Happy New Year!

By Jennifer Mellace, January 01, 2017

I find it hard to believe that I’m wishing you a Happy New Year. It seems like only a few short months ago I wrote about New Year’s resolutions. But time marches on and, whether we’re ready for it or not, we find ourselves at the beginning of another calendar year. In last January’s issue, we focused on cross-training. We received a positive response, so this issue offers more on what seems to be an important piece of any training puzzle, whether it pertains to riding or any other physical sport.

Our cover model, Grand Prix rider Nicholas Fyffe, brings us a great article on the benefits of cross-training and how using various exercises, both in and out of the saddle, works to turn a horse and rider into a fit and able team. A former professional gymnast, Fyffe has a unique perspective on how the two sports are similar. He says, “As in gymnastics, the goal in dressage training is to master a movement by breaking down the different aspects. Once we are able to master each element of a specific movement, we can perform more advanced work. The more difficult movements can become possible because the foundation has been well established.”

Fyffe stresses that with development comes the possibility of muscle soreness, saying, “Take this into consideration when your horse feels a little less motivated after having a groundbreaking ride a day or so before. Be sympathetic, but remember, the best thing for sore muscles is to keep them mobile and moving.” Read “Find Your Fit” on p. 28.

While Fyffe explains how important cross-training can be to a horse in work, it can be just as important for a horse who is coming back into fitness. In “Rehabilitation Basics” on p. 36, we hear from several experts, including Dr. Hilary Clayton, on how to help a horse return to work and prevent further injuries. Part of this equation includes cavalletti and hill work, both of which help rehabilitate an injured horse and build or maintain muscle and fitness on a sound horse. The article also looks at the benefits of utilizing aqua treadmills and the importance of open communication between the horse’s vet, rider and owner.

Throughout this issue there is a common theme of riding your horse in a way that promotes soundness. This message is echoed again in our story about joint health (p. 56), where we hear from three vets who specialize in working with performance horses. Each expert states that when it comes to soundness management and prevention of injury, there is no replacement for good horsemanship.

In addition to our cross-training features, we also share a story about bringing up a young dressage horse in “The Kindergarten Years” on p. 42. We hope you enjoy this month’s issue and take the time to share your thoughts with us.

Until next time...

The Priceless School Horse

By Jennifer Mellace, December 01, 2016

I remember the first pony I ever rode. His name was Sir Chumley. He was a little bay who taught me how to trot and canter and made me fall head over heels in love with riding. I rode plenty of other school horses after Chumley, and each taught me something. Of course, some were better teachers than others and some were worth their weight in gold.

Each December we highlight collegiate equestrians, typically the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) riders who juggle school and saddle time or the instructors who coach them. But this year, we take a look at a different piece of the puzzle—the college school horses. In “The IDA School Horse: A Breed of its Own” we highlight four special horses who are a vital part of the IDA program. Students often speak of these particular horses, who are favorites in school riding programs and at every IDA show they participate in. You can read about these superstars on p. 36.

While the horses take the collegiate spotlight this month, we don’t forget about the students and their studies in “The Value of Equine Education” on p. 42. For this story we spoke with top dressage industry professionals, including international competitor Kim Herslow and Virginia Tech intercollegiate dressage coach Cody Armstrong, about why their experience in an equine-degree program was so valuable. Each rider shares important reasons for pursuing an equine education and how you can get the most out of your time at school.

In addition to our collegiate focus this month, we hear from USEF Young Horse Coach Christine Traurig on how to ride your horse with improved throughness, perfect connection and self-carriage. In “Pushing Away from the Bit,” Christine shares why this sophisticated term is often misunderstood and sheds light on exactly what it means. She explains that when the horse is pushing away from the bit, he responds to the leg aid with absolute, ever-present willingness to go perfectly to the bit. The horse that is pushing away from the bit has a finely established understanding of contact from a leg aid and he never feels apprehensive about reaching out to the bit again and again. She goes on to explain in detail the various rein aids and their functions and offers exercises to help develop feel and improve throughness and connection. Read the full story on p. 24.

