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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.

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

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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

 

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Judging and Being Judged copy

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.

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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.

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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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“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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JackCR

COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons features original cartoons by dressage trainer and illustrator Karen Rohlf.

When I was nine and working my first “muck-for-lessons” detail, I had my earliest encounter with the Jack Russell Terrier. The young woman who ran the barn and gave me said lessons had a pair of crazed little dogs: The black-and-white one was “Pie” (short for Piebald) and the brown-and-white one was “Skew” (yes, as you might imagine, for Skewbald), and they happily spent their days torturing hoof trimmings out back by the manure pile or terrorizing my family’s cats, who occasionally made the mistake of tailing me up the hill in the back field that joined our properties.

Being young and a “first generation horse lover,” I didn’t know then what I know now—that Jack Russells are sought, bought, and traded on the horse show circuit like push-button ponies. In her new book COLLECTIVE REMARKS, FEI dressage judge and former Technical Advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons explains a little about this phenomenon—what she calls “An Affliction Called ‘Jack Russells.'”

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

 

Many of Us Suffer from an Affliction Called “Jack Russells”

Early on, our family always had dogs of “proper” size (at least knee-high) that displayed “normal” dog behavior. The Jack Russell terror in our house started with a phone call from friends who were at a terrier trial and saw these “adorable puppies” just desperate for a good home. At the time, neither my husband nor I had a clue about terrier trials or the fact that a Jack Russell is never desperate for anything.

With a lot of encouragement from people who were really just looking for partners in crime, we agreed to look at the puppy. It was a female, about fist-size. She looked harmless enough, and like all puppies, was irresistible. She moved in and immediately took over operations.

We named her Digger, and that stopped her from ever digging anything. Instead, she concentrated on climbing trees. Her great passion in life was squirrels, and in pursuit of her prey she would hurl herself into the trees and tear up the branches in complete oblivion to the fact that this was not a dog thing to do.

If she ever downed a squirrel, I’m sure it was from a heart attack, since the creatures certainly never expected the dog to follow them up the tree.

We were forever approached by visitors who would hesitantly ask us if we thought that there was a dog in the tree out front. We would once again drag out the ladder and get Digger down while the people sighed in relief (relief that they weren’t crazy).

 

Scary Jack

Don’t think for a minute that a Jack doesn’t know exactly what it is doing and why. They are truly scary.

One weekend, my mother informed me that she “had a surprise for me.” Strange things happen when Mother visits, and I sure was surprised when she showed up with another Jack Russell puppy. It was a present from my groom, who got a puppy from us for Christmas two years earlier.

Payback is a bitch, but in this case it was a dog, and we named him Chipper.

Chipper had eyes just like Lady in Lady and the Tramp—big, brown and sparkling—and Digger tolerated him, although she found his fascination with fetching balls, sticks, and anything people would throw a bit much. When we lost Digger to sudden heart failure, I thought a breather from the Jacks would be nice, but then our borrowed live-in kid wanted a puppy, and the circus was on again.

At a show in Tampa, Florida, I found Scooter. He was the opposite of the ugly duckling: As a puppy he was adorable, and every day he matured to become more splay-footed, cross-eyed, and long-backed. His final shape is odd, to say the least, but Mother Nature tries to keep things in balance, and Scooter is one of the smartest dogs I have ever met.

He is a hunter to the core. Left to his own devices, he will use the dawn’s early light to pile up half a dozen rats, who find themselves dead before they even wake up in the morning. He never barks, just strikes and kills without a sound—and goes on to the next victim.

Chipper loved to torture Scooter when he was a puppy. He would keep Scooter at bay by growling and snapping and generally demonstrating who was in charge at every opportunity. One day Scooter, now much heavier and certainly twice the length of Chipper, decided he’d had enough. He promptly bit Chipper’s ear off. As my husband dove for the half ear to rescue it, Scooter looked him squarely in the eye and swallowed hard. All gone!

After repeated fights, both dogs were neutered, a feature that only slightly tempered their urge to kill each other but in no way got rid of their basic aggressiveness. Both of them will stand up to a dog any size at the drop of a hat. I think the breed is missing the gene that helps evaluate size because it’s hard to imagine that every Jack Russell was born with a Napoleonic complex.

 

The Trials

Recently, we hosted a regional championship Jack Russell trials, complete with agility, go-to-ground, races, conformation, and some other classes. A glaring omission in the prize list was a class for obedience—what a surprise! The Jacks are the nightmare of every dog school instructor, and perhaps the accepted fact that they “don’t train well” is one of the reasons for the popularity that they enjoy with horse people.

After all, when you spend all day schooling horses, you have little energy left to train the dog. If the dog is known to be virtually untrainable, you can shrug, sigh, and apologize for his unruly behavior while feeling confident that everyone understands that things are beyond your control.

One positive feature is the “easy handling,” which allows you to carry, transport, wash, and hide in hotel rooms this little dog, which will wake up the whole hotel with his sharp barking if the spirit moves him.

The Jacks always stray where they aren’t supposed to be at horse shows, but they rarely get in trouble (although you do). They have a sixth sense about horses and appear to know from birth how to avoid being flattened by their hooves, even while in hot pursuit of game.

A good hunting Jack—which is 99 percent of them—is far better than a cat as a deterrent for rats, since they waste no time playing games. They just carry on like little killing machines, displaying the most ardent bloodthirst and pure joy in hunting. They may look sweet and innocent curled up on the couch, but you can see your little pooch get up, stretch, yawn and say to himself, “Well, I think I’ll go kill something.”

 

Everything but Boring

A few years ago, I ran into a man at Dressage at Devon in Pennsylvania who was posted next to a cage with four Jack Russell puppies. All our relatives and friends had at least one by then, so I wasn’t interested, but I had a German girl with me who went all aflame and ran to call her parents about the possibilities of becoming owned by a Jack Russell.

While she was away, the man with the puppies asked me, “Don’t you want a puppy?”

“Absolutely not,” I said, “I can’t stand them.”

The man hesitated, then leaned closer to me and whispered, “Neither can I. These belong to my wife.”

We then commiserated about the horrors of the breed until we ran out of breath.

“So,” he asked when we were finally through, “how many Jacks do you have?”

I reluctantly admitted to two. He also had two, in addition to the puppies. We each confessed we probably would always have at least one around.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because,” said the man, “all other dogs bore me.”

 

In COLLECTIVE REMARKS: A Journey through the American Dressage Evolution: Where It’s Been, Where We Are, and Where We Need to Be, Anne Gribbons shares the best (and in some cases, the worst!) of her personal experiences over the last 40 years as a rider, trainer, breeder, facility owner, sponsor, competitor, instructor, coach, and judge. With almost 70 chapters based on Anne’s popular “Between Rounds” column in The Chronicle of the Horse, readers essentially experience “time travel,” reliving challenges and celebrations alike, with the opportunity to critically ponder the changing face of dressage in the United States over two decades.

Anyone with an interest in dressage, its controversies, its most famous names, and its future in the United States will enjoy Anne’s stories, but the true value is in her ideas for improving our horses, our riders, and our ability to compete on the international scene with success and integrity in the years to come.

Download another FREE excerpt from COLLECTIVE REMARKS by CLICKING HERE.

 

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