Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowed In: Oliver Townsend Clinic, from HorseSmart, via YouTube

Since I'm snowed in and can't get to the barn, I spent the morning doing "continuing education" on YouTube. I was looking for videos with top trainers working with green or inexperienced horses, so that I might re├źnforce my thoughts about the work I'm doing with Jazz, glean a few tips, learn a few new exercises and see what it all looks like when a "work in progress" is being done well. Trying to sort past the skads of videos of amateur riders riding amateur horses, I found a few videos with Conrad Schumacher from HorsesmartVideos , but I couldn't sort out his accent with the poor audio quality.

Finally, I stumbled on a video, also from Horsesmart, with 2009 Badminton and Burghley champ Oliver Townsend and ended up spending a couple of hours in the "related videos" wormhole, viewing the entire the series:

How to Do Dressage
Love the title! What event rider wouldn't love to learn "How to do dressage"? Let's face it, eventers don't catch the bug because they excel at dressage.

If your dressage score is on par with Anky's (that is, after converting to penalty points), you might not have a handle on the basics. Oliver Townsend divulges some of his weaknesses, early mistakes and how he overcame them. The sitting-trot-to-posting-trot exercise is enough to get you started. Makes me wish I was at the barn right now (sigh).

How to train a horse to Jump

Townsend's take-away: "You don't have to try and see that stride. You just got to try and find that right pace and stay in it."

How to see a horse's Stride

Same take-away as above: "When it goes wrong, is that you come around the corner and you grapple with the head looking for that perfect stride and you kill the canter... Put the power in the canter here, get the engine running, ride a good turn, sit up, 'Level, level, level, level. Good boy!'"

How to train a horse jump a very narrow fence

Townsend demonstrates how he gets a horse confident over a narrow fence, like a barrel. He then dials it back to show how he would start a Novice horse on a lower fence and explains how the same theory applies to ditches.

How to bring on a young Eventer

Townsend candidly describes how he spent big bucks on a talented horse from France with eventing show mileage all the way up to NOVICE level.

How to teach a young horse flying changes

Townsend doesn't use ground poles to teach the flying change, so you have to be very clear with your aids if you're going to try this at home.

How to Canter on a horse
I know it's a cultural thing, but I did a double-take when I saw the title of this clip and wondered, "What else would you try to 'canter on'?"

Townsend answers his own question, "How do you teach the horses to be adjustable in the canter?"

How to make your horse jump a clear round

There isn't much instruction or advice in this clip, but you get a good look at how Townsend puts it all together.

Oli Townend (sic) picking up a beer over a jump!
This isn't from the Horsesmart series, though it demonstrates the payoff of sharpening up your jumping skills.

You can see why Townsend is a popular guy to have at your party. If only he were just as nimble with a snow plow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The No-Handsy Challenge

The one aspect of Jazz's jumping style that has been bugging me is that he's rather flat, no sexy bascule (that's French for "I look great over jumps"). Video review implicates the usual culprit... me and my lame attempt at a short release.

Today, after a few warm-up fences, I decided to challenge myself to ride Jazz more like a hunter by not "touching" his mouth at least three strides out. To be clear, I'm not talking about dropping my horse three strides out, but lightly releasing the contact.

The immediate payoff was that I didn't invert my poor horse before every fence and he could begin to feel the sensation of not having to brace against the bit over every jump.

The bonus prize was that so many other skills that have been struggling with were automatically there:

  • DISTANCE — I know, I know... you're supposed to judge the distance and stick to it. By taking away my hands, I had to stick to my guns, which made me realize that I never really knew what it feels like to NOT second guess my eye at the last second, scaring the hell out of my horse for the long spot, or choking him into a pathetic chip. Somehow our horses always forgive us, but that doesn't make it right.

  • PACE — Don't even try to shrink a stride without your hands if you don't establish a pace — the laws of physics don't allow it. And forget seeing a stride without an even pace, your brain needs at least two even strides to start doing the advanced calculus required to determine your takeoff spot.

