Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dressage on the Continent | 10/22/2011

Shawna Harding Competes in Europe

By Mary Jane Howell, Photography by Gary Knoll

Because Shawna Harding lived in Germany for 8 years in the 1990s, she is very familiar with the European dressage scene. She was able to put this knowledge to good use during her recent four-month trip to Europe.

Over the winter, Shawna was awarded the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize, which provides financial assistance for coaching and training to a qualified candidate. Using these funds, she packed up two horses, her own Come On III and Tonya Rowe's Rigo, assembled a mountain of gear, and flew out of Kennedy Airport on April 9.

"Carol Lavell and The Dressage Foundation made it possible for me to travel to Europe and get the exposure and experience I need to excel in this sport," explains Shawna. "I had qualified for the World Cup in Leipzig, Germany, with Come On III, so the time was right to make the trip."

Shawna chose to study with the Johann Hinnemann, a renowned trainer whose facility is in Voerde, a town located in the beautiful Niederrhein region of Germany.
"I arrived on a Saturday evening and was welcomed with open arms and we began training on Monday," says Shawna. "The experience at Johann's was very structured and intense. He really wants you to get it right and to get the most out of your horses. He is very good at correcting all the little details and mostly getting the optimal preparation before a movement and re-balancing and maintaining balance and rhythm while in the movement."
Less than two weeks after she arrived in Germany, Shawna and Come On III were competing at the World Cup Finals in Leipzig. Four World Cup Finals were held under one huge roof – driving, jumping, vaulting, and dressage. It was the first time that Shawna and Come On III had competed inside a large stadium, surrounded by all the noise and excitement that goes along with such a venue.

"One of the great experiences throughout my stay in Europe was being around those people I like to call my 'dressage heroes,'" says Shawna. "Incredible riders like Edward Gal and Isabell Werth were warming up right alongside me at the World Cup, and of course we were all stabled together."

"The electric atmosphere in the ring was a bit much for Come On III's walk. He bounced and jigged, which cost us a lot of points," Shawna continues. "I was so proud of him for trying to stay focused in that huge stadium with its crowds and noise."

Shawna finished 14th in the Grand Prix Freestyle, with 64 percent. After Leipzig, Shawna returned to Johann's for more training before a competition in Hagen called "Horses & Dreams" which ran from May 4 through 8. More than 150 Grand Prix horses were on the grounds.

"This was an amazing show – absolutely first-class all the way," says Shawna. "The weather was perfect and I got to see some of the best riding and training. It was interesting to me to see the German trainers and riders conversing with each other and helping each other. If a training issue comes up they will ask each other for suggestions – something you don’t see a lot of here."

Shawna had a bit of a break from competing, since the next show on her schedule – the CDI 5* World Dressage Masters – was a month away (June 2 – 5 in Munich). So, back to Voerde where there was more instruction from Johann.

Here's a taste of an average day at Johann's (from Shawna’s journal entries): "May 23 – It's a beautiful sunny day in Voerde. CO3 was good. We worked on some piaffe and passage, basic canter and flying changes. Rigo had a hack day and both got clipped and cleaned up and vaccinated."

Then it was on to Munich, Shawna's old stamping ground, where she met up with many of her old friends.

"The World Dressage Masters was a fantastic competition and the amount of people, horses and attractions at the event was amazing. It's a huge competition and many of the dressage horses couldn't cope with the atmosphere," Shawna says. "There were carriages with everything from draft horses to minis pulling them… and Arabian warriors galloping in huge groups next to the dressage warm up ring. Just getting to the warm up area was a challenge! Come On III thought it was great and loved everyone watching him."

Shawna finished 6th in the Grand Prix Special with 66 percent and 12th in the Grand Prix with 66.

"Come On III did very well for me at Munich – he looked great and I was pleased."

After Munich, Shawna and her horses headed to Milan, Italy, to visit with her great friend, the Irish Olympic rider Anna Merveldt.

Two weeks later, the gang was back in Germany preparing for their final show, the CDI 4* Fritzens in Austria (June 24 – 26).

The site of the show in Fritzens is a farm owned by Manfred Swarovski, called Schindlhof, and it is nestled in the Austrian Alps. Competitors and spectators alike take in stunning mountain views from every angle of the dressage arena.

Unfortunately, Shawna was very ill with what might have been food poisoning during the show, but rode nonetheless.

Rigo, whom Shawna calls her "little sausage" because at his most puffed-up he is 16.1, had a chance to compete and he placed on both days. Come On III made it into the top 15 for the Freestyle.

Shawna and "the boys" returned to Aiken on July 15. Now that she's back, Shawna says that some of her best memories of Europe include seeing the camaraderie of the riders, trainers and grooms.

"The dressage world is really like one big family in Germany. People talk, laugh, party together, and care about each other… of course it's all about the competition when they get in the ring. It was very refreshing to see people not being so cut-throat."

"The level of riding was so high and I was honored to have made it into every second round with Come On III," she continues. "People know who I am now, and it was important for me to be there and compete at those shows and at those levels. I can’t thank Carol Lavell enough for the grant money, but also my Aiken friends such as Charlie Herrick for the feed and Cary and Lisa Wallace from Custom Saddlery for their support with saddles and so much more. And of course my mom!"

The European trip cost Shawna a total of $85,000, so even with the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize, money from the USEF and travel money from the World Cup, there was still a lot she had to make up herself.

"I was definitely on a shoestring budget – staying with friends every chance I got and so on," Shawna says. "But if you want to compete at the highest level – and you have the horses to do it – then that's what you have to do. No matter what."

Shawna, Come On III and Rigo will soon be traveling to Gladstone, New Jersey, competing in the USEF Selection Trials for the 2011 Pan American Games.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quintynne Hill Farm | 10/29/2011

Aiken's Hidden Gem

Story and Photography By Gary Knoll
After you make the final climb up the hill on the Quintynne Hill Farm driveway, the first thing you might notice is how different the land looks on the other side. All along Coleman Bridge Road on your way to the farm outside of Aiken, you pass hundreds of acres of flat fields: horse farms, huge cotton fields and polo fields. Quintynne Hill Farm is not flat – it looks like Pennsylvania, with rolling hills, and meadows ringed by trees.

Toi Trent and her husband Sandy own Quintynne Hill Farm. Toi is from Aiken, but she and Sandy were away from the area for several years because Sandy's job with the DuPont company took them to New Jersey, where they lived near the Pennsylvania border. Toi had always loved horses. She had never really had the chance to be around them very much, but she was always thinking about them. While they were living in New Jersey, Sandy convinced her to take the opportunity to get involved with them. She started volunteering at the New Jersey Equestrian Center, cleaning stalls, feeding and caring for the horses that lived there, and eventually taking riding lessons. It wasn’t long before she realized she wanted to take up eventing. She got a part time job working for Johanna Glass at her farm in Pennsylvania, caring for horses and taking lessons there. Then she purchased her first horse, Royal Circus, from Denis Glaccum. She fell in love with the idea of becoming a horseman.

When Toi and Sandy returned to South Carolina in 1988, they knew they wanted to move back onto a farm.

“"We immediately started looking for a farm," says Toi. "We knew we wanted something that looked like Pennsylvania because we fell in love with the terrain there. Wherever we bought, we knew we wanted it to be hilly and full of trees. We found 50 acres of woods on Coleman Bridge Road that seemed perfect. We started clearing to build a house and a barn where we could take in boarders who could also enjoy our new space."

