Going for GOLD!

A BIG THANK YOU to all who have contributed! I have not yet met my fundraising goal, but I wanted to give an update on what I have achieved thus far, thanks to your help! For those of you that are interested, you can still contribute!

https://www.gofundme.com/f/going-for-usdf-gold-help-collette-dream-big&rcid=r01-156202052544-2bde62b5d51a44ae&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

I only had Stiletto for a short time before he went back to Alabama to fulfill his breeding contracts, so I skipped 4th level and went right to Prix St George; where I was able to fulfill the PSG scores I needed for myn USDF Silver medal in ONE show!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4Lta7ZTZ30

After that I started working on my GOLD and was able to achieve the Intermediare 1 scores with him that I needed for my USDF Gold medal in ONE show! Now all that is needed is my Grand Prix scores. I also bought a beautiful Navy blue shad belly!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgLa_wL8wgk

I was able to compete Preston for the first time in 4 or 5 years, and he thought it was a little unfair for me to take him out 4th level, which is what we were schooling at home, but it was honestly a bit of a stretch... I was able to get one of the 4th level scores I needed for my silver, but now I am afraid that Preston did not have a good time at the last show, and I am going to back him off to 3rd level, which he will easily be able to accomplish. After winning his confidence back, I will take him out 4th level again - aiming for my final score for my silver.

So my immediate fundraising needs are to show Preston at least 2-3 more times as well as get the coaching I need to get him there. This involves lesson fees, travel fees, show fees, and a hotel for each weekend away.

Long term goals include obtaining a horse to do the Grand Prix with. This could be a lease on a horse already doing Grand Prix, buying a prospect to later resell, or importing a horse as an investment.

Thank you all for the time you have spent reading

Anger and setting boundaries

I am allergic to bees - not so much bees, but hornets. ! I found this out the hard way about 2 years ago when I got attacked by ground hornets and went into anaphylactic shock. Thank GOD someone left an epi pen at the barn, and someone was there to help me or I would have died.

I got stung again the other day, thankfully not attacked, just one sting on my thigh. What I have learned is this:

Hornets are angry little buggers! They hit you very quickly with an energy that says “F-YOU!” They are very territorial and will attack you without feeling sorry for you or wondering why you went near them. When they sting you it is very painful and the pain lasts for days. After it happens, you remember exactly where you were when you got stung, and you won’t be inclined to go there again. They have very clear boundaries. After they attack you, they go about their day as if nothing ever happened.

This is pretty much the exact opposite of the energy I put into the world, which is probably why I have such a strong reaction when I encounter it. When someone crosses my boundaries, instead of getting angry I doubt myself and tell myself that I shouldn’t be feeling that way. Inevitably the anger builds up and festers. I end up carrying it around and therefore it affects my entire existence in the world. I realize that a healthier way to handle anger is to express it and let it go. Which is perhaps why I got stung about a week after the first time I ever told someone to “Go F—- yourself!” Those little hornets were trying to teach me something about anger.

So when I got stung, instead of panicking I actually closed my eyes and meditated - incorporating all that anger into my whole being and I had much less of a reaction to it than I would have otherwise. When I did this, the pain lessened. And what I have learned since is that the people that love you will still love you when you express that you are angry with them. The people that walk away are the people that never loved you in the first place, so they don’t matter anyway. And in fact, I have such genuine people in my life that they appreciate knowing what my boundaries are, and how I am feeling, which makes me feel really blessed.

My regular bi-annual blog post =)

I really have to get better about keeping up with this thing. My last blog post was about the 2016 RRP. My horse and I went and had a blast! My family also came to support me, and for many of them it was their first time seeing me compete. Fortunately, we did very well and came in 8th in the freestyle! Wall Street Bull has his own facebook page if you want to see more about him. He was bought by a student of mine, and was very well matched with her!

team bull.jpg

I finished out the year at the barn I was leasing in Milton, Fl. It was a 7 stall barn with a large house that I shared with a roommate. My barn was full and I had a waiting list, it was time to move on. I had been contacted by Gerard Kirsch at the Pensacola Riding Center, and told that he was looking to lease half of his barn. Gerard is a very well respected dressage trainer from France, and had been at that location for over 20 years, maybe more. He was trying to sell the place to retire, but was having trouble finding a buyer, so leasing was his next best option. We got along very well, and I liked the idea of having support from another trainer, so I moved my business to Cantonment, Fl; where I had a 12 stall barn and six pastures in addition to use of 5 riding arenas, all lighted and one covered. I started the new year at this facility and almost immediately I filled up the barn. I was poised and ready!

