Showing posts with label The Aiken Horse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Aiken Horse. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hitchcock Woods Restoration 

The Return of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers 

by Pam Gleason 


If you ride in the Hitchcock Woods this spring, you might hear a sound that hasn’t been heard there for about half a century. This would be the call of red-cockaded woodpeckers chirping out warnings, announcing the fact that they have returned to their roosting sites, or communicating with companions while foraging for food. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology describes these three different calls as a “raspy ‘skilt’” (when they are disturbed), a “chut” (when they are returning to the roosting area,) and a “soft melodious chortling” when they are foraging close to one another. Although red-cockaded woodpeckers once inhabited the Woods, they disappeared in the 1960s and had not been seen there for decades. They are back now. 

“They are very vocal and social birds,” says Randy Wolcott, a member of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation board of trustees. Randy, who had heard about red-cockaded woodpeckers about 20 years ago, was the driving force behind re-introducing them to the Woods. “You will probably hear them easier than you will see them.”



What is so special about red-cockaded woodpeckers? Once common in the Southeast, they were declared an endangered species back in the 1970s, and it is only because of the dedication of many different groups of environmentalists and bird lovers that they have survived into this century. In November 2017, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation joined the preservation effort when ten birds (often called RCWs) were brought to the Woods and released in five separate recruitment clusters, which are areas with suitable habitat for nesting and foraging. 

If you do happen to hear RCWs calling to one another while you are in the Woods, look for a black and white bird about the size of a cardinal. Despite their name, the birds have very little red on them: their most obvious feature is a bold patch of white on their cheeks and a distinctive black cap. Males have a very small, ribbon-like streak of red that runs along the bottom of this cap. Without a pair of binoculars, you probably won’t see it. Binoculars might also help you distinguish the endangered RCW from the other, more common species of woodpecker that inhabit the woods, including the red bellied woodpecker, the downy woodpecker, the red-headed woodpecker and the much larger pileated woodpecker. 

RCWs are specifically adapted to the longleaf pine ecosystem. They live in small groups, usually a breeding pair with one to four “helpers,” typically young male offspring from previous years. Highly territorial and non-migratory, they are known as cooperative breeders: all of the birds in a group work together to care for the breeding pair’s brood and to maintain cavity trees where they make their nests. Each group actively patrols its home range, an area of approximately 125 acres of forest. They must vigilantly defend their nests from “floaters” (individuals RCWs out searching for vacant nests), and other cavity nesters such as blue birds, flying squirrels, and other woodpeckers. 

A main factor in saving the RCW has been the restoration of longleaf pine forests, which once covered some 90 million acres from Virginia to Florida. These are woods characterized by tall pines that shade a carpet of wiregrass with very little underbrush. It is an ecosystem that is shaped by fire: for hundreds of years, longleaf forests experienced frequent fires ignited by lightning. Longleaf pines themselves adapted to this, gaining fire resistant trunks and even relying on high temperatures to help their seeds germinate. 

The Hitchcock Woods was originally a traditional longleaf forest, but by the 1970s and 1980s, its character had changed: without much in the way of fire, there was too much undergrowth and there were many other species of trees that competed with the pines. This was why the RCWs disappeared: the habitat was no longer suitable for them. 

The Hitchcock Woods Foundation started a program of controlled burns in the early 1990s, mostly to clear out years of pine straw and reduce the chances of a catastrophic forest fire that might endanger surrounding neighborhoods. In the mid-1990s, these controlled burns became more scientific after the foundation enlisted the help of biologists from North Carolina to come up with an ecological plan and a prescription to turn the woods back into a traditional longleaf forest. Today, after about 20 years of scientific burning, thinning and other management practices, much of the longleaf ecosystem has been restored. 

Once the habitat was again appropriate for red-cockaded woodpeckers, Randy Wolcott wondered if they might return on their own. He was told probably not: although there are RCW populations in several South Carolina forests, the birds do not tend to travel very far from where they are born, and there is so much development around the Woods that there is no convenient, natural corridor to lead them there. 

However, a few years ago he learned that it might be possible to have some relocated to the Woods. It was very complicated: RCWs are a federally protected species, so you can’t just net them and bring them in. There needed to be a red-cockaded woodpecker management plan created by an RCW biologist. Suitable trees needed to be found for nesting, surrounded by areas that would provide adequate foraging. Then the Hitchcock Woods Foundation needed permission from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, and it needed to jump though several regulatory hoops in order to avoid the potential negative consequences of the “incidental take” (any activity that may cause harm to the RCW, cavity trees, and foraging habitat) of a federally endangered species. 

Finally, the birds needed somewhere to live. Most woodpeckers make their homes in dead trees, but RCWs excavate nesting cavities in the heartwood of large living pines. A tree needs to be about 80 years old to be a suitable size, and it can take the birds from one to six years to create a cavity. Each breeding pair and their helpers work together to maintain several cavity trees so every individual has somewhere to sleep at night. In natural circumstances, it obviously takes a pretty long time for a breeding pair to become established as a new group and start laying eggs. 

Fortunately, it turns out that RCWs are very happy with artificial cavity boxes. These are hollowed out blocks of cedar with a reinforced, restricted opening just large enough for a red-cockaded woodpecker. The boxes are installed high up in the hearts of large trees and disguised to look like the real thing. When RCWs come across them, they move in quite readily. And so, with the help of a grant from the Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit based in Alabama, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation obtained 36 of these nesting boxes, which they had installed in nine designated areas. Then they were ready for some birds. 

“It took a long time to get everything in place, but then all the stars aligned and it happened very quickly,” says Randy. In October of 2016, the foundation was offered 10 birds from the Francis Marion National Forest north of Charleston through a cooperative agreement between state and federal agencies along with various wildlife consultants. Not only would they get 10 birds in 2016, they were promised as many as 10 birds a year for the next four years. They accepted the offer, and in November, a group joined a team of RCW biologists at Francis Marion, netted five pairs of year-old woodpeckers, and brought them back to the Woods. That evening, they took each bird up a tree and shut it in a cavity for the night. In the morning, when the birds were awake, they opened the doors to the cavities and the birds emerged and flew out. 

“And then they were here,” says Randy. Four months later, Mark Pavlosky Jr., a RCW biologist with MPJ Wildlife Consulting, LLC based in Aiken, who has been working with the foundation since 2014 to create the Hitchcock Woods red-cockaded woodpecker plan, had some good news. He did a survey that found that at least seven of the 10 birds are still in the Woods. If all goes well, they will start breeding and the first RCW eggs will hatch in mid-May. 

“It’s very exciting,” says Randy. “It is the capstone on our forest management practices. If the woodpeckers come back, it proves that what we have been doing to manage the forest has been the right thing. Our work is allowing us to bring in this endangered species and give it back the home that it always had here. It’s a fabulous thing that it has all come together.” 

What does all this mean for people who enjoy riding and walking in the woods? Are there any new restrictions, or any plans to feature the birds on nature walks or things of that type? For the moment, no. The RCW nesting boxes were placed in trees that are off the trails, and the HWF has always asked that riders and walkers stay on the trails, so they are unlikely to disturb the birds if they follow the rules. While the RCW population is getting established, the foundation is not publicizing the whereabouts of the nesting trees in order to give the birds some privacy, though it is possible that small groups might be invited to come observe them later on. 

If the RCW population re-establishes itself in the Woods, this will mean that the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s efforts Woods have returned the forest to a natural, healthy state. Preserving and protecting the Woods has been a fantastic thing for Aiken and for the people who enjoy its trails and tranquility. It has also been a boon for the environment and a blessing for a sociable black and white bird on its way back from the brink of extinction.


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy


Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEFS judge, and a USEF judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@aol.com, or visit her website: www.amymcelroy.com.



Dear Amy,

I am an eventer who competes at the Training Level. It was recommended to me to try some dressage shows to help me improve my scores in that phase. Could you give any suggestions, and tell me what differences I might expect between a dressage test in eventing and at a USDF dressage show?

Eventer Chick


Dear Eventer

Entering a USDF dressage show is a great way to help you concentrate on the dressage portion of your sport. We see many event riders competing at our USDF dressage shows – I have even seen the wellknown Advanced Level event rider Jan Byyny competing at USDF shows in Wellington, Florida.

