Wednesday, December 31, 2014
A New Year is upon us. That means the Robert Dover Horsemastership week is almost here! This is such an amazing event and I am so excited to be able to ride Sjapoer in it! I was injured last year and gave up my riding spot so I am thrilled to get the opportunity to work with some great trainers on him this week. I have been lucky enough to have been part of this every year since its inception. Like anything in its infant stages the RDHMW has grown and changed so over its initial years. I have been happy and proud to have been able to see this great idea grow. What began with Dressage 4 Kids and Lendon’s ideas to help the youth in dressage has grown beyond a lot of its initial dreams. Like all dreams (and all great ideas) as it becomes more solid it also has more expectations and demands. We learn each year what to improve on and what really works well. As we all have said our challenges in life and with horses are what makes us better. It shows us what our weakness are and it helps us to grow. I love that the RDHMW supporters and organizers grow and learn alongside the actual participants whose goal is to learn. The purpose is to make us better. The purpose is to educate the youth in dressage on the broader picture of a career in the equine industry. The purpose is to promote broad growth in our sport. Through giving to us not only training on the horse but off , the RDHMW shows us so many things. While we are learning, those in positions of power or influence are also learning. We saw how England turned around its program in dressage to become such a power house. They didn’t do it with assisting a few elite and older experienced riders at the top. They built a program from the ground up, with the youth. A long term pipeline has to, in its very nature, include young people who will some day be the leaders and forces in the industry. Just as we must educate the youth in America to keep our technological advantages in industries like the sciences and advanced artificial intelligences, we have to educate our youth to give us an advantage in dressage. When we educate the youth in America about science and math we don’t hang our hopes on only 5 or 10 potential scientists we attempt to educate many. From that many come legions of potential. The odds are in our favor. Imagine the size of the potential riding population in the US as compared to England. Then imagine if we educate and support the youth in a similar fashion. What amazing latent potential lies in wait in the US! I don’t just mean for gold medals. Imagine the potential purchasers of riding pants or saddles. Imagine the jobs for vets and massage therapists. Supporting youth programs like the RDHMW, D4K and all the new USEF programs is the future. I have to say in the last four years I have been so glad to see so many in our sport seeing this and donating in any way they can. Many of them do it without any type of recognition or desire for return. It is coming out in sponsors, trainers and even non-horse people. For example, I have to take a minute to say thanks to Endel Ots for last year donating a horse for Genay Vaughn to ride. That is the spirit that is beginning to spread in our industry. I hope it grows and I hope to give it back any way I can too. I watched the movie “A Hundred Foot Journey” with my mom and grandma tonight. I think there is a great lesson in this movie for us. The two restaurant owners both start keeping this ‘classical’ or ‘traditional’ in their own world. Over time they cross that hundred feet and learn how to change and grow by allowing in new ideas and a new way. They all end up better off. Perhaps a little spice here and there can make things better. I know they have for me and the hundreds and perhaps thousands of children in these programs. I can’t wait until Saturday morning to see what new things are in store for me to learn and share with you.
Monday, December 22, 2014
I have been working with a nutritionist and reading about diet and exercise these last few months. I have a few snack and eating ideas I have worked into my daily schedule I thought I would share with you. First, I try an easy rule of thumb. I try to have a protein, a healthy carb and fat in every meal or snack. For a lean protein I try a lean meat or dairy, for the carb fruit, veggies and whole grains and for the fat nuts, avocado or fish. I don’t do well counting or measuring so I am better at putting in ‘3’. For example for breakfast I can have a whole grain cereal with organic whole milk and fruit so I made 3. Then for a snack I might do yogurt with granola and fruit so again I make three. For dinner I might have a turkey sandwich on whole grain with avocado.
