Monday, June 24, 2013

Driving with Shelly Temple | 6/24/2013

An all-around Horsewoman

By Mary Jane Howell

She's a trainer, instructor, competitor, and judge – with all these facets of her professional life, you can tell that Shelly Temple really loves carriage driving. Whether it's taking her Morgan out for a pleasure drive around her property or competing at an international level combined driving event, Shelly has found her niche in the horse world.

She and her husband Fran Doto settled in Aiken three years ago, relocating from Virginia. Their Catalyst Driving Center is located on 10 acres in Windsor, just down the road from Katydid, where there is a major Combined Driving Event every fall.

A lifelong horsewoman, Shelly has been working with horses for nearly four decades. She hunted in the Brandywine region of Pennsylvania as a teenager and later competed in eventing. In 1996 Shelly attended the Fair Hill International Combined Driving Event with friends, and she was hooked.

"I realized that there was more to carriage driving than I had imagined – the thrill of seeing those horses flying through the water hazard and then galloping up and down the hills – it really caught my attention," she laughs.

Shelly didn't waste time, and within a year she was competing.

"I was fortunate to have Lisa Singer as my teacher and I was definitely on the fast track – our motto was 'just go out and do it,'" and that's just what I did," says Shelly.

Shelly made her first trip to Aiken in 1998 for a United States Equestrian Team training session, held the week after the Spring Steeplechase.

"Aiken was just amazing, it felt like we were rock stars! We did lots of driving around town and I remember that the Show in the Woods was on. Seeing those perfectly turned out horses and riders heading into Hitchcock Woods was just breathtaking and I fell in love with the whole place."

Shelly says that she was attracted to combined driving because "it's hard to be good at all three parts, so you're always learning and there's always a new challenge."

"I am especially attracted to the dressage aspect of combined driving – it's all about precision. I also ride and compete in dressage, so you can tell I like that particular discipline.

"Another part of this sport that I am attracted to is how much camaraderie there is. Yes, we compete against each other, but there is a feeling of helpfulness and appreciation as well."

Shelly's "big" horse is actually a pony – a wonderful Morgan named Cooper (officially his name is LR Ami B-Line). Cooper is 15 now and has had a stellar career as a driving pony. Shelly and Cooper were a members of the Bronze Medal-winning team at the World Pony Driving Championships in Denmark in 2007 and they were second in Dressage at those same Championships.

Cooper has won the USEF National Pony Championship for three years (2006, 2010 and 2011) and was the USEF Horse of the Year combined driving single pony in 2007. Not only can this pony dazzle in driving events, but he and Shelly are working towards Third Level in ridden dressage.

Shelly also has another Morgan she is bringing along, a young mare named Sparkle.

"She is a blank slate right now and I am just getting her started," says Shelly.

Although she might have four or five horses in training at any given time, Shelly needs to save time for her other students, the human ones. "I love to be in the carriage with a student, sharing my love of driving with someone who is obviously interested."

Shelly's lessons in carriage driving are not only for people who have a keen interest in combined driving: she also teaches those who are only interested in pleasure showing or recreational driving. She can train clients' horses, or find horses for them. Carriages and harness – no problem! Show attire – she can help with that as well.

"I love to help people through the journey," Shelly says.

Although "Catalyst" in Catalyst Driving Center comes from the name of a friend's horse, the definition of the word suites Shelly's goal in life – "a person or thing that precipitates an event or change." She is certainly changing the lives of her students by opening up the door to the world of driving.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ask An Expert | 6/17/2013

Your Questions About Horses

By Pam Gleason

This column answers readers' questions about horses. Anything is fair game, from questions about equine health to how to get along with the other boarders at your barn, to general horse keeping. If we don't know the answer, we'll find someone who does.

Dear Expert,

What causes a horse to have white hairs mixed in his coat? My horse is an 8-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred, but when you look closely, you can see that he has a lot of white hairs mixed in with the red ones especially on his rear quarter. Why is that?

-Going Grey?

Dear Grey,
We sent your question to Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, who is the author of the book Equine Color Genetics, published by Wiley-Blackwell, now in its third edition (2009). Dr. Sponenberg replied that there are many different ways that a horse can have white hairs mixed in a solid colored coat.

"There are a few specific genes that add white hairs in, like grey or roan," he wrote us via e-mail. "I'll bet that's not what the question is, though."

