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Kelly Beaver - Spring 2017
An awesome time in Aiken
I wanted to thank FCEA for providing me with a scholarship opportunity to travel to Aiken, South Carolina in March for a week of training with 4* level Three Day Event Rider Courtney Cooper and her C Square Farm team.
I trailered my horse, Hobbs, down on Sunday, March 19 just in time to avoid the blizzard in PA. The trek took 12 hours and was thankfully uneventful. I got Hobbs settled into his home for the week on their farm and got some much needed rest. On Monday, I was able to have a private lesson with Courtney and began to knock of the rust from the winter. It’s amazing how although I’m able to train all winter, I always feel out of shape for my first real lesson of the year. I was able to keep Hobbs pretty fit throughout winter but it was good to get into some warmer weather and start to sharpen our techniques prior to show season. As the week began to unfold it was a bit of a mess trying to deal with issues back home due to the storm, but thankfully by Tuesday afternoon it was business as usual and I could fully focus on riding.
We decided on Tuesday to enter a local jumper show at Bruce’s Field. There is a very low key jumper show every Tuesday at this facility and it’s really nice to go a train since they are so flexible with classes and entries. I knew I was still a bit rusty but I figured it would be a good experience and decided to jump at the Preliminary height rather than my normal Intermediate height. My first round went well - let me rephrase, the first 80% of the round went well. I missed a spot on the triple combination, got a half stride and popped out of the tack. It’s a blessing and a sin sometimes that Hobbs NEVER stops, I still haven’t figured out how to stick in the saddle when he jumps from a standstill! Not the start we were hoping for, but we did another round and it was smooth and I felt more in tune with him. We were getting back in the groove thanks to more coaching from Courtney.
On Wednesday we had a flat lesson and were really trying to work on the Advanced level movements, mainly half passes and flying changes. Hobbs is extremely athletic, but he’s a bit short-bodied so it’s difficult to get an expressive bend in the lateral work. Courtney always does very well on the flat and trains regularly with Silva Martin, so she worked us pretty hard! On Thursday, we were able to go cross country schooling which was my first time out this year. Hobbs, as usual on cross country, was a beast and we had a great time.
On Friday, we had another flat lesson. We had been waitlisted for the weekend event at Pine Top and found out that unfortunately, we did not get in. So, we spent Saturday doing a light jump workout. We were, however, lucky to be able to take a jump lesson with Richard Picken on Sunday at Boyd Martin’s Stable View Farm in Aiken. I really enjoy lessons with Richard as he always gives me good homework and exercises to do. In the end, we benefited more from his lesson than we would have at the show.
Overall, it was a really good trip for Hobbs and I to prep for the upcoming show season. I really appreciate the scholarship opportunity provided to me by FCEA and will continue to be an active member in the years to come.
Ange Bean - Winter 2017
This is my attempt to turn a speech into an essay, so please forgive me my loose interpretation of many rules of grammar. I gave this speech Feb 25th at the French Creek Equestrian Association's Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet. Fay Seltzer asked me to write it up for the blog, so here it is.
Why do We Spend so Much Time and Money on This Crazy Obsession?
When French Creek Equestrian Association’s president Fay Seltzer asked me to speak at this year’s annual meeting and awards banquet, she asked for a “husband friendly topic.” After mulling this over for a bit, observing husbands at our recent schooling show, and batting the topic around with my husband, I came to the conclusion that the question every husband ponders is “what is it about horses that make my wife so happy?” The “happy wife, happy life” thing only scratches the surface.
As a professional horseperson, I often wonder what motivates my students. I see their over-booked lives. I see the sacrifices they make, both financially and time-wise, to be at the barn. I see how they struggle with fear and frustration to achieve their goals. I gear my business to helping them get satisfaction from the horses they love. And I (well, my husband, actually) wonder why.
From a psychology standpoint, the horse-human relationship has not been studied much. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy utilizes horses as mimics of human emotions to help with anxiety, PTSD, depression, anger management, and the list goes on. EAP has been a breakthrough for people who don’t respond to traditional “talk therapies.”
According to Dr Gardner, in an interview for The Guardian, “One of the reasons I think equine-assisted therapies work so well is that everyone has a reaction to horses; nobody is indifferent. People either love them or fear them, so that's two big emotions that immediately reflect what most of life's issues revolve around.”
Although EAP is a far cry from the way most of us enjoy our horses, Dr Garner may be on to part of the “addiction” to horses. Later in the article, he goes on to say, "It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centered and focused when we are with horses," he says. "Horses are naturally empathetic. The members of the herd feel what is going on for the other members of the herd."
In our often over-scheduled life, a place of calm is often worth the price.
