All Posts from May, 2010

May 31st, 2010

Eventers are Fearless. Or are We?

As eventers we take pride in being brave and fearless. It’s what we demand of ourselves as well as of our equine counterparts.  But are we always fearless? Do we need to be? What happens when anxiety creeps in?  Our guest today is Jeanne Lambrecht, a psychologist, who works with equestrians to not only achieve peak performance at home and at competitions, but also to deal with fear and anxiety.  Let’s call it the big, bad wolf, of eventing. No one’s talking about it: but we are at Three Days Three Ways!  We begin today with the prevalence of fear, the shape it takes, and how it effects us as eventers. Dig in.

Q. I want to start with fear.  How much do you think it happens in riding versus how much it’s talked about? How prevalent is it?

A. I think it’s a huge issue. It’s part of a lot of rider’s lives.  I’d go so far as to say part of the majority of rider’s lives. The big reason it doesn’t get talked about is there’s a lot of shame that’s associated with experiencing fear of a horse whether it’s cantering, jumping, falling, other people thinking you’re a terrible rider. All of those things come into play. Shame because depending on what discipline there’s a culture that you’re supposed to pull your bootstraps up and get back on the horse that threw you. Cowgirl up! Shove it down and not feel it.  That doesn’t work of course. And because that doesn’t work people think they’re deficient. But they’re not. Culturally that was never gonna work as a strategy, to pretend the fear doesn’t happen.  There’s not a lot of great information about overcoming concerns and I know a lot of it is experienced and felt but not talked about.

Q. Is it particular challenge in eventing?

A. There are different cultures depending on the discipline.  I’ve noticed different personality profiles associated with different disciples and different levels of disciplines.  I wouldn’t say it’s a particular thing for eventers but I definitely do think that there is a lot of almost this gung-ho, adventurous, almost Indiana Jones mentality that goes with eventers. They’re a courageous, adventurous, and high-energy bunch and. A group of risk-takers. Certainly the culture of eventing would encourage risk-taking and adventuring and taking chances and testing your limits.  So I would say that there’s this idea of being courageous being promoted but wouldn’t say I’ve observed that within this culture that it would support shame as I would see in other disciplines.  I don’t see that quite as much. It’s not as bad among eventers for whatever reason.  But it’s still there and I still know coaches who yell at people for being afraid.

Q. What kinds of fears do you hear about with your work?

A. I would say most of the time it’s the same set of concerns that I hear over and over. Although when people first come to me they fall into general categories but when I look into their own history with a horse and the culture within the barn I can fine-tune it. For example—some common ones are fear of falling, jumping, getting injured, fear of the horse doing something unexpected (rearing, bucking refusing), fear of embarrassment that others will think you’re not a good rider or considering you cowardly. That’s a big concern. Fear of never being good enough for their horse, or to do the sport they want. Fear of ever being able to ride comfortably.

But then when you look deeper that’s when you find more refined questions like the fear of a horse doing something when they mount because they had an accident when they mounted once. Or it’s specific to a horse or behavior.  Barn culture and a person’s history with issues comes into play quite a lot much more than people realize.

Q. Are their fears that are specific to eventers?

A.  The most common fear with eventers is the fear of falling because there’s so much business of jumping. Part of the two days of the three things you guys do. Fear of falling a big one for eventers. Fear of the horse doing something unexpected because again so many thing eventers do leave room for a horse to do something potentially scary or injure them.  The third biggest one (though a lot occur at the same time) is the fear of other people not thinking they’re good enough.  The fear of embarrassment I guess I should say.  There is a lot of self-consciousness among eventers and peers, which is really unfortunate because it impacts the enjoyment with you horse and your ability to perform with your horse.  It becomes preoccupying to some degree and creates anxiety, which feeds back to the horse, and then you do have legitimate problems.

Q. How does this effect riding?

A. Well, first of all every single person and every partnership is individualized so I don’t love globalizing. Particularly with self-consciousness.  It impacts a lot but impacts each person differently. Even in training since most riders train around other riders. Your horse picks up everything you feel and experience whether you’re aware of it or connected to it they’re aware of it and read it.  Depending on the partnership you have you’re gonna get different kinds of reactions as a result. If you have anxiety for whatever reason it’s going to interfere with your ability to communicate and get the best performance out of your horse. For example, if you have a relationship where your horse looks to you as leader and your horse experiences tension from you it’s going to become distracted and have difficulty receiving your signals and relaxing and do what’s it’s capable of doing athletically and mentally because you’re telling it to be anxious because its leader anxious.  Your horse is not going to be able to hear you as clearly if you’re not relaxed and you’re giving it a reason to be concerned. They’re especially aware of signals of threat. So it’s not good for anybody.  It’s not just competition it’s in training as well. Even building up to getting to where you need to go before you even get to competition can impact it negatively.