Also included this month is Corinne Foxley’s “Journey Through the Levels” column (p. 21), in which she offers a first look at the counter canter and tells us why riding this movement correctly is a true test of the purpose of First Level as defined by the USDF Rule Book.

We hope you find this issue full of inspiration and remember to salute the school horses in your life, be they past or present.

Until next time...

An Equestrian's Dream Tour of Munster, Germany

By Lindsay Paulsen, November 06, 2016

You know you’ve had a worthwhile trip when the most difficult part of it all is trying to limit the number of photos you share on your blog to avoid breaking the internet.

The last time I wrote, I was just departing the beautiful town of Verden after seeing the Hanoverian Auctions to head down to Munster, Germany. Munster is a town of about 300,000 people located about three hours southwest of Hamburg. About 55,000 people are students, so this historic town is also full of life and buzzing with activity.

This is the beautiful Aasee lake in Munster. It's located just a few minutes from the center of town.

Munster was my favorite city in Germany for obvious reasons! This is an area near the city center.

Honestly, I don’t have enough words to tell you how much I enjoyed the week that I spent in Munster. If I had to pick a place to live in Germany, Munster would be my first choice. Here’s why:

1.     I am the kind of person who likes to have the perks of a big city while having easy access to horses. Munster is exactly that. Adorable shops, historic churches, amazing restaurants and beautiful parks are all within walking distance or a short bike ride of the city center. But best of all, my friends: I could literally ride a bike from my favorite ice cream shop in Munster’s city center to Ingrid Klimke’s farm. When I discovered that, I wondered what kind of sweet heaven I found myself in. Better yet, Helen Langehanenberg’s farm is only about a 20-minute drive from the city center, so there is absolutely no shortage of equestrian talent in the area. Need any leather care or grooming products? Not to worry! The headquarters of Effol/Effax are just a short drive from Munster as well!

2.     I was amazed at how safe the city was. I asked a number of people about any unsafe areas I should avoid when walking by myself and they all looked at me with confused expressions. The general consensus seems to be that even a woman can walk alone in the city at night without feeling the need to always be checking over her shoulder. As much as I hate to admit it, this was really different from what I am used to back home in the Washington, DC area. How refreshing!

3.     This city was founded not in 1793 but 793. That’s right—there are only three digits there. Try wrapping your American brain around that one! So you can imagine how rich the area is in history. This town has so much character that it’s really hard to set your camera down for even a moment. I can only imagine how painfully obvious it was that I was a tourist when I was taking photos of silly things like the trashcans. But it was all so charming that I really just couldn’t help myself.

4.     Munster is known as the bicycle capital of Germany—and for good reason. As I was walking around, I learned to keep an ear out for the soft whizzing sound of an approaching bicycle. One of the things that I loved the most about Munster was the promenade—a tree-lined bike and walking path that encircles the entire city. It literally looks like something that sprung to life right off of a Pinterest board.

So, now that you have some background information on the city, let’s get to the good part: The horse stuff! Thanks to my new friends Karoliina and Georg from Schweizer-Effax (home of Effol, Effax and many other brands), I had an equestrian’s dream tour of the Munster area.

Our first stop was the farm of German show-jumping legend, Ludger Beerbaum. Perhaps you are also familiar with his sister-in-law, the American-born show jumper, Meredith Michaels Beerbaum who also competes for Germany. Now, I know that you might be wondering what an editor at a dressage magazine was doing at a show-jumping operation—but if you got the chance to visit Ludger Beerbaum’s farm, would you really say no?

Didn’t think so.

Ludger’s farm is located in the small town of Riesenbeck, which is about 44 minutes from Munster. His farm is huge, with several barns, arenas and a breeding operation as well. They have about 100 horses on the property and roughly one-third of them are stallions. I immediately noticed that the stallions were so friendly and well-behaved. Almuth, who is head of the breeding operation and who was our tour guide, pointed out that all of their stallions are treated just like normal animals who get plenty of turnout and aren’t handled like they are made of glass. She said that treating them like normal horses prevents them from turning into fire-breathing beasts. Makes plenty of sense.

