Classic Eventing Nation

William Fox-Pitt Dressage Clinic Report: Connection, Connection, Connection!

Having spent a year attempting to channel William Fox-Pitt, I was pretty darn excited when I saw he was going to be teaching a clinic in Ocala. Unfortunately the timing was such that all my horses are on an end-of-season break, so watching and blogging are the best I could do.

The inimitable Laura Szeremi.

It was unusually cold for Ocala and I was woefully underdressed to sit by a dressage arena furiously taking notes.

The dressage lessons carried a common theme interspersed with fantastic comments such as, “I’m not good at changes either but I’ll take a look.”

The theme was connection, connection, connection. 

Photo by Laura Szeremi.

Photo by Laura Szeremi

Did I mention connection?

Photo by Laura Szeremi.

Photo by Laura Szeremi

Here are a few takeaways I wrote down.

“You need a confident connection. The best horses are the ones that argue the least — you don’t see Michael Jung’s horses arguing on course.”

“The Golden Rule is connection, they have to be connected, forward and balanced. Do corners, straight lines, leg yields, don’t just do circles.”

“That’s what the winter is for: boring hard work.”

He had several riders flip their hands over on the reins and use a driving rein position. He even had one ride with one hand on both reins. That was particularly interesting because I had watched him warm up for dressage at Rolex with one hand on both reins and I thought he was just such a Bad A$$ he only needed one hand on the reins. (Of course that’s true, too.)

He said it creates a different feeling for the horse, that the most restrictive “blocked” position we can use is the “correct position” and flipping the reins over helps unlock the elbows and prevents riders from sticking their elbows out. He told one rider she needed to use that hand position at home for the next six months!

Essentially all of the dressage lessons focused on basics. Are you connected? Do you have a good feel down the reins?

Photo by Laura Szeremi.

Photo by Laura Szeremi.

He described the feel you need as a solid handshake. This idea really struck home for me when he said, “Don’t have a wimpy handshake. You know what a bad feeling you get when someone gives you a creepy handshake so don’t give that icky feeling to your horse.”

More on the handshake feeling, “A weak feeling is trouble and a heavy feeling is hard to do anything out of so you need a confident connection.”

More basics. Will the horse bend? Can you go forward and back between gears? He said over and over that people tend to only ride in circles at home, and they need to do straight lines and corners, speed up and slow down.

He mentioned that the horse needs to stretch down from the breastplate area, not just behind the ears.

He had a few horses that were reluctant to bend and he walked with them and demonstrated how much they need to be able to bend.

He mentioned a few times that you can’t fiddle with the reins. “They have to be lighter off the leg to become lighter in the reins. Stop fiddling with your hands — you need to fiddle more with your leg.” “You can change the bend inside and then outside but don’t fiddle!”

The constant theme was connection and a few times he mentioned, “Yes, the horse is a little heavier than maybe you like but you have a nice confident connection so be grateful for that and work on the rest.”

When he touched on a specific movement his comments included, “Each movement has a beginning, a middle and an end. We tend to drift into and out of movements and they can’t have grey areas. You need to be definite. For example, when coming up the quarterline to start a lateral movement, finish the turn, get straight, then start the movement. It’s better to show the beginning and start a few steps late than to just drift into the movement out of the turn.”

He said you need to think about preparation, “make the turn, think am I ready? Then, here we go!”

A few more interesting notes: He doesn’t like loose ring bits. As his focus is connection, he said it’s harder to be connected with a loose ring because it’s “too wibbly wobbly of a feeling.” He told a couple riders, “I’m not a loose ring fan, and neither is your horse.”

He had several riders do a quarter walk pirouette, as he likes the quarter turn better than the half because it keeps their feet moving.

He commented about giving one horse a break before they go in the arena so they don’t go in with their neck aching.

Other themes: “Don’t be afraid to ask! He might not like it but you need to ask anyway.”

“They can’t go around like a plank, they have to be rideable.”

“It’s O.K. to ask and have it go a bit wrong, today’s a good day for it to go a bit wrong!”

Of one horse he said, “because he doesn’t hurry you don’t think about the half halt, but it will help develop his strength so it should be part of his program.”

He was charming, funny and focused. I’ll say every lesson was thorough and he was particularly insightful as to each horse and rider’s strengths and weaknesses. And of course everything began and ended with a discussion about CONNECTION!

Thanks so much for sharing, Laura! Check out Laura’s blog, Tales from a Bad Eventer, and stay tuned for the second and third installations of her William Fox-Pitt clinic report, featuring the cross country and show jumping days. 

