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If we are lucky, we find a way to construct our lives around the things we love most, and if we’re blessed, we get to do those things for many, many years. Heather Smith Thomas, prolific writer and author of GOOD HORSE, BAD HABITS, illustrates this ideal so well–at 70, she is still at her desk typing in the wee hours before chores need to be done, and in the saddle moving cattle a large part of each day. Hers may not be an “easy” life in comparison to some, but it is one filled with the joys of family, beautiful landscapes, and of course, horses.

As part of the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” series, Heather shares with us the details of one typically busy, but utterly satisfying, summer day.

 

24hrHST

 

A TYPICAL SUMMER DAY IN IDAHO

5:00 a.m.  At this time of day I am usually at my typewriter, typing a phone interview taped the day before, or creating an article or story about horses or cattle. I write for several horse magazines and a lot of farm and livestock publications, so I am often doing phone interviews with people all over the country, on various topics.

5:30 a.m.  I have an assignment to do an article for The American Farrier’s Journal on the value of apprenticeships and mentoring programs, so I send e-mails to a few of my favorite farriers around the country, to see if I can line up interviews with them on this topic.

6:30 a.m.  If it’s winter, I am still typing at this hour. If it’s early April, I may be heading out to check on the calving cows if I see one in labor (looking out the window with spotlight and binoculars, checking the maternity pen near our house). Right now, however, it’s summer, and daylight enough for me to go out and feed my horses. We have 7 horses. Rubbie (27 year old ¾ Arab mare) and Veggie (28 year old 7/8 Arab gelding) are now retired, as of this year, after putting in many years and miles as ranch horses and then kid horses for my grandchildren. Breezy, a 23-year-old Morgan mare, has been my daughter’s best cowhorse for nearly 20 years. Ed is a 20-something grade mare (part Arab) that has been a good cowhorse and now a mount for my 9-year-old granddaughter. Sprout is an 8-year-old Quarter Horse mare that my daughter rides. Dottie is a 4-year-old Morgan mare that I’m riding and training, and Willow is a 2-year-old Morgan filly just starting in training.

7:00 a.m.  When I get in from chores I grab a roast out of the freezer to put in the slow cooker. The roast is from an old cow named Freddie that we butchered last fall, and the meat will be much more tender if it cooks all day. I also quickly make some Jello—adding a can of fruit and a couple bananas.

7:30 a.m.   A quick breakfast (mixing 3 or 4 different kinds of dry cereal, with a banana on top), then back to typing.

8:00 a.m.  If it’s winter, my husband Lynn and I are out doing morning chores by this hour, and then feeding the cows (me driving the feed truck and him feeding off the hay). Morning chores start later because it’s dark so long, and take longer in winter because we are feeding the horses, feeding the group of heifers in the field below the barn, breaking ice out of the horse’s water tubs and refilling them, breaking ice on the creek for the cows, etc.

8:30 a.m.  At this time of morning I am often hurrying back to the house to do a phone interview. Sometimes I’m doing an interview earlier than this, if I’m talking to someone back East (2 hours ahead of us). I may be talking with a researcher at a university for an article about the latest findings on a horse or cattle disease, or reasons for early pregnancy loss in mares, or ways to collect semen from injured bulls. I might be talking with a farrier (this week I’m doing an article on club foot in horses) or a rancher (I’m writing an article on the benefits of low-stress cattle handling, and another article on various weaning methods for calves). One of the most interesting things about being a freelance writer is the many topics I write about and the things I learn from all the people I talk to.

9:30 a.m.  My daughter and a couple of my grandchildren have driven down to our place from their house on the hill above our hayfield, and are now getting their horses brushed and saddled, to ride with me. Nine-year-old Dani is proud to be able to catch, brush and saddle Ed by herself, and clean out her feet.

10:00 a.m.  We are riding through our hill pasture, checking our cows and calves. We’ve found most of the cows but are missing a bunch of calves. When we get to the top of the pasture, Dani is delighted to find that her favorite cow, Maggie, is babysitting 11 calves while their mamas are on the other side of the mountain, grazing. Dani tells me the ear tag numbers of all the calves so I can mark them off on the list in my little “cow book” that I always carry in my back pocket.

10:30 a.m.  We’ve seen all the cows and calves, to make sure they are all there, and healthy, so we go out through the top gate onto the range to make a loop through that range pasture to see if we can find some stray cows.