In 1992, Sandy and Toi moved onto the new farm and things started moving right along. Toi held her first combined training show in 1993. The show was recognized by the South Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (SCDCTA), a local organization with close to 200 members whose main objective is to promote dressage and combined training in South Carolina.

"When I first started having shows here, we would have as many as 40 or so riders," she says. "People would come to our schooling shows to practice for the bigger, more formal shows. There were not that many other shows in the Aiken area back then, and there was a real need for a place to go and practice all the things you would need to know to compete in either dressage shows or three day events."

As the years passed, the shows started attracting more and more riders. "In the late 1990s it was not uncommon to have as many as 100 riders participating in one of our schooling shows," she says. "When we started having shows here it seemed like most riders were using our show as a chance to get ready for a bigger recognized show. I’m not sure when it changed, but now it seems like a larger number of riders are here competing because it's so much less pressure than a big recognized show, and they are happy competing in just the schooling shows."

In her own riding career, Toi decided that she would rather concentrate more on dressage and less on combined training. In 1996, she took her first dressage clinic with Charles de Kunffy, a famous clinician, instructor and judge.

"Charles is a extremely articulate instructor; he is a true educator," says Toi. "His clinic taught me how to train my horses using a systematic program, and how to listen to and learn from my horses. Horses can teach us lessons in the virtues we need in our daily lives − responsibility, self awareness, trust, self control and patience."

In 1998, Toi completed a dressage instructor program taught by de Kunffy and started implementing his principles in her own teaching style. Today she has about 10 students working with her, and enjoys helping them to become well-rounded horsemen as well as better riders. She also has several of her own horses in training and is competing regularly up and down the East Coast. In 2006, she was working with JJ Tate, a trainer from Maryland, and competed one of her horses, Wjedro, at the Prix St. Georges level. "We accumulated enough points to win the USDF Silver Medal," says Toi. "And I also rode another horse, Jordan to a Bronze Medal."

"I’m working very hard to be prepared for the USDF Regionals in Lexington, Virginia," she says. "I’ve already qualified and hope to do well."

In addition to running schooling events at her farm, Toi has remained active in the promotion of her sport, and currently serves as the president of the SCDCTA.

"I love being a part of the SCDCTA," she says. "I believe in our goal of making quality competitions available to everyone who is interested. I encourage everyone who has ever thought about competing at a dressage show or a combined training show to come and join our association or participate in one of our schooling shows. I’m sure you will enjoy it."


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.



Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bugged by Bugs | Ask The Judge

Questions About Dressage


With Amy McElroy


Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.


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Dear Amy,

I am new to the Aiken area and hope to be showing late this summer and this fall. I have a problem: My mare is very reactive to bugs on her head. We are not used to the gnats that you have here! When I school my horse, she wears a fly hood with ear keepers and this solves my problem. I was wondering if fly hoods are legal at recognized shows? I have seen horses in magazines wearing fly hoods. My friend says I should just ask the judge before I go in for my ride. Could you please clarify?

- Bugged by Bugs

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Dear Bugged,

Welcome to Aiken. I am delighted that you will be competing in this area. The gnats can be a bit bothersome this time of year, so I do understand your dilemma.

First, let's look at the USEF rulebook for both the dressage and the eventing divisions.

The 2011 USEF Dressage Rule DR121, Saddlery and Equipment, contains two relevant sections.

DR121.7: Fly hoods (ear covers) will only be permitted in order to protect horses from insects. The fly hoods should be discreet and should not cover the horse’s eyes and will only be permitted in extreme cases at the discretion of the presiding judge(s). Permission must be granted prior to the class, and applies to all competitors in the class.

DR121.8: Fly hoods (ear covers) that do not cover the horse’s eyes are permitted in warm-up and other training areas.

The 2011 USEF Eventing Rule EV115, Saddlery, also has two sections that pertain to fly hoods.

EV115.1: Exercise Areas. The following restrictions begin @ 3 PM of the day prior to the start of the entire competition: . . . Fly shields and nose covers are permitted.

EV115.2e: Dressage Tests. Any form of blinkers, including earplugs, hoods, fly shields, nose covers, are under penalty of elimination, strictly forbidden. However, under exceptional circumstances, fly shields may be permitted by the ground jury. 

So according to the rules in both dressage and eventing, it is possible to ride with a fly shield under certain circumstances, if you have been granted permission. I would recommend checking with the show management or the technical delegate the day you arrive at the show, before the competition.

If you have been granted permission to use a fly hood on your horse, make sure your judge knows this before you go in to ride your test. You can talk to the technical delegate or show management about how to confirm with the judge. If the judge does not know that you have permission to use a fly hood, and you use one, you might be eliminated.  Just because you see other riders competing in fly hoods, do not assume that they are legal at that show, even if the riders using them are professionals. For all you know, the other competitors using fly hoods may be being eliminated!

It is definitely not advisable to wait to ask for permission to use a hood as you go around the apron of the arena awaiting the signal to enter for your test. Having this discussion when you are just about to show takes time and could throw off the schedule, especially if you have to dismount and remove a fly hood. This is not fair to the show management or the other competitors.

 If you do use a fly hood, I recommend that it be tasteful, conservative and neat. If you are wearing one in the warm up, where it is always legal, but not in the test itself, do leave ample time to remove it. You do not want to have a late entry, which is another possible reason for elimination.

I think that many shows are willing to accommodate fly hoods. Judging around Aiken and neighboring areas, I have seen permission granted to use these hoods in the dressage phase of several events. So far, however, I have never seen a fly hood at a dressage show. In fact, the first time I ever saw a fly hood at a dressage show, it was in a recent photo of the professional, Gunter Seidel, competing in an FEI class in Austria. His fly hood was well-fitted and color-coordinated to his attire. 

Here's wishing you much success. Remember, fly and gnat season will be gone sooner than you think.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.




Friday, September 23, 2011

The Story of Snowman

An Unlikely Champion 

By Pam Gleason

The Eighty Dollar Champion
Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation
By Elizabeth Letts. Ballantine Books, New York, 2011.
Hardcover, 336 pages with illustrations. $26.00

Snowman the eight dollar champion In February 1956, a young Dutch immigrant named Harry de Leyer went to the horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania. He wanted to buy a school horse for a lesson program that he ran at the Knox School, an academy for young ladies on Long Island. He had car trouble, however, and it took him all day to get to the auction yard. By the time he arrived, the auction was over and the only horses left had already been loaded onto a slat-sided truck bound for the slaughterhouse. Harry didn’t want to go home empty handed. He asked to look inside the truck, which held about a dozen horses. There he spotted a calm grey plow horse, probably a former Amish workhorse. Harry liked something about the gelding, and so he bought him for $80, which was $20 above the price that a horse normally would bring at the rendering plant.

When the horse arrived at Hollandia, Harry’s small farm in New York, his children instantly named him Snowman and he became a family favorite. He was quiet and gentle with children, an honest "best friend" kind of horse. Harry figured that he was about 7 or 8 years old, and that, although he was accustomed to pulling a plow and had the harness marks to prove it, he had never carried a rider before. Harry taught him to go under saddle, and he soon had a place as a steady beginner horse at the Knox School. Snowman was so calm, pleasant and easy, that after the school year was over, Harry sold him for $160 to a local doctor who was looking for a horse to take care of his 12-year-old daughter. Harry had made a profit, the gentle plow horse rescued from the killers had a loving home, and that might have been the end of the story.