Graeme Thom Named New Zealand High Performance Manager

Graeme Thom. Photo by Samantha Clark. Graeme Thom. Photo by Samantha Clark.

We have big news from the Kiwis this morning, as Graeme Thom has been named Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance eventing manager. The announcement follows Erik Duvander’s departure as high performance coach last October after spending a decade in the role.

“I am extremely excited to be joining Eventing Team New Zealand,” Graeme said. “I have always admired the New Zealand teams that have done so well in the sport of eventing. What is particularly impressive is the high respect afforded the athletes both on and off the field of play. They certainly represent their nation well at every turn.”

The Canadian eventing team enjoyed many successes during the period with Graeme as chef d’equipe and David O’Connor as coach, including team silver at the 2010 Lexington World Equestrian Games and individual gold at the 2011 Guadalajara Pan American Games.

Sarah Dalziell-Clout, ESNZ high performance director, said she is excited to have someone of Graeme’s “caliber and experience” joining New Zealand’s eventing high performance team.

“His leadership and management skills combined with his understanding of the international eventing environment, particularly in North America, will be invaluable as we head into the all-important World Equestrian Games in Tryon next year.”

EN readers know Graeme well, as he was frequently bombarded for interviews in the early days of the site (sorry about that, Graeme). He is also well known on EN for having the best hair in North American eventing, a title we know he will proudly take forward in his new role with New Zealand.

Congratulations to Graeme, and best of luck with the Kiwis!

[Thom Brings Extensive Skills to ESNZ HP Eventing Team]

Thursday News & Notes from SmartPak

EN's own Sally Spickard and  enjoying a Buck Davidson clinic in sunny California. Photo via Sally.

EN’s own Sally Spickard enjoying a Buck Davidson clinic in sunny California. Photo via Sally.

Virginia is cruel in the winter, and not in the same way as many other snowy states. It’s cruel because throughout the winter months, it likes to go from below freezing to over 60 and then back again almost every week. It’s so unpredictably unpredictable, you need all the different kinds of clothes that could be required to cover activities in 25 and raining all the way up to sunny and 65. This means SO many blanket changes that you want to poke your eyes out, and a mass buildup of extra jackets in my car. I am not pleased.

U.S. Weekend Preview:

Poplar Place Farm January H.T. [Website] [Entry Status]

News From Around the Globe:

The USEF Board of Directors has considered the list for possible fall 4* competitions and come up with a short list. They have concluded that due to changes in date and location for the 2018 World Equestrian Games that the inaugural 4* will be slated for 2019, and will be held at either Fair Hill or Great Meadow. The objective of the application process was to select a venue and management team that is capable of conducting and prioritizing a competition at the CCI4* level, and to ensure that the event fits into the training and competition calendar for the eventing discipline. [USEF Announces Short List for 4*]

 We’ve been doing sales videos all wrong. Enter: the greatest (and maybe longest) sales video of all time. Meet Zack and Walter, one is human and the other is equine. Walter will pick up your hat, drag a canoe, sit down and have a snack with you, and is maybe the most desensitized horse in the world. He is super chill. This video might be long, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t treat yourself. P.S. is Walter maybe the greatest horse ever?? [Extensive & Amazing Sales Video]

Best of Blogs: Love the Horse or Love the Win? A Rider’s Dilemma

One of the best parts of winter is Grid Pro Quo! This week it is with four-star rider and overall incredible lady, Jan Byyny. Jan is the jumping master both in her riding and her coaching. She shows you how to set up a grid that can benefit both the young babies learning their footing and be equally useful for the top level horses coming back into work in the spring. Love this easy and awesome grid! [Grid Pro Quo]

 

This is priceless….

Fair Hill and Great Meadow Make Short List for New U.S. CCI4*

Which venue will join the Kentucky Horse Park as the second in the U.S. to host a CCI4*? Photo by Lorraine Jackson. Which venue will join the Kentucky Horse Park as the second in the U.S. to host a CCI4*? Photo by Lorraine Jackson.

The USEF Board of Directors has named Fair Hill and Great Meadow to a short list of venues being considered to host a new CCI4* in the U.S. Due to the change in location of the 2018 World Equestrian Games, the USEF confirmed that the inaugural event would not be held until 2019 if approved.

A CCI4* Task Force considered proposals from five different venues: Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland; Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia; Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg, Virginia; Ocala Jockey Club in Reddick, Florida; and Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina.