This statue at Ludger Beerbaum's stable in Riesenbeck is a tribute to one of his top horses, Ratina Z.

There are several young international show jumpers who are also based at Ludger’s farm, so there is a lot of activity going from the various rings to the barns. I was most envious of their gallop track that is lined by hedges and circles one of their outdoor rings. Not surprisingly, the gallop track also has immaculate footing.

During my visit to Ludger’s I also had the pleasure of meeting his adorable 7-year-old daughter, who first rode by me on a little scooter with streamers on her way to visit her pony. She’s currently riding a 20-year-old “professor pony” who does his job like an old pro. She was a gracious little host and even let me pet her ponies. I also silently noted that the 7-year-old child had clearly already accomplished more in the arena in her short little life than I could ever hope to.

The other half of the Beerbaum empire is located on the other side of Riesenbeck and it is a massive, world-class show facility. As we rode down the tree-lined driveway toward the show grounds, we passed a horse and rider hacking along the roadside. Naturally, we also passed a “small” castle that belongs to a baron. Casual.

This is the "small" castle visitors will pass on their way to the Riesenbeck show facility.

This is one of the indoor rings at the show facility in Riesenbeck. The photos do not do this place justice.

Hang a left when you get to the castle and you’ll find a riding club, a hotel and then the actual show facility, complete with a polo field, a cross-country field several dressage rings and two massive indoor rings. Though the facility is still under construction, they currently have 340 box stalls and recently hosted the Riesenbeck International CSI 2*, the German Young Rider Championships and they also had a big party to celebrate Ludger’s last Olympic games.

This is a local tack shop located near Riesenbeck.

After I managed to scrape my jaw off of the ground, Karoliina and Georg took me to a local tack shop. Interestingly enough, the tack shop was amazing, but not vastly different from anything I had encountered back home. Many of the brands that they offered are the same as what we have in the states, but I would say that the selection was much better and there was a much larger section for kids. You’re probably wondering about prices. As a whole, I would say things were similarly priced with the exception of a few items. There was a pair of German-brand bell boots that typically sells for about $60 U.S. dollars back home that was only 30 euros in the tack shop. Not a bad deal! They also had a more extensive tall-boot section where prices were significantly more affordable. Boots that would cost $1200 U.S. dollars back in the states were only about 400 euros in the tack shop, which still converts to less than $500 U.S. dollars.

Luckily, I practiced some self-control and managed to leave the tack shop empty-handed. But if I didn’t have to haul over 100 pounds of luggage on public transportation for the majority of my trip, you can bet that my bank account would have been in trouble.

This is a more "typical" riding club, located in the town of Greven.

Next, we stopped at a local riding club in the town of Greven. The farm was picturesque, of course, and a lower-level jumping lesson was going on when we arrived. The farrier was also out that day. If it weren’t for the historic-looking buildings, I almost could have convinced myself that we were back home. I asked Georg and Karoliina about the price of board in that particular area and they said that prices start at around 220 euros (care isn’t always included at that price, though) and continue up to about 600 euros as you get closer to Munster. That’s definitely more affordable than what I am used to in the Washington, DC area, as prices for decent full-care board seem to start at around $700 U.S. dollars. However, it is worth noting that the D.C. area prices aren’t necessarily the norm for the rest of the United States.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of visiting the Schweizer-Effax headquarters, which is the home of Effol and Effax, whose grooming and leather-care products you’re probably already familiar with. This company has a rich history that goes back more than a hundred years and they have a real interest in creating innovative products while maintaining tradition. The company actually has its roots in products for caring for cows, but now they have a huge product range that covers everything from human physical therapy products to ski wax to house cleaning products to horse care. It’s a neat facility because all of the offices, science labs, production and warehouse are under the same roof. This means that they have excellent control over development, production and quality, and, of course, their products are 100 percent made in Germany. They’re an incredibly nice group of people and it was comforting to see the amount of care and attention that goes into making the products we use on the horses we love so much.

