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, February 27, 2014

Short & Sweet

So the fireworks have faded over Sochi!  Everyone is back home and enjoying their victories, planning for 2018 or asking themselves; what now?  I have already started to feel some withdrawals from a lack of events to watch.  I have been having so much fun these last weeks checking in on ‘my’ competitors and their events.  Speaking of my people, I have to give a final congratulations to Jamie Gruebel (bobsled), Seven Langton (2/4 man bobsled), Nick Goepper (slopestyle skiing), Erin Hamlin (luge), Devon Logan (slopestyle skiing), and Nastia Liukin for her great commentaries.  Go team!
One observation that sort of came to me these last few days with not only the events but the interviews about the ‘actions’ sports that are being developed; dressage is an ancient sport.  It came from a time when life was hard.  It came directly out of a need to excel in war when riding on a horse.  War is chaotic and violent.  Dressage and the training of dressage horses, I would argue,was designed to take the chaos and violence and control it. How many times have you heard from none riders that it looks like we sit up there and aren’t doing anything?  The idea was to transfer calm and assurance to your horse and to your men, to look in complete control to those under your command.  So our image of harmony and beauty comes from the idea of restraining power, action and fear.  Today’s popular and growing brands of ‘extreme sports’ do the opposite.  They take sports that many people do; like snowboarding, skateboarding or skiing and then add power, action and fear.  They want to make more drama out of their sport, not less.
So in this time of craving for action our sport is about containing emotions, containing the power and fear into a more sublime form of controlled and disciplined beauty.  Can we attract mainstream crowds with this? Can people watch a 6-8 minute ride and see power and strength?
On that unusually deep thought, I turn to what may be next on the sporting horizon after the haze of everything ‘Olympic’ settles. Then what will occupy us next?  The World Equestrian Games of course!  Normandy, France in the fall!  I might get to go assist an amazing journalist, we all know and love to do some commentating.  That would be a dream come true for me.  I hope it works out and I definitely will keep you all updated.  Wow the daily blogs from that would be intense!
Well thanks for sharing the Olympic weeks with me and let’s get moving on our declarations which are all due next month!  NAJYRC and Brentina by the 15th and High Performance by the 31st!  It is upon us.  Time to make those decisions!

Friday, February 21, 2014


    One lesson I learned recently was about humility.  Horses,”Christine said teach us to be humble.  We can work and train to try to control every little detail of our demanding sport.  Dressage is a sport of details.  It requires extreme discipline and thought, but there is one completely uncontrollable factor; the mind of your equine partner.  One hundred times, no one thousand times they can see the same arena and then one day the shadows are different or the letter has fallen off the cone and they act like they have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole.  No matter how good we think we are or how much we train we can be on the bottom (or on the ground) without notice or in the blink of an eye.  We search for grace, harmony, balance and sublime beauty in the moment but that all comes connected to a 17.2, 1600 lbs. animal with its own fears and anxieties.  Never take anything for granted.  Never think something can’t or won’t happen to you!  But in spite of the risks and costs; try.
    This takes me to why all my posts have been so short (but a lot more frequent) these last few days; the Sochi Olympics!  Talk about anything happening, have you ever seen so many people at the height of their careers falling and crashing?  The conditions there are so less than optimal.  I know we all think, “Well at least they all are riding under the same conditions.”  But what I think the spectators want to see at this level is everyone at their best.  Optimal conditions in the Olympic venues allow the spectator to watch the athletes push as far asthe human body can to excel in a pure sport.  We are definitely not getting optimal at this Olympics and I hope future venues take notes and don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.  I guess we are all learning Christine’s lesson on humility in the last few weeks.  I would like to add that lessons in humility often come associated with heartbreak.  The photo of Shaun White leaving the halfpipe after his 4th place finish will haunt me.  Already he is being asked if he will ever come back.  In 2018 he would be 31.  That is thought to be way too old in his sport.  He must be thinking, and the fans must be thinking if his competitive days are over?  How devastating will that be some day for all of us?  It seems far away at 18; particularly in the sport which boasts a 72 year old Olympian.  However, even if it isn’t age that ends a career, if it is injury or finances that would still be devastating.  I could not even begin to imagine a life without dressage  We are really lucky in our sport.  We have the potential for very long careers.  We have teammates and friends who understand the horse bug and share in the disease with us.Most of all at least we will always have the horses.  Shaun can’t get too much communication, affection or attention from a snowboard.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dressage in the Olympics

