Friday, February 26, 2016

A Passion for Excellence

The Evolution of Stable View Farm

Story and Photography By Pam Gleason

In September 2016, Stable View Farm will hold the first ever Advanced Level horse trials in Aiken. Although Aiken County has been a premier destination on America’s eventing map for almost two decades, none of the existing competition venues have had Advanced courses. Stable View, which held its own first horse trials in the fall of 2014, is rapidly becoming an eventing destination in its own right, as well as a significant contributor to Aiken’s equestrian world. Not only that, the owners, Barry and Cyndy Olliff, are exploring ways to allow their farm to reach its full potential as something more: a place that will help integrate Aiken’s horse world into the local community and be a vital element in securing a more vibrant future for the city.

The Olliffs, whose full time home is in Pennsylvania, have owned Stable View for five years. Cyndy is the horse person of the pair: she originally came South to go foxhunting and decided she liked the Aiken winters. Wanting a place where she could stay and keep her horses over the colder months, she had initially planned on finding a small property to buy.

But when the Olliffs saw Stable View, formerly a hunting preserve that belonged to the Sage Valley Hunt Club, they fell in love. Their original purchase was 160 acres of rolling, partially cleared woods and fields, with a spectacular main stable commanding a view over the valley. There were also various kennels and equipment barns, which have now been converted into stables and apartments. 

Over the ensuing years, the Olliffs also added more living quarters for boarders and grooms, along with a home for themselves, and an international caliber equestrian training facility. There is a cross-country course, an oversized, covered arena and an outdoor arena, both with world class footing installed by Attwood Equestrian Surfaces. In the summer of 2015, they purchased 830 additional acres and got to work on the Advanced eventing course. In the fall, they broke ground on a new dressage arena. They are also working on a grass Derby field, which is being built by Shane Doyle Farm Services. Finally, they are adding more grass dressage areas as well as a long, up-hill training gallop. 

It’s an immense undertaking, and one that has been carried out only after careful research and meticulous planning. It has also called upon the talents of some of the most respected names in eventing, not just in Aiken or in America, but in the world. The cross country courses have been designed by Captain Mark Phillips, the former chef d’equipe of the U.S. eventing team and an internationally respected course designer from England. The cross country fences are built by Eric Bull, whose jumps can be found at the top eventing facilities in the country. The Advanced stadium course will be the work of Richard Jeffrey, another Englishman who has created the show jumping courses at Rolex Kentucky, America’s only four-star event, as well as at the English four-stars, Burghley and Blenheim.

“With the three of them, it’s about as good as we can get,” says Barry.

Aiken’s winter colony of world class riders has been in on the development of Stable View from the beginning. Boyd Martin, an upper level rider and a member of the U.S Eventing team makes the farm his winter home. This year, his wife Silva, a Grand Prix dressage rider will also train at Stable View – the new dressage arena is being put in with her in mind. The facility has also been the location of the USEF High Performance Eventing training sessions for past few winters. 

The Olliffs come to horse sports with a fresh set of eyes and a unique perspective. Barry, in particular, had little previous exposure to the equestrian world. Born in England, he is a finance professional, who admits that he is sometimes confused by the looser attitude in the horse world, where many businesses are run by people who are horsemen first and business people second – sometimes a very distant second. Barry has the opposite approach. He has an analytical mind and a keen desire to figure things out and get them right. Before making decisions, he consults the best people he can find, not just in the horse world but in academia as well. 

For instance, in addition to creating their Advanced course, Barry and Cyndy are also exploring additional uses for their property. Before making any decisions, they gave three MBA students a task: conduct research on how it might work to run five different businesses at Stable View, including corporate retreats, weddings, and riding programs for people with disabilities and children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be in contact with horses. 

These are some areas that interest the Olliffs, but they are open to other suggestions as well, as long as those suggestions are in keeping with their enjoyment of the outdoors and their commitment to conservation and environmental responsibility. That commitment runs through everything that they do. For instance, when they started construction on their dressage arena this fall, they saved the 15 trees that needed to be removed to be used in the construction of jumps on the cross country course. Although this seems perfectly natural and sensible, it is not the kind of thing that is always done in this area.

Another consideration that is always at the forefront of the Olliff ’s plans is how their activities will fit into the Aiken horse world as a whole. They want to be sure that what they do adds to existing elements, rather than competing with them. Their desire to be a world class training facility is driven partially by an eagerness to make Aiken a more attractive destination, thus improving the atmosphere and economy for all of Aiken’s horsemen.

