Sunday, April 22, 2012

Questions About Dressage | Ask the Judge | 4/22/2012

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 recently competed in a test that required a rein back (This was the first time I performed this movement in a test.) I assumed this was just going backwards! From my score (a 5!) and the comment “not diagonal pairs” I guess there is more to it. Could you please explain how you score a rein back?
                                                                                                                 -Backward Confusion

Dear Backward Confusion,

Congratulations on moving up to the USDF Second Level, which is the first time the rein back is introduced. You will see the rein back in tests from Second Level through the Grand Prix. The difficulty of this movement increases with each successive level. For instance, the number of steps increases and the type of transition in or out of the rein back becomes more challenging.
The rein back demonstrates your horse’s degree of obedience and submission, as well as its “throughness.” The transitions in and out of the rein back also help to increase the collection that is required in Second Level tests and above.
Lets’s look at the USEF 2012 rulebook definition of the rein back.
  1. Rein back is a rearward diagonal movement with a two beat rhythm, but without a moment of suspension. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground actively, with the forelegs aligned on the same track as the hind legs.
  2. During the entire exercise, the horse should remain “on the bit,” maintaining its desire to move forward.
  3. Anticipation or precipitation of the movement, resistance to, or evasion of the contact, deviation of the hindquarters from the straight line, spreading or inactive hind legs and dragging forefeet are serious faults.
  4. The steps are counted as each foreleg moves back. After completing the required number of steps backward, the horse moves forward in the required gait immediately.
Keeping all these rules in mind, there is a lot of preparation and practice that goes into performing a high-scoring rein back. Here are some common faults and some tips for getting the best possible score.
Common Faults

  1. The horse resists going backwards.
  2. The horse gets too crooked.
  3. The horse takes way too many, or barely enough steps.
  4. The horse displays too much tension or anticipation.
  5. The horse comes off the bit or becomes too fussy with the mouth.
  6. There are not clear quality transitions in or out of the rein back and the horse is not immobile before backing.
  7. The horse does not back in diagonal pairs.
  8. The rein back is inaccurately placed (not at the letter where it is supposed to start.)

 Some tips for a good rein back:
  1. Concentrate on a quality transition in and out of the movement.
  2. Stand immobile for three to four seconds before asking for the rein back.
  3. Prepare to take the correct number of steps at the required letter with straightness. Count to yourself as each foreleg steps back.
  4. Stay soft and quiet with your hands so your horse is willing to accept your aids.
  5. In the last rein back step, immediately go forward into the next required gait. Do not make a second halt.
  6. Strive for large, rhythmic steps.
  7. Maintain relaxation and suppleness without losing connection to the bit.
Possible Scores
8 and above: A rein back that earns this score will display: Precision: The halt is exact and square, and the rein back is fluent and has the correct number of steps. There are clear transitions with no resistance. Rhythm: the movement is even, regular and displays clear diagonal steps. Suppleness: the horse is elastic through the whole movement. Contact: the horse is light and steady on the bit with the poll the highest point. Impulsion: the horse takes active steps, maintaining his desire to move forward. In each step, the legs are well raised, with the joints bent. Straightness: The front legs are clearly in line with the hind legs. Collection: The hind legs carry enough weight to show that the horse is in balance. Submissiveness: The horse has no resistances.

7: A rein back that earns a 7 is still a fairly good solid rein back, but it may have some of these attributes. The transition could have more clarity. The halt is almost square. The backward movement could be even more fluent. The horse might be slightly off the bit. The horse could bend his hind legs and joints even more that he is.

6: A rein back that earns a 6 is satisfactory. The horse is performing a rein back, but it might have some of these negatives. The transition might not be clear enough. The halt might not be square. There may be some small inaccuracy in the movement. The horse hesitates or seems reluctant, or the steps might be a little bit too hurried. The horse might have some tension, or not remain clearly on the bit. He might lose some activity or drag his feet slightly. He may get somewhat crooked.

5: A rein back that earns a 5 is marginal. The horse backs up, but he has some problems. For instance, the halt might be too abrupt and not square. There may be inaccurate placing of the movement, or too many or too few steps. There may be too much hesitation. The backward steps may not be diagonal. The horse might be tense, or drag his feet, or get too hurried or too lazy. The horse has some resistance to the aids.