    So my Olympic obsession this week has led me to do some research on dressage at the Olympics!  So here are some of the interesting things I found out!  Dressage made its first appearance in the Olympics in 1900 and then wasn’t seen again until 1912.  Since 1912 it has been in every Summer Olympics.  While modern ‘equestrian’ events include dressage, show jumping and eventing at times it has included vaulting, polo, driving, and hunter divisions.  Until 1948 equestrian disciplines where strictly military events and they competed in their informal dress uniforms!  In 1952 women were allowed to participate in dressage only as show jumping and eventing were considered too dangerous (tell that to B. Madden)!  In 1956 women were allowed in jumping and in 1964 in eventing.  The equestrian disciplines are the only ones where men and women compete in all forms on equal footing.  Tennis, badminton and sailing have some divisions of mixed-doubles or joint teams but they do not have gender neutral participation across the board as we do in the equestrian disciplines!  
    Originally dressage had a jumping component!  There was also a timing factor and a 2 point deduction for each second you went over time!  Only individual medals were awarded until 1924 when the team medals were added. Equestrian events are the only Olympic events where people compete with animals.  We also have the distinction of having the oldest Olympians at every Olympics ranging in age from 60-a record 72 held by an Austrian.  69 countries have sent 2129 competitors (1751 men and 378 women) to the Olympics in equestrian events. The equestrian events are also unique in that twice they have held their events separate from the rest of the Olympic events.  In 2008 the equestrian events were in Hong Kong and not Beijing due to concerns of animal health.  But at least they were in the same country.  In 1958 at the Australian Olympics the agricultural rules for quarantine would not be waived for Olympic horses so they held the 1958 equestrian events 6 months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden!  Canadian Ian Miller holds the record for attending the most Olympics in not only equestrian events but overall at 9 Olympic appearances! There is a three way tie for the most number of medals at 8 between the two Germans Reiner Klimke and Isabell Werth and the DutchAnky Van Grunsven.  Germany holds the record for the most dressage medals at a total 42 with 21 gold!  Sweden is next with 41 medals and 17 gold medals.  France is in third with 34 overallmedals and 12 gold.  The U.S has 8 with no gold and only one individual medal in 1932 when Hiram Tuttle won both the bronze in team and individual!  His teammates were Issac Kitts and Alvin Moore.  The only silver medal was the team medal in 1948 won by Robert Borg, Earl Thomson and Frank Henry.  Robert Dover holds the current record of 4 team bronze medals in the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 games to make him the most decorated Olympic dressage medalist in US history.  Gunter Seidel holds a close second with 3 team bronze medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004.  The remaining team bronze medalists with one each are in 1976 Hilda Gurney, Dorothy Morkis, and Edith Master. In 1992 the additional riders were Michael Poulin, CarolLavell and Charlotte Bredahl.  In 1996 in addition to Robert and Gunter were Michelle Gibson and Steffen Peters. In 2000 the team of riders rounded out with Sue Blinks and Christine Traurig!  Finally the 2004 team again had Robert and Gunter but this time the ladies were Debbie MacDonald and Lisa Wilcox!  That is if I am adding right 15 men and 10 women.  That’s a 3/2 ratio. I think that is pretty good gender equality given that the total of 1751 men and 378 women is a much bigger difference of nearly 5 to 1!  
    Well that is my short dip into Dressage Olympic history!  I will admit to being a bit awed since moving to Albert Court that sometimes I am in the ring and I look around and get the honor and privilege to be in there in some way with both Christine and Gunter!  I hope I can absorb in my mind, in my physical riding and even by osmosis every ounce of knowledge I can.  If not I have to say just being in their air is often inspiration enough!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


    What do we chase in this sport? For that matter what does any athlete truly seek?  Where is that line from a game or a hobby to a passion?  This week watching the Olympics and watching all the proud mom stories for P & G I wondered.  What makes an Olympian?  I mean we understand to some degree there is a difference between professional athletes and Olympic athletes.  Professional athletes are often driven by dreams of wealth and fame; but seriously Luge, Curling or dressage?  These are such niche sports we can’t expect that these athletes are chasing a dream of wealth and fame.   What made Robert, Lendon or any Olympian or even those who just missed making a team keep trying?  What makes them sacrifice so much?  My friend Genay is driven by the dream of riding ‘the perfect test.’ She puts in hours every day striving for this perfect moment.   Robert said at the RDHMW he always was driven by a need to understand everything.  He wanted to know why and how everything worked.  I think ride because it is my place.  When I am in the barn in general, and in the saddle in particular I am in a magical world.  Everything feels right.  All my stress, all my fears and cares go away.  It is like my soul gets to soar for a time.  It flies to the heavens and returns full of sunlight and happiness.  I love the horses because they bring me peace.  I love my horse partners because I understand them, and I cannot imagine a life without them. I try to explain this to non-horsey people and it is hard.
    I remember the first moment I met Sjapoer.  I knew he was the horse for me because he was so aware.  He wanted to know what was going on.  He wanted to come over and meet me and interact with me. He knew I was there.  He communicates with me and I have learned how to talk to him.  This doesn’t happen with every horse.  In fact, I rode dozens of horses on that trip to Holland.  Only Sjapoer told me he was aware of me and wanted to communicate.  It might be his intelligence, his curiosity or his spirit but it shone in his eyes.  That awareness, that communication I experience to some level every day; but in some moments his spirit seems to lie in my hands.  I can feel him talking in the bit.  I ride to open that communication, to become as one with the spirit of the horse. I ride for that magic. I dream of the experience of showing all non-dressage people that man and animal can be as one, can be a team.  Humans don’t have to dominate and use; we can learn, grow and share with them.  We can find the perfect balance and harmony through communication of the softest and most connected nature.  That is my perfect moment.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Every day choices

