Category Archives: Guest Posts

9 Really Good Reasons Why Endurance Riders Need To Embrace Dressage

flatworkPoor, much-maligned dressage.  It’s the very antithesis of everything an endurance rider holds dear.  Who wants to celebrate the anality of the quest for the perfect 20-metre circle, when you could be heading down the trail, tackling the terrain and coping with the weather and never being judged on what you’re wearing and how many fussy little braids are in your horse’s mane?

It’s true.  Dressage sounds stuffy, boring, and more than a little OCD to lots of people.  It’s not just you.  I’m an eventer (and a certified coach, for the past 30 years or so), and I get it.  I do.   Historically, dressage was the part of eventing that you had to suffer through in order to get to the good stuff:  the running and jumping, hell-for-leather parts.

But here’s the thing.  Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that it was the dressage which enabled me to live to see dinner on a cross-country course.  And that’s a wee revelation I’d like to share with more endurance riders.

Loosely translated, dressage, after all, means simply, “training”.  Think of it as installing some buttons on your horse.  Buttons which improve his rideability, and make him a joy to ride instead of a struggle.  I don’t know about you, but the longer I am in the saddle on a given day, the more I want my partner to be a pleasure, not a pain in the tuckus!  buttons

You can definitely do long-distance riding without knowing a single, solitary thing about dressage.  Many do.  Thanks to my students, some of whom are competitive endurance riders, I have been dabbling in the sport myself over the past few years — it’s great conditioning for my event horses — and I can generally spot the riders for whom dressage is a foreign concept, as well as the ones who know a bit about it.

Guess which ones generally look like they have a truly rewarding partnership with their horses?

I’m aware that the very reason some people get into endurance is that they can’t stand riding in an enclosed ring.  (By the way, you can just as easily incorporate dressage out on the trail — you do not need to be trapped in an arena!)  But I’d like to give you some food for thought.  Herewith, nine reasons why you should consider incorporating some “stress-age” into your preparation for any long-distance ride, competitive or otherwise.

#1:  Comfort:  Dressage teaches your horse to willingly accept the guidance, or aids, of your legs, seat, and hands.  With dressage training, he learns to push with the big muscles of the hindquarters, lift and engage his ribcage and his spine to better support your weight, and softly accept contact.  The end result is a horse who isn’t fighting your hands all the time, doesn’t have his head in your lap or tucked up against his chest in an effort to avoid the contact, and goes willingly forward in a straight line.  Bliss!

#2:  Communication:  A horse who moves ‘from leg to hand’ and softly accepts contact with the bit, is way, way easier to steer and to stop than one who doesn’t understand contact or has learned to avoid it.  And one of the aims of more advanced dressage is to teach your horse to position his shoulders, his barrel, and his hindquarters independently, so you can show him exactly where you want all his body parts to be.  Imagine how useful that might be on a narrow, cliffside trail or a steep hillside where there’s really only one safe route up or down!  Or here’s a more common scenario:  How about being able to safely pass other horses on the trail (or have them pass you), without your horse swinging his quarters to kick or crowd your fellow competitors?

strength#3:  Strength:  Dressage is largely about teaching your horse to use the ‘engine’ of the hindquarters to propel him forward, and lift and carry himself as well as you.  Left to his own devices, your horse carries about 65% of his weight over his front legs, and only 35% over the hind, but shifting that balance back has huge benefits when he’s being asked to carry a rider.  A horse who’s pushing from behind also lifts his belly and rounds his spine (again, supporting your weight better), arches his neck and flexes at the poll.  He seeks and reaches for the contact instead of doing everything in his power to avoid it.  All of this builds essential muscle along his topline, from head to tail, making him stronger and more up to the task of packing you over hill and dale for miles and miles and miles.  He’s going to work longer, with less fatigue, than a horse who hasn’t had this strength training.

#4:  Balance (His):  One of the other building blocks of dressage is teaching your horse to carry himself in balance and with straightness.  Horses are ‘sided’, just like humans, and also like us they are inherently lazy:  they don’t want to work the weaker side, and given their druthers, will avoid it.  But you can gently persuade your horse to make that weaker side just as strong as the one he prefers to use (most horses are left-‘handed’).  That means he’s going to push more evenly with both hind legs as he sends both of you forward.  And when he’s pushing evenly with the hind end, he’s sparing some concussion on the front legs — and that can mean fewer soundness problems than a horse who’s always pounding his front joints.  It also means he’s going to have an easier (and safer) time going up and down hills, and handling slick footing.

