When You’re Horse-Crazy, You Fly Toward a Hurricane, Apparently

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The Opening Ceremonies for the FEI World Equestrian Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, are set to begin this evening, Tuesday, September 11, at 6:00 pm EST. The World Equestrian Games, or WEG, are held every four years in the middle of the Olympic cycle. And here’s the thing…they are a REALLY BIG DEAL. Why? Because WEG combines eight World-Championship-caliber equestrian events in one place with competitions spanning 13 days: dressage, show jumping, eventing, reining, driving, endurance, para-dressage, and vaulting. We’re talking the VERY BEST equestrians in the world, and the top horses in all these disciplines, here, in the United States, for two weeks.

The importance of WEG to the equestrian industry, and the significance of it being held here in the US this year, rather than in Europe, makes it a little surprising that of all the press suddenly devoted to the Carolinas and a certain imposing Madame Hurricane, little has been mentioned of this major event and how Florence will likely impact it. The athletes from participating countries and their horses have already arrived and are preparing for competition to begin (with dressage, reining, and endurance on Wednesday, September 12), but hundreds of thousands of individuals planning to attend all or part of the competition as spectators have yet to head out by road, air, or rail. It’s like this big communal breath is held as we wait to see where Flo will track and how mean she plans to be. Mill Spring, North Carolina, is on the western side of the state, and the National Weather Service has a station on site at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, keeping close watch on the hurricane as she develops. All efforts are being made to keep the riders, their horses, and their support teams, safe, whatever the days ahead bring in terms of weather. Of course, the rest of us still have to ask if it makes any sense at all to fly toward a hurricane, when millions under mandatory evacuation order along the coastline are trying to get away?

With that pressing question set momentarily aside, we at TSB have been truly excited in the months leading up to WEG to not only attend, but to have the opportunity to support our many wonderful, talented authors who are judging, competing, performing, speaking, and signing books during the event, including: Anne Gribbons, Ingrid Klimke, Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester, Phillip Dutton, Doug Payne, Emma Ford, Dan James, George Morris, Yvonne Barteau, Tik Maynard, and Dr. Bob Grisel.

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TSB author and FEI 5* judge Anne Gribbons is President of the Ground Jury for the dressage competition at WEG 2018. Photo by Sharon Packer.

To find most of our books and related book signings at WEG, visit The Chronicle of the Horse (Booth C3-4 in the World Equine Expo Area). Book signings will be arranged as competitors’ schedules allow.

In addition, those visiting with children can find TSB children’s books to explore and enjoy in the BrookeUSA activity area, as well as for sale in the BrookeUSA Shop (Booth B8). 50% of the proceeds from the sales of these books will go to support the mission of BrookeUSA and its sister charity, Brooke, the official charity of the WEG. Brooke is the world’s largest international working equine welfare charity dedicated to improving the lives of horses, donkeys, mules and the people who depend on those animals in the developing world.

Credit Brooke

TSB author and dressage competitor Charlotte Dujardin is a Brooke Ambassador. Her autobiography THE GIRL ON THE DANCING HORSE will be available at The Chronicle of the Horse Shop at WEG. Photo courtesy of Brooke.

TSB author and former Chef d’Equipe of the US Show Jumping Team George H. Morris will be speaking on two occasions on the WEG grounds:

Saturday, September 15, at 10:00 am, at the Equus Theatre.

Saturday, September 22, at 12:00 pm, on the Coca-Cola® Stage.

George Morris will be signing copies of his book UNRELENTING following each talk, with 50% of the proceeds going to support Brooke.

Fans can also meet George at a special celebration of the George Morris Collection and book signing at Dover Saddlery in Mill Spring on Tuesday, September 18, from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm.

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TSB author George Morris will speak on two occasions at WEG, as well as participate in a meet-and-greet at Dover Saddlery in Mill Spring. Photo by Tyler Gourley Pictures.

And be sure to stop by the GetSound® Booth (B7-6) to meet Dr. Bob Grisel and hear about his new App to help diagnose lameness in horses, as well as get a copy of his amazing new book EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN.

We plan to post updates about competition results, author events and signings, and other news here, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—so watch this space! Of course, all of this is pending a crazy-plane-ride toward a hurricane…

See you in Tryon…maybe?

