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Ema Klugman

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On Trying to Do It All: Horses & Graduate School, Part III

Around here we’re all huge fans of Ema Klugman and her self-made partner Bendigo who, after jumping beautifully around Kentucky earlier this year, took aim at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill. There, on cross country, she made the commendable horsemanship decision to call it a day when she felt her horse running out of steam. The decision couldn’t have been easy, considering that “Ben” is 19, and who knows how many more cracks at a 5* together they’ll get, but Ema’s genuine love and respect for her horse shone through. Of note, too, Ema is no one-horse wonder — she’s got two more exciting ones coming up the ranks in her three-star horse, RF Redfern, and her four-star horse, Bronte Beach. 

Oh, and by the way, she’s a student at George Washington Law School and a valuable member of the Nation Media family. She reflects on Maryland and their journey in her latest blog, which was originally published on EN’s sister site, Jumper Nation. Read Part I (A Meeting of Minds: Horses & Graduate School) and Part II (The Cold Call: Horses & Graduate School).

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Sally Spickard.

I have been trying to pack in a lot of things in the past few months. I had three horses competing at the upper levels of eventing, and one young horse aimed at a 4 year-old championship. I was taking a full load of courses in law school. I was also still teaching, though I backed off of that quite a bit. There was a lot of juggling, tons of people behind the scenes helping out, and not that much sleep happening. For a while it worked, until it didn’t.

I retired on course at my second five-star event (the Maryland 5* at Fair Hill), last weekend when my horse felt too tired to finish the course. I was within 500 meters of the finish line. I have replayed the moments of that day over and over, thinking about how I could have gone slower at the beginning of the course to conserve his energy, or how I could have warmed up differently, or ridden more efficiently on the course itself. I’ve also thought about the preparation for the competition, which was similar to how I prepared the horse for our first five-star. Was I too focused on the other horses to prepare him correctly? Did I time the fitness days well enough, or did I back off on the fitness too early in hopes that he would feel strong and rested for the event? Did I overlook something he was telling me in the lead-up that would have made me realize our preparation wasn’t strong enough? Should I even be trying to do graduate school full-time and compete at the top level?

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Abby Powell.

In the end, the answers to all of those questions is, frustratingly, “maybe.” I cannot definitively say that if I had done X or Y differently, we would have had a different result. There is no way to know. What I do know is that if something didn’t work, you have to change it the next time.

The hard thing about the competition on the weekend was that it was the inaugural event—no one had done the course before because it was brand new. We knew it would be hilly, but we did not know what the course would be like beyond that. It was an unknown entity to every competitor. I had assumed the preparation I’d done before the Kentucky Three-Day would stand us in good stead for this five-star, but I wasn’t right. Lots of people finished the course on the weekend, some with horses looking very tired, and others with horses with plenty left in the tank. But most finished while we didn’t.

It is demoralizing to feel that you cannot do it all, to feel that you put in the hours and expected things to go your way, only to have them go very differently. It is demoralizing to feel you have failed your team and your supporters, and even worse to feel you have failed your horse. But sometimes, that is the sport.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Erin Gilmore.

It is also easy to assume that once you’ve done something once, it’s a foregone conclusion that you will be able to do it again. My horse had done the Kentucky five-star earlier this year with ease, so I assumed that we would check off another five-star box and hopefully improve on our performance. Simple and easy, we thought. But virtually nothing is a foregone conclusion in a sport with horses!

It’s Monday morning, and I’m writing this to help me process the weekend in between studying for my midterm exam tomorrow. I had thought that I would be studying on a high of completing another five-star, but instead I’m thinking about all the ways I fell short.

It’s a funny old sport. I will be back for more, and wiser for it the next time. Luckily, I have several decades to keep working at it.

Best of Jumper Nation: The Cold Call: Horses and Graduate School, Part II

This post was originally published on EN’s sister site, Jumper Nation.

Ema Klugman & Bronte Beach Z. Photo by Abby Powell.

Set the scene:

It’s 6:02pm, and your class began at 6:00pm. You had bet that there would be no traffic, and planned your drive accordingly. As usual, you were incorrect. Okay, two minutes late; what could you have missed? The woman who sits next to you offers you her notes from what you missed, and you copy them down hurriedly.

The professor is one of the best-known at the university, and an expert in “civil procedure” (the name of this class) which basically means all the federal rules that lawyers and courts have to follow during civil lawsuits. It is the most unfamiliar and confusing subject you could have imagined, and he moves through the material quickly. Most days you feel like you are attempting to jump a 1.20m course when you haven’t actually mastered the posting trot yet. But, you figure, most of the other students are probably feeling the same way.

