Archive | March, 2014

California Dreaming

31 Mar

The scores from the two back-to-back CDI’s in California are now all in, as well as the top news of winners and their teams, so here are snapshot moments from the weekends.

The Hof Kasselmann hospitality lounge was a hit–and then became an even huger hit with the dry-witted,sympathetic commentary of retired 5* judge Axel Steiner, proving again and again that he has lost n0ne of his eye or perceptiveness.


Jo H(Jo Hinnemann)


Outside the tent, the coaches around the warm-up arenas also had more of a European flavor than usual, as Jo Hinnemann seemed to be there from morning until night, schooling this rider, coaching that rider, making small talk with owners, sponsors, as well as press. Jo is a legend in Europe, his pupils over the year have been a who’s who of international riders, not least of all the van Baalen family, from Coby and the legendary stallion Ferro through Marlies  and her current string of top FEI horses, including Miciano, recently added to the Dutch A-Team..

Although Jo has traveled the world giving clinics, it is well-known that he has had a fear of flying to any destinations. But he made a commitment to his U.S. riders (who include  international riders Steffen Peters, Kathleen Raine, Shelly Francis, Christine Traurig as well as several others) that he would come back every few months for 2 weeks at a time…”It was not so much a fear of flying,” says Jo, stretching out his lanky German frame, “as claustrophobia. The tiny,cramped seats, not being able to put your hand out”– he puts his hand out. “But sitting in the new kind of seats they have, it is like sitting by yourself–so I trained me!”

I asked him what, after so many years, is the motivation to change his lifestyle, spend perhaps half of a year in a new country. “Every day is exciting because there is the chance to work with a horse and rider and think-how to make this better?” He thinks for a moment, then nods and smiles.

Before the weekend was over, much of the rest of the Hinnemann family appeared, and there is now serious talk of getting a farm in Southern California ,to have as a base for future training.

The first weekend was an observation show for U.S. riders hoping to go to WEG, and U.S. coach Robert Dover was everywhere, giving encouragement, coaching–and observing. “I’ve had a vision of how it can be, a vision that has only grown through the (six) Olympic teams I’ve been part of–and I am taking everyone there, ” he smiles, “even if  I have to drag them, kicking and screaming. But the U.S. has everything it needs to be successful, to be on podiums–and I am simply giving it my all to get us there.”

Kathleen Raine and Breanna produced some of the best piaffe-passage tours on their way to ribbons, cementing their high standing in the rankings for the WEG  Selection Trials later this summer.

Jan Ebeling brought out his new younger horses, the two stallions Breitan (Breitling x Cavan) and Rassolini

( Rubioso N  x  Olympic Silvano N  ).



Breitan’s amazing piaffe-passage and extended trot thrilled Robert Dover, who pronounced both ‘world-class’ and Rassolini, after a major hiccup in his first Grand Prix, settled down and showed he belongs with the big boys. Both stallions had to take a back seat to Jan’s Olympic partner, the mare Rafalca, who was on fire during her performances and produced lovely tests in Grand Prix and the Special.

Still, it was Steffen Peters who dominated the shows, not only with Legolas but also his younger star, the mare Rosamunde at Small Tour.  Asked what has influenced his riding, Steffen smiles,, “Competing in Europe. Seeing the bar–working to match it.” Then he adds, “really, riding so many different horses, at home, in clinics–they really are the best teachers.”

He is hoping that Legolas can maintain his present level through selection, through to WEG. ” I really think I have the discipline now to maintain standards for myself, to be fair in what I ask of the horses.” Steffen feels that working with his personal trainer has been great both for motivation and insight into how to use his body better. “Years ago, we worked on separate groups of muscles. Now, everything we do, engages the core.”

During one of  Steffen’s  schooling sessions with Jo Hinnemann, I see a familiar figure standing on the side. It is  Akiko Yamazaki, Steffen’s sponsor and a serious competitor herself. She and her partner Matrix, were US Dressage Finals champions winning the Adult Amateur Prix St.Georges ribbons last November. “This year,” she says, ” we hope to get out at Intermediaire II, and work closer to Grand Prix.”

I ask about Ravel’s baby, Gaspard, who was awarded the title Top KWPN foal of North America in 2011. “He is just starting under saddle.”

And,with the click of a smartphone–here he is: Possibly the future and certainly worth the dream!