4 and below: Insufficient. The number of steps are far too many or too few, or the horse does not even back up at all. The gait is not diagonal and the steps are too hurried or too tense. The movement is very crooked. The feet drag. There is too much mouth and head fussiness. There is strong resistance to the aids, or other bad behavior and disobediences.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Under the Pines | 4/12/2012

Enjoying the Horse Show

By Pam Gleason

Historically, the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods has been the culmination of the Aiken winter equestrian season. It was started in 1916 by Louise Hitchcock, who conceived of it as a competition among the members of the old Winter Colony, as well as a place to showcase the many beautiful horses in town. The first show, which had 17 classes, was held on March 16, a beautiful but windy day.

“Seemingly a majority of the Aiken tourists, many visiting from neighboring resorts, and many natives attended. One of the finest displays of horseflesh that could be put forth in a Southern resort paraded their virtues,” reported the Aiken Journal and Constitution. The article went on to say “by the success of this Saturday’s show, it is practically assured that this will become an annual institution.”
Aiken’s newspaper was right. The Aiken Horse Show soon became a fixture on the calendar, and the class list and number of entries grew. Although the show was always highly competitive, it also had a certain informality about it. Harry Worcester Smith, writing in Life and Sport in Aiken, (Derrydale Press, 1935) explained it this way:
“The arrangement of the Show is as simple as possible. The ring with its Hitchcock jumps, the judges, but there are no entry blanks or entry fees. Those desiring to start their horses make post entries to the announcers at the gate and there are sometimes thirty or forty crack horses waiting outside the ring, with their riders eagerly watching how this or that contestant goes over the course, and wondering when they can have their chance.”
In the 1920s, the show expanded to two and then three days. Children’s classes were an important part of the show, including a leadline class for the smallest children, which gave ribbons to every competitor. Once the children graduated to riding by themselves, according to an article written by Mrs. Hitchcock in 1928 in The Sportswoman, they had to “begin to learn to be good losers.” The 17 and under class was another of Mrs. Hitchcock’s favorites. “There is no place in the world . . . where from the ages of two to eighteen, such a number of coming horsemen of both sexes can be found,” she explained. The 17 and under class featured children from the age of 11 to 17 riding hunters. These were generally not the horses these children usually rode. Rather, they were horses belonging to adult members of the Winter Colony, who allowed the children to ride them for the class.
 “When this class was first started about five years ago, I was obliged to go around begging and persuading owners of hunters to let me have them for the children to ride, and of course I only wanted the very best,” continued Mrs. Hitchcock. “Now that everyone sees how well the horses go for these young people, there is no trouble in getting them mounts.”
The horse show continued to expand in the 1930s, with as many as 350 horses showing over the weekend. When World War II came, although the show got smaller again, the tradition continued. For instance, in 1942, there were just 16 classes, more than half of them for children. In 1944, at the height of the war, there was just one class for adults, the open hunter class, with seven classes for children.
At the war’s end, Aiken once again became a haven for horsemen, and the Aiken Horse Show regained its prominence. By 1950, the show was part of “Sports Week,” a week of festivities that also included the Aiken Trials races, polo matches, drag hunts, golf games, and a sports day at Aiken Prep. The events were prominent enough to attract the attention of the national press. For instance, in 1950, Life Magazine featured a photo of a teenaged Aileen Wood on the cover, dressed in her horse show clothing. Inside the magazine, there was an illustrated article about the events. “Big Week at Aiken: Horses and the Horsy Society Wind up Winter Season.” Photos that accompanied the article included pictures of horses being judged in hand, as well as a great shot of Pete and Dolly Bostwick jumping together in the pairs class.

