Click to read Oakhurst Coach Helen Richardson’s Journal Entries:
I spent 2 days last week in the Equestrian Canada boardroom co-teaching a coaching theory course as part of my certification process to become an NCCP Learning Facilitator. Sitting in a room for a few days with other Equestrian coaches, discussing mental training for our athletes, YTP’s (which are now YTCRP’s (Yearly Training Competition and Recovery Plans)) and ideas for managing an equestrian business is always something I find very interesting. I’m a little geeky like that. I really enjoy working with young coaches to help them find their path for their career. I also love exchanging ideas and information with experienced coaches. I learn from all of them. I even learn from Ruth and Meg all of the time too!
With all of that quiet time in a classroom, I have been thinking a lot about why we do this. Why coach people to ride horses in the hot, dusty sun and/or the freezing cold winter? I can’t come up with many other sports that have such an extreme range of weather to work through. So we must love what we are doing. Or we are nuts. But the same could be said for the students who show up to ride in the +30 to -30 conditions. I guess we can agree, we all love what we are doing. Phew. We are not nuts. OK, so we LOVE what we are doing, but what is it we really love about it? What is it that makes us want to get up at the crack of dawn to go stand in a sand ring watching ponies trot around preparing for a dressage test, or stand knee deep in a water jump encouraging a student to jump in for the first time?
I think there are many reasons coaches are out there. I mean, there’s the fame and glory of course. And the adulation and unending devotion from every student you have ever come into contact with. Those are a given. But there’s more to it than that. For me, there are so many more things I do it for. Passing on a love for horses and all things equestrian – whether competitive or not – is a big reason. I love to see students enjoying a relationship with a horse. Seeing someone find a sport that they can be involved in for the rest of their life (because it’ll take that long to learn how to do it!) and strive to be better and better at it every day is a big one for me.
I think the thing that I enjoy seeing the most though, is how my students take the skills they are learning while riding with me and use them in their personal life. I’m not saying that mastering 2 point position can be used for much more than, well, maybe Nordic Ski Jumping (off the big long slide thingy)…But many, many more skills are being picked up out there that are being used at school, work, relationships, etc. Practicing a sport teaches skills like:
• Problem Solving – “A butterfly just landed on my horse, how can I distract him before the bucking and bolting starts?”
• Dealing with stress – “I’m about to go in the ring for the biggest class of my life and some idiot just released like 1000 butterflies in this field.”
• Cooperation – “It’s OK, we can get past the butterflies together.”
• Patience – “The butterflies are pretty. I know they are scary, but we can do this. Together. Eventually.”
• Being Beyoncé fierce – “Screw the butterflies, it’s ON now. Just because you are a 1200 lb chicken doesn’t mean we are going to hide. Let’s DO this.”
• Achieve goals – “We made it through the terrifying horde of butterflies and might even win a ribbon!”
• Learning that practice DOES make progress – “I used to fall off as my yellow-bellied horse galloped away from the butterflies, but now I don’t!”
• Learning that failure is a step along the path to success – “OH. My. God. I fell off when my horse panicked over the butterflies. At least now that I know, I’ll be prepared for the little flutterers to incite panic the next time I see one.”
• Teamwork – “I’ll hold your horse while you beat off the butterflies”.
• Learning to Learn – “My coach told me that the next time I see butterflies coming close to my horse, I shouldn’t scream like last time. I need to remember that”.
And so many more skills I’m sure! I’m not sure that people who don’t get involved in sports get to learn so many character building skills. And you can probably learn many of these skills in most sports, which is why sharing ideas with other coaches is so interesting. The playing field may be different, but the life skills we are sharing and improving are similar. Although those Nordic Ski Jumpers probably don’t worry too much about ninja attack butterflies sneaking out of the long grass just to throw them off their game. When you think about it, their sport looks ridiculously easy. And their coaches only need outfits for one season.
I do love butterflies (from a distance. They are still insects. Lets not get all crazy.) Especially my students who I get to watch blossom and grow into full blown people.
Yesterday the wind was blowing directly from the Artic Circle. It was blasting us hard enough I expected to see all of the siding from our house blown to the neighbours yard by the morning. And it was very cold. It had a real bite to it. Definitely winter wind. Today it is calm, bright and sunny and significantly more pleasant. And about 20 degrees warmer. So warm that when I got into my car after it sat in the sun for 30 minutes, I had to drive with the windows down and the AC on for a few minutes. I am relatively sure it was not because I was having a hot flash, but because the sun was finally out, and working at full power. It was the first real feeling of spring I’ve had this year.
This time of year always presents a clothing challenge for equestrians. We become champions of layering. It might be cold when you get to the barn, but by the time you have wrangled your horse from the paddock (full of the joy of spring), cleaned 20lbs of mud from each leg (from the microscopic tiny defrosted corner of their turnout field), tacked up and climbed on, your temperature has started to rise. After 5 minutes of warming up, the arena wall becomes a clothes rack for layers of discarded quarter sheets, jackets, sweaters, gloves, vests, etc. I’m always amazed at how much comes off people during a lesson. I’m amazed they could get on in the first place wearing that many layers!
Layering is vital, confusing and tricky for coaches too. We have different clothes for different temperatures. I have boots for different temperature ranges. But I also have to factor in the amount of time I will be out there. For instance, I have super warm Columbia boots with a fluffy lining and thick rubber soles that keep my feet from freezing even when the ground is frozen centimeters below the arena dirt. But they are heavy. Heavier than paddock boots. So I don’t like to wear them if I’m teaching 4 or 5 lessons back to back. Plus, if it’s not -20, my feet get hot. I hate sweaty feet. So I’m pretty careful about the conditions I choose them for. I’m selective about when I wear toques as well. Baseball hats may contain the curly hair craziness, but they don’t do anything to keep my ears warm. But a toque – when the overhead arena heaters are on – can make my head sweaty. I’d rather be a little cool than too hot.
And then there are the layers. This time of year, long johns can be necessary or make you overheat. I walk a lot when I teach, so I sure don’t want to be melting, but trying to think when you are feeling frostbite on your thighs can be really difficult. I tend to wear a crazy number of turtlenecks, sweaters, long sleeved shirts and jackets and keep adding and removing as the day progresses. I’ll be happy when we get to summer and a t-shirt gets you through most of the day (but I’ll probably complain it’s too hot . And I’m getting sunburnt. Sometimes you can’t win.)