But it wasn't. A few days after Snowman went to live with the doctor, Harry got a call that the horse had jumped out of his pasture and was disturbing the neighbor's property. Harry didn't believe it: Snowman was no jumper. Surely the doctor had left a gate unlatched. The horse was captured and returned. A few days after that, Snowman showed up at Hollandia Farms. He had jumped out of his pasture again and run home. Harry took him back to the doctor, but Snowman would not be deterred. He continued to jump out and gallop back to Hollandia, even after Harry suggested that he be turned out with a tire tied to his halter. Clearly the horse had an opinion, and his opinion was that he should stay with Harry. Harry had no choice. He took him back.


Snowman had demonstrated that he could jump, and so Harry decided he would turn him into a jumper. After all, he had always had dreams of riding competitively. Unlikely as it seemed, here was a horse that might make these dreams come true.

It did not start out well. The horse that had cleared his 5-foot paddock fence even while dragging a heavy tire was different under saddle. He stumbled over rails on the ground and scattered the cavaletti like pick-up sticks. He was heavy and clumsy and didn’t bother to lift his feet. But then one day Harry was riding him in a ring where the jumps were set to 4 feet. On a lark, he pointed Snowman at the higher fences, and the horse sailed over cleanly – once the fences commanded respect, Snowman would jump them.

And that was the beginning of Snowman's story. A little over two years after he was saved from the slaughterhouse van, Snowman, with Harry astride him, won the jumper championship at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and became the American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year. His jumping career lasted five years, during which time he won many top competitions and prestigious titles. His story captured popular attention, and he became a national sensation, appearing on the Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett shows, and even doing an episode of To Tell the Truth. He was the subject of two children's books (The Cinderella Horse, by Tony Palazzo,1962; and Snowman, Rutherford Montgomery, 1967) and he was inducted into the National Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992. There is even a Breyer model of him.

The Eighty Dollar Champion; Snowman the Horse that Inspired a Nation, written by Elizabeth Letts, is the story of Snowman and Harry de Leyer, as well as a portrait of American society at the close of the 1950s. Ms. Letts conducted extensive research on the history of horses during this period, as well as on the social atmosphere surrounding horses and horse shows. What emerges is the story of an era as much as the story of a horse. It was a time when horseback riding was growing as a sport, but when horses themselves were suffering as a result of increased mechanization. They were no longer needed on farms; the army remount program, which had promoted horse breeding, was closed down in 1948, and the equine population was in sharp decline. As Ms. Letts points out early in the book, in 1950, there were around six million horses in the U.S. In 1960, there were only half as many. Snowman himself was one of a disappearing breed of light workhorse, the kind of horse that was easily replaced by a tractor.

Elizabeth Letts, who has also written two novels and an award winning children's book, rode and competed extensively in eventing through her teenage years. As an adult, her career in the field of obstetrics took her away from horses, but she has always kept them close to her heart.

"I had always wanted to write a really great horse story, but I hadn't found the right one," she says. "I found this story by accident. I was surfing the Internet, just looking at horse pictures, and I came across a picture of a horse jumping over another horse. I saw it and it stopped me in my tracks because I had never seen that particular stunt done. I grew up in California where were trick riders and people who did stunts for the movies, but that was new to me. The thing that really interested me, though, was the expression on the horse’s face. He looked so honest and he looked happy. I thought to myself, 'what's the story here?"

Elizabeth did some research, finding out not just that the horse was the famous Snowman, but that his owner and trainer, Harry de Leyer, was very much alive and that his Virginia farm was not more than three hours from her home. Harry, who is 83, is still riding and teaching, despite a bad fall he had while unloading hay in his barn in 2005. He was delighted to tell her whatever she wanted to know about Snowman and to provide her with the materials she needed.

"The horse is very close to me," says Harry, who still speaks with a heavy Dutch accent. "The best thing about him was that he was so quiet and so consistent. My kids loved him – they could ride him together, they could take him swimming. I could give a lesson on him at the Knox School, even after he was a champion. He could go in the leadline class and win the jumpers on the same day. When I would take him from the ring, all the little kids would come around him, and he would nuzzle them, and sometimes they would pull a little hair from his tail as a souvenir. All the people loved him."


Harry's story is just as remarkable as Snowman's. He left war-ravaged Holland in 1950, arriving in the U.S. with his wife Johanna, no money and no connections in the horse world. He was 21 and used to farm work, so he got a job working on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. The farm was still using horses in the fields, and Harry, who had been a competitive rider in his native country, taught one of the horses to carry a rider and to jump. He even took that plow horse to a local show where he won the jumper class and a $10 prize. Over the years, he worked his way from doing manual labor to his position at the Knox School, where he began training horses that would eventually make him famous, including not just Snowman, but Sinjon, who became one of the top horses on the United States Equestrian Team under George Morris during the 1960s. Harry went on to develop many other great horses, and in 1983 represented the U.S. at the World Cup Finals in Sweden riding Dutch Crown, a horse he had bred, foaled and trained himself. ("It was the biggest thrill I ever got," he says.)

"What really struck me when I was writing the book was that Harry and Snowman had led somewhat parallel lives leading up to the moment that they found each other," says Elizabeth. "It’s easy to lose sight of it looking back, but at the time that Harry found Snowman, he was an unlikely candidate to be winning the national jumping title. When he came to the United States eight years earlier, he had a wooden crate with all his belongings in it and $160. He didn’t think he would make a living as a horseman; he didn’t know anyone and no one knew him."

"Harry also had very low expectations for the horse, but there was a chemistry between them. I don't know whether Snowman knew he was on the way to the slaughterhouse, I'm not going to go that far, but I think he certainly knew that he was being treated well by his new owner and he appreciated it."hey found each other," says Elizabeth. "It’s easy to lose sight of it looking back, but at the time that Harry found Snowman, he was an unlikely candidate to be winning the national jumping title. When he came to the United States eight years earlier, he had a wooden crate with all his belongings in it and $160. He didn't think he would make a living as a horseman; he didn’t know anyone and no one knew him."

The social history in the book helps put the Snowman story into context, taking the reader back to a time when George Morris, the current chef d'equipe of the U.S. showjumping team, was just a "kid" and Frank Chapot, the former chef, was getting his professional start. More than that, it discusses how the horse world fit into broader society.

"The more research that I did, the more I realized how iconic the image of the horse was at that time," says Elizabeth. "If you look through Life magazine from that era, every single person, politician, movie star and so on, was being photographed with horses. Horseback riding was expanding, but horses themselves were disappearing. Snowman caught peoples' imaginations – to understand why he was so fascinating, why they wanted him to go him on the Johnny Carson Show, you need to understand the social background."

The book was released on Tuesday, August 23, and its first printing was sold out by Thursday. There is no official word yet on whether The Eighty Dollar Champion will become a movie, but Elizabeth says that this is "not unlikely." 