Another thing I have found that helps tide off binging or cravings is ‘grazing.’ If I eat something about every 4 hours it really helps to keep me from getting so hungry that I just eat anything in front of me. It also helps to keep the portion sizes down because I am not running on empty. Grazing is easier, I find, if I keep something handy. Often eating seems to be more an afterthought than a plan. So I try to plan to make the afterthoughts easier. So I put Raw Revolution bars in my pockets and back pack. I keep them in my car console. Every time I find myself looking around for something, they are there! It is easy, convenient and healthy. I keep a tub of them at the barn for everyone and a big jar of them on the counter at home. I do the same with veggies, like baby carrots. I have a bowl with water in the frig and it is always full of baby carrots. They are cleaned and ready to eat. This prep motivation to eat healthy also works well with my smoothie obsession! I buy the pre packed and frozen dole frozen fruit with no sugar added. They come with mixed berry, strawberry banana, and all sorts of combinations. One small bag is exactly one smoothie. I keep cartons of almond milk and soy milk in the frig. I use the soy milk for the liquid in the smoothie and then dump in one bag of fruit. It is all cleaned, cut and measured. Ease makes it quick and convenient. I keep bags of Matrix organic powders in the cupboard next to the blender and I dump in different powders based on my daily needs.
I am also a huge yogurt fan. I live for Chobani! I keep bags of granola in the cupboard next to the frig and dump it right in. I also keep berries that really need little prep work like blueberries and raspberries in the frig prepped to dump in. The Chobanipacks that have the granola and fruit already in are great too and even easier. I even freeze yogurt packs and eat them for my ice cream cravings or after workouts to cool down. It makes me feel indulgent when I freeze the chocolate fudge flavored yogurt and I really splurge.
I have read up on dark chocolate. I joke about being a candy freak but I inevitably buy things and never ever eat them. I have never managed to eat all my Halloween or Easter candy in my life. However, I do have a dark chocolate craving at times. I have read that dark chocolate helps lower stress hormones. So I do keep a nice dark chocolate bar in the frig and probably once a week or every other week I will eat a square out of it when I need it. However, I rarely manage to eat a whole bar in a month.
Another big helpful idea to premix your own trail mix in a big bowl. I like nuts and dried fruits. Then put it in snack size ziplock bags. These I then put in my back packs and pockets just like Raw Revolution bars. Again, convenience and a little planning ahead makes it easier to eat healthy. Another thing I found out in research was the beef jerky is a great snack for athletes. It is a high protein snack. It also has sodium to help to keep you from cramping in strenuous workout conditions. Bananas and apples are easily portable snacks and rich in high energy carbs. Finally, hydration is key. I just read that I can keep protein powder in little ziplock bags in my back pack. If I get bottles of coconut water and mix in the protein a little over an hour before a workout it will help with hydration and my potassium needs. Remember water is key and just having a drink after you work out is not the best way. Replacing fluids is important to prevent muscle breakdown from dehydration.
The last bit is for gym workout times not the barn. These are different levels of muscle activity and different types of physical activity but we need both to be balanced athletes and to be able to call on our physical strength (like core development) that we build at the gym to help with riding.
Anyway, there are lots of snack recipes on the Internet. Most use peanut butter (which I unfortunately am not a big fan of). However, do a little fun research and you can get lots of great ideas. I think the key to being able to get on a plan these last few months is to make it as easy as possible and to structure the plan in a way that fits. For me it is the 1+1+1 is 3 on every meal and convenient prep with my smoothies, yogurt and trail mix snacks. So think about what is holding you back and try to figure out ways around it!
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The last few weeks there has been a lot of speculation and talk about the Olympic committee’s plan to discuss removing dressage from the 2020 games. My initial response was ‘are they insane?” Once I started breathing again, I wanted to look at the reasoning and arguments. I saw online and have heard a wide range of opinions on this; from “oh they say this every year but it never happens” to discussions on if dressage is really a sport or a skill. I did find that even if dressage was debated every year previously for elimination it was not a class d sport so it wasn’t eligible for elimination. This meant that in previous ‘talk’ nothing could have been done. However, dressage was downgraded to class d. So this should send us some reality signals. First, it actually now can be eliminated. Second, the powers that be downgraded it in spite of some of the facts about dressage. For example, I have read that attendance at dressageevents has shown continual growth. This can mean that the IOC’s decision may not be based upon profit or popularity of a sport but upon some other factors.
