Full of gratitude

We are home again, all settled in, and the girls are back out in their pastures with their friends. I can finally take a big breath and say, Wow! We did it! No one got terribly sick, lame, covered in fungus or had any bad accident – I can hardly believe it! A trip to Florida without a fungul mess of a horse – total miracle πŸ˜‰

Flow on her last day!

I have a very long list of thank yous to give out, and I won’t bore everyone too much, but I have to say a little about some of the big players in my life who made this trip possible. First and foremost, my wonderful husband, Jonathan, who didn’t look at me like I was crazy when I said, “Hey, if I apply for this grant, and there’s any chance I get it, want to go to Florida with two little kids and a bunch of horses for 6 weeks?” I’m very fortunate that Jonathan can work remotely and be flexible with his time at his job. But I’m even more fortunate to be with a man who supports my dreams and wants to step up and take on a bigger role as a dad in order for me to do something like this. My children are 4 and 2, and I could never be away from them for any extended period of time. I think most moms feel the same way. Unfortunately for many moms, though, they don’t have the support from a partner to pick up the parenting slack that would allow for something like this. Of course, I would do exactly the same for him, but I recognize how lucky I am.

The fam

My two assistant trainers, Kate Tackett and Hannah Walters, deserve medals and chocolate and hugs and most of all, some time off now! Kate stayed with me the entire time and had only about 48 hours off over Christmas. She was unflappable in her devotion to those 5 mares, up at 5 am every single day, happily heading out the door for night check almost every night. I said earlier how lucky we were to not have any accidents or problems, but really it’s not luck – it’s Kate. She took impeccable care of those girls, and I’m forever grateful. Meanwhile, Hannah stayed home and took equally impeccable care of the horses left behind. She dealt with the cold, the snow, and pretty much endless rain, and still managed to continue with training, lessons for clients, and running the barn beautifully. Finding good employees is always the hardest part of this job, and I feel so grateful to these two women for going above and beyond Every. Single. Day.

I have been fortunate in my riding career to learn from many wonderful trainers, starting with my mom, Cindy Sydnor. I’ve been a working student for Lilo Fore, Klaus Balkenhol, Beth Baumert, Scott Hassler, and I’ve gotten to clinic with many more top people. But never have I had such an intense period of learning with so many horses. I felt supported on all sides, and I felt like Jen was 100% invested in my learning and my horses. Each mare made such good progress. The grant from TDF allowed me to plan a period of time where my education was my primary focus. Going to FL for 6 weeks before winter season really got crazy turned out to be a great idea. I got Jen’s undivided attention in my lessons, I got to watch so many of Debbie McDonald’s lessons, and I got the eye and ear of many others before their schedules were jam packed.

Flowy’s strong bum πŸ™‚

Now I hope to take a little down time, focus on my family and my students, and then continue our great progress with these girls and the other horses in training. Thank you again, TDF, for making this possible! Thanks to Betsy Juliano and Annettee DaVee for welcoming us to their beautiful farms, thank you to my clients for trusting me to take their lovely mares on a big adventure, thank you to my students for waiting patiently for me to return – I promise to kick your butts with all I’ve learned! Thank you to my parents and my mother in law for being supportive and helping with the kids. And thank you to all the friends, new and old, we made along the way who made this trip a blast!

Jen Baumert & Betsy Juliano

Headed Home

And we’re off! Kate and I are driving home, following the horses, who are being shipped by Cody Irion of Eclipse Equine Transport. (Love this guy, he arrived at 5:59am this morning for a 6am pick up!!) We had such a great last few days. It’s really sad to say goodbye to all the lovely friends we made down in Wellington. Both barns were so welcoming with such accommodating owners, boarders and workers. We really couldn’t have had a better experience.