Meanwhile, I was having a health problem that I was dealing with. My doctor didn’t really know what it was, and taking the time (and money) away from the barn to go to doctor appointments did not seem feasible at the time. I had horses to ride, a barn to manage, and lessons to teach! Anyone in this position knows how tight money can be, especially after making a move to a new barn where it takes time to figure out how to run things most efficiently, so I put my health concerns on the back burner. After all, it “only” bothered me when I rode.

Fast forward a few more months, and it started to get very painful and eventually I could not ride at all. I found a new doctor, had some tests and found out that I needed surgery. The recovery period was longer than anticipated, and very painful. I could not ride for a couple months, so I sent all the horses home. This is a pretty scary situation to be in when you make your living training horses. Fortunately I still had the apartment at the barn with Gerard, and he was very supportive. I also have amazing friends and family that really stepped up to the plate to help, and lots of people who regularly checked on me. Despite the outpouring of love, I have to admit that I got pretty depressed during this time. I have a theory that horse people and riders are prone to depression anyway, and that’s why they are drawn to horses. When you are with horses you have to be in the moment, and riding is therapeutic.

Being sidelined, I had a lot of time to reflect and to pray. Even when I had 12 horses in training, I was not really happy. I was riding everyone else’s horses and not achieving my own riding goals. I was tired all the time, had no social life, and money was always tight. Why was I doing it? This repeated over and over in my head. I always have said that if I couldn’t ride, I wouldn’t do it, and I was in a position to where I wasn’t really sure if I was ever going to be able to ride comfortably again. I prayed and prayed for God to take the love of horses and the passion for dressage out of my heart and show me another path - it was just too hard.

But it did not happen. I came back from my recovery with more clarity - I wanted to focus on bringing along quality young horses and doing sales for the business end of my career, two areas where I am passionate and have had success. But I also needed to focus on my own riding - find a talented horse to show and get a coach. The latter was going to be the hardest part for me to cultivate. For what seemed like forever (it was only a couple months) I was having door after door slammed in my face no matter which way I turned. A deal fell through on a barn I was going to buy, then I found a boarding stable where the care was not sufficient, I was just having no luck and running out of options.

It was mentioned to me during this time by a few different people that Jean Brinkman at Valhalla Farm was looking for a trainer. I never in a million years thought I would end up back there - but I contacted her and moved out there shortly after! I received such a warm welcome, not just at the barn, but also by the whole neighborhood. It has become a really neat community out here. It really felt like I was returning home, and it’s not the first time I have come back after feeling battered and bruised and been made whole again. In addition to that, it is the perfect place to work on my own riding while also having the opportunity to expand my business.

I am back working with Faithkeeper, whom I plan to get my silver on. I am also making a lot of use of the theraplate and bemer blanket, which are both used for therapy. Preston is coming back into work and feels better than ever, so I am very happy about that. Tucci is also doing super and will be showing 3rd level this winter. I will be bringing in more training horses, and I have several sale horses that I am working with and will be advertising soon. There is more in the works, but you will have to stay tuned!

Riding the rhythm

The intent of this blog is not just to keep a record of where I am and what I am doing, but also to share some Insights regarding horse training, primarily in dressage, that I have gained through my work.  I hope this finds an audience that appreciates it, though it is largely for my own purposes. This is such an entry. 

At a basic level, the training scale is the basis for dressage. Each lower rung needs to be achieved in order for the next rung to be developed.  Though, as we work our way up the scale towards collection, we also revist the lower rungs, the "basics," and fine tune in order to get the best performance from our horse.  I will give a general description of what is meant by rhythm, and then show how it applies specifically to training my own personal horse, an 11 year old 15.3 hand Trakehner gelding.  Specifically, how improving the rhythm has helped in overcoming specific training hurdles - medium trot and flying changes. 

Preston schooling half pass

Preston schooling half pass

Rhythm is the first and most important rung on the scale.  Without a clear and consistent rhythm, our horses gaits do not improve, they become muddled and unclear. It is the ultimate goal of dressage to develop our horses as athletes through improving upon their natural gaits. Each gait has it's own rhythm. The walk has a 1-2-3-4 rhythm, which should be even and clear. If the horse displays a 1-2, 3-4 rhythm, it shows that there is tension in the walk and that it has probably gone lateral. The walk is the easiest gait to ruin, and the hardest to improve. 