Taking this a bit further, I find many horse people are what I’ll call “friendly introverts.” They meet the introvert checklist, as Dr. Susan Whitbourne wrote for Psychology Today, a few of which are:
1. You enjoy having time to yourself
2. Your best thinking occurs when you’re by yourself
3. You don’t initiate small talk with salespeople or others with whom you have casual contact.
4. You often wear headphones when you’re in a public situation.
5. You prefer not to engage with people who seem angry or upset.
I think most of these apply to horse people, especially dressage riders, particularly the last one. The article goes on to describe studies documenting introverts “re-directing” from high-emotion situations—redirecting their eyes in mild cases and physically leaving extreme emotional settings.
This ties in so easily to a common horse training technique – when a horse becomes tense or afraid, trainers often change the topic, wait for the horse’s emotions to settle, and then return to the scary/tense thing. As introverts, this behavior is hard-wired into us, and we get rewarded for being who we naturally are.
A student of mine takes it a bit further, and describes how her horse helps her bridge the gap between her strong introvert personality and casual interaction. She said:
“When I talk about my pony to non-horse people, I talk about his personality. I tell stories where I interpret his attitude as if he were speaking to me. I like to tell stories about how patient and stoic he is. I talk about how fun it is when he runs around with the youngsters in the pasture. I tell stories about the times when all the other horses are running around and he looks up, decides it’s crazy to expend so much energy, and then goes back to eating. I talk about how fuzzy he is in winter. And then I show them pictures like he’s my baby.My friends notice that I tend to get more animated when I’m talking about Karison.”
Talking about Karison helps Cheryle bridge the gap of uncomfortable small talk so common in introverts, thereby making her more at ease.
Getting back to the barn aisle, stable life helps us horse people keep connections with friends and family that share our interest. Just as a Star Wars buff finds his “herd” at Comic Con, we find our herd at the barn, at the show, at the paper chase, or at the hunt.
In the English language, the word loneliness doesn’t have an opposite. Light has its opposite in dark; anger has its opposite in joy. But loneliness doesn’t have a word that describes it’s opposite. Maybe belonging is that opposite. The barn creates that for us.
I overhear conversations in my barn, and they so closely resemble what Stanford Assistant professor Gregory Walton calls “belonging intervention.” The three principles of “belonging intervention” are:
You are not alone.
And it gets better
Walton studied “belonging intervention” in minority groups of college freshman. In his work, the “test groups” were counseled in the above three key ideas. That counseling impacted their academic performance and, surprisingly to Walton, their health. The impact lasted through not only college, but until the end of the study, three years college.
I overhear conversation that lines up with “belonging intervention” in my barn aisle regularly. Every time a rider is going through a difficult training stage, or a nagging lameness, or struggling to balance barn life and “real life,” I hear other boarders telling them they are not alone, listening to them, helping them, and reminding them that it gets better. That shared empathy, that community, that belonging—churches offer it, social clubs offer it, and barns offer it.
And when it’s going well, does it get any better than a great ride?
We often talk about a great ride as being “in the zone,” which psychologists refer to as “flow state.”
Flow state - also known as “the zone,” is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
Situations that can have flow often have these two characteristics:
High but achievable technical skill
Flow is an actual brain-chemistry state, when the norepinephrine (brain chemical of alertness) and dopamine (brain chemical of interest) balance to make that magic mental cocktail, where we are totally in the moment.
Pulling from Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi’s web site (he is, incidentally the author of the book entitled, Flow), several elements are involved in achieving flow.
· There are clear goals every step of the way.
· There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
· There is a balance between challenges and skills.
· Action and awareness are merged.
· Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
· There is no worry of failure.
· Self-consciousness disappears.
· The sense of time becomes distorted.
· The activity becomes an end in itself.
The best part is that this wonderful state can be created so easily in the barn. A quick Google search will find a “cookbook” of how to create flow, and a few of those steps are pretty much built into horseback riding:
1. Rituals to begin event. In our world, those rituals include grooming and tacking.
2. Be mindful (aware, but non-judgmental) about your thoughts. This state is easily created in the early stages of the ride as you plan the workout.
3. Being aware of your emotional state and modulating it as needed. Every horse person does this – it’s windy, my youngster looks frisky, am I ok with that or should we lunge first?
4. Cadence training (focusing on a sound or song) or targeting to help narrow focus. Just listen to a horse trot, and you can’t miss the cadence.
So whether it’s the sense of calm, the sense of connection, or just the mental “high” of a good ride, we all have the addiction. Sorry husbands.
Time well spent at LaBarre Dressage Training Center
I wanted to do something special for my 50th birthday. I am always busy working with my six horses and teaching my students, and looking after my husband and two sons, so don’t really take time for myself. It has been a long time since I rode the upper level movements, (20 years ago), so decided to use my birthday as the excuse to take some time off and have some serious but fun lessons.