If you are riding at the Training Level in events, you would be able to compete at First Level in dressage; First Level Test 1 is most similar to Training Level Event test A or B. Let’s look at which things are the same and which things are different between the two sports in these tests. 

What is the same; Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 
1. All trot work may be done rising or sitting unless otherwise stated. 
2. All tests include 15-meter circles in the trot and canter. 
3. All have trot-canter and canter-trot transitions. 
4. All have trot and canter lengthenings. 
5. All have a 20-meter “stretchy” circle (a circle in which the rider allows “the horse to stretch forward and down while maintaining light contact.”) 
6. In all tests, half points can be used for scoring. 
7. In all tests, you are eliminated if you have three errors. 
8. All allow 45 seconds to enter the arena once the bell has sounded. 
9. In all tests, you are required to wear protective headgear.  
10. Your judge will be evaluating your ride in your event test in the same way as in your dressage test. This means that your judge will confirm that your horse demonstrates correct basics and has developed some thrust to achieve improved balance and “thoroughness” while maintaining a more consistent contact with the bit. 

What is different: Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 
1. The eventing test is held in a small (20 meter by 40 meter) arena; the dressage test is held in a large (20 meter by 60 meter) arena. 
2. In the eventing test, you always enter down the centerline and start your test immediately. In the dressage test, you always enter down the centerline, halt at X and salute your judge before you continue with your test. 
3. In the eventing test the only coefficient (a movement where points count double) is for the free walk. In the dressage test there are three movements with a coefficient of two. These are the free walk, the stretchy circle and the transition from trot to canter going to the left. 
4. In the eventing test, the entire test needs to be performed by memory. In the dressage test, you may do your test by memory, or you may have a caller at ringside to read your test aloud, and there is no deduction in points for this. 
5. In the eventing test, there are four scoring boxes with collective marks 
(gaits, impulsion, submission and rider position.) In the dressage test, there are five boxes with collective marks. There are two boxes for the rider, one for the position and seat, and the other for the correct and effective use of aids. The remaining boxes are the same (gaits, impulsion and submission) except that impulsion and submission each have a coefficient of two. 
6. In the eventing tests the average ride time is four minutes. In the dressage test, the average ride time is five minutes. 
7. In the eventing test, you are striving for the lowest possible final score which is expressed in penalty points: in the 20s, for instance. In the dressage test you are looking for the highest possible final score, which is expressed as a percentage, in the 70s for instance. 
8. In the eventing test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider will be penalized but will not be eliminated. In the dressage test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider is eliminated. 
9. In an eventing test, you have 45 seconds to enter the arena after the bell has rung: if you enter after 45 seconds but before 90 seconds, you will get a 2-point penalty. In a dressage test, if you don’t enter the arena within 45 seconds after the bell has run, you will be eliminated. 
10. You are never allowed to perform a dressage test while your horse is wearing boots or bandages. If you forget to take them off in an eventing test, your judge will stop you and allow you to remove the illegal equipment; you will be penalized 2 points. In a dressage test, if you accidentally ride into the ring with illegal equipment, you will be eliminated immediately. 

The good news about dressage shows is that they are often multiday competitions and you can ride the same test once each day. You can enter up to three different dressage tests per day, as long as you are riding under Fourth Level. (In eventing, you only get one chance to do a dressage test per horse, per show.) Even though First Level Test 1 most resembles your Training Level eventing test, you would be qualified to try any of the USDF Training Level Tests, of which there are three. You might want to try First Level Test 2 or 3, which have some movements you might see in your eventing Preliminary Level tests. You are even allowed to compete at two consecutive levels in the same dressage show. 

I hope you take advantage of all the dressage shows available here in Aiken and in our neighboring cities and states. All the extra rides down the centerline are sure to give you and your horse much exposure and experience, which are bound to help you achieve your eventing goals. After all, a good dressage score can set the stage for exceptional performances in the jumping phases, giving you a solid boost up the leaderboard.

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Remembering Aiken’s Horsemen 

Johnny Hosang, Consummate Horseman, 1910-1994 

by Pam Gleason

“Everyone who knew Johnny loved him,” says Brad Walker. “I don’t know a single person who didn’t have something wonderful to say about Johnny, and that’s unusual in the horse world. Johnny was welcome everywhere.”

Left: Johnny Hosang, jumping in the Hitchcock Woods, circa 1940.,   Above: With Anne Hopkins and Katie Groat. December 31, 1955. Photo by High Pinney
From the 150s into the 1970s, Johnny Hosang worked for Brad’s mother and stepfather, Elizabeth and Jimmy Burden, first at the Black Stable in Aiken’s downtown
horse district, and then at Woodside Plantation, which, at the time, was the family’s private hunting and shooting reserve. He oversaw the care of the horses, the English Pointer hunting dogs and the foxhounds, and he did it all with expertise, dedication and meticulous attention to detail.

“The most extraordinary thing about Johnny was his ability to adapt to any situation,” Brad continues. “It was just fantastic. You could take him anywhere and he could talk to anyone. He took wonderful care of the pointers and the hounds; he took wonderful care of the horses. They were always beautifully groomed and perfectly shiny. When we hunted on the property, manes and tails were braided, the tack was always perfectly clean – you could smell the saddle soap on the saddle and bridle – and the stirrup irons shone. Everything was always neat as a pin, the stable, the kennels, everything perfect.”

Rob Johnston, a grade school classmate of Johnny’s son Mike and a close family friend, describes him as an extraordinary influence on his life and an incredible presence. “I have never met a man with more charm and wit,” he says. “He possessed a Cary Grant aura of class and style and he was an outstanding horseman, farm manager, polo referee, raconteur, family man and friend. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Aiken, and his tales of yesterday could keep people spellbound for hours. He was one of Aiken’s greatest treasures for over 50 years.”

“It’s true,” says Mike Hosang, a realtor at Carolina Company in Aiken. “Everyone loved my dad.”

Of Swiss descent, Johnny Hosang was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1910. His father was a carpenter, and his was not an equestrian family. But when he was about 5 years old, Johnny became entranced with horses. At that time, the fire engines in the city were still pulled by teams of horses, and Johnny would stand near the firehouse watching when fire calls came in.

“They had the horses run into these special stalls and they dropped all the harnesses on them, hooked them to the engines and then they would fly out,” says Mike Hosang. “Cincinnati still had cobblestone streets, and the horses’ hooves would make a shower of sparks as they galloped. He said the most exciting thing in his life then was to watch them.”

By the time he was a teenager, Johnny was frequenting a local armory where the Cincinnati Riding Club held indoor polo matches. He took up both riding and polo and soon embarked on his career as a professional horseman. Cincinnati had many prominent equestrian families, among them the Fleischmanns (of Fleischmann’s Yeast fame) who employed Johnny when he was still quite young. He continued to play polo, developing a reputation as a formidable player in the number one position, from which he often scored the majority of his team’s goals.

When he was a little older, Johnny took a job with the Wood family. Mr. and Mrs. William B. Wood were both horse enthusiasts. Both hunted and played polo – Mrs. Wood was among the top female polo players of her generation, playing in women’s polo as well as occasional men’s matches. They played at the Miami Valley Hunt and Polo Club in Dayton. That was where Johnny met Mildred Seekamp, whose mother managed the club. Mildred was just a few years younger than Johnny, and they soon fell in love and were married.

The Woods had a horse breeding farm in Piqua, Ohio and a winter home in Aiken, the present-day Green Boundary Club. In 1939, Johnny and Mildred started coming to Aiken with the Woods for the winter season. Johnny would ride out with Mr. and Mrs. Wood, oversee their stable, care for their horses and help their daughter Aileen with her riding. In addition to riding with the Woods, Johnny also assisted at the newly-built Aiken Training Track. In 1942, at the very first running of the Aiken Trials, Johnny led the post parade and acted as a “pony boy” leading the horses to the post before the race and bringing them back to the paddock afterwards. The Trials were in March, and just a few weeks later in April, Johnny left Aiken to go into service in the Navy for World War II.