I then read the mission statement of the IOC for the Olympic Games. The IOC states they desire to encourage gender and ethnic equality in their competitions. If their mission is to promote these goals then they have no solid argument to remove any equestrian sports as we have all noted so often, equestrian sports are the only Olympic event where men and women compete directly head to head. There are no women’s or men’s divisions. How more gender neutral can you get than that? So if this is truly a priority of the IOC we must increase equestrian events and add things like reining and vaulting.
If their goal is ethnic representation 41 nations representing all continents competed in dressage in the London Olympics. Only 12 countries were represented in basketball, which is a highly publicized sport. From the Plains Indians to the Argentine gaucho to the Mongolian Kerait horse tribe to the Middle Eastern Arabian horse breed every area of the globe has a horse culture and tradition. 132 nations are members of the Federation Equestrian International. The International Skiing Federation which serves all skiing events only has 110!
Another concern being discussed is the nature of dressage as a skill and not an athletic sport. Arguments point to the age of our athletes and the years it takes to develop as proof that athleticism is not a key factor. However, if you look at the increasingly younger age of our top competitors and the swelling number of those young stars it has become obvious that like all athletic competitions in the last few decades we are becoming more and more demanding and competitive. This increased level then requires every ounce of extra strength, stamina, and physicality. For example, in some sports like basketball the players have become taller over the years. In some like football they are larger and faster. This is true of all sports pushing the edge and increasing in their demands on competitors. We see this in equestrian sports not only in our riders but in our equine partners. Horses that scored in the 70’s or 80’s decades ago would not do so now. Furthermore, with the longer competition life span of our riders ‘health’ is a lifestyle not a short term competition goal. Another stated directive of the IOC is to promote athlete health. Our riders show another aspect of competitive sports health which broadens the nature and length of promoted health issues for athletes.
Another stated mission of the IOC and the Olympic games is to promote sports that service humanity and promote peace as well as responsibility to the environment. Again if the stated issues of the IOC are the reality of their goals than equestrian sports should be at the top of the list to be funded! Our equine partners make our sport unique in its environmental and humanitarian nature. Horses serve as therapy horses. Horses give their human partners an insight into the minds of nature and teach us so many valuable lessons about life. They teach us responsibility for those dependent upon us. They teach us compassion, love and empathy. All of these lessons and so many more we have all discussed a thousand times they teach us. These lessons are another of the IOC’s stated goals to blend sport with culture and education.
So having addressed all of the stated goals of the IOC and how equestrian sports as a whole and dressage in particular meet and exceed them, I now call upon phase two of the plan. Let’s all write to the IOC. One thing I have learned hanging out in my childhood in university political science departments is the power of the grassroots contact. The more people we get to contact the IOC directly and to point out the benefits of our sports the better! Perhaps they don’t know these things. Perhaps all they perceive of dressage is a bunch of elitists in and expensive sport dressing up in outdated fashions prancing around on trained ponies. (Trust me we have all heard all or part of that many times).
We need them to know that we aren’t all wealthy, that we do appeal to broad audiences. That little girls and boys who don’t own horses but dream of riding want to watch and are inspired. We need to broaden and change as an industry or we will never grow beyond our ‘niche.’ When our ‘niche’ is no longer supported by anything other than those inside that little group, we will all be held hostage to it.
So the address for the IOC is Chateau de Videy, Case Postale356, 1001 Lausanne, Switzerland. Please write in and let them know you don’t want dressage cut out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. You can talk about so many things.
-How our sport promotes ethics.
-How our sport promotes women at all levels of play
-How our sport educates the youth through spirit of fair play
-How our sport is at service to humanity and promotes peace
-How our sport is against any forms of discrimination
-How our sport promotes the health of athletes
-How our sport is responsible on environmental issues
-How our sport blends sport with culture and education
These are all the stated goals of the IOC and the Olympic games. Let’s take away any argument they might have now or in the future to eliminate us!
I am mailing my letter today.