This professor is also notorious for his cold-calls. Different professors employ the Socratic method in different ways, but this one has a list of all the students’ names and seems to pick them at random and grill them with anywhere from three to twenty questions on any topic he chooses. You are lucky if the questions are related to the reading that day, because they may be entirely different and require some serious imagination.

Okay, we are back in class. It’s approximately 6:35pm, and you get cold-called. The difference in how you feel now versus when you simply raise your hand and offer an answer is enormous. It’s as if the rest of the lecture class has gone dark and a spotlight is focused on you. Not only is the professor judging your every word; so too are your classmates (most of whom are actually very nice, despite the stereotype of crazy, competitive, Type-A law students). You hope that you can remember how to actually string a sentence together, and that at least some of your answers will be right. You also hope that you don’t have a stray piece of hay or something in your hair, since you drove here from the barn.

In the end, it wasn’t all that bad. What this professor does so well is he does not let you get away with just saying “yes” or “no”; he forces you to defend your answers. And you realize in the course of combatting his endless “why’s” that maybe if you cannot defend this answer, it is not a particularly defensible or correct answer!

I survived all of his questions and understood more than half of what we were discussing, which counts as a win for me. Finally, after about 40 minutes and several dozen questions, he looked down at his little notebook and called out another first-year student’s name. I was off the hook. I passed the torch onto the next cold-call victim.

This is a horse website, and I do promise that all of this does in fact relate to horses. Here’s how: cold-calls are terrifying and stressful. It’s the uncertainty, the feeling of being singled-out, and the sense that no matter how much you prepare, you may not know the answers to all the questions. I think that horses in competition are effectively being “cold-called.” Each venue and course designer is different. In the hunter ring, this proposition is less true because the courses are so predictable. But in virtually any other jumping class, you have to prepare the best you can and then hope that you can come up with the goods when you are cold-called.

I think that this idea is useful when we are thinking of training young horses or green riders. We have to train the horse and rider for any kind of situation. Will we be able to expose them to everything they might see in competition? No. But we can give them the tools to solve it. We can improve their critical thinking. We can explain the “why” to them so that they can understand what we are asking and apply it to other situations. You cannot predict every question a horse or rider will be asked at a given competition. That’s one of the challenges of our sport.

The other thing that cold-calling has taught me is that to be successful, your brain has to work even when you are experiencing stage fright. It’s happened to me on horses before—I’ve let the anxiety of the competition moment overcome my thinking and made mistakes that I would not make under less pressure. It’s also happened to horses I was riding before—even though I may not be stressed about the moment as a rider, they are.

What is the fix to this anxiety? How does one get better at answering cold-calls? We have to keep putting ourselves and our horses in those situations, no matter how uncomfortable they are. In life, law school, or horses there are rarely quick fixes, but the more we are exposed to new questions and have to think on our feet, the better we will get at it.

Want more stories like this? Be sure to follow Jumper Nation for more!

Best of Jumper Nation: Horses and Graduate School, Part 1

Ema Klugman and RF Redfern at Great Meadow. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Just about a month ago, I attended the first day of orientation at George Washington Law School. Before I left early that afternoon to compete in the Great Meadow International CCI4*, I listened to our new dean, the first woman in the school’s history, express excitement about the fact that five hundred of us 1st year law students were actually physically present in the same auditorium. Among us were athletes, veterans, historians, parents, political staffers, healthcare workers, industry professionals, and fresh-faced youngsters straight out of their undergraduate degrees. We came from countries around the world and almost every state in America. We laughed at how excited she seemed, but understood that it had probably been exhausting to lead the law school entirely behind a computer screen for the past year. Her exuberance was contagious, and we all left that auditorium feeling energized. Yes, we were here. We were here.

Now we are in week 4 of classes, and some of that initial exuberance has traded places with fatigue and confusion. Like any transition to an unfamiliar setting, the past few weeks have been a learning curve. I, for one, sort of forgot what it was like to do homework and masses of reading (I guess I have a bad memory, because it’s really only been 18 months since I finished my undergraduate degree). I certainly got physically lost a number of times, despite the fact that all of our classes are in one block of three connected buildings. I was intellectually lost for the first two weeks for sure, but now some concepts (approximately 50%) are starting to make sense. I took forever to pick up my school ID card, so I was at the mercy of other students to swipe me into buildings. I actually haven’t entered the library yet, which might be a good sign that I’m not too stressed out. Alternatively, it could mean that I’m not stressed enough! Who knows, we are all figuring this thing out together.

There’s a guy in my writing seminar class who is working full-time on a political campaign. I haven’t told him this, but the fact that he’s doing that while enrolled in law school full-time encourages me that I’m not crazy to ride three horses at the upper levels of eventing while also enrolled in the same program. But maybe we are both crazy, and by November we will wonder what we were thinking….

