30 Years Practice: An Excerpt from Jim Wofford’s Autobiography

In this excerpt from STILL HORSE CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, Olympian and tale-teller Jim Wofford shares a formative experience with an equestrian coach that told him all he needed to know about what it takes to be a good rider.

When I first came to Gladstone in 1965, Richard Wätjen was coaching the dressage team, and I audited his lessons whenever possible. Wätjen, German by birth, was classically trained at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna after WWI and had become a coach after WWII. Tall and portly, he was a legend in the dressage world, and must have been a tough old buzzard as well. In the winter of 1966–67, Nautical Hall, the indoor riding arena at Gladstone, was one of the coldest places on Earth, but no matter how cold it was, Wätjen taught in slacks and street shoes, wearing a dark green Loden greatcoat. He was not an inspiring instructor, and his comments were brief and pungent. “More,” was one of his favorites, along with “Again,” and “No.” I never knew if teaching in a second language was a problem for him, or if it was just his style, and I was too intimidated to ask. 

He was dedicated to obtaining a correct response from his horses by establishing an inside leg to outside rein connection. One day a student remarked that he wanted to start work in half-pass. “No,” said Wätjen, in his heavy German accent. “Vee vill put him in shoulder-in for two years, und zen vee vill put him in half-pass in two days.” His point was that once the basic response was correctly established, the horse would put his forces completely at our disposal. In terms of my overall development as a horseman, I might have gotten as much from my auditing as from riding at the time. 

Once Wätjen had finished his work with the Team horses, he taught occasional outside lessons for dressage riders. A woman showed up for one lesson with a very fancy, recently imported horse reputed to have set her back a princely sum. (Given the fur coat and diamonds she was sporting, I don’t think she noticed the cost a bit.) It was obvious after she careened around the ring for a few minutes that she couldn’t get this creature even close to being on the bit. 

Then magic happened. Telling this unfortunate lady to ride in and “get down,” Wätjen turned toward the corner of the arena where Rick Eckhart and I were cowering. Pointing at us, he said, “Boys. Come here.” 

Next thing we knew, we were holding the horse while, in street shoes and gabardine slacks, Wätjen laboriously stepped aboard. He would have been in his late seventies by this time, and his beer belly indicated he wasn’t much for exercise. I knew he had been a fabulous rider in his day—a long time ago. He walked off gathering his reins, then moved into working trot. By now the horse was starting to settle into the contact and produced a few transitions from working trot to collected trot, followed by extended trot across each diagonal. This happened with no discernable aids, as Wätjen sat bolt upright in the saddle. Some canter work followed, including several flying changes remarkable for their straightness and fluidity. 

All this only took a few minutes, with no preparation or warm-up. In the meantime, the dressage rider was standing with a stupefied look on her face, and I was pretty impressed as well. Wätjen walked back to the center and gestured that we should hold the horse while he carefully stepped down, gave him a pat, and said, “Nice horse.” The owner began to babble about how grateful she was, and how impressed. “How ever did you do that?” she inquired. 

Gesturing with his hand toward her shoulder, Wätjen said, “Vell, you must sit mit a straight line from shoulder, to hip, to heel.” She replied eagerly, “Yes, yes, I am doing that.” Wätjen continued, “… und zen you are riding mit a straight line from elbow to horse’s mouth.” The lady pounced on this statement with glee, “Yes, yes. I have been doing this.” “Goot!” said Wätjen. “Now you must practice for 30 years.” I started to crack up at what I thought was a masterful put-down, but I happened to take a look at Wätjen’s face. He wasn’t putting her down, or kidding. He was serious.

STILL HORSE CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (If It Didn’t Happen This Way, It Should Have) 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 videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

“Did you say jumping…no stirrups?” “Yes,” says Anne Kursinski

Photo by Amber Heintzberger

There are many reasons November is my most unfavorite month of the year. In Vermont, it means needing a flashlight to find the car when I get out of work. It means cold but no snow to play in. It means short days but just as much to do.

In our horsey world, this time of year also means No Stirrups November, a form of self-torture in the name of improvement. The thing is, as much as it may leave you hobbling around the next day, riding sans stirrups really IS an effective way to find a better feel and a more balanced seat.