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

The Germans Are Powering On—Can US Dressage Catch Up with Them? Former Technical Director of US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons Shares Her Thoughts on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio

TSB caught up with Anne Gribbons, FEI/USEF dressage judge, former Technical Director of the US Dressage Team, and author of the wonderful book of “dressage time travel” COLLECTIVE REMARKS, and we asked for her thoughts on the 2016 Olympic Dressage competition, underway now in Rio de Janeiro. Here are her insights as we begin Day 2. (For Anne’s refreshingly honest and brutally funny perspective on past Olympics and other international competitions, as well as all manner of dressage-related subjects, check out COLLECTIVE REMARKS!)

 

ANNE & STEFAN

Anne Gribbons with Steffen Peters in 2010.

 

After all the misgivings about Brazil not being able to handle the Olympics, it has come out of the starting box with flair. The eventing coverage was fabulous, the cross-country course beautiful and challenging, and the surprises many. Perhaps that is why I will always love combined training the most, because things can change in a heartbeat and each second can present a different landscape. And you can actually be competing, driving home without a ribbon, and still completely elated because the horse jumped so well it made your heart sing. Obviously, this is not the feeling you would have if something  goes awry on the Olympic course, and I am sure both Phillip Dutton and Ingrid Klimke were less than amused after brilliant dressage rides with the odd mishaps they had, which completely changed their standings at the top. 

Now the dressage is on, where the risk is limited and the element of surprise is a rarity. At this level, we expect each equipage to know its lessons well, and few mishaps to occur in the test. What we look for and revel in is the finely tuned communication between horse and rider. We search for  the balance, the self-carriage, the connection between the hand of the rider and the mouth of the horse. Harmony and yet full power when horse  and rider together reach for their ultimate best is what thrills us and keeps us glued to the screen. Watching it at home is a miracle, until it is not. When the streaming  momentarily shuts off, you get rudely pulled back to reality. With impeccable timing, this happens just as your country’s horse enters the ring. 

And I mentioned no surprises? Well, not true the first day when the Dutch star Parzival was retired by his rider who felt he was not quite up to the task. Good horsemanship, but a blow to the Dutch team, while it gave an opening to the Americans. We are talking fractions of a point here, and with no drop score left, the Dutch are more vulnerable. Since Kasey Perry-Glass had a very solid ride once she got past the first five movements when Dublet was busy in the mouth and Kasey was a bit tense, our chances looked even better after her ride. The Germans are powering on, and nobody expects any other team to catch up with them. In spite of one imploding pirouette and another weak one, Dorothee Schneider showed such strength in the rest of her work on Showtime that they gathered over 80%. And the 21-year-old Sönke Rothenberger who went first in the German team on his 10-year-old horse shows all the signs of growing up in a horse family. He admits he gets help from his father, Olympic rider Sven Rothenberger, but insists that his true calling is actually jumping. Well, if dressage is only his sideline, wait until he focuses on it! 

Riding for England, Fiona Bigwood had a very impressive ride on a wonderfully elastic and submissive mare named Orthilia. Imagine coming back from an injury that robs you of sight in one eye and putting on such a spot-on performance where balance and accuracy is of essence. Hats off to this lady who received a well-earned 77-plus% as a forerunner to more great scores expected by the remaining Brits, who are expected to finish in at least silver position. 

And then there is the US with four great quality horses and well prepared riders. Over the last two years all these combinations have gradually become more seasoned. Except for Roosevelt, I know all the team horses very well, and I am well aware of  the capacity of each. We already saw what Dublet was able to do, and believe me, there is so much more in that horse! Verdades is becoming seasoned and stronger and should have no trouble staying as focused on Laura Graves as he usually is in this comparatively quiet atmosphere. I can understand why the Chef D’ Equipe would make that combination the anchor by putting them last, because Legolas can, at times, be a little too fired up and lose concentration. However, Steffen Peters’ masterly riding has overcome that tendency in his shows as lately, and when they are on, he and Legolas can gather many valuable points. 

So, when I am writing this I am, like all of you, keeping my fingers crossed and hopes high for our team. Go USA!

–Anne Gribbons

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COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Tame That Wandering Eye: Why Finding the Right Coach Is Like Finding the Right Spouse

The right coach can make all the difference, whatever level you ride. Illustration by Karen Rohlf.

The right coach can make all the difference, whatever level you ride. Illustration by Karen Rohlf.

 

You hear about it all the time: How so-and-so used to ride with him, but now she’s riding with her. How Up-and-Coming-Rider left Fancy-Trainer-One’s barn and is now working with Fancy-Trainer-Two. How your friend used to go to all of that horseman’s clinics, but now she goes to all this horseman’s clinics.