Gaspard de la Nuit  (Ravel x  Sir Donnerhall)









California rolls out the horse sport red carpet

25 Mar

Once the sun comes out in Southern California, horse sport really gets rolling.
OK—that’s not fair, because the sun shines almost too much in SoCal, and while parts of the world had worst floods/storms in decades, the word ‘drought’ and ‘voluntary restrictions’ have been on everyone’s lips around here. Nevertheless, The first joint effort that is California Dreaming Productions (Glenda McElroy and W Farms), designed to create a series of CDIs and CDI-Ws which will attract top sport riders as well as top sport sponsors, was a resounding success, with riders and spectators alike excited for more.
Thanks to PSI/Uli Kasselmann, names synonymous with top horse sport the world over, the livestream, the VIP lunch, the rider’s lounge, all the other amenities and pleasantness–and of course the cooperative Southern California weather—made for great sport in Burbank at Los Angeles Equestrian Center (LAEC).

The last-minute withdrawal (minor problems for both) of two Grand Prix combinations—Olympians Jan Ebeling/Rafalca and Kathleen Raine/Breanna only makes the next two shows that much more exciting and meaningful , as the WEG qualifying period for the US Selection Trial comes to an end after San Juan Capistrano’s back-to-back shows the last 2 weekends of March.

+++++++++++                                                         ++++++++++++


Leslie Reid on the exciting young stallion, Kobal

IMG_8609(Courtenay Fraser)


Almost as soon as the first CDI was over,LAEC geared up for the much-anticipated Charlotte Dujardin /Judy Harvey Symposium.

The answer to the age-old question:

is it possible to be in two places at the same time?

was brilliantly answered that weekend, when world record holder/ uber-star Charlotte Dujardin was in Los Angeles, California, with her first mentor FEI judge, GP rider and British team selector Judy Harvey, doing major instruction/teaching and some truly inspiring riding to show how to develop and train towards top sport, even as Charlotte’s current mentor, world-everything Carl Hester was in Herning, Denmark, doing much test riding of young Danish horses and also talking about the training and development towards top sport.
There were over 450 tickets sold, and Glenda McElroy pronounced herself highly satisfied with this result. Charlotte and Judy met with the riders on Friday morning to observe and get a feel for the participants. That afternoon, Charlotte asked to have a sit on Canadian Olympian Leslie Reid’s young (8 years old) PRE stallion, Kobal, and after a few minutes, announced that she would like to take him home.

Both Charlotte and Judy Harvey were extremely complimentary to Leslie for the super training on Kobal, pointing out—and with Charlotte riding on Saturday, demonstrating–that his foundation is so strong and correct. Charlotte showed everyone exactly how she builds power and cadence into the gaits and then showed her unbelievable seat/timing/sympathy by producing an expressive, engaged, big uphill series of ones (!!) down the long side, some amazing pirouettes, and an extended trot to rival–well, Valegro. Kobal walked around like he owned the joint, never lost his composure, and it was easy to forget he is only 8 years old. On Sunday, Reid herself rode, and the schooling/preparation for piaffe/passage was exemplary, as the young stallion showed himself up to the task.

Charlotte Dujardin on Kobal

Kobal Charl


These sessions provided a fitting cap to a weekend of outstanding work from all involved.
The next two West Coast CDI’s are back-to-back, both in San Juan Capistrano, and continue the California Dreaming circuit, sponsored in part by Hof Kasselmann. More about them in the next blog.



Will a GPS help find the correct direction ?

17 Mar


Black Beauty

Horse-crazy kids find horses everywhere: the velvet seats in the local cinema can be straddled like a saddle, and the cowboys and Indians on screen can be galloped after,amid  clouds of dust and whoops and war cries;  big enough dogs can become wonderful ponies, in a pinch, for small enough riders; and in New York City, there have always been the carriage horses.

Every kid’s horse bible, “Black Beauty”, makes it apparent early on that some human beings will mistreat animals , so it was never a shock to see a few of these carriage horses looking less than shiny, their frames a little thin, their hooves looking worn and even over-grown. But most of the horses were the pride and joy of their drivers/caretakers, and served as proud reminders that there was an Age of the Horse, when the  wonderful creatures were transportation, power sources, the means to a better life.