In her classic book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, Olympian Anne Kursinski discusses the importance of regularly schooling without stirrups, not only on the flat, but over jumps, too.

“Jumping without stirrups is an exercise I recommend for two reasons,” she says. “One, of course, is that it’s an insurance policy. Everybody loses a stirrup at least once or twice in a riding career; if it happens, you want to be able to continue riding without losing your position, your composure, or your chance at a ribbon if you’re in the show ring (where, in observance of Murphy’s Law, you just might be). But the other—and the really important reason—is what it does for your balance. Like riding your horse on the flat without stirrups, jumping without stirrups is a great way to solidify your balance, so that you never find yourself getting ahead of your horse and jumping up his neck.

“Don’t try jumping without stirrups before you’re ready, though,” Kursinski warns. “If the idea terrifies you, just continue with your regular work for a while longer. Eventually you’ll build the confidence to give it a try.

“A good way to begin is to go down a line using your stirrups, and then drop them after the last fence, so that you ride your turn or circle without irons. The moment you take your feet out of the irons, you’ll feel yourself riding more ‘with’ your horse, the best antidote in the world for riders who habitually want to make a move up the neck. Your hips and seat will relax and begin following his back better. Your legs will feel longer, and your lower leg will stay quieter at his side.

“Ride just the turn or circle without irons until you’ve established your balance enough that you feel secure. Then remove the stirrups from your saddle, so that they don’t bang your horse’s sides, and try a single fence without them. As you feel more confident, you can increase the number of fences.

“Start with a simple, straight line. Ride the line once with your stirrups and drop them as you land from the second fence. Immediately you’ll sink into the saddle and have a following seat. This really helps your balance. Circling after the fence will help you bring your horse together. Feel how much more effective you are when you’re sitting down on him this way. My horses usually go better when I ride without stirrups, because I naturally sit more correctly.

“When I jump a fence with the stirrups removed, my balance and my firm leg keep my position secure; I don’t need to lean on my horse’s mouth to pull me over the fence. My position looks the same with or without stirrups.

“Gradually work up from a single fence to a simple line and then to the more complicated ones. Finish by jumping a small course without stirrups, as riders in equitation classes are sometimes asked to do. The more you can feel that your balance and your ability to stay with your horse are all yours, not dependent on supports like stirrups and reins, the more secure and effective a rider you’ll be.”

ANNE KURSINKSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC has just been released in an updated edition with full-color photographs. Order it now from the TSB online bookstore, and you’ll receive 20% off plus free shipping in the US!

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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

rider demonstrating a turn over the jump on bay horse

New Releases from Jane Savoie and Anne Kursinski

The winter months are ahead and wouldn’t it be FAB if you could train with renowned coach and master of motivation Jane Savoie and Olympian Anne Kursinski, all for less than the cost of a week’s worth of Starbucks lattes?

The good news is YOU CAN!

Photo by Amber Heintzberger

JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS and ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC have just arrived in the TSB warehouse, and these books have oodles of exercises and training tools to sharpen your skills and hone your horse before what we are all hoping will be a busy and exciting 2021 show season.

In DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS, make every jump better with targeted exercises on the flat:

  • BUILD skills without stressing your horse’s body.
  • FIND simple solutions to problems you tend to have on course.
  • IMPROVE time, turns, adjustability, and responsiveness.
  • TRAIN and condition a tuned-in competitor with greater longevity.
Watch the book trailer!

In RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, find the kind of sophisticated, quality instruction you can only get in top barns around the world:

  • EXERCISES to improve your position, your “feel,” and your overall understanding of how to confidently and successfully master a jump course.
  • TOP-NOTCH EDUCATION in basic flatwork and jumping, including bending, adjusting stride length, moving laterally, riding straight lines and curves, jumping without stirrups, and flying changes. You’ll also learn advanced flatwork and jumping, with lessons in flexion and collection, counter-canter, half-pass, ways to perfect distances and count strides, and tips for riding different kinds of combinations, bigger jumps, and natural fences.
  • DISCUSSION of Hunter Derbies and how to ride derby-style courses.
  • HUNDREDS OF COLOR PHOTOS with Kursinski herself demonstrating in the tack.
Watch the book trailer!