 "The response has been beyond my wildest dreams," she says. "One thing that I am really happy is about is the reception it has gotten in the horse community. Horse people are very picky. They don’t want to read something that sounds like the person doesn’t know what they're talking about, and so far, the feedback from the horse community has been very good. Of course, the book is written for a more general audience; the response from them has been very good also."

Although the book is the story of Snowman and Harry, it also carries an implicit message about unwanted or discarded horses, as well as about people who may not appear destined for success. 

 "One thing that I am hoping will come out of the book is that the publicity surrounding it will help shine a light on the problems of unwanted horses in this country," says Elizabeth. "The 1950s were a bad time for horses, and in a way the economic situation is creating a similar problem for horses now – we have a much bigger surplus of horses now than we had 10 years ago.

" Elizabeth is currently developing a project in which people who have rescue horses can share their stories of success. The idea is to inspire people to give horses a second chance, and the theme is "don’t let the next $80 champion pass you by."

Harry de Leyer also believes that the story of Snowman carries some lessons. "First, be fair, and don’t be so tough on your horse," he says. "You can get more done with carrots and petting them than with being so tough. Snowman went in a rubber D-bit, and I school all the horses in a rubber D-bit. I am lucky with horses, but this is part of my luck – to be nice to horses and nice to people." 

 "Then also, don’t give up too quick on yourself," he continues. "There is always a chance to get there, so give yourself a chance. Give every horse a chance." 

 A portion of the proceeds from The Eighty Dollar Champion will go to 4-H Therapeutic Riding of Carroll County, Md. To read more about the book go to www.elizabethletts.com or "like" the Facebook page: Facebook/eightydollarchampion.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Dismount To Improve Your Ride | 8/15/11


 Exercise and Equitation 

By Lauren Allen, Photography by Gary Knoll 


We all love riding our horses, but sometimes life's complications make that impossible. Work overwhelms, injuries sideline, daylight disappears. While there is no replacement for time in the saddle, there are some extremely effective ways to improve your riding without going anywhere near a horse. Whether you are forced to take time off or just looking for a way to maximize your riding ability, many other activities pay big dividends for your health, and your horse will notice the difference.

There are several aspects of riding that you may choose to address. Do you fatigue before your horse does, causing your ride to deteriorate as it progresses? Do you struggle to control your horse, perhaps finding that you have to use a stronger bit to keep him from pulling you right over his neck? Do you run out of oxygen while riding a hunter course? All of these symptoms indicate a lack of core strength and physical fitness. Riding is a sport, and cross training can be an effective way to optimize your time on the horse.

Many top riders are also runners because running is an excellent way to increase cardiovascular power. Your lungs must be able to keep your body oxygenated so that your brain can continue to process what you are doing and stay ahead of the game. A breathing problem isn't always a result of poor conditioning, though. Some riders fail to get adequate oxygen because they are actually holding their breath – a common response to tension or anxiety. It is important to diagnose the source of the problem correctly, because no amount of cardiovascular conditioning will allow you to hold your breath for the duration of your ride! If you are a tense or fearful rider, there are other ways to address this issue.

A number of riders turn to yoga to help them gain strength and flexibility, and also because it quiets the mind and attunes practitioners to their inner thoughts and feelings. Shelley Onderdonk is a rider, an equine veterinarian, and a yoga instructor based in Aiken.

"A rider needs to maintain and increase strength, flexibility, endurance, coordination and balance," she says. "Keeping fit is very important. Cross training is a good way to prevent repetitive motion injuries and provides a more holistic approach to body fitness, which allows a rider to concentrate on their own body, rather than having to incorporate the added dimension of the horse's body, too."

Dr. Onderdonk adds that yoga offers much more than just the physical benefits of additional exercise. "Yoga develops awareness of the subtle body. For example, the bandhas are areas where muscular holds, or mild contractions, allow a focus of energy. The mula bandha, at the root of the spine, is very important in riding as it is the center of contact between the rider and the horse. The uddiyana bandha, located just below the navel, represents the core power. Lifting actions through both of these areas are intimately involved in a light and responsive seat."

Dr. Onderdonk talks about the connection of the limbs to the spine and the breath as a bridge between the mind and the body. She explains that there are mental benefits to learning to face the challenges of difficult yoga exercises with composure, and the positive relaxation of dealing with the present, "not the past, not the future, not the if." "Because riding is a partnership between two beings, their relationship is very important. By its very nature, yoga supports attunement with the self but also with others. A more nuanced sense of receptivity is fostered by a regular yoga practice. As one of my teachers told me once, people miss more by not seeing, than by not knowing. As any good rider knows, a sensitive attachment between horse and rider is key to success."

Some riding problems are so subtle or insidious that students don't even realize that the problem is actually theirs and not the horse’s. For example, a rider may have difficulty getting her horse to pick up a particular lead. The rider becomes frustrated that the horse is a slow learner, only to discover that when she rides another 'better trained' horse, it also won't canter off on the correct lead. In cases like this, the rider must be the source of the problem. There are many small position errors that create confusion for the horse. No human or horse is completely symmetrical, so part of improving as a rider is becoming aware of and correcting imbalances.

Pilates is another effective way to address these riding problems, while simultaneously increasing core strength and fitness. Mary Watson, of Lugoff, S.C., has taught exercise for 26 years, and is certified by STOTT Pilates as well as the American Council on Exercise, the Pink Ribbon Program, and she is in the process of completing certification to become a postural analyst with Kinesis, Inc.

"The guiding philosophy behind Pilates is to obtain optimal musculoskeletal performance (strength, flexibility and endurance) with a focus on core strength," explains Mary. "This includes shoulder and pelvis stabilization, neutral alignment and breathing, resulting in a balanced and aligned body that moves with ease." Mary has a keen understanding of riding and riders' needs since she is a lifelong rider herself. "I started riding when I was three. My sister would take me into the woods where no one could see and make me ride her pony… I would be wearing a dress and penny loafers!"

Mary rode with the Camden Hunt and also worked for the legendary Camden horseman Max Bonham. "About 25 percent of my clients are riders, and Pilates has helped them to become aware of their postural issues, which they tend to have off of the horse as well as on the horse. Some of these include rounded shoulders, a forward head posture and rotations through the upper body and lower body. Usually if there is one rotation there is another trying to counterbalance it."

Nicole Swinehart has been a client of Mary Watson's for four years. "As a mother and an equine veterinarian, every minute I get is precious. Riding has always been my favorite sporting activity, but as I’ve gotten older I've found that my back is not as flexible or as strong as I would like. Pilates has really helped me strengthen my core and regain some of my flexibility and balance, which has helped me a lot as a rider. And as the owner of an off-the-track Thoroughbred who didn't see any reason for cantering on the right lead, the core strength and improved body consciousness has been an enormous help in retraining him."

With so many possibilities for increased fitness, knowledge and self control, there is no excuse to wait any longer to become the rider you dream of being. Perhaps it is time to try out another sport or experiment with a new form of exercise. There are plenty of ways to complement your time in the saddle, so start today: dismount to improve your ride.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Aiken’s Boutiques | 7/11/11

Eclectic and Unique 

By Pam Gleason

"There’s something for everyone in Aiken," says Carla Cloud, who is the executive director of the Aiken Downtown Development Association (ADDA). "That’s the theme of our current marketing effort. We have antiques, art, shopping, dining, spas, whatever you might want."