Our last days were chock full! After my lesson with Charlotte Bredahl Thursday morning, Kate and I headed over to Global to watch the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic. This is the kind of amazing think that’s going on in Wellington on any given day. Three arenas going at the same time with lessons from Robert Dover, Adrienne Lyle, and Debbie McDonald for some very lucky young riders. We got to watch Debbie teach Callie Jones (individual YR gold medalist last year) and Anna Weniger (winner of the YR Freestyle Gold medal last year). We also got to see Robert helping Kerrigan Gluch and run into some old friends. What amazing opportunities these young riders have!! You can see live streaming of this event here. Charlotte Bredahl will be judging them practicing some test rides tomorrow!

Kate and I learning all we can

Friday I had my last lesson on Flow with Jen. I didn’t want to work her very hard before our long trip home. So we warmed up and then checked on the changes. They felt super and confident! I rode 4 on the quarterline and was able to keep them pretty straight. I just have to make sure I don’t allow her to bend to the L as she changes left – same exact feeling I need to keep in the walk to canter on the L. I’m so excited about her changes.

Flow on Jan 3

I then hurried over to Centerline Farm to hop on D’Arcy and get her ready to be seen by a friend who might know of a potential buyer for her. She was such a star, and I could not be happier with her. I then got to have a lesson with JJ Tate on Frieda. I would have loved to squeeze it in a little sooner, but I have to take what I can get! JJ is a friend from way back, and I’ve always admired her riding and teaching. She was SO helpful with Frieda. She has a strong biomechanical bent to her teaching that I find really fascinating. She wanted to help me really get into Frieda’s lower back and pelvis and “wake it up” and loosen everything up. Frieda is such a nice horse and so hard working and obedient. But she can be a bit “wooden” in her way of going, and JJ had some really interesting exercises to get her looser. We started out with lots of trot canter trot transitions to get her swinging a bit better. She specifically wanted me to bring her back to a “school trot” or very small trot and then into canter, so she really had to sit in the transition. Then medium and collected transitions in canter to get that lower back moving. Once the warm up was done, we went back to canter with more exercises. On the quarterline – haunches in for a few strides, then leg yield to the wall, then haunches in on the wall, and then shoulder fore through the corners and short side. We repeated this a few times to try to bend her more through the whole body and open up the hips and shoulders. Then on the circle, slight counter bend and leg yield in to a smaller circle, back out to a bigger circle and medium canter. In Frieda’s case, she really wanted her poll up in the medium canter, because otherwise she gets croup high. Then we did some steep leg yields across the whole arena in canter, quite sideways and not with much speed, so she really opened up through the hips and jumped over. This probably made the most difference in her. We did all these exercises on both sides with a break in between.

Frieda with JJ

Then after another break we went to the trot. JJ wanted me to keep the trot small and slower on a circle and play around with haunches in to shoulder fore or better yet, haunches in to renvers. She wanted me to really bend her in the haunches in and then try to use my seat to “jump in” to her pelvis and a little whip on top of the croup to help her tuck under and find another level of sitting and power. The feeling was really good and very different. She had me giving often with inside and/or outside rein to show her she could just “let go” with her neck. Then we tried to use some medium trot on a circle to show her how to open up her strides with that more tucked under pelvis. I think Frieda was shocked at how much she could move her body! She is just so polite about everything, but JJ described her as having a low level of tension in everything she does, and I think that’s right. She has to surrender a bit more in her body, not in a submissive way, but in a letting go way. That’s what the term losgelassenheit is all about in dressage, and why it’s so hard to translate. It means “the letting go-ness of the muscles” but with power. Go Frieda, go!! 🐴 🌟

I then went right into two last lessons with Jen on Blush and Lily. They were both great – both did many great changes! And I’m so excited to play around with the work in hand ideas for passage with Lily.

Last night we had a fun dinner out with many folks from Havensafe. Sarah Diggin is a trainer there year round. Missy Fladland, from Iowa, is spending the winter there training with Katherine Bateson. Missy’s husband, natural horsemanship trainer Kip Fladland, was visiting and joined us as well. Nita Andrews, a year round boarder and owner of the cutest pony ever, Cashew, was there as well, along with Lehua Custer from CA and, of course, Jen! Such a fun group and a great way to go out.