“I love Aiken,” says Cyndy. “I love everything about Aiken. What we are doing is all about becoming part of the nucleus of Aiken and doing things here that will help Aiken grow and prosper. Aiken has so much to offer – let’s do things that will bring more people here to enjoy these things. What if we could start to get the Europeans to come over here during their rainy season? This place would become a training Mecca.”

“This is the only place in the Northern Hemisphere where there is decent weather in the winter months,” adds Barry. “We have to get people from the outside in: we can’t all be introverted, even though Aiken is a great place now. We have to look ahead: what is going to happen in a decade, in two decades.”

“And if you can do that, bring in more people to enjoy Aiken, you will create an environment where the local Aiken people have jobs and don’t have to leave,” finishes Cyndy. “The kids won’t go to college and then move to another part of the country. They’ll be able to stay and continue the cycle of the community.”

The Olliffs are looking forward to Barry’s official retirement in four years, so that he and Cyndy can move down to Aiken and work at Stable View full-time. Talking to the Olliffs, you get a sense that they see the horse world as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and that they are excited about finding the right pieces to complete it and find out exactly where they fit. One might wonder, however, why they are working so hard on this new ambitious venture, at a time in their lives when many people might be thinking of slowing down a bit.

“I don’t want to be someone that retires and watches the History Channel,” says Barry. “I want to be active. I like it here. I found, coming to America, that I actually enjoy cutting grass. I also feel, if you are going to be active, you should do something you are passionate about.” And what is Barry passionate about?

“I like doing a good job to the highest standard,” he replies without hesitation. “That’s the simplest way to say it.”

Cyndy, who describes herself as the emotional half of the couple, says that her passion is more about sharing and making a difference for other people. “I’m about community outreach, sharing horses with the community. The idea that horses can be therapeutic, can help heal people, is something that speaks to me.” She turns to Barry. “Is that fair?” she asks.

“Yes, absolutely,” he replies. Then he laughs. “But you are also pretty picky about things being done well yourself, if you don’t mind me saying so.” 

She laughs, too. “I learned that from you,” she says.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Marilyn Heath: What A Dressage Judge Wants to See

By Marilyn Heath
USEF “S” judge offers her view on what she wants to see from dressage riders and their horses

I wish I knew when I was competing what I now know as a judge. The judge’s perspective puts a whole new light on the way a rider presents her horse. Competitors often make the mistake of thinking that because they can do the “tricks” of the level, then that’s where they should show. The judge, however, wants to see a horse ridden with correct basics for each level according to the purpose as written on the test. Just because you can do a flying change doesn’t necessarily mean you have a Third Level horse. For example, I sometimes see horses doing a flying change who are not on the bit—a basic requirement. There should be evidence that the Training Scale is being followed in the training of the horse.

The judge appreciates the rider who understands the geometry of the arena, uses the corners correctly and rides transitions and figures accurately. Thoughtful and proper preparation for movements and transitions is also appreciated. I am always amazed at the unnecessary waste of points due to careless use of the arena and attention to detail.

It is interesting to sit in the judge’s box and observe how different horse-and-rider combinations ride each movement. Some riders execute the basics more correctly and fulfill the criteria of each movement more fully than others. The judge observes whether the criteria of each movement are being met.

For instance, in the shoulder-in, the quality and cadence of the collected trot should be maintained. Judges want to see that the angle is correct and that the shoulder-in doesn’t appear more like a leg yield. A judge will also look to make sure the horse is fulfilling the purpose of the shoulder-in. This means he will become more engaged, step under the midline of his body with the inside hind leg and bend the joints of his inside hind leg, lowering his hip. The horse should be correctly bent away from the direction of travel and appear to be uniformly bent around the inside leg of the rider. He shouldn’t be over bent in his neck or falling out through his outside shoulder. Overall, the horse needs to be in a balance that is appropriate to the level.

Tempi changes must be in balance and rhythmic, and the quality of the canter and the impulsion must be maintained. The horse must be in self-carriage, straight, obedient and sensitive to the aids. The quality of the changes will also be in question, with judges looking to see if there are mistakes in either the count or the changes themselves and making sure the changes are centered on X.

In the canter pirouette, the gait quality and cadence should be maintained. The hindquarters of the horse should be well-engaged, lowered and show good flexion of the joints. The horse must remain on the bit with a light contact with the poll at the highest point, and he must be slightly bent in the direction in which he is turning. The pirouette (or half pirouette) must be the correct size for the level, and the horse must take the correct number of steps. In preparation for the pirouette, the judge will look to see if there is increased activity and collection. Additionally, the balance must be maintained during the pirouette and as the horse proceeds at the completion.