11:00 a.m.  Our range neighbors gathered and moved their cattle a few days ago, but missed a dozen pairs. We’ve found them at “Antelope” trough, so we start moving them around the hill toward the pasture where they belong. We let 11-year-old Samantha (riding Breezy) follow the cows on the main trail, and the rest of our horses scramble through the rocks and brush to gather the outlying cattle.

Breezy has only one eye, but manages very nicely in the mountains. She developed a cancerous growth on her left eyeball last fall and we opted to have the eye surgically removed so the cancer wouldn’t spread. Our vet removed the eye in late December and we spent the next weeks changing bandages as it started to heal. We kept it covered and protected from the cold weather for several months, using a fly mask with 2 layers of denim sewn onto that side to cover that part of her face. It was fully healed by this spring, and we started riding her again. We’re hoping that by removing the cancer (a growth that would have metastasized and killed her) she will have several more good years and can continue to be a good horse for Sam.

Breezy knows all the trails in our mountains after checking and chasing cows out there for many years, and has always been an agile cowhorse. In handling Breezy this summer, Sam has become more conscientious in her horse handling and riding, and is learning how to think ahead and be careful to not get close to obstacles on Breezy’s blind side. Watching that pair, you’d never know the mare had only one eye.

 

Heather Smith Thomas began shoeing her own horses when she was 14--here she shoes one of her ranch horses in the seventies.

Heather Smith Thomas began shoeing her own horses when she was 14–here she shoes one of her ranch horses in the seventies.

 

11:30 a.m.  My daughter Andrea trots on ahead as we bring the little herd around the mountain, so she can hurry down the steep slope to open the gate into the middle range pasture. The kids and I bring the herd. This is good experience for the green mare that I’m riding; she hasn’t had much interaction with cattle yet. The grandkids are proud to be able to help hold the herd together, learning how to be good little cowgirls. Dani trots Ed through the tall sagebrush to head some wayward pairs the right direction, and the cattle funnel down the steep trail to the gate—where Andrea keeps them from going on down the canyon and heads them through the gate.

12:00 p.m.  Now we are trotting toward home. On another day we might take a lunch and make a longer loop through the middle range pasture, checking gates, fences and water troughs, but today I need to get home to do a couple more phone interview this afternoon, and the girls want their mom to take them to town to the swimming pool.

12:30 p.m.  We are putting the horses away in their pens, except for Sprout and Ed. We’ll let Sprout “mow” the backyard for a while first, and Ed is grazing the tall grass by my hay shed. Rather than mow the tall grass (that would soon be a fire hazard after it dries out), we’re letting the horses eat it. This serves a double purpose because we are running low on hay and won’t have our new crop baled and stacked until late July. I’m currently letting the two retired horses (Rubbie and Veggie) graze the pens around our calving barn. This is saving hay and is good for the old horses (with their old teeth they do better on green grass than on hay), and utilizes the tall grass around the barn and in the maternity pens. Later, I’ll move these old horses to our ditchbank “pasture” above the house, to let the grass regrow in the barnyard pens—so it will be lush and green when we put our calves in there to wean in October. We wean them there, right next to their mamas in the field below the barn, where they have fenceline contact with their mamas and are not as distressed.

1:00 p.m.  My husband and I have a quick lunch (leftovers from the pot of chili I cooked yesterday). I usually cook a big meal in the evenings so we can have enough left for an instant lunch the next day when everyone is too busy to cook. We can grab lunch whenever it’s convenient—whether it’s 11:30 a.m. (maybe after I finish a phone interview and my husband gets done irrigating, and before he drives to town–12 miles—to get the mail and groceries and tractor parts) or at 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. after I get home from a range ride. If I’m too late getting home, he can help himself to the leftovers!

1:30 p.m.  I lie down for a quick rest. At age 70, I don’t have the endurance I used to, and it’s hard to get everything done unless I take a little break after lunch. Sometimes grandma doesn’t get a nap, however, if I’m out riding range with my daughter or grandkids through most of the day.

2:00 p.m.  Another phone interview, this time talking with a veterinarian in Virginia who has done several years’ research on back problems in horses, looking at better ways to diagnose and treat them.

2:30 p.m.  My oldest granddaughter (Heather Carrie Thomas, age 23) arrives to work with Willow, and I watch out my window while doing the phone interview. I bought Willow as a weaned foal 2 years ago this fall, along with her half-sister Dottie (then 2 years old), to be future horses for Dani and Sam. Andrea and I spent time that fall and winter gentling the two Morgan fillies and leading them a lot. Last summer young Heather started Dottie under saddle for me and then I rode her for 5 months–until it got too icy in December. Now young Heather is working with Willow. She’s done a lot of groundwork with this filly and has started riding her. At my age it’s nice to have a granddaughter help start these young horses!