These books (and hundreds more in print and digital formats!) are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to see all our newest releases.

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

More Than a “Good Eye”

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Understanding and implementing stride control (being able to adjust the number of strides before and between fences) improves a horse’s rideability and allows the rider to further improve the horse’s technique over an obstacle. Renowned coach Jen Marsden Hamilton has taught countless riders and horses around the world in the striding techniques that brought her success during her own impressive competitive career, and now she has compiled her knowledge in a concise book of exercises and insightful strategies: STRIDE CONTROL. Here’s the backstory of why striding rules the course.

In the 1970s, change came to the hunter-jumper world. Related measured distances became the norm. Show Hunter courses moved from big open courses on half-polo fields to a ring enclosed by a fence. Equitation and Jumper courses became more sophisticated and challenging due to professional course designing. These challenging courses required analysis and a course strategy. Walking the course became necessary. Wonderful riders such as Rodney Jenkins, Bernie Traurig, Katie Monahan Prudent, Conrad Homfeld, and Melanie Smith Taylor became our new heroes. They didn’t rely on just god-given talent. They were educated and talented. (And now we have superheroes Beezie Madden and McLain Ward!)

StrideControlPin-horseandriderbooksSince then, course design has become an art and probably one of the most important elements of a horse show. Measured distances allow and require a more knowledgeable and sophisticated ride than the old days of “hand riding and a good eye.” The rider has or should have the knowledge of the number and quality of the strides on the course (class strategy, based on the course walk or posted distances on the posted course plan), and then that knowledge has to be put into physical action.

Stride control is about the rider creating and controlling the horse’s stride and rhythm based on the knowledge the rider possesses of the course to be ridden (course analysis). Are the distances (measurements) between the jumps normal, long, or short, and how does this relate to the horse being ridden?

Striding (the counting of strides) changed the jumping world as we knew it. Everyone knew that you couldn’t teach an eye, and “feel” was never really discussed. But now a new tool for teaching was added to the equation. The measured distances based on a 12-foot stride provided predictability.

Riders and teachers knew how many strides were to be ridden between jumps. The guesswork was being taken out of riding a course, and it was being replaced with the training of both rider and horse. Dressage always had structure, but jumping was a bit of an organized free-for-all until this change. The “jumper cowboy” was about to be tamed!

Now there really could be a method to teach the rider “feel” on course and educate the rider’s eye…through counting strides.

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What is stride control all about?

• It’s about creating enough canter to get to the jump, jump the jump, and leave the jump to jump the next. The main focus is longitudinal connection (leg to hand) and control while also maintaining correct suppleness laterally, giving more control longitudinally.

• It’s about strengthening the horse and doing gymnastic exercises to improve the horse’s shape and technique over the jumps.

• It’s about the flatwork between the jumps. The hardest part about jumping a course is getting to the jumps! That’s flatwork!

 

STRIDE CONTROL by Jen Marsden Hamilton 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 videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Tik Maynard Is Turning into His Dad

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Photo by Ladd Farm Photography

We’re celebrating fathers this weekend. Thank you to eventer, trainer, horseman, and author of IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN Tik Maynard for this original essay.

God, I’m turning into my dad. I forget where I put the car keys, my wallet. I wear riding pants to the grocery store. I can’t find the milk—it’s right in front of me! I only listen to music I know the words to. My wife has to repeat herself.

Every year my dad hears my mum less and less. Recently she spent weeks deliberating how to tactfully suggest he go in for a hearing test. “Maybe he just needs a hearing aid?” she said. “It’s his happiness I’m worried about,” she explained.

After the test, the doctor sat my dad down.

“So your wife says you don’t hear her anymore?”

Dad, a little embarrassed: “That’s what she says.”

Doctor: “Well, Rick, I don’t know what you’re going to tell her…. Your hearing is fine.”

