Friday, January 29, 2016

A Driving Passion

Shane Doyle's Life With Horses

By Pam Gleason

Photography By Gary Knoll

Shane Doyle has international aspirations. Better known in Aiken as the owner of Shane Doyle Farms LLC, an arena building and custom farming company, Shane also competes on the combined driving circuit. He drove his horse Coletto, a 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding, in the intermediate division at the Katydid CDE in November 2015 and plans to enter more competitions over the winter in Florida. He has another horse named Tokyo, a Selle Francais that was a ridden dressage horse until about two years ago. In the future, he would like to develop the two as a pair.

"Both are fantastic riding horses," he says. "And they need to be if you are going to be competitive. A lot of the upper level movements require an extensive amount of flatwork." To be able to compete a pair at the highest levels, you generally need a third horse to serve as an alternate, and Shane hopes to find one sometime soon.

"Horses are my passion," he continues. "I don't want to drive as a business; I consider it a lifelong learning process. My ultimate goal is to compete internationally, but I am taking it slow and not rushing things."

Shane was raised on a 165-acre farm in New Jersey that has been in his family for six generations, and so farming is in his blood. He started learning about growing hay and caring for the land when he was very young, and he grew up riding ponies and enjoying the country life. When he was 18, he changed direction, going into business for himself in the road and highway construction field. His company was involved in projects that included work on major highways and airports in the metropolitan New York area. Throughout his 20s and into his 30s, he developed an expertise in road building, learning all about drainage, site preparation and laser leveling.

"I was away from horses for a time," he says. "But then I started riding again, and eventually got into driving." His driving mentor is Jimmy Fairclough, who has competed a four-in-hand on the U.S combined driving team regularly since the early 1990s.

"Once I got back to horses, my business began to do more and more work on horse facilities, especially on riding arenas. Road building and arena building are really very similar - they have the same issues with grading, drainage, compaction and leveling. The more I did with horses on my own time, the more my business got drawn into the horse world too."

Shane's company has worked on horse facilities up and down the East Coast and as far west as Texas. He and his crew have created several first class dressage and jumping arenas in the Aiken area, where they have friends and enjoy spending time. They also currently have a project in North Carolina where they are working on a farm owned by Doug Payne, the upped level event rider.

The company has a small number of team members comprised of horse people who have a genuine and personal understanding of the equestrian world and long experience in construction. These include Shane's longtime associate Clint Bertalan, who has worked with him for over 20 years starting when the company was still focused on highway construction. Another one of his associates is Ryan Fairclough, whose father, Jimmy is Shane's driving mentor, and whose mother Robin is a Grand Prix showjumping rider.

"We own all our own equipment, so we have the ability to be very mobile," Shane says. "We can do the whole job from start to finish, so we are really a full service equestrian facilities planning and construction company."

For most of the year, Shane is based at his family farm in New Jersey. In addition to his work on horse facilities, he also grows and sells hay, farming a total of about 600 acres and harvesting 30,000 small square bales a year. This, a return to his farming roots, gives Shane a special appreciation of the earth, and how to help the grass grow.

"I remember my grandfather always referred to the soil as a bank account," he says. "He said you could not keep drawing from the bank account without replenishing it. At a certain point, your bank account will run dry if you don't make any deposits, in this case fertilizer, lime and organic material."

Shane brings his understanding of soil and turf to another type of riding facility that is becoming popular in Aiken, the grass turf arena or exercise area. This is a riding area that has been specially prepared to be level, with good drainage, consistent firmness, and durable grass footing.

"We start by removing the topsoil and laser grading the subsoil - we laser grade it just the way we would if we were preparing it for a new sand riding arena. Then we put the topsoil back evenly distributed, laser grade that; then we use a Bermuda high quality turf mix, similar to what you would see at a sod farm or a polo field. For a private facility that doesn't have as many horses on it as a commercial farm, the turf holds up fantastic."