The great thing about this time of year is getting those glimpses of summer coming our way. I’m never sure that people who live closer to the Equator are very lucky. They don’t have a change in seasons like we do. We may have horrible cold days in the middle of winter (and occasionally when we think we are heading into spring), but maybe they make us appreciate days like today. It’s -2 right now, which feels cold to those equator dwellers, but to me, it has that tingle of the beginning of spring. I can see the snow receding, the puddles getting deeper and the critters starting to move (I passed 2 deer on Fernbank Road this morning). Summer is coming, I can feel it. And I bet it will be hot, and we’ll complain and wish for winter to come back. At least it’s something to look forward to!
Stay warm (or cool) and get ready to apply that sunscreen. I personally can’t wait for the 3 Day at Oakhurst this summer. Hot or cold, I’ll be there sharing in the learning, competition and fun. Although being in charge of scoring guarantees me a pretty decent climate no matter the weather. 😉 Watch the video below to find out a bit more about Oakhurst3DE…
This week’s blog entry is completely fictional. Any resemblance to horses and ponies you know from Oakhurst is probably based in truth, however the events described in the story are completely made-up. It’s February. There’s nothing exciting going on. I could write about how it’s snowy and cold and we are still having lessons, etc, but instead, this week, lets go for it and use our imaginations with a valentiney horse story. And if you read all of the way to the end, there’s special surprise twist (thanks to Kristin McLaren for the idea…)
Once upon a time there was a magnificent eventing barn in eastern Ontario – located near the town of Ashton (very quaint, has a pub and 2 churches, you can picture it) that was home to 28 (on any given day) spectacular equine athletes. These horses were special. More well-rounded than your average horse, they knew how to run, jump, prance and gallop even more brilliantly than most people thought possible. They were content in their lavish lives of 23 hours a day of eating, drinking, lounging and sleeping, with 1 short burst of exercise to liven things up when their owners (slaves) came out to feed them treats. Life at Oakhurst was heavenly.
One day, a new pony arrived at Oakhurst to join the gang. Rosie – a small young bay mare with a star and a thick fluffy winter coat – arrived late one afternoon and was quickly introduced to the school horses – spending the evening in the paddock with them getting to know each other. Imagine Rosie’s shock at learning to adapt to a new herd. She had to decide which of the schoolies were “the cool kids” and which to give the cold shoulder to. She looked around at her new herd and started figuring out where she fit. She soon figured out that Jag lives next to her in the barn so she’d better be friends with him. And Barbie is enormous – what with the +1 she is carrying around until spring 2017, don’t want to make that mama angry. Flash is a bit of a quiet one outside, so he’d definitely be friendly – if she offered to share hay with him but Nike, Chez and Lollipop already have a pretty tight 3some going on, so she left them on their own. This was going to be easy. Only 6 new horses to get to know, no problem.
The next day, Coach Meg was chosen (volun-told) to tack Rosie up and see what sort of experience being ridden she had. It was very exciting to be brushed, wear boots (they make your legs feel weird) and a saddle and bridle. Once tacked up, they headed into the indoor arena. O. M. G. That’s a big scary metal room. And there are MORE new horses in there. Big ones. Moving fast. And there was a weird hissing noise coming from above (heaters). And a lady with lots of red hair (Coach Ruth), shouting things at the other horses and their people. Rosie tried really hard to behave and listen to Meg, but it was SO EXCITING. Plus she had to watch out for all of those new strange horses. Like King. She had heard about King. His nickname in the field was “Mirror Masher”. She wasn’t sure why, but she had heard something about him being unhappy about his saddle pad not colour coordinating with his riders sweater and kicking out in anger, catching a mirror? Whatever, she wasn’t getting behind him. No thanks.
After being ridden, Rosie went back to her stall for a bit to rest. A few days later, Meg came to tack up Rosie again for something called “Strength Training Sunday”. The other schoolies didn’t know what it was. They hadn’t had to do it, so she figured it was a special thing she was invited to. This time, when Rosie got in the arena, there were no big horses to watch out for, but 2 red headed ladies, a pile of sticks – big ones, like fence rails – and another pony! A CUTE pony! A BOY pony! When Rosie came into the arena, the boy pony called out to her “Hi, my name’s Sammy!” This place was getting better and better. Party out in the schoolie field all night, sleep and eat all day and now boys? Jackpot! Rosie had to pay attention to Meg for a bit while Meg made her do all of these crazy leaps through a terribly confusing line of poles. And Sammy was really quite good at it. She tried hard to keep up and not trip over the crap Meg kept aiming for, but sometimes she was just so busy looking at Sammy, she forgot to pick her feet up and those sticks would crash everywhere, making the redheads run around moving them all. That was fun too.
All of a sudden, the door opened and the biggest horse Rosie had seen yet came in. Sox – the Thb/Clyde was brought in by a little blond girl. She climbed on and Sox looked like the biggest dragon Rosie had ever seen. Every time he breathed in the cold air, two jets of steam would stream out of his nostrils, making it look like he was breathing fire. Rosie kept her distance from him. Although for all of his size, how looked just as wary of her, so maybe they could get along. After he entered, several more big horses came in – Ash – tall and slim but one of the quickest Rosie had ever seen, Tatti – a very pretty brunette with very bouncy feet, Tess – a spunky bay thoroughbred mare with tons of enthusiasm and excitement, Oliver – a beautiful chestnut gelding who was very friendly, but very tall (way too tall for Rosie – she’d get a neck ache gazing up at him) and Dan – he looked like a real ladies man, but not her type -too big and sporty. Rosie was definitely hooked on Sammy.