“The USEF appreciates the very positive response from eventing organizers and the detail provided in each of the applications. The objective of the application process was to select a venue and management team that is capable of conducting and prioritizing a competition at the CCI4* level, and to ensure that the event fits into the training and competition calendar for the eventing discipline.”

If the FEI approves the new CCI4*, it will join Rolex Kentucky as the second four-star in the U.S. and become the seventh in the world, along with Badminton and Burghley in England, Luhmühlen in Germany, Pau in France and Adelaide in Australia.

With the list of potential hosts narrowed down to a short list of Fair Hill and Great Meadow, which venue would you like to see host the new CCI4*? Cast your vote in the poll below!

[USEF Announces Venue Short List for New CCI4*]

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Building Badminton

The latest #BehindBadminton video was released today, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the course as we get closer to the 100-day countdown to this year’s horse trials.

The Willis brothers have been synonymous with Badminton for three decades as the dedicated course builders, and in this video we meet James Willis. He confirms that we will see new jumps on Eric winter’s inaugural course, as well as a slightly different look for the iconic lake.

Hugh Thomas, Badminton event director, adds: “I think the greatest thing about an event like Badminton is that we have to keep moving forward all the time. We’ve got to progress; we can’t stand still. People are always asking me, ‘What’s new at Badminton?” In a sense there’s nothing new — we’re just the best event in the world — but we have to try to develop it all the time.”

Keep it locked on EN as we bring you full coverage from Badminton later in the season. Go Eventing!

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Let’s Discuss: What’s the Best (or Worst) Towing Vehicle?

#EventerProblems on the way to a horse trial this fall. Photo by Leslie Wylie. #EventerProblems on the way to a horse trial this fall. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

When it comes to trucks, horse people tend to have, to put it gently, very strong opinions.

For instance, don’t EVEN get me started on my own 2004 F250. It’s got one of those notoriously lemon-y 6.0 liter Power Stroke diesel engines, used in Ford trucks from 2003 to 2007, that has given me ulcer after ulcer since I bought it in 2010. It literally broke down as I was driving it home from the dealership, which I should have taken as a hint — but newp! I just kept paying for repair after repair; by now I’m pretty sure I’ve replaced everything under the hood.

A few repair receipts from 2016 alone, totalling over $3,000: water pump, fuel injectors ... if anyone reading this wants to anonymously set my truck on fire, that would be cool. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

A few repair receipts from 2016 alone, totalling over $3,000: water pump, fuel injectors … if anyone reading this wants to anonymously set my truck on fire, that would be cool. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

HILARIOUS UPDATE: Literally since I wrote the first part of this post, I had to take my truck into the shop … again. Shock bushings and wheel bearings = another few hundred dollars down the commode.

Hahahahahaha.

Hahahahahaha.

My dream truck, on the other hand? Um, the 2017 Chevy Silverado 3500 HDs look alright!

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.

Duramax 6.6L Turbo-Diesel V8 that generates 910 lb.-ft. of torque + advanced towing technologies like trailer sway control and a trailering camera system. Yummy. Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.

Rugged cowboy chauffeur not included. Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.

Rugged cowboy chauffeur not included. Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.

Share your own towing vehicle successes, horror stories and fantasies in the comments!

Robyn Fisher All In for an Unexpected Journey

Robyn Fisher and Betwave at Le Lion. Photo by Libby Law Photography. Robyn Fisher and Betwave at Le Lion. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Several years removed from her last outings at the three- and four-star levels, California eventer Robyn Fisher didn’t anticipate returning to the upper levels of eventing. But a special horse and special circumstances rocketed Robyn back into FEI competition, and she’s taken the unexpected turn of events and run with it as she looks ahead to the new season.

Robyn originally put herself on the map with a horse named Le Samurai, a Holsteiner/Thoroughbred gelding with whom Robyn competed at the three-star level, including a trip to the CCI3* at Saumur in France, where she finished in the top 10. After Le Samurai, Robyn refocused on her other goals, including obtaining her “r” judge designation.

Robyn and Betawave at Rebecca Farm in 2015. Photo by Lisa Takada.

Robyn and Betawave at Rebecca Farm in 2015. Photo by Lisa Takada.

A Judge’s Perspective

In 2011, Robyn began the process of becoming a dressage judge after seeing a program offered by the USEA to become an associate judge, which would give her the ability to judge through Training level.

“My original intent was just to get my associate license, but I was mesmerized by the theory behind judging after the first session,” Robyn said. “I pretty much fell in love with the philosophy. I didn’t know where I would go from there, or even if I would be a good judge, but I decided not to sell myself short and to try to contribute to the sport. I was a bit burned out at the time and thought it would be a great way to diversify my participation.”