Say you have, hypothetically, a person with a fear of the horse spooking, particularly on trail riders. The horse had one time jumped to the side unexpectedly.  After that the person thought the horse was spooky so put the horse in that category.  The fear about trail riding and the fear of horse then rearing and spooking (even though it didn’t rear) might come on. And then feeling guilty that they let the horse down since they weren’t paying attention, which is why they came off.  Now the relationship isn’t the same with all this stuff that’s out there.

The thing is in all likelihood that moment was that moment for that horse. But that moment wasn’t just that moment for that rider so the rider changed their way of engaging with the horse and had negative feelings and when they would go on trail rides were anxious and communicated it.  So the horse became more reactive when on trail rides because their rider is acting strangely and they don’t like it when we act strangely. They‘re very aware of us. As much as we pay attention to their behavior they pay way more attention to us so when we act weird they know it. My horses could write the book on me, they know everything and not all of it’s good and some of it embarrassing!  But they spend lots of energy observing us because we’re the major feature in their life. We have to recognize that and become self-aware. Whether you’re aware of it or not they’re picking up what you’re communicating.

Thanks for exploring this topic with me. It’s something that’s little discussed but occurs often.  Check back for part II and more on how to handle fear, finding resources, and Jeanne’s own equine (and canine) family.  If you just can’t wait for part II to hear more from Jeanne you can find more from her up on her website, her blog, Barn Mice or The Equine Journal. Thanks to Jeanne for all the photos in this interview!


May 28th, 2010

Happy Weekend!

(image via The Pioneer Woman)

I’m feeling particularly grateful for one sweet, bay mare named Ellie.  What are you grateful for in your horse? I hope that you have lots of horsey time over the next few days. I’m planning on doing some jumping to be followed by a bubbly bath for Elle (with Head and Shoulders 2-in-1 as recommended by Holly Hudspeth-I’ll let you know how it goes!).

Para-Equestrian rider Rebecca Hart is gunning for the WEG podium.

Darren Chiacchia in good news.

Are you smarter than a Pony Clubber?

What are natural fly sprays, and do they work?

The Canadians aren’t messing around.

And some Three Days Three Ways posts you may have missed between early morning hacks and jump schools:

Amy Tryon Balances Olympic Medals, Losing Le Samurai, and Paradise in the North West

Jo and Kevin from the USEA and Type A’s Jumping Over Fixed Obstacles

Eventers Would Rather be in Aiken, SC!

Happy Weekend!

May 28th, 2010

Eventing Radio Episode 81 with Sarah Kelly from Rebecca Farm

Sarah Kelly from The Event at Rebecca Farms is our guest this week as Max Corcoran shares hosting duties and offers her Stable Management Tip of The Week. Take a listen.

Eventing Radio Episode 81 – Sarah Kelly from The Event at Rebecca Farm:

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May 28th, 2010

Attend The 3-Day Event Party of the Season with Allison Springer

photo courtesy of Allie Conrad at allieconrad [at] gmail [dot] com

The 3-Day Eventing world has been a-buzz with the news that Allison Springer is aiming for the German CCI****, Luhmuhlen. But there’s a lot more than an entry and fee to getting there.  A lot.  There’s the logistics, the fitness, and paperwork, yes.  Then there’s the cost.  I must repeat Allison’s suggestion she gave me before she recounted the projected costs:  Sit down.

Ready?  Okay.

  • For Arthur’s travels: from New York to Luhmuhlen and back again (through quarantine): $16,2076
  • Allison’s plane ticket: $1,500
  • Hotel: 75 Euros/night for 8 days = about $800
  • Rental Car: 340 Euro = about $460
  • Competition Entry & Stabling: $609.03
  • Phone:? Food:? Vet:? Farrier:? Shipping from Quarantine back to VA:? Cost of hired help while away: ?

Basically it costs upwards of twenty-five grand to get to Germany (I said “grand” because it sounds so much cooler than “dollars”).  Okay, you can stand back up now.  Here’s the fun part!

You’re invited to a fundraiser and party!

6pm on Sunday, June 6th @ The Hut at Foxlease Farm

(image via Style Files)

Wine, beer and hors d’oeuvres will be served, and if you’re lucky, music and dancing.  A silent auction will be held from 6pm – 9pm.  A suggested donation of $25.00 per person can be accepted at the door.  If you want to be a part of team there’s lots of ways:

1.  Donate a silent auction item.  Something like a summer home for a weekend, equestrian products, a shaggy and naughty pony, whatever!

2.  Make a donation (tax deductible, how sweet is that?) to cover the specific costs we reviewed earlier.  Why not be the one to make it possible for Arthur to travel across the Atlantic?  Or to ensure that, once there,  Allison has enough petrol (“petrol” is so much more European that “gas” so naturally I had to use that word instead) to actually get to Luhmuhlen?