Trail riding at Havensafe

I’ll have one more blog to thank all the people that made this trip possible, but right now I have to help Kate navigate and stay awake by jamming out to 80’s music 😎🎢🎸

Every last drop

We are squeezing every last drop out of this trip! Today is officially our last full day. The shipper will come tomorrow at 7am to pick up the girls. My husband, kids, and mother-in-law all left Wednesday morning at the crack of dawn to fly home. I miss them terribly, but I’m glad to be able to devote this time to getting everything done and packed. We had to move out of our rental house Wednesday, so Jen is housing us these last few days.

I’ve had more great lessons, and I am really happy with how all the mares are going. Yesterday Charlotte Bredahl came to watch Flow go, and give Jen and me her opinion. It was really wonderful to have her input. She is now the USEF Developing Coach for dressage. She is also an international judge. I first met Charlotte when she led the Young Rider International Dream Trip, organized and funded by TDF, when I was 20. I was lucky enough to get a spot on that trip, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.

Charlotte like Flow a lot, and she wanted me to focus on keeping her even straighter – not allowing her haunches to slip left when tracking left. And using my inside leg closer to the girth to keep her inside hind leg jumping actively under her center of gravity in the pirouette work. Flow can sit quite well, especially in the canter, but the hind legs get a little slow. So she wanted me to focus on making the strides small, but not the pirouette small yet.

Flow

At the end we worked a little bit on the piaffe. She has a different approach, not liking to do it from the walk, only from the trot. Her reasoning for this is: 1. The walk is so easy to screw up, and we don’t want to make the walk nervous. 2. They need to want to go forward out of the piaffe, and going back into a regular collected trot keeps that forward momentum better. 3. It makes it easier and less stressful for most horses to just think of it as making the trot smaller and smaller. She wanted me to bring the trot back and then really bring it on the spot for just a couple steps, and then go right back out. At first I was keeping it too forward, which doesn’t make her sit enough. None of this is new, and Flow already has a good start to the piaffe, but this was a different technique I hadn’t fully tried with her. It was very easy for her, and she stayed super relaxed. I’m so grateful to Charlotte for taking the time to come see her. She is going to be amazing in this new role as developing coach. She is such a nice person, and has such a good eye, both as a trainer and a judge. She is really excited to go out and see horse and rider combinations that might be a little under the radar, just like Flow. And that can only make our country stronger in dressage – making sure some good horses and riders are on the right path, and have a good plan in place for the future.

Flow

I also worked again with Claudia Oliveira with three horses, and it was great to see the progression from the first time. He worked with Blush, Lily, and Frieda. Blush didn’t go last time, so she was learning his system for the first time, like the other ones last time. She did well, though, and he thought she had a super talent for piaffe, since she has such an incredibly active hind legs, and she’s smart as a whip! Lily and Frieda did much better this time, really understanding that he wanted them to pick and hold each hind leg up, and really ground the other hind leg.

I’ve been having great rides on the other girls too, and more lessons on our last day, so stay tuned for another update tomorrow!

Winding down. Or up?

Sorry I haven’t written more regularly. Things have been a bit crazy since Christmas. We now officially have 3 more full days left – we leave on Saturday morning – and so we are a blur of packing, family down here visiting, trying to meet up with friends, trying to squeeze in as many lessons as possible, more packing, etc.

I was able to work 3 mares – Frieda, Lily and Flow – with Claudio Oliveira. Claudio specializes in work in hand, and I was very impressed. He is just the nicest guy, and he was sweet and playful with the girls and had no ego but was very skillful. Since this was his first time working with any of my horses, he showed me his “system” and took a little extra time to get to know each mare. He worked with them on the ground first, just moving them around him in a big turn on the forehand each way. He was testing their sensitivity, their reactions of moving away from pressure on the left and the right. How do they react with their hind leg – big slow step, quick and tight, easier one hind leg or the other?

