I occasionally peruse the COTH discussion forums, and a few weeks ago, after the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, someone started a thread debating the merits of the Young Rider programs.
A lot goes into a winning competition ride. Years of great training for the horse and for the rider; smart preparation leading up to the show, including conditioning and fitness work; tack and equipment that helps both horse and human perform their best; and a great strategy to manage two brains—and lots of emotions—on the day.
For all intents and purposes, there’s three reasons I show a horse. One is to win, or at least to do as well as I possibly can. This is the end goal, when I’m ready, when the horse is ready, when we together as a pair have the experience to do what I want to do, and an end game in mind. The second is to increase the value of the horse—horses need competition scores to prove their worth, or for sport predicates or breeding achievements. And the third is to help a horse (or me!) gain experience.
With the official naming of my wonderful, brilliant friend Ali Brock to the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team for the Rio Games (along with Steffen Peters, Laura Graves and Kasey Perry-Glass), our mutual coach, Michael Barisone, joins a very small club: Olympians themselves who’ve coached a rider to the Olympics as well. It’s a huge achievement, and I’m just bursting with joy for Ali, Michael, and the rest of the wonderful folks involved in this exceptional team.
I’ve been on the road for several consecutive weeks, between clinics and horse shows and the general chaos of spring and summer, and I love it, truly. If I didn’t, this would have burned me out long ago. But I’m staring down two—TWO!—consecutive weekends at home with not much on my dance card except the normal things, and I’m quite excited. But that’s why you haven’t heard much from me.
At the end of the day, dressage competition is done in a 20- by 60-meter arena, with perfectly manicured footing, and as such that’s where we spend a fair amount of our training time.
But staying within the confines of the Little White Box is a great way to make a rider crazy, and forget what it does to the horse, a creature evolved from wandering grazers, although admittedly every time one of my fancy Dutch things goes catapulting through the air because he’s spotted a leaf or a bird, I am reminded of how much smart the domestication process has apparently taken out.
Some of them have been in my program for years, and some are new. Some are on horses who we’ve helped bring up the levels from the beginning of their dressage careers, and some are on horses that were already schooled to the middle levels when we met, but all are horses who we’re finishing to the level, which is pretty fun. They are the six students of mine in pursuit of their USDF Silver Medals this year, or, as I like to call them, the Prix St. Georges Club of 2016.
I tell my clients, and my friends, and my fellow riders, the same thing, a hundred times a day: horses figure “it” out, whatever “it” is, exactly when they are ready to do so, and not a minute sooner, and there’s nothing to do except calmly and coolly soldier on until they get it.
Ella’s been in my life for 10 years, and she’s not really a spooky horse. She’s very, very simple minded, not a Rhodes Scholar, and that’s an asset. I tell her what to do, and she does it.
She can heat up, but usually in a very fun and useful way, and while no one can go in the CDI Grand Prix ring and piaffe 15 steps with no whip on a 100-degree day without having a pretty keen horse, Ella usually makes me inspire her, not hold her back.