One of the things I treasure the most from my early riding days is the wonderful friendships I made with truly good people. Despite moving halfway across the country, I've still been able to stay in contact with some of these people, a few of which are now professional riders/farm owners. Two summers ago, I got to go spend time with my friend Heather Maytham at her farm in horse paradise aka Ocala. This year, I got to go to my friend Jessie's farm in Starkville, MS for a two-day Lucinda Green clinic. I rode Stromboli in the clinic and brought Piney along for the experience.
This has been an odd year for the horses. After working so hard all winter, it all seemed to be for nothing. Stromboli was difficult at our first event in March, and then every event I entered or thought about entering thereafter was sidelined by something.
My riding problems have been numerous, but the clinics and lessons and studying has finally enabled me to articulate some of them. The usual "bad dressage" with Stromboli, is really a lack of connection, ability to move his shoulders, and general tension/lack of submission/nervousness at shows. My jumping issues have been related to this "lack of connection" as well as the increased height and width of prelim fences. The size of these fences, the unstable horse in front of me, and the numerous publicized recent tragedies involving deaths of horses and and riders on XC, was making me scared. Scared riders pull. Everyone says, "kick on," but it's incredibly hard to kick at a massive 3'7" table that's over 4 feet wide while you are sliding down a hill nearly sideways.
I first heard about Lucinda Green nearly 20 years ago as she was a star in a computer game I had. She's now known as one of the world's best jumping/eventing clinicians. She is the 1982 World Champion and a two-time European Champion (1975–77). She also won World team Gold (1982), three European team golds (1977, 1985, 1987) and an Olympic silver medal in the team event in 1984. Between 1973 and 1984, she won a record six times at the Badminton Horse Trials (on six different horses). She also won the Burghley Horse Trials in 1977 and 1981.
Lucinda's clinic focused on training your horse to keep you safe. There were a lot of skinnies and odd distances. On the second day she had us jumping through/into/out of mud, a stream, a coop/skinny/ditch/skinny/coop gymnastic combination, and finally, designing our own XC course where she really got after me about my previously mentioned issues and fear of galloping large tables. Lucinda also switched Stromboli's bit after noticing a small injury on the right side of his mouth and how uncomfortable he seemed in the bridle. I'm supposed to spend two weeks riding him without a bit and then find something similar to the very gentle leather covered full-cheek bit that I borrowed from her during the clinic.
Lucinda was so encouraging while also being direct and critical of areas that needed improvement. Her jumping exercising on the first day gave me so many ideas for helping my students and working with the young horses.
I left this clinic knowing Stromboli and I have made tremendous progress, and with a new confidence to gallop large tables! I absolutely can't wait to teach another lesson, work with the baby horses, and get Stromboli to an Event!
Summertime always makes me a little nostalgic.
When I wasn't at camp, growing up I spent almost every day of summer at the barn (usually Coursebrook Farm in Sherborn, MA). My dad or a babysitter would drop me off in the morning after breakfast, and then pick me up again in the evening before dinner. A whole crew of us hung out at the barn all day, riding our horses, ordering pizza delivery to the barn for lunch, going on trail rides, exercising other horses. Despite a few questionable choices (swimming in the mud pond comes to mind), we were extremely responsible and careful with our horses. We organized the tack room, cleaned the grain room, mucked stalls, set up jump courses, organized winter blankets, we "secretly" groomed boarders horses we thought were too dirty, we cleaned and repacked tack trunks. We harassed the vet and farrier. We watched every single lesson, even the "boring" dressage lessons taught by 80-year old Germans to 60 year old arthritic women. We were not being paid, and generally our efforts were self-directed.
With a few exceptions, I can't help but notice that most of the kids I have run into in barns lately would never dream of spending the whole day cleaning, organizing, and picking stalls/paddocks.
At the sake of sounding like a crotchety grandma: Kids these days....Cleaning their own stuff --only on special occasions! Noticing the other horses on the farm and seeing if they need anything ---absolutely not! Checking their own horse's water/hay --that's what they pay for board for! If any extra time is spent, it's only so they can take a cool picture to post somewhere.
I recently had someone come out to ride one of my horses --she barely brushed the horse, it literally had mud clumps on various parts of its body when she showed up in the ring to ride. When she was done riding she didn't even rinse the bit on the bridle she used, and the horse was put back in its stall without even remembering to latch the door!
I have had a lot of parents tell me how much their kid would really love to spend all day at the barn with the beautiful horses, but from what I've seen most kids would rather be somewhere comfortable with AC and an iPhone.
Has social media and smartphones destroyed the sense of boredom that would provoke a 14 year old to wash 43 feed buckets on their own accord? Is the next generation so entitled that they can't even clean up after themselves or maintain their own or borrowed equipment?
I recently read that every generation feels that the next generation feels this way about the next. Am I really getting so old that this is happening to me? I certainly don't want to generalize and disparage an entire generation. I know there are definitely still some hardworking barn brats out there, and I've been lucky to come across a few.
We have been doing a lot of riding and training at AAF, but very little showing so far this year.
Riding sometimes 5 horses a day, most of them very green, has left me wondering many time "Where are all the normal horses?!" ...no seriously....... Where are the horses that WTC and move in straight AND curved lines?
All the OTTB re-training blogs from the pros I know seem to go similarly. Horse comes off track, some time is spent on the ground getting them used to scary obstacles, horse is suddenly going to BN events, getting mid-30's on dressage tests, jumping everything and remaining perfectly sensible at shows.
Is this what it's really like? Not in my experience.....
I recently got a new OTTB prospect, a 4-year old named "Never Ceasing." He has been incredibly calm and easy to handle around the farm. Almost anyone can halter/lead him, he loves to be outside, he is nice in his stall, he goes on the X-ties, he even stands at the mounting block. He can be ridden at the walk and trot sensibly in the field, he circled well both directions (before I pulled his racing plates), and felt reasonably safe to WTC, although he only canters on his left lead. He walks over poles, and I bet I could walk or trot him over a small jump, although I haven't tried.
Stromboli was similar when I got him, and I spent 6+ months leisurely hacking him, riding him on the roads, occasionally popping him over some jumps, and doing a calm "re-start." I thought this approach was going to make him easy to handle at shows, make him level headed, and easy to ride on the flat. I could not have been more wrong. Was Stromboli a fluke? A product of the other training he got between the track and me? Or was this a bad approach? Should I have stuck him in side reins, lunged him every day, taken lots of dressage lessons?
Every horse is an individual, and especially when you're a semi-pro trainer like me, with no indoor, a "real" job, a family, a farm to keep up, and a family, you have to make the best choices you can with the time and resources you have. I could look back and second guess all the choices I made about how to bring Stromboli along, but there's no way of knowing if he would be better or worse right now.
I rode my 21-year old OTTB mare, Beauty, yesterday. Despite being arthritic & out of shape, she was dead-straight, even in both reins, and extremely correct. I laughed to myself realizing that it only took me 14 or so years to be able to ride her this way....
Adventures eventing as a semi-pro in the mid-south.