Two-Tempi Challenge

I am very excited about taking on a fundraising effort for The Dressage Foundation, called the Two-Tempi Challenge! I am currently collecting pledges for this fun effort, in which Reggie and I will perform as many two-tempi changes as we can. The effort will be videotaped and sent to TDF along with donations I collect for my campaign. 

Anyone who wants to support my Two-Tempi Challenge can pledge $5 a flying change (or more if the supporter desires). Once my performance is done, I will total up the number of changes, and let anyone who pledged know the final two-tempi count. I will send in all the donations I collect for my campaign to The Dressage Foundation. 

If Reggie and I make the most two-tempis for the whole year or if I am one of the top fundraisers I could win awards from The Dressage Foundation! Every pledge makes a difference! Please contact me if you want more information or want to make a pledge!

Hitting the Trails

It is amazing what a week of sunshine and relatively warmer temperatures will do for the attitude of both people and horses. The recent change of weather from the bitter cold to mild temperatures in the 40s and 50s with sunshine that warms the skin cannot be ignored. Spring is so close.

Since the snow is thawing and surely on the way out, I took the opportunity to take Reggie out on trails while we could still make some hoof prints in the snow. While it was in the 40s, I could not resist the feeling of going out and riding in the sun. I was not the only one geared up to get outside, Reggie practically dragged me out of the tall open arena doors to get out on the trails. He loves to explore and is so brave. He actually chose to walk through a big (3 foot high) snow mountain where the snow had been plowed to get to the open field which leads to the trails.

This opportunity to be outside on a calm, sunny day benefits the mind and body of both horse and rider. I enjoy training in the arena very much. The process of developing a dressage horse is very rewarding. Part of developing a horse’s mind and body for the demands of dressage is changing the type of work and the environment and not always being in the arena.

My brain is stimulated when I go from shoulder in to half pass in the arena in a much different way than when Reggie and I take hacks outside. In the arena I am focused on each moment and am able to ride as if there were a spotlight on the horse and me. The hacks outside allow both horse and rider to connect with the environment in a way that is peaceful, while using the horse’s muscles in a different way than in the arena. In addition, hacks outside are beneficial to keep the horse happy in their work. For me as the rider, I appreciate this opportunity to connect with nature on my horse. I felt carefree riding through the trees that swayed from the passing wind while the birds chirped happily in the forest around us.

Now that the weather is allowing us to train and ride in more comfortable temperatures, it is tempting to want to stay in the arena and try to make as much progress as possible. I encourage riders up north to get outside for a hack, whenever possible,whether it be with a group of riders on horseback or just with your horse. Enjoy the ride!

Music that Moves You

It is the end of February, and while the weather is still bitterly cold in Michigan, there are many signs that we will be enjoying warmer weather soon,  but for now we may have to just settle for longer days. 

I have been working on a freestyle this winter and have the choreography and music altogether. I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage those of you (even non-horseback riders) to use this period of the year when we are indoors more to take time to find music that moves you. For dressage riders, it may be music you want to turn into a freestyle or just enjoy listening to at the barn. For others, it may be music that makes you get up and dance or just music that brings back great memories. 

I enjoy listening to instrumentals from soundtracks. There are a few composers, in particular, that have the ability to ignite my imagination and take me more into the present moment. They are, Rachel Portman, James Newton Howard, and Thomas Newman.  The songs they compose for soundtracks are generally instrumentals, which make listening enjoyable when I am doing work on the computer or riding. When riding and listening to the radio station that has these compositions streaming, I am truly able to experience every stride in a way that is more fulfilling and harmonious. 

I remember watching Edward Gal ride Lingh in the 2005 World Cup Freestyle in Las Vegas. That ride with the music created such a powerful expression between the two. While that was top sport, it is nevertheless a vivid example of what music and harmonious riding creates-an experience that moves people emotionally. 