Above all, the judge would like to see a harmonious combination. It should look easy. It should look like the horse is performing of his own accord the wishes of the rider. Are the aids obvious or discreet? The judge should feel like he or she would just love to ride that horse.

Over and over as I judge, my scribes or judge candidates sitting in the box with me tell me what an eye-opener it is to be in the judge’s box and learn what it looks like through the judge’s eyes. The USDF “L” Education Program is a great educational opportunity. It teaches riders who aspire to become judges the intricacies and demands of judging. It educates riders to know how the judge thinks, what the judge is looking at and is looking for as well as how judges are taught to arrive at the correct score and formulate constructive and helpful comments. I often hear “L” graduates comment that they are recommending that all their students at least audit the USDF “L” Education Program. They feel that by understanding the judge’s point of view, their students will become more successful competitors.

Just imagine how much better riders could present their horses if they were more conscious of the judge’s perspective. It is a perspective I could have benefited from during my competitive career.

Marilyn Heath is a USEF “S” judge. She earned her USDF bronze, silver and gold medals and has trained and competed through Grand Prix. She was long-listed by the U.S. Equestrian Team (USET) in the 1980s and competed for the USET at the World Championships in 1986. Dedicated to educating future judges, she has been chair of the USDF “L” Education Program for nine years.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eventing in Aiken

Winter 2015 - 2016

By Pam Gleason

It’s winter, and that means that the eventing world is on its way way to Aiken. Aiken has a large and growing population of event riders, trainers and students who practice their craft at many facilities throughout the county all year round. The local competition schedule is also year round these days, catering to anyone who wants to get out and put some cross country or stadium miles on a horse, demonstrate their dressage skills under the watchful eyes of a judge, or rack up points for year end awards. 

Aiken’s eventing world might seem pretty active in the spring, summer and fall, but in the winter, when the footing freezes and the competitions shut down in the North, the eventing world here kicks into a higher gear. December is still relatively calm, but by January, when the bigger stables from the Northeast and MidAtlantic have made their annual pilgrimage South, the Aiken eventing calendar fills with activity. In February and March, there are so many horse trials, combined trials and other events that many riders never have time to unpack their trailers – it is go, go, go all the time. Not only are there more competitive opportunities, there are also more competitors, some of them of the highest possible caliber. These include green horses that are destined for international competition, along with riders who are on their way to, or have already reached lofty summits. Even a schooling horse trial is likely to attract an Olympian or two. 

Aside from all the local and recognized competitions, the winter season also offers various kinds of clinics and lessons. The most highprofile of these are the High Performance Eventing sessions given by United States Equestrian Federation coaches for riders who have been named to the various USEF High Performance Training lists. The lists for this winter were published in early November, and, as usual, contain about half a dozen horsemen who make Aiken their winter home. The exact dates and locations for the sessions have yet to be announced, but it seems likely that they will be held in Aiken once again during February and March. Portions of these clinics are usually open to the public, so that those who are interested can listen in on what the coaches have to say to some of the best riders in our country. With the 2016 Brazil Olympics on the horizon, sessions are sure to be intense this year, so stay tuned to the Aiken Horse website and Facebook page for updated dates, times and locations.

There are also some new, and relatively new attractions in Aiken this winter. New attractions include Bruce’s Field at the recently-opened Aiken Horse Park, where there will be schooling jumper shows geared to event riders every Tuesday from January 5 through March 1, starting at 8:30 a.m. Bruce’s Field, which features state-of-the-art all-weather footing, held its first hunter/jumper shows this September to rave reviews – the two shows that Equus Events put on there this fall even won the United States Hunter Jumper Association Competitors Choice Award in the Zone 4 National Rated Horse Show category. The park features five finished competition and warm-up arenas as well as eight permanent stables, and other structures and competition areas that are still being completed. The park will have its grand opening this coming May in conjunction with two weeks of the inaugural Aiken Charity Horse Shows. 

Other new attractions this winter include a pair of dressage clinics for event riders given by Silva Martin, who is a Grand Prix dressage competitor. These will be held at Stable View Farm in February and March. Stable View, which will have a new, all weather dressage arena, will also continue to hold its “Under the Stars” Jumper nights on the first Wednesday of each month. These are schooling shows that are getting increasingly popular – no wonder, since the facility is spectacular, and the program even includes prize money. It can definitely pay to play at Stable View – the two USEA/USEF recognized events this February and March will also be offering cash prizes. In March, Stable View also is holding a repeat of the Master Class given by Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton last winter. The event attracted a huge crowd last winter.

