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Morgane Schmidt

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Best of HN: The Idea of Order – What’s In YOUR Purse?

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I think we have all been there. You know, when you’re fishing around for something in your purse or pocket and suddenly realize you’re about to expose just how deep the depths of your equine depravity are. I mean honestly, how many “normal” people do you know who have multiple pairs of pants with pockets crusted shut from dryer-melted cookie/sugar goo? I’ll give you a hint, none. No one else does that.

It’s OK though, we all have each other.

Go Riding!

Morgane Schmidt Gabriel is a 33-year-old teacher/artist/dressage trainer/show announcer/ who still hasn’t quite decided what she wants to be when she grows up. A native Floridian, she now lives in Reno, NV, where she’s been able to confirm her suspicion that snow is utterly worthless. Though she has run the gamut of equestrian disciplines, her favorite is dressage. She was recently able to complete her USDF bronze and silver medals and is currently working on her gold. Generally speaking her life is largely ruled by Woody, a 14.2 hand beastly quarter horse, Willie, a now beastly 7-year-old Dutch gelding, and Stormy, her friend’s nearly all white paint gelding with a penchant for finding every mud hole and pee spot in existence. Visit her website at www.theideaoforder.com.

Olympic Happy Hour: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro Take Gold Again!

With a bottle of wine, a sparkly browband and five gallons of Starbucks, Horse Nation lured its resident rogue dressage queen Morgane Schmidt Gabriel into giving us her take on Olympics dressage, one day at a time. Here are her observations from the Grand Prix Freestyle! In case you missed them, you can catch up on Morgane’s unfiltered Olympic observations: Grand Prix Day 1, Grand Prix Day 2 and Grand Prix Special.

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (GBR). Photo by Richard Juillart/FEI.

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (GBR). Photo by Richard Juillart/FEI.

So this morning I watched the Grand Prix Freestyles. Aside from The Husband in the background making comments about me watching all those ‘DreSedge Prix*’ all week it was quite a nice way to start my day (even if all I had was coffee and no wine). The results were pretty predictable — Valegro takes gold and Germany sweeps the rest with the U.S. just outside the medals. For the complete and official results, check out the Live FEI site (which even has cool details and individual movement scores listed).

Although she isn’t riding for the U.S., I feel like I should start by mentioning that today Isabell Werth became the most decorated rider in Olympic history earning her 10th Olympic medal (and surpassing all those now lesser-knowns like Anky van Grunsven — or as NBC has referred to her, “Andy van Grunsven” — and Reiner Klimke)! Mad props to her! She and Weihegold OLD put in a beautiful test with superbly chosen music earning an 89.071%. Some highlights include her stellar canter pirouettes that were active, expressive, and on the spot as well as her tempi changes that were through, up in the front, and straight. Werth rode beautifully and really demonstrated both her extreme riding skill and ring prowess.

On to the seemingly more popular news, Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin won the Kur — and gold– with an outstanding 93.857%. While I often think this pair are allowed some wiggle room for mistakes simply because they’ve earned the name recognition, I have to say that they did a beautiful job. I absolutely love Valegro and their ability as a team to convey a feeling of serene power in all their work. The music and choreography were perfect for Valegro’s gaits and persona, earning the pair a #1 for artistic rank and an artistic score ranging from 97-99. Certainly the latter is highly subjective and very susceptible to the favoritism I alluded to earlier, but in this case I do agree with the judges. It’s rumored that Valegro is due to be retired soon, and if that is indeed the case what a stellar way to end his career.

For Team USA, Steffen Peters, Allison Brock, and Laura Graves competed in the kur. Allison Brock and Rosevelt put in a good test, earning a 76.160%. Steffen and Legolas 92 had a fun test earning them a 79.393%. The ride was clean and quite a bit more harmonious than the pair’s last two rides at the games. Legolas’ piaffe and passage work was quite good and he had a lovely, seamless transition from his canter pirouette to piaffe and then to walk.

Our last rider, Laura Graves, and her Verdades put in a very strong test, earning an impressive 85.196%. For such a relatively new team in the international dressage scene, these two really delivered. Like Valegro, Verdades is another horse with quite a bit of strength and presence (as opposed to some of the “lighter,” perhaps more elegant horses like Showtime FRH) and Laura did an excellent job keeping it both powerful and harmonious. Her music and choreography were excellent, as was the degree of difficulty. Their lowest scores were in their walk work, where they received mostly 7-7.5 and a couple scores of 6.5. Although not much can be done to improve a horse’s walk, I would imagine that as they continue to gain experience they will be able to maintain more relaxation in the walk work and perhaps bring that up a bit. Regardless though, I would predict that these two will be the next up and coming dressage sweethearts.