3:00 p.m.  One more interview, with a family that has a pasture dairy in southern Idaho and sells their milk products (including fresh-made ice cream) through their own farm store.

3:30 p.m.  I talk with my granddaughter Heather about Willow’s progress.

4:00 p.m.  Typing interviews. I usually spend 6 to 10 hours a day at my writing—during whatever time I am not working with the cattle or horses. My writing has become a full-time job that I can do at odd hours. My husband and I had 180 cows for more than 30 years, but during the past dozen years or so, we’ve sold most of our cows to our son and his family to help them get started in ranching. Now my husband and I have just a small herd, and depend more on my writing income than the cattle income.

4:30 p.m.  If it were winter I’d be going out to do chores before dark, but right now I can keep typing.

6:00 p.m.  I peel some potatoes to cook while I’m doing the horse chores.

6:30 p.m.  Evening chores are simple and quick, just feeding the horses in their pens, since I watered them during morning chores.

7:00 p.m.  Supper is roast beef, gravy and potatoes, with Jello and green beans.

7:30 p.m.  My son Michael comes down here from his house on the upper place, to put new shoes on Sprout in the cool of the evening, and I hold her for him to shoe. Sprout is a horse we bought 2 years ago, and when we got her she was very resistant to having her feet handled, let alone shod. After a season of working with her (and my son shoeing her for me), she became much more at ease and better behaved, but I still prefer to have my son shoe her. If Ed or Breezy’s feet get a bit long I may reset their shoes myself because those horses are easy to shoe. I’ve been shoeing my own horses since I was 14, but now it’s kind of nice to let my son do most of the shoeing!

8:30 p.m.  We finish with Sprout and I put iodine on her soles (to toughen them up so she won’t become tenderfooted traveling through the rocks tomorrow when we ride) and put her back in her pen.

9:00 p.m.  To bed, even though it’s still daylight, since I always get up early. Once in a while my husband and I watch a movie in the evenings (we enjoy a good drama, romance, suspense or comedy if it has a good plot and good acting), but tonight it’s too late and we’re too tired.

4:00 a.m.  At my computer again. I like to do a lot of my typing in the early mornings before the day’s activities. There are no interruptions this time of day, and also my brain is MUCH fresher than it is in the late afternoon or evening!

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

Heather Smith Thomas’ new book GOOD HORSE, BAD HABITS is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

 

And check out all the top riders, trainers, and equine experts we’ve featured in our “Horseworld by the Hour” series:

LYNN PALM

DANIEL STEWART

DOUG PAYNE

JANET FOY

CLINTON ANDERSON

 

Bucking copy

Doug Payne helps solve the bucking habit and keep us safely in the saddle in THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL. Photo by Amy Dragoo.

 

Doug Payne has made a name for himself in equestrian circles as the “go-to-guy” when it comes to finding a way forward with “problem horses.” In his fantastic new book THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL, Doug talks about three main categories of bucking and this bad habit’s causes, and provides specific solutions for each—including first ruling out physical causes when it comes to all behavior problems.

The most important thing to know, however, is when you find yourself riding a horse with a sudden desire to kick his heels up, there are two main rules to remember that will help keep you safe:

 

RULE #1: Heads Up!

Both of you: horse and rider. When your head and eyes go down so will your upper body, and you’ll find yourself just where you were looking—on the ground! As for your horse, he won’t be able to buck when his head is up. Keep his poll at the highest point, period. No excuses. Use whatever means necessary.

 

RULE #2: Go Forward!

Ninety-nine percent of buckers are bucking to get out of work, and a horse is better able to buck when he is behind your leg. The moment your horse even thinks about responding sluggishly off your leg, you must get after him. This means, add your leg lightly. When he doesn’t respond as he should, ask again with the same light force, and then decisively use your whip behind your leg.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

For more about how to deal with different kinds of buckers, as well as dozens of other behavior and training problems, check out THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL by Doug Payne, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

“There are a lot of great answers to tough training questions here.” —Five-Time Olympian Anne Kursinski

TSB author Melinda Folse chooses horses INSTEAD.

TSB author Melinda Folse chooses horses INSTEAD.

 

QUICK! Take this short quiz:

Do you often hear yourself saying: “My best riding years are behind me,” or “I missed my chance to ride with so-and-so,” or “My life led me away from horses”?