To read the rest of Ema’s article, click here to read on Jumper Nation, EN’s sister site.

Horse People Are — and Have to Be — Relentlessly Optimistic

This article was originally published on EN’s sister site, Jumper Nation.

The author in competition. Erin Gilmore/Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Two weeks ago, I rode a couple of young horses at a local dressage show. I was standing around in between tests when I felt a little tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and peering up at me was a little girl who would not have been more than 10 years old. She asked me, “Have you ever gotten a 10?”. I told her that I hadn’t, but that when I got a “9” on a movement (which was rare) I was usually very happy because that’s a great score.

She had her dressage test in hand and showed me the scores the judge had given her on the different movements. There were mostly 7s and a few 8s (which is very good). I told her that she had done very well—probably better than me that day—and this made her smile.

To be honest, I do not really think about getting a “10” in the dressage arena because it is exceedingly rare for a judge to give that perfect score. But what I loved about this girl’s question was that she was clearly optimistic—if 10 is a score that one could achieve, then why not try to achieve it? And she asked me that question that day because she thought that if I could do it, then she could, too.

There are some things in our sport that are exceedingly elusive. Scoring a “10” in dressage; scoring a “100” in a hunter round; jumping clear across all days at an Olympic Games or World Cup Final in show jumping. These tasks are almost literally impossible, so when people achieve them, those watching seem to feel that they are witnessing magic. And they are.

Most of us will never achieve this kind of magical performance, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot try. It may seem crazy for us to even believe that we can come close. This kind of thinking is backed up by scientific research around what psychologists call the “optimism bias.” Basically, studies find that humans in general are more likely to overestimate good things occurring and underestimate bad things occurring to them. In other words, people often have unrealistic expectations. This bias actually connects to a lot of issues—for example, one New Zealand study found that people had very large accumulations of student debt because they were overly optimistic about how much money they would make upon graduation.

The optimism bias can lead to a lot of disappointment when experiences do not go as people had hoped they would. But I believe that the optimism bias—that unrealistic pull—is what makes us keep going in the horse world. Without it, we may have all quit a long time ago!

Every equestrian professional will tell you this hackneyed advice: “there are a few highs, and many lows.” Sometimes there are a whole stretch of lows—a truck breaks, a barn burns down, a horse goes lame, a rider gets injured—and the list never seems to end. But every now and then, things go right and we have reason to believe in success again. We have to be relentlessly optimistic—even if we shouldn’t be. So here’s to that young girl: I hope that you achieve a score of “10” in your lifetime!

Perspective: How Can We Make Cross Country Schooling Safer?

A number of riders have shared with us their opinions about a recently proposed rule change by the USEA concerning the increased number of MERs to move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and AdvancedAs of March 12, this change has been tabled until the 2023 competition season. Ema Klugman, a professional rider and coach and the editor of Jumper Nation, adds her thoughts on cross country schooling to the mix. To read other Perspective pieces on this topic, click here.

Photo courtesy of Ema Klugman.

The proposed rule change requiring more MERs prior to horses and riders moving up to preliminary has spawned a lot of important discussions around safety in our sport. People have brought up a number of ideas around tweaking the proposal, most of which focus on competitions and qualifications. But as anyone who competes in eventing knows, only about 2% (or less) of the time we spend riding our horses is spent at actual competitions. Let’s say we ride 300 days per year; if we do a show per month, we’ll only be competing for a maximum of 24 days per year. The other 276 days we spend practicing.

We should do everything we can to improve safety at competitions. But falls also occur when we are practicing. Probably the most dangerous activity we engage in while practicing is cross country schooling. Most people haul to a facility to school cross country—either a designated schooling course, or a competition course which is open on specific days following a competition. There are usually rules in place—requirements to sign a release, wear a cross country vest, and an approved helmet—at these venues, but there are a number of ways that we can make cross country schooling safer. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of ideas:

  • Have colored numbers on every jump to specify their level. For example, a prelim jump could have a green number (the specific number wouldn’t mean anything, but the color would). This would help people know which jumps are which level. Sometimes people mistakenly attempt jumps that are much harder than they appear.
  • Have organizers check footing around jumps and remove them (or place flags in front of them) if there are safety concerns. They should also check for footing irregularities in the water jump (I once had a horse fall while cross country schooling when jumping into water because of a dip in the ground on landing).
  • Absolutely require cross country vests for schooling—even at one’s own property. (More on this below.)
  • Require an ICP instructor to accompany juniors and amateur riders when schooling, or develop a system to have ICP instructors oversee schooling for everyone for the entire “schooling day.” The latter model could work well for events which have open schooling days a few days after competition. Part of each rider’s schooling fee could go to an instructor (or maybe two, if the venue is large) who could oversee schooling.
  • Emphasize rider responsibility. Riders need to be aware of their own and their horse’s limitations. It is tempting to try to jump every jump on a property if you’ve just paid $60 to school there, but that is rarely a good idea. Riders need to make smart decisions, particularly when the conditions are not favorable (i.e. muddy ground or very hot weather).