Riders notoriously have a wandering eye–admit it, most of us at one time or another thought someone else could help us reach our equestrian goals a little bit sooner…or had a disagreement that felt like a deal-breaker and sent us scouring trainer websites in search of the one who is really, truly, our perfect match. The thing is, riding with a coach or instructor is a relationship like any other, and sure to come with its arguments, frustrations, and boring bits. The trick is knowing when you just need to work a little harder at it, and when it is time to call it a day.

In COLLECTIVE REMARKS: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE AMERICAN DRESSAGE EVOLUTION, FEI/USEF judge and former technical advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons discusses the ins and outs of rider-coach matchmaking…and how to tame that wandering eye.

 

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The Problem with “Teacher-Hopping”

If you manage to locate an instructor who is a wonderful rider and who also has the ability to make you understand how to accomplish your goals, you can “have your cake and eat it, too.” In the case when you cannot have it all, you are definitely better off with the competent teach­er than with the “big name” who cannot teach. Unless you are a person who can learn by watching and has years to spend doing it, you need someone who can explain why and how to make you and your horse perform.

Your first dressage instructor is likely to become the most profound in­fluence on your riding because he or she will responsible for laying the foundation of your riding and creating your “basic system.” The longer you spend with this teacher, the firmer your base, upon which you will later build by receiving additional help and advice from other sources. The lack of a basic system is one of the problems in American dressage, created by a tendency to enjoy a “smorgasbord education”: The minute something goes wrong in training we look for another instructor, and of course we also have to ride in every clinic offered within reach. God forbid we miss any of the action!

For the novice rider, “teacher-hopping” is confusing at best and dam­aging at worst, and for the horse it will eventually prove detrimental. A horse cannot absorb and adjust to a different method of training every two weeks without losing his confidence and perhaps his mind, as well. It does not matter if the various clinicians the novice works with are all excellent trainers, they are still not going to teach exactly the same way, and at this stage, more is not better. It takes many years of training and riding before a rider can truly profit from a clinic by incorporating the useful parts into his or her program while discarding the ideas that do not work for the horse. You have to be experienced enough to know the difference. The best way to make use of clinics while you are still a novice is to attend tas an auditor, then discuss the experience with your regular instructor, and perhaps try some of the ideas you are interested in during a lesson.

 

A Healthy Relationship

To get the most out of your relationship with an instructor it is important that there is a mutual feeling of commitment, respect, and trust. A teach­er shows his or her commitment, first and foremost, by giving exclusive attention to the student who is paying for the lesson. Conversations on the side and phone calls with others should be avoided if possible. This applies also to a clinic situation, when the temptation of playing to the audience at the expense of the student may be great. At shows the serious instructor is available to school and advise the student before each ride, and will observe the ride and comment on it afterward. For a teacher with many students at the show, this may be impossible due to conflicting ride times, but a schedule can be made up ahead that divides his or her time and gives everyone an opportunity to get some help. However the test goes, a teacher of the right kind stands by his or her student in tragedy as well as triumph, and all post-test corrections and negative criticism that may be necessary are done one on one. A respectful instructor does not harass, make fun of, or belittle a student, never mind how frustrating the lesson or situation may be. There are times when a harsh command—even screaming—is called for, because the student is not reacting fast enough, but if the rider does not understand the command, raising the volume creates nothing but ten­sion and further confusion.

The student has responsibilities as well. The first and perhaps most im­portant is to shut up and ride! A lesson is no time for dialogue, and it is incredibly irritating to have someone contradicting every order or constantly explaining why whatever you ask for cannot be done. This kind of behavior also interferes with the flow of information between the horse and the rider, since the horse senses that the rider is not tuned in to the effort. Questions and explanations should wait until a break or rest period, unless there is some emergency the instructor needs to be made aware of. Complete concentration throughout the lesson, a commitment to practicing what is being taught (even outside of the teaching sessions), and consistency in pursuing the lesson program are all virtues belonging to the “good student.”

 

When to Move On

There may come a time after a long relationship when the student feels there is no progress being made. Before placing the blame on the teacher (always the easy out), take a long hard look at yourself and ask: “How talented, how persistent, and how hard-working am I as a student?” And, “Do I have the right ‘vehicle,’ or is my horse not right for the job?” If, after some soul-searching, you are absolutely certain that the problem is not of your own making, talk to your instructor. There may well be a mutual feeling of frustration and stagnation. If the problems cannot be worked out and you decide to look for help elsewhere, you owe it to your pres­ent instructor to inform him or her about your decision, before he or she hears it from somebody else.