When Rosie left the arena, she noticed that there was actually a whole other aisle of horses she hadn’t seen before. That must be where Sammy lived. Rosie started forming a plan. She wanted to see Sammy again, and didn’t want to wait until the next Strength Training Sunday, whatever that was. Who knows when that magic will happen again. So she started to be more aware of her surroundings to try to figure out where Sammy spent his days. That night, in the Schoolie field, Rosie started asking the others about the rest of the horses there. Lollipop told her about the “Curvy Girls” – Portia, Gem and Taco. Lollipop had a secret desire to be accepted into the curvy girls one day, but she had only got her curviness in her girth area so far – to be a real curvy girl, she heard you need that Beyoncé “junk in the trunk”. Definitely not where Sammy would be.
Chez told her about Mario, Kip and Candy – definite Dressage pros who went out with Sox near the curvy girls. They all sounded too big to be Sammy’s buddies. Plus they were part of a “halter fight” club that just sounded too rough for her or her beloved. She asked Nike to tell her about the other horses at Oakhurst. He told her about Rudy – the oldest horse ever, who must have gone advanced a million years ago, and still bucked and squealed every time he went outside and his best friend Stella – who Rudy absolutely could not live without. Rosie was amazed that there were so many horses on the property. She was told (by Barbie) about Buttercup and Duke – two of the younger horses at the farm. They had both been born at Oakhurst and both loved to spend time with people. They didn’t go out with Sammy either though. So who was left?
Where could he possibly go that she didn’t see him any time of the week except for the pole crashing day? Flash finally spoke up and told her that he had a new horse in a few of his lessons. A little brown mare named Winnie. Winnie was always so very excited that she did everything at a million miles an hour, but was learning to slow down and take her time. Flash had heard that Winnie was going out with Sammy during the day in a field on the other side of the barn. That was it. She HAD to find him. She had to make sure Winnie wasn’t trying to make a move on her man. She had to make sure he knew how much he meant to her. So she made a plan…
Choose your own ending…
What is taking me so long to write this journal entry? I mean I’ve had weeks. Why am I procrastinating so much? I think it’s the time of year. And the weather. And the lack of sunlight. Maybe the mountain of chocolate which I am trying to get through thanks to so many generous Christmas gift givers (wouldn’t want to waste any).
This time of year it is easy to slow down and lose sight of why we keep working so hard and what we are working towards. We had our Show Team meetings last weekend, and they were a great reminder of new goals, new plans and all of the things we can do once the sun comes back and summer returns! That should be energizing. That should get the juices flowing and start everyone dreaming about where they want to be in a few months. I know it has resulted in a subtle shift in my lesson planning. All of a sudden we have moved from that “General preparation” phase where we were working on individual elements, to the “Specific Preparation” phase – where we go back to full courses of jumps and whole dressage tests. I know right now, some of those new tests and courses seem tough – but we’ve got a few months to perfect them before we take our new skills out and show them to other people. No worries!
I’m excited to see the Student Questionnaires start rolling in – if you are an Oakhurst student…DON’T PROCRASTINATE!…Get on with it! Let us know where you are thinking of going, what you are hoping to do. Megan, Ruth and I are anxious to know where we are going this summer – who is doing what and when. If you haven’t filled yours in yet, there is a link on the Student Page. And a link on the Student Downloads page. And you can email us for it too.
Now that we are a few weeks into “Strength Training Sunday”, we have a good baseline of where our competitive horses are at physically. Everyone is getting more adept at taking their horses pulse and respiration and watching those heart rate monitors is fascinating. Ruth is tracking the numbers from every session, so I’m sure we’ll get some sort of spreadsheet analysis in the future. If you aren’t doing it yet, but would like to, talk to Ruth – I hear a new “Strength Training for Dressagey Ponies” (poles and cavalettis) has been added for this weekend…
OK. Starting to feel a bit more motivated now. Sometimes all it takes is jumping in and getting started and the motivation comes back. I’m not sure what has taken me so long to get on with this. This time of year I guess we can all have some down time. But now that our Show Meeting is done, Strength Training and LSD have started, Work Logs are back up on the board and Show Schedules and YTP’s are being figured out, it’s time to start shaking off the dust.
So here’s my plan, I’m going to get my butt moving and start getting myself in the right mental frame of mind to be motivated for a new show season. Despite the snow and grey clouds and mountain of chocolate to finish (I’m no quitter), I’m on it. This weekend Paige Mattie is coming to spend a few hours Sunday afternoon and get us thinking like champions again. If the results we saw last summer from our students who embraced the training are any indication of the power of mental strength and the difference it made for them, then this year promises to be outstanding! I can’t wait to see what our next mental strength tool is going to be. Then Ruth and Meg and I can practice on each other between lessons!
If you missed the Show Team Meetings, you probably missed this fabulousness – Coach Megan Jenner was presented her OEF certified Competition Coach jacket! So I’m sure you’ll see her wearing it everywhere – once winter ends. Congrats Meg!
So stop sitting there reading. Go fill out your questionnaire, fill in your YTP, think about where you will go and ride on GRASS, and get planning. Show season is coming. I’ll be out of Christmas chocolates very soon, so I’m going to start making my plans too.
In case you missed it, Coach Ruth celebrated ANOTHER birthday last week. Since she likes to celebrate for at least a week every year, I am dedicating this weeks Coaches Journal entry to looking at exactly HOW old she is.
Coach Ruth has been riding horses for 34 years. She has been a certified equestrian coach for 22 years. In that time, Eventing has changed. A LOT. The other day in the barn, Ruth and I were trying to tell Coach Megan how different eventing is now compared to “the old days”. We came up with the following list of things we remember that have changed:
- Events started at Pre-Training level. When we started eventing (approximately 1985), there was no Entry or Pre-Entry level. Ponies went Pre-Training. We did our first events on 13.2hh ponies. We were awesome.
- You could jump extra jumps on XC. During the cross country, if you came across a jump from a higher level that was “in your path”, you were allowed to jump it without any penalty. You bet your ass we found Training jumps to argue were in our path so we could add some thrills to our cross country.
- Chinstraps and helmet harnesses were optional. I mean, most of us wore one for cross country – you don’t want to have to stop and pick your helmet up mid gallop because it bounces off. But we wore helmets without harnesses for Dressage. It was pretty lame to have a harness IN dressage. I even remember having a helmet with a detachable harness – it snapped in so you could take it off for every phase except XC. Only sissy pants wore harnesses for Stadium too.