Supervising a schooling session.

I see photos and videos all the time on social media of people — even top professionals, who should be setting examples for everyone else — schooling cross country fences without a cross country vest. You may think you look cool in your t-shirt, but you don’t. I liken it to the discussion around helmets — people used to say it was an inconvenience to wear a hard-hat, or too hot, or some other stupid reason — but now those arguments are rarely accepted. Everyone is expected to wear a helmet. Wearing a XC vest is not difficult, just like wearing a helmet isn’t.

Cross country schooling is a very important part of horse and rider education. There will always be risk involved with jumping solid obstacles on varied terrain. Riders often practice for a move-up by trying out new or bigger combinations while schooling, which is a crucial part of preparing to debut at the next level. So of course there will be some mishaps. Horses and riders will make mistakes. But having safety equipment, good footing, appropriately labeled jumps, and coaches present reduces these risks. Cross country schooling venues should standardize these procedures to keep horses and riders safe.

The Fork Farm and Stables is For Sale: Take a Look Around

As an eventer, I always regarded The Fork as a top-class facility where the best event riders would compete at the spring event. Though it hasn’t run at that facility for a number of years, the farm itself still exists and is just as beautiful. This property is about as nice as you can get.

A beautiful sunrise at The Fork. Photo by Mollie Staretorp.

Here’s the description:

The Fork Farm is an exceptional sporting property and working farm located one-hour east of Charlotte, NC. The 1,460± acre farm is a very private landholding that sits at the end of a state-maintained road. It is flanked by the Rocky and Pee Dee Rivers, which join at the southern tip of the property to create the eponymous “Fork”.

A tribute to classic European field sport estates, The Fork’s multiple land uses and best-in-class components overlap effortlessly. No single pursuit defines the farm, although among the standouts are world-class equestrian facilities, highly productive quail and waterfowl programs, and multiple sporting clay and shooting courses. The quality of the operations and flexible land uses are a testament to the management and planning of the current ownership. In addition to its enviable sporting reputation, the farm has been routinely recognized for its outstanding conservation efforts. Extensive improvements are spread throughout the farm, including a main house, guest lodge, farm buildings, and phenomenal stable. The Fork proves the sum is greater than any one of its parts and represents a real estate offering of the highest caliber.

The Facts:

  • 1,460± acres
  • 12,100± square foot, 15-stall stable with numerous amenities
  • Extensive equestrian improvements, including 4 outdoor riding arenas (2 with all-weather footing) and cross-country course
  • Exceptional hunting and wildlife, including intensively managed upland habitat, timber, shallow water impoundments, and dove field.
  • Two 14-station sporting clay courses, five-stand course, 65-foot tower, and accompanying gun lodge
  • 1.9 miles of Pee Dee River frontage
  • 1.4 miles of Rocky River frontage
  • Main house with connected three-bedroom guest cottage
  • The Fork Lodge, a nine-bedroom guest lodge
  • The Carriage House, a two-bedroom guest cottage
  • Miles of trails and farm roads
  • Farm office, kennels, and multiple farm buildings, including a 6,000± square foot heated building
  • One-hour east of Charlotte

This property is listed for $20,000,000. To view the full listing, click here.

Missing Out on a First Five-Star

With this week’s announcement that the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event will not run, several riders are reflecting on the tumult that has frequented the last two seasons. We’re honored that they’ve allowed EN to share their perspectives. Please consider making a donation to Equestrian Events, Inc. or rolling over your ticket to 2022 to help ensure the health and longevity of the U.S.’ beloved five-star event. 

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Amy Dragoo Photography.

Event horses have a particular window of time at the top level. It usually isn’t more than five years or so. My horse’s time is shorter than most because he started his eventing career at the rather unusual age of 11. He’s 18 now, and doesn’t act it, but we cannot assume that he will be up for the task of competing at the Advanced level for too many more years to come.

I bought Bendigo when I was 15, and he’s taught me just about everything I know—in particular, how to fail and get back up to try again. He’s a horse whose generosity eclipses his weird and wonderful tics—which are numerous and include, for example, that he hates to be confined to a stable, or to be left alone when he’s at the showgrounds. He has given me an enormous amount of experience at the Advanced and four-star levels. Bendigo has given me the liberty to plan and the power to dream. But every dream has a deadline; just like every horse has a window of time for which they are able and willing to compete at the top level.