3. Duh. Go to the party! What a special opportunity to meet your favorite rider and be a part of making US Eventing history. If you want to throw back some drinks and live it up here are a few of the silent auction items you’ll get a chance to make your own:

Aren’t you dying to go?! Buy things you need (yes, definitely, I need that new Charles Owen helmet as well as Smart Pak’s Harwich eventing bridle and lessons from Holly Hudspeth AND Katie Prudent, thank you very much) and get the opportunity to be a key part of the Springer Eventing Team. And that’s what it’s all about.

Allison says the dress is casually summer nice. Translation: Ladies, where a cute sundress and sandals (flats or heels, sometimes wedge heels are better on grass).  Gents, slacks and a button up will do.  Leave the jeans at the barn. Of course, I’m always a fan of looking especially dashing and this is just the place to do it (no horses to brush/ wash/ tack up) so style suggestions along those lines would be a bow tie and cap for the guys (or for the girls, really, that would be awfully cute) and something along the lines of this

(image via JCrew)

or, if you, like me, are avoiding the one-shoulder trend since it seems like a waste of money to buy something that will be out of style in the Fall try this

(image via JCrew)

which is timeless and flattering.

If you’re lame-o and can’t attend the party (okay, or are otherwise occupied), but would still like to contribute, a tax deductible check can be made payable to The American Horse Trials Foundation, or alternatively Allison Springer, PO Box 193, Marshall Va 20116.

So RSVP to info@allisonspringer.com, pick out your outfit, and off you go to the Springer Event Team and the party of the Summer!

May 27th, 2010

Simon Hobknobs with Eventing’s Top Dogs

Today starts a new series for Three Days Three Ways.  Please welcome Simon to the staff!

He’s a hard worker

and has played key support roles on several Three Days Three Ways Road Trips including the one to Aiken, SC (Note the shopping bag.  Can you blame me?).

Please welcome him as he takes a more central role starring in the new Three Days Three Ways Series:

Simon Hobknobs with Eventing’s Top Dogs!

Since we just heard from Jennifer Simmons of Middleburg, Virginia I thought it would be good timing to start with Jenn’s famed eventing dog: Cracker.  Here Simon and Cracker hang outside the barn in Aiken.  I like that Simon is smiling and Cracker is sporting bits of hay and dirt (classic eventing dog for sure).  I think those are Jenn’s feet in Dansko’s.  That brings up the topic of shoes for barn-wear which is too big a topic to get into today and warrants its own day in the sun. I think I feel an unavoidable Hunter/ Dubarry-esque debate coming on. Danskos? Ariats? Nikes? I must leave it at that and press on.

But my favorite picture is by far this one.

It makes me wish I was standing next to my sweet Ellie tacked up about to head up that lane for a hack.  With Simon and Cracker, fast friends, alongside.

Thanks for spending a few minutes today with Simon and one of his new eventing dog friends, Cracker. You’ll be hearing more from him in the future and his eventing friends. Happy Thursday!

May 25th, 2010

Eventer Jennifer Simmons: How To Be the Best Eventer You Can Be

So glad to have you back for part II of eventer Jenn Simmons’ interview. Here she gets into her partnership with horses (be prepared, it’s a tear jerker), a few pet peeves, and the path to being the best eventer you can be. Now those are some tips I’ll take! Do you recognize the cutie kicking off part II?  You may have seen him at shows.  It’s Cracker, Jennifer’s constant companion and famed eventing dog. Now that’s the way to live.

Q. What part of riding is most important to you?

A. You have to do it because you love it because the dry spells can be long, mine was. But there’s nothing in the world that compares to bringing a horse along. I’m fortunate to have JB [J.B's Star] and Morgan.  That horse has wealth of experience.  We’re competing at the Advanced level but I’m still working on my partnership with him. But I can tell you when I go out of the box on JB I know what’s going to happen. We talk the same language.  The best aspect is having the partnership with your horses. For me it’s everything. Knowing how much water they drink, what kind of grain they like, seeing them in the field before they get upset, knowing what sets them off, knowing how to put studs in without upsetting them. Knowing your horses inside-out. I get a lot of flack for it because I think people think my horses are spoiled as far as walking on top of me, or whatever. You pick the things you need to have the conversation about but I let a lot of things slide. Morgan is really funny. The first time I tried to pull his mane he flattened me against a wall. I’m a super micromanager and have a million pet peeves. I’m probably a very difficult person to work for. I’ll admit it!  But I won’t ask someone to do something that I haven’t already done or isn’t something I would do. I’ve done it all myself.

Q.  What are some of the pet peeves?

A.  Putting a bridle on a horse that’s too small. Let it out before you put it on! That makes me crazy. Dirty ears also make me crazy; they’ve got to be curried, I don’t like looking at dirty, crusty ears. Woof Boots that are too tight and the straps have to be symmetrical, not at angles. Blankets that are too big, that would be another pet peeve.

