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The Tryon International Equestrian Center

August 17, 2014

tryon_international_equestrian_center
Hunter/jumper shows have already begun.

The big news right now where I live in Tryon, N.C., should also be big news for equestrians in the U.S., if not worldwide.  The Tryon International Equestrian Center opened last month, and while what's there already is impressive, the plans for the future are mind-blowing.

 

This was a “soft” opening, with no publicity beyond what was necessary to let the hunter/jumper community know there were three weeks of classes being offered.  So, with no notice at all, there were 1,500 spectators for the first Sunday grand prix, with a purse of $50,000.  In all, there were six grand prix jumper events over the three weeks, three with purses of $25,000, two with $50,000 and one with $75,000, plus a full slate of hunter classes and lower-level jumper classes.

 

Mark Belissimo, the main force behind this project, gave a report of the project to a recent Polk County Commissioners meeting.  He was downright gleeful with his reception here after the political struggles he’s faced in Wellington, Fla.,(and still faces) over his huge equestrian facility there.  He made the statement that he and his supporters (six families, all private money, with no financing involved) intend this to be “the finest equestrian facility in the world.” 

 

That’s quite a promise, but it may be well on its way.  There was just bare hills in January, but now there are five rings, 500 stalls, support buildings and a lot more land clearing going on.  Eventually there will be 10 rings, a 6,000-seat stadium (the light poles are up already) and 1,000 stalls.  That’s just the start – there will be a hotel overlooking the equestrian center plus another resort hotel inside the 1,400-acre development that will also include 800 home sites, a golf course, RV park, shopping facilities and all the other support stuff that a community of this scope will need.

 

There is a website, of course, and a video with all the grand plans.

 

After the commissioners’ meeting, I asked Roger Smith – one of the partners, who has lived in the Tryon area for a decade – whether Bellissimo’s bold promise  also means a bid for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in eight or 12 years.  His simple answer was:  ‘We’ve talked about it.”  The WEG (going on later in August in France) is held every four years, alternately with the Olympics.  In four years, it’s headed to Bromont, Canada, but the huge scope of the competition is such that there aren’t a lot of sites bidding.  If the WEG doesn’t come to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina eight years from now, because that would be back-to-back stops in North America, then 2022 is a very real possibility.

 

I mentioned this idea to several local people who just didn’t catch on to the magnitude of the idea.  In 2010, when the WEG was in Lexington KY at the Kentucky Horse Park, it was the second biggest sporting event in the world that year (after soccer’s World Cup) and the largest in the U.S.  There were 500,000 tickets sold for the slate of eight FEI disciplines.

 

I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea, since this corner of Polk county just doesn’t have that kind of infrastructure or facilities – if the WEG comes to Tryon, spectators will be commuting from Charlotte, N.C., and Greenville, S.C.

 

But, there were already a lot of neigh-sayers (pun intended) who’ve been proven wrong by Bellissimo.  I won’t be surprised if I could rent my spare bedroom (or my horse's stall) for a lot of money for two weeks, eight years from now.    

 

 

 

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Where's Your Outside Rein?

By Margaret Freeman, August 10, 2014


outer-rein

 

The horse uses his head and neck somewhat separately from his body to help maintain his balance, almost as a counterweight. When you ask the horse to bend, such as when you go around a corner, you use your hips, shoulders, inside leg and a slight inside rein. The outside rein and leg are equally important, as they keep the horse aligned nose-to-tail. Many riders minimize the impact of these outer aids, mainly because the way a rider's mind works goes against the way a horse's body works.

From where the rider is sitting, her eyes are directed to the horse's head and she may be tempted to apply the reins like a steering wheel. The problem is that the only part of the horse she's really steering is the head, which can go one way while his body goes the other way. Eventually the body will get there as well but not in a very balanced manner - picture a green 6-year-old child trying to steer a pony.

To better control the horse's body, the rider should rely more on her posture, seat and legs than her hands, and to do that the outside rein has to stay in contact with the horse's neck. Remember: The outside rein controls and steadies the horse.

When you're riding in a ring and you approach a corner, the horse becomes heavier on his inside shoulder unless he's been conditioned to carry more weight to his hindquarters, like upper-level dressage horses, open jumpers and reiners. The tendency to become heavier on the inside shoulder is accentuated when the weight of the rider is added to the horse's task.


As the horse and rider go around the ring, they tend to fall into the corners and drift in from the rail. In an effort to keep the horse from drifting in too much, the rider may want to open her outside hand. But, since the horse's body tends to move away from the head, that hand coming off the neck keeps only the horse's head near the rail. The rest of the horse's body swings even more to the inside.

Basically, if you want to keep your horse's head and neck in line with the rest of his body - and for you to be able to point the entire horse where you want him to go - the outside rein should never come off the neck.