Our dream this year was the Kentucky Five-Star, which was just announced as canceled. This event serves a huge array of purposes, from putting head-to-head the candidates for the Olympic team on the world stage to providing an amazing experience for spectators to be awed by top level competition, whether it’s from the ropes next to the Head of the Lake or from their living rooms as they stream the USEF Network coverage. But it also serves another purpose, which is to give riders and horses their first taste of the five-star level. I had hoped to be one of them.

Although it appears that this year’s decision to cancel the Kentucky five-star will not be reversed, I’m imploring the management of the event to do everything that they can to ensure that the hallmark competition can continue in years to come. I’m not sure that I will be there with my trusty old steed next year, but you can bet that I’m developing young horses with Kentucky in mind for the future.

Whatever the eventing community can do to help, we’ll do it. We are creative, and we are resilient. Ask just about any event rider—from the Olympians to the Beginner Novice amateurs who love to watch the big competitions—and they will tell you that they want the Kentucky five-star to remain on the calendar for years to come. Please, let’s make that happen.

Jumper Nation is Seeking Video Submissions: Go Jumping With Top Riders Erynn Ballard, Doug Payne, Sloane Coles, and Jimmy Wofford

Graphic courtesy of Jumper Nation.

EN’s sister site, Jumper Nation, is excited to announce a new series called “Go Jumping With _____” with top riders from around the world. The basic model is that juniors and amateurs submit a show video and then top trainers record a voice-over with commentary on their round. It is a sort of variation on the Practical Horseman column that George Morris used to write, except that it will be in video and audio form.

We are thrilled to have four amazing trainers already on board – Erynn Ballard, Doug Payne, Sloane Coles, and Jimmy Wofford – to do these video reviews, and we are looking forward to adding more great trainers to the lineup in the coming weeks.

But for this series to happen, we need help from you– our readers! We need our readers to submit videos for review. Would you like Erynn or Sloane to review your show rounds? Do you want Doug or Jimmy to give you constructive criticism on your position and style? This is a wonderful (and free!) opportunity to get feedback, and also to help educate others who will get to watch your video with a voiceover on our site.

If you’re interested, please submit your videos here. Any format is fine, but please be sure the quality is clear and you are jumping a full round (hunters, equitation, jumpers, or even an eventing show jumping round is fine). If your video is selected for review, we will notify you via email.

Go Jumping!

Who Gets to Be an Equestrian? Announcing a New Grant Opportunity from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation

Photo of Sydney Shelby by Alden Corrigan Media.

The horse world is not diverse. You likely can name 10 or more professional riders who are white, but probably not more than one or two who are people of color. Last year Nation Media launched its First Annual Diversity Scholarship to benefit riders of color in an effort to work toward more diversity in equestrian sport. This was a great start, but there is much work still to be done to make the equestrian world more diverse and inclusive for everyone.

We were pleased to become aware of a new grant initiative spearheaded by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation along a similar vein. The Foundation was founded in 2010 in honor of the late Helen Gurley Brown, long-time, legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. The foundation invites new proposal applications for ideas on outcome driven initiatives and programming to identify and implement strategies to reduce racial and/or ethnic disparities in the equestrian world in the United States. Grants may range from $50,000 to $150,000 depending on project scope, and they are only accepting US based applicants.

The HGB Foundation explains:

Eligible applicants that are interested in making a systemic impact in this industry and are willing to submit a descriptive one to two paragraph pitch of their ideas should apply using the link below. Additionally, we will ask that applicants (individuals or teams) submit information regarding their accreditation of domain expertise to demonstrate ability to fully carry out this initiative on behalf of the Foundation, speak to how the idea aligns with HGB Foundation vision and values, as well as a project roadmap, timeline, and budget for roll out.

The HGB Foundation recognizes that effective and quality programming in an effort to make a difference and impact in this industry will take substantial dedication, time, and funding in order to change the landscape of who gets to be an equestrian. We plan and hope to be an integral part of changing the future of the arena and are looking forward to partnering with a grant recipient to enact real change for the betterment of all in the horse riding profession.

If you have an idea on how to tackle the problem of racial and ethnic disparities in the equestrian world, we encourage you to apply for this grant. It could be geared toward young people or amateurs; toward lesson programs or more the professional side of the industry. There is much work to be done, and as with all systemic change, it starts at the local level. It’s one more inclusive barn, one role model, one opportunity that can begin to make a difference. And it can start with you. The application can be found here.

Understanding the Brain’s Relationship to the Body to Help Us Train

This story was first published on EN’s sister site, Jumper Nation.

Asia Vedder & Isi. Photo by Kim Miller.

You know the feeling, when you have been incredibly hungry and finally take a bite of food? Satiating your hunger feels instantaneous. You feel better immediately. But when you think about it, your feeling better immediately is sort of strange. It takes minutes for us to start digesting the food, and hours for it to enter our bloodstreams as useful calories and energy for our cells. So why do we feel better so quickly?