Q.  Tell us more about forming a partnership with your horse.

A.  I do think that very few of us ride like Phillip Dutton. He can get on a horse and instantly speak the language and have great outing. For the rest of us it’s very difficult to hop on an Advanced horse and go!

I have a lot of horses that come through my barn door and one thing I say is: horses never lie. The first ride I know exactly what the problem is and if you’re listening they’ll tell you what’s going on. It’s fulfilling when I can make a partnership work for them. You develop that partnership. With Morgan we bought a three star horse and you think it will be very straightforward but for that horse he thinks I’m talking Japanese all the time.  His previous jockey was very, very good. I’m good but not that good.  He’s seeing a lot of distances he’s never seen before!  I took steps backwards so I could strengthen our partnership.  We went out to Southern Pines and did the Advanced and looking back to when I was at Southern Pines Intermediate our relationship is in a totally different place. Now I’m riding my own ride not someone else’s. That feels pretty special.  I feel like I’ve done right by him and filled in all the gaps and crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s.

There are some horses that just touch your life. Horses that you will carry with you forever. There are the greats, such as Brumby, JB, Morgan, that will always be dear to me as they give me everything they’ve got, on a silver platter, with a smile on their face. But there are others whose lives are not as fortunate. They’ve taken a more difficult path.

I had a horse, named Three Point Landing, aka ’3PO’. When he came to me, he was an eight year old, still racing, but banned from Charles Town for his bad behavior.  He had been thru Red Revelle’s program for “naughty” horses, and I was the end of the line for him. There were no more options. He was banned from flat tracks and wasn’t really good enough for steeplechasing.  And so I ended up with him. How? Because I went tailgating at the MB races, and I saw him before the race started.  I looked him up, and lo and behold, the trainer was a good friend. I inquired about the horse and they were happy to get rid of him.  Our partnership started there. He was hot, sensitive, slightly dangerous, and I frickin’ loved him. He was a beautiful stamp of a horse, had a trot and canter to die for, and was inherently brave, scopey, etc. You couldn’t hold the reins, you couldn’t lay your leg on him, but I frickin’ loved him. He was MY horse. I let no one else ride him. We got along like peas ‘n carrots. We got him going Training level before he had an unfortunate accident and we had to humanely destroy him. It broke my heart, but I had tremendous peace of mind that I was there at the end, and I could now be sure nothing else bad would ever happen to him, as his life at the track had been very tough for him. I kept him safe to the very end, and I would like to think I made his life better.  I was someone who understood him, loved him, treasured him. With all his idiosyncrasies. I wouldn’t have traded him for the world. I couldn’t wait to ride him everyday. Despite the ear pinning, trying to attack me in the stall, the galloping away from the mounting block every day. He was putty in my hands. I loved him, and he knew it. I will remember that horse always. He wasn’t a world-beater, but he was a winner to me. I loved him. I made his life better, and he undoubtedly made mine. That’s why I ride. That’s why I do what I do. They aren’t all going to the Olympics, but when I can make their lives better, how lucky am I?!

Q.  What do I need to focus on to be the best eventer I can be?

A.  Make sure the person you’re working with is someone you trust. Someone who will make good decisions for you and have good report. Trust your gut.  You want somebody in your corner who knows when to hold your hand if you just want to jump cross-rails today. It happens all the time it’s a negotiation every lesson. Not everybody is trying to get to the Olympics. Maybe the goal is to jump 2 feet. For the people that are trying to go Prelim or have certain goals in mind you to have somebody you trust that’s gonna back up good decisions on your behalf. When you get in the tack and you strap on your helmet your brain goes out the door. It’s like you can’t ride. Having someone you trust who can help you make good decisions based on what you’re doing that day so your education stays in the growing process. You never want to take away confidence, you want to instill confidence.  It’s easy to lose your confidence riding, it can happen like that with one bad decision.


Q.  Anything you want to add?

A.  I would say it’s been privilege to be a part of PRO [Professional Riders Organization].  It’s a great organization and it’s comprised of amazing people that really want to spearhead some positive changes within the sport. I’m gonna have to agree with Allison [Springer] as far as when things are written down it becomes the truth. When all that hoo-rah happened at [Rolex]Kentucky with Laine [Ashker] it was amazing to me how many people were ready to jump up and down and shake their finger and call eventing a bad sport. No matter what level we can all appreciate the fun of having a relationship with a horse whether you’re riding Beginner Novice or at Rolex. Don’t be the first one to put the pillow over your head. Stand up for what you believe in. PRO lets me stand up for what I love.  Instead of shaking our finger, well how are we going to change it?