Music can enrich your life. For horseback riders, especially dressage riders, music can take the riding experience to another level. Even if your goals for this year don't include making a freestyle, I encourage you to find music that really moves you and then incorporate music into your riding.  

Eros RIA

I am writing from warm Florida this time. I flew down for a little break in the cold weather and also to see my young horse, Eros RIA. Eros is a 2014 Homozygous black PRE colt. I was looking for horses for a customer last year and came across Eros. I flew down to see him over Easter weekend when he was just over a month old and was immediately impressed by his calm demeanor, kind eye, and balance. So I decided to buy him. I am really excited about the future for this guy, be it as a breeding stallion, competition horse, or both. For anyone interested in a young PRE, check out the breeder

New Adventure

I wanted to update everyone on my new endeavor to further my own riding and improve the quality of instruction for existing and future students. I have moved Reggie to Carole Grant's top class barn in Fenton, Michigan to develop a partnership with Tonya Grant of TG Farms to produce top horses in training and for sale. 

I have been riding with Tonya and Carole for many years, but the opportunity arose for me to be based at their barn and build a new program that can further benefit dressage enthusiasts in Michigan and around the country. Horses are being accepted for partial or full training, for sale, clinics are available, trailer-in lessons are welcome, coaching at horse shows, and braiding at horse shows are some of the exciting services offered.

Carole provides the finest instruction to myself and Tonya, as well as other top national and international professionals. No matter if your horse comes for training, for sale, or if you trailer in for lessons you can be assured you are working with professionals that educate the horse (and rider) in a system that produces horses that are confident in their work. 

For anyone wondering what Reggie thinks of the move, he is super happy. He always enjoyed coming in for lessons and clinics, but really loves living at Carole's barn. He is comfortable going out in his paddock, being in his stall, and going to the ring. He only nickers when Catalina, (Tonya's mare) goes outside and he is not out yet, otherwise he is totally at ease. 

Body Clipping

As colder temperatures approach and daylight becomes shorter for those of us in the Midwest, our horses' coats grow longer. Horse owners that continue to work their horses throughout fall and winter must consider whether or not to body clip their horses. Many factors play into this decision, such as how often and how hard the horse is worked, if the horse is living out or mainly in a stall, how long the horse's coat grows, and how the horse tolerates clipping. The first body clip generally happens in October or November and you may have to clip again in January or February, but you have to watch if you clip later than February because a later clip could affect the horse's summer coat. 

Horses with winter coats who are expected to perform are a lot like people who workout in colder temperatures. When it is a little cooler, people may wear extra layers while at rest. However, if I go out for a 30 minute run while it is 45 degrees outside and wear insulated socks, long underwear, sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, a winter jacket, a scarf, gloves, and a hat and never take any layer off, my body temperature is going to rise significantly and my body will start to sweat as I run. However, all these layers are going to trap that sweat and may cause me to become chilled if I don't loose some layers. As a human being, I have the conscious awareness to change this situation. If I start to overheat on my run, I can remove layers of clothing, so I can continue to exercise and be at a comfortable temperature. Horses, on the other hand, do not have the capacity to remove that extra layer of insulation while they exercise. So, if you start to notice your horse sweating and taking longer to cool out as their winter coat comes in, you may want to consider some type of a body clip to make your horse more comfortable while they are working.

My horse's workload does not change in winter, and he does grow a winter coat. While his winter coat is not very thick, my horse becomes too hot and will sweat considerably from a normal workout if I do not clip him. He tolerates clippers well. So, in order to keep him working more comfortably in winter, I choose to body clip him. I do a full clip on him, which takes all the hair from his body and legs off. After I clip him, I blanket my horse. Remember, through body clipping you remove the horse's natural layer of insulation and protection from the elements. So, you must insulate the horse in cooler temperatures with a stable blanket or winter turnout (when they go outside) if the temperatures are cold. For warmer temperatures, an unlined could suffice. If you are unsure about what type of blanketing option is appropriate for your horse please consult a professional from a local tack shop or blanket company, if you do not have a trainer t consult, BEFORE YOU BODY CLIP, because immediately after you finish body clipping, you will want to put a blanket or turnout on your horse.  