My parents met in 1957. My mother was eleven. My dad was fifteen. They both grew up in Southlands, a neighborhood in Vancouver. They both loved horses. My mother took lessons at his grandparents’ farm. (His parents, and grandparents, rode; hers did not.)  Recently I asked my mother about how they met:

“Rick was getting into trouble (rolling cars with his girlfriend, amongst other things) so he and his parents [Rick is an only child] moved back in with his grandparents. That’s when I started getting to know Rick better, but as I was fourteen and he was eighteen, and he had a steady girlfriend, there were no expectations on my part. But we used to go up the UBC trails a lot, and at one point, as we were galloping along the beach at Spanish banks, he said, ‘You are so much more fun than Sally!’ So I guess that is when I started getting a bit of a crush.

“That was how we met. How he proposed is funny, too. I was about eighteen, and he was twenty-two. We did a lot of fun stuff together: riding up trails; hikes; swimming; flying around the province in the two-seater Luscombe that was provided by Pitt Meadows Flying Club. It was Valentine’s Day, I forget the year, probably 1965 or ’66, and we went canoeing on the Squamish River. It was kind of cold and rainy and neither of us really had canoeing skills. We started to go sideways and hit a bridge overpass and capsized. The river was shallow enough that we could stand up and drag the canoe to shore. Rick’s movie camera got soaked. We aborted the trip and went home. He lit a fire and we got warmed up. At that point he produced the ring which had been in his pocket the whole day waiting for the romantic moment! But that was years before we actually got married, in 1968. We picked the date of August 29 because Gramps was the official photographer at the Pacific National Exhibition Horse Show, and in those days the PNE was divided into three sections. Your horse had to stay for the whole section, and in between there was a ‘changeover day’ where the horses went out, and the next section of horses came in. On that day there was no photographer needed, so Gramps had the day off. August 29, 1968, was changeover day at the PNE. And Gramps was the official photographer at our wedding.”

This August that will be fifty-two years.

My parents, like most couples I assume, but don’t know for sure, argued. Sometimes with my mother losing her patience. Often with my father leaving the room. But never once in my entire life did I hear the words “breakup” or “divorce.” Their relationship gave me a powerful faith in marriage, loyalty, and family.

My faith in our “family unit” was so strong it might be called blind—and this ability to weather any storm, together, is what I want to give my own family and son.

 

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Photo courtesy of Tik Maynard

 

My dad also gave me a love for animals. Far beyond that, he gave me an empathy for animals. He became a vegetarian in 1959, before it became a big fad in Vancouver. And I was born a vegetarian. I eat dairy and fish, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have tried red meat. (What we are doing to the oceans has convinced me to be more careful about fish now, too.)

I can’t imagine it was easy for my dad to tell his parents and his friends he had given up meat. Today he is just as strong in his convictions. This is how it began, again in my mother’s words:

“In 1959 Rick was living in Maple Ridge on a farm. He was in Pony Club and was selected for the Inter-Pacific Rally in Australia. The other two team members were Tom Gayford, and I think Jim Elder, but I’m not sure about that. They both flew to Australia, but the Maynards had no money, so Rick got passage on a freighter. [The MV King Arthur, carrying lumber, on the way there. The SS Suva, with a load of Sugar from Fiji, on the way back]. I think it took six weeks to get there. Anyhow, some time before he left they got a couple of piglets. Higgledy and Wiggles. ‘Large Pink’ or ‘Yorkshire’ animals. When Rick came back from Australia they were in the freezer! Trauma!”

So my Dad was seventeen when he made this seemingly small decision to act on his own beliefs rather than those of the society around him. But that decision has caused me, and many others that have met my dad, to question their own beliefs. My dad still remembers those pigs. They were intelligent. Each had a character unique to them. And both were “pink with lovely floppy ears.”

For my father to imagine an animal suffering is for him to suffer as well.

I try to carry that thoughtfulness into my career with horses. This started me down the road of learning “natural horsemanship,” and then to understanding “positive reinforcement,” and now to new ideas where I see the similarities between horses, dogs, children, even myself.

My dad taught me to ride; now it is my lifestyle and career, the same as it is for him. And my dad taught me all that by never telling me what to do.

 

 

My dad always speaks to me as if I understand. He always listens to my opinion. He lets me make mistakes. He taught me at home but always encouraged me to take lessons and clinics from other professionals. My dad has attended over 250 clinics, and he has gotten “…at least one very useful idea out of every one.”