The correct position actually begins with the inside rein, which should widen slightly away from the withers, just enough to direct the horse's nose to the inside. The rider should be able to see just the horse's eyelash in front of the cheek piece of the bridle. Any more neck bend than that and the horse will become rigid through his top line or possibly escape sideways through his outside shoulder. This slight inside neck bend will create a bulge in the outside of the neck where the rider can place her outside rein. Overall, you are looking for bend under the rider's inside leg, not so much through the neck.

 

The rider will now be able to use her outside rein to keep the shoulders in line with the hindquarters, an action also known as "shoulder-fore." When the horse is straight nose-to-tail, it's much easier for the rider to use the inside leg to keep the horse in the track on the long side of the arena and to stay balanced through the corners.

Another important element in keeping the horse's body straight on the line of travel is that the rider's shoulders should be parallel to the horse's shoulders while her hips are parallel to the horse's hips. Her shoulders should go in the same direction that she wants her horse's shoulders to go. Many people lead with their inside shoulder on corners and circles, and this has the effect of turning the horse's shoulders to the outside, thus bringing the rider's outside hand off the neck.

While it may seem counterintuitive at first, the rider should practice turning at the waist when starting any corner or circle so that her upper body faces through the turn. The inside hip goes forward and the inside shoulder goes back so they are aligned with each other. Most of the time, you can make the horse turn by not doing anything with your hands at all, just by turning at the waist so that your inside shoulder comes back.

This places the outside rein more in contact with the outside neck/shoulder and brings the forehand around the haunches. That one simple motion of the rider's waist and shoulders allows the horse's whole body to turn.


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Getting the Horse’s Cooperation

By Margaret Freeman, July 02, 2014

ydf-filler-training-scale-chart-web

Let’s talk for a moment about semantics and, yes, the pun is intended.  A discussion is starting in dressage circles about the word “submission.” The concept of submission goes to the heart of horse training no matter what the discipline. You can download a PDF of the above graphic here.

At the bottom of a U.S. Equestrian Federation dressage test score sheet there are six additional boxes for collective marks:  gaits, impulsion and submission plus three more for the rider’s position and aids.  (The FEI uses only four boxes on international tests:  gaits, impulsion, submission and rider).  There has been some talk about whether it might be a good idea to substitute “cooperation” for the box under “submission.”

In other words, do we want our horses to work with us or simply submit to our will?

The submission score is defined as:  “Attention and confidence, lightness and ease of movements, acceptance of the bridle, lightness of the forehand.”  Actually, to me that sounds a lot more like cooperation than it does submission.

Does such a semantic distinction really matter all that much?  Is it worth our time and effort to discuss, or even a much greater amount of time and money to make such a dramatic change to widely distributed dressage tests?  As a journalist, I believe in the power of words, and there are plenty of instances where the use of certain words in the horse world can confuse people.  Start with the basic word “collection,” which means something very different to a dressage rider than it does to a hunter rider.

“Submission” has a rather harsh connotation, as in being compliant to authority.  “Cooperation” sounds more like a horse and rider are working with each other.  I like the sound of that.  I keep telling my non-horse friends that there can be only one alpha mare in a relationship and for my own good it better not be the one that weighs 1,200 pounds. But things are a lot more fun when I ride (not to mention when I’m on the ground) if my mare does what I ask her, not what I tell her, even though once in a while I do need to insist with some emphasis.  After all, I weigh a lot less and I break more easily.

Several years ago, there was another semantic discussion in the dressage world that resulted in some changes to the Training Scale. I am not sure under whose authority the change was made, and there are a bunch of different versions of the Training Scale out there now.  For non-dressage folks, the Training Scale is a sort of food pyramid where the nutrition blocks are replaced by the building blocks of training.  The Training Scale is also the basis for determining scores on a dressage tests – if all the elements are fulfilled the score is high, while if one or two elements are mission the score is low – an over-simplified explanation but basically how it works.  At the base of the Training scale is Regularity (three clean gaits) followed in ascending order by relaxation, contact, impulsion straightness and finally collection under the point at the top.

The discussion was over the heading of relaxation vs. suppleness, which had been the previous heading for the second box in the table.  The argument – a good one I feel – was that a horse can be relaxed without being supple, but that a horse can’t be supple without being relaxed.  Picture a horse lying in his stall.  That horse is pretty relaxed, but you wouldn’t describe him as supple.  The “relaxation” advocates, however, won out on that one.

Okay, so this all a lot of talk.  Does it matter?  Judges discuss shadings of performance and rules all the time, but this gets closer to black and white than to gray.  Even if the heading for the submission score isn’t eventually changed, the discussion is still worthwhile. 

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Barn Drama

By Margaret Freeman, June 26, 2014

barn_drama

Our barn is full of positive-thinking people.
Back in April, the Wall Street Journal printed an article on Barn Drama.  Really?! Must have been a really slow news day.