He then took them straight on the longside and asked them to pick up each hind leg from a touch with the whip. I have taught all my horses this, but Claudio wanted a bit different reaction. He wants them to pick the hind leg up and hold it up, so they really put weight down into the other hind leg. He rests the whip on the leg in the air when it is in the right spot – held up off the ground and underneath the body. He then uses the cluck noise to mean switch legs, so he’ll cluck and then ask the other hind leg to pick up and stay up. He wants them to do it back and forth enough times that they start expecting that they will have to hold each leg in the air for a few seconds. And because they know they will have to do that, they have to think about where they set the other leg down. Wouldn’t make any sense to put it out behind them, because they won’t be able to stand on it back there. They have to set it under their center of gravity so they’re ready to really put weight down into it. This was pretty confusing at first for my girls because I’ve taught them to pick the leg up from a cluck and touch with the whip, but I don’t make them hold it up. So it took a little while for them to understand what he wanted, but he was very patient, and they all got it pretty well.

Here is Claudio working with Frieda

All three of these mares have had some work in hand done before with piaffe work, so Claudio then moved on to asking for some piaffe steps down the longside. He attaches one side rein on the outside, so the horses have to stay a little round and can’t wrap their neck around him too much on the inside. He then takes the reins up over poll and through the inside ring of the snaffle, the way some people attach a lunge line. This gives him a little leverage if they start barging too much.

Here he is working with Lily

They all did quite well, and it was so interesting to see him figure each mare out, because they are quite different. Frieda is sensitive but gets very strong in the hand and a bit nervous. She tends to make big slow steps behind or sit too much and levade. He was very patient with her but would occasionally stop her and back her up a couple steps to get her off her forehand and lighter in the bridle. Lily knows the piaffe quite well, and he was playing around with different whips – bamboo, more whippy, stiffer – to see what helped her to find a little more lift, so that she didn’t just do a shuffle-y piaffe. Flow was the most confused by holding her leg up, and she is the most sensitive to the whip, so he just kept asking her again and not getting upset if she kicked out or bucked. He noticed that she had much more trouble grounding her LH and holding her RH up. She much prefers to stand on the RH. So we can work on that at home. He found with her that if he used a stiff whip at the base of her tail, it makes her sit nicely and then the bamboo on her hind cannon bones to ask for the activity of piaffe. While she is still green in her understanding, especially of his way, he was confident that she can do a world class piaffe, because she has such good mechanics and a lot of lift and expression. And best of all, we found that Lily (who was a circus horse in Belgium when she was young) totally knows Spanish walk!! He just touched her in front and made a different sound and she started striking out with each front leg! Claudio was sure I had taught her this, and I definitely didn’t!! So now we have a new trick to play with!

I’ve had two more super lessons from Jen on Flow, and she feels so confident with the changes πŸ˜€πŸ‘. We did three on the diagonal today and many more around the arena and never got a late one. πŸ€ΈπŸŽ‰πŸŽˆ. The other girls have been great in their lessons too. Blush feels so confident in her changes. Lily is back to her normal energy leglvel and Frieda feels fabulous. D’Arcy was the 🌟 yesterday. Jen said she looks a full year older than when she first saw her when we got down here. She just feels so grown up and is understanding the connection much better and keeping more engagement in everything.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

Happy New Year to all of you out there! I’ll have one more update before we head home. 😫

Ups and Downs

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was really adorable. The kids had so much fun! Baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, Daniel and Jonathan putting *lots* of Legos together, and Addie very busily rearranging her new “neigh neighs” in and out of her new barn are some sweet memories. On Christmas morning, I left the house at 4:45, in the hopes that I could feed all the girls and only do a couple stalls and be back in time for the kids to wake up. Of course by the time I got back, Jonathan said they had already been awake for an hour! πŸ™„

Addie and her new barn – thank you, Oma!

As the biggest Christmas present for myself, I got to have a lesson with Debbie McDonald on Christmas Eve! What a thrill! I’ve really enjoyed watching Jen’s lessons with Debbie on Betsy Juliano’s fabulous gelding, Handsome. And I’ve also gotten to watch her teach Lehua Custer on Ramzes, who is such an exciting horse for the future. Debbie has an absolute eagle eye. She manages to see everything and demand the highest standard without coming across as negative.