2  When it comes to horses and riding, do you define yourself more by what you aren’t anymore, rather than what you are?

3  When it comes to having horses in your life, are you choosing the path of least resistance?

TSB author Melinda Folse, author of THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES, says that having horses in our lives, and riding well now, later, and everywhere in between, is by all means doable, whatever our circumstances. She says making strides to ensure our lives accommodate our love for horses is about changing the way we think.

 

Instead of:

“I wish I had been a working student for so-and-so when I had the chance” (and trust me, I’ve recited this one to myself far more than once!)

You think:

“I will audit a clinic with so-and-so next summer.”

 

Instead of:

“I should have pursued riding when I was young and athletic.”

You think:

“Learning to ride in middle age will be a concussion-free way to tone my body and keep me fit.”

 

Instead of:

“I should have bought my own horse before I became a father/mother.”

You think:

“It will be so much fun to teach my kids how to help with barn chores.”

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

Melinda Folse says, “Telling yourself that the time to have enjoyed horses is in your past is so often the ‘path of least resistance’…dare to choose a different trail, and the challenges will be far exceeded by your eventual rewards.”

We all have time for horses, if we clear our mental space with “Instead” Horsemanship. Go ahead and reframe your expectations to include a weekly dose of horse time. I mean, really—is there anything you’d rather be doing instead?

 

THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a top rider, trainer, judge, or clinician? Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com) is tracking down its top authors and asking them to pull back the curtains and let us take a quick peek into their lives. In our fifth installment in TSB’s “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series, we caught up with “WonderHorseWoman” Lynn Palm.

Lynn is not only the author of THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE, she’s won 34 World and Reserve World Championships; four Superhorse titles, AQHA Female Equestrian of the Year, and many more awards and accolades throughout her career in the spotlight, which has now spanned over 40 years. She and her husband Cyril Pittion-Rossillon conduct training courses and clinics across the country. Lynn is an Advisory Director of the Western Dressage Association of America, and makes regular appearances at expos and special events, such as her popular bridleless riding demonstrations at the World Equestrian Games.

Lynn has shown horses on the flat and over fences, in Western, hunt seat, and dressage saddles. And NOW we hear she’s taking up a whole new sport, to boot!

So just how does Lynn fit it all in? Check out her typical day:

 

24HourLynnPalm

 

Just a Regular Ol’ Spring/Summer/Fall Day with Lynn Palm

5:00 a.m. Still sleeping, I hope!

5:30 a.m. I wake up in the spring, summer, fall at 5:30, with all my dogs. In the winter I get up around 6:30 a.m.

6:00 a.m.  My morning chores: making coffee, unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, planning meals for the day. If I have clinics, I start preparing lunch and dinner for at least 20 people and often more!

6:30 a.m. I feed my wonderful dogs: 3 labs and 2 mini longhair dachshunds.

7:00 a.m. I check my gardens and greenhouse, and then get dressed for the day while drinking my coffee. I make a protein fruit smoothie and take my vitamins!

7:30 a.m.  In the summer, by now I’m getting to the barn to ride my first horse before feeding. Spring and fall I start riding at 8:30 a.m., and in the winter I may ride in the afternoon, switching my day to ride with our warm afternoon sun!

8:00 a.m.  I’m riding horses and following up with necessary calls for the day.

8:30 a.m.  Still riding horses, and finding time to check in with Marie Frances (my office manager) and Cyril (my husband) about what’s up for their day. Cyril also works our horses, and we discuss our saddle business and what orders or leads he may have about our hunt seat and dressage saddles we have made in France.

 

Lynn Palm has written two important books for Western dressage riders: THE RIDER'S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE. .

Lynn Palm has written two important books for Western dressage riders: THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE.

 

9:00 a.m.  I’m in the barn, checking on all the horses for health or care, confirming supplies needed, and discussing with the farm manager what he is doing on the farm for the day.

9:30 a.m.  On another horse, while my staff turn out some horses and plans for grooming and care of horses and the stable for the rest of the day.

10:00 a.m.  I am training horses in our wonderful training field with the big Live Oak Trees.

10:30 a.m. Training horses in the Outdoor Jump Field.

11:00 a.m.  Training horses on our 3-acre Natural Obstacle Training Arena.

11:30 a.m. Training horses with ground work in our training paddocks.

12:00 p.m. Training horses still—but now it’s driving to prepare for Combined Driving (a new sport for me this next year!)

12:30 p.m.  Riding horses in the covered arena (if it is raining, as can be the case in the afternoons).

1:00 p.m.  Lunch, swim in the pool, play with dogs!