#5:  Rhythm:  In the sport of eventing, you quickly learn that a horse carrying himself at a steady, rhythmic pace fatigues himself far less than one who’s asked to sprint, throttle back, and surge forward again repeatedly.  The same is true for endurance horses.  Some horses naturally have better rhythm than others, but dressage can improve the awareness of rhythm (which goes hand in hand with balance), so that wherever the trail allows, you can let your horse cruise along at a steady pace, taking as little out of himself as possible.

bad-habits#6:  Balance (Yours):  I’ve seen some wonderfully intuitive, balanced riders in the sport of endurance … and I’ve also seen some who ride like a 250 lb. bag of bricks.  You are doing your horse no favours if you are not a) over his centre of gravity (which runs more or less through the heart-girth, just behind the scapula and the front legs), with b) your weight evenly distributed on either side of his spine.  Leaning in on your turns, collapsing your weight over your active leg, habitually shifting harder into one stirrup than the other … all of these take their toll on your poor horse, who has to constantly compensate for your imbalances.  Dressage is wonderful for teaching you to sit in the middle of your horse, distributing your weight accurately and evenly, with your legs underneath you, not out on the dashboard or so far back that you are pivoting on your knees and tipping over your horse’s shoulders.  It also strengthens those all-important abdominal core muscles, which enable you to keep that balanced position, longer.  (Full-time dressage riders have crazy core.)

#7:  Maneuverability:  The afore-mentioned ability to position your horse’s shoulders, barrel, and hindquarters independently comes from practising lateral work, the blanket term for any movement where you ask your horse to move sideways.  In terms of endurance horses and riders, I don’t really care whether your shoulder-in is textbook perfect and would get a 9 from any dressage judge in town — but I do care that your horse understands the basic principles of moving away from leg pressure.  If you ever find yourself having to open and close a gate from horseback, you’ll immediately appreciate that your horse knows enough dressage to maneuver that obstacle — especially if you’re short, like me, and would really rather not dismount!

#8:  Cross-Training:  Another thing that eventing has taught me is the value of cross-training.  Because eventing has three separate phases, there’s always something to work on — and as a result, event horses rarely get ‘sour’, either mentally or physically, unlike horses who are drilled day after day at one thing.  Even a long-distance horse can benefit from different kinds of stimulation for his brain and his body.  A little ring-work, every now and then, is an excellent complement to those long conditioning rides.

free spirit#9:  Getting Rid of Nasty Gadgets:  Maybe this sounds judgey, but when I see a lot of harsh equipment on a horse — severe bits, tight tie-downs, leverage nosebands, draw reins, and such — I assume that’s a horse (and probably, a rider) who hasn’t had much correct training.  I’m not so much of a fanatic that I insist that every horse in the universe should go in a plain loose-ring snaffle — but 90% of dressage (up until the very highest levels, where double bridles are introduced) is done in a basic snaffle, with no martingales, shanked devices, or other gadgets allowed.  With correct training, you shouldn’t need any of those.  And really, if a relaxed, confident, and happy partnership is what you’re aiming for, wouldn’t you rather put the time in on learning to communicate with each other, rather than using adversarial equipment?

If anything I’ve said here has persuaded you, then consider seeking out some dressage lessons over the winter, while you’re waiting for the competitive season to start up again.  Look for a coach who’s not too pedantic and has some understanding of the demands of your sport, and how dressage can be adapted for your needs.  You might just find you forge a stronger relationship with your horse in the process.  Let me know how it goes!

 

Karen Briggs is an Equestrian Canada certified Level II coach based in Alliston, Ontario.  She has been coaching and training since the mid 1980s (eek!), and is available on a freelance basis to help you get your dressage on — contact her at ridexc@hotmail.com.  She’s also a freelance journalist who has written for most of the world’s English-language horse magazines at one time or another; her sometimes-NSFW blog is Writing From the Right Side of the Stall.

 

 

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It’s about Passion-by Jean Abernethy

“If you let yourself be drawn into your life by the strange pull of that which you are passionate about, you will not be led astray”. —Jean Abernethy creator of Fergus the Horse

 

In my experience, staying true to one’s passion has been the thread that keeps life meaningful, and fun. No doubt, in writing this philosophy to equestrian readers, I’m preaching to the choir.  After all, we are equestrians, first and foremost because of a major passion….horses.

 

In forging a career which combined horses and art, I can now recount with delight the number places I’ve been, because of my passion for horses. I never considered travel to be one of my passions, but here I am, many years, and thousands of miles later.