After the war, Johnny returned to Aiken where he continued to work for the Woods until 1955, when they decided to give up their Aiken winter home. By this time, the Hosangs had two sons, Mike and David, and they did not want to leave the area. So Johnny took the job with the Burden family. Initially, the horses lived in the historic district, but after the Burdens purchased a nearby 2,300-acre hunting preserve from the Spaulding family, the horses and the job moved there. There was a nice little home on the property where the Hosangs took up residence. The Burdens named their new playground Woodside Plantation, after the Burden family’s manorial home in Troy, New York.

Life at Woodside Plantation was idyllic. Mrs. Burden, a Virginian by birth, loved riding and foxhunting and so she got together with some other members of the Winter Colony to organize the Woodside Hounds in the early 1960s. Johnny became the huntsman, and proved himself adept at handling hounds as well as horses. While Mrs. Burden was the equestrian enthusiast in the family, her husband preferred shooting.

“Dad would ride with Mrs. Burden in the morning and then go shooting with Mr. Burden in the afternoon,” says Mike. “He had a pretty good life. Mr. Leithead, who was a joint master of the Woodside Hounds, said to him ‘Johnny, I work all week just so I can spend the weekend doing what you do for a living.’”

Johnny’s equestrian career also included buying and selling horses, mostly for the hunt. He became an R judge for the American Horse Shows Association and used to travel to North Carolina and the MidAtlantic states to officiate at prestigious shows. He even continued to play polo for many years. In the decades after the war, he was frequently called upon to fill out teams on Aiken’s Whitney Field, usually playing for the visiting team against Pete Bostwick’s home team.

He gained a new avocation related to polo by accident one Sunday in 1946. He was at Sunday polo, and the man who was slated to be the polo announcer was overcome by nerves. Johnny stepped in and took his place, acquitting himself like a professional. He was so good, he ended up being the Aiken Polo Club announcer for the next 24 years. He knew the players and the game and he was famous for his colorful turns of phrase. In one game, according to a 1982 article in the Aiken Rambler, he scolded young Norty Knox, who was playing with his father Seymour: “Norty, you’d better drive some of those balls your daddy’s way – he’s still paying the bills.”

There was a sportswriter from New York in the crowd, and the quip ended up in the New York papers.

As a horseman, Johnny was best known as a consummate professional, whose animals always looked and acted their best. He was an excellent and natural rider who looked good on a horse, and horses, like all animals, responded to him well. He was also known for his quiet, polite manners, especially when he was dealing with his Winter Colony employers and their families.

“I remember once, when I was about 20, I came to him and told him that I had decided to take the hounds out,” says Brad Walker. “He might not have wanted me to, but he didn’t say anything. So I got on one of my mother’s horses, a lovely horse, and I rode out with them. As soon as we got out beyond where the kennels were, the hounds took off. They got onto something and I couldn’t get them back. Of course, I didn’t know their names and I couldn’t blow a hunting horn, so they looked at me and they said ‘we’re out of here.’ For two days, farmers would call up Johnny and say, ‘We have one of your dogs here.’ They all came straggling home eventually, but they had been in the swamp, they were covered with mud and dirt. And Johnny never said anything – of course, I was the child of his employer. He just asked me to please not do it again.”

“My dad was a contented person,” says Mike. “He tended to his own business. He liked being in the horse world and his other hobby was woodworking and refinishing furniture. He was very sophisticated in a low-key way, and he had great stories. It made him a very popular person.”

After his retirement, Johnny continued to be involved with Aiken’s horse world. He was a regular at Aiken Polo Club Sunday games and he volunteered to judge at the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods and to announce at the Aiken Charity Horse Show that was once held at Eustis Park. He died in 1994
at the age of 84, leaving his wife, his two sons, and an indelible mark on the Aiken horse community.


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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Riding with Reason

Riding with Reason 

Simulator provides insights 

by Pam Gleason

If you want to be a better rider and get the most out of your horse, you need to learn to ride in such a way that you help him perform. You must ride him in balance, with a sympathetic seat, and move in synchrony with his gaits. So says Yvonne Brookes, a riding instructor who has recently relocated to Aiken from England along with her husband.

Yvonne, who has more that 40 years of experience as a teacher and trainer in dressage, eventing and showjumping, is certified in natural horsemanship by Monty Roberts. She also holds a Level Three accreditation from Heather Moffett’s school of Enlightened Equitation. Heather Moffett is a British trainer who teaches dressage in the French classical style, helping her students to develop a correct and effective seat, aided by the use of a mechanical riding simulator.



Moffett has developed her own line of “Equi-simulators” and Yvonne has brought one over from England and set it up on her farm. It is installed in an air-conditioned classroom and is ready to help students of all levels, from beginner through advanced, improve their riding and identify imbalances and bad habits that might be holding them (and their horses) back. The simulator is shaped like the back of a horse and is designed to move under the rider in a way that mimics a horse’s gaits. Although there are motorized simulators, the one that Yvonne uses requires the rider to initiate and maintain movement through subtle actions of their seat and weight.

“This is how everyone should start,” says Yvonne, referring to the simulator. “It doesn’t matter to that machine if you lose your balance or kick it in the ribs. If you start out on the simulator you learn a balanced, secure seat to start with. Then when you get on the real thing, you are way ahead. You have confidence and you will learn quickly how to ride with finesse and lightness.”

Yvonne says that simulator lessons are invaluable for any rider who wants to improve, and they are especially helpful for riders who feel as though they are not going anywhere with their riding.

“The way we move our bodies can either help or hinder a horse, and most often we hinder him,” she says. “A lot of us have physical asymmetries and those translate to the horse. He relies on our balance for his balance, so if we are out of sync or out of balance, he will just do what he can to compensate. Over time, he becomes asymmetrical, too, and if a horse is not straight, he will not be working to his full potential.

“The most common thing we hear is ‘my horse is lazy’ or ‘my horse is naughty’,” continues Yvonne. “There is no such thing. It is the horse telling you he is uncomfortable and we have to work out why. Nine times out of 10, it is something we are doing that we are not aware of.”

The Equi-simulator is equipped with a special saddle that has a soft tree, which Yvonne says designed by Heather Moffett to provide better comfort and freedom of movement for both horse and rider. In a simulator lesson, Yvonne watches and analyses the rider’s position, identifying and helping to correct flaws that might be holding that rider back. There are some common ones: the rider leans behind the vertical at the trot, rather than inclining slightly forward with the horse’s motion; the rider pushes too actively with the seat during the canter.; the rider sits crooked, and so on.

Ideally, directly after a simulator lesson, the rider would then get on her own horse to practice what she learned and develop good muscle memory for the correct position and use of the aids. Yvonne’s set-up includes a riding area and a place for a horse to stay while his or her owner is having a lesson on the simulator. It is not necessary to bring a horse along, however.  “I had two women come down from Ontario over Easter,” says Yvonne. “They stayed for three days and spent 12 hours on the simulator, and then drove all the way back to Canada to put what they learned in practice on their horses.” In addition to the simulator, the classroom area also includes a bunk room, so people who come from far away can spend the night if they want to.

Yvonne says that she came to her methods of teaching and training because she was looking for a kinder way to ride that would be enjoyable for the horse as well as the rider.

“I felt like I had hit a wall with my riding,” she says. “I wondered what the key was. I knew conventional training wasn’t for me, because it seemed forced – you had drive the horse forward into a strong contact, and that wasn’t my style. I came across a British-born Monty Roberts trainer and I actually worked with her for about ten years. Then I got involved with Heather Moffett, and I found that her methods opened so many doors and provided so many lightbulb moments.”

Today, Yvonne says that most of her teaching is based on her own style, which comes from many decades of experience and things she picked up from different trainers along the way. Heather Moffett and Enlightened Equitation helped clarify certain concepts for her and gave her new ways of teaching and explaining.

“Heather’s mechanical way of explaining things is very simple to teach and people find it simple to understand. I think that is the key. You don’t have to have a degree; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn how to ride a horse correctly. You just have to be prepared to do it.”

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy


Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEF R judge, and a USEF S judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@aol.com, or visit her website: www.amymcelroy.com.