1:30 p.m.  Shower and clean up from the barn.

2:00 p.m. Office duties: email, Facebook, marketing plans, writing newsletter or editorial for magazines, following up on horse sales, planning shows and clinics, working on remodeling our property in Sarasota, Florida (Southern Reflections – An Equestrian Private Retreat).

3:00 p.m.  More office duties: conference calls with sponsors, companies with product development, reviewing client requests with their horses, making contacts for clinics or expos engagements.

4:00 p.m. Office duties continue, or if we have a clinic going on, I prepare dinner for the students, guests, and staff.

4:30 p.m.  Still in the office: preparing the daily horse training and lesson schedule for the next day.

5:00 p.m. Haven’t left the office but gotta feed my dogs!!

5:30 p.m. Close the office for the day.

 

Lynn with her Labs. Photo by Cappy Jackson from THE RIDER'S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION.

Lynn with her Labs. Photo by Cappy Jackson from THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION.

 

6:30 p.m. I’m watching Nightly News on NBC if I can!

7:00 p.m.  Preparing dinner for Cyril and me, and friends if we have some over (which is often).

7:30 p.m.  Cocktails at the Red Fox Inn or sitting on the front porch enjoying the sunset—talking about the day or what is happening in the horse world with Cyril, Marie Frances, and/or horsey friends. My dogs have cocktails, too: marrow bones, which they love so much!

8:00 p.m.  Dinner in the main dining room, in front of the TV if it is just Cyril and me (of course with the dogs) or at poolside—we have a wonderful pool area with lots of beautiful landscape.

9:00 p.m. Cleaning up dinner or maybe sitting at the bonfire in a courtyard beside the pool.

9:30 p.m. In bed watching The Voice or America’s Got Talent or sports.

10:00 p.m.  Up again! Time for Night Check on all the horses.

10:30 p.m. Sleeping!

 

Lynn Palm’s excellent books THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

 

Read the other installments in TSB’s “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:

Daniel Stewart

Doug Payne

Janet Foy

Clinton Anderson

When "stretching" a horse's comfort zone, introduce new or scary objects gradually.

When “stretching” a horse’s comfort zone, introduce new or scary objects gradually.

When training your horse to become comfortable with new objects and in new places and situations, the goal, says Vanessa Bee, author of the bestselling books 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP and THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK, is to get him just outside his comfort zone when introducing slightly scary scenarios (note the emphasis on slightly!), but not so far out that he’d rather leave than stay with you.

“Once the horse is frightened to the point where he is leaping about, you’ve done too much,” Vanessa says. “Never push the horse to the point where he has to flee.”

Once the horse’s flight instinct is involved, all he can think about is survival, and he is no longer in a state where he can learn.

Never push the horse to the point at which he wants to flee rather than stay with you. Here, Secret trots through a maze of scary objects, remaining by Vanessa even without a lead rope.

Never push the horse to the point at which he wants to flee rather than stay with you. Here, Secret trots through a maze of scary objects, remaining by Vanessa even without a lead rope.

Vanessa explains that the psychology of this is easy to understand if you pretend you are a tourist on a trip to a foreign land. Here’s how she describes it using a human analogy in THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK:

 

THE STORY OF A TOURIST IN A FOREIGN LAND

On Day One, the plane lands at the airport and you manage to get a taxi to your hotel (something you’ve done before on other trips); there a porter takes you to your room. Once in your room, you immediately create a “home away from home” by unpacking and putting your bits and pieces around. You feel safe in that space and it becomes part of your comfort zone; however, you will not learn anything about this place you have never been before from the safety of that room. You now need to leave it to learn.

So, after unpacking you head down to the bar and dining room for a bit of refreshment. You leave your new comfort zone and weave through the unknown corridors of the hotel—you are now in your learning zone but feel fairly confident because at any time you can return to your room.

After a good meal and maybe a glass of wine you soon feel relaxed in the dining room, too: You return to your room quite confident that venturing out to find breakfast in the morning will be easy. Your comfort zone has “stretched.”

After breakfast you decide to go for a swim. Again you leave the comfort zone to find the pool and figure out how it all works. (Do you need to put a towel on one of the lounge chairs at daybreak to reserve it?) By the end of Day Two you are totally at home within the hotel environs—your comfort zone has “stretched” to include the whole area.