Wherever you go with your riding, remember, when success comes your way, give credit to each person who contributed to your progress. Not just the famous “final polisher” of your now wonderful self, but also the people who put up with you when you and everybody else thought you were hopeless!

 

Read more humorous insight from Anne Gribbons in COLLECTIVE REMARKS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Why FEI/USEF Dressage Judge Anne Gribbons Thinks Santa SHOULD Bring Us Ponies

FutureLast year we shared the best “Santa, Please Bring Me a Pony” Christmas videos (CLICK HERE), and in further support of the More Ponies = More Happiness Movement (there are a still a few shopping days left!), here’s FEI/USEF Dressage Judge Anne Gribbons’ pro-pony take on how to improve US dressage on the international scene in the years ahead (read more from Anne in her fabulously fun book COLLECTIVE REMARKS):

 

The most confounding subject in US dressage is the fact that we have no “pony culture.” I have harped on this subject for years, but the absence of ponies that are ridden and shown in dressage is still a huge hole in our system. As with the lack of public riding schools, it hurts the very roots of our growth.

Kids and ponies belong together; they foster each other, and every child who likes riding ought to be brought up by a pony. They are very good at putting a kid in his or her place without being as large and potentially dangerous as horses, and the whole family can get involved with the “pony scene” at an early stage.

Parents who have “pony kids” are already educated and on board with the equine scene when the time comes for the Junior and Young Rider divisions. When it’s time to move to a horse, they aren’t stunned at the idea of having an equine in the family; it’s just a natural progression. There aren’t enough opportunities available for ponies to shine at our shows, and there aren’t enough ponies out there competing to fill the classes that do exist.

Many countries outside Europe have the same dilemma, and I’ve asked for the question to be discussed in regard to global development at the FEI Sports Forum. Perhaps we can brainstorm some ideas about possible solutions. All I know is that when I judged a CDI in France a couple of years ago, and they had more than forty ponies competing at the show, I was green with envy!

Many ponies bring up several generations of children. Ponies are normally sounder and tougher than horses, they are less demanding to keep and they live and serve a long time. An important aspect of riding, especially for kids, is the socializing. Ponies are easier to kid around with and take for romps in the woods, races in the snow, and swims in the lake. They eat birthday cake and refrain from colicking, they have enough sense not to run into the campfire, and they will find their way back to the barn in the dark. In short: They have some self-preservation. The fun has to be kept in the work, even when dressage is on the agenda, and ponies help with that detail.

 

Anne Gribbons’ COLLECTIVE REMARKS is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to read more.

 

Wishing You a Peaceful Holiday, from the TSB Farm to Yours

Wishing You a Peaceful Holiday, from the TSB Farm to Yours

 

Hang the Judges: Former US Dressage Team Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons on Dealing with Criticism

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Over the past decade, on numerous occasions, both top dressage riders and international judges have come under heavy critical fire regarding the treatment and training of competitive dressage horses. The internet is alight with related controversy, and print articles have not been afraid to label judges around the world as “cowards and ignoramuses who are incapable of telling the difference between a horse that is correctly and humanely trained and one that has been forced to perform with dubious methods,” says FEI/USEF dressage judge and former US Dressage Team Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons in her book COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

“How are we supposed to react to this?” Gribbons, who is judging the European Championships this summer in Aachen, Germany, writes. “Ignoring the subject is not an option for anybody involved in the sport. Shrugging it off because we are not personally ‘guilty’ of any sort of deliberate cruelty to our horses is not going to make the problem go away. These kinds of allegations tend to put a dark cloud over the entire dressage community, whatever your position within it happens to be.

“Taking a step back to view dressage objectively is not so easy when you are submerged in the game up to your eyeballs. Still, with some effort, I can see all three sides of this argument, because I wear all the hats at different times.

“To be successful as an international competitor you have to be determined, brave, and incredibly focused on those few minutes in the arena that are the culmination of all your work. If you find and can develop a method that works for you and your horses and gets consistently rewarded by the judges, why should you give it up? In every sport, the pressure is tremendous at the top level, and winning is the object. Since our sport involves a silent partner, the horse, the situation is more complicated. Add to this that the kind of animal that takes the honors in today’s fierce competition is a very sophisticated and high-powered equine, both physically and mentally. Dealing with some of these equine Ferraris, it has been my experience as a trainer, competitor, and judge that anything that is forced or unfair in the training does not come out well in the show ring. It is difficult for me to imagine that training that is one long torture session for the horse could lead to something beautiful to watch in the arena.