The trot has an even 1-2 rhythm as one diagonal pair of legs hit the ground at the same time followed by a moment of suspension, then the next diagonal pair of legs strike the ground. With young horses and green riders, it is important to focus on keeping the tempo (an element of rhythm, which addresses how quickly the horses feet strike the ground) the same.  It is often seen at this stage of development that the trot rushes forward (quickens) and then slows down before quickening again. Without keeping the tempo the same and the rhythm clear, the horse will never get to the next stage, which is relaxation. As the horse develops, rhythm and tempo need to be revisited, as many horses will tend to quicken when asked for medium and extended trots, which cause the hind leg to step short rather than fully stepping under and supporting the combined weight of horse and rider, which is an issue I have been working on with my own horse. 

The canter has a 1-2-3 rhythm, followed by a moment of suspension. Horses that have a good canter will easily display this rhythm. Horses that tend to run on the forehand or not fully step under with the hind leg will often add a fourth beat in the canter, as the second beat of the canter is the inside hind and outside foreleg striking the ground together, and in these horses they will hit at slightly different times. This rhythm fault is usually corrected by riding the horse more forward.  An extremely collected canter may display four beats, but this is not considered a rhythm fault necessarily, as the horse has shifted it's weight so far back that the inside hind leg has to hit the ground before the outside foreleg because of the elevation of the forehand.

With my personal horse, Preston, we have touched on all the elements of the training scale, but in order to improve on the collected work, the medium trot, and the flying changes; we needed to go back a bit and fine tune the rhythm.  He tends to be a sensitive horse who wants to please and work hard. This is a great attribute in a horse!  But this attribute also lends it's own training challenges.  I hope my insights will help others who are working with similar horses.

He often overthinks the exercises we are doing, and this mental tension results in physical tension, which is displayed through him getting too quick in his tempo.  This quickness results in tension through his topline, and in moments of extreme tension he grinds his teeth and swishes his tail.  The natural inclination is to slow the horse down with the hands and try to alleviate topline tension through suppling the horse and lowering the neck.  Without supporting the horse with the leg, this can be considered "front to back" riding, and is incorrect and ineffective.  But HOW do you support the horse with the leg when the horse is already too quick and seemingly running away from the leg?  WHY is the horse running from the leg in the first place?  These are questions that I have been seeking the answer to. 

I have worked hard to teach my horse to listen to my seat, which is part of the answer.  He listens to half halts and full halts from the seat.  I understand keeping the rhythm with the seat and have developed a kind of metronome in my head.  However, when working on something new or challenging, my horse would still get tense and at that point he would begin to run through my half-halts and would not want to take the weight and flex the joints in his hind legs.  Trying to use my leg on him at this point would worsen the problem, which meant I was back to trying to fix him in the front again.  I would usually go back to doing a lot of walk/trot transitions and get him listening to my "go" and "whoa" aids.  Sometimes I would be able to go on from there, but usually I would stop when he was listening to my seat again, and try to maintain the relaxation from the beginning on my next ride. 

I know that instructors in the past have tried to teach me about lower leg contact, but it was not until I rode with Andrew Palmer that I finally understood different technique of using my lower leg, which helped slow down the tempo and increase leg acceptance - both things which contributed to helping my horse relax and accept the work.  It's funny about lightbulb moments, you usually have to be in the right place at the right time and have someone tell you something in just the right way for it to sink in. 

Most horses I have ridden are not as sensitive and forward thinking as my horse, and I have learned to make the horse more sensitive to the leg by riding with lower legs "off" unless I was asking something.  This makes the horse quick to respond when you put the leg on, which is the feeling I prefer.  I have found myself to be pretty effective in using my leg this way.  However, my horse is already quick to the leg and quick in the hind legs.  Riding him this way was causing the tension problems we were having.  It would surprise him when my leg was suddenly there, when it wasn't there a second ago.  He couldn't relax, because he never knew when I was going to ask something of him, which caused him to anticipate.

Andrew taught me to improve my horses rhythm by slowing down my seat and slowing down my legs aids - keep my legs on LONGER each time I ask for something.  I am very aware of the timing of the aids and let my horses rhythm dictate my leg aid, so it's a new concept to me to keep my leg on for a split second longer that what feels natural in order to slow the hind legs down, which helps them to step further under.  In fact, it seems to improve the rhythm (and therefore relaxation) when I ride with my seat, keep leg contact, and just pulse my aids.  I use a lot of changing of positioning between shoulder-in and haunches-in to increase my horse's acceptance of the leg, and slide my legs along the horse when changing positioning rather than taking them off and repositioning.  Having my horse more accepting of the leg allows me to control the rhythm with my seat, which I really need when asking for medium trot - he tends to want to just run and get flat.  Now I am able to slow the tempo with my seat, and pulse my leg aids and ask for more suspension. 