If you don't have the ambition or equipment to body clip your horse, you can always ask a trainer or a groom for referral, if they don't clip themselves. It is a good skill to learn, but is messy and can be time consuming, so its best to learn on a tolerant horse that you can mess up on like a school pony or horse before clipping a high level performance horse.

Read more about body clipping from Dover Saddlery here

Reggie after a body clip and a ride. 

Reggie after a body clip and a ride. 

The Schoolmaster at My Barn

This post is devoted to the schoolmaster at my barn. I have a few students who are taking lessons right now on horses I have available at the barn. These riders, in particular, are either horse shopping, waiting for their young horse to develop, or are getting back into riding after some time off. That said, they are not able to ride their own personal horse at this time, and are therefore utilizing other barn owner's horses for lessons. 

There is one horse, specifically, that is so special, and I wanted to write a little bit about him and the opportunity afforded to these riders. This gelding is 25 years old and has shown through fourth level. He has been owned by the same lady since she was a teenager, and he was a young horse. The gelding, Noble, was imported from Germany for the owner to grow with and show, but the match was not ideal for years. Noble was gelded late, and was not just "fresh" he could verge on unmanageable, especially for this young owner. Fast-forward to this year, Noble is 25 and quite healthy and fit. He has maintained his soundness and has not lost his desire to shy at noises in the woods or take off with his owner in the hay field. You cannot fall asleep at the wheel with this guy outside even at this stage of the game!

Noble has grown more enjoyable for his owner to ride as the years go by, and in the process, he has become an invaluable learning tool for countless other riders. This year, I have been able to utilize Noble for a few of my lesson students, a couple adult amateurs and one young rider. All these riders are at different stages of their riding. Some need affirmation in the sequence of aids for progressive transitions (i.e. trot-canter) or acute transitions (walk-canter). Others are able to play with some half pass or flying changes. Whatever the task is (as long as we are in the indoor arena) Noble is a perfect gentleman and is a complete blast to ride. Noble provides these riders with a great feeling when they are coordinated with their aids, but will still try to pull their reins out of their hands when their fingers are open. He is a perfect balance of obedience, wisdom, and wittiness. These students have all been able to benefit from the years of steadfast training Noble received from his owner. 

Horses like Noble are rare in this country, and I am so thankful he has been able to teach a few of my students while being at the barn. Noble's owner recently received a job promotion and moved out of state. Noble will be moving to his new barn in October, but not before going to the region championships at third level with his owner. That's right, this guy is still fit to not just complete a third level test, but actually qualify and earn good scores! I am very appreciative to Noble's owner for sharing him with other riders who are trying to fine-tune their skills, as she has made the transition out of state to her new job. Noble a very special horse that has matured into the perfect teacher. He makes quite an impression. 

Noble after finishing a test at a horse show. 

Noble after finishing a test at a horse show. 

Lessons Learned

Continuing education is vital to ensure that one does not get stale or stuck in daily training.  This summer has been busy with horse shows, horse shopping, teaching, training, and fun activities with friends and family. This constant activity makes it challenging for me to maintain my own regular lesson schedule. Last week, I went for a lesson with my horse, Reggie, and worked on some old and new exercises to improve my riding in the FEI Intermediate I test. 

One exercise that we worked on was a halt, then a step of turn on the forehand off one leg, say off the rider's left leg. Then, after the one step off the left leg, the horse will trot off from the rider's right leg. So, the sequence is: one step turn on the forehand off the left leg, halt, then trot the right hind leg forward. This exercise is repeated both directions on the quarterline in an effort to make sure the rider's left calf moves the horse's left hind leg and the rider's right calf moves the horse's right hind leg. In addition, the rider's left rein controls the left shoulder, and the rider's right rein controls the right shoulder. This exercise is tricky even though it is basic, since it forces the rider not only to repeat the same sequence of aids numerous times in one direction before changing the rein, but also to focus on isolating one part of their body to affect one part of the horse's body. The rider has to slow their mind down and take time to make sure the horse receives clear aids.