Horses with the "grey" gene are generally born colored (bay, chestnut, black and so on) and they progressively acquire more white hairs as they age, often passing through a dappled grey stage. There are two main types of grey: those that lose pigment in their mane and tail hairs as they age, and those that don't. The former can end up looking completely white when they are older (think of the white Lippizans) while the latter tend to keep some dark areas, especially on their legs, and may stop getting greyer at some point in their lives. No one has identified an actual genetic difference between the two types.

The gene for greying can be thought of as a switch that is either on or off: a horse may be genetically a bay or a chestnut, and if he also has the "grey" gene switched on, he will become a grey. If the gene is switched off, he will not go grey. Grey is a dominant gene. This means that, in order to be grey, a horse must have at least one grey parent. It does not mean that all grey horses will have grey foals, or even that the offspring of two grey horses will definitely be grey, since the parents will not necessarily pass their grey genes on to their progeny.
Horses with the "roan" gene are born with white hairs mixed into the base color of their coats. They don't get progressively greyer with age, and they generally don't have much or any roaning on their heads, manes, tails or lower legs. Some roan horses may get darker as they age. The gene for roan, like the gene for grey, is a separate on-or-off switch. A horse may have a coat of any base color, and if the roan gene is switched on, that color will be mixed with white, giving the horse a new color. Black with roan makes a blue roan; bay with roan makes a red roan; chestnut with roan makes a strawberry roan and so on. The gene for roan is not as common as the gene for grey, but it occurs in many breeds. It does not, however, occur in Thoroughbreds: if your Thoroughbred's papers say he is a "roan" this usually means that he is genetically a grey. Roan is especially common in some pony breeds, draft breeds, and Spanish breeds, or breeds with Spanish ancestry. (Think of the Quarter Horse.) Like the grey gene, the roan gene is dominant. A roan horse must have at least one roan parent.

A chestnut Thoroughbred with Birdcatcher spots. No, he is not an Appaloosa.
There is also another roan-type pattern called rabicano, a word which comes from archaic Spanish meaning "white tail." In the west, rabicano horses are often referred to as "skunk-tailed." They generally have rings of white hairs at the top of their tails, along with roaning that is generally limited to the barrel and the flank. True roans get darker as they age, but rabicanos tend to get lighter. Rabicanos might have just a little white hair, or they might have so much that they appear to be true roans – the gene for rabicano might even be turned on in conjunction with the gene for true roan. It is often associated with a type of pinto-type coloring called Sabino, which tends to cause high white socks, a wide blaze and small white patches, usually on the barrel. Rabicano roaning may also be more prevalent in chestnut horses. Rabicanos occur in breeds that do not have true roans, such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds, but the genetics are not yet well understood. If your horse has some white at the top of his tail, and if the majority of the white hairs in his coat are near his flank and stifle, he might be a rabicano.

Another type of white pattern that can occur in Thoroughbreds is called Birdcatcher spots. Birdcatcher spots are distinct white spots that crop up anywhere on the horse's body. They can be just a few hairs, or they can be spots the size of a quarter or larger. Horses with a lot of Birdcatcher spots might even look like snowflake Appaloosas, though this kind of white spotting is not related to the genes that cause Appaloosa coloring.

Birdcatcher spots are not well understood, and they may even come and go throughout the horse's lifetime. They are probably under genetic control, since they seem to run in some families, but no one has established exactly what their genetics are. They are named for an Irish racehorse named Birdcatcher who had the spots. He was born in 1833, won six major stakes races before being retired to stud, and was among the leading sires in Great Britain. He stood for 23 years before his owner, William Disney, had him put down, at age 27, for being unable to cover "the good sized mare" Queen Bee.

Finally, some horses have random white hairs scattered in their coats. They might appear to be solid colored, until you examine them very closely, when you will notice an admixture of white. Horses with this kind of white in their coats are "a bit more confusing" writes Dr. Sponenberg. Although there may be a genetic component, "I don't think anyone knows why this happens to some horses!"

So now that we have given you the long answer to your question, here is the short answer "No one knows." Yet. There are currently many genetic studies being done on horses, especially through the Equine Genome Project, which is a cooperative international effort being carried out by hundreds of scientists in over 20 countries. One goal of this research is to discover new therapies for equine diseases such as laminitis.