Where to go? What to do? We have pulled out the eventing dates from our Winter Calendar to put together a mini eventing calendar for easy reference. This is a guide only, because dates and details do change, so be sure to consult the relevant websites and event venues for confirmation. 

December 2015

5 Hunter Trials at Stable View Farm
6 Schooling Horse Trials at Full Gallop
12 Schooling Show CT and 3-phase at Poplar Place
20 CT at Highfields Event Center
30 Vacation Schooling Show at Sporting Days Farm

January 2016

2 Schooling Show CT and 3-phase at Poplar Place
5 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
6 “Under The Stars” Jumper Night at Stable View
9 CT Schooling Show at Stable View Farm
12 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
16 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Int, at Apple Tree Farm South
16 CT, Green as Grass to Advanced, Carolina Horse Park
17 CT at Full Gallop Farm
19 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
20 CT and Dressage Show at Paradise Farm
23-24 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Poplar Place
26 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
27 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
30-31 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Full Gallop Farm

February 2016

2 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
2-3 Recognized Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Stable View Farm
4 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
6-7 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Poplar Place
7 Horse Trials USEA/USEF, BN-IP, at Sporting Days Farm
9 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
9 Dressage Tests of Choice at Full Gallop Farm
10 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Full Gallop Farm
10 Silva Martin Clinic at Stable View Farm
11 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
12-14 Intermediate Horse Trials at Pine Top Farm
13 Schooling Show CT and 3-phase at Poplar Place
16 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
17 Schooling Horse Trials at Full Gallop
18 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Intere, at Apple Tree Farm South
19-21 Recognized Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Paradise Farm
20 CT, Green as Grass to Advanced, Carolina Horse Park
23 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
24 CT and Dressage Show at Paradise Farm
24 Schooling Horse Trials at Full Gallop
25 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
26-28 Advanced Horse Trials CIC3*, CIC2*, CIC1*, at Pine Top
27 Schooling Horse Trials, Tadpole-Prelim, Jumping Branch Farm
27 Schooling Show CT and 3-phase at Poplar Place

March 2016

1 Dressage Tests of Choice at Full Gallop Farm
1 Schooling Jumper Show at the Aiken Horse Park
2 “Under The Stars” Jumper Night at Stable View
2 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Full Gallop Farm
3 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
5-6 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Sporting Days Farm
9 CT and Dressage Show at Paradise Farm
9 Silva Martin Clinic at Stable View Farm
9 Eventing Derby at Sporting Days Farm
10 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
12-13 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Full Gallop Farm
12-13 Southern Pines Trials USEA/USEF at Carolina Horse Park
16 Schooling Horse Trials at Full Gallop Farm
17 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
22-23 Recognized Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Stable View Farm
23 2016 Derby, BN-P, at Jumping Branch Farm
24 Dressage and 2-phase, Starter-Inter, at Apple Tree Farm South
24-27 Carolina International USEA/USEF, CIC3*, CIC2*, CIC1*, at
Carolina Horse Park
25-27 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Poplar Place
30 CT and Dressage Show at Paradise Farm

April 2016

2-3 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Full Gallop Farm
6 CT and Dressage Show at Paradise Farm
6 “Under The Stars” Jumper Night at Stable View
10 CT at Full Gallop Farm
23 Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Sporting Days Farm
23-24 Longleaf Pine Horse Trials USEA/USEF at Carolina Horse Park

Important addresses and phone numbers:

Aiken Horse Park
931 Powderhouse Road.
Aiken, SC 29801

Apple Tree Farm South
1530 Oak Ridge Rd.
Windsor, SC 29856
Contact: Alison Eastman-Lawler, 603.345.0382,

Carolina Horse Park
2814 Montrose Rd.
Raeford, NC 28376
 Contact: Sarah Rabb, 910.875.2074 or 919.414.4492 ,

Full Gallop Farm
3828 Wagener Rd.
Aiken, SC 29805
Contact: Lara Anderson, 803.215.6590,

Jumping Branch Farm
179 Fox Pond Rd.
Aiken, SC 29801
Contact: Julie Zapapas, 803.642.3484,

Paradise Farm
4069 Wagener Rd.
Aiken, SC, 29805
Contact: Cindy Swartz, 803.507.4577, www.