I cannot imagine a more humble student of equestrianism than my father. He has coached riders that have gone on to Grand Prix and the Olympics. Recently he has been approached about coaching show jumping for the Canadian Modern Pentathlon Team at the next Olympics. (He has already coached that team at the Olympics twice!) Yet still, at every clinic, he makes notes. Lately he has come to some of my clinics, and he watches and asks questions.

 

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In the words of Canadian show jumping team rider Brian Morton: “ Rick has been the most incredible mentor and father figure in my life. He is a man that first and foremost leads by example. Rick is one of the most naturally talented riders I’ve ever seen. He had and has the ability to win in great style on every type of horse, in every type of event. I got the pleasure to watch Rick win many times, however I’m not sure I can ever recall a boastful moment from him. He is always the first person to give credit to the horse, or to the groom or to whoever it may be that he felt contributed to his success on that day. Rick was my coach and mentor for many years, and if I won a class he was very happy for me. However, if managed to demonstrate the values of humility, perseverance, sportsmanship and patience that he holds so dear, those were the moments that I felt he was the proudest of me”

Dad, I have learned empathy, and commitment to my family from you. You have instilled in me an unrelenting-thirst-for-improvement. Sinead says I am still working on humility.

Thanks for inspiring me, Dad. Happy Fathers Day!

 

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Rick and Brooks Maynard, photo courtesy of Tik Maynard.

Horseman Tik Maynard is the author of the bestselling IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN, available in print and digital formats from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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

The Olympics Are Postponed, But Your Dreams Don’t Have to Be

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Photo by Cathy Lynn Cimino, Equine Info Exchange

I love watching the Olympics—winter and summer. Pick a sport and I’m into it, willing to admire the athletes, agonize over the losses, celebrate the successes, and even puzzle over the “rules of the game” when it comes to contests unfamiliar to me. I grew up an athlete, and I can identify with the ambition, the guts, and the honor of being an Olympic competitor. Even though it will never be me on a balance beam, ski jump, or podium, I still get a rush seeing others reach such a goal—the kind of goal that requires much sacrifice, hours upon hours upon days upon years, for a few moments of complete and utter validation.

RFTTPin-horseandriderbooksSo with Tokyo 2020 postponed until July 2021, I’m all about finding a new way to get my Olympic fix. One way is by reading the profiles in RIDING FOR THE TEAM: INSPIRATIONAL STORIES OF THE USA’S MEDAL-WINNING EQUESTRIANS AND THEIR HORSES. 

The great thing about these stories is that they are all over the spectrum in terms of equestrian sport (all 8 FEI disciplines are included) and individual voice. Each rider, driver, and vaulter contributed a first-person account of what it took to rise to the highest levels of dressage, show jumping, eventing, reining, para dressage, driving, vaulting, and endurance. We get to hear the fascinating bits and pieces that helped make our equestrian stars great, and man, it makes for great trivia! For example, did you know:

  • Margie Engle didn’t own her own horse until she was 25?
  • Michelle Gibson got the ride on Peron after an article about her time as a working student in Germany appeared in the local newspaper?
  • Boyd Martin has always competed in his high school’s blue-and-white rugby jersey?
  • Suzy Stafford switched from eventing to driving after she bought driving lessons for her father?
  • Becca Hart works as a head barista at Starbucks when she isn’t on the road competing?
  • Andrea Fappani grew up with a classical riding background in an English saddle?
  • Valerie Kanavy paid $150 for her first horse, Princess, with savings from her piggy bank?
  • Megan Benjamin Guimarin could only eat bread pieces dipped in Nutella before competing for the World Championship?

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Boyd Martin in outgrown jodhpurs and his school’s blue-and-white ruby jersey On Lenny’s Loss. Photo courtesy of Boyd Martin from RIDING FOR THE TEAM.

There are 47 contributors in RIDING FOR THE TEAM, and as a rider—even one who no longer competes—I enjoyed discovering how each one decided representing the US in international competition was what they aspired to, and then how each pursued and accomplished that goal. Some came from humble means, some had a leg up with families in the horse business or money that helped pave the way, but all of them struggled at points…and still prevailed. 