The ADDA is devoted to ensuring the health of Aiken’s downtown shopping area. "We try to be a resource for businesses and to help the community understand how important individually owned shops are," continues Carla. "Economically, it is much more of a boost when you shop in locally owned stores – so much more of the money stays in the community."
Efforts to keep Aiken's downtown vibrant started back in the 1980s, when malls were being constructed on America's highways and many small cities and towns across the country were seeing businesses wither and die on their main streets.

"There was a group of business people headed up by John Cunningham who were very savvy and knew what they needed to do to save downtown," continues Carla. "They did a remarkable job. I get lots of compliments all the time. People will say to me 'Oh you’re doing a great job!' I have to say 'Honey, all this was done way before me. We’re just carrying on what they did.'"
Aiken's downtown is just a few blocks long, but it has a wide and varied collection of shops that give every indication of thriving, even in the current economy. Aiken is often said to have a small town atmosphere combined with big city sophistication. This character is reflected in boutiques that offer surprisingly cosmopolitan items – the kinds of things you might expect to buy in New York City, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, or even London – not what you would anticipate finding in a small southern city.

And yet, with all this sophistication, the majority of the shops are intimate. You are likely to find their owners at the cash register, and for many, the store is clearly both a labor of love and a deeply personal expression. Aiken’s boutiques tend to reflect their owners' personalities, and are often stocked with items that the owner would buy, use or wear.

One new business that exemplifies this aspect of Aiken’s shops is Aiken Dry Goods, which opened at the end of March on Laurens Street next to the Hotel Aiken. Aiken Dry Goods is a joint venture between Jami Chandler, who recently moved to Aiken from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and her partner Matthew Fonseca, a 3-goal professional polo player who lives and plays in Aiken. The back wall and the back room of the shop are devoted to polo gear – bridles from Argentina, Tato’s Mallets and Casablanca saddles, polo boots, whites and gloves. You can even buy authentic Aiken Polo Club polo shirts. The front of the store is dedicated to fashion, jewelry, soaps and décor items.

"We have clothing by Free People – that's very popular and hard to find around here," says Jami, "And t-shirts from Dang Chicks. We're also getting in some Argentine-style rawhide belts soon." There are various hats, riding clothes by Goode Rider and Gersemi ("the equestrian brand that has a passion for style," according to their website), summer dresses by Judith March and rings and bracelets crafted from antique silverware.

The store is decorated with antiques, "found" items and things that have been repurposed. For instance, there is a large map of the United States hanging behind the cash register that is made entirely of used automobile license plates from all 50 states. Other walls display antique farm tools, a rusty weathervane, an ancient American flag. The feel is part Americana, part Bohemian, part modern and trendy. One overriding theme is a love for horses and dogs. Jami's dogs are generally with her in the store. You can donate to Aiken’s Friends of the Animal Shelter at the cash register, or buy t-shirts made by the dog-friendly designer Barkology that proclaim "Sleeps with Dogs."
Jami admits that the items in her store are pretty much selected because they are things that she likes and would wear or decorate her house with. "New Free People arrival . . ." she writes on the Aiken Dry Goods Facebook page, "Please come shopping before I buy it all for myself."

A little further down the block is Equine Divine. This shop also has an equestrian theme, but a very different personality. Equine Divine is part art gallery, part jewelry store, part upscale clothing store. It also has some unique items for the home – silver trays and plates embossed with horse heads, pottery, sterling silver swizzle sticks shaped like polo mallets. If you are looking for horse or hunting books with an Aiken connection, this is a good place to start. You can find Memoirs of a Longshot, written by Cot Campbell, an Aiken resident who is the president of Dogwood Stables and the pioneer of racehorse partnerships. Other books include Hunting Sketches by Charles Matheson (who comes to Aiken for Hunt Week many Februaries) and Alex Brown's Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy (Brown was in Aiken for a book signing this winter.) Or perhaps you need some notecards: The collection that features photographs of Aiken in the 1920s and 1930s, taken by Freudy, the foremost equine photographer of his day, are not to be missed. (They are, in fact, so beautiful and interesting, they may best be destined for framing, rather than for mailing away.)  

The overall feeling of Equine Divine is of a kind of elegance that comes from being surrounded by beautiful things. This atmosphere emanates from the artwork that hangs on the exposed brick walls. 
"I have fabulous artists, primarily from the Southeast," says Taryn Hartnett, the owner of the store. "But I also have Melinda Brewer, who is probably the leading polo artist in the country. I’m fortunate to be able to represent her." Although Melinda lives in Canada, she comes through Aiken on a regular basis, generally when she is on her way to Palm Beach, where she creates polo pony portraits for the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame. 

Other artists include Lynn Carlisle, an Aiken resident who is well known for her paintings of horses and of dogs. One wall is devoted to Susan Easton Burns, an abstract painter from Atlanta.

"Susan doesn’t paint with a traditional brush," says Taryn. "She uses knives, hay, even shavings. This gives her work an interesting texture."

At the back of Equine Divine, shoppers can find a selection of upscale women's clothing from designers often found in Palm Beach. "I’ve always worn J. McLaughlin clothes and I think it’s a great line," says Taryn. "I asked them if they’d be willing to work with me, and they were. We also have Jack Rogers shoes. I wear them myself, and you couldn’t find them anywhere in the area. I wanted to make the fashion part of the store things you couldn't get in Aiken, and it’s been very been successful."

Other notable items include Jack Van Dell jewelry, which features rings, earrings, pendants and bracelets with an equestrian theme. These pieces are fine art in themselves – white gold horse head earrings with diamond studded rings in their mouths, a gold and diamond pendant shaped like a riding boot. Equine Divine is the only place outside of Florida that carries Jack Van Dell’s work. For those who are looking for something a little easier on the pocketbook, there are rings and pendants made by Beverly Zimmer, an Aiken resident, jewelry designer and sculptor. There are as necklaces of antique silver crafted by Heather Crespo, a jumper rider who is married to Gabriel Crespo, a 3-goal professional player based in Aiken.

At the end of this same block of Laurens Street is Lionel Smith Ltd., a men's specialty shop that has been in the Smith family for over 40 years. Started by Lionel Smith, the business is now owned by his son, Van Smith, who can usually be found in the store. The store’s motto says it is "Limited to only the finest in men's fashions." It has hats, shirts, shoes, suits and formal wear. It is also the place where you can buy your official Aiken Hounds hunt tie (if you happen to go out with that hunt in the Hitchcock Woods) and has the distinction of sharing its logo with Aiken Polo Club. That logo is derived from a sketch by Paul Brown, a famous polo artist from before World War II. Van Smith explains that the sketch is of William (Billy) Post, who played polo in Aiken. (His father was Fred Post, who moved his polo pony training operation to Aiken in 1912 and built the Aiken Training Track in 1941.)

"One day in the 1970s, William Post's widow came into the store, and she had a card with the sketch on it," says Van. "My father thought it would make a good logo, and he asked her if he could use it." Aiken Polo Club adopted the same sketch, and these two entities are the only ones given permission to reproduce it.

According to Van, business at Lionel Smith has been quite good lately.

"We've been selling a lot. I think people are tired of the economy, and they're tired of not spending. I think they’ve decided to go shopping to make themselves feel better." The equestrian community often gives the store business, since traveling riders might be in town for a horse event, and then find that they need formal wear that they did not bring with them. "We sold some tuxedos that we didn’t expect to sell for the formal dinner at the Steeplechase. We're selling a lot of bow ties to the younger people."