Dear Amy,

I was recently at a dressage show where I watched a musical ride with two riders performing together. It looked like fun. Is this a recognized class? Can anyone participate?

Curious


Dear Curious,

Yes, a musical pair ride is a recognized dressage test, formally known as a pas de deux. A pas de deux is a program created by two riders to present their horses to their best advantage in an artistic musical context. It is certainly enjoyable to watch, because it is meant to be an audience pleaser.

 There are no qualifying requirements and anyone can enter this class. It may be offered at all levels from Training to Grand Prix. This class is most similar to a standard musical freestyle ride. As far as the test scoring goes, there is a technical execution side, and an artistic side. The technical side is scored in full or half points (7 or 7.5 for instance.) The artistic side is scored in increments of one tenth of a point – you could get a 7.3 or a 7.6, for instance. Under the technical side, the required movements and the forbidden movements for each level are the same as in the USDF freestyle test for that level. For example, if you did a First Level pas de deux, you would be required to show leg yielding, but you would be forbidden to do flying changes (these are legal at Third Level and above.)

Scoring: the technical side

 The technical side has five scoring boxes, each worth a possible 10 points.  

1. Required elements: each level has certain movements or transitions that must be included in any freestyle or pas de deux at that level. For instance, in First Level there are seven required elements: free walk and medium walk (20 continuous meters of each); leg yielding at the trot (right and left); 8-10 meter trot circle (right and left); lengthening the stride in the trot; 15-meter circle at the canter (right and left) and a change of lead through the trot (right and left.)  The required elements scoring box has a coefficient of three (it counts three times.) 
2. Performance as a pair: this score takes into account the spacing of the two horses, their alignment and their synchrony. This scoring box has a coefficient of four. 
3. Gaits. This score reflects the rhythm and quality of the gaits of both horses. (There is no coefficient for this scoring box.) 
4. Impulsion. The energy, elasticity and engagement of the horses, which should be appropriate for the level at which they are competing. (Again, no coefficient) 
5. Submission. The horses’ willingness to respond to their riders’ aids. The scores for each of these boxes will be tallied for your technical score. The technical scores may be adjusted if you omitted any required movements: you will get a one-point deduction for each omitted movement. If you included any forbidden movements, you would get a four-point deduction for each one. 

Scoring: the artistic side 


The artistic side has four scoring boxes, each with a maximum of ten possible points. 
1. Harmony between horse and rider. The judge will be looking for the fluency of the performance. This scoring box has a coefficient of three. 
2. Choreography. The judge will be assessing the cohesiveness, the use of the arena, the creativity, the difficulty and the balance. This scoring box has a coefficient of four. 
3. Music. The judge will consider the seamlessness and the suitability of the music to the routine and the horses. This box has a coefficient of two. 
4. Interpretation. The judge determines how well the music expresses the gaits, taking into consideration the use of phrasing and dynamics. Your artistic score includes the sum of all the boxes, with a deduction of one point for going overtime. The maximum time for Training through Intermediate I is five minutes. The maximum time for the Grand Prix is six minutes. There is no minimum time. 

Your final score is a combination of the total technical score and the total artistic score, divided by the maximum points available. 

Interesting Facts about the Pas de Deux 


1. Any type of music can be used, including vocals. 
2. You can use leg wraps (these are strictly forbidden in other types of dressage test.) 
3. You are encouraged to use similar equipment: the similarity of the horses’ and riders’ turnout is taken into account in the artistic score. 
4. Horses that look alike and have similar movement will naturally present a pleasing and harmonious picture, but it is not mandatory that the horses resemble one another in color, or even in size and shape. 
5. You can enter the arena in single file or as a pair. 
6. You can compete side by side, as mirror images, in tandem, on opposite sides of the arena or in any combination of these configurations. There is no set requirement for how to present the two horses. 
7. Letters of the arena serve as markers only, so movements do not need to be executed at specific letters as long as their placement is clear and logical. 
8. Horses are not required to be the same level. The lower level horse determines the maximum level at which you can compete. For instance, you can match your First Level horse with a Fourth Level horse, as long as the test you perform is at the First Level. 

When creating your test, remember to show your horses to their best advantage, maximizing their strengths. Try to use the entire arena in as imaginative a way as possible, with balance between the left and right directions. Be creative: do not use a standard dressage test as the basis for your routine. Don’t be too creative, however: make sure that your performance is composed of actual dressage movements and that it is clear to the judge what movement you are performing. 

So find yourself a partner, pick some enjoyable music and start practicing. These tests are becoming more and more popular, especially right here in Aiken. If you are at a show here, be sure to catch Laura Klecker and Sara Odom and their well-matched mounts, who perform the pas de deux at many of our shows. Hope to see you out there!

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Biometrics Revolution 

Real Time Data for Horses 

By Pam Gleason


"How do you feel today." 

Doctors might ask this question of their patients and expect a meaningful answer. For equine veterinarians, however, it is often not so simple. Horses may tell you that something is bothering them by pointing at their sides if they have colic, or limping if they are lame. Some may have distinct facial expressions and grimaces, or pin their ears, or just look “NQR” (Not Quite Right.) 

But all horses are not equally expressive. Some can best be described as stoic: they may have something seriously wrong with them, but look as though everything were A-O.K. Since they are prey animals, stoicism in horses likely has an evolutionary benefit. Any animal in a herd that shows a predator that he is weak might be singled out to become the next main course. Acting as if everything is normal, even when it is not, might be a pretty smart thing for a horse to do.

WetCheq gives a real time picture of what is going on inside a horse.


Today, stoic horses present some problems when they do have serious ailments because their owners or veterinarians might overlook problems until it is too late. One way to assess a horse’s inner state is to keep a close eye on his vital signs, including his pulse and respiration rate, as well as his body temperature. If you know a horse’s baseline, and his heart rate is suddenly much faster than normal, you know that there is something wrong. 

Checking a horse’s vital signs is a good way to tell what is going on inside a horse, but heart and respiration rate don’t tell the whole story. Monitoring blood pressure is also important, particularly when a horse has to have surgery. When a horse is anesthetized in the clinic he normally has a catheter inserted into an artery to monitor his blood pressure, heart and respiration rate, which makes it possible to put him under relatively safely. An arterial catheter hooked up to monitoring equipment gives the veterinarian a pretty clear picture of how a horse is doing. 

When a horse comes out of anesthesia, however, it is not practical to continue to use an arterial catheter since the horse is likely to pull it out. Nor can an arterial catheter be used successfully when surgery has to be performed in the field rather than in the clinic, or on a horse that has an ailment like colic and needs to be kept under close watch. At most veterinary clinics, monitoring a horse’s vital signs requires someone to come in at regular intervals to check them. Although this certainly works, it has some drawbacks: it is labor intensive and decidedly low tech. In addition, it is possible for a patient to have a dramatic change in his condition before anyone notices. 

How can equine veterinary care move into the 21st century? Sharon Caswell, the founder and CEO of PonyUp Technologies based in Benbrook, Texas, has an answer. Her company has invented VetCheq, a noninvasive wearable device for horses that continuously monitors their full cardiac function including heart rate and blood pressure, along with their respiration rate. Users can buy an add-on tail wrap that also monitors body temperature. The VetCheq device, a small waterproof box, is attached to the horse’s leg in a wrap that looks like a competition boot. It gathers data, which it streams, via Bluetooth, to a computer or a tablet. The computer then uploads the information to the cloud so that veterinarians or horse owners can access real-time data on their horse’s condition from anywhere. Alarms can be set to alert users if a particular threshold is crossed, and the data can be stored and analyzed to discover the relationship between particular patterns of biometric data and a horse’s outward condition. 

Sharon Caswell, a lifelong horse owner and an engineer, says she first had the idea for VetCheq almost a decade ago when a little girl in Benbrook died as the result of a riding accident after her horse suddenly bolted.


In surgery: a boot instead of an arterial catheter.

“When I read about the accident, I thought with all the technology with have, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have something that could give us a better idea of what is going on inside of our horses?” she says. That idea led her to Empirical Technologies in Charlottesville, Va., a company that had invented a wearable device for soldiers in combat situations that keeps track of their vital signs and sends them to a remote computer.