The horse show thrived into the 1960s. In 1964, Mayor Odell Weeks signed a proclamation, declaring the week of April 12-18 as Aiken Pairs class then . . . . . . .pairs class now. Horse Show Week. Part of that proclamation stated that “The Aiken Charity Horse Show is the largest single event in the City of Aiken.” It was praised for bringing tourists to the city, as well as for solidifying Aiken’s reputation as the “Horse Capital of the South.”
 Although the tradition continued through the 1970s and into the 1980s, the horse show was definitely on the wane. Times were changing in Aiken, and the old Winter Colony society that had supported the show was not what it used to be. Even the Hitchcock Woods was changing. The Woods, then as now, received the storm water overflow from the city. With the city’s expansion and without adequate systems in place, Sand River sometimes overflowed, flooding the horse show ring. One year, the show had to be postponed for week. Another year, classes had to be moved to Winthrop Polo Field. Contemporary newspaper articles lamented what appeared to be the inevitable disappearance of the woods, and the show along with it. “If the woods are lost, with them will go one of the oldest traditions in the county, the 75-year-old Aiken Horse Show, as well as one of the largest public recreation areas of its kind.” (Emily Hindman in the Aiken Standard, March 6, 1973.)
From the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, the Aiken Horse Show went on hiatus. It was brought back through the efforts of many dedicated horse people, especially Kiki Blalock, Sandy Cassatt and Gail King, who is one of the directors of the Aiken Horse show today, and is a trustee and former chairman of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation. The show grew slowly, but steadily, and in 2012, is once again an important annual tradition that brings Aiken’s equestrian community together at the beautiful little show ring under the pines. In these years, too, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation has worked tirelessly, and with the support of the equestrian community, to preserve the Woods and ensure that it, along with the tradition of the horse show, will endure for many years to come.

The Particulars

Schedule: The Aiken Horse Show runs from Friday, March 30, through Sunday April 1. Classes begin at 9 a.m. each morning. The weekend of the Aiken Horse Show is the only time that you can drive cars into the Woods. For questions about the progress of the schedule, competitors may call Jenne Stoker (803.270.7331) or Linda Knox McLean (803-646-7111.)
Friday: classes include open and amateur hunters, as well as gentlemen’s hunter hack. Saturday: The morning classes are for children. There is a sidesaddle division in the middle of the day, including an over fences class. Popular afternoon classes include the family class, the costume class for children, junior classes and pleasure classes. Sunday: The morning is devoted to the foxhunter division, which is the most prestigious of the show. This is followed by the junior foxhunter division. Watching the Show: There are many ways to watch the horse show. The most relaxing way is to reserve a table in the ringside Hitchcock tent, where you will be able to watch the show, enjoy a catered gourmet lunch, and support the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, which receives proceeds from the show. There are three packages available. Longleaf Pines ($2,500) gets you a table for eight in the Hitchcock Tent, with a hunt breakfast on Saturday and lunch on Sunday. Loblolly Pines ($1,250) is a table for eight in the tent with a meal, either on Saturday or on Sunday. Southern Magnolias ($625) is a table for four with a meal on either Saturday or Sunday. These packages are particularly good for people who might have out-of-town guests that they want to introduce to the Aiken horse world.
If a place in the tent is out of the budget, there is no entry fee to get into the show, but there is a $10 general parking fee per vehicle. For those who would like their own ringside seat, there are also a limited number of parking spots along the rail, for $100 per day. perfect for competitors. Individual lunches are also available for $75 each. Competitors and spectators may elect to purchase lighter, more economical fare from the Dinner Bell mobile kitchen.
While at the show, everyone is invited to come to the tent to bid on items at the silent auction, organized every year by Jane Page Thompson. There are always a number of things that will interest those who love Aiken, including books, artwork and historic Aiken memorabilia.

The most impressive silent auction item is always the African safari, donated each year by Heidi Beaumont and her company International Ventures. This year, there is also a set of tickets on the third base line at the Red Sox versus New York Yankees game next September at Fenway Park in Boston. Jane Page is still in the process of assembling items for the auction, which gets better every year.
The Aiken Horse Show is more than just a tradition, it is also an important element in preserving the future of the Hitchcock Woods, one of Aiken’s most treasured resources. The show is the major fundraiser for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, which is now winding down a capital campaign that began in 2006. This campaign involved a number of important initiatives, including the purchase of 10 acres of real estate to protect and preserve the natural character of the Coker Spring entrance to the woods.

Supporting the Woods

Over the past six years, the foundation has put in place a number of programs that will help maintain the natural beauty of the forest, keep the ecosystem healthy and provide habitat for endangered wildlife. The latest initiative is a partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation to restore and preserve the long leaf pine forest. The NWTF has received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will begin work this summer.