The challenge was finding an instructor with upper level schoolmasters for me to ride and within easy travel distance for me to take one of my horses with me. Our nifty newsletter editor, Fay, searched through the USDF website and found a few within a 4 hour radius and I set about researching them. I contacted a few, but only heard back from one – a little disappointing. This was Michelle LaBarre near Wilkes-Barre, PA. I searched her website and Facebook page and read her testimonials, followed links to students of hers and decided she might actually be the right person for me. We spoke on the phone and emailed each other until she understood exactly what I was looking for. It was a go.
Michelle teaches at Flying Horse Farm in Sanatoga, near Pottstown, once a month, so I was hoping to watch her teach before going to her farm, but circumstances made that impossible unfortunately. So I was going in blind, as the saying goes. A little daunting! I had no idea of her teaching skills and she had no idea of my riding abilities.
Michelle had trained in Germany with Herr Egon von Neindorff and spent the first three months riding on the lunge. The best way to develop an independent seat!
After a 2 ½ drive with Handsome Dude in the trailer we arrived at Michelle’s farm. Everyone was welcoming and Handsome was made comfortable in his new stall for the next four days. I went off to book into the Beaumont Inn hotel where I was to stay and then returned to the farm to watch Michelle teach and ride for the rest of the day.
Each day I rode a schoolmaster and Handsome. The first lesson was a lunge lesson, on one of Michelle’s horse, so she could evaluate my riding level. She spotted some problems straight away! I had broken my right hip in a riding accident about 30 years ago and was still protecting it by holding on too much on that side. The stirrup was taken away to allow me to stretch the leg down and I had to keep that feeling when I got the stirrup back. My shoulder blades were another problem – I know I slouch! I have a very comfortable sofa at home and I work on my laptop sitting on it in completely the wrong shape for keeping a straight back. (I do have the back of my car seat upright and try to push my shoulders into it to help me.) I had to think about pulling them back, but also keeping them down, as tension made them ride up. My sitting trot wasn’t up to par with hands unable to keep as still as I would like. Michelle used visualizations to help me picture what to do, which really helped – think about the pelvis moving up to the hands.
When I wasn’t riding I was able to be in the arena and ask Michelle questions as she was riding. Each horse was different in confirmation as well as riding level. She has Mustangs to Friesians to Warmbloods in her barn for training, so quite a variety.
I had eight lessons over four days. I was able to video them and would watch each one before going to the next lesson. I would tell Michelle what I saw and we would discuss it or work on that problem. (Those of you who know me well will know that I am very picky about my riding.)
If I wrote down each lesson individually this would go on for pages, so I am going to cover the light bulb moments!
If you have rounded shoulders lie on a pool noodle with it running down your spine, for a few moments each day, until you can feel your shoulders touching the ground. When this becomes easy use a harder noodle.
Legs create energy, seat shapes it.
Create the ‘ ( ) ‘ shape with your legs around the horses barrel and squeeze from the heel upwards to encourage the horse forward.
Double kick instead of squeezing each stride. This will help wake the horse up instead of ignoring the consistent squeeze.
The rider’s hips can block the ability of the horses back legs from coming forward. Let go with the thighs.
If the horse brings it hips in in canter think about riding shoulder fore to straighten it up and encourage his withers to be higher than his hips.
In lateral work think about standing on the opposite leg so you can use your driving leg.
Stay upright in lateral work, don’t lean.
When riding shoulders-in the inside leg does not go back, it stays in its normal position.
If you are having trouble with sitting trot, on a circle move your outside hip to the horses inside ear and on a straight line outside hip to outside ear.
Always keep your shoulders in the direction you want to go. (Harder than you think to do especially if the horse wants to go the other way!!)
Relate everything to your seat bones.
Don’t lean forward in the canter transition, “sit in the back seat of the car” and follow the horse, and when asking for the downward transition wait for the up part of the stride to ask.
Here’s a good one: ride every stride. Horses usually break stride when the rider thinks how well everything is going!! (Has happened to me many times J ).
Imagine you are a Spanish Riding School rider and ride that way. Be proud to be on the back of a horse.
With a horse with a busy mind keep giving them things to do. Go from one task to another.
Muscle memory can fool you! Break it.
Allow the horse to push you out of the saddle in rising trot, don’t force it yourself.
Have your reins ready before a transition, not after.
I hope these points are helpful. I had a wonderful time at LaBarre Dressage Training Center and can feel myself improving each time I ride. If you want any more information about my ‘clinic’ or about Michelle, feel free to contact me.
Thank you FCEA for helping defray the costs with this scholarship.
Louise Jordan-Beam, BHSAI
Nov 10 - Paper Chase
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