I just heard about it and, with the wacky world of the internet I was able to find the back issue and read it.  It made some valid points but was overall poorly researched and reported – made boarding barns sound worse than the “cool table” at a high school cafeteria.

One point seemed to be that people in a multi-discipline barn just can’t get along.  Really?!  I have mostly boarded in multi-discipline barns over the past 40 years, usually hanging out with eventers, hunters and jumpers if the barn had good management and care and was easy for my commute.  I especially enjoyed boarding with eventers.  (“Okay, let’s hit the trails!)

The barn I’m in now is a pure joy.  Yes, we all do dressage so there are never jumps set up in the covered arena, although there are some out in the field.  My BO takes exquisite care of the footing – it’s watered and dragged daily.  We all help each other out and there is a lot of laughing going on.  (DQs with a sense of humor?!  Really?!)  Gossip is kept at a minimum – no need for it when we are all pretty much positive thinkers.

Boarding barns are a microcosm of life in a way.  When you get a mixture of people in a tight environment, all with their separate concerns, and then add the pressures and emotions of maintaining an expensive animal, things can get heated.  If someone isn’t comfortable in a particular barn environment, the best solution is to find another barn.  If that’s not possible, then you have to keep more to yourself and that can be difficult as well, not to mention blunting the enjoyment of spending time with your horse.

But, I have found that barn drama isn’t automatic.  Mostly it comes from the attitude and standards set by the people running the barn.  If they are positive and considerate, they won’t tolerate boarders who are cranky.  If you need to move to a new barn, make sure the person running it is someone you can respect.

 



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Judging Western Dressage

By Margaret Freeman, June 18, 2014

western_dressage

The western dressage score sheet doesn't include impulsion.
Last weekend I had my first venture into judging western dressage.  I’ve gone on record as not being particularly happy about the term “western dressage.”  To me dressage is dressage, and tack does not define it.  My biggest concern with the idea is that, instead of trot or canter, the gaits referred to in western dressage are jog and lope. Because of that distinction, the U.S. Dressage Federation has not adopted western dressage under its aegis.  However, The U.S. Equestrian Federation, which writes the competition rules for straight dressage shows, now has a separate western dressage division, and it is to be judged by licensed USEF dressage judges like myself. 

I was invited to judge the dressage classes at a Morgan show, open only to horses of that breed.  (Some breed shows open their dressage classes to all comers, but not this specific show.) I was told it would include western dressage classes, and I explained my reservations to the show management, that I would need to score as insufficient any jog that wasn’t clearly a diagonal two-beat gait or any lope that wasn’t clearly three-beat, just as I would at any regular dressage show. They said no problem.  I then studied the USEF rules and the western tests at length.  They also emphasized that the jog would be a diagonal two-beat gait and the lope a clear three-beat gait. So far, so good.

The Morgan division used to write its own rules for western dressage, but since the USEF added a separate western dressage division last year, the Morgans have dropped their own rules and tests in lieu of those rules instead.  This was a good plan – makes things more consistent and less confusing to have one set of rules and tests rather than two.  At the show, I judged only the Intro and Basic classes, equivalent roughly to Intro and Training in regular dressage.  Things seemed to go pretty smoothly, although the tests clearly call for freedom in the strides, and at times that seemed to be lacking. 

A significant difference between the score sheets for straight dressage and those for western dressage is found at the bottom in the boxes for collective marks. Straight dressage has six boxes there:  gaits, impulsion and submission plus three more for the rider.  Western dressage has five boxes:  gaits, submission, rider position, accuracy and harmony.  The gait box uses the same directive for both western and straight dressage: “Freedom and regularity.”  The important distinction on the western sheets is that the impulsion box is dropped while the submission score is multiplied by a coefficient of 2.  Coupled with the harmony box, that is a significant emphasis on submission for western dressage over straight dressage.

I also found some of the western dressage rules to be very interesting, at least in contrast to the straight dressage rules.  For example, bucking requires elimination in western dressage, while it’s merely a score reduction in straight dressage.  There was no reference to rearing, which I consider to be a much bigger issue than bucking in terms of both safety and submission.  Both curb and snaffle bits are allowed (as are hackamores) and riders can choose to ride with one hand on the reins or two.  Posting is allowed.  Drop nose bands are not allowed.  Use of voice aids is allowed.  Wow, that would be a big one in straight dressage, where any use of voice is an automatic deduction.

The lower-level tests that I judged flowed fairly well but were considerably longer than their counterparts in straight dressage.  I suspect they will continue to be reviewed as this new discipline gathers interest.  It will be interesting to see how the gait score and the term “freedom” continue to be interpreted as both more riders and judges give these tests a try.  

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