So lots of students every year in middle school, high school and college ask themselves questions about what they should study.  Which classes are required? What do I need to take to finish my goals?  What do I want to take?
So with all the discussion lately about education for athletes, maybe we should look today not at the big picture of to go or not to go but the question of everyday choices.  Like if I have to take a foreign language what should I take?  Lots of these types of questions can actually help you along your path to the final goal in our industry; whatever your goals are.  Just think about how to tailor classes that may even be required to help you with your goals.  For example, if you have to take a foreign language and you want to be a doctor or something in the heavy sciences; take Latin.  It will help you in Med School!  If you want to train as a dressage rider you might think about German.  If you want to run a huge Eventing barn in Texas you may want to study Spanish.  I guess what I am saying is don’t just take French because your best friend is in the class or sign language because you heard the teacher was an easy A.  Take classes to help you achieve your future goals.  Those choices can really start as early as middle school.  You can also tailor other classes too.  For example, if you have to take two PE credits as a rider you may want to take Pilates or Yoga to work on your core.  You may want to take ballet for balance.  Bowling might be fun or easier but you aren’t getting as much benefit for your long term goal.  If you have to take an economics or accounting; try to take small business accounting instead of personal finance.  That way when you are trying to run your own barn you will have a clue how to do so.  
Start to look around at every day choices.  Ask yourself how or if each one can help you with your long term goals?  Is there an option that advances that goal? Take that option.  It is all of the dozens of little every day choices that over the long term really add up to giving you the base of support for your goals.
Well I am off to pick my spot on the couch with Grandma and my two dogs (Odessa and Avery) to watch all the Olympic excitement. And please give big shout outs and support to Jamie Greubel (bobsled), Steve Langton (bobsled), Erin Hamlin (luge) and Nick Goepper (slopestyleskiing)!   Check your viewing area for times but this week Monday I believe is the women’s luge and Thursday is slopestyle skiing!  Ok and while the team opening ceremony uniforms have been drawing some controversy.  I have to say the silver jacket for Medal ceremonies, Nike's Aeroloft 800 Summit; I WANT IT! Online it also comes in blue! The USA on the back uses something called lenticular fabric which changes color; so cool!
Go Team USA in Sochi!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Judging with Janet!