Lehua Custer and F.J. Ramzes, who are here training with Debbie. Such fun to watch this pair.

My experience was very similar. Debbie really liked Flow (how can you not?! πŸ˜‰) but was extremely demanding that I get quieter with my hands, get her straighter and more upright between my left and right aids. Early on she said, “She’s the kind of horse where you can really do less and get more.” And I think that so true. Flow is very sensitive but not a hot horse, because she’s also quite confident naturally. She gets more and more sensitive as the ride goes on, and I need to remember to always try to do less once I get the feeling I’m after.

I also really liked the feeling in my lesson of making things feel very easy for her. In all Debbie’s lessons, she is so committed to the basics, and especially with the more sensitive horses, she is always trying to make it easy and super, super steady. Then from an “easy” canter or trot, adding more collection or more impulsion. Back at home, Patrick Tigchelaar, who helps me, calls this making Flow more “fuel efficient.” She is so flamboyant with the front legs, that it ends up pulling her apart and being a form of “wasted” energy.

Debbie was very helpful in working on the changes with Flow. She took the same tactic as Jen – making sure I can move the shoulders easily with a slight counter bend within the counter canter. But she was also adament that I can push her just a little bit forward in that, so that she doesn’t start going up and down and coming off the contact in that way. This resulted in clean changes (hallelujah!) without so much collection and without stress. They felt easy and sort of “ho-hum” instead of like such a big deal. That is a feeling I can take into tempis.

After this wonderful experience and a great Christmas, I managed to dislocate my pinkie toe on my left foot Wednesday evening. This happens to me about once a year. I think my pinkie toes are mangled from horses stepping on them over the years, and then when I catch it on a doorframe, it just pops out of joint so easily. I know immediately when I’ve done it. It’s so incredibly painful, and my poor husband has had to learn how to pull it back in place 😫 despite my screams. And then, unfortunately, even when it’s back in place, it’s swollen and super sore for a couple days. So I tried to ride yesterday, but it was too painful. Luckily, Jen was willing to hop on and ride them for me, and that is very helpful as well.

I thought to myself the other day how lucky we’ve been that none of the horses have had any lameness problems or terrible fungus problems, like so many often do down here in Florida. I shouldn’t have even thought it, since we still have another week left, and then I went and hurt myself. 🀦

Flowy got three changes on the quarterline πŸ‘

Luckily today I was able to get a boot on and ride without too much pain. Walking still hurts a lot but riding isn’t too bad. (Who needs to walk anyway?) I had a super, super lesson with Jen early this morning, where Flow felt totally fabulous, and I was able to get three clean changes on the quarterline πŸ˜€πŸ₯³πŸ‘

Hard to believe our time here is coming to an end soon. So many friends are just arriving or planning to arrive right as I’m leaving. Hopefully I’ll get to say hi and have a dinner or two with folks before we head north again.

Gonna be hard to leave this magical place…

Holiday confessions

Merry Christmas Eve! It is a stunningly beautiful morning in Wellington. I was wearing just a polo shirt to do morning chores! 😎

Sun coming up on Christmas Eve

My assistant trainer, Kate Tackett, has gone home to be with her family for a few days, so I am taking care of everyone by myself. I am way, way less competent than Kate at this point. Kate leaves the house every morning just after 5 am, feeds and cares for the four mares at Centerline Farm – turns them out, cleans their stalls, cleans and refills their water buckets, gives them hay, sweeps the aisle, dumps the manure way far away, sets up the next meal. And then she’s off to Flowy, who is only a mile away, but needs all the same things, and then has her ready for me at 7:30 for a 7:45 a.m. lesson almost every day. I am busy at home with my kids, so it’s not like I’m relaxing in bed reading a novel and sipping my coffee in peace. (Doesn’t that sound dreamy…) But still, Kate is a force to be reckoned with, and I could absolutely not do any of this without her. This morning I left the house just after 5, and I don’t have a lesson on Flow until 9:15, so I thought I would get everything done and work one horse at Centerline. Well, I finished up there at 7:30, probably a full hour after Kate finishes… And I was worried about Flow, so now I’m grazing her and realizing how slow I’ve become.