- If you fell off on Cross Country, it only counted if you were “in the jump zone”. Every Cross Country jump had a penalty zone around it. Any errors, like refusals, falls, etc. ONLY counted if they happened “in the zone”. I can’t remember the exact dimensions of the zone, but the really fancy events had little flags at the edge of the zone. It made it easier to know when you could stop clinging onto the side of your horse if you had come unseated. I remember watching a teammate get bucked off an exuberant horse shortly after exiting the startbox. Due to her short stature and the enormous height of her horse, after landing on her feet, she jogged with her horse across the field to a fenceline, climbed to the top and remounted. She then rode back to the course and continued on her way. She had to ride extra quick to make up for that extra time! She finished clear with a few time faults.
- Eventers were weighed, and had a MINIMUM weight of 165 pounds (including tack). If you weighed less, you had to carry lead. You brought your own lead and we all had special saddle pads with pockets for the lead weights. It was considered good form to have a big breakfast so that you weighed a little more than the minimum – it is easier to shift your own weight to give your horse a break than for them to carry lead flat on their back. Tack was bigger and heavier – no cutaway or aerodynamic saddles in those days.
- Cross Country Vests? At some point in the 90’s some brilliant person came up with the idea that we needed more protection from all of the falls we were allowed to have and developed a “Body Protector” that primarily acted as a splint running from the top of your neck to the bottom of your tailbone. Our first one was light blue, about ¼ of an inch thick compressed foam and was worn UNDER your clothes. It had a sort of tensor bandage wrap that velcroed around your body to keep it in place. Under your clothes. By then, Ruth, our dad and I were all eventing. In the interest of safety, we were not allowed (probably by Joan?) to go cross country until we had the damned thing on. So we would sit by the start box, on our horse, waiting for whoever had the body protector on to return. They would then pull it out from under their shirt and pants and pass it to the next person to put on. Sweaty. And hot. And sweaty. And you’d try to jam it down your pants and under your shirt and Velcro it on before the timer counted you down to go. I always hoped I’d go cross country first. 3rd REALLY sucked. We had 3 horses and 1 vest. Priorities.
- We had extra tack like Overgirths and ridiculous bell boots. An overgirth is basically a luggage strap that we put over our saddle and girth once we were tacked up. That way if our girth broke on cross country, the overgirth would hold our saddle in place. I’ve NEVER seen anyone’s girth break on cross country, but apparently it was a great concern. We also had these super strong red thick rubber bell boots that it was imperative horses had to wear for cross country. The had no openings, so to get them on, you heated them in a bucket of warm water to make them stretchy. Or stretchier. For about 2 seconds. It took 2 or 3 people to pull the stupid things on. But if a horse caught a cork in one, it was so tough and thick that the horse wouldn’t get a heel injury. The cork might stick and they could flip. But their heels were safe. Getting them off took a LOT of swearing, some crying and occasionally just some downright rage. Ruth and I always hoped our horses would somehow step on them during cross country and pull them off on their own.
- Startboxes had 3 closed sides. None of these boxes with openings on the sides existed. Startboxes were entered and supposed to be exited from the same end – the cross country end. But we all knew someone who had entered and jumped out the back. It was considered an extra warmup jump. It added to the excitement.
- Long format was the norm. Cross Country was called “Phase D” for a long time after short format Horse Trials were introduced. Phases A, B and C are sorely missed by those of us who considered Cross Country day a test of endurance. Getting to do Roads & Tracks, Steeplechase, Roads & Tracks and then Cross Country sounds like such a novelty for our young competitors preparing for our upcoming 3 day long-format event in 2017. But for Ruth, long format was THE format. It was purportedly changed to make eventing more simple to explain and viewer friendly. I’m sure it’s easier to explain and quicker to watch. But it’s not as fun. Or as long.
That’s not everything that has changed. I’m sure some of us can come up with more examples of change in the eventing world throughout Ruth’s career to date. The point of this list is – in part – that Coach Ruth has been around for a LONG time, and has had to adapt through a LOT of changes. Every time the sport changes, our program changes and adapts. We’ll have a little glimpse back at some of how eventing used to be next summer when we do our 3 day. But we’ll also keep using some of the changes – like not sharing sweaty, under clothing body protectors that were horribly uncomfortable and probably saved us from injury by making the thought of falling off onto the rigid awkward shape of the silly thing more uncomfortable than just clinging on to our horse until he is far enough out of the zone for us to put our feet down. And then get back on and keep going and try again at the next jump.
Eventing when we were young was awesome. It’s still awesome, just a different awesome. So is my sister. She may not be the 11 year old yahoo riding a pony (Lance (Sir Lancelot!)) over Pre-Training jumps trying to see if she could go as fast as the big horses. She’s an older version of awesome. A more experienced version, but she still has that same enthusiasm for the sport and for the horses. No matter how it changes, I think she’s still going to be as enthusiastic about getting her students and her horses to love the sport as much as she does. And age is just a number. So while she may be getting older, she’s not OLD. Just more awesome.
But in 2 years she turns 45. Then she’ll be OLD.
Last Sunday – Nov 13th – I went on a road trip to Toronto for the day. It was my second trip there and back in a week. It was a beautiful, sunny November day to tackle a dozen hours of driving. The trip this weekend was to the Cadora Ontario Dressage Awards Banquet in Guelph, ON to collect prizes won by some of the Oakhurst Show Team members. My co-pilots for this trip were my older daughter Emma (16) and her boyfriend Kieran. As we tootled down the 401 enjoying the sunrise, I had lots of time to get lost in thought (while still focusing on driving, no worries, no distracted driving!). I’m not saying my co-pilots were boring, just that occasionally my mind gets time to wander. It must be an age thing. Ruth would tell me it’s my Alzheimers.
Anyway, I started thinking about how old we all are. These thoughts actually started in a lesson I was teaching a few weeks ago. I was trying to introduce a new student to a group and as I introduced group members, I stumbled trying to identify how old the students were. Finding out a few were graduating from high school this year came as a shock. It’s not that I’m not very observant; it’s just that when I see the same people every day, they get stuck in my head at a certain age. Maybe the age they started with me, or the age when they finally had the big growth spurt. It happens with the horses too. If you were to ask me how old most of the horses in the barn are, I’d probably say 12. I think we all get to a certain age and just hold there. I mean I sure don’t FEEL 45. Well…Most of the time. There was a small hot flash incident on Sunday that apparently only affected me. But I’m sure that’s not a sign of things to come for me. I was probably just overdressed compared to my travel buddies. A few minutes of blasting the AC and standing outside in the winter breeze and I was fine.