For more information or to become a Friend of the Woods, visit or call 803.642.0528

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

Eventing In Aiken | 4/12/2012

How it Started

By Pam Gleason

 Aiken’s winter season is ideal for eventers who want to do a lot of competing. This year, in the space of just eight weeks, there are eight recognized events (counting Pine Top in nearby Thompson, Ga.) and 15 unrecognized ones (counting two-phases and jumping derbies.) These events attract hundreds of horses and riders from up and down the Eastern seaboard. They come to train, to compete, and to be surrounded by some of the best in the business. Over the last fifteen years, Aiken has become a magnet for American event riders in the winter season.

There are many reasons why Aiken is so popular every winter. The reason almost everyone mentions is the footing. Aiken’s sandy soil is easy on hooves, provides great traction and has exceptional drainage. It has drawn horsemen to this area since the late 1890s. Then there is the weather – warm sunny days, cool nights; the ground never freezes, and it always feels like spring by early February. Then there is the existence of the events themselves and the community of eventers here: like attracts like, and what aspiring or established rider wouldn’t want to be competing alongside the top names in the sport?

Eventing is firmly established here now, but it is actually a fairly late arrival in Aiken. The first combined test was held on the Powderhouse Polo Field in 1981. Then in 1987, there was a combined test called Sporting Days in Aiken at the Ramblewood show grounds. After that, eventing was on a slow roll forward, which accelerated rapidly after the 1996 Olympics were awarded to Atlanta and the Australian Olympic event team came to town to train. Although Aiken has been called the Horse Capital of the South since the 1920s, eventing didn’t gain a foothold here until a good decade or two after the sport had become popular in other horsy parts of the country.

Fertile Ground

Although eventing didn’t make it to Aiken until the 1980s, there was a long equestrian tradition that paved the way for the sport. The predecessors of today’s event riders were the amateur steeplechase jockeys who spent their winters here in the days of the Winter Colony. Aiken had a population of winter “tourists” starting in the 1860s, but the height of the sporting Winter Colony was from around 1916 until World War II. Over those decades, equestrian culture was the driving force in the city and the Hitchcock Woods (then simply the Woods, and much larger than it is today) was at its heart.
The Woods were the site of the Aiken Drag (now the Aiken Hounds), which was a fast and furious hunt over very large fences. In the 1920s and 1930s, many of these fences were five to five and half feet high. First flight, led by the master, Louise Hitchcock, was flat out. It included about a dozen steeplechase riders: Pete Bostwick, Temple Gwathmey, Rigan McKinney, Crompton Smith. Thomas Hitchcock (Louise Hitchcock’s husband) was the leading steeplechase trainer in the country in the 1920s and he used the Woods as his training ground. He exercised his horses all over the Woods, but especially on the Ridge Mile Track, which was set up as a steeplechasing course. After World War II, most people interested in steeplechasing began to winter in Camden rather than Aiken, but the tradition of fast riding and fearless jumping continued with the Aiken Hounds.

“It was a Thoroughbred Mecca,” says Joannah Hall Glass, who first started coming to Aiken in the 1960s. “All the famous trainers were down here. Polo was also going on. On Sunday, there was nothing to do besides watch polo, and so we all did.”

Then came the era of the racehorse. Back in the days of the Winter Colony, there were racehorses in Aiken, but they were not a dominant force in equestrian culture. After World War II, many of the most important racehorse training operations were in Aiken for the winter. The annual Aiken Trials, started in 1942, were once a much bigger and more glamorous affair than it is today. Now, there are four or five races for untried 2-year-olds, with one race for successful racehorses that might attract a handful of runners from small tracks. The jockeys are generally Aiken’s exercise riders. From the 1940s into the 1960s, there might be a full day of racing, and some of the horses were already champions on their way to greater things – young 3-yearolds on the Kentucky Derby trail, for instance. The jockeys might be the top riders in the nation, and scouts from the Daily Racing Form were always present to get an early look at top contenders for America’s most prestigious contests.

By the middle 1970s, there was a series of horse shows at the Ramblewood show ground, which was between Banks Mill and Whiskey on Citadel Road. Ramblewood had A rated hunter shows, which attracted riders from around the region. A little later, it also had dressage shows.