But let’s say on Day Three you decide to catch a bus outside the hotel and go to the beach. After a while you become aware that you are not on the right bus and that it is heading for the “wrong” side of town. Perhaps there are some fairly tough-looking individuals on the bus. You are now not only out of your comfort zone, you’re also headed out of the learning zone and entering the fear zone. You do not learn anything when you are in the fear zone—you are in flight mode, and your sole aim is survival.

Where do you want to get back to? The comfort zone, of course, and once there you will quickly calm down and feel safe again. The further you perceive yourself to be from your comfort zone (in other words, the greater the pressure), the greater the wish to return to it. You may well reach a point of being ready to do just about anything to get back there.

Keep this story in mind when working with your horse and introducing him to new or challenging situations:

  • Make new introductions gradually—think taxi, to hotel room, to hotel restaurant, to hotel pool before catching public transportation and trying to find the beach.
  • And, if you do sense you and your horse are on the wrong bus and he is on his way to the fear zone, calmly and quickly get him back to where he’s comfortable. And take some downtime poolside before trying to get to the beach again!

Vanessa Bee’s books 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP and THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK, and her HORSE AGILITY DVD are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

“I do not believe in ‘singing with the choir’ to be popular or stay in the game,” says FEI/USEF Dressage Judge and former Technical Advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons. And it is this, Anne’s forthright honesty, hinged noticeably on her ability to sandwich the matter-of-fact between insight and humor, that has gained her respect and stature in the international dressage scene.

We caught Anne between clinics and following the release of her new book COLLECTIVE REMARKS, and asked her about her impressive career, as well as some of its highs and lows. COLLECTIVE REMARKS is available now from the TSB online bookstore (CLICK HERE).

 

TSB: You grew up in Sweden. How did you end up riding dressage horses in the United States?

AG: I had been riding since I was six years old, but my passion was jumping and combined training, and those were the sports in which I first competed in the United States. Of course, getting my basic training in Europe, I had a lot of dressage training “built in.”

I earned a scholarship to CW Post (now LIU Post) on Long Island, and there I met my husband David. On his parents’ property we started Knoll Farm, which became a large riding academy and training facility. However,  on  Long Island the opportunities to train properly for eventing proved a challenge because of the flat terrain and lack of appropriate courses. When Colonel Bengt Ljungquist (later the coach for our 1976 Olympic team) arrived in the United States, I went to him for training with my Thoroughbred Tappan Zee, and then continued to work with Bengt as often as I could for about eight years, until we lost him in 1979.

The more I concentrated on dressage training, the more fascinating it became, and eventually I focused on it completely. Once hooked, I became involved in work for various committees, both in our National Federation and the USDF, and also internationally, serving two, four-year terms on FEI dressage and World Cup committees.

Anne Gribbons' riding career began over fences. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

Anne Gribbons’ riding career began over fences. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

 

TSB: Your equestrian career has included owning/running a riding school, running a breeding establishment, riding competitively on the international level, judging here and abroad, and coaching the US Dressage Team at three different Games, including the Olympics. What parts of your “horse life” do you remember most fondly? Which were the most challenging? The most rewarding?

AG: The most rewarding of all is the moment when a horse in training “gets it,” when a student has a revelation, and when either one suddenly reaches another level of understanding and capability. Luckily, this can occur over and over again, which is why I am still doing this! The highlights of a career sort of blend together after a while, but the horse and/or student that learn, advance, and succeed in their endeavors is the greatest satisfaction of all. Unfortunately, people tend to have a short memory when it comes to remembering who helped them along the way, but horses signal their appreciation and make your day, every day, by simply demonstrating what they now know.

The most challenging point of my career was leading up to the 2012 Olympics, being well aware that the United States did not have what it took in horsepower or depth to have a chance to medal. The preparation was frustrating, especially since I had seen and judged most of our competition and was well aware of the odds.

Before London, we were not able to send a number of  horses to Europe to compete because we had to protect the very few precious candidates we had and could not risk sending them around the world. It was quite a catch-22, and although our team riders were well prepared and did a fabulous job, it was difficult to maintain a “We will win this!” attitude without looking like an ignorant fool.

I loved working toward the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky where we performed better than expected, and of course the Pan Am Games in Mexico were a total triumph for the US team. That made the work toward London even more difficult because I knew what we could accomplish when we had the right opportunities! In the end, our Olympic team ended up in a respectable sixth place, and that was as good as it could have been.

 

Anne with the 2012 Olympic Dressage Team. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

Anne with the 2012 Olympic Dressage Team. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

 

TSB: Although you trained a horse (Metallic) who made it to the Olympic Games under Robert Dover, and you coached the US Dressage Team at the 2012 Games in London, you never rode on the Olympic team yourself. Do you feel regret when you look back that you experienced what for some is competitive riding’s pinnacle, but not in the saddle?