Thanks for reading, friends! Share your thoughts and responses to hearing from top eventer Jennifer Simmons with comments below. Always such fun! And, as always, don’t hesitate to send me rider interview requests or topics about which you’d like to hear about.  Talk soon!


May 24th, 2010

Eventer Jenn Simmons’ Riotous Stories from Suburbia and A Father’s Promise

I sat down with Eventer Jenn Simmons (who just recently came in 4th at this Spring’s Jersey Fresh CIC*** on J.B’s Star) in the apartment above the barn she and Mara Dean shared in Aiken, SC for the winter. In short order she had me in fits of laughter, near tears, and immediately a friend.  Here are the riotous stories of growing up riding in Suburbia, a father’s promise, the horse to whom she owes everything, and nearly missing jogs at her first 3-Day event. Plus a brain that goes 150 miles an hour, her favorite authors, and running gear!

photo by Allie Conrad: allieconrad [at] gmail [dot] com

Q.  Where did you grow up?

A.  I grew up outside of Houston Texas, I lived in suburbia. I had two options growing up in suburbia for horses: I could keep the horses in the suburb stables or the do-it-yourself and pay $50 a month for a stall. I did do that for a little while and my father drove me to the barn at 4:30am every morning. I also swam in high school so had to be in the pool by 5:15am or something crazy and I had to do my horse before that. The other option was to keep the horses with the lady who I rode with at the time and she was about 45 minutes away. My dad was very funny. He drove me down to the dmv to get my license at 15 and told them I needed a hardship license. And I got one? The hours were from 4:30am to 9am and when you’re 15 that’s all you want!  I was a good kid. By the time I was 16 I was driving the truck and trailer because I didn’t trust my parents to do it properly!

Q. When and how did horses come into your life?

A. When I was very little we spent a little bit of time in New Jersey.  There was one person who had enough acreage to have a horse.  She had Arabians and one Shetland pony that her kids had outgrown. I would pick grass, rake outside of the barn. I would just hang out and she was stuck with this neighborhood kid.  I started riding a pony named Domino and he was awesome. I was ten and I rode him till I was eleven and we moved back to Texas.  I could almost tie my feet under his belly at that point. She had a Western saddle and I couldn’t figure out how to do the cinch so I went bareback. I always blame her for getting me into horses!

photo by Leslie Mintz of the USEA

Q. When did you know you would be an eventer?

A. So we moved to Texas when I was eleven and I was really upset to leave all my friends.  My father promised me that everyone has a horse in their backyard in Texas so we’ll get you a horse. We got to Texas and I was like, okay, let’s get my horse now!  My dad was like, what? My mom stepped up and said you promised you’d buy your daughter a horse you better do it.  I was doing the hunter-jumpers and there was an Arabian Western-Pleasure horse that the people had made payments on and had been repossessed.  They just wanted the $1500 left on him. Boom, that was it: my first horse was an Arabian gelding who did western pleasure. We rented a trailer to get him to local events; it was royal blue, this little tag along trailer, for thirty dollars a day.

Even back then the Arabians wouldn’t get a lot of attention in hunter-jumpers. Even as a kid, around twelve, kids would go in and fall off and be on the wrong lead and they’d still pin above me. That’s how I got into eventing.  I wanted to have a fair chance. He won all the time and was cute and submissive and would jump anything.  Judges loved him. I sold him to a kid in the barn and she did the same thing.

I started riding another horse whose owners had defaulted on the board named Famous Amos, a 16.2h chestnut gelding. I just loved him. He was hot and tough and sensitive and I adored him. We paid his board bill, a whopping $3,000.  I took him Training and wanted to take him Prelim but this was before joint injections and Adequan and he wouldn’t stay sound. The one nice horse my parents bought me was an Intermediate horse in Texas who had cantered around the one intermediate track in Area 5.  I graduated from high school and moved to Area 3 as working student for a year before college.  I ended up in the ditch at all the competitions. There were no ditches in area 5 and I didn’t realize that until I got to area 3!

I went to David Hopper and had very little money to spend. David at that point was buying and selling a lot of horses off the track and I bought a four-year-old from him. The horse’s name was Lady Catcher, also known as George. That horse did everything for me. He was funny looking and had pedialostopis but we went all the way through Advanced.  Later I timber raced him and he was super competitive on the point-to-point circuit in Virginia. He couldn’t trot his way out a paper bag but tried hard and was a hell of a jumper. He was an awesome horse and I owe everything to him.