So there we were driving down the 401 and I started thinking about the age of my students. It occurred to me that a lot of them seem to be growing up around me and I hadn’t really noticed. I know I’m an adult, people remind me all of the time. But I’m starting to find that some of the students I teach are also getting older and I didn’t notice it happening. I noticed having to lengthen their stirrups or find taller horses for them to ride. But somehow it escaped my notice that they have gone through puberty and are starting to apply to universities and plan their futures. It’s not a bad thing, it’s exciting to be surrounded by so many young people who have the potential to create amazing futures for themselves. It’s just that it is hard adjusting my thinking to move them from “kid” to “adult” in my own head.
I mean, not too long ago, I would have been trying to figure out how to change movies on the mini-van DVD player while tossing juice boxes and animal crackers like grenades into the backseat to keep little people happy on such a trip. Now I am having discussions with young adults about politics and school dances and career plans. It just came as a shock. When did I get old enough to have a daughter with a boyfriend? Lucky for him, he has never called me “Ma’am”. That wouldn’t end well. I’m not fond of being reminded that I am getting older too. I mean, Zoe is my baby and she’s 12. A dozen years old! In 10 months there will only be teenagers in our house. Crazy. It didn’t take that long for it to happen.
I generally get students when they are about 12 or 13 years old. They stay with me until University, sometimes beyond. The rest of you can keep growing up and graduating and getting married and having babies, etc. I prefer to think that I have reached my optimal age and I’m just holding. I’m not sure what the exact number is. Somewhere between old enough to have Emma and Zoe and young enough to still be (sort of) cool enough for the 14 year olds to want lessons with. I don’t even want to know how old my students would guess I am.
The best part of coaching our students and watching them grow through their teens is knowing how riding has helped shape so many parts of their lives. From learning sportsmanship and compassion to learning to be diligent when the going gets tough, there are so many skills – aside from the fancy prancing manoeuvres – that students get to use throughout their lives. Seeing kids grow up with confidence because they can pilot a horse around a course of jumps or gallop 500m/min and knowing that they have learned patience, responsibility and goal setting just by hanging out on a farm in a cold/hot barn with us for hours on end through their teenage years is very gratifying. As coaches, we get front row seats to watch our athletes grow as people as well as competitors. I know at some point, most will head off into the sunset to go to school / get married / get a job / save the world, I just hope that they feel the need to come back and check in with us as they grow up. Bearing in mind that it’s OK if THEY keep growing up, but don’t expect Ruth and I to get any older. We are in a holding pattern from now on.
We are always happy to meet new boyfriends/girlfriends (lackeys to carry stuff at shows), attend weddings and baby showers and celebrate a student’s advancing age. Just don’t expect us to know how old you really are. Colin Campbell is still 12 in my head. I’m not sure how he is married with 2 children. I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed at his age. But, whatever! If we can have a small part in helping our students become the amazing doctors, lawyers, nurses, business people, etc, then I’m ok with them growing up. As a coach, and a parent, I’m always advocating participation in sports to help create well rounded people. At Oakhurst, I guess we’ve been in it enough years that we are seeing the fruits of that. While I’d love everyone to stay young forever, I’m OK now with staying the age I am and letting the kids catch up a bit.
And we still have Zoe and Tate to keep us young – those two still have some time before they have to grow up and get all responsible on us. Although I might have to revamp my “get them a horse, they’ll be too busy to notice boys” plan, as that obviously has some flaws…
Congratulations to our Cadora Silver Dressage Award winners:
Emma Richardson & Sokit2ya – First Level Jr – 2nd Place
Silver Championships Team Challenge – 2nd place Oakhurst’s Prancing Ponies: Emma Richardson & Sokit2ya, Megan Jenner & So Much To Offer, Barb Eamer & Black Magic
Every week one of the Oakhurst coaches “blogs” or journals about something going on in the Oakhurst world. This week, Coach Helen (in a fit of laziness!) invited Coaches Ruth and Megan to join her in their first Video Blog. Today at the kitchen table, they discuss the recently announced Long Format 3-Day Event Competition and Clinic being held Aug 17-20 2017 at Oakhurst Farm.
We hope this answered a few questions you might have – more info about Oakhurst3DE will be posted on the Oakhurst Website soon!
This past weekend marked the last events for the Oakhurst Show Team and where was I? Sitting in a room with other competitive coaches from random other sports. Not outside in the cool breeze enjoying the fall leaves and galloping ponies. I spent Saturday holed up in the beautiful Kingbridge Convention Centre talking to other coaches from Alpine skiing, Snowboarding, Basketball, Soccer, Field Hockey, Rugby, Figure Skating and Cricket. I’ll be the first to admit, when I realized I needed to take this class and it was on the same day as Grandview Fall Horse Trials, I was not a happy camper. I love taking training classes like this – multi-sport courses where I can hear how other coaches work, what their issues and experiences are and how similar or different our sports are is always fascinating. But go sit in a classroom or go watch our team event? Duh. Book learnin’ can be done in the off season. It isn’t quite off season yet.
Actually it IS off-season for all of us at Team Oakhurst today. No more events to go to in 2016 – no more galloping across fields to brightly flagged and numbered jumps. I mean, we are still going to have lots of fun. There is lots to do over the next few months to get ready for next summer. But when I found out this class was running the ONE time this year on the same day as a team outing, and I really needed to do it, I dragged myself there pouting and kicking and screaming a little bit. Not that I didn’t WANT to do it, I just didn’t want to do it on Saturday.
So what was it? Why did I miss the event day? Well, a few years ago now, I applied to be a Coach Developer for Equestrian coaches. Coach Developers help get new coach candidates certified to coach students. Ruth has been working towards being a Coach Evaluator – she’ll be one of the folks evaluating new Instructors and Competition Coaches for certification. I am working towards being certified as a Learning Facilitator (LF). An LF teaches the classroom classes all new or upgrading coaches should take. As a new LF Candidate, I needed to take a multi-sport Core Training class that LF’s for all sports start out with to teach us how to be National Coaching Certification Program teachers.