  • BALANCE — The stop-ripping-on-your-horse's-mouth challenge forced me to longitudinally balance Jazz on approach to the jumps with my back muscles, seat and legs, not arms and hands. In short, if you use your seat, your horse can use you to maintain his balance, if you use your hands, you're using the horse to keep your balance. Guess which one your horse prefers.

  • STRAIGHTNESS — Purposely giving up lateral controls at least three strides out requires the rider to get the horse straight through every corner using outside aids. Once the lightbulb went on, I realized that, on a good day, I occasionally use the corner before the fence to get my horse straight, but I ALWAYS give up the corner AFTER a fence. If you are coming off a diagonal fence, then you usually have at least two corners to the next fence. If you get the horse straight on the first corner, your work is practically done for the next corner — who knew?!

I realize that most teenaged riders figure this out of in one afternoon without ever having think it through. However, I'm a middle-aged novice who requires creative methods to convince my body parts that everything that the Old Masters preached is true, at least since Caprilli.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Keeping your hot horse cool

Recently, I've been prompted to do some research on heat stress because my EPM horse, Jazz, becomes noticeably symptomatic during the heat. Unlike most healthy horses, Jazz is very sensitive to heat stress. However, during my research, I've found that the extreme heat and humidity is potentially dangerous for all horses.

Three-day eventers know that the most efficient way to cool off your horse is sponging (or hosing) with cold water, scraping the water off, and then repeating until your horse is cool.  This has made a big difference in Jazz's life.  For horses like mine with crappy hooves (technical term!), simply oil the hooves before hosing.

During extreme heat, walk out your horse, but then cool him or her down right away. Your horse's body will divert blood from the internal organs to the larger surface arteries and veins in order to try to dissipate heat and bring down the body's core temperature. Endurance riders and eventers know that in extreme cases, this can cause shock or contribute to organ failure.

Folks down South will also hose their horses' legs, chests and necks, and between the hind legs, taking care to scrape off the excess, before tacking and riding. It's a pain, but it can significantly decrease fluid loss.

Just yesterday, visiting-clinician Britta Johnston made the point that even if a horse makes it through a heat wave, the stress depresses the immune system and makes him or her susceptible to illness. So dealing with the heat isn't just a performance-related issue – it can affect your horse's health after the heat breaks.

Because horses sweat out more electrolytes than humans, extreme sweating will negatively affect the "thirst trigger" mechanism. Horses, like humans, will feel thirsty when the electrolytes in their blood become more concentrated during fluid loss. However, if they lose too many electrolytes, the concentration doesn't reach adequate levels to trigger the thirst mechanism and they may naturally not want to drink after a workout, causing them to become dehydrated. Top dressing feed or giving electrolyte paste will activate your horse's thirst trigger.

Some old-timers might tell you not to cold hose your horse's large muscles (i.e. hind end muscles) or the underside of the belly and to put a sheet on him or her to make sure the water doesn't evaporate too rapidly because both may cause tying up (cramping). Studies show neither to be the case. You want to cool your horse down as rapidly as possible.

Tying up can be caused by many things, one of which are mineral (electrolyte) imbalance/depletion in the muscles, underscoring the importance of electrolyte replacement for the equine athlete.

We all know it's not the heat, it's the humidity. 100-degree heat with very low humidity will not cause as much fluid loss as 85-degree weather with humidity in the 70%-range. HorseChannel.com published a useful measure, called the Heat Stress Index (HSI). Add the percentage humidity to the air temperature to get the HSI. [Ex: 91 degrees, with 50% humidity = HSI 141.] If the HSI is below 120, you have the green light to work your horse normally. Above 150, "particularly if humidity contributes to more than half of this number, your horse’s natural cooling mechanisms will be compromised," so modify your workout: lower the intensity or shorten the workout, or wait to ride after the temperature drops. Above 180, your horse is unable to adequately manage his or her body temperature.

I don't know how accurate this index is, but it is a useful guide. Naturally, horse owners with sensitive or older horses might want to consider lower HSI thresholds.