In short, it’s because our minds are playing tricks on us. Our mind knows the sequence of events: after that bite of food, our body will start to feel better in a few minutes. So basically our mind takes a shortcut and tells us to start feeling better before we actually do. This NYT article called “Your Brain Is Not For Thinking” (great read; highly recommend!) sums it up well, using a term called “body-budgeting”:

Your brain runs your body using something like a budget. A financial budget tracks money as it’s earned and spent. The budget for your body tracks resources like water, salt and glucose as you gain and lose them. Each action that spends resources, such as standing up, running, and learning, is like a withdrawal from your account. Actions that replenish your resources, such as eating and sleeping, are like deposits.

Your brain keeps track of your budget, they explain:

The scientific name for body budgeting is allostasis. It means automatically predicting and preparing to meet the body’s needs before they arise. Consider what happens when you’re thirsty and drink a glass of water. The water takes about 20 minutes to reach your bloodstream, but you feel less thirsty within mere seconds. What relieves your thirst so quickly? Your brain does. It has learned from past experience that water is a deposit to your body budget that will hydrate you, so your brain quenches your thirst long before the water has any direct effect on your blood.

Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Here is the key phrase in that description for me: [your brain] has learned from past experience. It is fairly obvious, when you think about it: we have a brain, so we remember things. We have a trove of past experiences on which we draw when encountering new experiences.

We’d do well to think about allostasis when training our horses, not in the sense of being hungry or thirsty, but in the sense of understanding that the brain processes information about how the body is feeling even before the body reacts. If we can keep this in mind, lots of our problems in training and competition begin to make sense. Let’s take an example. A horse has felt stressed by a new movement he is learning on the flat. He can do it pretty well, but the next several times the rider prepares for the movement, the horse’s brain shuts down and his body tenses, even before the rider gets a chance to ask for the movement. The horse’s body isn’t actually finding anything physically hard in the moment, but his brain is predicting that it will be. It has learned this from past experience, and it is creating a roadblock for the body.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that often happens when moving horses up the levels that didn’t make sense to me for a long time. When a horse first moves up, often she’s very successful—jumping clear, for example. But the next time she competes at that level, she doesn’t do very well. Sometimes the rider needs to go back to the lower level to regain the horse’s confidence again. But why did the horse do so well that first time she moved up? Possibly because her brain didn’t know what her body was going to feel, so she believed she could do it. Afterward, she might reflect and think, “wow, that was really hard!”. This is when riders and trainer have to think about what the horse is thinking. This is when they have to make sure the brain is on board with the body. I had a coach once who told me to always try to make the horse think he was superman, even if he wasn’t the most scopey or talented horse in the world. You build a superman by never making anything seem too hard. The brain leads the body, so the brain has to believe it’s possible.

There is so much guesswork that goes with training horses, especially since no two horses are really the same. These are living, breathing animals with feelings and apprehensions; with different attitudes and different strengths. If we can wear the lens of a psychologist as well as a rider, we can begin to understand their thought processes and get access to their amazing physical capabilities.

Taking the Reins of Jumper Nation: A Message From New Editor Ema Klugman

Here at EN we know Ema Klugman primarily as an event rider who has had a fantastic past couple of years with her four-star horse Bendigo and her three-star horse Bronte Beach. But she’s also a show jumping aficionado, who like some of Europe’s top eventers (read: Ingrid Klimke and Michael Jung) understands the value of immersing oneself fully in each of the three disciplines that comprise our sport to become a better athlete. Administrative changes are afoot at Nation Media (more announcements to come!) and we are very proud to welcome Ema as the editor of EN’s sister site Jumper Nation, as previous editor Lynn Mueller shifts her focus to sponsorship relations and an overall team-leader role. Welcome, Ema! 

Spending some time in the jumper ring this summer on one of my eventers. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

For as long as I can remember, writing has just been plain fun for me. As a little kid, I wrote poetry and short stories; in high school and college I started writing articles for various horse websites. I still love the light, exciting feeling that comes with opening a new blank word document and filling it with ideas.

Like many things, writing is an iterative process. Where I start is rarely similar to where I end up because there are lots of steps and revisions in the writing process. Training horses is also an iterative process. We adjust and adapt as we go, trying some things that work and other things that most certainly don’t work (anyone who’s had an opinionated mare knows that sometimes you have to backtrack, negotiate, and get creative in reaching your end goal!). Inching forward, step by step, is what gets me up in the morning to ride horses every day.