Pine Top Farm
1432 Augusta Hwy.
Thomson, GA 30824,

Poplar Place Farm
8191 US 27
Hamilton, GA 31811
706.582.3742 ext 209,

Sporting Days Farm
3549 E. Charleston Hwy.
Aiken, SC, 29801

Stable View Farm
117 Stable Dr.
Aiken, SC, 29801
Call 484.356.3173, 

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

Formulating Footing

A Complicated Science

By Pam Gleason

Photography By Gary Knoll

Back in the spring of 2014, the Fédération Equestre Internationale released its Equine Surfaces White Paper, a 47-page document that presented the “latest data and published scientific papers on arena and turf surfaces, and the effects these have on horses in training and in competition.” According to the FEI, the paper was the result of four years of collaboration between eight experts from six universities in three countries, as well as three research testing facilities and two equine charities. The purpose of this project was to come up with a prescription for the best type of footing for horses in various kinds of competition.

The resulting document does not actually contain a prescription for footing so much as it identifies areas for further research, both into the characteristics of equestrian footing itself, and into ways that footing can be tested. Lars Roepstorff, a professor of functional anatomy of domestic animals at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was one of the authors of the paper. 

“The Equine Surfaces White Paper is a living document, and we will continue to update it as we develop our knowledge on surfaces and their influence on horse performance and soundness with new scientific studies and surface data, which is absolutely key as horse sport continues to grow around the world,” he said in a press release from the FEI.

Nick Attwood, who is the owner of Attwood Equestrian Surfaces based in Virginia was aware of the research that went into making the FEI white paper and has consulted with one of the authors, Mick Peterson at the University of Maine. Nick says that his company has installed hundreds of riding arenas and that he has been working to improve surfaces for different sports for over 30 years. His equestrian clients include international caliber event riders such as Boyd Martin and Will Faudree. In Aiken, Attwood is best known as the creator of the highly-praised arenas at Stable View Farm. Nick says that the white paper goes into a lot of detail, but one of the main things that it indicates is that we are still in the early days of identifying the optimum footing for horses in sport. 

“The core to the paper is a diagram that they have that shows the interaction of the hoof with the surface,” he says. “They try to characterize these different things that happen when the hoof meets the surface in terms that everyone can appreciate. When we are formulating our footing, we are thinking about all of the four phases that they describe.

“The first phase is concussion, the impact of the hoof striking the footing,” he continues. “You can have it too firm and you can have it too soft. There is a sweet spot, which is the right level of firmness, and we have our own test for that with a proprietary device that we use. When you walk on an arena, it is quite an easy thing to feel, and it is quite an easy thing to see from the evidence that the hoofprint gives you – we’ve all seen arenas that are maybe too firm, and ones that are maybe too soft and this is probably the first thing that people can identify when they ride on the footing. So we use our tests, and we also use our own observation to make sure that we have gotten it right.”

According to Nick, the second phase is starting to get more attention. This phase is what happens between the time the hoof hits the surface and the time that the horse’s full weight is on the leg. In this phase, it is important that the hoof is able to slide forward slightly and doesn’t simply stop as soon as it hits the ground.

“If you consider jumping and dressage, then we’re talking probably half an inch of slide,” says Nick. “We think it is very important, because we think that if there is no slide, or there is too much slide, that can lead to injuries in the horse.” Ideally, the footing needs to have enough sheer strength to keep the horse from slipping, but not so much that his foot can’t move forward to dissipate some shock. The various horse sports might require differing levels of sheer strength: a jumping horse might need less slide than barrel racer for instance. The particular needs of individual disciplines are currently being studied in several places.

The third phase is the support phase, when the horse’s full weight is upon the leg. During the support phase, it is important that the footing does not shift too much under the weight of the horse, again a question of the sheer strength of the footing, as well as of its firmness, evenness and stiffness. If the footing collapses too much under the horse’s foot, this can be excessively tiring. If it does not have any give at all, it can be hard on the bones and joints.

The final phase is when the horse begins to push off the surface. Here, there is a question of springiness, bounce or responsiveness. An ideal surface will have some amount of spring, but not too much. Too little spring and the surface will seem “dead”; ironically, too much spring might make the surface seem dead too, since a very springy surface will not bounce back until after the horse’s weight has shifted completely off his supporting leg, and will feel like it has no spring at all.

“There is a sweet spot for all of these things, and it is much more complicated than most people realize,” says Nick. To get it right requires experimentation, testing both in the laboratory and in the arena itself, and, crucially, correct and consistent maintenance.