These lessons are the best kind right now. #LetTheDreamsBegin

Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor, TSB

RIDING FOR THE TEAM 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 videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

 

47 True Stories of Winning, Losing, and “Achieving the Dream” from 8 Equestrian Sports

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“To win for the USA.” Many young athletes grow up with a goal of reaching the Olympics and the glories of their sport’s highest levels. It is no different for equestrians, whether they ride English, Western, vault, or drive a carriage. From playing with plastic ponies and taking their first riding lessons, to finding success in the arena, thousands of horse lovers hope they can one day represent the United States in international competition.

RIDING FOR THE TEAM, the new book from the United States Equestrian Team Foundation and edited by Nancy Jaffer, chronicles the lives of those who dreamed about competing for their country and “made it,” sharing inspirational stories from the FEI’s eight equestrian disciplines: show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, vaulting, reining, endurance, and para-dressage.

Readers are immersed in the fascinating histories of the medal-winning riders, drivers, and vaulters who have dominated American equestrian sport over the past 28 years, such as McLain Ward, Karen O’Connor, Debbie McDonald, and Tim McQuay. Get the inside scoop on legendary horses who have become household names, including Flexible, Biko, Verdades, and Gunners Special Nite.

Riding for the TeamOffering exclusive insights, this book gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the world of top-level equestrian sport. Athletes tell their stories and those of their horses during the years they honed their talent and dedicated their lives to representing their country in the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, World Championships, and Pan American Games. Beautifully illustrated with breathtaking photographs from prestigious competitions held around the world, RIDING FOR THE TEAM not only provides a dazzling record of American equestrian accomplishment, it promises to inspire the next generation of champions.

RIDING FOR THE TEAM 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 videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

Eventer and Coach Eric Smiley Tells Us Which Breed of Horse Is Bright Enough to Build a Boat…and Admits Two Surprising Fears

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Photo by Venkat Naryanan 

Having coffee with equestrian coach Eric Smiley is a delightful occurrence worth repeating. Certainly, a clinic with him has a similar effect. A former international event rider who represented Ireland at European, World, and Olympic level, winning team bronze medals on two occasions, he’s “been there, done that” but is also incredibly present in the here and now. His desire to ponder equestrianism, in all its minutia and across its broader themes, results in a philosophical meandering that doesn’t leave you anxious for answers—it satisfies.

We were lucky enough recently to enjoy caffeinated conversation with Smiley and talked about his book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM, what he hopes its publication might achieve, and whether there are “holes” yet to be filled in the education of those who ride, train, and work with horses.

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Photo by Venkat Naryanan

TSB: You have said that your book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is intended to “guide riders to perform better by making their lives less complicated and more fulfilling.” How do you feel riders’ lives are complicated and in what ways do you think they could be more fulfilled?

ES: Achievement produces satisfaction. Helping people achieve by giving them a road map of “how,” gives me such a thrill.

TSB: You spent nearly 10 years in a Cavalry Regiment of the Army. How did this time and experience inspire you to make horses your profession?

ES: When I moved my in-tray to my out-tray without looking at it, and it made no difference. It was time to follow my dreams.

TSB: For 18 years you were Director of the Golden Saddle Scheme in Ireland, which identifies talented young riders and helps further their riding education. What did your experiences with the Scheme teach you about achieving success with riding and with horses?

ES: The clarity of youth, the simplicity of delivery, the naivety of what can be achieved. As adults we could learn a lot from them.

TSB: You enjoy starting your homebred horses. What is it about the training process that continues to motivate you to have horses in your life and bring them along from the very beginning?

ES: Every day is a new day. I never stop trying to find solutions to the questions that horses pose.

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Photo by Irina Kuzmina


TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

ES: With hard work and a plan, anything is possible.

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?

ES: An Irish Sport Horse of course. They are enterprising, resilient, tough, and bright enough to help build a boat. The Natural World by Thomas D. Mangelsen. Photography as good as it gets.

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

ES: Ride around the world. One sees and hears things from horseback that would make this experience wonderful.

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

ES: Honesty. Say it as it is, warts and all!

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

ES: A trier. Less talented but prepared to have a go.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

ES: Rats in the dark! And having to eat squash!

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TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

ES: Buying art.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

ES: Being cautious about buying art!!

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

ES: Tonic and some really nice Sauvignon Blanc.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

ES: Exotic travel with my wife Sue.