“Nevertheless, I know there are some unavoidable conflicts on the road from green-broke to Grand Prix that need to be worked out. Anyone who thinks that a competitive Grand Prix horse offers every movement he has to learn without occasionally questioning the rider has never trained one. The journey from green horse to Grand Prix is a long, sometimes rocky, but mostly inspiring enterprise. It should be a trip horse and rider take together, and they ought to arrive at their destination both proud of their achievements and eager to strut their stuff. Not all horses are comfortable in the show ring—they may have stage fright, or they may not like being in unfamiliar surroundings—but some really enjoy showing off, and those horses are always fun to watch and to ride!

“Being an international judge is a great responsibility and, especially at major events, the pressure can be quite strong to ‘get it right’ according to the riders, the organizers, the audience, and your colleagues. You cannot please all of them all the time. The decision about each score has to be immediate, correct, and fair, and there are thousands to be made in a weekend. The job description of a judge is limited to what occurs in the arena in front of him or her, and it is impossible for him or her to assess what goes on in the warm-up ring. Naturally, most judges can tell if a horse is tense, unhappy, and appears uncomfortable, and there are ways to express your displeasure about that throughout the score sheet. Remember, however, that there is sometimes a fine line between ‘tension’ and ‘brilliance,’ and that a breathtaking performance almost always has to include a certain measure of electricity and tension to become exciting. On this issue, judges tend to disagree more than on the technical aspects, and often it is the amount of tension versus brilliance that makes the judges come out differently in the scoring. Diversity in scores is not usually appreciated by competitors, audiences, or organizers, who want to see all their ducks in a row—even the press will sometimes attack a judge who stands out. It is assumed that this judge is incorrect, while it is quite possible that this was the judge who, at that particular competition, was the only one who had a truly sharp eye and the confidence to honestly express what he or she saw.

“The observer/journalist is the watchdog of the sport, and although neither competitors nor judges cherish criticism, checks and balances are of importance. If the process of reaching the pinnacle of our sport appears to be harmful to our horses, we need to clean up our act. Unfortunately, ‘perception is truth’ to a great extent, and if our equine athletes appear ‘unhappy’ it does us no good to protest and proclaim how much we love and appreciate them. Instead of indignation and lawsuits, riders and judges have to invite both the press and the public to be part of discussion, dialogue, and participation.

“We need to show the world that we are not involved in dressage to make our equine partners miserable but to build strong and proud athletes, which, while they may not be ecstatic all the time, are reasonably pleased with their lot in life as healthy and performing stars.”

 

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For more insight into and history of the sport of dressage, check out COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

TSB’s 2014 Horse Books & DVDs: A Quick Glimpse Back Before We Ride Forward

 

The winter sun rises over the TSB warehouse in Vermont.

The winter sun rises over the TSB warehouse in Vermont.

As we wrap another year in the Trafalgar Square Books offices here in Vermont, it feels good to pause and look back at the results of our hard work, as well as ponder the things we learned about horses and horsemanship over the last 12 months.

We take great pride in our authors and in the horse books and DVDs we have published and released over the years—now over 600 titles. Here, at a glance, are the new books and DVDs we added in 2014:

 

Click the image above to get a quick review of the TSB 2014 books and DVDs.

Click the image above to get a quick review of the TSB 2014 books and DVDs.

 

3-Minute Horsemanship

by Vanessa Bee (January)

The Riding Horse Repair Manual

by Doug Payne (March)

Games for Kids on Horseback

by Gabriele Karcher (April)

Centered Riding 2 Paperback Edition

by Sally Swift (April)

Good Horse, Bad Habits

by Heather Smith Thomas (April)

Dressage Solutions

by Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg (May)

The Riding Doctor

by Dr. Beth Glosten (June)

Building a Life Together—You and Your Horse

by Magali Delgado and Frederic Pignon (June)

Collective Remarks

by Anne Gribbons (July)

Creative Dressage Schooling

by Julia Kohl (September)

When Two Spines Align:Dressage Dynamics 

by Beth Baumert (September)

Kids Riding with Confidence

by Andrea and Markus Eschbach (October)

Success through Cavaletti-Training DVD 

by Ingrid Klimke (November)

5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding DVD

by Wendy Murdoch (November)

5-Minute Jumping Fixes DVD

by Wendy Murdoch (November)

Beyond Horse Massage Wall Charts

by Jim Masterson (November)

The Art of Liberty Training for Horses

by Jonathan Field (December)

Rider+Horse=1

by Eckart Meyners, Hannes Muller, and Kerstin Niemann (December)

 

Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com) is the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs. CLICK HERE to visit our online storefront or DOWNLOAD OUR NEWEST CATALOG.

