Archive | April, 2013

Dressage–and proud of it

29 Apr

Top sport competition this past weekend, and it all came down to dressage.

Meaning ‘training’, meaning ‘correct training’ and the performance of same.

In World Cup Dressage, there is no doubt that correct training won the day, charmed the judges, and strongly underlined the current direction of the sport. Few will disagree that Parzival is, simply, the best athlete of the sport–but the small rhythm and balance breaks were costly. The winner, Damon Hill, was able to maintain the underlying concept of forward, exemplifying suppleness, true partnership and the entire training scale.

(Sidebar:  The German FN has amended the incredibly  influential Scales of Training.  The building blocks of Rhythm, Relaxation, Contact/connection, Impulsion, Straightness,Collection have helped to define how to train a horse. Now, the FN has added Balance and…Durchlässigkeit, often translated as Throughness, the horse having an ongoing conversation with the rider.)  BUT the two new concepts are not higher or lower,they are involved in every other step.

Skala-van-de-africhting-296x228end of sidebar)

For what it is worth, my favorite performance of World Cup was Edward Gal and Undercover’s freestyle. As recently as the London Olympics, it seemed impossible that the horse–despite all its physical talents– would agree to have enough confidence and trust that harmony and Durchlässigkeit could possibly be preserved. First, the freestyle a few months ago at Den Bosch showed that this was all possible. And then here at Gothenberg, on an even bigger stage, Undercover added harmony to his expression and power.

Ed says he has the looseness and serenity at home,  so fingers crossed for the future performances.

Ed Undercover(Kerry Weisselberg)


Rolex 4* eventing, the only 4*  in this sport in the US, showed once again how influential dressage and training is. The winner, Andrew Nicholson, finished on his dressage score , adding only 3 time faults in show jumping. The dressage scores did not help everyone at the top of the leaderboard, BUT no one in the final top placings succeeded without them.

And maybe most telling of all, U.S. show jumping Olympic gold medalist (Team 2004,2008) Beezie Madden was the winner of this year’s Show Jumping World Cup Final with rounds that absolutely exemplified the ‘American style’ laid down by Bert de Nemethy, and illustrated by icons such as George Morris, William Steinkraus — and now, Beezie Madden.

Her rounds exemplified the Training Scale like no others…

Beezie WC(Chronicle of the Horse)

Yup–things are looking up in horse sport.








Things are looking up!

23 Apr


The U.S. has been bumbling along, at least for the Good Ship Dressage. While new US Eventing Coach David O’Connor has been traveling /clinicing from one coast through to the other, looking for talent to mold and advise, the US dressage program has been…bumbling.

Within the space and time of a week,however, the picture is starting to get clearer.

The U.S. has a new dressage technical advisor, Robert Dover. Many of Dover’s ideas were ‘borrowed’ — and have proven successful– from the first time he applied for  this position and outlined his plans. His experience is inarguable, and all that is necessary is for any who might disagree with his opinions to stand up and provide equally mature, cogent alternatives.

Steffen Peters and his new partner, Legolas ( Laomedon x Furstin), owned by Four Winds Farm LLC,  competed at Hagen and showed a new maturity  that has to have made Steffen happy. In Florida, the horse–renowned for his piaffe-passage tour– seemed a bit unsettled, but in Hagen, with all the pressure of a CDI 4*, the horse put in confident tests, the new freestyle showing high risk and degree of difficulty.

Steffen will formally retire the great Ravel this coming weekend at Del Mar National’s Dressage Week, in Southern California, on Saturday evening, April 27th.

Jan Ebeling and his mare Rafalca (Argentinus x Rubinstein) became Olympians as part of the US dressage team at the 2012 London Games. A hard act to follow, but new dance partners are a necessity in all partnership sports,human or equine. Especially equine, given the reality that horses peak a lot sooner than their human partners.

 The ‘three amigos’ who bought Rafalca, Amy Ebeling, Ann Romney and Beth Meyers, sponsored the search and eventual purchase of Rassolini, a horse whose every career move has been star-studded. Top  five placings at World Young Horse Championships and the German Bundeschampionat, developed into winning Germany’s ever-prestigious  Nürnburger Burg-Pokal championship for young Prix St. Georges horses ( other winners include Olympic medalists/competitors Desperado, Augustin, Whisper, Elvis, Bonaparte,Relevant, Chacomo,etc.)

Rassolini’s own grandfather, Rubinstein, won this championship in 1994, like father like son.

This young 10 year old stallion ( Rubioso N x Silvano) has just started at Grand Prix, ridden throughout his career by Kathrin Meyer zu Strohen, and trained by her husband Hans-Heinrich, a highly successful and respected coach of the German Young Rider team ,as well as star riders such as Ann-Sophie Fiebelkorn.

“He has no holes,” says a very happy Jan. “One long side, the connection, the responsiveness– I knew he was the one.”

RassoliniRassolini and Meyer zu Strohen

It takes a team to find a special horse,and for the Ebelings, their contact in Germany is Christian Heinrich.