Robyn went on to obtain her “r” license and is currently pending approval to obtain her “R” license, which will give her the opportunity to judge through Intermediate. “Once I get my “R,” I’ll try to move forward and gain more experience,” she said. “Once that happens, I’ll be on the right track to go through FEI seminars.”

How has judging affected her riding and coaching? Having a different perspective is always helpful, and getting a handle on what judges look for and what they see from their point of view has helped Robyn with her own program.

“There are basic criteria for what a judge is looking for,” she said. “I can now ride a test and pretty much know what the judge will say when I come out of the arena. I definitely think it’s helped both my riding and my coaching.”

Robyn Fisher and Betawave at Le Lion. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Robyn Fisher and Betawave at Le Lion. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Making Waves

Robyn’s riding has taken her for a wild ride over the last couple of seasons thanks to a special mare named Betawave. An 8-year-old American-bred Holsteiner mare, owned by breeder Carol Singh and Robyn, Betawave has put Robyn’s mind back on the elusive upper levels of the sport.

“She’s unlike any horse I’ve ever ridden,” Robyn said. “It was absolutely not my goal to go back to riding at the upper levels. (Betawave) came to me in a very unique situation. Carol had watched me develop Lady Calido and Le Samurai and liked how I worked with Holsteiners. She emailed me before we’d ever met and asked if I’d consider taking on Leta. We both took a leap of faith and it’s turned out to be one of the best partnerships I’ve ever had.”

Carol’s goals for Betawave, who has proven to be wildly talented across the country, are just for her to go as far as she is comfortable. “As long as she is happy and enjoying the job, she wants her to continue,” Robyn said. “The horse is incredible cross country; I’ve never felt safer on a horse.”

Robyn and Betawave successfully moved up to the two-star level last year, culminating in an overseas trip to the FEI World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in France, where they completed the most difficult cross country of their partnership with just a handful of time penalties accumulated.

“Going (to Le Lion), my goal was just to finish,” Robyn said. “We did more than that, and it was definitely more of an Advanced track than a two-star track and it was a huge accomplishment for both of us.”

It was the trip of a lifetime for Robyn, who is now eyeing an Advanced move up for the scopey mare. “When it comes to the jumping, she’s always going to be game,” she said. “The dressage will continue to be a challenge, but she’s pretty capable of finishing on her dressage score. We will feel it out and take it show by show, which is what we’ve been doing up to this point.”

Photo by Robyn Fisher.

Robyn’s gear at Le Lion. Photo by Robyn Fisher.

All In

While her return to the upper levels is happening sooner than she originally thought, Robyn is all in.

“I’ve always owned the horses I’ve competed, and in order to survive, everything has been for sale,” she said. “Leta is not for sale, so in a weird kind of way I’ve kind of been forced out of my comfort zone. She is not tapped out. I don’t want to make any big plans just yet, but she’s young and she’s game. That’s a pretty special combination.”

With the help of the team of people in her corner, Robyn is officially back in the upper-level game and enjoying every minute of the journey.

“This horse has really helped me push myself, and I couldn’t do any of this without the encouragement and support of Carol Singh, my coach Hawley Bennett and the people who are in my corner no matter what. Especially with Hawley, when she says you can do something, you’d better believe you can. We’ve traveled the world together, and you absolutely have to have people like that to make it in this sport.”

Who Jumped It Best? Stable View Aiken Opener Edition

After an event-less month-and-a-half it was great to get back out onto a show grounds last weekend and wander around the beautiful Stable View Farm for a few hours. The event was blessed with perfect weather and had a good turnout for the Aiken Opener, which was run in a one-day format for Beginner Novice through Preliminary.

While Stable View will host a total of five horse trials this year, it has a packed calendar of events that include dressage shows, jumper nights and clinics. Click the link below to check out the website for more info.

And now it’s time to play the first Who Jumped It Best? of the 2017 competition season! Decide which Beginner Novice horse and rider combination present the best overall picture jumping this brushy coop, which was the final fence on course for both the Novice and Beginner Novice.