If everyone's horse is sweating and yours isn't, take note — your horse may be prone to anhidrosis, which is a very serious, potentially life-threatening condition that inhibits his or her body's natural cooling mechanism. If you suspect this may be the case, consult with your vet.

Even if your horse doesn't have anhidrosis, you must keep an eye on your horse's sweating. During a heat spell, your horse may already be mildly dehydrated and will not sweat as liberally as it would otherwise, causing your horse to overheat.

In an article published by University of Guelph, Dr. Lindinger, DVM, makes the point that you need to acclimate your horse to working in the heat, especially if you plan on showing over the summer, but understand that this can be stressful for your horse and requires that owners adapt their horse-management practices to take rehydration and electrolyte mineral replacement into account.

I found the following links to be informative and useful:
Equi-Therapy.net: Electrolyte Supplements for Horses - prevent dehydration
Horsechannel.com: Too Hot to Trot?
Kentucky Equine Research: Challenges of Endurance Exercise: Water and Electrolyte Depletion
CompleteRider.com: Water and Electrolyte Balance in the Exercising Horse
FreeConsumerIndex.com: Using Electrolytes to Avoid Equine Dehydration
ProbioticSmart.com: Dangers of Equine Dehydration
Equisearch.com: Does Your Horse Need Electrolytes?
Equisearch.com: Heat Stress Prevention Strategy
University of Guelph: When the Rider is Hot, the Horse is Hotter
BBC Sport: Video - How to cool down a hot horse

Please add other links or offer your tips for keeping your horse cool in the comments section.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Last Friday was my last day working part time in the barn as the "tack-up girl." [Yes, I was really once introduced to a prospective border as the "tack-up girl."]

Today, I overheard a fellow boarder compliment my replacement for being so neat, after which she added, "It will be nice having things neat around here for a change."


For the record, it's not technically eavesdropping, when you're standing in your own horse's stall.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

That frame...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"If you got it..."

Michele and Grayson had a flatwork breakthrough yesterday. Grayson has all the best Thoroughbred qualities in that he's very intelligent and will try his heart out, but historically he finds it easier to go faster than work from behind. This week something seemed to click, when "Gray" started to get the hang of moving over his topline and even showed some schwung (swing).

Michele is preparing Gray for the Intro Level tests at the May 16 Stanhope Stables dressage show. At this rate, I think that the pair could land a respectable score if she decides to get their feet wet at Training 1 (no pressure though!).

Though the elegantly built Michele began riding later in life, the rest of us are a little envious, since her body clearly was made for this sport. LIke most of us, I suspect that Michele would have liked to have gotten started a little earlier, but as her trainer Terri Stryker says in the video, "If you got it, flaunt it!"

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ask the rider to walk...

From the just-released "New Annex XIII" to the FEI "Dressage Stewards Manual":

"The steward may also ask the rider to walk for a certain period in situations where the rider’s stress may cause undesired riding."

I assume that means asking the rider to walk the horse under saddle, but it would be better if the steward made the rider dismount and go for a walk to clear his or her head and think about how much they'd enjoy being chased around with their nose pinned to their chest.

Seriously, though guidelines in response to the use of rollkur/hyperflexion are welcome, it's hard to believe that these are anything more than CYA measures. The FEI may just as well remind the riders that they should assume that they are being videotaped at all times.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Framework

If you can overlook my extreme fashion faux pas -- navy breeches, red non-collared shirt, dark green polo wraps, and black saddle pad, embellished by rainbow reins -- you may notice that my ten-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred, Jazz (registered name "Son of a Fish"), is beginning to get the hang of elongating his neck to reach for the bit, rather than just curling over and hanging in the contact. One of the benefits has been that he appears almost sound behind. It's taken a while to convince him and get him strong enough to work in this frame. Not bad for a tense, spastic, balled-up EPMer.

The movement of Jazz's forelimbs has improved since last week when his farrier, Dean Guzzi, set him up with lighter shoes in front, in response to my trainer's hope that he could do something to help Jazz not "wing in" with the tighter right foreleg.