Just as the horse world has changed—become bigger and more public even as there are fewer truly knowledgeable people raised in a world full of horses—so it has come to the carriage horses of New York. Most of the current drivers did not start as horsemen and see  the drives through Central Park as a way to make money without too much physical labor on their part—not to reconnect with a glorious past. Horse racing used to have giants on 4 legs– Seabiscuit, Exterminator, Big Red, Secretariat, Affirmed, Gallant Lad–the names roll off, they were newspaper headlines and part of everyone’s common knowledge. Now, the horses are just part of an industry, the trainers are often called ‘mechanics’, because that is what they are: people who use drugs, hoof putty and a good dose of cynicism to keep  horses running one more race–before being carted off in trailers to end on dinner tables or worse.

And then–there is top sport endurance. A sport which used to feature the epitome of close contact between rider and horse now resembles nothing so much as the sleazy underbelly of racing.  A sport which has provided so many of the innovations and cutting edge knowledge for horse nutrition, showing, heart-lungs, technology,and the triumph over terrain and physical limits, is fast becoming the public face of horse sport as perceived by the general public:drug scandals,  fractures, heart failure, cheating and death.

Region VII in the endurance world– Bahrain,Dubai, Qatar–is fast becoming the face of endurance and horse sport in general.

International horse sport is being engulfed by its own association with its governing body, the FEI. And it is a disturbing picture.

The FEI lives in a building in Lausanne, Switzerland  bought and paid for by Meydan, one of the main corporations owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the leader of Dubai a well as the husband of Princess Haya, president of the FEI.

The venerable  German horse show , Wiesbaden, a mainstay on top sport’s calendar, will now have as main sponsor Qatar.

WEG 2010 was bankrolled in part by title sponsor  Alltech and then bailed out of impending and crushing debt by Meydan. WEG 2014 (Alltech again title sponsor)  is already bankrolled by Meydan and Meydan will now be title sponsor of World Championship Endurance at WEG– the 2014 World Endurance Championship, to be held August 28th, will be called the ‘Meydan Endurance at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014.

2013 was not kind for Maktoum,what with the seizure of illegal drugs from the private airplane; , the discovery of illegal drugs in racehorses; the drug problems in tn endurance horses; etc..  Still–the entire  British thoroughbred industry as well as world-wide endurance are underwritten by Region VII: Bahrain, Dubai, Qatar. No sale of Thoroughbreds the world over is truly complete if several Sheikhs are not bidding on the sales stock. No international endurance race has been complete these last few years if the podium is not represented by Region VII.

The intelligence agency Qwest was hired by Princess Haya in 2010  to head the FEI’s Integrity Unit. Qwest, headed by Lord Stevens, was recently hired by Sheikh Mohammed to investigate the above-mentioned drug scandals. In headlines from the world’s newspapers, the result of the4 Qwest investigation was to clear Sheikh Mohammed of any knowledge and state that the illegal drug imports and positive drug tests were the result of management failures and breakdowns–ie, the trainers gave the drugs without knowledge or consent of the owner.

Only Britain’s  DEFRA (Dept for Environment, Food, Rural Affairs)has  spoken  out,insisting that its veterinary wing, the VMD, has no input whatsoever in the Qwest investigation, despite the fact that it was the VMD that arranged and oversaw seizure of the illegal drugs.

2014, video surfaces of men in cars/on foot chasing the ‘winning’ horse down the stretch in Bahrain  ,forcing the exhausted creature to break from a walk/trot to a canter–

 And in the past few weeks,the FEI has   agreed to investigate the rumor that the Crown Prince of Dubai roden two horses under the same name in two different competitions during 2012.

Ringer horses enduranceCidinha Franzão photos.

The latest news is thatBahrahin  has underwritten the FEI endurance  ride to be held at Royal Windsor Horse Show this year. Riders and federations that roundly condemned Region VII at the special FEI Endurance conference only a month or so ago are all eager to enter and compete.

Everyone’s hand is out, eager for petro-dollars, the influence and power they represent.

But is this really the way horse sport is meant to be going?

Global Dressage-North America

6 Mar

Global Dressage Forum-North America 2014  opened with an enthusiastic rendition of the American national anthem. Organizer/impresario Andreas Stano thanked everyone for coming and read a note from biomechanics guru Eckert Meyners–  still recovering from emergency surgery and unable to attend–  and  we were off.

Despite horrendous storms closing many airports and snarling connecting flights, the audience was sizable and spirits were high.

Jan Brink started the first day’s ridden demonstrations, first helping riders and then getting in the saddle himself to show how he plays with the training, especially high collection. “Do not think in terms of the movement,” he told us, “only the horse’s response. Keep it light, wait for the horse to offer, so it does not seem like hard work.” He emphasized the need to keep the forward energy, reminding riders not to try too much ‘on-the-spot’, letting the horse turn as in pirouette, or move forward as in piaffe.