According to Nick when his company creates a footing blend for a riding arena, they look at five different elements, each of them equally important. The first element is sand, and it is important to use the right variety and quality. “We go far and wide to find the best sand, because it is really, really critical,” he says. The sand has to be hard, and it has to be consistent. If the good arena sand does not exist in the area where the arena is being built, Attwood will truck it in.
The second and third elements are two kinds of additives. For instance, the outdoor arenas at Stable View use German Geo Textile footing (GGT) that consists of two different types of material that are mixed into the sand. The first type is pieces of chopped polyester felt that range from about an inch in diameter down to the size of a fingernail. The second element is polyester fibers that range from about a quarter of an inch to an inch and a half in length. The felt helps to hold moisture, while the fibers contribute to sheer strength and mimic the action of grass roots in a turf field.

The fourth element is water. For the footing to behave the way it is designed to, it needs moisture: again not too much and not too little. Finally, there is what Nick calls the “magic ingredient.”

“Air. This is one of the reasons why you drag the footing,” he says. “With these five ingredients, you can formulate it so that you get the properties that you want. We experiment with the first three elements in the lab to come up with the right prescription, but the customer still has to add the right amount of moisture and they still need to drag the arena to put the right amount of air in it. The deeper that you drag the arena, the more air you are putting in. Horse people can tune the footing to be the way they want with watering and dragging, and everyone has their own personal preference.”

The FEI white paper also included analysis of some of the most recent studies that have been done on how different types of footing affect horses physiologically. Much of the data that is available is derived from the racetrack, where various artificial surfaces have been installed. One of the main conclusions is that footing that has characteristics that make horses able to perform exceptionally well also tends to be associated with more injuries. This association between excellent performance and increased injury has not been seen in studies of human sports, and seems to be unique to equine athletes. The white paper’s authors do not have a clear answer as to why this is the case, but it is a phenomenon that is familiar to those who have spent time studying arenas and how to make them better. Creators of footing must understand how to balance issues of performance with issues of equine welfare.

Shane Doyle, who owns and runs Shane Doyle Farm Services LLC, says that he has been called in to fix arenas that initially appear to be fantastic, but in the long run have been associated with horses having various joint and tendon issues. 
“Horses tend to perform well on tight arenas,” he says. “But what you lose with that tight surface is give: there is not enough give to absorb the shock or the impact of the horse landing and pushing off. And if you train in an arena without enough give, you might have increased softtissue injuries.”

Shane says that sometimes the solution is to add more sand, other times to work with the customer to show them how to water and drag the arena to make it a little softer. “We’re encouraging arena owners to work the footing a little deeper,” he says. “Common sense needs to come into play: there needs to be a balance between performance and the long term effect on the horse.”

Joe Watkins from Longwood Farm in Ocala, Fla. has created worldclass arenas in many places, including his own farm, which regularly plays host to the USEF High Performance eventing training sessions as well as to various international Olympic teams. In Aiken he built the arenas at New Bridge Polo Club and at Bruce’s Field in the new Aiken Horse Park. He says that the newer arena additives, specifically GGT Footing, if properly applied, can provide that perfect balance, providing a surface that is both high performance and horse friendly.

“GGT was created to simulate grass roots, and if you mix it with sand, in the proportions supposed to, and you take care of it, it will behave like a natural footing,” he says. “At some show grounds they add in clay or other things that make the footing too firm. Then the arena holds up well, but it isn’t good for the horses. That arena is not built for the horse’s health: it’s made so that the show owner can run as many rounds as possible.”

Joe says that he believes that when there are problem arenas it is because people try to cut corners, creating an arena that does not have the proper five to six inches of footing installed over the base. Sometimes there is enough sand, but it is not mixed properly, and sometimes builders try to save money by skimping on additives.

“It isn’t all the builders’ fault, either,” he continues. “Making a good arena is expensive. If an owner tells the builder he wants to spend less money than it costs, then the builder doesn’t have much choice. I think that it’s up to horse people to become educated about footing and to do it right. As an equestrian, you should know. Tiger Woods knows more about grass than anybody in the world, I guarantee you. He knows how the greens play, how that changes when they are wet. Equestrians should know just as much about the footing they are riding on.”

Of course, just because a horseman understands footing, this does not mean he can necessarily create what he wants without professional help. Nick Attwood knows how complicated it can be to get it right, and he says that this is also one of the main take-aways from the FEI white paper.

“What we are working towards is trying to get empirical data so that we can literally formulate a footing that satisfies all the elements mentioned in the white paper. It’s actually really quite difficult to get all those properties in perfect balance. When you make changes to one, it changes all the other ones, and not always in the way that you want. 