The next step will be to incorporate the custom saddle that I ordered from County Saddlery. Jazz has outgrown his current saddle, which is now pretty tight behind the shoulders. If we can free up the shoulders, I'm thinking that all of our troubles will be over! Ok seriously, maybe, just maybe the worst will be behind us.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


This is the latest image from my series of impressionistic stills taken from lesson videos.

Taken on March 16, 2010, I'm riding my ten-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred, Jazz (registered, "Son of a Fish"), in a lesson with Britta Johnston at Stanhope Stables in Huntington, NY.

Boots-n-Breeches in Brooklyn

The newest Fifth Avenue vintage clothing store, Guvnor's Vintage Thrift, could be a boon to Brooklyn equestrians who are showing on a budget.

I happened into the store this afternoon. Two old-fashioned baggy breeches caught my eye and got me digging in a rack where I found a couple pairs of gently used modern(!) breeches — one Ariat, size 22R.

Then hubby noticed, hanging on both walls amidst a smorgasbord of boots, a dozen or so riding boots: field, dress and even one pair of hunt boots! Unfortunately, there were none in my size (9 with a narrow calf), but there were several in ladies sizes 6-8 and some mens.

I know that many of the kids that volunteer and ride in city barns don't have deep-pocketed parents to support their horse habit, so if you're in the area, a trip to Guvnor's might be a way to get started or to stretch every dollar dedicated to participating in local shows.

Guvnor's Vintage Thrift
178 Fifth Avenue
(between Sackett & Degraw Streets)
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Last urban stable in NYC on notice

According to an article in The Brooklyn Paper, new NYC Department of Health regulations may force the City's last urban barn to close. The heated commentary in the discussion thread on the BrooklynPaper.com web site prompted me to post my own comment, excerpted below. Whatever your equine background or discipline, I think that most would agree that issues of equine care, management and living arrangements are more complex than any government bureaucrat and animal-rights activist can appreciate. [Photo by Evan Sung, via flickr.]

I have been involved with Kensington Stables in the past. Kensington, Brooklyn, isn't an ideal environment for horses, though anyone who thinks that life turned out in a pasture is idyllic is kidding themselves. Just because a horse is in a field with plants, doesn't mean that they are receiving basic care.

[In response to the article], Dr. Hynes addresses the issue of stall sizes, pointing to the even more stringent NY State regulations; however, it would be more informative if he could cite study data to explain how proposed stall sizes were determined. To require a 12'x12' stall for a Shetland Pony surely isn't what regulators had in mind.

The new regulation requiring that horses are shipped off for five week furloughs is absurd and would compound the stress in these horses' lives. Every horse person knows about the risk of colic when transporting horses and introducing them to a new environment. I assume that is why Dr. Hynes didn't even address this issue.

I can assure everyone who is taking personal shots at owner Walker Blankenship that he may be inbetween a rock and a hard place right now, but he's far from a horse abuser who's only in it for the money. Walker has taken in many horses that other people have abandoned, abused physically and psychologically, or are no longer suited for work in their previous jobs. Some of these horses earn the barn $0, but unlike most "operators," he continues to care for them.

It's worth mentioning that horses at Kensington used to get some modified turnout, but that space was turned into the hulking stalled high-rise construction site across the street.

Kensington Stables isn't a fancy show barn any more than it is a horse sanctuary. However, the horses get basic maintenance care (vaccinations, de-worming, regular shoeing, teeth floating, feed and anti-inflammatory medication). This isn't always the case, even at reputable show barns. I'll grant that the chestnut in the photo ("Spin Doctor"?) appears to be underweight, though that doesn't necessarily preclude him from modified work to maintain his condition.

In the past two years, I have personally witnessed a case of a reputable trainer who neglected and starved clients' horses and been involved with more than one case of horses abandoned and neglected by their owners. If animal-rights activists are looking for a front-line target to improve the lives of our animal companions, they need to start with these hard cases and leave convenient targets like Walker alone.