 

Have a wonderful, safe, joy-filled New Year!

–The TSB Staff, North Pomfret, Vermont

When You Add to Your “Pool of Knowledge,” Being with and Training Horses Is All the More Rewarding

pool

The year winding to its close in a flurry of parties and family and (at least here in Vermont) snow often inspires nostalgic glances back while perhaps ambitious resolutions are cast forward. It is a time when those of us who ride or work with horses on a regular basis may evaluate goals met (or not), consider the steps gained with a particular project and where they’ll lead in the months ahead, or perhaps ponder the role that horses play in our lives now, and the one we’d wish for them in the future.

In her book COLLECTIVE REMARKS, FEI and USEF dressage judge Anne Gribbons shares how competing on horseback eventually came to hold less importance, as the satisfaction of figuring out each individual horse while adding to her own “pool of knowledge” gained significance. At TSB, we aim to support those who spend their lives striving to learn more about horses, to appreciate different approaches from different disciplines and schools of philosophy, and to consider new ideas while respecting the tried-and-true of classical equestrianism. As we add to our own “pool of knowledge,” we hope we have a chance to add to yours, too.

All orders from the TSB online bookstore placed before noon on Thursday, December 18, ship FREE in the US in time for Christmas.

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“Full Circle” from COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons

When I was a kid and started riding, competition was the farthest thing from my mind. All I wanted was to be around horses, to breathe in their wonderful sweet smell—to me more exhilarating than any other fragrance on earth—and to touch their velvety coat, to look into their sad and all-knowing eyes. Riding them was a privilege and a joy beyond anything else I could desire. In short, I was just like any other horse-crazy kid in the world. Years later, my whole life became involved with horses, and with serious training arrived the need for competition; the fire it lit in my blood was a whole new aspect of riding. Jumping and eventing keeps you on your toes, but even dressage can be exciting when there is a good class and you have a long-term goal in mind.

Today, after many years of competing and after obtaining some of those goals, I must admit that I look at showing differently. The few minutes in the ring still makes my blood run faster (although the reasons may vary from joy to alarm), but the rest of the scene can appear as just “more of the same.” The planning, packing, traveling, loading, fussing, waiting, re-packing, and traveling again is a lot of work, and when I think of all the weekends in my life that were absorbed by horse shows, I sometimes wonder about my sanity….

After all this time, I have almost returned to base. Although, thankfully, more experienced, I am back in the mode where I am totally satisfied staying at home with my horses. The training, which has always been the true motivation for diligently showing up at the barn every day, is the constant that never becomes monotonous, uninteresting, or exactly the same two days in a row. It would be impossible to stay inspired while training horses but for the fact that every single horse has something new to offer, which gives you reason to add to your pool of knowledge and meet the challenge of dealing with that specific individual.

My triumphs today are not measured in ribbons and scores, but in the satisfaction of having a day when a horse who had a problem suddenly catches on and performs a movement with ease, or a particular sequence of exercises feel just like you know they should: no tension, no resistance, and no effort, just horse and rider gliding together. The ultimate satisfac­tion is to look at a horse you have known from the time he was broken and watch him grow more beautiful every year because of the building of his muscles and strength. The finished, happy, and sound Grand Prix horse is a work of art, and all the time it took to bring him there is well worth it. Things of quality take time, and your trained horse does not have to go to the Olympics to give you an enormous amount of pride and joy in your accomplishments together.

 

COLLECTIVE REMARKS is available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The “Faux” Runaway and an Exercise for Getting Your Horse’s Engine in Gear

FauxRunaway

Early in my riding career, but after I knew a thing or two, I used to ride this hot chestnut mare (I know, if three words were ever meant to string together…). I’d be exhausted after flatting her 15 minutes. I thought it was really all I could do to keep her from plowing down the long side and right through the arena fence. But man could that mare jump. So, I kept on, keeping on—if only just barely.

After months of making little progress on my own, I finally had a lesson, and as is many times the case, a breakthrough.

“Stop trying to hold her back and put your leg ON her,” my instructor barked, clearly frustrated by my struggles that were all about the mare’s front end, with no concern at all for what was going on behind me.