The turn on the forehand was also used in a lesson after mine to help improve the rein back for a second level horse and rider pair. The rider was asked to halt and attempt a few steps of rein back. If the horse rein backed straight away, the horse was rewarded and the rider would walk or trot on. When the horse did not rein back immediately, the rider was asked to do a turn on the forehand from the left or right leg. After a step or two of rein back, the rider attempted the rein back again. Once the horse rein backed the rider would cover ground forward.

This exercise is helpful, as horses can feel stuck in the rein back. The rider can get to the halt and realize they don't have the horse properly set up to rein back. This exercise reminds your horse that they must continue to yield your legs even when reining back. The next time you try a halt and rein back, try this exercise. If your horse feels stuck, you yield them off a leg through a step of turn on the forehand. Then, you try to move the horse backward from your legs. If that is successful, move forward. If the horse is still stuck in their body, repeat the turn on the forehand again then try to rein back. 

Both these exercises require either mirrors or good eyes on the ground, so the rider is aware that the horse is moving the corresponding hind leg to the rider's leg aid in the turn on the forehand. That is, if the rider's left leg comes on at the girth, the horse moves their left hind leg forward and sideways . If the rider's right leg comes on at the girth, the horse moves their right hind leg forward and sideways. If the horse understands the turn on the forehand, the rider will have a great tool for improving other exercises, such as rein back. 

You can see a short clip from my lesson and a demonstration of the halt, turn on the forehand and trot off off the right rein here

Taking a Day Off

This week, I wanted to discuss the importance of taking a day off. On Sunday, for the first time in a long time I actually had a "day off". To me a day off is a day when I have no work of any kind scheduled. I can choose to do whatever I want. My day off is also a day I give my competition horse off.

So, a day off means a day where I do not go to the barn. I do not ride, train, or teach lessons. I do not work any other job that day. I strictly enjoy time with my family. This does not happen very often right now, but when it does I really enjoy the time to be unscheduled. 

On my day off I went indoor rock wall climbing with my boyfriend then spent the afternoon at my family's cottage on a lake. 

The necessity of having a day which is unscheduled is huge. A day open from commitments allows anyone, but in particular, an equestrian the chance to plan. The day off allows you to evaluate your riding career, how you want to develop, and what goals you want to set for the future. This is not just something a professional can do. It is something a junior/young rider or adult amateur can accomplish as well. Maybe your dream is to own a horse farm of your own. A day off provides you with the time to start a plan that will decide how you accomplish that goal. Maybe you want to go to Florida and train for a winter season. A day off gives you the opportunity to determine how you can save for that experience. Or, maybe you want to be a working student. A day off can help you compose your resume so you can start applying for working student positions. 

I do not like to waste time. I try to squeeze as much time out of every day that I can from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. However, there is something very liberating about a day during which I choose not to specifically accomplish anything. The day off enables me to spontaneously live, develop new ideas, and compound on plans I have developed. If you choose to take a day to have nothing planned, you may surprise yourself with the opportunities that are available to you when you free yourself of work-related commitments allow yourself a day of rest.  

Read an article from CNN about the importance of a day off here

Photo credit: Liz Bergren 

Photo credit: Liz Bergren 

Physical Wellness for the Equestrian

This week I am choosing to discuss physical wellness for the equestrian. In order to be an effective rider it is not only important that your own body is in alignment, but also that your muscles are developed in a way that prolongs your riding career. To me, a rider must first be prepared for the task that they are asked to complete. Secondly, a rider must be taught how to complete the task, which involves a rider comprehending how to use their body to get the horse to do something. Thirdly, a rider must experience the gratification of using their natural aids (leg, seat, back, hands, voice) in the same order to achieve a desired result while riding. These steps of learning how to be a more effective rider can be better facilitated through focusing on your own physical wellness. 