In addition to being attractive and functional, a turf arena has the advantage of being more economical. To build a sand arena with professional footing, you need to truck in hundreds of tons of stone dust or gravel, which is not available in the Aiken area, and it gets expensive very quickly. Additives that are mixed into the sand arena can also have a big price tag. Shane estimates that his turf arenas cost about a third as much as sand arenas of a similar size.

"We're really excited about them," says Shane. "We're doing more of them every year. We think for the smaller farms where there are not 15 to 20 horses using the arena over the course of the day it's a nice alternative. You have to take care of it - you have to be sure you have irrigation, and treat it the way you would treat a quality lawn. We also encourage the owners not to ride in a specific area and create a track, but to vary the patterns of their riding."

As Shane explains it, a turf arena takes advantage of the natural drainage and sandy soil that has made Aiken a horseman's Mecca for generations. His company also offers consulting services for those who need help maintaining their riding areas, whether these have a grass or a sand surface. "It's not something we advertise, but it is something we do more and more of."

What does Shane enjoy about his work? The easiest answer for him is that he works so that he will be able to enjoy his horses, especially on the driving circuit. But his passion for combined driving and for his work seem to spring from the same love of horses and desire to excel and the same careful regard for the details that can make or break a performance, or mean the difference between a first class horse facility and an average one.

"In driving, the relationship you have with your horse is very important," he says. "I sometimes think, for those of us who drive, there has to be something extra, another type of connection, because we can't use our seat and our legs. Going cross country, there is very little margin for error in the obstacles, and you have to drive them just right. And with the distances in the marathon, you have to condition your horse just right, too."

And what drives him in his profession?

"I appreciate a beautiful property that has horses on it. It's very satisfying to add to its beauty. We're a small company, and because of that we're able to pay extra attention to details. Our goal isn't to be the big. We want to deliver high quality work and have repeat customers and continue to enjoy our relationship with them. It comes down to a lifestyle issue with us. We are driven by doing a good job, and we're passionate about what we do. I am fortunate to have people who work with me who have the same regard for horses. All of us that are involved with horses understand that details are very important. You have to get them right."

Learn more about Shane and his company on his website:

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Build Your Jumping Skills with Anne Kursinski

Ride a line of jumps two ways to hone your eye and establish the correct pace and track.

By Anne Kursinski With Miranda Lorraine

Adapted from Chapter 9 of Anne Kursinski’s Riding & Jumping Clinic by Anne Kursinski with Miranda Lorraine with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

In this exercise, you’ll ride the same line two ways, first as a straight line and then as a bending line. In both, the way you turn to the first fence is the most crucial part of the exercise because it’s in this turn that you establish your line, the guiding function of your eyes and the rhythm and pace to take you through successfully. Study the diagram and be sure you understand the line—the approach as well as the center section—for both variations. As long as you do understand, your correct position will enable you to use the other skills effectively; just by looking where you want to go, you’ll automatically signal to your body how much hand and leg it must apply to take you there.

The two jumps can be ridden either as a 
diagonal line (A) or a bending line (B).
Set a single low vertical—2 feet high or 18 inches if that makes you feel more comfortable—with ground rails on both sides. Place the fence about a third of the way down the middle of your working space. (Set all your fences this way for the following exercises so that they can be ridden in either direction. That gives you added variety without added effort.)

Set your second fence at a slight angle to the first, 72 feet away (measure the distance by walking directly from the center of the first fence to the center of the second). To help you understand the lines I want you to ride, use two cones or markers. Set one cone just inside where you’d need to turn in to ride a straight line that meets the centers of both fences on the diagonal; put a second cone halfway between the two fences just slightly to the right of the straight line.

Coming around your ring at a normal canter pace, turn so that your track takes you just to the outside of the first cone. Looking ahead, you’ll see a straight line across the middle of both fences (line A in the drawing) passing just to the inside of the second cone. If you find this line and maintain your normal canter pace, the distance between fences will ride as a smooth five strides.

Remember to keep your line straight, which means that you’re going to meet both fences in the center—but at a bit of an angle.

Diagonal Line

1: Cantering around the cone in the turn makes me see a straight line over the two fences, even though I'm riding to the first fence at a slight angle. Once I find my line, all I need to do is stay on it, maintaining my pace and rhythm.