Monday, December 1, 2014
There are several aspects underlying our sport (and partly all sports) that can be difficult. First, like all sports it is a competitive business. By this I don’t just mean sports are competitive, I mean that to make a profit and to be able to live and work from our sport you have to run a ‘horse’ business. These businesses take many forms. You can train horses or people. You can breed horses. You can be in any of the support branches of equestrian sports like insurance, medicine, saddlery, shoeing or a hundred other aspects. You can also work a completely outside business in order to support your horse habit. However, you have to make money somehow to feed and care for them. Second, like all sports it is a game. Finally, unlike other sports (except perhaps agility dogs and herding) our sports partner is an animal. So how do these three things complement each other and sometimes diverge interests?
As a business and a competitive sport, at times we have to make decisions not based upon our hearts but our heads. Although let’s be honest sometimes we pick the heart too often. We have all faced many tough decisions, like selling our partners. This sounds horrible and it feels worse but it is the reality of our sport. It is so hard. It takes a little piece of our souls each time we are forced to let them go or they leave us. I think it is a bittersweet pain, like those of a parent when their kid leaves home. You want on the one hand to keep them safe and warm at home in the nest. You want to be proud and let them soar to find the heights they could reach without us. We also are terrified that something bad could happen when they are not within our sight. I wish I could have kept every horse I ever rode. I hold everyone in my heart.
But this sport is not like any other. There is no huge yearly salary paid by anyone. You don’t get millions for winning the championship. Furthermore, the costs to participate and even keep in the game is so high. I have come to realize that my childhood threat, “that I would rather sell a kidney than Sjapoer” just isn’t enough. We work and we train and we love and we lose.
We compete and train because this sport is amazing. We love it, we live it and we breathe it. We read every article. We devour every tack magazine. We inhale barn air and it fills our spirits. This sport is about so many things. It is about trying to obtain perfection by working hard on the same things over and over and over. But it is not just about technical perfection. It is not just about suppleness, frame, balance, bend and the movements. It is also a sport about our horses. It is about their spirit, their personalities, their power and beauty. It is an aesthetic sport like figure skating, gymnastics and ballet. How many times have the commentators in all of these sports spoken of the difference between mechanical and technical perfection as opposed to flowing beauty and the innate feeling of the sport. This spirit within our equine partners should never be trampled. They have a free spirit and joy fills them. They symbolize power and the trust between the partners within that harnessed power. This beauty must be seen by those outside our sport. This beauty as we know is and should be judged. If we only see technical perfection and we allow this spirit to be crushed in the drive for a technical ten we do an injustice to the sport and more importantly to those that trust us.
This brings me to the underlying reason the majority of us are in equestrian sports (because it isn’t for the money!) We are all horse crazy. Some of us caught the bug early and some later but we all get antsy, our fingers get itchy if we go too long without reins in our hands and leather under our seat. We are obsessed with our animals and we spend thousands of hours and most, if not all, our money on them. We get them toys, treats, blankets and bling. When they hurt we hurt and when they learn and achieve we beam like the proud mamas and papas we are! We post videos of their funny moments and we show their pictures like new grandparents. Why do they fulfil us so? I have talked about this before but I believe they give us so much. Like other ‘pets’ they give us love, attention and trust. Like other pets we learn responsibility and gain an empathetic nature from our role in their lives. We talk to them and share our heartaches and joys. We have grand adventures and lazy days together. We learn to overcome challenges. We learn patience. We learn disappointment. Like other sport animals we work with our horses as a team to achieve a goal and an outcome. We spend countless hours working to achieve perfection together. They show us heart and dedications. They show us hard work ethic without complaining. They show us that you can sense others feelings and it can affect how we interact. They show us honor and selflessness in the way they defer their larger power to us in trust. We learn to do the same back to those weaker than ourselves. They teach us leadership through guidance, calm surety and love not physical dominance.
I think that horses have taught me everything I need to know to be a good person. I think horses have taught me everything I need to know to be happy and content. Horses and being able to spend my life working with them every day has been the greatest blessing of my life. I could never imagine a world or a life without them and I wish every person could learn and share this experience with me and with all of us crazy horse people.