Another goal is to understand human diseases more completely. Equine genetics can help: scientists at Uppsala University in Sweden studied the greying gene, which they determined to be caused by a single genetic mutation that they traced back to a single common ancestor. Horses with the greying gene are predisposed to a certain type of benign melanoma that may turn malignant. ("Grey horse cancer.") By studying grey horses and their genes, the scientists hope to be able to discover the molecular pathways and regulatory mechanisms that lead to tumor development.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fantasy Footing | 6/10/2013

Bridlewood’s GGT Arena

By Pam Gleason

When people talk about why they come to Aiken, they always mention the footing. It's sandy, so it is easy on hooves. It never freezes, so you can ride all year round. Aiken's natural soil is ideal if you want to foxhunt or go for a trail ride. But if you are riding and competing seriously, you are going to need an arena. And if you are riding in an arena every day, you will discover that you need to do something to keep your footing useable. Aiken's natural sand gets ground up into a fine powder if you ride over the same spots every day. If it is dry, you will have dust; if it is wet, there will be mud. Aiken's got good footing, but if you want great footing, you are going to need to bring in some footing.

"We did a lot of research on different kinds of footing for our arena," says Jenna Weiner, who, along with her family, owns Bridlewood Farm in Aiken. Jenna trains and competes in the hunter/jumper ring. "In the end, it came down to two different types, and we chose GGT footing, because we thought it was the best, especially for jumping."
GGT Footing textile arrives in large bales.

John Abbott, who is Bridlewood's trainer, says that riding in a GGT arena was what sold him the product. "I went to Florida and rode in a GGT arena at the Winter Equestrian Festival," he says. "That convinced me that it was the best product. The nice thing about it is that the horses love it. It's like if you put the best pair of running shoes on that you could possibly wear. You can tell the horses are comfortable on it. It's never heavy, and it's never slick. It's also very clean and it has great traction."

Jenna explains that a lot went into making the arena. First, they put down a level base and created efficient drainage. Then, they installed the footing. GGT stands for German Geo Textile, and GGT is the equestrian division of the American textile company, Polysols. The footing itself is made of remnant first-cut polyester material, which is then mixed with sand. GGT provides three basic types of material. First there is "Geo" which looks like felt flakes, then there is polyester fiber, which looks like 1-2 inch long threads. Geo is the basic ingredient for riding arenas, while many high end arenas used for dressage and jumping have a custom recipe of Geo with fiber. One custom blend includes a third type of elastic fiber made from lycra fiber to give the surface more spring. There is also a new colored blend that cuts down on the glare if the arena is located in a sunny spot. Whatever the blend, the textile comes in large square bales, and can be delivered directly to the arena or to a sand quarry for blending.

"We were lucky because the quarry where we got our sand in Columbia was able to mix the GGT footing in right there," says Jenna. "Then, when they brought the footing to us, it was already completely mixed and perfectly consistent. Today, if you look down in the arena, the footing is exactly the same everywhere you look."

Cynthia Brewster Keating, who is the national account manager for GGT, lives in Aiken and swears by the product. She explains that one of the main benefits of GGT is that the textile fibers retain water. A good irrigation system is also necessary as it to keep the sand from becoming dusty, giving the footing a firm resiliency that is a good shock absorber, but that never feels deep.

The GGT arena at Black Forest Equestrian, home of Shawna Harding Dressage.
"The best way to describe it is to think of walking on the beach," says Cynthia. "If you are up away from the water, the sand is dry and deep and hard to walk in. When you go down near the water's edge, especially at low tide, the sand is wet, but it is firm and it supports your weight. You don’t sink into it, and it feels good to walk on. That's what GGT footing does for your arena."

GGT has been making arena footing for about 20 years in Europe but only expanded to the United States in 2008. They now have a factory in Spartanburg, S.C. and installations at many of the top horse show and private training facilities in the United States. In addition to WEF, there is also GGT footing at Dressage at Devon, Princeton Showjumping, the Hampton Classic, the Sacramento Horse Show, the World Dressage Masters, White Fences Equestrian, the Upperville Horse and Pony Show . . . the list goes on. Bridlewood is the most recently installed GGT arena in Aiken, but it is not the only one. For instance, there is another GGT arena at Black Forest Equestrian Center where the dressage rider Shawna Harding teaches and trains, and Daniel Geitner stables has a GGT arena.

GGT footing has a lot of positive buzz in the horse world, and demand for the product was up more than 25% over last year. It tends to be its own best salesman. "People ride on it at a show and they really like it," says Cynthia. "Then they want the same arena at home."