Stable View Aiken Opener H.T. [Website] [Results]

Cole Horn and Cooley Sligo. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Cole Horn and Cooley Sligo. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Kirsten LaVassar and Mahogany Mist. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Kirsten LaVassar and Mahogany Mist. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Caitlin Macauley and Impulse Purchase. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Caitlin Macauley and Impulse Purchase. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Shelley Onderdonk and Feint. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Shelley Onderdonk and Feint. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Rebecca Willner Malcolm and Fairways Queen P. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Rebecca Willner Malcolm and Fairways Queen P. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Emily Worth and My Lady Raisa. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Emily Worth and My Lady Raisa. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Wednesday News & Notes from FLAIR Nasal Strips

Stylin' in Aiken. Photo by Maggie Deatrick. Stylin' in Aiken. Photo by Maggie Deatrick.

One of the toughest things about winter for me is the absence of horses. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to board with a wonderful barn and more lucky still to have the means to send my boys south when my barn migrates down to Aiken for twelve weeks. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to live a little less structured, be able to put in long hours on a project to earn recognition and spend all my waking weekend hours vegging out in my house with my husband. On the other hand, not knowing what is going on with their training on a daily basis drives me a little bit nuts and every text and photo gets way more attention than it really deserves. Still, absence and idleness rekindles my competitive fire so I’ll be ready to hit the ground running in April.

U.S. Weekend Preview:

Poplar Place Farm January H.T. [Website] [Entry Status]

Your Wednesday News & Notes:

Re-live William Fox-Pitt’s keynote speech from the USEA Convention. If you couldn’t make it down to Tamp for the USEA convention last December, the USEA wants to make sure you don’t miss what he had to say. Since watching this video means I didn’t have to be taunted by the Florida beach while it rains down buckets, I’m game. [WFP Recounts His Remarkable Recovery]

Tattersalls will be holding a Young Event Horse Qualifier. The Tattersalls July show, which currently consists of show jumping, in-hand and ridden showing, working hunter, and side-saddle classes, will now add the qualifier open to four and five-year-old horses who aim to qualify for the Dubarry Young Event Horse Championship held concurrently with Burghley. [Tattersalls]

Badminton is the gold standard for scary looking fences. Horse & Hound has compiled a series of the scariest fences Badminton has offered in it’s long history. Tiger traps, elephant traps, footbridges, and open rail oxers all feature prominently, as do giant ditches. [Badminton’s Hairiest Fences]

Eventing Podcast: Listener’s Choice. Do you have a trend you’d like the EquiRatings to dissect, examine, and expound upon? Are you curious about dressage session bias, or the comparative difficulty of making the time at different event? Let the ER team know! [Eventing Podcast]

SmartPak Product of the Day: If you have a horse who chronically loses his shoe, abscesses, or  requires hoof soak on a regular basis, rejoice! Woof has come up with this ingenious glove for a hoof, allowing you and your horse to breathe a sigh of relief as you soak their hoof easily, or save duct tape by the roll. [SmartPak]

Tuesday Video from SpectraVET: Stable View H.T. Training Helmet Cam

When you’re getting ready to move up a level, the level you’re at should feel like a romp around the park — and that’s exactly the feeling you get watching this helmet cam of Hannah Ledford and Fernhill Music Man making short work of the Training cross country course at Stable View Aiken Opener H.T. over the weekend.

“Hannah did what we hope to be her last Training and take the next step up to Prelim!,” reports the Georgia young rider’s trainer Jade Anderson of Jade Anderson Eventing.

We always love seeing Jade out with her crew. Not only is she an accomplished rider, as a trainer she radiates positive energy and it’s clear that she inspires hard work and dedication in her students. A recent example:

Jade and her ladies country schooling in 32 degrees and sleet earlier this month. Photo via Jade Anderson.

Jade, Hannah and Claire country schooling in 32 degrees and sleet earlier this month. Photo via Jade Anderson.

Hoo-boy, you ladies are tough! Glad to see all that winter training is paying off via glowing performances in the team’s first outing of the year. Jade reports on the weekend:

JAE attended the Stableview HT this passed weekend! What a weekend it was … It was a weekend of firsts!

Grace Smith finished her first Preliminary in fine form!

Claire Howard finished her first Training with clear show jumping and clear cross country.

My two boys Fernhill Oreo and Fernhill Q popped around their Prelim with no problem. I loped them around just to get a good confident run under their belt! We have a full season in front of us!

Let the 2017 eventing season begin!!!

I’m so thrilled with this group of young ladies!! Each of them cheered for the other and help one another out … I loooove seeing the teamwork! Congrats ladies!!!!

Shout out to my homegirl Holly Malcom for helping me throughout the weekend! Gillian Pressel, Wesley Ann Norton for pitching in and helping with my horses!

Photo via Jade Anderson.

Photo via Jade Anderson.

You go, girls. Go Eventing!

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