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Learning to drive as well as ride horses, opened doors for me. As an artist, drawing various harnesses, from draft harness to race harness, made my knowledge valuable to the standardbred industry. I also got a job in Georgia driving carriage horses in some beautiful historic places.  Because of my studies as an artist, I already knew the harness, what the parts were called, how it all worked.  My boss just needed to show me the tricks of putting it on. I’ll never forget driving in Barnsley Gardens in North Georgia.  It was the site of an old pre-Civil War cotton plantation-turned-resort.  Some of the trees, rosebushes and shrubs in the gardens around the mansion are well over 150 years old.  The mansion itself lost its roof to a tornado in the 1950s. Driving for Yellow Rose Carriages, is an experience I’ll always treasure.

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Near my home in Marrietta GA, Kennesaw National Battlefield Park was a place of solace for many miles and years in the saddle. Civil war tranches are carefully preserved there.

 

Visiting Monty & Pat Roberts’ Flag Is Up Farms in the San Yanez valley of California, to take a seminar with then, stable manager Crawford Hall changed my horsemanship for the better, and opened innumerable doors for me as an illustrator. Fergus himself, was born shortly thereafter.

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Driving to a Friesian breeding farm near Raleigh, North Carolina, for a client who wanted Friesian horse cartoons, led to the creation of my character “Kase” now a member of Fergus’s herd of friends. To my delight, my passion for horses, and my artistic career, had taken me coast to coast in the USA.

 

Just a few years later, I flew to England to visit an equestrian friend I met in California. Our combined passion for horses had us gazing into the church-like rafters of the last pre-1900 riding arena (school) left in England that was still in equestrian use…the racing stable of the legendary Eclipse…and Epsom Downs. (where I later took Fergus for a gallop on this photo I took during my visit. (I rarely put Fergus into a photo that I have not taken myself.)

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Membership with American Horse Publications has taken me to several US cities, too, and I’ve been treated to, not just tourism, but tourism that interests equestrians: Saratoga, Keenland, Williamsburg…and in SanAntonio Texas I made this sketch inside the Alamo. Cameras were not permitted inside the building.

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My passion for horses has drawn me to visit, repeatedly, a saddle manufacturing shop and a saddle tree manufacturing shop, tucked away in the Tennessee hills. Each is as colourful in character and culture as its proprietor. These special places have now also become part of my story. Here are four saddles that I have built and ridden.

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The experience of riding 25 miles a day for two weeks, gives one a new perspective on travel, and history. With friends and family members, my little mare Willow and I accompanied this special group of horses and people from Lindsay to Cornwall, ON. How I treasure my journal kept daily along that adventure! Here we are in the middle of the pack, on the road near Douro, ON.

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After the publication of my first book, Fergus has taken me to New York City where I had a ride in Central Park and toured the stables where the carriage horses live.

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Since moving back home to Canada from the US, I’ve been privileged to work for South Algonquin Trails, a trail guiding company near Harcourt, ON. There I learned more of the history of Ontario’s legacy of logging and forestry.

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A side note, my grandfather, I was told, drove a “Snatch Team” while working in the bush in winter. This required exceptional horsemanship. On iced logging roads the sleighs, heavily laden, would slide along nicely, pulled by one pair of horses. Two teams, however, were often needed to get the sleigh started. Imagine the caution and expertise needed to hook a team of 4 onto a sleigh, enormously laden with logs. Two drivers would send all 4 horses into their collars at once to start the sleigh (hob-nailed boots on ice, and sharp-shod horses!) Once the sleigh was moving, the driver of the front pair, or “Snatch Team” would unhook on the move, and get out of the way, leaving the remaining team to take the load out. One misstep could be tragic.

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Being a part of the crew at South Algonquin Trails has brought me closer to my own history, and has also connected me with whole new rounds of friends; friends who have introduced me to playing Mounted Games, and my very first Competitive Trail Tide. The friendships, lessons and experiences working for and with my SAT friends, are too numerous to account for in a single blog…and 2017 is already filling up with scheduled travel and adventure…

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A passion is a pathway to an enriching life. Never brush it aside. Dive in heart first. When life gets tough, your passion, your deepest love, will be the thing that holds it all together for you.  Saddle up and keep going…

 

Jean Abernethy creator of Fergus the Horse

 

The Summer Of A Lifetime

During the summer I traveled across the pond for what was one of the most amazing summers a mounted games rider could have ever asked for. Mounted games is a branch of equestrian sport in which very fast relay races are played by people of all ages on ponies up to a height of 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm).They require a high degree of athletic ability, good riding skills, hand-to-eye coordination, determination, perseverance, and a competitive spirit, which nevertheless requires an ability to work together with other riders and a willingness to help one another.