Eventing Arrives

Joannah Glass was one of the organizers of Aiken’s first combined test, held on March 23, 1981. Joannah, who lived most of the year in Berwyn, Penn., was immersed in the eventing world of the mid-Atlantic. She herself evented, taught eventing, trained and showed hunters, and organized horse trials in Radnor Hunt country. She made regular trips to Aiken every winter, where she had a home on Coker Spring Road.
At Aiken's first three-day at Ramblewood
At that time, there were some other people in Aiken who were very involved in eventing. One was Iris Winthrop Freeman, who, along with her siblings, was a major force in American eventing, creating the Groton House Horse Trials in Massachusetts, among other things. Iris is married to Mike Freeman, who is a Hall of Fame racehorse trainer, and was one of the prominent members of Aiken’s winter Thoroughbred colony. Torrance Watkins rode for Iris and spent time in Aiken, where she schooled Iris’s famous horse Red’s Door. Torrance represented the U.S. in three world championships in the 1970s and 1980s and won team gold at the Los Angeles Olympics. Suzie Howard, a pioneering female event rider, horse show organizer and the owner of the great eventer Warrior was here too. She often brought her friend, Jane Holderness Roddam, a British eventer who won Badminton and Burghley and was on the gold medal-winning British team in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. In the 1980s, Jane gave clinics in Aiken at Michael Laughlin’s Mill Race Farm.

With the presence of all these people who were involved in horse trials, it was only a matter of time before the idea of holding some kind of eventing competition caught on. The first test in 1981 included dressage and show jumping, and the riders in it were generally people who participated in the hunt or in horse shows, rather than committed event riders.

“We got the idea to do something, and we had a fun committee,” says Joannah. “Tom Biddle was running polo then and was very helpful in letting us use the polo field, and it was a success.”

In the following years, Joannah got involved at the Ramblewood show ground, where she helped to organize dressage shows. In 1987, she started “Sporting Days in Aiken” with a one-day combined test at Ramblewood. Then, Marshall Lamb, whose Outaways Farm was adjacent to the show grounds, suggested that she build a cross country course on his property and have an event with all three phases at Ramblewood and Outaways. The next year, 1988, Aiken had its first three day horse trial, which was recognized by the American Horse Shows Association, the United States Dressage Federation and the United States Combined Training Association.

The Aiken Standard reported that more than 200 horses and riders took part in this first official three day event, which was a benefit for the U.S. Pony Club, the Aiken Pony Club and the Whiskey Road Foxhounds. Competitors came from “as far away as Colorado and Pennsylvania” according to the paper. The competition also included a mini-prix show jumping event with a $1,000 prize. The winner of that class was Lellie Ward.

Aiken Training

For Lellie Ward, who is probably Aiken’s first home-grown eventing professional, the sport is a natural fit for Aiken, but, in some ways it was a long time coming. Lellie grew up on Long Island and in Aiken, coming down for winters with her family. Her grandfather was F. Skiddy von Stade, a major player in the Aiken equestrian scene during the days of the Winter Colony and, according to his obituary in the New York Times, “one of the country’s best-known horsemen.” He was a polo player, a foxhunter, a steeplechase and flat race jockey, a member of the Jockey Club and a trustee of the Saratoga race course.

“He was very strict,” says Lellie, who remembers riding with him in the Hitchcock Woods. “He was an imposing figure and I was always in awe of him. But my growing up in horses and eventing was very influenced by him. For him, it was all about sportsmanship, and all about the horses and the training. People say that I’m strict, but that’s the way I was brought up. You didn’t fool around.”

Lellie Ward on Paddle, Rolex 1985
As a child, Lellie rode in the Woods in Aiken, hunting with the Aiken Hounds. When she was back on Long Island, she was involved in the Pony Club, which was focused exclusively on eventing. “I didn’t have a hunter jumper background,” she says. “I grew up hunting with the Meadowbrook Hounds, and I gravitated towards eventing because I liked galloping and I didn’t like the show ring.”

On Long Island, Lellie rode with Charlie Plumb, an event rider himself and the father of Michael Plumb, who has represented the United States in the Olympics nine times. In Aiken, she met Torrance Watkins through Iris Freeman, and became her working student. By the time she was entering her 20s, she was a serious event rider with international aspirations. But Aiken was not yet the best place to train.