I should mention that I’ve spent time in the show jumping world, but I’m primarily an event rider. I started riding in Nairobi, Kenya as a kid, and my family is actually from Australia, so I have seen the horse world from a variety of places. At the moment I am developing a small group of horses with the goal of being successful at the top level in eventing. I occasionally dip my toes back into the jumping world; whether it’s spending a season working as a rider at WEF, selling horses to the hunter, equitation, or jumper ring, or attending jumper shows in the MD/VA/PA area to keep me and my horses sharp. What I love is that different disciplines often collide, and we can learn valuable lessons from each other if we are willing to watch, learn, and compete across disciplines.

Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach in the CCI2*-L. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Jumper Nation has seen a lot of growth over the past six months under the leadership of Lynn Mueller. As she can likely attest, running a news and opinion website is a challenge, particularly in a global pandemic. Growth requires change; and just like writing an article or training a horse, iteration is the slow and steady process of trying new things, revising, and improving as we go. After writing for this site for the past several months, I am now glad to be taking on the role of Editor.

My goals for the site are to strengthen our community by connecting us more. I’d like to generate discussions about what matters to riders, trainers, and parents, and how to make our sport better. The bulk of our readership is amateurs, not professionals—just like the bulk of people who are competing in our sport. The sport should work for you, not just for the top riders. The site will continue to provide competition news, but I hope that it can also be a friendly forum for debate. I’m working on expanding our base of writers to include a diverse range of perspectives, and I’m also excited to roll out some new initiatives in the coming months.

It’s a privilege to be taking on this new role, and not one I take lightly. I look forward to this new challenge.

A Case for the Classic Three-Day Event

Four-star eventer Ema Klugman won the Training Three-Day at Waredaca last weekend with RF Redfern, a 7-year-old Westphalian mare owned by Jeni Klugman. This is a pair to watch for the future — Waredaca marks their fifth Training level win in a row. Ema explains how the long format can be beneficial for the education of horses and riders.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

In our modern world, in many ways we are time-poor: rushing around to fit in work, family obligations, and if we are lucky, some fun like riding horses. We are busy. There is rarely time in the day to finish it all, and we are always searching for ways to make things more efficient so we can get more done in less time (drive-throughs, Siri on our phones, and next-day Amazon shipping are some examples).

This mindset has also come to our horse world. Many professionals spend show days rushing from one horse to the next. The cross-country phase of our three-day events became truncated as a result of the switch to the short format over a decade ago. What used to be almost an hour of roads and tracks, steeplechase, and cross country is now under 10 minutes of just cross country. There were many reasons for this change to a shorter format, but those are not the focus of this article.

The long format event (now called the Classic Three-Day by those few venues which still offer it) gives you time with your horse in a way that many people do not experience these days. The event itself has you trotting and cantering through forests and around fields, but importantly, the lead-up to the event involves a lot of preparation, hacking, and fitness work which requires you to spend ample time with your horse. Preparing for the event gives you an opportunity to learn more about your horse—what is he like as he ramps up his fitness? Is he naturally easy to get in shape or is it hard work for him? With the goal of a big event in mind, you will get familiar with feeling his legs daily and taking note of any abnormalities. You will follow a schedule and learn the importance of the lead-up events.

Photo by Karrie Dash.

At the Waredaca Classic Three-Day last week, in which I was very fortunate to compete with a young horse, there were only a handful of professionals across nearly 50 competitors. There was only one junior rider in the Training division. This is a shame. Professionals should utilize the Classic Three-Day to teach their young horses to deal with the heightened requirements of cross-country day. The Training Three-Day basically felt like a mini FEI event. My mare had to learn how to trot up, how to show on consecutive days, and how to show jump on the final day after quite a big test of roads and tracks and cross country. This was hugely beneficial for her education. When she goes to FEI events next year, it should feel familiar to her.

I also think it made my horse braver. After doing about 40 minutes of trotting and over 2 minutes of galloping steeplechase jumps, she was really in front of my leg and taking me easily to the fences once I started phase “D.” She finished up more confident than she has ever been. Professionals probably have several counterarguments that they will use: the event isn’t prestigious enough, it’s not recognized by the FEI, and it might make their young horses lame because of the demands of cross-country day. All of these are true. But if more of us show up to these things, there will be better competition. If there’s better competition, there will be more sponsors. It might never be FEI sanctioned, but the USEA can offer other important incentives and awards. And finally, if your young horse cannot do a Training Level three-day event and stay sound, it probably won’t last very long at the upper levels.

Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach contesting a CCI2*-L. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

I mentioned the lack of young riders in the Training division last week (there were several in the Novice division). Just as the Classic three-day educates horses, so too does it educate riders. I don’t know why more young riders don’t do a classic three-day, if they have the opportunity, before they start doing FEI events. The feeling and set-up are very similar. Plus, once you get to the FEI level, cross country day will feel short and easy compared to having to complete A, B, C, and D! At the Classic three-day last week, the whole event was designed to set you up for success. Sharon White was there from the moment it began, teaching every rider about the various phases and making sure we were on track to be successful. It is a competition, but it’s also a week of learning. The sense of community among riders is palpable, as everyone is on this learning curve.