As I was graduating from college I was getting ready for my first one star, Bromont. My parents were going to go with me.  We went out to dinner before we were leaving and I got terrible food poisoning.  I didn’t even get out to parking lot before I knew I was something was wrong. I was turned inside out. We left anyway and we had to pull over every hour.  We didn’t make it to Canada. We called David Hopper and said we need a place to stay and I ended up going to emergency room getting a bag of fluids.  We got there a day late on Wednesday. People are running around and there’s turmoil and excitement and electricity. This is how I met Craig Thompson. I asked him, “Excuse me why is everyone is running around?”  He said because the jog starts in 20 minutes.  I said:  “What jog?”. Bless his heart. Forever Craig will be a friend of mine because of this.  He told me to tell them you just arrived and tell them your horse isn’t braided.  I presented my horse unbraided, doubled over, sweating, and in shorts. I didn’t read that part in the manual and somehow that went right over my head. Jog? What jog? We laugh about it now. I had read the part about galloping so my horse was plenty fit but we almost didn’t make the first jog.

photo by Emily Daily of the USEA

Q. How would you describe yourself?

A. I’m definitely high energy. My brain is going 150 miles an hour. Someone can say something to me 15 years ago and I remember everything. I watch everything so I’m lucky sharing barn with Mara [Dean]. I watch everybody ride, how they warm their horses up. You pick everything up. I’m high energy that way. I do yoga and run a lot and read a lot and love to write.  I like to spend time with friends. Friendships are important.  I have a lot of great friends and am very lucky that way. Family is important to.  I’m very close to my family.

Q. What are your favorite clothes for running and yoga?

A. I know Lulu lemon is the hot thing but it’s pricy. I’m an Under Armour girl. It’s great because I have it on under my britches and I just peel those off and go running!

Q. What do you read?

A. Mostly fiction.  I love Cormack McCarthy. Cormack is like poetry. It’s like 300 pages of poetry; it just flows across the page. When you find a writer that you really like and their writing is so beautiful it’s such a treat. It’s such a gift, I wish I could write like that; it’s just mindboggling. You look at something so beautiful, it’s such a treasure. I’ve read about everything of his.

Another of my favorite books of all time is The Gathering by Ann Enright.  A beautiful, beautiful read.  I loved it. Also anything by Nick Hornby. He’s fantastic!

And that’s just Part I for Jenn’s interview!  Check back for Part II and her tips on how to become the best eventer you can be, a few pet peeves, and forming a partnership with your horse.

May 21st, 2010

Happy Weekend!

How will you spend your weekend? Does it involve horses and dogs?  Do tell!  I’ll be helping a friend of mine over fences on Saturday trying to knock off that winter rust.

Anyone have a good scent hound to help in the hunt for the new Chef D’Equipe?

I was galloping across a field in the pouring rain last weekend and wished I had a pair of MacWet’s.

Land Rover loves eventing. How bout you?

How exactly do those frangible pins work? Photographer Nancy Jaffer catches them in action.

Want to ride on the same team as your favorite riders?  You can!

(image by Dale Durfee)

May 20th, 2010

Eventer Laura VanderVliet’s Tips for Business and Finding Confidence

One of the reasons I liked Laura so much is how frank she was about the ephemeral nature of success in the eventing world. I liked that and found strength in her willingness to be open about struggles as well as successes.  She learned from what has worked for her and what hasn’t, and she is brave enough to share those lessons with us. It feels like she’s offering a shortcut!  Here she passes on tips to running a successful equine business and talks about looking up to Phillip Dutton and feeling grateful for Buck Davidson. I hope I get the chance to sit down with her again in the future. I found her inspiring, encouraging, and tremendously helpful in the business arena.  I hope you do too.

Q.  How did you become such a successful eventer?

A.  I don’t know if I’m as successful eventer! I have successfully completely supported myself. I do this 100% as my living. I’ve lived off of it and made a living from it for the last ten or twelve years. And the eventing is what I choose to do. It’s more the business of having the horses and the training programs for the owners and competing the horses.  My parents are 100% supportive of everything I do but they’re not financially wealthy. Everything I’ve done I’ve had to figure out how to run as a business.

I have a business background from Cornell. You see teens trying to decide whether to go to college. College gave me the confidence to do this. It wasn’t my only option but I certainly use that education on a daily basis. It’s less about riding the horses than about running the business. Contacting the owners, keeping the customers happy, and in the end the expenses have to be less than the income!  All the accounting and billing and budgeting. I do think that in the end you have to be able to ride.  If you’re going to make a living at it you’ve got to be able to produce a product. That’s one thing I can do: take these young horses and produce a good product. Whether they go back to owners or get sold.

But I’ve never ridden at [Rolex]Kentucky.  I ride Advanced but have never had all huge advanced horses.  But I have made a lot of intermediate horses that I’ve sold and gone on. I take them and train them and then they go home to their owners.  If the owners are successful with horses it feels a little bit like you give back.