“Even when I was little, whenever I went riding in Hitchcock Woods I was always eventing in my mind,” she says. The Woods were a great place to ride, but didn’t offer quite enough variety of jumping efforts to challenge an upper level horse. In the mid-80s, when Lellie had the horses and the experience to go Advanced, there were few places to school an event horse in town.

Building the barn at Paradise Farm, late 1990s
“When I did my first Rolex, which was in 1985, there were no cross-country courses around anywhere. My preparation for my first Rolex was taking all our show jumps, putting them in the manure wagon and driving them to what used to be called Sandy Hills Farm [now Jumping Branch.] We put the jumps on the side of the hill, and I would school over everything that we could construct with show jumps. That was my preparation for Rolex – that’s how different it was here.”

But Lellie’s Aiken connections did help her further her competitive goals. In addition to Iris Freeman and Torrance Watkins, she also met Jane Holderness Roddam. After Lellie rode in one of her clinics, Jane invited Lellie to continue her training in England, which she did. By the early 1990s, Lellie was competing in Britain and on the Continent, gaining exposure to some of the best eventers and course designers in the world.

On to Atlanta

The first true three-day in 1988 was a success by any measure, and Sporting Days in Aiken became a spring tradition. Then, when development pushed the horse shows out of Ramblewood, the Hopelands Horse Trials started. This event held its dressage and show jumping phases at McGhee’s Mile on Banks Mill Road, with the cross country phase at Hopelands, also on Banks Mill. Meanwhile, in 1989, Joannah Glass bought the property that is now Sporting Days Farm, and set about turning that farm into a dedicated eventing facility. She held her first event there in 1993. In 1995, the first recognized event came to Julie Zappapas’s Jumping Branch Farm. Eventing had established a firm foothold in Aiken.

The mid-1990s were important for Aiken’s eventing community. When Atlanta was granted the 1996 Olympics, people in town were eager to offer Aiken’s equestrian facilities to a team from overseas so that the athletes could train close to Atlanta and acclimate themselves to the hot and humid weather. Joannah, who lived near Phillip Dutton’s Pennsylvania training base during the summers, thought the Australian eventing team would be a natural fit. Dutton, at that time, was training in the U.S. but was a citizen of Australia and a top contender for their team.

“I said A is for Aiken, and also for Australia,” says Joannah. “And I told everyone who would listen that Australian team was going to win the gold medal.”

After lobbying by the Aiken Chamber of Commerce, and behind-the-scenes negotiations by city officials, Joannah and other private citizens in the horse world, the chef of the Australian team and a few other representatives flew to Aiken.

“We took them to the Green Boundary Club for lunch,” says Joannah. “And I can’t remember who sat around the table, but there were a bunch of us and the Australians loved it, and it worked beautifully.”

Early Paradise Farm cross country course
In August 1995, the Australians came to Aiken with their horses for a test event held at the Olympic Park in Conyers, Ga. In 1996, they took up residence in the historic horse district downtown, stabling at the old H&D barns and training at various locations around town. Their Aiken preparations were successful: they did indeed come home with the gold medal, and the city of Aiken rejoiced. “And the rest is history,” says Joannah.

Aiken Eventing

For Lellie Ward, the mid 1990s were a time of triumph and disappointment. In the months leading up to the 1996 Games, she was focused on earning a spot on America’s team. She had been living and training in England, and had the horses and the record to do it. Back in the U.S. and on the short list for the team, she came off on course during a selection trial in Virginia and hurt her knee so badly she wouldn’t be able to ride. She knew her Olympic dreams had been dashed. When she came out of the hospital, she approached Bruce Davidson, who, the year before, had become the first American to win Badminton and then won the individual gold and team silver at the Pam Am Games in Buenos Aires.

Paradise Farm water jump

“I said, whenever I ride this horse I fall off. What should I do? And he said, sell him to me. And I did, and I took that money and I bought Paradise Farm.”

Lellie had driven past the place many times, but hadn’t paid much attention to it, until she saw the back of the property, where she could appreciate the hill that is now the cross country course. After all her time in England, studying the fences and learning from the course designers there, her natural ability to read the land had been well-honed. “I looked in that field, and I said that is the cross-country course right there. The name Paradise Farm came from some friends of mine that took care of my horses on the Isle of Wight. They had Paradise Farm so I called them up and I asked them if they would mind if I called my farm after theirs.”