“The purpose of the white paper is to try to identify what all the sweet spots are,” he continues. “We’re always looking for definitive answers – they don’t have those yet, but they are getting them. We’re all working towards this point where we can take sand, water and additives, mix it and test it and create perfect footing every time. But it’s a lot harder than you might think. I think, with the current trend of using these products that are specifically made to be added to sand in an equestrian arena, we are on the right road. But we are still just at the start of the journey.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EQUUS Consultants: Heaves & Nosebleeds

EQUUS magazine's stable of experts has answers to readers' tough questions on heaves and nosebleeds. 

Question: My 11-year-old gelding had been prescribed prednisone to control his heaves, but I found that -- as you reported in the March 2001 issue (see "Hold the Prednisone," EQUUS 282) -- that it did not help much and that environmental changes were much more effective. I wet down his hay and keep him outdoors as much as possible, which has really helped. However, he still suffers from signs such as nasal discharge, especially after trailering. I'm taking extra care in making the trailer as clean as possible and I wet down his hay before putting it in the trailer. Is there anything else I can do for him?

Answer: It sounds as if you are taking the right steps to protect your horse's respiratory health. The best management for the majority of "heavey" horses--the exceptions being those whose heaves is associated with pasture--is fulltime turnout with access to an open shelter. This strategy is healthy and humane even where winters are severe and prolonged.

Your horse's nasal discharge probably does not reflect any current or new disease in his lungs. Extra mucus is produced by the lung in response to inflammation. If an allergy, irritation or infection is prolonged, the hypersecretion of mucus persists for months or years--and may even last a lifetime. The extra mucus is sometimes cleared by a few wet coughs early in exercise or after a play session in the field, and most of the fluid drains away as the horse lowers his head to graze.

However, when a heavey horse is trailered for more than a few minutes, these secretions tend to pool at the point where the windpipe divides into the two large bronchi that enter the lungs. This accumulation provokes little, if any, coughing during the trip, but when the horse is unloaded and either allow to graze or asked to move about, the mucus either drains or gets coughed out, appearing at the nostril. After a road trip, I recommend giving horses with heaves an opportunity to graze before being bridled or put to work so that their lung secretions can be cleared rather than sucked deeper into the airways.

So, in answer to your question, there are a few more things you can do for your horse. For starters, keep him out on pasture full time. And to help clear his airways during transport, unload him from the trailer and allow him to graze at least every two hours. Better still, haul in him with two feet of slack in the tie so he can put his head down and cough. You might also try withholding hay when trailering and, instead, allowing him to graze 10 to 30 minutes after you arrive at your destination.

Why the Nosebleed?

Question: Two days ago, I came home to find my 29-year-old Standardbred mare hot and sweaty with blood trickling from one of her nostrils. My mule (who was out with her) was also a little sweaty and warm to the touch. Shortly afterwards, my mare cooled down and has seemed fine since. What would have made her nose bleed? I don't believe my mule kicked her, as she is definitely the alpha of the two. She had no visible bites nor was any swelling evident on her face, neck or anywhere else. She has never bled before but I wondered whether I should be worried about this episode.

Answer: Keep an eye on your mare but don't worry: Most nasal trickles are harmless, isolated occurrences, not harbingers of horrors to come. A routine case of bleeding from one nostril, especially after exertion, could have any of a dozen causes, the most innocent being a poke inside the nose with a sharp twig or hay stem. Exercise can also cause an equine nosebleed by raising the blood pressure enough to rupture already-weakened vessels near the surface.

On the other hand, recurrent bleeding from the same nostril is rarely innocent. Such bleeding has three primary causes:
  • a tumor in the nasal cavity or sinus 
  • an ethmoid hematoma, a pocket of blood in the mucosal lining of the nasal passages that develops for unknown reasons
  • a fungal infection in the guttural pouch that has weakened a wall of the carotid arteryEndoscopic examinations of all these chambers and passageways, together with radiographs of any suspicious areas, are necessary for a definitive diagnosis. However, from your description, I doubt any of these more serious conditions caused your mare's nosebleed. The more time that passes before a second episode, the less likely that anything serious has happened.

This article first appeared in the October, 2001 issue of EQUUS magazine.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Secret Lives of Horses

Dino the Gentle Giant

By Pam Gleason

Photography By Gary Knoll

Wherever he has gone in his life, Dino has always stood out. This is literally true: Dino, a 1992 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, is a giant at 18.3 hands tall. This makes him one of the tallest Thorough-breds on records, and certainly a horse to make you stop and look.