Mention of his mentor, the one and only extraordinary Kyra Kyrklund, received applause, as well as his extraordinary partner, the Swedish stallion Briar. “Eleven years straight at international Grand Prix, including 3 Olympics,” said Brink. “He is 23 now and still fit, still sound, and still owned by the man who bred him.”

After lunch, German Reitmeister Udo Lange and his life parter, 6-time Olympian Christilot Boylen took the stage. Boylen started off emphasizing the training scale or ‘scala’ as she and others referred to it, and pointed out that ALL horses and riders are asymmetric and that training must work to overcome this in both ,in order to produce balance and straightness. “Straight,” said Boylen, “means same connection in both reins, and balance  is side to side as well as front to back.”

 Then she and Lange showed some of their favorite exercises:

Pick up trot down the long side of the arena,  develop leg-yield along the wall, horse’s head to wall; Walk, reverse direction (small half circle), trot, develop ley-yield again, go straight, walk, reverse, etc.

This was followed  by use of cavalettis to develop the rider’s awareness and precision, and then the use of canter-walk-canter to prepare for flying changes.

Boylen ,now 67 and in fantastic shape, does 20 minutes stretch exercises before riding her 5 or so horses each day.

Lange, asked about the new coefficient for piaffe in the FEI standard, said he thought it was a good development. “Too many horses are not really ready to show Grand Prix. The horse has to be able to show collected walk, turn and then piaffe—right there, when asked. That is Grand Prix…The others now have Intermediaire A and B.”

FEI Judge and longtime  head of instruction for the German Olympic Committee Christoph Hess, used several riders to discuss training scale and biomechanics ,carrying on expertly without planned demo partner Eckert Meyners.

The second day, freestyle designer Terry Ciotti Gallo lectured, her ideas and directives amply demonstrated by  trainer Betsy Steiner, to the kind of musical choices we all wish to have for freestyles .

(photo courtesy

Tinne  Dream

And then Swedish shooting star Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven rode in on her newest partner, Benetton Dream…, and the atmosphere rose another notch. She has had this new horse only a few months, but the energy, balance and suppleness are already extraordinary. (A few weeks after the forum, she took him in his first show and won Int II with nearly 78%)  Tinne winters in Wellington, where her sponsor, Antonia Ax:son Johnson bought a farm a few years ago. This year, this Swedish team has won every  Florida class they entered,international and national,  in an effortless display of top sport riding and  horseflesh.  Talking while riding, Tinne says, “we try to make every experience positive, and have learned to wait for the horse. Sure, keep asking, but we see what they offer .” Her current top horse, Don Aurellio, is headed to the FEI Dressage World Cup Finals. “Some people felt we did not ask him for enough piaffe—but we felt he needed to get stronger and more mature—and now it is really coming,” says the confident rider.

She returned with yet another horse, Divertimento, who has  also really developed into a top Grand Prix partner. Casually, she told the audience, she was working on a new freestyle with the horse, and  was trying to find new ideas for movements—and then she turned, did extended canter down centerline, collected the canter and changed to piaffe, producing a piaffe fan as she turned back up centerline in passage, halting and ‘saluting’ the audience.

Everyone needed a lunch break after that!


The afternoon was over-full. Susanne von Dietze discussed Balance in Movement, offering exercises that got the audience up on its feet, exploring for themselves just how important it is for the rider’s seat to be balanced and able to follow the horse’s motion.

Longtime international and Young Rider coach Conrad Schumacher clearly and expertly helped his demo students, using exercises and ideas that have become building blocks for an entire generation of trainers. “Riding is an art,” he acknowledged, “but riders must first learn craft and technique. No one makes an artist, they try to produce craftsmen.”

Finally, Olympic judge , FEI Judge General,  every rider’s favorite judge at  C (and affectionately  known as Pope-General) Stephen Clarke stood up, talked to the audience and to the panelists about the responsibility of the judge. “Every rider relies on our comments for direction, it is a huge responsibility,” he acknowledged.  “Those comments must try to give a clear picture  of the direction training should take.”

The Para-Dressage Rider Scholarship  Award was then presented to Kelby Barranco, USDF Volunteer of the Year.

And then—the GDFNA Life Time Dressage Achievement Award was presented to Stephen Clarke.

And with that, another Forum was over.