Stay tuned for my next blog, as I give you a little glimpse into a day at Ingrid Klimke’s training facility. Spoiler alert: Ingrid Klimke and her facility are everything you could dream of and more. Also coming soon is a visit to the German Federation and Olympic team headquarters in Warendorf.



An Introduction to Dressage

By Jennifer Mellace, November 01, 2016

Do you remember your first introduction to dressage? I clearly remember mine. It was in the eighties, when I was a young working student at a farm in West Orange, New Jersey. There was a dressage trainer there named Roy Como. I remember watching Roy and his one student/assistant, Jennifer. It was the first time I had seen the sport in person. Of course, I didn’t know if what I was watching was correct or not, but it looked beautiful and I remember thinking, I’d like to try that someday.

I’m willing to bet that there are many young riders who have witnessed dressage for the first time and wanted to know how they, too, could ride like that. Fortunately, there are many avenues for young people who show an affinity for the sport. In “Opportunity Knocks for Young Riders” (p. 44), we offer a list of educational options for kids of all levels and budgets. Included in this list is information on the age range, approximate costs involved and application process. And while not every child will have the chance to train with an upper-level rider, there are plenty of local farms that offer dressage lessons, too. A good place to look for a qualified instructor is on the USDF website (usdf.org).

From opportunities for youth riders, we transition to Eliza Sydnor Romm’s story about how to progress more efficiently. Eliza suggests adopting a beginner’s mind, which means you temporarily set aside all opinions, beliefs, previous experiences, etc. and open yourself up to the exercise/lesson your instructor is trying to teach. She says, “Beginner’s mind doesn’t ask you to believe in anything in particular, just that you set aside old beliefs for a short period of time while you are in a learning environment. This is often why instructors say they love teaching kids. Kids usually have very few preconceived opinions and beliefs coming into a lesson and they are much more open to saying “I don’t know.” But as adults, do we really know that much more? We have many more experiences than a child, but those may or may not help us to be better riders.” You can read “Learning Strategies for the Dressage Rider” on p. 30.

Also in this issue we look back on special moments from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio (p. 36). You’ll notice our cover is a departure from the typical images we use. We felt the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” couldn’t be any more true than in this photo of Great Britain’s individual gold-medalist Charlotte Dujardin. Her ride on Valegro was the highlight of an incredible career for this pair, as the gelding is due to be retired in the near future. You can also read about the U.S. dressage team’s bronze-medal win—the first in 12 years.

Until next time,

Holy Horseflesh! Part 2

By Lindsay Paulsen, October 12, 2016

After all this talk of the Hanoverian Auctions in my last blog, now you’re probably wondering about the actual bidding! Let me begin by answering some auction FAQs:

 How many horses were for sale at the auction?

At this year’s 133rd Elite Auctions, there were 50 dressage horses presented, 37 show jumpers presented and 44 foals presented.

 Could you ride a horse before bidding on it?

Yes! If you were interested in test riding, you could arrange appointments to ride them during daily training between September 27 and October 7. The actual bidding took place October 8.

What about a prepurchase exam?

The horses are inspected in detail prior to the auction, which includes x-rays. Independent veterinarians also assess the x-rays and each horse comes with a written report. These documents are available to all prospective buyers, as well as their vets and trainers.

 What is the minimum amount that you can pay for an auction horse?

According to the Hanoverian Verband, the minimum auction sales price is 6,000 euros. Given the current exchange rate, that converts to about $6,617 U.S. dollars. Now, whether you can find a horse that sells at a price that low is another question.

 Are the horses insured?

Yes, when the bidding is concluded, all riding horses are insured by the same company. Insurance coverage is provided for eight weeks after the auction at the price of 1.25 percent of the horse’s sales price.

 Do you have to be a millionaire to buy an auction horse? 

Here’s the good news! No! Don’t get me wrong… there were some pretty expensive horses that sold, but not all of them were six-figure horses. We saw a few horses sell for 16,000 euros (or $17,646 U.S. dollars) and many others sold in the 30,000 euro-range. There were also plenty of horses that sold for over 60,000 euros and few that sold for over 100,000 euros. I was surprised by the wide range of prices.

 What were some of the most popular bloodlines?