Jean Bickley, who owns this gentle giant, explains that Dino is just his barn name - it comes from the purple dinosaur in the Flintstones cartoons. His name when he was showing was, appropriately enough Jem Hill, also the name of Jean's grandparent's farm in Pennsylvania. Officially, on his Jockey Club papers, he is Kenogami, after a town in Canada.

Like most Thoroughbreds, Dino was bred for the racetrack. His father was the immortal Slew O'Gold, a two-time Eclipse Award winning stallion by Seattle Slew who was inducted into the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame in 1992, the same year Dino was born. His dam was Wondrous Me, a broodmare sired by My Dad George. Dino was bred by Joseph Allen, who is most famous in racing circles for breeding the champion War Front, currently one of the leading sires in the world. Dino was born in Kentucky on February 28, 1992, a solid chestnut colt with long legs and a big heart.

Although he was broken for the racetrack, when it came time to train him seriously and send him to the races, it was decided that he was just too big. So Joseph Allen, who still owned him, decided to turn him into a riding horse. At first Dino went to a show horse trainer, but then Mr. Allen decided that he wanted to ride the horse himself, and so brought him home to Connecticut. Mr. Allen was not, however, a rider, and didn't have as much time to devote to his new project as he had expected. At the time, Jean Bickley was galloping racehorses for Peter Brant, who is Joseph Allen's cousin. When Allen realized that he wasn't really going to be riding his giant 3-year-old Thoroughbred, he offered the horse to Jean.

"I think I paid a dollar for him," says Jean, explaining that she rode on the hunter circuit as a junior and wanted to get back to showing as an adult, "He was a nice project, and he was affordable because he was basically free."

Jean trained him and showed him in the hunter and adult equitation divisions at shows in Connecticut and the surrounding area. A sweet-tempered and willing horse, Dino was always ready to do anything.

"He was very all-purpose. He did the hunter shows, then he would go out and do a hunter pace, and then he'd do combined tests. I took him to clinics for eventing and for hunters. He was very easy to handle. You could load him on the trailer with your pinky finger, and he'd stand there all day." In addition to these things, Dino also enjoyed riding on the trails and on the beach near his home in Fairfield, Conn.

Dino's exceptional size did require some accommodating. His bridle needed to be a combination of a regular bridle and an oversized bridle, because a regular bridle was too small and an oversized bridle was designed for a different type of horse and did not fit well on his Thoroughbred head. He always needed extra long reins. To groom him, most people used a ladder. He was never easy to wash because he like to put his head up during a bath,  usually resulting in the bath-giver getting almost as wet as the horse.

But he had a good sense of his own size and he was never clumsy or awkward. He was also very good about standing still at the mounting block, or allowing his rider to get on from a fence post, a rock or whatever was handy.

"He was probably the most sure-footed horse I ever rode," says Jean. To ride him, it was important to remember his extra long stride. "Once I took him to a double cross country event, and my friend, who is a very good eventer, was urging me to go faster on the course. But I knew his stride - he covers so much ground that you would think you had to go faster, but you really didn't. I actually hit the optimum time, and we came in first.

Jean says that for her, Dino was an all-around great horse, who was always very kind and never took advantage of his size. "You could put a little kid on him," she says. "He never bucked, he never reared, he never spun. He wasn't the fanciest horse in the world, or the most expensive. When I was showing, I had trainers who helped me who were very patient, because he was not like the typical warmbloods around here. But when he was good, he was really good. It was cool, because I love the Thoroughbreds, and we were always surrounded by warmbloods. It's nice to be different."

In 2007, Dino injured his stifle and and Jean retired him, sending him to stay with her friend, the trainer Sue Sisco, at her farm in Pennsylvania. It was Amish Country "and I think he had a heart attack when he saw his first cow." When Sue relocated to Aiken, Dino came with her and has lived here ever since at Sue's Sunfield Farm. Jean has three horses in Aiken and comes to visit regularly.

Sue and Dino at Sunfield
These days, Dino spends his days hanging out in the paddock with his friends. Although his serious riding days are behind him, Jean says she and Sue are planning to take him on an outing in the Hitchcock Woods this winter along with another retired show horse, just so he can enjoy the experience.

"He's been a great horse and he's so lovable," says Jean. "For me it was cool that he could do so many things. He doesn't owe me anything and he's an excellent baby sitter for other horses. He'll stay with Sue for the rest of his life. I believe when you have horses you are responsible for them, and you need to make sure they have a nice life. A lot of people don't recognize that, but for me, it's a priority. I think if you can afford to be out there showing, you can afford to take care of your horse when his career is over."

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