“I called the company up and told them that I was interested in using something similar for horses,” Sharon continues. “And I lucked out: usually when you make that kind of call, they don’t want to talk to you. But it turned out that the owner of the company also has horses and was very interested in talking about the idea.”  Sharon made a deal to license the technology, and VetCheq was born.

VetCheq is in now service at private clinics and in veterinary schools in several states while the algorithms it uses are being tweaked to make it more accurate in various different settings. It is already 95% accurate when used as a replacement for an arterial catheter in horses undergoing surgery. The next use for VetCheq is on standing horses that are recovering from surgery or have been admitted to the vet clinic for some other reason. 

Performance Equine Veterinary Services in Aiken is at the forefront of this technology. This January they started a project with PonyUp to gather data on horses in their clinic. This data is being sent to Texas A&M Veterinary School of Medicine, which will update the VetCheq algorithms for standing horses under a grant from the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Texas A&M will then validate the data in their clinic. The practitioners and staff of PEVS are excited about VetCheq’s capabilities. 

“I think it holds a lot of promise for colics, because when horses are in distress, their heart rate goes up,” says Kelly McKinnell, an account executive at PEVS who is leading the VetCheq project there. “If you have a really stoic horse that does not show many outward signs of discomfort, this is going to let you know; it won’t lie to you the way a horse might.

“We really want to use it on every horse that we see because it will tell us what is going on inside the horse,” she continues. “We can collect the data and be able to compare it from horse to horse and see what patterns there are. Then we can go back and say, for instance, every horse that had a bad colic had this pattern, and know in advance when a horse might be headed for trouble. There are endless applications that we are excited to use it for, including any intensive care horse that needs to be monitored. With a stoic horse, you can’t tell what is going on unless you are in there with your stethoscope getting their heart rate every five minutes. This device will make it possible to know the moment there is a problem.” 

Sharon Caswell hopes that VetCheq will also be used on competition horses to help trainers monitor their fitness. It might also be used at FEI events and at racetracks to assess recovery times. Another use is for owners and trainers to be able to monitor their horses remotely. 

“There are people with very valuable horses that might come out of quarantine, or that are being shipped and they can’t sleep at night worrying about their horse getting sick,” she says. “This can give them peace of mind since it will notify them immediately if any kind of trend starts to show up – elevated heart rate, respiration rate – they will be able to intervene immediately.” 

In the future, VetCheq’s information will be available as a smartphone app. There are also other uses for the technology down the line, such as wearable devices for horses that are being exercised. Sharon says that she is excited about the technology’s potential and about her company’s future. 

“The two great passions of my life are technology and horses,” she says. “I never thought there would be a way to put them together.  I feel really, really fortunate that I have been able to do this.”

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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones 

Functional Anatomy with Pamela Eckelbarger 

by Pam Gleason, Photography by Pam Gleason & Equus-soma

Pamela Blades Eckelbarger is keeping her old horse Petey in her garage in Aiken. It is not the whole horse. It is just the skeleton, cleaned, disinfected and polyurethaned. Petey’s leg bones and vertebrae are labeled and laid out in a careful display on a set of tables, arranged around his strangely expressive skull. His ribs are in a plastic tub nearby. There are some pictures of him too, from back in the day when he was a horse of flesh and blood. He was a lovely chestnut with a kind expression, and in his pictures he is jumping on the cross-country course with Pamela aboard.

“He loved to jump,” says Pamela. “He always had a smile on his face.”

Petey, properly Hail to Peter, was bred for the racetrack, but never made it there because he bowed a tendon when he was two. Seven years later, when Pamela, then a marine scientist, wanted to get ba
ck into riding, her family, who owned the horse, sent him to her. She evented him for many years, retiring him when he was in his early 20s. When he was 23, he developed tumors in his lungs and had to be put down. He was buried on the Eckelbarger’s farm in Maine, and there he lay for ten quiet years.

Meanwhile, Pamela had gone through some career changes. First, she was a professional horse photographer, running a successful business called Hoofpix. Then, she became interested in helping horses whose performance was limited by physical problems, so she started learning how to do equine bodywork. She soon had a company called Equus Soma, conducting business out of her home base in Aiken during the colder seasons and from her farm in Maine during the summers.

“I took a three-day class in whole horse dissection a few years ago, and it was amazing,” says Pamela. This experience convinced her that it was crucial for people to have a personal acquaintance with equine anatomy. If they could see what was inside their horses and how the bones and the joints fit together, then they would have a far better understanding of how equine movement works. They would also be able to see all the things that can go wrong and why certain training methods and
practices are not a good idea. She started to think that it would be helpful to have her own horse skeleton so that she could take parts of it around with her, to show her clients the anatomical structures where their own horses were having difficulties.

“But to buy a skeleton is very expensive,” she says. “It costs $9,000 to $12,000. I learned this, and then I thought ‘I know where there is a skeleton.’ So I went and broke the news to my husband: we are digging Petey up.”

Last summer when she was back up in Maine, she called the man who had helped her bury her old horse in the first place (ironically, he was also named Peter), and he returned to the farm with his excavator. Petey was buried deep, and he had been laid out flat in his grave. Peter used the excavator to dig down several feet, and then, as soon as they saw the first hint of horse bones, the excavator was sent away and Pamela climbed into the pit to do the rest of the digging and uncovering by hand.

“It was like an archaeological dig,” she says. “It was cool.”

She uncovered Petey as carefully as possible, photographing the process along the way. Then she started removing the bones, studying how they went together, and labeling each one before carrying it out. She let the bones dry in the sun and then assembled them for cleaning with hydrogen peroxide. After a decade underground, almost everything that was not bone was gone. That made the task easier for Pamela, both physically and emotionally. Essentially the only organ that was left was the remains of his brain, which had to be removed from his skull. “That part was hard,” says Pamela. “Because I looked at it and I thought, that was Petey. That was my horse.”

Last fall, when Pamela and her husband came down to Aiken, she brought Petey with her in a set of plastic tubs, then unpacked him and arranged him in her garage where she was able to study all the bones more carefully. She learned a lot.

“First, I learned that he had a fused hock,” she says. Horses have a large joint in their hock, which is what allows their hind leg to bend. Below it, there are three smaller joints that contribute to the leg’s mobility. She holds up Petey’s right hind cannon bone, which has two small, flat tarsal bones firmly attached to it; the two normally moveable joints between them are completely gone. Arthritis in a horse’s hock joints is quite common and is a major cause of hind limb lameness. When the arthritis progresses to a point that the bottom joints fuse together, many horses become sound again. This seems to be what happened to Petey.

Pamela found other places on his skeleton that indicated that he might have been in some kind of pain for at least part of his career.

“There is something called Wolff’s law that says that wherever a bone is stressed, more bone will grow in that place to stabilize the area,” she says. “That’s something that really fascinated me, finding extra bone on his skeleton that shouldn’t have been there.”

One place she found extra bone was on his vertebral column, where he showed symptoms of having “kissing spines” meaning that the top edges of the vertebrae on his back touched and rubbed against one another. Kissing spines are thought to be caused by the weight of the rider pressing down on the back. He also had extra bone at the vertebra where his neck joined his body (T1) and on the right side of his sacroiliac joint, where his vertebral column connected to his pelvis. (Did this have something to do with his fused right hock? Perhaps.)


“He didn’t really have symptoms of anything that I recognized, but every once in a while, he would be off. I might not have been sophisticated enough at the time to know what was wrong,” says Pamela. “Doing this is kind of like ‘CSI.’ That’s why I love it.” Aside from these small abnormalities, Petey’s bones are in excellent condition and show no signs of deterioration. They are clean, cool, pleasant to the touch, and completely odor free. Pamela encourages people to pick them up and examine them, to put the joints together and see how smoothly the bones glide back and forth. The bones are of different weights and thicknesses, depending on their function. Petey’s cannon bones are heavy and dense – they feel as strong as steel. His ribs are flat and lightweight, seeming almost birdlike by comparison. You can examine all the bones in his legs and his feet, see his hoofwall – he is even still wearing a shoe. You can pick up the navicular bone, that small, boat-shaped structure that can be the cause of so much lameness. Petey’s is smooth and perfect, with no bone spurs or other abnormalities.