Two Brains, One Aim

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

ES: I would ask Claude Monet for a lesson.

TSB: What is your motto?

ES: “Go on, have a go 😁”

 

Eric Smiley’s book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is 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 videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

Why We Need to Be Inspired to Ride Well

InspireMe-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Venkat Narayanan

“Being coached” and “being a coach” are two of the topics examined in Eric Smiley’s new book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM. “The aim of this book is twofold,” Eric says. “Firstly, to improve the relationship between coach (in all its guises) and rider and horse; in other words, help the rider learn how to learn, as well as guide those who help others in an instructional capacity make the way they communicate clearer. Secondly, to give those who do not have regular tutelage techniques and practical exercises to help develop riding and training skills.”

We at TSB know Eric best as a riding coach, clinician, instructor, and mentor, but we got to wondering about Eric’s own experiences as a student. Did he have a coach who influenced him in profound ways? How had he learned his craft through the years? Who did he credit for his equestrian successes? Eric was kind enough to share answers to these questions and more:

Being asked to share the story of my “best coach” has ended up becoming a reflection on who I have become and why. Trying to separate horse from person has become impossible. Surely in true horsemen and women the two become inseparable as we live our lives for and because of “the horse.”

Some of our greatest experiences in life are horse-related. Some of our moral dilemmas that have shaped us as people have their origins in equine situations. So for me to separate horse from person or to identify an individual coach is impossible.
 
Sport coaches are defined as follows:

Sport coaches assist athletes in developing to their full potential. They are responsible for training athletes in a sport by analyzing their performances, instructing in relevant skills, and by providing encouragement. But they are also responsible for the guidance of the athlete in life and their chosen sport.
 
WhyWeNeedtoBeInspired-horseandriderbooksAs a child I used to watch my father come home from a stressful and exhausting day as a consultant thoracic surgeon. None of his surgeries were normal—all were life-threatening and in the midst of the Northern Ireland troubles. I would watch him go to the stables on his way from the car to our house. He would spend some time in the company of his beloved hunter “Bob.” By the time he arrived in the house and joined our family, a semblance of peace had returned to his overstressed mind.
 
Non-commissioned officers in the army have a tendency to be direct and explicit when getting things done. There is little ambiguity or doubt in the minds of those who are at the receiving end of the order. I used to watch Ben Jones ride his army remount horse “Custer.” At the time he had been promoted from Sergeant  to Captain to Chief Instructor at Melton Mowbray. He had previously been an Olympic Rider. I was doing a six-week riding course there. Ben Jones was direct with us and his horses. Always fair, but clear what was required. I watched him school Custer on the flat and over jumps, the clarity of where responsibility lay was clear for all to see. I was left with a certainty of “be clear and fair, but make it happen.”
 
“Now, Eric , what’s your question?” Mrs. Sivewright would ask at the beginning of every riding lesson. After an embarrassing first lesson (no one had told me to be prepared), I made sure I had a question ready to ask at subsequent sessions. This sparked my curiosity forevermore. This was at the beginning of my formative nine months at the Talland School of Equitation as I embarked on my chosen career with horses. My curiosity has continued to make me look and listen to any coaching of any sport that I can and then think about how they are going about fulfilling the definition I shared above and what I can learn about about their method and delivery.
 
Two Brains, One Aim“Enterprise” was not an easy horse. Maybe that was why he was cheap and not really wanted by his previous owner! He was, however, very talented but very misunderstood. I was asked if I would like a lesson with Dr. Reiner Klimke on one of his rare visits to Ireland. What a revelation that turned out to be. Day One was disastrous. Enterprise was SO spooky as to not go anywhere near corners , doors, mirrors, spectators, or Dr. Klimke. Day Two was unbelievably wonderful. With quiet, skillful instruction, Dr. Klimke got into the mind of Enterprise and assured him that it was okay. The work was beyond the expectation of anyone present, especially me. I learned to seek excellence and to be creative in doing so.
 
The joy of living in Ireland is the people one meets and gets to know. While being part of a team setting up a coaching structure in Ireland, I got to know someone called Liam Moggan. At the time he was one of the lecturers at the Sport Coach Development Department of Limerick University. I listened, watched, and was in awe of his unerring positivity and communication skills, and his humanity. It was impossible not to come away from every encounter enriched as a person.
 