So after dropping my family at Grandview first thing in the morning, I headed to King City – about an hour south of the event site and checked in for my day in a classroom. Knowing there probably wouldn’t be anyone else there who understands my need to check evententries.com periodically, I tried to get myself in the mood for the day. As I found my seat and looked around the room and introduced myself to my table mates I started to feel the surge of energy that always comes from doing something exciting. It turned out that I knew the facilitator – She is a coach from Rugby but we have met at multi-sport training before. I introduced myself to the people sitting at my table – Figure skating, cricket, soccer and Equestrian – Pam Cobourn from the OEF was in the same class.
By the end of the day, I had spent time working with every other person in the room and they were all interesting and inspiring people working towards the same goal – looking forward to educating new coaches to continue growing our respective sports with enthusiasm, ethics, a desire to learn and the solid values that the National Coaching Certification Program embodies. I learned how to draw a really terrible picture of what a good learning facilitator looks like. I learned how to work with different groups to energize, educate, focus and stimulate learning. And I learned that coaches have several things in common – whether our students are galloping on horses, twirling on skates, riding a rail (snowboarding lingo), getting into a huddle or breaking from a start gate. We are passionate, enthusiastic, invested and dedicated to learning. Obviously Equestrian is the best sport, but the certified coaches I spent the day with all rocked.
Sometimes, when people ask why we are certified, why Ruth and Meg and I have spent so much time getting and maintaining our certification, I have a hard time coming up with a short answer. The 45 second elevator pitch is tough to come up with – we could speak for hours about why we are certified. But I think the best thing I heard on Saturday was a line that I believe comes from Alpine skiing (who, like soccer and hockey, require all parents who wish to be on the hill to attend some of the coaching modules, like Making Ethical Decisions):
Every athlete DESERVES a certified coach.
As certified coaches we are continually attending training and updating and upgrading our skills. We have access to multi-sport research and information, like concussion awareness and first aid training. We are learning from other coaches within our sport and from other coaches from 65 different sports across the country. We are always working to create a safe and ethical environment for our students. We are always challenging ourselves to be more informed and more knowledgeable about our sport, supporting our students and encouraging new coaches to get out there and teach. And our athletes do deserve our best. They deserve the most informed, best trained and most fabulous coach they can have. We expect the best from our students, they should expect the same commitment from us.
So as I sat in that room, working with my peers, I had great comfort in the knowledge that despite the reality that I had left my students for a day of lessons with Coach Meg and left my daughter to compete at Training level at Grandview with Coach Ruth, they were all being supported by Certified Coaches. Their coaches have a great deal of training to be ready to cope with any issues that might arise. Both of those coaches were prepared for the tasks of the day and ready to support my students and children with all of the tools and training they possessed. We remind the students as they leave the start box to “Trust your training”. I realized the same was true for me as a team coach and a parent. I trust in Ruth and Megan’s training. I know what they will do and how they will do it. And I am so glad that they were able to do their thing and allow me to do mine for the day.
I’m really excited to get moving on this path to becoming a Learning Facilitator – I know it will be a lot of work, but in the end, I’ll get to help new coaches find and share their passion with more new students. I’m sorry I missed a team outing, but I think the day spent working with all of those other sport coaches has value. Seriously, I even learned some snowboard terms, and that coach was exactly like you are imagining – Redbull drinking, flat-hat wearing, “dude” saying teenager (who turned out to be 38 but none of us believed it). If only some of those coaches could have shared the secrets to getting sponsor $.
So congratulations to our Show Team members for such a wonderful final weekend of results, and to my co-coaches: We did it! Show Season 2016 is in the record books. Now the training for next year begins! And the upgrading of our coaching skills continues, because…Our athletes DESERVE it!
In case you missed the Show Team weekend’s outings:
Sat, Oct 01 – Grandview Fall HT
Kenzi-Greer Mitchell & Top Gun – 7th
Sarah Catt & Drummore Bay – TE in stadium – but clear on their first ever Prelim XC!!
Emma Richardson & Sokit2ya – 2nd
Shannon Holmes & Major Disaster – 3rd
Janan Steward & Top Gear – 18th
Rebecca Walker & Kira – 3rd
Rebecca Walker & Rookie – 4th
Sun, Oct 02 – Touch a Rainbow HT
Leona Noble & Heimdall – 3rd
The last two weekends at Oakhurst have seen some fantastic provincial competitions. Sept 3/4 we hosted the 2016 OHTA Championships (Entry to Preliminary) and a non championship horse trial and on Sept 11th Oakhurst hosted the CADORA Ontario Silver Dressage Championships (East). We got supremely lucky and despite having ridiculously humid and hot summer weather between competitions, both weekends when we were counting on it, we had spectacular sunny, breezy and cool temperatures that allowed everyone to focus on the task of performing in their chosen discipline without feeling like they were melting / frostbitten / soaked to the knickers, etc.
For the first time in a few years, I had the pleasure of watching all of the stadium rounds at the OHTA Champs. Normally I am sequestered in a dark corner trying to decipher scribbles written in highlighter or some sort of crayon, on wrinkled pieces of paper brought carefully from various judges on the property to the scorer. It is a job that has its perks. I’m generally close to a bathroom (sorry Jump Judge #5), close to Control (so I hear all of the excitement, with none of the responsibility of coping with problems) and indoors (no rain, sunstroke, deerflies (sorry jump judge #6, they are really bad back there). There are also a few drawbacks. I don’t actually get to see any of the competition. And I don’t really know how anyone did in the competition. I know, I know, I see the scores first. Sort of. I see the raw scores. I see the 5,6,7,6,5,6.5,6,4,3,5,6,7 of a dressage test. But I don’t have the time to look through the scores and notice how people actually did compared to their competition. It’s weird.