“Petey’s new job is teaching,” Pamela says. In addition to taking specific bones and joints around to her bodywork clients to help them visualize structures inside their own horses, Pamela has been inviting interested people to come to her garage to see the entire skeleton. “I’ve had about five groups of people so far,” she says, adding that this summer, when Petey goes back to Maine with her, she is taking him to the local Pony Club there where they will have a ‘bone rally’ to help them learn equine anatomy.

Over the winter, Petey was even joined by two more skeletons, an 8-12 year old former polo pony (she is called Jane Doe, because Pamela does not know her name) and a 3-year-old Thoroughbred filly named Winnie, who was put down after suffering multiple problems, including ataxia in her hind legs. Both of these skeletons were given to Pamela here in Aiken, and both have contributed to her understanding of equine anatomy and the way incorrect riding and conditioning might affect a horse’s bones.

“This is my prize,” she says, pointing to the skeleton of the 3-yearold. She holds up one of the filly’s vertebrae, which is not solid like the vertebrae of the older horses. Instead, at its end it has a separation that looks almost like a fracture. It is not a fracture: it is a growth plate.

“I had always heard about growth plates, but I had never seen them. It was just a phrase to me,” she says. “But to see them like this was a real eye opener. Horses’ growth plates fuse down low in the legs first, so that the foal can get up and run. The last place they fuse is in the vertebral column, and that happens when a horse is 6 to 8 years old. This means those vertebrae have not finished turning into bone; they are still partially soft tissue. You have to think about methods of training, how you might take a young horse and put him on the lunge and maybe he acts up a little and you jerk on the rope. That might be enough to cause the growth in his neck to get asymmetrical. Trainers need to be aware of these things with young horses.”

Another training issue that Pamela hopes to raise awareness of is the negative consequences of using tight bridles and drop nosebands. She likes to bring Petey’s skull with her when she travels to the different stables where she works. She puts a bridle with a flash noseband on the skull to demonstrate where the straps put pressure on the horse’s head. “There is a very important facial nerve called the trigeminal nerve that comes out of the skull in three places. One is where the flash noseband goes. If you put pressure there, it can cause a lot of pain and make the horse resist.”

Pamela and her bones have gone back to Maine for the summer, but when they return in the fall, she is hoping to have more people come to see them for themselves so that they can gain a better understanding of equine anatomy. She is also hoping to collect some more skeletons, although she says they have to fit certain criteria. First and foremost, they must be horses that have been buried for long enough that only their bones will be left, since she would not be equipped to handle them otherwise.

“I’d love to have more horses between 3 and 8 years old, to look for growth plates and congenital deformities.” (Although she says she is not a vet and can’t be sure, she may have found a cause for Winnie’s ataxia: an area of extra bone growth on one side of one of her neck vertebrae that may have impinged on her nerves.) “I’d also love to find skeletons of horses that had issues people couldn’t figure out. But I can’t get too many,” she adds with a laugh. “Or my husband will kill me for taking over the garage.”

Pamela lifts the top half of Petey’s skull to show how his jaw hinges onto it at the temporal mandibular joint. Turning it over, she points out the chamber where his brain was and the complicated, fluted hollows of his nasal cavity. Then she puts the skull back down on the jaw and pats it affectionately.

“People ask me if it is upsetting to me that this was my own horse. It really isn’t – maybe it helps that he was buried for ten years,” she says. Does she feel like he is back with her? That they are partners once again, this time working together to educate people rather than to get the best score at the horse trials? She smiles. “No. Maybe. I do talk to him,” she admits. She looks at the skull and pats it one more time.

“Petey, you are such a good boy,” she says.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Breeding in Aiken

Breeding in Aiken 

The Foals of 2017 

Stories & Photography by Pam Gleason

Aiken has long had a reputation as a place to train young horses. It has not, however, always been considered a great place for horse breeding. Until fairly recently, most of the horses training in Aiken were actually bred somewhere else. Ask an American horseman where the best place is for breeding, and the first response will probably be Kentucky. Virginia and Maryland may not be far behind. There are many people who will tout the advantages of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, various parts of Colorado, Texas and even Florida. Aiken is unlikely to make the top-ten list.

That is changing, however, driven by the recent influx of year round horsemen. In earlier times, Aiken’s equestrian world tended to be seasonal. Horsemen from colder parts of the country came down for the winter, bringing their horses with them to train in the mild climate. When spring came, they returned home, taking their horses with them. If they had a breeding program, they would arrive back North just in time to see their broodmares foal out at home. They would spend the summer watching their foals cavorting on rich summer pastures. It is little wonder that these horsemen did not consider breeding in Aiken. If they did, they would not have been around to see their babies grow up.

Now that so many horsemen have moved to Aiken permanently, breeding here is getting a second look and a new life. Aiken has an immense diversity of equestrian disciplines, and the foals born in the area represent that diversity well. There are polo ponies and racehorses, European warmbloods and Spanish horses, Saddlebreds and Arabians, Quarter horses and show ponies. Some of the breeders here have well-established commercial operations, while others breed a few mares a year. Still others are amateur horse owners, breeding their favorite mare for the simple pleasure of seeing her legacy carried on to the next generation.

Many of the people who breed horses in Aiken acknowledge that it has some drawbacks. The main problem people note is the quality of the summer grass, which is generally not considered to be as good as it is in Kentucky or Virginia. Kentucky in particular is famous for its lush bluegrass pastures as well as for soil that is rich in limestone, which is said to help young horses develop sturdy bones. Pasture grass in Aiken tends to be Bermuda or Bahia, which can have excellent nutritional value, but tends to be at least somewhat mineral poor, reflecting the quality of our soil. As a result, many mares and foals in Aiken will require hay, grain and supplements throughout the year, even if they are on pasture all the time.

“A lot of people get hung up on the grass,” says Del Walton, who breeds polo ponies at Walton Farm in Blackville outside of Aiken. “And yeah, I can see that. Maybe the grass isn’t as rich as it is in Kentucky or Virginia, and maybe you are going to have to feed more hay. But the grass is just one plus. I think if you add up all the plusses and minuses, Aiken is better. If you take care of your pastures here you can get the grass pretty rich. And it doesn’t get so cold here in the winter and you can plant winter grass and have your horses on fresh grass all year. In Kentucky and Virginia, it snows and you’re going to have to feed hay in the winter anyway. So the way I see it, the only benefit you have somewhere like Virginia is in the summers. The rest of the year, you’re somewhere where the land costs more, and the expense of living is more, the taxes are higher and you are far away from Florida, which is where the market is.”

Another relatively new benefit to breeding in Aiken is that the local veterinary community provides an exceptional depth of talent and expertise when it comes to equine reproduction. Nearly all the latest breeding technologies are now available in Aiken, including such things as embryo transfer, which has become almost commonplace. (This is the practice of breeding a valuable mare and then flushing out her embryo to transfer into the uterus of a designated “recipient” broodmare.) Those who stand stallions at stud can do cooled or frozen semen and even ship it internationally. Embryos can be frozen to be stored for another year, or shipped across the country. Other advanced treatments for equine infertility that are available locally include ICSI (Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection), which involves removing an egg from a mare, fertilizing it, and then implanting it into (usually) another mare who will carry the foal to term. ICSI has been used to treat human infertility for a long time, and has now made its way into the equine reproduction field.

Another relatively new technology that is available right here in Aiken is genetic testing of embryos, which is often done in conjunction with embryo transfer.

“We can test embryos for genetic diseases, and remove embryos that are carrying these diseases from the gene pool,” says Dr. Sabrina Jacobs, the owner of Performance Equine Vets in Windsor. “We can test for the sex and the color, too. This allows breeders to plan their foal crop. For instance, say they are hoping to have a colt this year; through genetic testing, we can be sure that the embryo we are implanting is a colt. We might save an embryo that is a filly for another year. It means that we won’t be creating any unwanted foals.”