Sure enough, as soon as I ceased obsessing about the control I felt I didn’t have and instead focused on activating her hind end, she stepped up and under me, stretched down and forward, and our awful, lurching, zig-zaggy rhythm that had clearly caused my instructor to feel quite ill, evened out.

In her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, dressage trainer and technical editor for Dressage Today magazine Beth Baumert discusses what she calls the “Faux Runaway” and a very easy exercise to get the party going out back so things can settle down up front. Check it out:

 

As you know, horses don’t inherently know that the way to gain freedom is by energizing the hindquarters, rather than the forehand. Fresh young horses or hot older horses are a tough test for the rider’s balance as their enthusiastic front legs want to carry the forehand away from the lazy hindquarters. They pull the center of balance forward and away from the rider’s seat—the seat that connects the rider to her horse’s hindquarters.

The rider feels that her horse is running away, so she’s amazed when her trainer says her horse’s hindquarters look lazy. The feeling is misleading because the surge of energy is actually very real, but it’s caused by the front end that’s running away from the snoozing hind end. It’s often even an experienced rider’s tendency to use prolonged restraining aids with this horse, but that never works.

Years ago at the Aachen Horse Show, one of the American riders was in this situation. Her horse was very hot, and she was persistently trying to quiet and relax him. Her German trainer came along and told her to go for a gallop. Although the rider was horrified at the prospect, that was just the answer to her problem. It got the horse’s hind end in gear so the energy that reached her hand came from the hindquarters instead of the forehand. As a result, the horse was very successful in the competition. The American rider retained her horse’s enthusiasm for working, but gained control over the whole horse from behind.

When your horse is too strong and you can’t (or don’t dare to) gallop, do movements in which your leg is required to activate the hindquarters. Find a way to ride your horse from back to front. Make turns-on-the-forehand and do leg-yield. If you and your horse know how, do movements such as turn-on-the-haunches, shoulder-in, travers (haunches-in), renvers (haunches-out), and half-pass. Also do transitions between these movements. Do things that require you to use your seat and leg, and use your hands last—and only when you need to. Each time you communicate with your seat and leg more, you need your hands less. Then he will listen to your seat and legs more, and work more from his hind-end pushing engine.

And try this exercise:

WhenTwoSpinesAlignFinal

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Get your Horse’s Pushing Engine in Gear

Directions: To get your horse’s pushing engine in gear, start from the moment you walk out of the barn with your horse in hand. Do you have to pull him out by his face, or does he step smartly from his hind legs and walk next to your shoulder? He might need to be asked with a cluck or a tap from your whip. So, begin…

      Walk in Hand. Ask your horse to give you the same walk that you will expect when you’re sitting on him. While walking in hand, his only restrictions are the weight of the saddle and bridle. (When you mount, no matter how skilled you are, your weight is an additional restriction. Ideally, you want the energy stepping through his back and to your hand before he has this restriction.) Your horse’s walk should convey a quiet workmanlike attitude. When you have a self-perpetuating, relaxed walk, get on. Many top riders hand walk their horses for 10 or 15 minutes before mounting.

      Mount and Walk on a Long Rein. Walk on a long rein (if it feels safe). Be sure the pushing engine is still in gear given the added restriction of your weight. Carry your own weight in a balanced way so your horse’s body won’t be inclined to become like a hammock. If you have a mirror in your arena, walk parallel to it and ask yourself: “Why are we covering ground? Is it because of the front-end pulling engine or the hind-end pushing engine?”

Listen to the rhythm of the four-beat walk. When he’s balanced, your horse takes energetic steps from behind that are deliberate and self-perpetuating, but not hectic. Feel the energy flowing under your seat. When he’s stepping “through” his body, you can steer him easily with your body. Give yourself a steering test by riding simple figures and diagonal lines without rein contact. Leave your hands on the withers and point him on your line of travel with your eyes, shoulders, hips, knees, and toes and step in the direction you want to go. He’ll follow your weight and reach in that direction.

 

Find more great riding insight and exercises in WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS by Beth Baumert, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Coming to the USDF Convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this week? Stop by the TSB booth and meet authors Beth Baumert and Anne Gribbons during special author signings!