As you read this you will begin to see that I have not talked much about many riding instructors that have influenced me. At the ripe old age of (??) I believe that most people today will have had more lessons by the age of twenty than I have had in my whole life. Yes, I have been in clinics, and I have learned from those instructors. But my interest has been largely self-taught. I loved the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It poses the “nature/nurture” question of talent, but it also gives a method of achievement. Much resonated with how I saw coaching and had been plying my trade for many years. It gives one huge encouragement in what your doing when you read such a well accepted book, saying much the same.
 
However, none of all this really has much meaning or practical use unless we are inspired in some way to make it happen. Inspiration comes from many sources. I would implore you to watch a TED talk given by Dame Ellen MacArthur in 2015 (CLICK HERE).

I’m not making any political statement by recommending it, but listening to her it is impossible not to be inspired.

Eric Smiley’s book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is available now 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 videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

Is Your Horse the Love of Your Life, but Completely Wrong for You?

KNOWBETTERDOBETTER-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Heidi Osgood-Metcalf

In his newest book KNOW BETTER TO DO BETTER, horseman, Tevis-Cup-Buckle-winner, and gold medalist in eventing Denny Emerson examines the question of whether or not you keep the horse that is the love of your life…but is completely wrong for you. Read on:

Hesnogoodbutilovehimsoicantgetridofhim

If your mental machete is sharp enough to hack through the verbiage of this heading, you can probably also understand and maybe even empathize with the dilemma it implies. Most of us have found ourselves possessed of or possessed by the wrong horse. Wrong for any of a thousand valid and invalid reasons: too hot to ride, too unsound, too poor a mover, too limited over a fence, too unpleasant in the barn, too old, too young, too big, too small—too unsuitable for what we actually need to have.

The Unsuitability Game

Sometimes the unsuitability has come in the flash of an eye. He hobbles in from the field one morning with a non-life-threatening but athletic-career-ending injury. Or, as with incipient navicular disease, it has been sneaking up, month by month. Or we’ve had one too many spin-and-fall-off episodes. Or too many refusals at too many events or shows. Whatever and however the cause or reason, deep down we know that this is not the horse that can take us to places we want to go.

Now What?

If the horse is a pet, and you don’t care if you actually ride or not, and if the unsuitability only renders the horse unfit for riding, you can just keep on keeping on. Or if you are rich enough to turn him into a pasture ornament and still get one or more other horses that you can ride, you are also just fine. You aren’t the person I’m addressing.

KnowBetterDoBetterPIN-horseandriderbooksBut what if you do love to ride, don’t have extra cash under your mattress, can’t successfully ride this one, but can’t bear to part with him? This is a real dilemma that thousands of riders face every day and there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. In the case of long-term unsoundness, there’s the euthanasia issue. In the “old days,” when horses were utilitarian and there was little cash for luxuries, this was done all the time out of sheer economic necessity.

Hard Answers

I know lots of people who basically look at the issue like this: This horse is lame. It’s not a question of whether he will be put down, but when. If I can’t give him away, and can’t afford to keep him and another, then now is better than later since it’s unavoidable anyway, and just a matter of when. For those who aren’t able to face this, I guess they just have to stop riding while they wait for the horse to get old enough to die.

There are plenty of sound horses, though, but wrong for other reasons, like some I mentioned. Just because a horse might be a bad jumper or not have a fancy enough trot to make it in dressage might not mean he can’t make a nice trail or pleasure horse. The rider has to choose. “Do I want a horse that’s a round peg that I’m trying to force into the square hole, or would he be happier in a more fitting job, and would I be happier with one that seems suited to my ambitions?”

The One Key

There is one key in all of this. The right choice has to be your choice. You  are not a bad person if you put down a lame horse now rather than four years from now, unless you think you are. You don’t have to be well mounted, but you probably should be if your main aim is to get ahead in your riding.

So, look at the horse you have. Look at your real goals. Then decide a best course of action. Or not. (Since putting this off is what you’ve been doing anyway!)

KNOW BETTER TO DO BETTER by Denny Emerson 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.