One of the most popular bow ties for horse people was made especially for Lionel Smith – it is blue and embroidered with the distinctive polo logo. "If I find a necktie or a bow tie with horses on it, I buy as many as I can," says Van. "I can’t keep them in the store."  

Other items that horse people might appreciate include leather belts that are fastened with a folding hoof pick. It's a small hoof pick, but an authentic one, and you could use it if you had to.


"They tell me they only sell these belts in two places: here and in Middleburg, Virginia," says Van. "Other places, people wouldn’t know what they were and wouldn’t appreciate them." 

On this same block, shoppers can visit Vinya, which stocks fashionable women's dresses, blouses and slacks from such designers as Ecru, Tribal and French Connection. If a customer loves the clothes but they don’t quite fit, Vinya provides a seamstress to take up hems and tuck in waists. There are chic designs and fashions that are hard to find outside of a big city.


Next door, Folly is also a recent addition to the block. Opened last September, Folly is filled with fine linens, tableware, clothing, unique necklaces, belts and bracelets. Hats are a Folly specialty – they had quite a good selection provided by the Madder Hatters this spring. It was perfect timing for anyone who wanted to compete in the hat contests (or just look the part) at the Aiken Trials and the Aiken Steeplechase. Folly even sold a straw hat to the event rider Boyd Martin, who wore it to the formal jog at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in April. 

Of course, Aiken's boutiques aren't limited to art and fashion. Those who love to cook must visit Plum Pudding, which has the best kitchen items anywhere. Those who are interested in wildlife should check out Birds and Butterflies, where they will find an excellent selection of bird feeders, including some lovely and artistic hummingbird feeders. And if you adore Great Britain, The Curiosity Shop on the corner of Newberry Street and Richland Avenue is the place for you. This store, opened in 1998, is devoted to anything that comes from the British Isles. There are imported hats and caps, t-shirts, tartan plaid scarves and Beatles memorabilia. You can buy items featuring Celtic designs, and books from and about England, Ireland and Scotland. Have a favorite (English) football team? Buy a mug with its insignia. Always admired those English walking sticks that fold out to make a stool? You can buy one here.

Another Curiosity Shop specialty is the grocery store. Brits who are homesick for their favorite candies and cakes can find them on the shelves. They can also find genuine British tea – the stuff sold in our grocery stores is generally weak, according to many British visitors. The teas at the Curiosity Shop are imported from England and are available bagged or in bulk. And the Curiosity Shop is probably the only place in the area where you can buy beef bangers (Scottish style sausages) and even the Scottish national dish, haggis. Haggis is not for the faint of heart. Traditionally, it is made of a sheep's heart, liver and lungs, mixed with oatmeal, suet and onions and boiled for several hours in the sheep's stomach. The haggis you can buy at the Curiosity Shop comes frozen. It may not appeal to the casual or uncommitted Anglophile, but if you are a Scottish expatriate, it might make you feel right at home.

And so there you have it. From art and clothing to tablecloths, tea, and even haggis, Aiken has something for everyone. There are imported items and things made in the U.S.A., quirky local specialties and top quality items with international appeal, all in just a few charming blocks. Makes you want to go shopping.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Ready (or not?) | Ask The Judge | 7/4/11

Questions about Dressage 

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Amy,

 I have been riding in schooling dressage shows and have been successful, so now I feel ready to enter a recognized show. Since there are several right in Aiken, I was going to give it a try. I do have a few questions that I cannot seem to get the answers to. First, can I enter a recognized show if my horse is not registered with the United States Dressage Federation and the United States Equestrian Federation? I heard I could go in the Introductory classes. Are there others? Second, I don’t know how to braid. I heard that I don’t need to. Is that true?
                                   
                                                                                                          -Ready (or not?)

________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Ready,

It's great that you feel accomplished enough to graduate from dressage schooling shows to recognized dressage shows. Aiken is a convenient place to do this since there will be five recognized dressage shows here in 2011.

There are several classes you can enter at a recognized show even if you or your horse are not yet registered with the USDF or USEF. For instance, you can indeed enter any of the Introductory classes. These are considered "starter" tests. Although you can win ribbons in these classes and they will provide valuable show ring experience, you cannot earn points to qualify for year end awards from the national dressage associations. Introductory classes are designed for horses and/or riders that do not feel ready for the difficulty of Training level, as well as for horses that are not yet registered. The classes are open to all riders – juniors, amateurs and professionals alike.

As of 2011, there are three Introductory level tests. Tests A and B have only walk and trot work, while Introductory C (new this year) has some brief canter work. The judge will score your test the same way as he or she scores the standard dressage tests at the show, except in the collective marks. The final collective mark (Harmony) is replaced in these tests by Geometry and Accuracy. The movements are scored on the same scale as those in rated tests. Because of this, Introductory classes are a great way to be assessed and critiqued by a nationally rated (or even internationally rated) judge. They are also a good place to practice riding under USEF rules.


Many shows also offer Opportunity classes in Training and First level – show management is allowed to offer two Opportunity classes per level per day. At higher rated shows, there may even be an Opportunity class at Second level. For instance, you may find that a show has a class called "Training One Opportunity." An Opportunity class is open to horses and/or riders that are not registered with the USDF or the USEF. Again, these classes follow USEF rules and are judged on the same scale as rated classes, although you cannot earn points for year end awards. Opportunity classes are open to any rider and any horse.
It is also possible to enter the regular rated classes if you are not yet a member of the USDF and the USEF. However, you must pay a one-time USEF and a USDF non-member fee, if you are not a member of both organizations. The horse would also have to have a Horse Identification (HID) number. You can get this online for a fee. These fees can really add up, which is one of the reasons why the USDF created the Introductory and Opportunity classes: they give people experience in a rated show atmosphere before they make the commitment of lifetime registrations.
To answer your second question, braiding is not required, so the condition of your horse’s mane should not affect your scores. (According to rule DR121.7 "Braiding of the horse's mane and tail is permitted.") However, I strongly recommend braiding your horse. Most judges like to see horses presented traditionally, and almost all competitors will have their horses braided at a recognized dressage show. If you do not braid your horse, you may feel out of place. A braided mane also makes it easier for the judge to see your horse’s frame and outline and how correct his muscle development is.
If you do not know how to braid, you should not have any trouble finding someone to help you. Almost all recognized shows have at least one professional braider available who can make your horse look show-ready for a small fee. I would suggest that you check the show program, because there is often a braider listed, and sign up early for this service. 
 So, as you can see there should be plenty of classes to choose from at a recognized dressage show, even if you and your horse are not yet registered and you haven’t mastered neat and tidy braiding. I hope this information helps you and that you will take advantage of the recognized shows here in your own backyard. Good luck!


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.



Monday, June 27, 2011

The Rescuers | 6/27/11

Saving Horses in Need 

By Pam Gleason, Photography by Gary Knoll


 Horse rescue in America is nothing new. Various groups have been involved in animal rescue for about 150 years. The first humane organization in the United States was the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1866. The earliest humane groups often had horses as a primary focus. At that time, horses were used to pull carts, carriages, cabs and milk trucks – abuse was probably inevitable. Horses that worked for a living were often treated as machines. Many people may have read Black Beauty as a child, and remember it as a romantic story about a beautiful horse. But that book, published in 1877, was not written for children. Its author, Anna Sewell, wrote it "to induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses." The book became known as the "Uncle Tom's Cabin of the horse" and is credited with helping to spread awareness of animal abuse throughout England and North America.