Another reason to consider entering a Classic Three-Day is that it connects you to the history of our sport. In a world where we are rushing from one thing to the next, it was amazing to experience the sense of calm on roads and tracks, where it was just me with my horse trotting through the forest, competing in a great sport that has given people joy for over a century. It would be wonderful for more people to take advantage of the Classic Three-Day Events to get back to our sport’s roots and spend quality time with their horses.

Learn more about the USEA Classic Series here

To Young Riders: The Case for Not Going Pro

Ema Klugman, age 22, is a rising star who competes her own Bendigo at the CCI4*-L level. Their top finishes include a third place at Ocala Jockey Club CCI4*-L last fall; most recently, the pair finished seventh in the Advanced at Morven Park. Her three-star horse, Bronte Beach, has had some great results as well. We’ve been following Ema for quite a while now — EN named her as a “rising star” way back in 2012 — and she’s one of our team’s personal favorites to follow.  In addition to being a top-class horsewoman, Ema is career minded and a thoughtful writer who regularly contributes to EN’s sister site Jumper Nation (Ema moonlights as a show jumper, too!). Catch up on some of her previous JN columns here

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s what the inspirational speakers and books tell you.

Most young riders who spend their waking hours riding horses, taking care of horses, and thinking about horses face a choice in their early 20s: do I love this sport enough to try to make a go at it full-time? The answer to the first part is yes, most of the time — of course we love this sport. We wake up at ungodly hours just to drive long distances to be judged by other people and occasionally hit the dirt, and maybe sometimes we win a prize. But just because you love something doesn’t mean you have to monetize it and try to make your living out of it. 

Young riders (including me) who think they are better off not relying solely on horses for a source of income face two lines of criticism, sometimes overt but more often subtle and unspoken: the first is that they are not committed enough if horses are not their 24/7 lifestyle. The second is that they will never be good enough if they are distracted by another career. The last thing a hungry young rider wants to be told is that they lack commitment and will never reach the level to which they aspire.

However, there are numerous examples of amateur professionals who fund their competitive horse life with another career. Hinrich Romeike is perhaps the most famous example — the German dentist won both individual and team gold medals in eventing at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong.

I think we spend so much time idolizing the top level of the sport — whether it be the 5* competitions or the Olympic Games or World Championships, that we forget about all the other milestones one can shoot for. The truth is that a very slim fraction of very good riders will ever make it to the very top level, and even fewer will represent their country. That does not mean that one shouldn’t aspire to such a level. Having this inspiration is what helps up our game every day we sit in the saddle. However, young riders should remember that even if they make it to the Olympic games, that is only one week of thousands of weeks of their lives.

Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach in the CCI2*-L. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

The other thousands of weeks will be spent doing things you may not really want to be doing: training rogue horses, trying to sell horses, teaching lessons, having to sell your own horses if you can’t afford to keep them… the list goes on. That’s not to say that day-to-day life can’t be satisfying: the process can be just as rewarding as the result. But the necessity to monetize this sport means that you have to create value in some form, and that creating that value may not actually be that fun for you. The problem with horses is that the running costs of keeping them are so high. To afford to keep your own horses, you have to have a high ratio of other horses in your program that are making you money. Furthermore, this professional horse life will be stressful because it will be so varied and unpredictable: you might sell three horses one month and zero horses for the next six months. It is difficult to create a steady stream of income, never mind being able to afford health insurance. 

The other part of this conversation is safety. If you are riding 10+ horses each day as a professional (and normally not all of them are perfectly behaved!), your likelihood of getting hurt is much higher than if you just ride two horses a day. In that latter scenario, when you are funding your habit with another job, you are cutting down on the risk that comes with using horses to bring in income. Injuries bring enormous uncertainty to a professional rider’s business model. If they are unable to ride and don’t have an employee who rides well, they cannot sell horses easily, they cannot compete, and they may risk losing owners who want their horses going.

I see so many kids with Instagram accounts called “[their name] Eventing” or “[their name] Show Jumping]” as if they are already building a brand for a future business. Some of these kids are nine years old! I just hope they consider all the possibilities open to them before being funneled into the very narrow horse world.

You can love this sport and spend some or even most of your time doing something else. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. You’ll probably be healthier, happier, and may even find a job that you really love. You will be less likely to burn out of riding. Before or after work, and on the weekends, you can still be just as serious about riding horses. But if you never look into other fields, you won’t ever know what’s out there on offer.