Considering all that Aiken has to offer, it is no wonder that breeding is becoming more common here. With so many foals being born and raised in Aiken’s stables and pastures, we thought it might be interesting to go out and meet a few of the ones born here this year, take their pictures and learn something about their stories, which is what we have done.

In the following feature, we will introduce you to four foals of 2017. They are horses and ponies of four different breeds and they will be headed in very different directions in the coming months and years. Our plan is to follow up with these foals once or twice a year to trace their progress and see how each one develops. We have no idea where this project will lead us, or if it will even work out at all. In this way, it is a little like horse breeding itself. According to the old adage, you breed the best to the best and hope for the best. We certainly hope for the best for these four foals, and for the breeders who will be investing so much time, energy and passion into their care and training.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Questions About Dressage


With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, an a USEF S judge. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized national show at all dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage. Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@aol.com, or visit her website: www.amymcelroy.com.


Dear Amy,


I am an eventer who competes at the Training Level. It was recommended to me to try some dressage shows to help me improve my scores in that phase. Could you give any suggestions, and tell me what differences I might expect between a dressage test in eventing and at a USDF dressage show?

Eventer Chick



Dear Eventer 

Entering a USDF dressage show is a great way to help you concentrate on the dressage portion of your sport. We see many event riders competing at our USDF dressage shows – I have even seen the wellknown Advanced Level event rider Jan Byyny competing at USDF shows in Wellington, Florida.

If you are riding at the Training Level in events, you would be able to compete at First Level in dressage; First Level Test 1 is most similar to Training Level Event test A or B. Let’s look at which things are the same and which things are different between the two sports in these tests.

What is the same; Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 

1. All trot work may be done rising or sitting unless otherwise stated.
2. All tests include 15-meter circles in the trot and canter.
3. All have trot-canter and canter-trot transitions.
4. All have trot and canter lengthenings.
5. All have a 20-meter “stretchy” circle (a circle in which the rider allows “the horse to stretch forward and down while maintaining light contact.”)
6. In all tests, half points can be used for scoring.
7. In all tests, you are eliminated if you have three errors.
8. All allow 45 seconds to enter the arena once the bell has sounded.
9. In all tests, you are required to wear protective headgear.
10. Your judge will be evaluating your ride in your event test in the same way as in your dressage test. This means that your judge will confirm that your horse demonstrates correct basics and has developed some thrust to achieve improved balance and “thoroughness” while maintaining a more consistent contact with the bit.

What is different: Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 

1. The eventing test is held in a small (20 meter by 40 meter) arena; the dressage test is held in a large (20 meter by 60 meter) arena.
2. In the eventing test, you always enter down the centerline and start your test immediately. In the dressage test, you always enter down the centerline, halt at X and salute your judge before you continue with your test.
3. In the eventing test the only coefficient (a movement where points count double) is for the free walk. In the dressage test there are three movements with a coefficient of two. These are the free walk, the stretchy circle and the transition from trot to canter going to the left.
4. In the eventing test, the entire test needs to be performed by memory. In the dressage test, you may do your test by memory, or you may have a caller at ringside to read your test aloud, and there is no deduction in points for this.
5. In the eventing test, there are four scoring boxes with collective marks
(gaits, impulsion, submission and rider position.) In the dressage test, there are five boxes with collective marks. There are two boxes for the rider, one for the position and seat, and the other for the correct and effective use of aids. The remaining boxes are the same (gaits, impulsion and submission) except that impulsion and submission each have a coefficient of two.
6. In the eventing tests the average ride time is four minutes. In the dressage test, the average ride time is five minutes.
7. In the eventing test, you are striving for the lowest possible final score which is expressed in penalty points: in the 20s, for instance. In the dressage test you are looking for the highest possible final score, which is expressed as a percentage, in the 70s for instance.
8. In the eventing test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider will be penalized but will not be eliminated. In the dressage test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider is eliminated.
9. In an eventing test, you have 45 seconds to enter the arena after the bell has rung: if you enter after 45 seconds but before 90 seconds, you will get a 2-point penalty. In a dressage test, if you don’t enter the arena within 45 seconds after the bell has run, you will be eliminated.
10. You are never allowed to perform a dressage test while your horse is wearing boots or bandages. If you forget to take them off in an eventing test, your judge will stop you and allow you to remove the illegal equipment; you will be penalized 2 points. In a dressage test, if you accidentally ride into the ring with illegal equipment, you will be eliminated immediately.

The good news about dressage shows is that they are often multiday competitions and you can ride the same test once each day. You can enter up to three different dressage tests per day, as long as you are riding under Fourth Level. (In eventing, you only get one chance to do a dressage test per horse, per show.) Even though First Level Test 1 most resembles your Training Level eventing test, you would be qualified to try any of the USDF Training Level Tests, of which there are three. You might want to try First Level Test 2 or 3, which have some movements you might see in your eventing Preliminary Level tests. You are even allowed to compete at two consecutive levels in the same dressage show.

I hope you take advantage of all the dressage shows available here in Aiken and in our neighboring cities and states. All the extra rides down the centerline are sure to give you and your horse much exposure and experience, which are bound to help you achieve your eventing goals. After all, a good dressage score can set the stage for exceptional performances in the jumping phases, giving you a solid boost up the leaderboard.

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

Ask the Judge

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy


Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEF R judge, and a USEF S judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@aol.com, or visit her website: www.amymcelroy.com.



Dear Amy,

I am showing in Novice Eventing Test B. My question is this: How do you judge the canter departs? It says canter “between A and F” and “between A and K.” Where exactly are you expected to make the departure, and how much does the canter after the departure count? My friend says that the score is for the departure only and that the canter itself does not count because there is no labeled scoring box for it, but this does not sound right to me. Is this true? 

Dear Canter,

This is a great question for all dressage competitors. Everything you do in the arena is being appraised. It is important that all riders understand what the judge is looking for and how he or she arrives at your final score. At the lower levels, including all Novice eventing tests, the canter departs are regularly asked for between the markers rather than at exact letters. This allows the greener horse and/or rider a chance to have more preparation to make their transitions on demand. Before we talk about scoring for this particular movement, let’s review the number scale that dressage judges use. Scoring goes from 0 through 10, including half scores (7.5, for example.) Here are the numerical scores and what they mean:

0 The movement was not executed 
1 Very bad
 2 Bad 
3 Fairly Bad 
4 Insufficient 
5 Marginal 
6 Satisfactory 
7 Fairly Good 
8 Good 
9 Very Good 
10 Excellent

This can be a very difficult scale to understand. If you are getting sixes and sevens, this means you are on the right track and the final score of your test would probably be between 30 and 40 points, which will put you on good footing going into the jumping phases. Scores above 8 are hard to attain; if you are regularly getting 8s, this would make your dressage score in the 20s or below. This would likely put you at the top of the leaderboard before the jumping phases.  

In the canter departs required in Novice Test B, you are permitted to make the transition anywhere between the designated letters. As far as the accuracy goes, you could earn a 10 no matter where between the two letters you pick up the canter. Being centered would be very impressive however, so striving to make the depart exactly midway between the markers is most desirable.

The placement of the departure is only one small part of how your score is determined. In this case, placement would be considered a “modifier.” In the transition, the main criterion is the “essence,” how your horse gets into the canter. Your judge will be looking for willingness, promptness, steady connection to the bit, balance, and, of course, the correct lead. The directives in your test state “calmness and smoothness of depart.” Some problems include your horse speeding up before the departure (running into the canter), getting the wrong lead and not making a correction, not making the depart between the two letters (a very delayed canter depart) or not getting the canter at all.

Your judge will take the training scale into consideration with every score. Once your judge has arrived at the score for the essence of the canter, then the modifiers will come into consideration. These may affect your score from plus or minus .5 to 1 point, or possibly more. Modifiers in this case include the placement of the departure and the quality of the canter on the long side after the canter depart until the point where the next movement begins. On the long side, your judge will be looking to see if you are able to maintain the canter and correct lead while assessing the canter’s quality, balance and tempo. The gait should be a clear three beat and the horse should not fall on his forehand or quicken his pace. The rider needs to keep connection, with the horse remaining steady to the bit and straight from nose to tail. Common faults include the horse overbending its head, neck or forehand to the inside or outside and the haunches swinging in. 