 Although it has been a long time since horses were considered primarily as workers to plow fields or to transport us in style, horses today occupy an uncertain position in our society. Are they pets, or are they livestock? Are they companion animals or are they commodities? Most horse people want to have it both ways. They love their horses as if they were pets, but they still might sell them if the price was right. (Would you sell your cat or dog?) For some people, horses are big business and they cost a lot of money. For these people, the horse's feelings are not important; what is important is making the right business decision. Horse rescuers come down squarely on the other end of the spectrum. To them, all horses have an equal right to good care and happiness.

Today, the horse rescue movement has many components. There are horse rescues whose mission is to take horses from situations where they are not wanted, rehabilitate them if necessary, and then place them somewhere that they are wanted. There are animal sanctuaries, whose mission is to provide a "forever home" to horses that might not be adoptable. There are rescue networks that spread the word about horses that are in danger of being shipped to slaughter. There are educational organizations whose goal is to educate the public about responsible horse ownership. There are political lobbying groups who try to change the laws to promote equine welfare.

Horse rescue is a growing enterprise, but it is facing many difficult challenges in the current struggling economy. Most people involved agree that something needs to be done so that fewer horses need rescue. Overbreeding is a problem among registered horses and backyard horses alike. There are practices in some segments of the horse world, such as the use of nurse mares in the Thoroughbred industry, that probably would have been stopped a long time ago if the public knew about them. Most horse rescuers agree that there is hope for the future, but that the situation is not improving fast enough.

Equine Rescue of Aiken 

 

Aiken got its own horse rescue in 2006 when Larkin Steele moved here from Florida to open Equine Rescue of Aiken. The rescue occupies Haven Hills Farm: 80 acres of rolling hills and fields with riding areas and a new barn. Jim Rhodes, who is the farm manager, says that the rescue can comfortably accommodate about 58 horses. Because adoptions are slower in the summer when there are fewer people in town, the rescue tries to keep numbers down during those months, bringing more animals in during the fall, winter and spring when more people are looking for a horse.


"We always help out Aiken County when there are abuse cases," says Jim. "So we have two or three slots open for them. But our main focus is on adoptable horses, rather than horses that might take a long time to rehabilitate or might become permanent residents of the rescue. We're like a halfway house for horses. The majority of horses we are getting in now are Thoroughbreds."

Before Jim Rhodes was the manager at Equine Rescue, he ran one of the largest horse and carriage auctions in the country, the Big Perry Sale in Georgia. Because of this background, he has numerous connections all over the country that can help him get horses for the rescue. 

"In the Thoroughbred industry, they overbreed," he says. "There area lot of horses that don't run, or that don't run fast enough, and those horses become throwaway horses. I have the right connections with some big Thoroughbred farms that I can get in some very nice horses. I can't say enough about the Thoroughbreds. They're very good horses. They make polo ponies, event horses, hack horses in the woods. In the last two years we've adopted out at least 60 of them." 

Jim says these horses have also been successful. "We have horses from our program all over the United States doing shows and competing. You can go to just about any show in Aiken, and there will be two or three horses from the rescue there." 

The rescue itself welcomes volunteers from the community. There is also a lesson program and an equine assisted therapy program called HOPE (Horses Offering People Empowerment) that helps veterans returning from overseas. Over the years, the rescue has attracted a small group of dedicated helpers who care for the horses, ride and spend their spare time at the stable. Some of these volunteers may have never handled horses before they came to the rescue, but they all learn. 

"The horses here today are being handled a lot more than they were when we started, because we have more volunteers," says Jim. "It's good for the horses, and it's good for the volunteers, too. I always say the rescue was started to save horses, but we end up saving more people than horses. It's a good place." 

Running the rescue requires a great deal of time and it costs a lot of money to feed all the horses, fertilize the fields and keep the place in good shape. It helps that the horse-related businesses in Aiken have been so generous, sometimes selling feed and hay at cost or even donating it. Many of the tack stores also give discounts to volunteers. Still, Jim says they would welcome more help. 

"There are a couple of ladies who do a great thing. Every two weeks they go to Aiken Saddlery to buy their feed. When they do, they buy an extra bag and leave it there for us. It doesn't seem like a lot to them, but it’s great for us. If we had 40 people a week do that, we wouldn't have a feed bill!" 

 The Foals of Dream Equine 


Horse people in Aiken first learned about Dream Equine Therapy Center, located in York, S.C., through a series of shows that raised funds for the rescue at Three Runs Plantation. Dream Equine Therapy specializes in rescuing, raising and adopting out nurse mare foals. 

Nurse mares are used in the Thoroughbred industry because it does not make economic sense for a valuable broodmare to nurse her own foal. Breeders like to breed mares back as soon as possible after they have had a foal, and mares typically go into heat and can be bred a week to 10 days after giving birth. The Jockey Club will only register horses that are bred through live cover (no artificial insemination or transported semen) and insurance won't cover a week old foal at a stallion barn. Besides, it would be risky to transport an expensive foal that is so young. The industry's unfeeling solution is to take the valuable foal away from its own mother and put it with a nurse mare, freeing the valuable broodmare to return to the breeding shed.

The trouble is that the nurse mare has also recently given birth. Her foal, the nurse mare foal, is taken away from her. The nurse mare is then tricked by various methods into accepting the valuable Thoroughbred foal as her own. 

In this way, nurse mare foals, the by-products of the Thoroughbred breeding industry, are turned into orphan foals. Some of them are taken away from their mothers when they are just a few days old. The nurse mare farms, most of them located in Kentucky, vary widely in what kind of care they provide the nurse mare foals. Some are relatively responsible, while others essentially let the nurse mare foals fend for themselves. There are no statistics on their survival rate since this is a hidden industry. It has been called racing's dirty little secret. 

Terri Stemper discovered the practice of taking less valuable foals from their mothers so that other foals could have their milk when she was a student at the University of Kentucky working at a major veterinary hospital in Lexington. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, but she soon discovered that the practice is widespread and accepted in the Thoroughbred industry. She picked up her first nurse mare foal at an auction in 2000, and since that time has made it a mission to save as many as she can. 

Today, Terri has contacts with several nurse mare farms and makes trips to Kentucky each spring to buy foals and bring them home. Then she and her boyfriend, Mark Hill, nurse the foals with milk replacer if they are under two months old and start feeding them creep feed if they are older. They socialize them, handle them and offer them for adoption. Both Terri and Mark are registered nurses, so they are well qualified for this job. The foals themselves vary in their genetic makeup. Some are purebreds – Thoroughbreds and Quarterhorses – other are mixes, some of them gaited. This spring Terri rescued 31 foals. Last year she had 41. 

"They're great horses," she says, dismissing the belief that an orphan foal does not make a good horses because he sees people as his equals. "If you handle them right and don't spoil them, if you discipline them when they need it, they make great riding horses." 

Terri has been saving nurse mare foals for over a decade now. She says that there are only a few rescues that try to help them, and that others that rescued them in the past have stopped. 