The company also offers specialty groomers for arenas that keep the footing firm underneath and fluffy on top, and they sell arena additives that can keep down dust and reduce the need to water the arena as frequently.

One of the latest innovations is the new Butterfly Mat, which can be installed between the base and the footing. These mats make it possible to have a thinner base and to use less footing while also providing skid resistance and shock absorption. Made from recycled material, they include drainage holes for times when there is too much water, as well as water cups, to retain moisture when there is not enough. The mats can even be installed over concrete, making it possible to convert an indoor warehouse into an indoor arena, for instance. Put down the mats, cover them with a GGT and sand mixture, and you’re ready to go.

Planning and building a professional-quality arena is not a small undertaking, and there is a lot to learn about what makes a good riding surface. With so many years of making equestrian footing behind it, GGT has developed a number of different ways to create and maintain an arena that can be custom-tailored to any discipline, from show jumping to dressage to Western. Those who ride for pleasure might also consider adding some textile to their riding areas – they might not need a professional surface, but a little textile can go a long way. "It makes the arena softer," says Cynthia with a laugh. "If I'm going to fall off, I'd rather do it onto GGT footing than onto the ground, I can tell you that!"

"I absolutely recommend it," says John Abbott. "If you can afford to do it, do it. For a facility like ours, it is definitely worth the investment. I ride six to eight horses a day and I have clients in there all day, so it gets a lot of use. The horses go so well on it. After riding on it, I can also tell that my horses are going to stay sounder longer because it gives them such a good cushion and it's just very comfortable. That right there makes it worth it. I really love it, and we're so fortunate to have it."

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sporting Day of Traditional Driving | 6/3/2013

A Nostalgic Competition

Story by Mary Jane Howell, Photo by Louisa Davidson

If someone had stumbled upon Katydid Farm in Windsor one sunny day in late March they might have thought they had gone back in time. There was a splendid array of horses, beautiful carriages and attractively dressed men and women. A time warp in Aiken? No, it was the 12th annual Sporting Day of Traditional Driving.

The purpose of a Sporting Day of Traditional Driving is to preserve and celebrate the carriage-driving style of bygone days, which encompasses horsemanship, driving acumen, care and preservation of carriage and harness, and the intangible qualities of good sportsmanship. The Sporting Day focuses on traditional driving and includes three phases: a turnout inspection, a country drive, and the cones course. All types of carriages are accepted, but antique vehicles or traditional reproductions of the same are preferred. In the same vein, traditional leather harness that is appropriate to the vehicle is preferred over synthetic harness.

Although intended more as a celebration of traditional driving than as a competition, the Sporting Day of Traditional Driving does contain competitive elements. Each turnout is competing against an ideal, rather than against the other turnouts in attendance. The optimum score of 100 is broken down among the three phases as follows: a possible 50 points for the turnout inspection, 25 for the country drive, and 25 for the cones course.

"This is an event that has certainly grown over the past few years," says Peggy Dils, who is the president of the Aiken Driving Club, which is the organization that sponsors the event. "I think people are looking back at the tradition of driving and rediscovering the roots of the sport. When drivers discover how much fun the Sporting Day is they really come out and support it."

Jane Simmons competed Riggs, her mini, and took first prize in her division, the VSEs (very small equine).

"I was very pleased with our result, especially with how well Riggs did on the country drive (the marathon course that was a bit more than five miles). We live out in Hopeland Farms and I put a lot of miles on Riggs going back and forth on Implement Road – but it paid off for us," Jane says. "There were several four-in hand entries and they were just exquisite."

Katrina Becker won the top prize with her four-in-hand, while Peggy Keeler was the overall winner.

"The Sporting Day of Traditional Driving is the one event in driving where the horse is not the major player. It’s about the driver, carriage and harness," says Pixie Baxter, who is a recent past president of the Aiken Driving Club. "It's a day to celebrate driving the way it was two centuries ago. When you see the carriages (and some are true antiques) and beautiful harnesses it really takes your breath away. You know that the drivers have taken the time to be meticulous about everything – from the braiding to the brass being polished."

"I think events like this one are growing because there is a cultural shift in our country – people are realizing that when something is done well – no matter if it's the perfect note of a trumpet, the cut of a dress, or a horse, carriage and driver that are immaculately presented – it brings pleasure," adds Pixie.

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