AG: Leasing Metallic was the toughest decision of my life, and I often regret it. It was, however, driven by a medical issue. Right after the Pan American Games in Argentina (1995), I discovered a tumor on the inside of my left thigh. I had two horses that could have qualified to be on the Atlanta (Olympic) team: Metallic and Leonardo II, a Holsteiner stallion who had a successful show season at Grand Prix in Europe in 1993 and in the United States the two years following.

We had a partner in ownership of Leonardo, and when I realized that the tumor was growing and might cause a problem for the Olympics, I had to tell our partner, who then wished to sell the horse. A student of Robert Dover’s bought the stallion, and I continued in semi-denial to work toward the Olympics on Metallic.

By January, the horse was doing fine, and I rode him in his first “official” Grand Prix while getting help from Robert, who had been fond of Metallic for many years. Shortly before our first CDI Qualifier, my leg would sometimes go numb and not react. Of course, I should have dealt with it sooner, but an Olympic dream is hard to give up—and I was also afraid to find out about the nature of the tumor.

Jane Clark had offered to lease Metallic for Robert, and when my fear of malfunction of my leg overcame my ambition, I agreed. Jane was a generous and upbeat co-owner, but waiting until the last minute to make up my mind was not fair to Metallic, and it did not give him and Robert enough time to bond before Atlanta, barely six months away. Standing on the sidelines was emotionally taxing, although I was very happy to see the team get a bronze medal. Of course, I got Metallic back after the Olympics, but I could not ride him for a long time since I finally had the leg operated on and was recovering.

The whole thing was an unfortunate accident of timing…and as we all know, timing is everything in life!

 

Anne riding Metallic in Argentina. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

Anne riding Metallic in Argentina. Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

 

TSB: You often write and speak to the subject of American riders needing to train their own horses up through the levels, and for the US to support young talent in an effort to build new teams who can compete internationally. Laura Graves and Verdades have appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to be strong contenders on the international dressage scene, and they were once students of yours. What about Laura’s work over the years, training her horse from a weanling, has led to her current success? What would you tell other aspiring young riders as they strive to reach their own riding goals?

AG: Like several of our new generation of competitors, such as Adrienne Lyle and Katherine Bateson-Chandler, Laura paid her dues as a working student, exchanging services for training she otherwise could not afford. She arrived at our stable in Orlando in May of 2009 and spent three-and-a-half years total as my student. While I was Technical Advisor and did not judge CDIs, I coached Laura through the small tour. When Laura left to start her own business in late 2012, she and Verdades were working all the Grand Prix movements.

Laura had more than talent and determination plus honest and experienced help in her favor: She had a top quality horse, and that is what truly propelled her out of “nowhere” onto the team. As soon as I saw Verdades, I knew he was special, and although he was green, there was no doubt the combination could go far. There were a few hiccups on the way, but even when Verdades was confused, he always let us work through it because he trusted his rider, and we went about the training in a logical and kind way.

Forever, I have preached the gospel of “You have to train your own for ultimate success.” During the first decades of high performance dressage in this country, it was rare to see an imported ready-made horse. American stars like Keen, Gifted, and Graf George were all “made here” from scratch, and that is the only kind of horse that will ultimately impress abroad and give our team sustainable strength. We have to get back to that kind of thinking, in spite of the fact that it takes time and effort and there are many obstacles in the way.

What I would say to young hopefuls is:

  1. Find as good a young horse as you can get your leg over, and in the best of all worlds, you should own it.
  2. Find a trainer who is knowledgeable, consistent, and makes her/himself available when you need help.
  3. Suffer whatever financial and emotional hardships are required, as long as the horse and you are making progress.
  4. Do not expect immediate success in the show arena; it takes time to become ” noticed” and consistency is part of the game.
  5. Believe in your horse, because he knows when you don’t.
  6. Stay honest and fair to the people around you.
  7. When you reach a goal, remember to give credit where it is due.
  8. The horse business is no peach, and if you aim to make a living training and teaching, you will have “an interesting life,” as the Chinese say. The triumphs are short lived, and you are never any better than your last performance, but if you love horses and cannot live without them, you will never be bored!

