work on this are in physical appearance; not just yourown but your horse, the barn and the people around you.  This is your first impression to others, how you are initially perceived is a reflection of you to your potential clients, sponsors and owners.
    I have learned there is no ‘off time’ for appearance.  You do not arrive at the barn half made up and sloppy.  I do not drive on the property unless my hair is done in a neat pony tail or bun.  It is contained by a baseball cap.  I have on post earrings.  I am already in my riding clothes or appropriate, clean, neat attire.  My boots shine before I get on a horse.  They don’t just get polished for shows!  Your polo wraps and clothing do not clash.  You should look like you could go out on a team test (but with colored pants) and ride as you are in practice on a minutes notice.  Your barn, stall and tack should be the same.  Your horse should always be show ready every day.  Why?  Because sponsors stop by without notice!
    For example, one Christmas break last week a really big potential sponsor that I have been in negotiations with for months ‘just happened’ to be down the street and stopped in with less than an hour or so notice.  I was already at the barn and too far to run home first and change.  I wasn’t riding that day but of course came dressed as if I was going to because, even if I am just stopping in to feed or check blankets, I have the same rules.  Sjapoer is kept shaved and groomed so I can pull him out of the stall or out of a lesson and walk in front of anyone at any time.  In fact, Lori said he looked “majestic “  and I was “stunning.”  If I had been in short shorts and casual shoes and hair I might not have gotten the sponsor…but I did.
    I admit I occasionally miss something or do not notice something but the more you keep it all as close to show perfect as possible, the easier it is  to have everything ready in a short time if they come by with no notice.  
   Think about it this way, would an older person look at a young kid with messy hair, an unshaved horse, dirty buckets and a sloppy tack room and think “I want to give this person a half a million dollars for a horse because it would make good business sense.”  No they think, they can’t take care of these little things how can they be expected to take great care of my money, or my horse, or my products!
    Professionalism also means always thanking volunteers, and workers at every show and event.  I don’t care if you are an Olympic gold medalist we all started crawling before we could walk and ride and we should all take time to relate, remember and appreciate.  I remember my first year at Gladstone, a volunteer at the warm up arena gate came over to me as I rode in and was practically gushing and beaming with the biggest smile ever.  She said, “Steffan Peters just thanked me for picking up Ravels poop! Oh my god he is so nice I can’t believe the thanked me!”  Think about that.  She only did what she volunteered to do.  It was a small act.  But he took the time to notice and show appreciation.  She will NEVER forget that and will tell hundreds of people in her lifetime about what she nowsees as his whole personality from that one moment.  If he didn’t say anything she might not have thought badly about him but he would have missed an opportunity to generate positive good will and support.  If he had been snippy or negative, she would have told even more people about what an arrogant jerk he was.  Marketing studies show that people tell more 20x more people their negative experiences than positive!  
   Trust me the negative is what people are predisposed to think.  You have to work to build that professional and positive image.  This also means admitting errors.  This is tough for a lot of us because we are competitors and also our sport lends itself to details and being perfect in the little things so we tend to want to control.  It is hard to let things go and (sometimes even when we aren’t) to say sorry or we were in error just to let the matter die.  
   There is an old Native American tale that says a little boy asked his grandmother why there were good and bad people in the world.  The old woman said everyone had both a good and bad wolf living inside of them and they are always in battle against each other.  The little boy thought for a while and said, “which one wins?” She answered, “the one you feed.”
     So let’s each now think of one thing we can do or change in our daily routine to be more professional?