Germany’s other two riders, Kristina Broring-Sprehe and Dorothee Schneider, also put in lovely rides. I don’t have anything particularly intelligent to say about them that won’t be super repetitive. I will note though, as I’m sure you all care, that I absolutely love Schneider’s mount, Showtime FRH. While I tend to be attracted to horses more similar in type to Verdades and Valegro — strong, substantial, powerful movers who seem somewhat more solid in their footfalls — I just love how elegant and elastic Showtime is. I do believe he has some Sandro Hit blood in him though which would mean he’s related to my own Beast which could cause me to be a little biased.

In any event, I guess that wraps up my dressage ramblings on Rio. Tune in in another four years to hear more mediocre commentary and insights.

*Clearly pronounced ‘pricks’ for his amusement.

Go Olympics!

Morgane Schmidt Gabriel is a 32-year-old teacher/artist/dressage trainer/show announcer/ who still hasn’t quite decided what she wants to be when she grows up. A native Floridian, she now lives in Reno, NV, where she’s been able to confirm her suspicion that snow is utterly worthless. Though she has run the gamut of equestrian disciplines, her favorite is dressage. She was recently able to complete her USDF bronze and silver medals and is currently working on her gold. Generally speaking her life is largely ruled by Woody, a 14.2 hand beastly quarter horse, Willie, a now beastly 5-year-old Dutch gelding, and Stormy, her friend’s nearly all white paint gelding with a penchant for finding every mud hole and pee spot in existence. Visit her website at www.theideaoforder.com.

SVE 15 For Willie 4002

New Crank Noseband Study Sparks Controvery

Morgane Schmidt Gabriel takes a close look at a recent noseband stress study that’s all over the equestrian news to decide if there’s really a case to ban crank nosebands from use. Photo (c) Morgane Schmidt Gabriel. Morgane Schmidt Gabriel takes a close look at a recent noseband stress study that’s all over the equestrian news to decide if there’s really a case to ban crank nosebands from use. Photo (c) Morgane Schmidt Gabriel.

Originally published on Horse Nation:

A new study published May 3rd from the University of Sydney appears to be eliciting quite a response from various media sources and animal welfare groups, though upon further investigation the findings don’t appear to be exactly novel, nor are the outraged cries regarding horse welfare entirely warranted.

The study looks at the effects a crank noseband, used in conjunction with a double bridle, has on horses’ stress responses (specifically their oral behavior, eye temperature, and cardiac responses).

In the study, 12 horses who had not previously worn a double bridle were randomly assigned to one of four treatments. Each involved wearing a double bridle but the tightness of the noseband varied for each treatment, with the loosest being unfastened and the tightest being with no space underneath the noseband. Over four consecutive days every horse rotated through the four treatments in a randomized order. This was continued for three weeks and the horses’ responses recorded and analyzed (Fenner et al, 2016).

According to the numbers, the study revealed that when the horses were fitted with a double bridle sans space under the crank they demonstrated an increased heart rate, an increase in eye temperature, and a decreased heart rate variability (HVR) as compared to when they were fitted with a double bridle with half or more of the conventional space underneath it.

Horses with the tightest nosebands also had reduced instances of yawning, licking, and swallowing while wearing the bridle with an increased frequency of such oral behaviors following the bridle’s removal. The authors speculate that the latter is indicative of a “post-inhibitory rebound response” which would imply that the horses were in a state of deprivation while wearing the bridle which could imply compromised welfare (Fenner et al, 2016).

Essentially these results are being touted as definitive proof that an overly tight crank noseband on a double bridle can cause stress to the horse. In response to that, according to one article, 30 animal protection groups from across the globe are calling for more stringent testing of the nosebands at competitions and the RSPCA is now calling for an all-out ban on the equipment. Meanwhile the rest of the Interwebz joins the fray with other sources using the study as a segue into how a “serious animal welfare issue for horses in equestrian events has been highlighted by new research” (The University of Sydney).

While I am all for equine studies that give us new insights into our horses and how to more effectively and humanely work with them, I’m afraid that this study doesn’t exactly do that.

To start we could discuss a few of the limitations of the study that potentially render the results tenuous at best — for instance, the fact that none of the horses studied had ever worn a double bridle prior to the study or the fact that it appears that the same bit combination was used for all horses without taking individual mouth conformation into account, both of which could be a cause of the horses’ stress — but I think it’s more appropriate to consider what the study actually proves.

