Archive | August, 2013

The fountain of youth…

26 Aug

The business model for horse sport in the US–and elsewhere — has been a combination of finding wealthy sponsors/patrons and building ‘the next generation’ from the ranks of young and younger riders.

Through the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, horse sport belonged in great measure to the cavalries–people whose income came from a source other than the buying and selling of horses.

It was a closed, elitist world where everyone knew everyone else and their business, even though the Internet was not yet around.

Even through rose-colored glasses and nostalgia for the good old days, we know now it was not all that rosy for either riders or horses. Especially not the horses.

Nevertheless, today’s realities leave a lot to be desired. A recent issue of USDF Connection (the monthly magazine of United States Dressage Connection) asks how to get youth into dressage.

Not one mention of California Dressage Society’s Junior Championships–now going into its 20th year. Not one mention of CDS’s clinics, grant programs, and support, all aimed at younger riders. Of course, it is more fun to wear jeans or jump fences rather than go around the sandbox, and even CDS has found it difficult to attract younger riders.

One look at the Jr/Yr classes at just about any show anywhere in the US is proof of that.

But U.S. Eventing Association President Brian Sabo–himself a product of Woodland Hills Pony Club, run by Olympic medalist and legendary horseman Hilda Gurney– has started a concept that deserves applause and attention from the rest of horse sport,especially in the U.S.

He asked a central question: How can a kid get close to a live horse today?

Because if the next generation does not see a horse, touch a horse, smell that special wonderful scent of horses–let alone ride a horse– it is a fairly sure bet they are not going to grow up to want a horse or support the sport.

Brian and USEA director Jo Whitehouse went to Kentucky, to the annual meeting of U.S. Pony Club and worked out a plan to integrate the aims and programs of the two groups.

As Brian Sabo says, ” USPC was the was where top horsemen learned to ride and the great C-3 pony clubber was created: someone who loves horses and wants to see sport grow.”

(C-3 is a level/rating in Pony Club and is just what Brian says–someone you can hand your horse to, and come back a day or a year later to find the horse in good shape–because enough love and knowledge was around to make sure this happened).

There is now cross-over between the USPC National Examiners and the USEA’s certified instructors. Joint memberships are being worked out,so that involvement in one group helps the other and keeps both groups flourishing, even as the dreaded late teens hit members and they find other interests. Competition fees and discounts; promotional goodies; support. Everything is on the table, incl;uding and especially Pony Club Centers.

These Centers are affiliated with the actual Pony Club Regions (comprised of clubs), but are run not by volunteers and parents. Instead, a professional rider/trainer reaches out to the local population, using school horses, camps, and their own local involvement to attract NEW numbers to try horses.

“We are basically starting with NEW riders from the ground up,” says Sabo.  “We are the introduction to horses for them, so we are not really taking clients away from existing barns.”

Eventers such as Olympic medalist Gina Miles, 4-star competitors Jennifer Wooten and Lisa Sabo, and others have all established Pony Club Centers, and all so far are flourishing.

“If you start with the foundation—that is something that you can build and will build,” says Sabo.

Starr-Vaughn, the well-known dressage facility in Northern California (daughter Genay Vaughn has competed at NAJYRC and will be doing Brentina Cup U-25 this year) also runs hunter/jumper shows. At a recent h/j schooling show, they had a leadline class for adults. Yes–adults who do not normally ride but pay bills and stand on the sidelines were lead around the arena by their only-too-happy children and once again we heard those famous lines delivered in stage whispers:

Head up! Heels down!

And everyone got to share in the pleasure it is to be around a real live horse.

( Below is Moorpark Pony Club ,  shared venture between Lita Dove and Sue Sally Hale)

ponyclubmpk 001


All across the universe…

19 Aug


There are two kinds of people in the world:

              people who have horses—and  horsemen.

One reality is that there are more of the first and less of the second. Economics, loss of land use, rural becoming suburb becoming urban.

An entire industry (or two or three) has grown up to ‘explain’ horses to people because horses have moved away from being part of the mainstream to something rather more exotic.

Yes, horse sport seems to have grown, from the tightly-knit, insular rather elite and closed world it used to inhabit to something larger. But no one seems to know any more what a horse is.

A horse is not a pet, not a dog, never going to make funny cat videos. (Yes, there have been some interesting attempts).

 Horses have one foot in the wild, one foot in our dreams. Horsemen spend their lives gaining control of those four feet and in doing so, figuring out who and what a human being is. That is how closely entwined  we are. (OK, the other two feet belong to the horse, a sentient being, and those feet go  where the will sends them. The question is always—whose will? )

Dressage, the foundation of training for any use of the horse in sport,  is about judging that dream—that a human’s  will can indeed control this huge, sentient being and present a fantasy of dancing. Of partnership.  Huge debates rage  as to who, exactly, presents the true picture of that partnership.

It’s rather like pornography—“I know it when I see it” remains the standard.

We ride horses because they let us, said Dr. Reiner Klimke.

Who knows why they let us?