But at the OHTA Champs, I got to watch all of the Stadium rounds – I sat next to our fabulous judge Laura Kelland-May and scored as the rounds happened. I think we should do this at every event. It was really fun to be out in the sun talking to people and watching horses jump things. And watching the victory gallops. Those were awesome and fun. And everyone looked so happy galloping to “We are the Champions”! But then there was the podium. Both weekends we had medal presentations and pictures on the podium. Like the Olympics. But in Ashton. And I have to say, people looked happy victory galloping, but the podium is where the emotions came out. Every person that I saw get on the podium was living a dream. We’ve all had the dream – to one day win something epically huge and be presented a medal in front of our peers, while standing on a podium. And once the medals had been hung on necks, the smiles and tears captured on film and the congratulations passed around, there were the poses.
You know the poses. The ones we are all dying to do just once.
- The “greatful for winning a medal, so happy they could burst, smile from ear to ear, teary eyed with the medal clenched tightly in one hand” pose.
- The “Group hug – Gold/Silver/Bronze – sandwich, everyone on the top of the podium” pose.
- The “Biting the medal to prove it is solid gold/silver/bronze/metal” pose.
- The “Usain Bolt Lightning Bolt” medal pose.
The medal winners at both shows OWNED the podium! And so they should, they earned it. So many of our students had podium (or close to podium) performances over the past two weekends that I’d like to recognize them again here:
At the OHTA Championships at Oakhurst:
Training Jr Champs
2nd – Alexa Bresnahan & Aragon
5th – Kenzi Mitchell & Top Gun
Pre-Training Jr Champs
3rd – Emma Richardson & Sokit2ya
Entry Jr Champs
2nd – Taya Davison & King Stag
7th – Janan Steward & Top Gear
1st – Devon Svoboda & Abbigael
3rd – Darby Delle-Donne & Silver Lining
2nd – Jackie Naida & Conquest
5th – Megan Jenner & So Much To Offer
3rd – Misha Wylie & Oliver
And at the CADORA Ontario Silver Dressage Championships (East) at Oakhurst:
Training Level JR
Champion – Taya Davison & King Stag (2nd place, 1st place)
Training Level OPEN
Reserve Champion – Megan Jenner & So Much To Offer (2nd place, 1st place)
First Level JR
Champion – Emma Rchardson & Sokit2ya (1st place, 1st place)
Reserve Champion – Kenzi Mitchell & Top Gun (2nd place, 2nd place)
First Level AA
Champion – Jackie Naida & Conquest (1st place, 1st place)
High Score for the Eastern Championships
71.563% – Jackie Naida & Conquest
I’d say Team Oakhurst did a pretty amazing job at “Owning the Podium”, and I think it had a lot to do with the preparedness of our students for the tasks in front of them the past two weekends. Without any coaching at the OHTA Champs, our students remembered everything they have been taught, trusted their training and their partners and laid down some spectacular results. I mean, you still need your coaches, let’s not get all crazy, but for that weekend, you excelled! At the Cadora Championships (East) at Oakhurst, those big long tests were remembered (for the most part!) and ridden beautifully despite any issues or challenges thrown in front of our team members. I was extremely proud of the team over the past two weekends. Everyone worked together to help each other have fantastic rides. Everyone kept positive and enthusiastic for the jobs at hand. And we all celebrated the team’s successes podium finishes or not.
And if you didn’t win a medal or get to stand on the podium, don’t worry – it’s still out there, reminding us of our goals, giving us the encouragement to keep trying to reach that pinnacle performance. I’m planning on practicing my different poses on it every time I go to teach.
I think the whole Oakhurst Show Team should get together for a team podium pic after the last event this fall. We’ll set a day and time and pass the word. I hear that “The dab” is not a cool pose, but the lightning bolt, crying or hugging everyone and smiling like your back teeth need to be included in the picture are all completely acceptable. Maybe we should have crowns. Let me know if you come up with any better poses. I want to be ready to “Own that Podium”.
This past weekend we had something going on that we have waited a while for this summer. We had another Silver Dressage Show! Our second Silver Show of the summer, and the last chance for many local competitors to get those qualifying scores for the Cadora Silver Dressage Championships in September. The morning of Aug 13th started out with a little rain overnight – making the large sandring footing just perfectly hydrated enough to guarantee a dust-free day!
Then we had another exciting thing happen that we have waited weeks for too. Rain. Lots of it. Right on our heads. And while we all tried not to complain, because we know how much it is needed around here this summer, having it come down with such force in the 9+ hours we were outside was a bit exasperating. But the show carried on, competitors kept showing up, show clothes kept getting soaked and some pretty fancy prancing happened in the muck! I was impressed at the determination and sportsmanship everyone displayed.
The ring held up very well most of the day – until about 3 in the afternoon. Around that time, I left the Secretary / Scoring Chalet to trek over to the dressage judge to collect tests for scoring. I have a huge, really good bright yellow raincoat that keeps the elements out (and I’m sure the horses love it!). I stopped to use the facilities (porta potty) across the field on the way. While in the plastic cube trying to jiggle all of my clothes back into the right layers so that I could head back out into the rain, I glanced through the screen at the top of the porta potty wall – facing the dressage ring – and realized I could see across the field to the dressage ring! I went to leave the loo and figured out that the rider in the ring had only just started their test, so I would have a good 7 minute wait, In the rain, if I headed over right away. And the rain was really pelting. I stepped back into the “facilities” and assessed my options.
My first thought was “Ugh. It’s raining SO hard. And now I’m stuck in a plastic bathroom in a field at a horse show. This SUCKS.” I peeked through the screen on the side of the potty and realized, maybe I was putting things in the wrong perspective. I once had someone tell me “if you don’t like the way things are going, tilt your head and look at it again from a new perspective.” The dictionary defines perspective like this:
Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view
So I tilted my head and peered through the screen again and tried to change my perspective. I thought about it again and realized “It’s raining SO hard – FINALLY! We really need it for the wells, hay, to soften the ground, etc. Thank goodness it’s finally raining. And now I’m (safely) stuck in a plastic loo in a field at a HORSE SHOW! A HORSE SHOW! that’s always a great day. And I’m dry. And I can see the horses in the dressage ring, so I know when to exit the potty and run for tests. And, I just found a granola bar in my pocket. So really, I’m dry, with horses to watch and a snack to eat…where else would I WANT to be?” When the rider in the ring did their final salute, I dashed from my dry spot with my new positive attitude, collected tests and headed back to the secretary and scoring chalet (Don’t call it a hut. Or a shack. We hate that. It offends us. Seriously.)