"It's too hard," she says. "You can't do it every year. You just get burnt out. It's harder every year. And we know we’re not even making a dent. There's thousands of these foals out there." 

Terri's dream is to change the way the nurse mare industry is run. She has four nurse mares of her own this year. They are experienced broodmares that she brought to her farm. They were then treated with various hormones that caused them to produce milk. It cost about $200 per mare and it took ten days, but all four began to lactate. Then they were introduced to the youngest nurse mare foals that Terri rescued this year. All the mares accepted the foals as their own, and the previously orphaned nurse mare foals now have their own foster mothers. 

The hormone induced lactation (HIL) program is helping Terri's foals this year, but in the future, Terri hopes to offer nurse mares that have milk through HIL to the Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky, and she is already looking for property outside Lexington where her cruelty-free nurse mares will live. Eventually, she hopes to be able to put the other nurse mare farms out of business and end the practice of turning foals into orphans for profit.

"When I tell people about it, about how the nurse mare industry works, they don't believe me," says Terri. "People have come to write articles, and I see them shake their heads and say 'What? Well, I'll have to check around. I've never heard of that.' I’d like to make it so no one ever has to hear of it again."  


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Eventer's Paradise | 6/20/11

Aiken's Winter Season 

Photography by Pam Gleason and Gary Knoll 



Aiken's winter eventing season was another successful one, with ten United States Equestrian Federation/United States Eventing Association recognized horse trials and an equal number of unrecognized events and combined training competitions taking place in the Aiken area between January 15 and March 20. As in years past, many horses and riders came from the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic to train, school and compete on Aiken's sandy soil.

In addition to all the recognized competitions, there was also a series of formal training sessions for riders on the USEF High Performance and Developing Rider lists. These sessions were held at Three Runs Plantation. Some of the top riders in the country were on hand to receive coaching and training from Captain Mark Phillips, the chef d'équipe of the U.S. eventing team, and Katie Monahan Prudent, who is the show jumping coach for the team. This year, riders on the High Performance list are hoping to compete at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Although a few of the scheduled early schooling trials in Aiken had relatively low attendance, the recognized horse trials were often bigger than ever. The Sporting Days March Horse Trials from March 4-6 had almost 400 horses entered at levels from Tadpole through Preliminary. The Paradise Farm Horse Trials also had a large number of entries – and was blessed with perfect, sunny weather. Full Gallop Farm held three recognized events from February 2 through March 13, with levels going from Beginner Novice through Intermediate. Intermediate is the highest level of eventing offered in Aiken, although there are Advanced trials at Pine Top in nearby Thomson, Ga. All of the recognized events saw their share of upper level riders, along with numerous amateur riders and Aiken-based professionals.
By April, the traveling upper level riders have mostly left town, in pursuit of points and experience at horse trials up and down the East Coast. But eventing itself is in Aiken all year, with an increasing number of event riders coming to live here full time. There are also training, schooling and competing opportunities here year round. The winter season brings a certain energy and level of excitement to Aiken's eventing world. When that season is over, Aiken's year round eventers can go back to the serious work of riding and training, preparing themselves and their horses for one of the most challenging equestrian pursuits in the world.


This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.



Monday, June 13, 2011

Wearing Helmets | 6/13/11

A Fashion Statement

By Pam Gleason 


People often ask "What's the most dangerous thing you can do on a horse? Is it polo? Eventing? Bronc busting?" These sports are certainly risky. But statistically, the most dangerous thing you can do on a horse is get on one without a helmet on your head. A helmet cannot protect you from every type of injury and it may not even prevent you from sustaining brain damage if you fall off while wearing it. But if you do fall on your head, you are more likely to be gravely harmed if you are not wearing a helmet than if you are. The majority of incidents that result in the death or incapacity of the rider are head injuries. The vast majority of people who die from these head injuries were not wearing helmets.
The extent to which riders wear protective headgear varies widely from sport to sport. Most organized English sports, and all sports governed by the United States Equestrian Federation, require riders to wear helmets when they are competing, but the disciplines each have their own cultures when it comes to riding outside of the show ring. Riders in some disciplines always wear helmets; those in other disciplines never do. In 2011, these cultures are all moving toward more helmet use.
Some of the move toward helmets is institutional. For instance, the rules in dressage competitions changed this year, so that now riders at the national levels are required to wear helmets at all times when they are mounted at the show ground. (Riders who are only showing at international levels can still ride around in bowler hats, in the arena or out of it.) Polo is also moving toward a greater appreciation for protecting heads. Today, players are required to wear helmets in the game, but there is no stipulation that these helmets need to have passed any safety testing whatsoever. In fact, the majority of polo helmets in use today provide far less protection than most people know. An expert at a major national testing lab told me that most polo helmets are essentially as protective as a beanie with a propeller on top. As of January 2012, six months from now, all players will be required to wear helmets that have passed stringent safety tests. It may be a very long time before polo people start wearing helmets when they are not in a game, but there does seem to be a small trend in that direction.
Another part of the helmet movement is cultural and grassroots in nature. There are several national groups started by ordinary riders that advocate helmet use. One new one is Riders 4 Helmets, which sponsored a "National Helmet Awareness Day" on June 11. (www.riders4helmets.com) Riders 4 Helmets was inspired by Courtney King Dye, an international dressage competitor based in Florida who is slowly recovering from a devastating head injury she suffered when she fell from a horse she was schooling. She was not wearing a helmet.

Helmet advocacy has not moved into the Western disciplines in any big way. In fact, almost no Western riders wear helmets, even when they are competing in fast sports such as barrel racing. This is as true for children as it is for adults. Fashion dictates a lot of this: Western riders wear cowboy hats so they look like Western riders. But it is also true that people involved in Western sports seem more cavalier about safety than their English cousins. We have seen parents at a local Western event actually strap a little boy to the saddle of a hot horse he couldn’t control, and then shove him into the arena to run a barrel pattern. There was a frightening wreck that involved flipping over a fence and dragging, but the boy did not appear to be seriously injured, and no one seemed to blame the parents. It would be hard to imagine a similar scene taking place in a junior jumper class at Highfields.

It probably is easier to fall off if you are riding English than if you are riding Western. You are also more likely to fall if you are an inexperienced rider than if you are a professional. But these are not good reasons to forego protective headgear. At the South Carolina High School Rodeo Association finals in Pendleton this spring, a 12-year-old girl who was riding outside of the arena died of a head injury when her horse, who was walking, stumbled and fell on her. Over the past six years, at least two people under the age of 25 who used to ride in Aiken have died of head injuries that were the result of falls. One was a little girl riding her horse down a dirt road; the other a skilled polo pony trainer whose horse spooked and he hit a tree. Neither was wearing a helmet.

Would they have died if they had been wearing helmets? Maybe, maybe not. We can only speculate. When riders have bad falls that wreck their helmets but leave their heads relatively okay they tend to say "If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I would have died." This is only speculation too. But if I had to wonder "what if" I would rather be asking if my injuries would have been worse if I hadn't been wearing a helmet than if I would have been fine if I had only put one on that day.

Wearing a helmet is smart, and smart is always in fashion. Protect your brain. It's not like your arms, your legs or even your eyes and ears. A brain is unique. You only get one.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.