It is the same in the canter, which has helped me to improve the flying changes, since they were often tight and tense from my horse anticipating so much.  Now I make sure to keep both legs in contact with him.  In both the trot and canter, you want to ride the "UP" phase of the gait, and ask the horse to stay off the ground longer.  When schooling the changes I often ask for a little haunches in, which helps me control the hind leg and also ensures that I have my outside leg on.  With my inside leg (and my seat) I ask for more jump in the canter.  I like to think "jump, jump, jump, straighten," and then ask.  Again, make sure to slide the legs along the horse when asking for the change, rather than taking the legs off and kicking him with the new outside leg. 

I have only been riding at Royal Palm farm for just over 2 weeks now, and I am so excited about how much my riding has improved already.  Please let me know if these insights are valuable or interesting to you, and I will keep sharing them!

Tucci is back!

About a week ago, my good friends Kendall and Vicki brought their horse to me to train while I am at Andrews. When I am done here, I am going to go work at Kendall and Vicki's barn in Florida, so it is nice to get a head start on his training, and get some help from Andrew while I am here.

image.jpg

I met Kendall and Vicki when I was in Destin working with Jodie Kelly.   They had just purchased Tucci and brought him there for training. He was a stallion at the time and was gelded shortly after arriving. Vicki loves to tell the story of how I met them at the barn at 4:00am on a cold February morning and walked right on the trailer with a stallion I did not know to help unload him. 

Tucci came into training with me and Kendall became a regular student of mine. It was a fun project as Tucci did not turn to the right, and Kendall had not ridden in 20 years!  I started Kendall out on the lunge line like I do all my students, and taught him basic dressage in the ring.  Not emasculating at all!  Kendall is a trail rider at heart and likes to get on and go!  But he does understand that dressage training helps his horse's overall fitness and strengthens him to carry his rider. It is particularly important in this case, because Tucci has a short, tight back, and Kedall is a tall rider. Without strengthening his back through the dressage work, Tucci could develop a sway back over time and could become lame. 

Tucci is a Fresian/saddlebred cross. When I first got him, he only knew the basics, and was so stuck on his right shoulder that turning right was hard for him and he did not want to pick up the right lead canter. He ran into the canter both directions. We worked on getting him straight, getting a depart into the canter, and began some lateral work.  I worked with him for almost a year, and after I move away, Kendall did a little trail riding with him, but he developed severe fly allergies and has not been ridden for the past 10 months, so he is pretty out of shape. 

This is the first time I have gotten a horse back after having him in training for awhile. I am amazed to find out that he remembers everything we had been working on!  He just needs some fitness. It is a really good feeling to know that I have helped a horse in a permanent way, and probably lots of others too!  

New chapter - training at Royal Palm Farm

I have heard it said that when God closes a door, he opens a window.  This could not be more true for me than with my experience at Royal Palm Farm, which is owned by my dear friends Andrew and Tiffany Palmer. 

Lego, a colt bred by Tiffany and Andrew

Lego, a colt bred by Tiffany and Andrew

It has happened twice for us now, that I was looking for some place to go, and they needed to find help!  The first time was about 2 years ago when my job ended in Florida and my move to North Carolina was not nailed down.  Andrew was hurt at the time, and they also had a trip to Germany planned and did not want to leave their one employee to run the farm while they were gone.  Now this year, they are also short on help, Tiffany just had surgery, they have a trip to the ATA convention coming up, and are busy with show season.  I have a good situation waiting for me in Florida, but I want their help selling my horse first, and to make sure that I have my ducks in a row before I make my next move.  I am sort of using the next two months to refocus and regroup. 

image.jpg

It does not hurt my feeling at all that I am surrounded by great people, and beautiful horses.  In fact, they have more Trakehner stallions here than any place in the U.S.  I find myself incredibly lucky that not only do I get to work with my favorite breed (the Trakehner), but I get to work with the BEST of the breed, and am lucky enough to actually get to ride them!  Not every rider gets the opportunity to sit on such amazing horses. 

Now that's a dog!  One of the 2 Great Pyranees that protects the farm 

Now that's a dog!  One of the 2 Great Pyranees that protects the farm 

I have also learned through my experience living in Southern Pines (Eventing capitol) that I may be limiting myself by my intense focus on dressage.  Andrew is a beautiful dressage rider as well as jumper, and it is only going to help me to assess and sell young horses in the future if I have a bit more experience and knowledge in eventing; which encompasses dressage, show jumping, and cross country.  I plan to use these next 2 months to completely immerse myself in their world, and get as much out of the experience as I can.  Preston would love the opportunity to teach me to jump, and if I still have him in a couple months, I would love to take him to an event so that I can add that to his resume.  Stay tuned for insights gained through my experience here on jumping, dressage, and breeding!