It’s about getting good people to work and help you. And you need someone who’s going to do the billing.  It’s time management. Phillip [Dutton] is organized with his time.  His time riding or teaching is very focused. What things actually happening in the barn that are actually brining in money? If you’re teaching, riding, and doing horses: What things are actually bringing in income versus what’s part of just the daily management expenses?  I spend a couple hours every morning doing billing and invoicing and keeping track of expenses.  I also want to put a plug in for everybody returning phone calls; that’s a big thing. I don’t carry my cell phone all the time how can you ride when you’re answering the phone? Now you’ve been on that horse for an hour and a half and haven’t gotten done what you wanted to get done. Don’t answer the phone every time it rings but try to answer calls by end of the day. It’s customer service. If you’re going to call and you get a voice mail it’s like calling the bank and getting the answering system.  You want to talk to a person. Other people are waiting to get their stuff done and they’re waiting for you and they’re getting frustrated. I know you can get away with it but in the long run it drains your business. I promise no matter how much business you think you have, you’ll lose business.

The website stays current but I can do a lot of expansion without it having to get redone. There’s anther thing: the whole pr and advertising and having someone do Facebook. A lot of people are figuring it out. You probably used to be able to just ride horses but now you have to have a website and Facebook and all because they want to follow it all.  If they’re not following you they’re going to follow someone else. That’s a whole time consuming thing there too. You could spend a lot of time doing things that don’t really gain you anything. Where can you discuss this stuff? What are common salaries? How much do you pay someone to muck stalls?  What a market trends? Advertising? Other businesses have that all the time.  But as a professional in this sport it’s hit or miss.  There’s nothing business-wise to point me in the right direction.

photo by Xpress Foto

Q.  What is needed to run an equestrian business effectively?

A.  A good accounting program on your computer.  Expense sheets for all the horses.  I do see more of some people starting to do pr stuff.  That’s fantastic.  Are some people willing to do billing?  Somebody that can hone it specifically to eventing: there would probably have big market for that. I have a person who helps me with the books and billing and then an accountant who does taxes. I don’t know what other people do. That’s the thing. If you were in a another business there would be software for that business. There’s not ton of it out there for the horse business.

Q.  I know you’ve worked with a lot of big names in the equestrian world.  Some of the eventers you work with now include Phillip Dutton and Buck Davidson.  Tell me about what they’re like.

A.  I worked with Phillip for a long time and he was much more of a mentor to me than he even realizes. Most of it is his focus.  He’s incredibly focused on what he wants to do. If he says he’s going to get something done he makes it happen. I rode with him for a while and then started riding with Buck.  At the time it was a big switch. I had been riding with Phillip and was struggling with my confidence. At this level it’s very hard to consider yourself successful.  You forget that all you were trying to do was an advanced horse trials because now you’re trying to qualify for a three or four star and by the time you get to that point you’ve already set new goals.  It’s hard to realize what success you’ve actually achieved.  There’s not a lot of measures of success, and the ones that exist are so fleeting. They, in general, don’t change your life.  It’s more the course of the journey.  It’s the daily stuff that has to make you successful. When it comes it’s so fleeting because it’s not like to the rest world it even happened. I remember when I rode a horse and he was a tough, tough horse with tons of ups and downs.  At Plantation we won the Advanced division.  We had a good test, clear showjumping, and clear cross-country. The owner had left and no one was left on grounds.  I went to pick up the ribbon and nobody is there and nobody cares! That’s it, too. So what? It wasn’t even that big deal.

When you’re riding against such fantastic riders it’s hard to determine success on a daily basis.  You can walk away feeling like a failure.  I was having a hard time. That’s something Buck helped me with.  He gave me a lot of confidence. In the end you’re only as good as the horse you’re sitting on no matter how good a rider you are.  I was just talking with Sinead [Halpin]: you can have all this stuff right but if you’re going to spend your time focusing figure out how and where to get the horses.  That’s being spoken by someone who wished I could have realized that twenty years ago. Buck’s helped with that. He’s a fantastic teacher, very positive, very high energy, and motivating.

above: Laura VanderVliets Spring and Summer training facility

I hope you’ ve enjoyed hearing from Laura VanderVliet.  I was there when I interviewed her and I’m still hanging on every word! Don’t hesitate to check her beautiful website for more information, pictures, and ways to be involved with her team at www.lauravandervlieteventing.com.

May 19th, 2010

Laura VanderVliet: An Eventer’s Heart, A Business Head

photo by Emily Daily at the USEA

Laura Vandervliet brings a host of talents to the eventing world including Saddle Seat, Competitive Trail Riding, extensive work breaking yearlings in the race horse world (giving her a nearly magical gift for predicting which blood line will turn a racehorse into a slamming eventer) as well as a business background from Cornell University.  She combines her experience across the horse and business world into what Phillip Dutton calls “an all around horsewoman…talented at all levels of horse training from the breaking of your horses to the training of…advanced horses.” We spoke at her farm in Aiken, South Carolina with my Cavalier, Simon, in my lap, and her sheep dog sprinting by the window.  I felt right at home. Here in part I of her interview she talks about the best thoroughbred bloodlines for eventers, riding upper-level dressage (and when you really get to the collection part), and never getting eventing out of her system.