This year at the Robert Dover Horsemastership week the last day with the judges was really cool for me.  I didn’t get to do this last year because of the schedule (all the West Coast riders had to leave in the morning to make flights to get to school).  However, this year because of my move, school is on hold so I got to go.  I am so glad.  I really have to say I was amazed.  It never occurred to me how great trainers that judges can be.  I guess we think of judges as judging, trainers as training, farriers as shoeing; that I never mixed them.  But I learned so much from their unique views.  They didn’t just judge or just train.  They could actually tell you why you received a score, what the issue was, how to fix the issue (if at all) and how to maximize you’re the score in any movement.  Wow!  I was really floored.  I can’t wait until I can afford to pay Janet to fly out to watch me ride (ok or watch my video) and tell me my issues.  Hint mom, maybe I can have her as a birthday present.  I think that sounds a little funny.  I want Janet Foy for my birthday.
Anyway, Janet Foy gave a ‘what I will be looking for” style lecture before the actual tests began.  I listened to Janet most of the morning because she is ‘that’ judge for me.  She probably doesn’t remember this but she is the first person who started me dreaming of Olympic dressage.  I was riding for her four years ago.  I was 14 but looked about 10.  I was barely 5 foot and weighed about 80 lbs.  I was riding in Tyler, Texas in my first ever competition ride with Sjapoer.  If you know Sjapoer he might look calm and submissive, but he isn’t.  Our connection has grown over the years but in the beginning he was like riding a lit firecracker; always hot and ready.  I was riding a third level test and the Texas wind was blowing, tent flaps were snapping, guys were throwing big bags of ice out of the back of a truck and Sjapoer was not happy! When I was circling the arena waiting for the bell, I know she could tell I was nervous. I thought everyone could tell.  I was only thinking of calming him down and showing him everything so he wouldn’t decide to go for a spine snapping run.  To this day I know (ok it was probably only in my mind) but I like to think Janet fiddled at her desk, fixed her hat, and wrote comments or whatever to give me time! I just felt she understood, that she really cared about Sjapoer and I.  Anyway, after my test she called me over and asked me about Sjapoer.  She had seen me ride my other horse Federalea and my pony Borzoo over the years.  She asked about Sjapoer and then looked right at me and said, “Someday I’ll expect to be seeing you ride in the Olympics.”  I left that arena 7 feet tall and leaping buildings in a single bound.  I have always felt that Janet was my Paula Abdul; you know the judge that tried to give you positive comments and be helpful, she absolutely loves the industry and will also tell you the hard truths.
So Janet at the RDHMW, spoke about scoring.  My mom video tapped some of her lectures so I can share that information with you here. She explained that you have to look at the big picture as well as the details.  First, she looks at the quality of the gaits.  Then the basic requirements for the skill level of the test.  Did the riding pair meet the requirements, yes or no?  Next, was the essence of the movement met? By essence she explained she meant was the most important aspect of the movement met.  Finally, the smallest or most detailed part of the equation for judging; were modifiers.  This she said were things like accuracy.  She explained that new judges loved the modifiers because they showed that the judges saw all the little details.  To her the modifiers were much less important.  She explained with this analogy.  When you go to the grocery store they have those machines where you dump in all your change and you put in a big bag of quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies and fifty cent pieces and it ding, ding, ding adds up and you get an amount.  The quality of gaits are the fifty cent pieces and the modifiers are the pennies!  I love that analogy; it really made sense to me.
Next she explained about comments.  Several questions from us led her to explain that judges only have to comment or justify comments on a 6 or below.  So if you are getting 7’s and 8’s and get frustrated because there are no comments, that is because they don’t need to give them.  I didn’t know that.  She also said that she doesn’t like the comments ‘nice’ or ‘needs more’.  It makes one ask ‘needs more what?’  Then she turned to us and said does it mean needs more money?  Who needs more money?  We all raised our hands, particularly the parents!  The question is how you are going to get the money.  So she tries to be more specific.  For example, ‘needs more bend,’ etc.  Here is another really interesting thing I learned.  If she gives you a seven or an eight and a comment, it means you lost an eight or a nine.  So you had an eight but because of the issue she noted she deducted points!  If you get an 8 with no comment that is all she felt you could get.
She explained it like this.  Courtney King-Dye once asked her how to get an 8 or above on a medium trot on her horse.  Janet said her answer was, “honey, it ain’t never gonna happen, take your 7 and walk away.”  She told us that we need to know our horse’s strengths and weakness.  If we push to get a 7 or an 8 where we can only get a 6, we may make an error or actually lose points in that and perhaps the next movement.  So take your 6 and then know where he could get an 8 and show her.  She noted that no horse can get a 10 on every movement.  It isn’t possible.  So be honest with yourself and work within that structure.
Then she said that she loved the new .5 scoring because it allowed you to be more accurate and less harsh or rewarding.  I think by that she meant if you did it half right you could get partial credit or if you were half wrong partial deduction.  That was my view of what she said.  She did say that for 3’s and below she didn’t use .5 as there is no reason.
In answering a question about gaits and scoring tests against each other she responded.  “Let’s say I have two different riders and they both do the same test with no mistakes.  One is Doc and the other Valegro, who wins?” We all answered Valegro.  She agreed because of the quality of gaits.  “Now what if Valegro came in and was late on changes and wasn’t bending right and Doc did everything right? Doc would win.” This she explained because his training was better, the focus was better.  Our job she said was to do the best job we can with our training.
Finally, she admonished us all to “use your corners!”  “Think about transitions.” “We just don’t see many good transitions.”
All of that was from the intro lecture!  I then went to watch Linda Zang until the last ride of the day and then I came back to Janet.  She was giving one of my old teammates Kalie Beckers a lesson. I was amazed.  She spotted right away that Kalie was left handed and how that fact affected her riding.  I would have really like to know if any trainer before ever told Kalie about spotting that in her seat.  This was another really eye opening moment for me.  In fact, when she told us she reviewed Devon Wycoff’s tapes with her it made me think of an idea for next year’s RDHMW.  I suggested to Lendon that the auditors next year bring tapes of their rides (or the people that don’t ride their own horses).  That way the judges can give them this invaluable information as well.
In conclusion, Janet said something I have mentioned before.  Be appreciative of our judges.  They volunteer their time because they love dressage.  They are not getting rich off this work.  When she asked Linda Zang how much she got paid to judge the Olympics and the WEG I was shocked.  The whole daily pay was less than most trainers make in an hour lesson at a clinic.  She said they are not spiders in the web waiting to ‘get us’.  They want to help us learn, they want to see the beauty and harmony that is dressage.  Let’s remember this, show them appreciation and treat them with the respect they deserve for their work, dedication, experience and unbelievable value to our industry.