In addition to horses, Royal Palm Farm is home to a small herd of goats that entertain us with their antics. 

In addition to horses, Royal Palm Farm is home to a small herd of goats that entertain us with their antics. 

Update

This update is long over due. A lot of things have happened since my last post, and it has all been sort of a whirlwind.  I will keep it as short as possible.

First of all, Preston was a rockstar at the show and qualified for championships with a 63.553% at 2nd level.  He is schooling the changes at home, and will be ready to show 3rd level by the end of the season.  He is schooling canter pirouette and offered some passage-like steps the other day. I am very proud of him and can see him easily showing 4th level some day. 

image.jpg

My boyfriend and I left for Alaska at the end of July and spent 3 weeks there. We put on a 6 day running race in the Alaska Dome, where many world records were broken. Myself, I ran 36 miles in 12 hours and raised $1,000 for The Old Glory Legacy foundation.

image.jpg

After the race, we went on a 7 day cruise. I should have known that things were turning sour for me when I got an email from my boss at the wine shop saying she had replaced me with a full time person. The day after I got home from the trip, my horse ripped his face open on the fence where I had him stabled. The next day, my boyfriend and I had a fight which ultimately ended in me moving out and the relationship ending.  I had been unhappy for a long time, and though I was willing to see if things changed once he was home more, it turns out that we had stopped communicating a long time ago, or virtually never started.  It's still an adjustment for me though, because I thought we were going to be together forever. 

We took a place ride and landed on a glacier!

We took a place ride and landed on a glacier!

I was fortunate to be able to relocate both myself and my horses at my friends farm while I figured out my next move. Since I had moved to North Carolina to be with my boyfriend, and I didn't have a job anymore, there wasn't really anything keeping me there.  I decided to move back to Florida, and do a short stint in Alabama with my friends Andrew and Tiffany Palmer, who were short handed and needed my help. I sold Tattle and brought Preston with me. I am really proud of the job I did training Tattle, and it was fun to see what a good match he and his new owner were together. Now in Alabama, it feels right to be surrounded by friends and horses!  I love Trakehners and am lucky to be able to work with and ride these amazing stallions. I have my eye set on a nice young stallion that I would love to bring with me to Florida! Now I just need to figure out how!

Tattle with his new owner. He hit the jackpot and is owned by 2 vets!  They are going to compete him in eventing. 

Tattle with his new owner. He hit the jackpot and is owned by 2 vets!  They are going to compete him in eventing. 

 

 

Training for an ultra run

I subscribe to the theory that if we expect our horses to be athletes, we must be athletes ourselves. Over the years I have done dance, yoga, Pilates, weights, hiking, and biking. I have never been a runner. I have always felt limited by my bad ankles, and I have never enjoyed it. Ten years ago I broke my back getting thrown off a horse, and that gave me further excuse. Even as a kid, having to run the mile for gym, I would stop and walk and was always one of the slowest runners. One of my friends said of me, "if you ever see Collette running, don't ask questions, just run that same way!"

Read More

About me 3, from Florida to North Carolina and everywhere in between

After leaving Florida, I went to work for about a month at Royal Palm Farm, for my good friends Andrew and Tiffany Palmer.  I met both of them when I started working at Valhalla, and we immediately became friends. Good thing too, because they moved just 2 months after I started working there to start their own farm in Alabama. Andrew has carved out his niche eventing Trakehner stallions. He also helps owners prepare their young stallions for approvals.

Read More

About me-Florida adventure

I moved to Florida in August 2010 and went to Valhalla farm. My youngest sister, my Mom, and my dog came along. I took a working student position under USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist Erin Brinkman. Her mom, Jean, was the barn owner and also had her gold. Iris Eppinger was the farms other trainer, who is also a USDF gold medal recipient.  There was a lot of learning to do!  The position did not pay, but it did offer me housing, lessons, and a stall.

Read More

A little about me - Wisconsin

This will probably be the hardest post to write. I hate talking about myself!  But I think it is important for you to have a little background on me to put my writing into context. I plan to use this blog to share some of what I have learned about horses, riding , dressage, etc. I am by no means an expert!  If it means that you know everything there is to know about a subject, then I hope I never become one!  I am learning every day, usually directly from the best teacher there is-the horse.  I invite discussion and questions!

Read More