2: Over this fence my eyes are glued on the center stripe on the rail. A horse with an average 12-foot stride should easily get five strides in the 72-foot distance. 

3: I have my straight line just inside the second cone, on my left. Riding around the outside of the first cone and inside the second has helped me keep my line. There's no need to steer because I made the line way back in the turn and I know the second fence will happen automatically.

Finish the exercise with a halt on a straight line, evaluate your ride and then repeat until jumping fences at an angle becomes fairly normal and you're consistent about meeting both fences in the center. Now ride the same two jumps as a bending line. At the same normal canter pace, make your turn to the first fence inside the first cone this time so that you meet the first fence at a 90-degree angle. From there, sight the center of the second fence and ride a bending line to it, passing to the outside of the second cone at about the halfway point. On this bending line, you should comfortably fit in six strides between fences if you maintain your rhythm and pace. Meet the second fence squarely and in the middle and halt on a straight line a few strides afterward. 

Diagonal Line

1: Way back in the turn - and this time I'm turning to the inside of the first cone - I'm looking straight at the first fence. I also check out where the second cone and second fence are in relation to the first fence.

2: As I land from the first fence, I can see my line around the cone to the second fence.

3: Riding around the cone automatically makes the bending line and it creates a straight line to the center of the second fence. Just as in riding a turn on the flat, if I look where I want to go, I'll get there. As always, I'm counting strides between the fences and as I near the fence I see the six is there.

4: The six strides worked out perfectly, and now I hold my line to complete the exercise.

Once you're comfortable with the bending line and the six-stride distance between fences, ride it as a seven. You'll have to start with a shorter stride, which you'll have fully established by the time you make the turn to the first fence. Enlarge your bend just a little to be sure you have enough room for the seven. Again, concentrate on making the trip smooth and remember to learn a little something from each less-than-satisfactory try until you're consistent all the way down the line every time you ride it.

A five-time Olympian, three-time World Equestrian Games team member and two-time Olympic silver medalist, Anne Kursinski trained with legends such as George Morris and Jimmy Williams. In 1983, she was the first American rider to win the Grand Prix of Rome, aboard Livius. Four years later, aboard Starman, she was a part of three winning Nations Cup teams and became the second woman to win the Grand Prix of Aachen. In 1995, riding Dynamite, she won the American Gold Cup for a fourth time. In 1998, riding Eros, she was the first woman to win the $450,000 Pulsar Crown Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico. She trains and teaches out of her facility, Market Street, in New Jersey.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Practical Horseman. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, January 8, 2016

EQUUS Consultants: Eye Lumps & Bumps

Medical Editor Matthew Mackay-Smith answers an EQUUS reader's question about lumps around the eye and discusses careful management of sarcoids and melanomas.

By Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM

Question: A small bump recently appeared near my 1 1/2-year-old gelding's left eye. It doesn't seem to bother him when I touch it. What is it, and could it pose a problem in the future?

Answer: Three sorts of small, firm, painless lumps commonly appear near the eye:

  • Foreign body reactions (usually from a splinter or thorn tip). Tiny penetrating objects can get trapped in the skin. Because of the abundant circulation near the eye, they may get "sterilized" by body defenses without the usual infection and pus such items can cause elsewhere. The penetrant usually leaves a faint mark where it pierced the skin.
  • Sarcoid. This viral tumor is slightly contagious. It often seats near the eye, perhaps inoculated by a fly or into a fly bite or slight abrasion. Most are hair covered and slow growing and pose little problem for several years, at least. A few grow or multiply enough to need treatment, which may include freezing, radiation, surgery or immune stimulants, alone or in combination.
  • Melanoma. This black-cell tumor is common near the body openings of gray horses, less so in other colors. Like a sarcoid, it usually grows slowly and needs one or more treatment approaches when and if it starts enlarging significantly.

The key to small lumps is to watch them carefully, measure them with a ruler or caliper once or twice a year and record the size. Then, if you notice a growth spurt, you can get timely treatment to avoid disfigurement.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.