While this study does present data that shows that an overly tight noseband (meaning there’s no room to fit anything between the noseband and the horse) on a double bridle does cause an increase in some stress indicators (i.e. increased eye temperature, increased heart rate, and decreased HVR), their own tables (see below) clearly demonstrate that for all other configurations of the noseband there was no statistically significant difference (note that the p values for everything else are > .05). They even note in the study that “we are not declaring differences to be significant or not at a 5% level, rather presenting the actual P value for each difference and allowing the reader to agree or disagree with the conclusions we draw” (Fenner et al, 2016).

So basically the only thing that they are claiming to have proven is that if you tighten a crank noseband beyond the point that there’s only half as much room as is conventionally acceptable (meaning quite a bit tighter than normal), it causes some degree of stress while also limiting or inhibiting certain behaviors (licking, chewing, swallowing). They did not show that the crank noseband was problematic when applied correctly or even a bit tighter than what is conventionally considered correct.

table

Tables (c) Fenner et al

Now not to be rude or belittle the study itself, as I applaud them for looking for hard data to support what I suspect was a forgone conclusion, but did we really need a study to tell us that if you over tighten a noseband it’s going to be uncomfortable? That it would inhibit the horse from opening his mouth? Is that not common sense?

The FEI currently has rules in place regarding how tight nosebands can be in competition indicating that this is already being monitored. If it’s already being monitored, then I suspect it’s not something new.

A study that proves something most of us probably intuitively knew isn’t particularly alarming to me, but the fact that some are using it as a spring board to attack and attempt to ban certain training devices is a little unnerving at best. Certainly I am entirely against any sort of abusive practices or cruel training devices, but I do not believe that a crank noseband is inherently either of those. Like most training equipment, it falls back on the person using it. Given the latter, banning a type of noseband because some people apply it incorrectly will not stop abuse nor will it improve horsemanship as some articles have implied.

Instead I feel like the attempt itself is a somewhat sensationalized crusade that takes attention away from legitimate welfare issues that need to be addressed in the equestrian community. Not only welfare issues, but other more proactive rule changes — like allowing snaffle bridles in International FEI competitions rather than requiring a double in the first place.

It of course doesn’t hurt to revisit the rule regarding appropriate noseband adjustment to ensure it is being appropriately enforced, but that’s it; there’s no need to ban a relatively benign piece of equipment. If we are going to go down that rabbit hole we should probably ban bridles entirely and perhaps even riding competitively since that certainly causes the horse stress.

Certainly it is important to continually evaluate ourselves and our sport to ensure that we are doing what’s best for our horses, but I believe we necessarily tread a delicate line when determining where to focus our efforts and put our resources. Ultimately I believe we should be using common sense to honestly assess specific situations and ourselves rather than looking to make blanket assertions and rule changes that are superfluous at best.

Getting the Most Out of Your Clinic Experience

Photo by Erin Critz. Photo by Erin Critz.

This post originally appeared on our sister site, Horse Nation.

Attending a clinic is a great way to introduce your horse to new environments, connect with fellow equestrians and expand both your practical riding skills as well as your training/horsemanship theory.

If you’re somewhat adventurous, it can also be an excellent opportunity to broaden your horizons by giving another discipline a try.

As a dressage rider and trainer, I attend numerous clinics a year with a variety of instructors in order to further my own education (and essentially make sure I’m not totally wandering off into the weeds with my training).

While I can’t say that every clinic was sunshine and rainbows (of which I’m not sure I’d even want), I can say that I’ve learned something from each — a new technique, another approach, etc — that made it worthwhile. Being able to add tools to my training repertoire is great, but having fresh eyes on my horse and our work has proven even more invaluable.

For all the potential awesomeness that there is to be gleaned from riding in a clinic, there are a few pitfalls that you’d do best to avoid. For those of you who regularly attend clinics, none of this will be a revelation, but for those new to the clinics hopefully the below guidelines will help you avoid any sketchiness and get the most out of your experience.

1. Research the clinician.
Yes, you CAN learn from anyone. But do you REALLY want to? It’s nice to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Photo (c) Morgane Gabriel.

Photo (c) Morgane Gabriel.

There are some amazing equestrians out there, some of which you’ve likely never heard of, but there are also a few shysters you’d probably like to avoid. Do yourself a favor and ask people you trust if they are familiar with the clinician (i.e. your trainer, if you have one, other riders you know and respect, etc). If the clinician has a website look through that too and see if they sound like someone you’d be interested in working with.

In addition to the above, you should also at least do a cursory Google search on the clinician and see what pops up (or for some real fun, head on over to The Chronicle of the Horse Forums and search there); you’d be amazed at what you can find out.