I left July 10th from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on route to Dublin, Ireland. My family and I took the 8 hour flight which seemed more like 20 hours to Dublin, where we then traveled 3 hours by car (on the wrong side of the road) to the small town of Killarney.  For the first 2 days we had some down time to recover from jet-lag, and do some touring around the area including castle touring. After our down time the fun began at Mounted Games World Team Championships (WTC)  in Millstreet, Ireland about 30 minutes from where we were staying. Our week at WTC began with the drawing of ponies. We could not ship our ponies over we had to use borrowed ones. Our Canadian team learned really fast the large ponies we ride in Canada are the complete opposite from Irelands small ponies.  The pony I rode was named Uno who was about 13’1hh. It was a weird feeling riding a pony that I could wrap my legs around but it made things much easier when it came to playing the games.

Practice sessions took place on Monday and Tuesday as we had to get used to a ponies we had never ridden before. The qualifying sessions began on Wednesday and ran through until Friday where we rode 2 sessions a day against teams including Ireland, England, France, Wales, Australia, South Africa and more. The qualifying session placed our team in the C Final with Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. We played as hard as we could but ended up falling just short of 2nd in our final.

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After the fun and games at the Gala dinner it was off to live with the family I would stay with for the next three weeks. I lived with a amazing family from Ireland that worked a cattle farm but also played mounted games. The first week with the family was just a relaxing week to have some down time and ride some more Irish ponies. I got to experience some of the Irish culture and “live like an Irishman” as they said.

The end of the first week we packed all of our things and started our 2 day journey to Germany stopping in Dover, England for half a day so the drivers of the lorries could rest. We Arrived in Luhmühlen, Germany for the European championships. During the week I got to watch some of the best riders from all over Europe compete from the ages of under-12 to open where there is riders that are 30+ years old. I got to meet and make friends with so many riders in Germany and experience the German culture at the same time.

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When the competition was over we packed up yet again for my final journey by car to the World Pairs Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark. At world pairs I got the chance to ride with the middle daughter of the family I was living with, Laoise.  We compete in the Under-17 world pairs. The week began with finding my pony that I would be borrowing for the week, her name war Bertha. We had our practice Sessions on Monday And Tuesday then luckily got the whole day Wednesday off before the competition. Wednesday we walked to the train station where we took the train to the city and spent the day at an amusement park. The competition started early Thursday when we rode our first session at 7:30 A.M we had an amazing first session and were sitting tied for 3rd overall after the first day. Friday morning we had a rough heat riding with the 3 past Under-17 pairs champions which dropped us in points but we managed to have a good second session to make up for it. Saturday morning was the finals. Although again our final was the C final, at 7:30 A.M my mom still got out of bed at 1:30 here in Canada to watch the live stream and cheer me on. Laoise and I ended up 2nd in the C final Only 1 point behind 1st.

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Sunday morning brought an end to all the fun and GAMES when we travelled to the airport for my long flight home to see my family.

Hoofprints for Diabetes

Hey everyone! I was kindly invited to talk about my Ride! I’m new to writing posts so here we go!

Well! Ill start with myself and my horse! My name is Alexandra Teske and my Horse goes by Hidalgo. Hidalgo is a 7 year old Appaloosa.  My husband had discovered Hidalgo (5 years at the time) while horse training for another couple who could not handle Hidalgo. He had spunk,  fiest, was stubborn and had trust issues from earlier owners who called him Hammer Head. Not good for a beginning rider, BUT! My husband saw potential and after training we purchased him and joined him with our horses. After a lot of hard work, in the end he has learned to trust. I realized this when he protected me and stepped between me trying to help a calf and momma trying to get to calf no matter what!

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My husband is a healthy type 1 diabetic, and when I met him I knew nothing much about Diabetes. Every day I learn more about it and there is more to learn. I was getting frustrated as I was finding out how many people have to deal with it! I discovered 20 people every hour are being diagnosed, and the breaking point was when we went to our local swimming pool. My daughter (4) had been visiting with another girl her age while we were there. While we were getting ready to leave she had asked her mom for a snack. I was not really paying attention at this point and just getting our bags packed to leave. Her mom then asked if she had tested. I stopped what I was doing. I thought “no she’s not….” yupp… she asked for help with her insulin pump, and was testing her blood. She was diabetic. This cute sweet little 4 year old girl. That could easily be my daughter as well! I realized this is far to common and we need to be fixing this. So I talked to The Canadian Diabetes Association, and with their help started Hoofprints for Diabetes.