To name a few in no particular order: Sandro Hit, Weltmeyer, Rotspon, Rubinstein I, Wolkenstein II, Londonderry, Vivaldi, Donnerhall, Florestan, Pik Bube, Furst Romancier, 

 How old are the auction horses?

There’s a range. There were some horses who were as old as seven or eight, but the bulk of them were three or four years old. And then of course there were the foals, who hadn’t even been weaned yet and were presented with their dams.

 Now that we've discussed the basics, on to the actual auction experience:

On the day of the actual auction, we arrived in the morning as the foals were presented with their dams. After we saw the foals, there was time for a lunch break and the auction ceremonies began at 3 p.m.

With quite a bit of pomp and circumstance, the auction officials entered the ring, with some on a horse-drawn carriage. All of the officials sat at a large booth at the equivalent of “C” in a dressage ring. The auctioneer stood in the middle of the booth, with agents sitting at tables on the side who were on the phone with international buyers. There were also several private agents in the stands who were on the phone with buyers who would watch the live stream of the auctions from home.

Each horse entered the ring one at a time and was ridden at the three basic gaits while the auctioneer took bids. If you were interested in bidding, you held up your yellow auction card up high. There were six women who stood along the quarterlines of the ring, with three on each side. They held up signs and pointed to people in the stands who raised their auction cards so that the auctioneer could identify bids more quickly. I thought this was a pretty clever and efficient arrangement.

Here's what an auction card looks like. Don't hold it up unless you want to buy a horse!

Each horse took less than three or four minutes to sell, and when someone won the bid on a horse, a few girls with a basket of beverages and a rose came and delivered the goodies to the winner. It was really fun seeing people sitting beside us in the stands gleefully receiving their drinks and roses. I was definitely living through them!

On a personal note, I decided that while I think the auctions can be a great resource for buying a very nice quality horse at a reasonable price, I don’t think this kind of buying situation is well suited to everyone. For a lower-level adult amateur like myself, I think it would be very difficult to confidently navigate this fast-paced situation without a really experienced professional at your side. Plus, with the added stress of bidding against other people and if you win the horse, then actually importing him to the U.S., it’s quite a lot to keep track of, from emotional and financial standpoints.

I also wonder how much of what you see is what you get when you purchase an auction horse. I’m sure that all situations vary depending on the horse, but surely some of the horses are going to behave differently in their new homes from how they were in the auctions. At the auctions, they are ridden by very experienced riders and they are presented in electric atmospheres, which really amps up their movement. They’ve also had a number of people trying them and sitting on them for several weeks, so I can imagine that tires them out a little bit. For a professional who is looking for some good raw material, I imagine none of this is that much of a problem. But for an adult amateur looking for a finished product, this is probably not the best route. However, finding the right partner at an auction obviously can be done and there are many people who successfully do it and end up with lovely partners. Personally, I think in 10 years I might be ready to purchase a young horse at the auctions in Germany, but for where I am now, shopping stateside with my trainer in close contact was ideal. 

Another thing that I think is worth mentioning is the fact that the riders who present the auction horses are truly very skilled riders. All of them sit so still and so quietly on these huge movers. I can only imagine the kind of core strength that requires. Many of the horses have a ridicules amount of power in their hind ends and the atmosphere with the audience can be quite electric, therefore magnifying their already intense power. Plus, the horses are young and sometimes very reactive. Bottom line: it’s impressive to watch their riders handle them with such stillness and composure.

So, I head home with a new goal: emulating the stillness and strength of those riders I saw at the auctions. And no, I will not be bringing any horses home with me. Although the temptation was very, very real.  

Bis später! See you later!

If you want to read some of my previous blogs, check them out here:

Blog 1: To Hell With Comfort Zones --> http://dressagetoday.com/blog/hell-comfort-zones-54076

Blog 2: Goodbye USA, Hello Germany! --> http://dressagetoday.com/blog/goodbye-usa-hello-germany-54142

Blog 3: Holy Horseflesh, Part I --> http://dressagetoday.com/blog/holy-horseflesh-54181


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