Maintaining my physical wellness involves not only the nutrition program I am on, but also involves the other activities I do in order to insure my body stays healthy. I will discuss what I do that has helped my body remain comfortable through my life as a rider thus far, which is from the time I was 7 years old. I have had upsets in my own body wellness.  For example, I was in two automobile accidents within 6 months of each other in 2008, which left me with mid back pain for a few years. I believe everyone is going to have upsets in their body wellness at some point or another even if it is just because you sleep funny and have a sore neck the next morning. 

To maintain my own body wellness in and out of the saddle, I see a chiropractor at minimum once a month. The chiropractor I have actually knows a lot about horses and riding. The first visit she took x rays of my spine. Then, she critiqued my new patient x rays and noted points where I could develop more curvature in my spine, while noting other areas where my spine looked great. Initially, I saw her every week, then every two weeks, and now I go at least once a month for an adjustment. This schedule of being adjusted by my chiropractor keeps my spine aligned. 

The second step I take to maintaining my body is a massage at least once a month. I go to Vis-a-Vis Skin Spa & Bodywork in Ann Arbor, Michigan for all my massages. With all the different, strenuous tasks involved in working with horses and in a barn, I have found it necessary to have a professional work out the tightness in my muscles, so I can not only be more effective on each horse I ride, but also so I feel supple in my body for all my daily tasks. 

The final step I take to keep my body well is yoga practice. Sometimes, I can make one class a week. Other times, I can only fit in a class every two weeks or once a month. My sister, Kathleen, is becoming certified to be a yoga instructor and will be in town much of July, so I am sure we will be doing much more yoga together. Yoga practice stretches my frequently contracted muscles and helps me elongate my frame. This practice, like chiropractic and massage leaves me with a tremendous feeling of wellness that I benefit from both on and off a horse. 

Each professional, adult amateur, or junior/young rider will develop a system of maintaining their body that works for them. To be an effective rider, you must find ways to align, stretch, and strengthen your body that enables your horse to perform work better. This system is an example of how I have preserved my own body wellness for my favorite task of training horses. 

Find out more about Vis-a-Vis Skin Spa & Bodywork here

Read an article from Euro Dressage about full body awareness here 

The Helmet

I am starting off my blog with a topic that is imperative to anyone who wants to be involved with horses - the riding helmet. The riding helmet is a piece of safety equipment that aids an equestrian in preserving their brain from trauma from a fall or kick. I was taught to wear a helmet anytime I lunged a horse, worked a horse in hand, or was mounted on an equine. I teach this same principle to my students. 

Mounted competitors at a USDF/USEF competition must wear an ASTM-approved helmet. However, the riding helmet is really something that should be utilized anytime a rider is schooling at home or at a show. The great thing about helmets nowadays is that there are so many safe, yet stylish choices to choose from.   

Riders have countless brands and styles to try on to find a helmet that fits their head ideally. I choose to school and show in helmets by Tipperary Equestrian, first and foremost because they fit the shape of my head well. I love the sleek look of the Tipperary helmets, their comfort, and their affordable price point, which makes them accessible for a variety of riders. I school in the Sportage 8500 and compete in the T-Series T2. 

Whether you are a professional, adult amateur, or junior/young rider, the riding helmet is one piece of equipment that should be utilized in the schooling, and in most cases must be worn in the showing of horses in dressage. Wearing a helmet is a safety measure that not only defends a rider against injury, but it sets a precedent for students and anyone else who walks into a barn. To me, wearing a helmet is a safe and necessary practice. 

Read a USEF article on helmet fit here

Read about the FEI rule on helmets here 

Find out more about Tipperary Equestrian here

Find Tipperary Equestrian on Facebook here

Opinions expressed in this blog are the sole ideas of Clara J. Etzel. Resources are provided for further edification on the topic.