Unless something extreme occurs (bolting, bucking, breaking the gait, strong resistance to the bit) the modifiers should have a minimal effect on your score, but they will have some. The formula your judge uses to derive every score in your test includes: B: Basics: gaits, impulsion and submission C: Criteria: essence: did you get it done? M: Modifiers: the small stuff; the “connecting tissue” between the movements So, to arrive at a number to put in the scoring box, the judge uses this formula: B+C+/-M=Final Score In conclusion, in Novice Test B, you should promptly attain the correct lead as centered between the two letters as you can, keeping in mind that the depart alone will not determine your final score. And yes, to answer your question, the canter down the long side most definitely will be included to determine your final mark for this box, so strive for a cadenced, balanced canter with your horse calm, relaxed and straight from head to tail. I hope this gives you a better understanding of how judges evaluate your performance. Remember, everything you do in the arena is being evaluated and every stride you take will affect your test and score. Doing your best and presenting an impression of harmony and ease no matter what the test or the level will put you in the best position to achieve your dressage goals. Good luck!


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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ask the Judge

Questions About Dressage


With Amy McElroy


Dear Amy,


I have a question about some gifts I received for my birthday. I now have a lovely square pad with bling around the sides and my farm's name and logo. I also have a beautiful whip with a bling on the handle, and I have a fun and new pair of gloves with bling on them. I love my gifts, but I need to know if I can use all of these things when I am competing this season? Please advise!

Glittery Togs

Dear Glitter,

This is a very good question as there had been much discussion about saddle pads and bling this year. Let's talk about your saddle pad first. It does sound very beautiful and perfect for the show arena. Is it legal? Let's look at the current ruling regarding the use of saddle pads with decoration.

You might be surprised to learn that saddle pads are not required when competing. Although they are optional, I have never seen anyone compete without a saddle pad, and I don't recommend it. A squared dressage pad or a fitted pad are both acceptable. The pads should be white or of a conservative color. According to the USEF rulebook DR 121, under Saddlery and Equipment, a logo, monogram or name it may appear on either or both sides of your saddle pad. The logos that are allowed must not exceed 200 square centimeters: this is about the spread of your hand, or roughly the size of a 5-inch by 6-inch card. When I look at a logo on a saddle pad, I try to imagine the size of a hand, and if it is smaller than that, I consider it an appropriate size.

You may use a breed logo for horses registered with that same breed. Beware of an inappropriate breed logo! If you have the Hanoverian logo on a leopard Appaloosa, this would not be correct, and you would most likely get a warning. You also may display a national flag if you are a citizen of that country. You can't display a national flag of a country for which you simply have an affinity: Americans can't have an Irish flag on their saddle pads just because they love Ireland.

You may also have the USEF logo. Professionals and amateurs have additional and different logo restrictions. Professionals may have a business or product name, or their sponsors logo on their pad. Amateurs may not have a business, product name or logo unless they actually own the business. Competition award pads are also allowed for both amateurs and professionals, as are pads bearing the name of your stable. No other advertisement or publicity is permitted on any saddle pad.

Other inappropriate saddle pad characteristics include busy patterns or decorations and loud, bright or distracting colors (no smiley faces, zebra print or blaze orange.)

These are the current rulings on saddle pad appearance, effective December 1, 2016 and currently in use.

Now let's consider bling. In the dressage world, "bling" refers to shiny, jewel-like decorations on tack and equipment. As far as wearing gloves, you might be surprised to learn that in classes Fourth Level and below, gloves are recommended but not mandatory. Although many people wear traditional white gloves, any conservative color is permissible. Bling on gloves is allowed, and has become quite common: I think it looks good when done tastefully. (As a sidenote, bling will draw attention to your hands, so if yours are not yet independent, it would be a better idea to wear a more conservative, planer pair.)

In regards to your blinging whip handle: bling is allowed on your handle, providing you meet all the other whip regulations. As with the gloves and the saddle pad, carrying a whip is optional in those classes where it is permitted. (You are not allowed to carry a whip in some classes and circumstances, such as when you are riding in regional championships or the nationals.) When a whip is permitted in competition, the only requirement is that it may not be any longer than 47.2 inches (120 centimeters). This measurement does include the lash. Keep in mind that an adjustable whip is not ever allowed. If you carry a whip that exceeds the length limit, you will be eliminated. This might be a good time to mention that you should not be surprised if, after you have completed your test, the ring steward asks to measure your whip. Depending on the size of the show, steward my check every whip, or every second or third whip. The judge may also request that the steward measure any whip that looks suspiciously long.

For all the current rules on dress and equipment, you can always visit the USEF website under "dressage rules." These rules do change, so check to be sure you are always up-to-date. Also, if you are at a show and you have further dress or equipment questions, you can find the technical delegate and ask: technical delegates are well-versed on all the current rules.

To summarize: assuming you are an adult amateur, you may wear a saddle pad with your farm name and logo on it, providing the logo does not exceed the size limit. Bling on your saddle pad, whip handle and gloves is permitted. Currently the only place bling is not permitted is anywhere on your horse: no hoof appliques, no glitter in his main or jewelry in his tail.

I think you will look very fashionable in your new show clothing and tack and it sounds as if you were lucky to receive such wonderful birthday presents. Go ahead and enjoy them. I hope you shine in the show ring!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Congress Champions at Three Runs

Ranch Sorting Horses are Winners


By Pam Gleason


Ranch sorting is a competition that evolved from a common activity on ranches in the West: sorting cattle into pens for various purposes. A growing sport in the Aiken area, and now it can boast to all American quarter horse Congress Champion sorting horses as well as a reserve Champion. All three horses live at Three Runs plantation and are owned by Blair and Ted Cummings. Blair and Ted own and run Cummings Insurance Agency, a full service independent insurance company that offers automobile, home, life and equine insurance, among other things. They relocated to Aiken from Connecticut a few years ago, and that move also entailed a change of disciplines for them.

"Ted had done some raining and I was a western pleasure rider," says Blair. "But when we came to Aiken, everyone told us we should try ranch sorting, and so we did and we love it."

The Cummings ended up training with Marc Chancey, A performance horse trainer based in Waynesboro, Georgia. They became devoted to the sport, and, with Marc's help, soon acquired their own sorting horses. These include Teds horse Hallowed Be (Mick) and Blair's horse High Rollin Sug (Gambler), A nine-year-old gray gelding from High Brow Cat lines that Ted gave to Blair as a Christmas present last year. They also recently bought Scoot to Smoke (Grace), A mare that they hope to breed in the near future. Blair and Ted travel to Waynesboro regularly to practice and learn more about sorting and they compete monthly at the BSC arena in Waynesboro, where there are Ranch Sorting National Championship sanctioned events.

The all American quarter horse Congress, held each October in Columbus, Ohio, is the world's largest single breed horse show, attracting entrants from around the country and the world. In ranch sorting, teams of two riders enter an arena where there is a herd of numbered cattle and they must move these cattle, in numerical sequence, from one pen to the other as quickly as possible. At the Congress this year, Marc Chancey road Ted's horse Mick, while Janine Kassab from New Jersey rode Gambler. Marc and Janine topped their class to win the Congress championship. Janine also competed on grace, and was Reserve Champion. In November, Marc took Gambler to the world show in Oklahoma City. They did not win, but they did place well in a huge class. Blair says that the goal for next year is to get all three horses qualified for the World Show. In the meantime, she and Ted have the chance to enjoy their champions as riding horses and as companions.

"When we are sorting these our trail horses," she says. "They are phenomenal trail horses as well as performance horses."

The horses live at their home in Three Runs Plantation, and Blair and Ted ride regularly on the trails there or in the Hitchcock Woods. Ranch sorting horses have to be quick and nimble to cut out their cows, but Blair says that her horse gambler is as calm and quiet on the trails as anyone could want, whether she is riding alone or in company. He is such a kind and adaptable horse that, two weeks before the Congress, Blair lent him to a girl named Malley Flowers to compete in the Special Olympics Georgia State Horse Show in Gainesville, Georgia. Malley then went on to win gold medals and one silver in showmanship, horsemanship and trail.