Lellie began building the course at Paradise in 1997. It was ready for its first event in September, 2001 – and this first horse trial was held shortly after the tragedy on 9/11. It was successful, nonetheless, with about 125 entries – Lellie remembers giving everyone American flag pins to wear. In later years, she moved her event to the spring, and then started having two events, one in the spring and one in the fall. A few years after Lellie’s first event, Lara Anderson began holding horse trials at Full Gallop Farm. By 2007, Aiken had four eventing facilities with recognized events: Sporting Days, Jumping Branch, Paradise and Full Gallop. Entries at all of these events grew every year, although often the organizers capped them at 300. Other facilities followed with their own schooling courses – Chime Bell Chase, Sandy Hills Farm, Apple Tree Farm and so on.

Meanwhile, the USEF started using Aiken as the site for its winter training sessions for High Performance riders. Phillip Dutton came down to Aiken every winter, bringing a growing entourage of students, including Boyd Martin. In 2007, he bought Red Oak Farm at Bridle Creek Equestrian, where he set up a training facility that was ready for the 2008 winter season. Aiken’s reputation spread in all directions, attracting active professionals: Denis Glaccum, Sally Cousins, Jan Byyny, Heidi White, Kim Severson, Craig Thompson . . . the list goes on. All of these people brought students, and many of these students, like their teachers, end up buying land in Aiken. Like so many horse people who have gravitated to Aiken over the last century, event riders who come here feel like they have come home.

Eventing Today

“I kept thinking, with the recession, entries would go down,” says Joannah. “But it hasn’t happened. We broke a record last year, with some amazing number of entries – over 400.”

For Joannah, who holds recognized events as well as weekly schooling shows during the February through March seasons, the joy in organizing these competitions comes from being able to share her farm, as well as everything that Aiken has to offer, with her fellow horsemen.

“I like that, in Aiken, there is such a diversity of events, and lots of different places for people to compete,” she says, explaining Aiken’s popularity. “I think Aiken is the most wonderful town I’ve ever known. I am privileged to have found it and been allowed to enjoy it. You have everything here you could ever ask for at your finger tips, and yet you are in this beautiful rural community.”

Lellie and Joannah are in agreement that the growth in Aiken needs to be balanced with preservation, that resources such as the Hitchcock Woods need to be preserved, and that expansion in the eventing and horse communities should be in keeping with Aiken’s old traditions of respect for the land and for the horse.

“The horse industry here has changed so much,” says Lellie. “I am not surprised at all that the eventers have found Aiken. They have come here and they have found a good thing. Aiken is a good thing. They come here because of the footing, and the weather and the events. But people move so fast now, and with such an agenda, that they don’t always have time to appreciate what we have here. I love old Aiken, with its sense of history and its traditions of horsemanship and sportsmanship. I hope that, in the future, people – not just eventers, but everybody – will continue to value Aiken for what it was, as well as for what it is now. History is important.”

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Classical Riding Principles | 4/5/2012

The Charlotte Bayley Schindelhoz Approach

 By Diana Hunt

This is Charlotte Bayley Schindelholz’s second winter in Aiken, and she’s here to stay.

Last winter, the Ohio-based dressage trainer worked out of a small private barn near Wagener. This past fall she leased the barn at the Ridge at Chukker Creek through her long-time friend Chris Taylor, also a dressage trainer. After spending the holidays in Ohio, she is back at Chukker Creek with her entourage of 15 horses, and plans to stay until early May.

“I had done the Wellington thing, but didn’t like it,” Charlotte explains, referring to the show scene in south Florida. “Here, I find the people generous, thoughtful and real horse people. I see a lot of talent. I find riders here have a tremendous desire to learn more. They are so enthusiastic – it’s infectious for the horse, the trainer and the rider. That’s the appeal of Aiken. I have great respect for the trainers already here, but there is plenty of room for more trainers without taking anything away from someone else.”