Q.  Tell me about the various disciplines with which you’ve been involved.  Has the diversity contributed to your ability as rider?

A.  I didn’t grow up in Pony Club or eventing.  I did Western, Saddle Seat, competitive trail riding, and endurance.  I did more of that before I even really started jumping.  I did ride a lot and it was a big decision to not go into horses professionally.  It was a big decision not to ride in college.  I knew I would go back to it at some point but I didn’t know how and when. After college and in the workforce I started boarding horses and riding in California.  I got into eventing a bit there. But when I came back East it was to work at Hilltop Farm in Maryland.  That was with Scott Hassler and was mainly dressage, breeding and training. Right off the bat I had more dressage background coming into eventing. Then I ended up working for Phillip Dutton but have always done a lot of the young horses.  I love going to just dressage show or jumper shows.  I have a horse that I hope will train through FEI levels of dressage; my goal is to have an FEI dressage horse as well! That’s what I love about eventing.  You’ve got to be so good at all three phases. That’s the challenge of it all.

If you could focus on one you can be good at it but to put it all together in three days is amazing, actually. That’s the thing, I enjoy all three phases equally well. It’s not just get through the dressage phase.  I think event riders get stuck at a level. You get stuck at 3’6″, 4’ [jumps],  or at 3rd level dressage. You don’t get feel for collection until you get beyond that, so if you can ride that you can take that into your eventing. More and more I’m seeing riders doing that.  You have to ride dressage and show jump clean; one rail will drop you so far.  There’s more to it than just getting around.

Q.  I know you’ve worked a lot with race horses. Do you know which blood lines are best for eventers?

A.  Yes, which lineages and pedigrees have worked in the past to be bold and to be trainable. Good temperament and good jumping talent too. I like thoroughbreds. I like the warmbloods, but I’ve always liked the thoroughbred breed in general, I think they’re smart and competitive.

photo by Emily Daily at the USEA

Q.  So why eventing ultimately?

A.  I guess I always knew I wanted to do it. It was just being at the right place at the right time to try it. Obviously the biggest thing was I lived in California for while and in Montana.  I started doing it when Icame back east and got to Hilltop Farm and worked with Phillip.  That’s when I really started to get into it. I always think it’s funny when I quote him.  I thought I would work two or three months and do three day.  He said “It’s not really something you get out of your system in two or three months”.   That was back in 1994.  I’m still in Unionville so I guess it’s still not out of my system!

Q.  Do you have a favorite event horse of all time?

A.  You know who I always loved was Charisma who Mark Todd rode.  I always liked that a 15.2 hand horse won gold at the Olympics. One of the horses I got reminded me of that horse. I like the little ones.  I just love event horses think they’re amazing animals and see them out there.

Q.  What do you feel like is the foundation to your life?

A.  I just think the people. My family, Steve [my boyfriend], obviously. We’ve been together about eight years. Everything can get so busy and hurrying, rush rush, rush. I have a bit of a reputation to be late or not moving fast enough; but I defy time!  I defy the fact that we have to hurry to do everything.  My family is very important to me and relationships and people because if you don’t have time for that what does any of it matter?

Q.  How would you use to describe yourself?

A.  I try to think of myself as more thoughtful.  And empathetic, maybe too. I always somehow try to think and feel from the other person’s perspective. Some times it works and sometimes it gets in your way little bit.  I’m thoughtful and don’t often react without thinking.  Not that I always manage to not say something before. I think of that in everything I do. How is this effecting anything?  I’m a very empathetic rider too. What am I doing?  How is that effecting what this horse is doing?

Q.  I know you spend the winters in Aiken, SC.  What are your favorite things about it?

A.  I love going into Hitchcock woods and riding and I love the restaurants.

Q.  What’s your world like outside of horses?

A.  Steve sails and that makes me do something else. And I love that with Steve we socialize with other people. I love socializing with people outside the horse world because you see these people every day, you compete against them, you travel with them in this gypsy caravan to competitions.  I love going to Annapolis or to Charleston with Steve.  I love Annapolis or Havre de Grace which is just south of Unionville and is a little town on the  Susquehannah [River].   Steve races down there and we go to some great restaurants and can drive for the night and drive back.  It’s one of my new favorite places.  Steve goes there for races all the time.  He races right off shore and you can sit on bulk head and watch.

photo by Emily Daily at the USEA

The second part of Laura’s interview will post soon with her frank look at success (and how to define it) and some concrete tips on how to run your horse business.  If you’re antsy for more info on Laura check out her website  (it’s really rad) at www.lauravandervlieteventing.com.  See you soon!

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