Flowy having her morning graze

While I am confessing things, I will confess that I’ve enjoyed my time down here more than I thought I would. Of course I expected to enjoy the training. I know Jen is fabulous. But I expected it to be a little more uncomfortable. Usually with an intense period of learning, while it is exciting if you can see the big picture, it’s not always entirely enjoyable. Being pushed outside your comfort zone is just that – uncomfortable. But I think I have finally progressed enough as a rider, that I really do enjoy that feeling, instead of feeling frustrated and incompetent.

I’ll also confess that I had a slightly bad attitude when it came to those who spend the winter in Florida. “They’re all rich snobs, whose parents are paying their way for everything.” “Their horses never get turned out, and are probably all riddled with stomach ulcers and miserable.” “They’re all crazy ambitious, and probably completely unbalanced, and don’t spend any time with their families.” These are some of the thoughts I secretly had, and while I’m sure these imaginary people exist, I haven’t met a single one of them. Everyone at every farm I’ve been to has been kind, down-to-earth, hardworking, super friendly, and absolutely loves their horses. The horses are happy, do get turned out for the most part, and are chipping away at the same things as all of us – better basics, better connection, riding them more from back to front.

Addie thinks Florida is pretty great.

The neighborhood we are living in is full of a diverse group of families, all incredibly sweet, with lots of kids willing to play with Daniel. It’s fun to go to the coffee shop or the grocery store, and hear four or five different languages being spoken, because there are people from so many different countries here. And while I am definitely not ready to pick up and move here, and I don’t know when or if I’ll spend a winter down here again, it’s a good reminder that most people are good, everyone is trying their best, and I need to keep working at being more compassionate and more open-minded in every regard.

Thank you to those who have been following along, and I hope you all have a wonderful, warm, magical Christmas. This cool dude is pretty excited for tomorrow…

Daniel and Snakey – ready for πŸŽ…

Finding the Hind Leg

I was really happy with the girls today! I had a super lesson on Flow, where we got right to the changes after the warm up. Here she is really getting it!

After this, Jen got on to work more on getting the hind leg quick, sitting and connected. It was so helpful to watch from the ground. This is the second time Jen has gotten on Flow. No one else has ever ridden her, so it’s very odd, but wonderful, for me to sit and watch her go. I could really see how she needs to initiate the sitting behind in the trot from all the way up in her pelvis. She naturally does this in the canter. In the trot, her front legs get so big and fancy, you can just watch her pull herself apart. It’s more obvious for me in watching, that when she starts doing this, I need to immediately walk or canter and then go back to trot. It feels like you can fix it from within the trot, but when she’s gotten disconnected like that, it’s like we have to press reset and start over. Jen got many really super reactions from Flow behind. It’s so exciting to see how active and underneath herself she can be. She’s really going to get this, and when we can keep it together for more than a few strides, it’s going to be amazing!

Blush and Lily were also great. When I can get Blush sitting behind and up in her shoulders in the canter, the changes are really good! Normal I don’t think of tempi changes as a very helpful exercise to improve things, but more as a test, to see if the rider can keep the connection, team straightness, etc. But when Blush does a good change, she stride of the change is the actual canter we are after. So when she learns to do tempis, I think it will really be a way to improve and open up her canter. She is so different than Flow in this way, because she is naturally so much better connected in trot, and it is so much harder in canter. But she’s getting it!

Lily is also really understanding the balance we want across her shoulders in canter. We worked again on making the ideal walk to canter transition, so that very first stride with the inside hind was big and jumping and not either slow or short behind. When I have the ideal walk to canter, then I almost always have a good change right away.

My mom is down visiting, and we are having fun with the kids! We fed Giraffes at Lion Country Safari πŸ˜€ My mom loves giraffes, so this was a dream come true!!

Sticking his tongue out for the camera πŸ˜‹