A Life With Horses

Charlotte Bayley was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, minutes away from Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, the first college in the country to offer a degree in equestrian studies. From the time she was 5 years old until she was 17, Charlotte boarded her horse with Kay Meredith, who founded the school. There, she grew up riding under the most famous names in the equestrian world, although at the time she didn’t quite appreciate how lucky she was. Among her early teachers were Colonel Bengt Lundqvist of Sweden, who was the coach of the U.S. Olympic dressage team, Melle Van Bruggan, a Swiss dressage champion and later U.S. coach, and Chuck Grant, a 1997 inductee into the United States Dressage Federation Hall of Fame, who introduced dressage to the Midwest just after World War II.

“I got all the good stuff. I got to see all the great trainers without having to go through the Meredith Manor program,” Charlotte says. “It definitely was trial by fire; it wasn’t easy. Then, I had the good fortune of going three hours away to the second school in the country to develop an equestrian program, Lake Erie College. Dressage was just beginning in the U.S. at that time.”

At Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, Charlotte rode with Jean Froissard, who taught the classical French style of riding as guest artist in residence. Later, she rode with David Hunt of Great Britain and got more international experience under Major Anders Lindgren of Sweden and Major Miguel Tavora, who is a master of Portuguese traditional equitation.

While she was teaching riding at Lake Erie College, she had a student named Donald Schindelholz.

“We were not allowed to date the students we were instructing, so I stopped giving him lessons so I could marry him,” she admits.

Charlotte and Don stayed in the Cleveland area and eventually built their own place, Maple Star Farm. Besides having his own career as a marketing representative for a major corporation, Don keeps the business side of the barn going, including taking care of the bookkeeping.

“He has made my life easy,” Charlotte smiles. “And it is lovely in Ohio from May to October. However, we just closed on a house in the Historic District, so we are on our way to becoming full time Aiken residents.”

Charlotte (or is it Don the businessman?) recognizes that the disadvantages probably outweigh the advantages of having two large facilities, so an Aiken full time barn will depend on the Ohio real estate market. In any case, the Schindelholzes will be here from November to May, depending on Charlotte’s clinic, training and showing dates and the demanding travel schedule of her busy import business.

“I’m getting to the grey side of wanting to compete, but it is a good way for people to see sale horses,” she says. “We buy and sell dressage and event horses, mostly Dutch Warmbloods and Friesians. We look at high quality adult amateur horses, some young, some made. The Friesians I buy must be forward thinking, showy and hairy – those that are bred to be lighter horses for riding.”

Currently, Charlotte is training and showing a 5-year old Hanoverian to ready him for the United States Dressage Federation Five Year Old Developing Horse Championship. She’s also working with a Fourth Level Dutch Warmblood, a Fourth Level Friesian stallion, a Prix St. Georges-level Belgian Warmblood stallion and a 3-year old Friesian- Arabian cross.

Charlotte’s Teaching Philosophy

“I am such an American melting pot of different philosophies,” Charlotte says. “I lean to classical development, but there are different methods – some like more or less contact, sometimes hard discipline, sometimes light, it is what works for that horse. There’s more than one way on the road to Rome. I’m basically success-oriented. I don’t align with one type of training. It’s about education and consistency.”

Charlotte prefers to give three-day clinics once a month in a location and wrap at least one clinic around a horse show so she can be a coach through the show. It does no good to go in once, give instruction, then leave, she says.

As for what students should take away from Charlotte’s instruction, she describes herself as student-centered in her approach.

“My job is to make riding more rewarding, make it a good experience and to be successful. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can be a simple process,” she insists. “I want to improve students’ riding by giving them a system that gives them more confidence to know how to go forward. Riders need to know the exercises to work on at home, how to find their goals, how to practice with their own coach.

“Even international riders need eyes on the ground to help them improve their scores and to get a good team together. Lower level riders often need to get a better sense of the horse, how to sit, create a connection, understand the aids. I give them the tools not to be afraid to try new things. You have to have skill in coordinating memory and discipline to practice to be a better rider.”

Charlotte concludes with a hearty laugh: “I am approachable and enthusiastic. I’m not a Dressage Queen. I like reining, or cutting – I love to learn about everything. I like people and I enjoy horses. I’m Irish! I laugh and enjoy life.”

Charlotte can be reached at 216-337-8045 to arrange for lessons. For more information, go to her website:

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