Saddles are shaped to take advantage of their long ligaments and nerve endings that grow from ears to tail, all around their barrels. Bridles are fashioned to let us shape and control the energy and power that comes from their bodies.

This weekend is the European Championships. Luck, fate, and reality have combined to make a backdrop of huge drama.  A top breeder of sport horses has come face to face with the reality that his horses have been starved and abused—even with photos and videos showing huge hay bales in the background as a skeletal horse lies in the foreground, dying,  in front of our horror.

The odds on which teams, let alone which individual combinations (partners, remember?) will prevail keeps changing as regretful headlines announce another pair have dropped out of competition.

All I know is that this weekend, there will be tears in my eyes—catharsis– as my favorites try their hearts out, send ambition to the breaking point,

Personal bests for all this weekend!

And when this weekend is over, personal bests for all the horses everywhere that are misunderstood, abused,  tortured, starved, dehydrated, butchered…

Fixing horse sport in the U.S.A.

12 Aug

Spelling it out, standing on soapbox.

standing on soapbox

How to fix horse sport in the US:

Use Pony Club as a vehicle for standardizing horsemanship/flatwork/basics. It is a base organization that ALREADY exists all over this large country.

There was a time, when the US had a national show governing body–AHSA (American Horse Show Association)– and a top sport governing body– USET (United States Equestrian Team)– that many team riders came from Pony Club, especially in eventing and dressage. Jumpers were always a world unto themselves, much to the envy of all others. But even jumper riders often had Pony Club in their backgrounds. It was, simply, the most effective way to gain a background in horse management, horsemanship AND the concept of responsibility, team effort, the sense of competition as a positive force. Because to truly succeed in horse sport, there is a need for horsemen, not only people who own/ride  horses.

When the bitter struggle for dominance between the two governing bodies was over, Pony Club proved to be a disconnect as well. All forces were turned on to finding Big Sponsors to salvage horse sport.

And that is fine for the short run.

But WHERE is the next generation to come from, if not from the one place that turns out horsemen? Turns out people with passion as well as ambition? Determination and perseverance as well as monied parents? Turns out people who care about horses and sport?

The eventing world is already reaching out .

I think we need to re-establish a connection with the true base, the true grass roots of horse sport.

A small panel can determine how best to reach these grass roots, create  better communication.

I nominate George Morris, Hilda Gurney, Lendon Grey, Denny Emerson and 1 more to re-establish communication with Pony Club. These are people who have had success, have had successful horses, have had successful students, have promoted horse sport. Have proven they can think as well as ride.

We have to use the lessons learned from other sports– start early enough that there is a chance for the riders to get their 10,000 hours in before they are too old to gain the finishing touches that makes champions out of competence.

Every  nation successful in any sport starts with its children. Not juniors, not young riders–children. Top sport is achieved through passion as well as dedication and passion starts early or really not at all.  Not so long ago, Pony Club was the place horse

Instruction has to be standardized so that more new riders do not waste so much time going down dead-ends. The sport is just too expensive and frustrating to waste that much time and horseflesh.

That’s it , in a nutshell.


So much going on

5 Aug

So much going on in horse sport, in top horse sport.

Hickstead just over, and optimism is everywhere.

The Dutch won the inaugural dressage Nations Cup series with 4 combinations not currently on A-team.

The American dressage riders  fought for silver at Hckstead in the same Nations Cup–and got it.

The British waited to see what kind of performances it would get from superstars Valegro and Uthopia and were rewarded with brilliant,  golden performances by both combinations.

The Germans discovered a new potential star in Jenny Lang and Loverboy.

European Dressage Championships are on the  horizon (and show jumping as well) for Herning, Denmark, and many countries should be optimistic. In addition to the Dutch and the British and the Germans, the Danes and the Swedes are certainly in the medal mix, and other countries, such a Spain, have high hopes for personal bests from various star combinations.

It is all very exiting, and I expect personal bests there and….maybe even the raising of The Bar, the Gold Standard. The one and only.

We shall see.

Before Europeans, there is World Young Horse Championships,, of course–this weekend. I have mixed feelings about this ‘sales promotion’ event, with both the fantastic eye candy horseflesh, almost each year raising the bar for expression and athleticism– and the attendant waste of so many good horses not quite mature enough, tough enough, ready enough, to star on this manufactured stage.

I know for sure that one horse is not being overtaxed, or asked for anything before his time, so a shout-out to  US representatives Vitalis and partner Charlotte Jorst: may they have personal bests.

*********************              ********************

I have read the rules for show jumping Nations Cup several times, and still cannot figure out how teams qualify. But I do know that come September in Barcelona, the final will have 15 teams. Or maybe 18, including wild cards. And possibly Germany, even though they were disqualified over the debacle at St. Gallen, when they were the ONLY team to refuse to compete in the despicable,dangerous conditions and refused to be swayed by FEI ‘suggestions’ (aka threats).

Nevertheless, this is a happy  post, so shall end with two photos of horsemen who have raised the bar several times.

Carl UtiCarl and Uthopia


The one and only Hugo Simon and ET