You see with Hidalgo we had already been riding to our local town and back, about an hour each way, and always enjoyed the idea of endurance activities. Ill add we are very new to this! haha! Thankfully Sarah has been helping with answering my questions and tips!

I decided to ride from Lang, SK to Regina, SK. and have been practicing for this along the local highway here (my husband decided to join with his horse Wrangler-> a paint. We have a link we have on our Facebook page for people to donate to The Canadian Diabetes Association. Donations or not, I really just want to bring more awareness to this as it is very frustrating and this idea to help with a ride has been sitting in my head for about 3 years now. I just finally put it into action after I realized Hidalgo’s trust issues had become way better!(the whole take a bullet, well a cow, for me thing).

SO! For the ride this is my first endurance ride so we are using what we know and what others have mentioned and sorted out what would work for us! We are keeping up on nutrition for the horses of coarse! Practicing daily, or if we did lots on one day a rest day in between. We judge distance by our neighbors farms and land points… it’s flat in Saskatchewan or at least on the prairies. Haha!

We will be packing a lunch and snacks, as my husband needs snacks and emergency sugar for the ride. Snacks for keeping his blood sugars regular, emergency sugar for when he goes low (I’m not sweet enough 😉 ). We also have a kind fertilizer company Ren Gro Fertilizer, and a farm helping provide us with stops and breaks with water for our horses.  We plan to leave Lang by 9 am to make it to Ren Gro for lunch. and will have our saddle bags packed with not only the foods for the ride but waters, my husbands blood testing case and supplies, cell phones, bug spray ( hoping I won’t need it for Hidalgo… he’s terrified its something dark and fierce coming out of the can to get him lol!), and a sweater/raincoat tied on the back of our saddles.  We might add more but for now this is where we are at, and our saddle bags will be full with food, and diabetes supplies.

The distance for if your unsure of how far of a ride this is, is between 47-48 Km. We are new to this like I said but we are estimating between 8-9 hrs!? As we will be providing a 1 hour lunch rest for the horses and breaks for water as we go along we will see I guess and just take it one hoof print at a time! We are in no rush and hope to enjoy the distance and view of our little piece of Saskatchewan with our horses.

Challenges… Every choice has them. So what do I guess we might face along our journey!?There is the possibility of passing farms with farm dogs that could be chasers or worse, so i worry about that. That is my number one worry as we did already while practicing pass a farm with dobermans that ran straight for us fast and mean.. and we had to booker out of there. ( jeepers !Hidalgo has some real quick go go in him!) mental highfive with Hidalgo!:). I was also worried about water but with the amount of help we are getting along the way I no longer worry as they all will be supplying water.  We will be taking lots of rest stops and like I said are going to just take our time with it so the horses are not worn out as this is our first journey and it is not timed 🙂 We may face other challenges but I know my husband and I work really well together and will sort them out as need be. Our first priority is keeping us and the horses safe.

I look forward to this and am very nervous as it is our very first endurance ride of this distance. The amount of people being supportive has been of great help and I am looking forward to what the day brings! I will be keeping people posted on our facebook page of our journey and posting live video throughout the day. Please think about those facing diabetes. There are many ways to make a difference so find out ways in your community to help make a change. I know we even have clothing donation bins and the funds go to The Canadian Diabetes Association. Take care! As my 3 littles like to say to me for goodluck          ” And don’t Crash!”

Alexandra Teske


From Sarah:

I was so thrilled to come across Alexandra’s story, shared about the internet.  Her story hit a personal chord, as both of my Mom’s sisters were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as young children.  Susan passed away a few years ago but I still see her occasionally in old mementos and purple and white flowers (her wedding colours).  Nancy is still here and one of my strongest supporters- always one of the first to comment on my posts and offering words of encouragement.  She has been through far more than most people I know, and is the epitome of Endurance – still going on cruises and up to the cottage despite physical limitations. She is a model to me to live life on my own terms and never give up. And my Grandparents, who dedicate themselves to caring for their daughters even into their old age, Alexandra reminds me of them, and how Diabetes affects not just a single person, but an entire family and community.

So needless to say, I reached out to Alexandra immediately so I could help with her cause, kindred as we are! I am so happy to feature her on my blog here, please support her by liking the facebook page, making a donation to the cause, and sharing this over and over!

One last thing to note, she is setting out on her adventure TODAY!