Maybe Walker will be able to keep Kensington Stables open, maybe not, but the uninformative or ignorant commentary and personal attacks published above won't improve the lives of any of his horses. If Walker is forced to close the barn, what does everyone think is going to happen? His choices will be to turn them out in a field somewhere, where he can no longer afford their care, or sell them. I guarantee you that most of the cases that he personally rescued won't make it past the slaughter-house truck. So, unless every Kenstington Stables basher steps up to adopt one or two of the Kensington horses and give him or her a home for life, then we should seek a more practical solution.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My trainer and I became addicted to videotaping lessons — that is, until my hard drive filled up. My solution has been to transfer my fellow students' lessons to DVD.

Since the lighting in the indoor isn't ideal and our trainer, Terri Stryker, is teaching and videotaping at the same time, the video comes out fairly blurry. Nevertheless, I enjoy the challenge of taking blurry, poorly lit, still images from the video and tweaking them in Photoshop to create cool splash screens for the DVDs.

Here are some of my favorites:

Helen riding Grayson, her nine-year-old thoroughbred hunter.

Susan, whose own horse is laid up for a few months, taking a lesson on Stanhope Stables's own Namore.

Pam, riding her own horse, Care Bear.

Juliet, who usually rides Namore during peak-traffic times on Saturday, found a quiet moment where they both have some space.

Carol on Woodhollow Equestrian Center's school horse extraordinaire, Nathan.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"SKILLS": Two-point position

If the purpose and practice of the two-point jumping position remains elusive (I resemble that remark), check out this amazing video of freestyle cyclist Danny MacAskill. Seeing things in a different context sometimes helps — anyone can ride a bicycle, right?

Looking past his sublime jaw-dropping gravity-defying athleticism and creativity, if you substitute the horse for a bicycle, MacAskill has some serious two-point skills: flexing the hip angle to shift and maintain the center of balance, holding the back, and doing this all with the the core muscles so that the hips, ankles, elbow absorb and follow the movement of the horse... er, I mean bicycle.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blowin' in the new year

We had a good windstorm last Tuesday. Siding was scraping the outside of the indoor arena and it sounded like the roof was holding on with all its might. I longed Jazz in the morning — instead of being responsive to basic cues, he looked more like a "pony kite." [You pony owners and trainers know what I mean.] I was trying to be mindful of a barnmate who was taking a lesson on her thoroughbred, but her horse didn't seem to mind the commotion inside or outside of the arena. I later personally expressed my jealousy of her good fortune of having a such a sensible horse.

That afternoon, I checked the "vibe" in the indoor ring. Most of the horese were on edge and my trainer agreed that we'd play the lesson by ear. I'd tack up Jazz and bring him into the arena, but wouldn't over face him, if it felt like he was going to blow.

As soon as I got back to his stall, I knew we'd be fine. He was calmer that I was, so, before getting on, I gave myself a my own timeout for couple of minutes in the lounge. At various times during my lesson there were about eight horses in the ring, Jazz seemed like the only one who didn't flinch.

Soon after treating Jazz for EPM, I sensed that he was a bit calmer. There was no way that he would have been able to handle the indoor arena in a windstorm last year, whether or not he had been longed, so his progress seems dramatic. However being the person who is closest to him, I can testify to incremental changes, where every few weeks or so, he seems a bit quieter and calmer.

In September 2008, I both lost my mare, Gracie, and Jazz was diagnosed and treated for EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis). Technically, that was 2008, but for me it's been a blur that only seemed to get more manageable in recent months. Those who remember Gracie know that she would have been unconsolable in last week's windstorm. I think of her every time I hear the wind when I ride. Thus I have absolutely no real experience with owning a horse that doesn't come to pieces under that much pressure. Trust me, I could grow to like it.

I'm grateful that Jazz has held up during this past year and taken the leap of faith with me, to get past the disease that afflicted him for so long and puzzled those that previously cared for him. My New Year's wish for Jazz and our barnmates is for more of the same: healthier, stronger and, for those of you who need it, CALMER horses.