Some questions to consider:

  • What’s the clinician’s background? (Or, who IS this person?)
  • What are the clinician’s credentials? (Can you confirm those credentials or are they so nebulous and untraceable that he might as well be claiming to have invented the half halt?)
  • Does this person sound like someone I’d WANT to learn from? (i.e. do they really know what they’re talking about or are they mostly shenanigans?)
  • Does this person sound like I COULD learn from them given my current riding level and my horse’s current level of training? (Again, you can learn from anyone but if you’re just learning to trot ground poles it might be a bit soon to attend a George Morris clinic … I personally rode in a lesson with Karen O’Conner after I’d been riding a grand total of 6 months; I was certainly in over my head on that one.)
  • Is the cost of working with this person in line with what I can reasonably expect to gain from the experience? (Essentially, is it worth the price?)

2. Consider the venue and clinic style.
A private barn with one-on-one instruction is one thing, the fairgrounds working in groups of 20 next to the team roping pen is another. This distinction matters.

Eventing 18 Riders with David O'Connor. Photo from USEF High Performance Eventing's Facebook page

Eventing 18 Riders with David O’Connor. Photo from USEF High Performance Eventing’s Facebook page

Some horses are rock steady in nearly any environment and others are a bit more particular. If your horse is in the latter camp, do yourself a favor and look into where the clinic is being held and the format (individual lessons or group sessions). Then assess if you think that will be a suitable environment for you and your horse to learn in. While I think stepping outside your comfort zone is super, and exposing your horse to new things highly beneficial, I think that both need to be done in such a way that no one’s brain is fried in the process.

While I would ride my ten-year-old, I-1, APHA horse nearly anywhere without a second thought, I’d be less inclined to do so with my young Dutch horse.

Whatever the venue and format, be sure to arrive with plenty of time to acclimate both you and your horse. With my young horse, if it’s a new place for him and I have the option of going a day ahead I often will. I want my horse to be as relaxed as possible so that I can focus on the lesson rather than merely trying to survive my unruly youngster while he tries to plant me in the arena footing.

For your warm-up, try to do the same routine you do at home. The familiarity of the warm-up can help relax your horse even when the environment isn’t familiar.

3. Ride your ride.
Trying new things is great; doing things that you know will get you bronced into the rafters is just poor decision-making.

The Beastlet and I having a team meeting.

The Beastlet and I having a team meeting.

While there are a myriad assortment of training techniques, and there’s usually no harm in trying new ones, if you know your horse is likely to have a melt down with something it’s best to let the clinician know and see if adjustments can be made.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t trust the clinician’s instruction — after all, that’s what you’re paying for — but it is to say that you know your horse best and ultimately will need to make the call regarding what’s best for you both.

There have been a few times in my riding career where I’ve pushed my horse past his comfort zone in the name of being a good student and I’ve always regretted it. You and your horse are a team; don’t forget his part in that.

4. Remember the importance of presentation.
Just because they make breeches in ‘blaze orange’ doesn’t mean you should wear them.

Photo (c) Morgane Gabriel

Photo (c) Morgane Gabriel

I’m a huge fan of fun colors and bling (and harassing my less adventurous DQs with both), but even I know there’s a line (somewhere). Regardless of the discipline, you can’t go wrong with mostly conservative colors and a tidy appearance. Adding a dash of color or bling is totally fine, but try to avoid head-to-toe blinding color and sparkles if you want to be taken at all seriously.

It’s also necessary to make sure your horse is well groomed and turned out. Be sure his tail is brushed through and his coat is free of crud. If you use boots they should be clean and tidy, as should all of your tack. For some upper-level clinicians, braiding is also appropriate.

5. Assess the take-home message.
What DID you actually gain from this besides killing a day (or two!) and having a lower balance in your bank account?

A fun trick, but definitely not helping us get to Grand Prix.

A fun trick, but definitely not helping us get to Grand Prix.

After each clinic I try to review what we worked on and how/where it applies in the grand scheme of my riding and training. Essentially I ask myself how what I learned will shape my next training steps. This helps me determine the value of the clinic and if I’d want to ride with the clinician again in the future.

While I feel like I’ve been fortunate and have learned something from almost every clinic I’ve attended, there are sadly times when that doesn’t happen.

Unfortunately I think that there are clinicians who are able to make you feel positive and successful during the clinic by focusing on a small gimmick or trick but that success is not necessarily useful later because it doesn’t actually have a place in your greater training picture (i.e. it doesn’t further your training). For instance, I’ve taught my horse how to “smile,” which is really cool, but it isn’t something that’s going to help our future piaffe.

Ultimately, if you ride in or audit a clinic that seems to offer a lot more tricks than actual tools/methods that can be used to develop your horse, keep that in mind for the future.