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Heinrich was one of several contacts Jan would call when searching for new horses. “It started as business,” says Jan, “but over the years, our families have developed a real friendship and strong connection. So much so, if he tells me he has found a special horse, that means we just get on a plane. We don’t wait for a video or anything.”

Heinrich says simply, “Horses like Rassolini are rare. After the results with Rafalca, I felt this was the next  chance.”

The plan is for Jan to return to Germany in June and spend time working with Rassolini. The stallion will then fly to the U.S., where he will of course undergo quarantine. “And after that,” says Jan,  “we will see.”

Happy anniversary…

16 Apr

A year’s worth of HORSESPORTNEWS, and  I’ve firmly resisted the impulse to allow the outside world to matter more than horse sport.

The world economy goes south?  Talk about ‘What if Totilas had never been sold?’

Border wars between nations exacerbate tension? Report on the  ‘The Hamilton Farm Stable Courtyard’  to honor three U.S. showjumping legends — Frank D. Chapot, George H. Morris and William C. Steinkraus. In the photo, there is barely room in the ‘courtyard’ for the 3 men to sit on chairs.


Global warming? Talk about ‘Making a Plan’ for horsesport in the U.S.

A crazy person goes to an elementary school in order to gun down innocent 5 and 6 year olds? Talk about the ‘FEI’s inconsistent and rather incomprehensible ‘blood rule’ –all as clear as mud.’

A year has gone by; this blog opened by talking about Wellington, Florida and the insane powermongering that was going on. That feud has only escalated.


We have had a glorious Olympics, the kind that make dreams seem a bit more real.

World records have been broken; new stars have emerged and even newer ones flash on the horizon.

Here’s to the future and the return to optimism.

chagall songofsongs(Chagall  Song of Songs IV (Le Cantique des Cantiques IV)







A question from Carnac the Magnificent

8 Apr

CarnacJohnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent


Q:  Why so few applications for the position of USEF Dressage coach/technical advisor?


  A:     If there’s success, it is all the riders.

           If there is failure—it’s all the coach.

The emperor’s new clothes

1 Apr



Everyone  in dressage wants the fantasy:   that we ride a creature that loves us and wants to please; that harmony and partnership  is desirable above all else. And this is a GOOD fantasy,ever to be attained or aimed for.

Watching umpteen warm-up and tests at a recent big dressage show left me with only one idea:

  The U.S. needs a certification process for trainers.

Rider after rider, sitting with collapsed hips, shoulders, unbalanced front to back, unbalanced side to side, all giving “aids” to confused horses, and most being told, “Super” in a variety of foreign accents..

Dressage is a sport of ultimate partnership—that is what is being judged. On the other side of the showgrounds, the hunters were going at the same time. Beautifully turned-out, each one producing or trying to produce a ‘dressage test over fences’: a pattern of 8 jumps, ideally presented in one flowing, forward rhythm.

Of course, the problem with the hunters is that in order to get this picture of easy flow, much is done to the horses in terms of drugs, and the now infamous ‘hunter lunge’ where the horse goes around an endless circle until all he can do is shuffle .

So dressage continues to hold the banner for horsemanship, for partnership, for harmony achieved by training rather than other means.

But the obvious reality is that the partnership can only be as strong as the communication—and that communication requires that the ‘speaker’ have a system of signals/aids that is clear to the partner.

Biomechanics expert Mary Wanless once observed, “The rider is attached to the horse by seat and by reins. Whatever degree the rider is not attached by seat—must be by reins.”

Even in the CDI portion of the show, there was a fair number of horses presented in uncomfortable, contorted, unbalanced frames. I was proud that the judges actually spoke to the riders/trainers about this problem  and rewarded the performances that managed to show a degree of harmony, of balance and rhythm-the basis for the sport.

Everyone seems to find it necessary to complain about the judging and it is for sure not perfect and was not at this show either.

Still—the sport is one sport, from grass roots up through Olympics, it is about a rider and a horse, with or without also a judge.

Over and over, we are told that certification in the U.S. is “impossible, the country is too big, there is no way to make it happen,” etc etc.

Instead, we are to watch rider after rider be told everything is fine and wonderful, only to go into the arena and be told a different opinion by the judges.

It is no wonder that people leave the sport. It is expensive, time-consuming, frustrating and frankly—not often fun.

There were no children present at the show; a few of the hunter riders came over, watched for a while, shrugged, giggled among themselves and left.

So I have an idea (of course):  Why not liase with U.S. Pony Club –offer incentives for their members to provide various services at the shows; offer prizes—lessons with or a day with a trainer, a sports therapist, a breeder, a veterinary clinic—to get the kids involved, to find the next generation instead of waiting for them to magically appear in the already expensive Pony Classes, let alone Young Rider ranks.

Why not start putting the emphasis on equitation classes in Pony Club that entitle the winners to a free entry in a similar class at local dressage shows, all the way up to big shows like the CDIs.

Why not start thinking about certifying the people who teach the riders how to transmit the signals to their partners so that potential talent (and even sponsors) do not waste so much time with people who are trainers in name but basically socially adept networkers? Because not everyone wants or can afford to go down the path several times, only to discover they have wasted time,energy,money and horses, as well as dreams and fantasy.