In a World of “Extension Fakes,” FEI/USEF Dressage Judge Anne Gribbons Tells Us What a “10” Really Looks Like

Dressage judges see a lot of "faking it" when it comes to extended trot. Illustration by Karen Rohlf from COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

Dressage judges see a lot of “faking it” when it comes to extended trot. Illustration by Karen Rohlf from COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

 

In COLLECTIVE REMARKS, the new book from former Technical Advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons, readers are treated to all manner of perspectives, in and around the dressage world. As an FEI 5* judge, Gribbons has officiated at numerous CDIs worldwide and selection trials in the United States, as well as prestigious European shows (Stuttgart, Rotterdam, Aachen), two FEI World Cup Finals, and the 2009 European Championships.

Here Gribbons laments the variety of extended trots to which judges are commonly treated—and they are all “faking it” in one way or another.

 

From COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons:

Seeing What’s Not There
To begin with, there are no distinct transitions. Sometimes the beginning and end of the extension is so subtle that it is impossible to discern, even when the judge is awake and focusing. In reality, absolutely nothing happens, and you feel like you are a part of the tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” pretending to see what isn’t there. That is the bottom of the heap.

The next variety is when the horse hurries through the corner, and instead of coming onto the diagonal in balance and with his haunches “loaded” for takeoff, he is running in front-wheel drive. Arriving out of the corner in that fashion makes the transition “mission impossible.” The honest horse makes a desperate effort to salvage the movement, and by the time he reaches X he is hopelessly lost in forward balance, often irregular, and struggling to reach the end of the diagonal. The less ambitious equine crawls behind the leg and does less and less to go forward, until the movement fades to a working trot before he reaches halfway.

Then we have the “mad run,” in which the horse develops a flat-footed scramble with a hollow back and the hindquarters trailing hopelessly. He reminds you of a bicycle flying by.

The really fascinating extension is the one when the horse’s frame gets shorter for each stride, his back lower, his front legs higher, and his neck tighter. That is almost as hard to accomplish all at once as it is to get an actual extension.

Naturally none of the workouts described just now have much to do with the directives for the movement. So, how would an extension for a “10” look?

 

The Ideal

Let’s start with the transitions: They should be prompt and smooth without the slightest resistance. The horse should proceed accurately from point to point and in a straight line. There will be a clear difference between the extended trot and the medium trot when there is one called for in the test.

Going on to the different aspects of the Training Scale, for a “10”:

  • The rhythm of the trot has to be absolutely regular in a clear two beats from beginning to end with a distinctive moment of suspension.
  • No stiffness or tension can be present for a perfect score for suppleness. The back must swing under the rider, and the completely unconstrained steps must show superb elasticity.
  • The contact has to be light and steady, with the nose more in front of the vertical than at a medium trot. In spite of the ultimate lengthening of the frame, the poll must remain the highest point.
  • To accomplish all this, the requirements of the impulsion are strict: The hind legs are expected to propel the horse forward with very energetic and active steps, while the hind feet touch the ground as much as possible in front of the footprints for the front feet. Front and hind feet reach equally forward, and the front feet touch the ground on the spot toward which they are pointing.
  • Naturally the horse’s straightness is unquestionable, while the very engaged hind legs give the impression of a horse in complete balance, exhibiting freedom of the shoulder and lightness of the forehand found via collection.
  • Under these circumstances the submissiveness is total, and there is no resistance whatsoever evident.

It is doubtful that many of us has experienced this state of bliss for an entire diagonal, but these are the directives if you strive for “excellent.” Naturally there is a range of talent and ability that plays into the score, and there are horses that are superb at collection but have no true ability to become “airborne,” never mind how they struggle. The springs for the suspension just were never installed.

Interesting to observe is that all the way to the top placings in the Olympics, there are horses that lack the ability to use their back in the extended work and who possess almost no elasticity in their gaits or ability to stretch over the topline. What they do have is a tremendous knack for articulation of their joints. They can twist and turn and bend their knees and hocks like performers in Riverdance, and in the “Three Ps” (piaffe, passage, and pirouette) this is a real asset.

Since we have shortened the Grand Prix the extended trot counts for very little. What should be one of our “crown jewels” has been put somewhat on the backburner. Anyone who trained with Colonel Bengt Ljungquist will agree that he would watch this development with a jaundiced eye. I will never forget the endless sessions he had me do on the 20-meter circle, practicing transitions in and out of trot lengthenings. Bengt would insist on the horse becoming “like a rubber band,” and he was relentless about all the features I mentioned above that can lead to a “10.”

 

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Find more dressage insight in COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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TSB Author Anne Gribbons Talks About Her Career, Its Rewards and Her Regrets, and 8 Things to Remember When Trying to “Make It” in the Horse Business

“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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