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

AG: I was barely six, spending time with my grandfather in Southern Sweden. He was a cavalry officer his whole life, and his idea of teaching riding was bareback on his remounts—their average age was three! I learned a lot about “bailing out,” which is a good thing to know.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

AG: See above! I fell off almost every day, and then I would have to go catch the horse and get back on, and so on. It was like parachute training and came in handy later when breaking young horses or getting in trouble cross-country.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

AG: Loyalty.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

AG: Ambition.

 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

AG: Ride in a real race.

 

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

AG: The horse would be like Let’s Dance, the one I am blessed with right now: powerful, tuned in, very intelligent, a bit  cheeky ,and convinced he is the greatest horse on earth. He has me convinced, and that is a good start! My horse is a German-bred Warmblood, but any individual horse that turns you on is a good breed!

The book would be The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (Dial Press, 2005).

 

"Any individual horse that 'turns you on' is a good breed!" Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

“Any individual horse that ‘turns you on’ is a good breed!” Photo courtesy Anne Gribbons.

 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

AG: Yoghurt and blueberries. And champagne.

 

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

AG: Health for me and my husband David, and everyone we love. Without health, nothing works. Being able to spend time riding quality horses and having time to read and write.

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

AG: Cooked by my husband: Plain, healthy, and delicious!

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

AG: Short , busy, and educational.

 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

AG: Alan Alda.

 

TSB: What is your motto?

AG: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

 

 

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Take a journey through the American dressage evolution with Anne Gribbons in her new book COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

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Softening your jaw can improve your rein contact, and your horse's forwardness and suppleness.

Softening your jaw can improve your rein contact, and your horse’s forwardness and suppleness.

I’m a tooth grinder, a jaw clencher, a cheek-chewer—my masseters are where anxiety and pressure get together and wrestle, while frustration punches the walls of my mouth in the background. I know I can blame my afternoon headaches on this tension lollapalooza going on right below my brain, but it never occurred to me my horse might be shaking his head because of the tightness transferred to him from mine.

In her immensely useful new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, biomechanics specialist and riding instructor Wendy Murdoch explains that softening your jaw will improve your rein contact, inviting your horse to stretch down and be more forward.

“You might be surprised by how much effect your jaw has on your horse,” Wendy says. “Horses often mirror the rider’s behavior and movement. If you are having a problem getting your horse to stop leaning on the bit, bracing his neck, or tensing his jaw when you ride, it is time to examine what you are doing with your jaw.”

Next time you ride, notice your jaw. Do you clench your teeth? Do you hold one side tighter than the other? Do you pull your jaw in and up in order to “sit up straight”? Do you push your chin out as you ride transitions or go over jumps? Do you tense your tongue or push it against the side of your mouth?

The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in your body.

The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in your body.

Relaxing the jaw frees your head, neck, upper chest, and shoulders—the horse’s too. Your jaw needs to be relaxed and moveable when you ride. Clamping on one side or both sides increases your body tension, especially in the shoulder area. Excessive protraction (sticking your chin out) or retraction (pulling your chin in) will create tension along the back and front of your body. Your horse feels this tension through the saddle, causing him to react in a similar way by tensing his jaw, shoulders, and back.

Try this 5-Minute Fix to improve your rein contact and encourage your horse to let go of excessive tension in his body.

 

SOFTEN YOUR JAW

  1. Observe what you do with your jaw when you drive your car, work at the computer, or watch TV. Find out how often you tense, retract, or protract your jaw. Does the angle of your car seat make you stick your chin forward? Put a sticky note on your computer to remind you to let your jaw soften while you type.
  2. How many fingers (one on top of the other) can you insert in your mouth? If you can’t get more than two, then your masseter muscles are really contracted! Practice sliding your lower jaw forward and back with your teeth parted. Use the tips of two fingers placed just inside your mouth as a guide to prevent you from closing the jaw.
  3. Slide your jaw from one side to the other side. Which direction is easier? Think of making flat circles (parallel to the ground) with your lower jaw as if it were a plate sliding around below your upper jaw. Rest and feel how these movements help you soften your jaw, tongue, neck, and shoulder area.
  4. When mounted, notice what you do with your jaw. Do you clamp your teeth? Does the tip of your tongue press against your palate? If so, allow it to rest behind the lower front teeth. This will relax your tongue.
  5. Practice sliding your jaw forward and back and from side to side while in the saddle. Observe your horse: What does he do with his back and neck when you soften your jaw?
  6. Keep your teeth just slightly parted, consciously relaxing your masseter muscles. You can touch them occasionally as a reminder to stay soft. Feel how this softens your neck, shoulders, and upper back. How does this affect your contact?

 

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Find more great 5-Minute Fixes in Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES and her bestseller 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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