The best part of the day was seeing so many people happy to have achieved their qualifying score, seeing competitors helping each other deal with the mud and finding the “good spots” to warm up, watching Coach Ruth and Coach Meg keep coaching and reading tests all afternoon, no matter how hard the downpour got – just adding more layers and umbrellas as needed. None of the competitors complained. Everyone could have. Everyone could have opted to just pack up and go home, waiting for better weather and a new day. Most stuck it out. Almost everyone stayed and completed their day. And pranced HARD.
That’s one of the tough parts about riding – we are not just partnered with a 1000+ lb animal, trying to communicate through our buttcheeks with their spine, we have to throw random weather into the mix. Those dressage riders on Saturday had to convince their partners to cooperate in rhythm, acceptance and suppleness – moving both laterally and longitudinally around a soggy, mucky swamp. And their underwear was definitely soaked by test 2. And we all know what happens when undies get wet while you are riding – a one way trip to wedgieville. But if you put on your big girl panties and rode through it on Saturday, you (hopefully) learned several things:
1 – Team Oakhurst can ride in the rain. We ROCKED dressage in the rain. Some horses go better in the rain. For instance I saw Jenna Mayhew and Kip (from my bathroom perch) do some pretty impressive travers, lengthens and overall prancy moves in a solid downpour to be Champions of the Second level.
2 – It can be easier to focus on your test when the rain is pelting in your eyes
3 – Your parents will still be watching and cheering for you whether it is beautiful or completely ridiculous weather. They are unstoppable. They deserve breakfast in bed sometime very soon.
4 – Your coach loves the rain. There’s no weather that will stop a coach from standing next to you pretending it’s awesome out and encouraging you to realize your dreams
5 – Once you’ve done it, ridden in the crap weather and succeeded, the next competition in the sun will be even more amazing. Because you know you can do it.
6 – Sometimes it rains at the Olympics / Young Riders / Championships / World Equestrian Games, etc. Practicing riding in it now will make you way more prepared than all of those chumps riding for sunny, temperate countries.
7 – There’s always going to be someone who makes the crappy conditions look like a walk in the park and will feel the need to show off and ride half of their second First level test with just one stirrup, still scoring the highest mark of the day and win Champion of Everything (Jackie Naida!).
7 – The Walmart sells underwear in 12 packs. Throw away the wedgiemakers and get a new set. It’s no big deal.
At least, if you can apply a positive perspective to a day like Saturday, you might have learned some of those things. If you didn’t learn those things, maybe take a minute, tilt your head, and try again. And if you need to see the perspective from the porta-loo, I can show you which one. It’s still there in the corner of the field. Just waiting for someone else to discover its magicalness.
I’m normally a pacifist – I dislike arguments and tension and try to be the peacemaker during conflict. But this weekend, with our second show at Oakhurst in just over a week, and our third show on the property this month, it might be time to take out some of the stress that has been building. I know the perfect time and place, now I just need to select the target /victim. But the list of possibilities is quite lengthy. So how do I pick just one? Let’s look at a few of the options:
Ruth Allum – As Head Coach at Oakhurst, Ruth likes to boss me around most of the time. Her incessant need for organization and efficiency makes it hard for a slacker like me to get away with much laziness. For instance, last weekend during our Silver show, despite a 15 minute delay at the start of the day, Ruth managed to whip the 83 tests (OK, with the help of her two new, (and fantastic) whips Chelsea Arden & Alexa Bresnahan) ridden at the show back onto schedule while coaching 9 Oakhurst Show Team members to various victories and personal best scores without even stopping for a pee break. She makes those of us with the menial jobs like sitting around scoring occasionally look like complete loafers compared to her. And if she tells me one more time that the poles must be stacked on the wall on colour coordinated piles rather than the multi-coloured, visually appealing and all inclusive manner that us SLACKERS go for… Well, she deserves a smack.
Megan Jenner – OK, seriously. Does this girl EVER get angry? She’s so NICE all of the time. Even when she has the worst tasks to complete. Seriously awful tasks. Like setting the dressage rings for the Silver Dressage Show last weekend. Most of us hear that it’s time to set the dressage rings and are overcome with a sudden need to go to the bathroom or leave the province. It’s not just the moving of the blocks and the boards. It’s the square corners, measure one way, measure the other, perform 17 algebraic equations, confirm the placement by satellite GPS, move the whole thing 3 inches left as the last board is placed sort of fun that makes every other person on the property flee to the furthest corners to whipper snip random jumps. Megan actually smiles during the setup. I’ve seen people cry. Not Meg. Maybe if I hit her hard enough, we’d see the anger she must be suppressing bubble to the surface – the incredible Mulk would appear! It’s worth a try…
Mark Nelson – OK, I’ll probably only get one hit in before he fights back so this might not be the smartest choice – but he has been known to nap during a show, so I might have a chance if it’s more of a hit and run without sticking around to see the carnage. Even so, I might have to take this one off the list. But Mark’s ability to prepare the Oakhurst property for half a dozen competitions a year, be the President of the Provincial Sport Organization AND jimmy together a sound system in 2 minutes flat to play music for a freestyle when the existing sound system fails during the Silver show last weekend, while running a canteen and Barbecue just goes to prove what a show off he can be. I mean seriously. Any of those things would be a full time job for me. How is anyone supposed to keep up? Mark must make 400 phone calls a day. I can’t stand talking to that many people a year. One good whack might just slow him down a little.
Our show team parents – OK. These folks set the bar high. I’m a parent too and the whole “Oh, I can wash my kids white britches back to white while packing a cooler with nutritious food and remembering to pack 4 lawn chairs, an umbrella and enough extra toilet paper, coffee, low calorie/low carb/gluten free/vegan/homemade brownies to keep an army fuelled for 7 days for a 2 day horseshow” skill set just drives me nuts. How am I supposed to even compete? My kids have been told to squeeze tighter to hide the stains on their britches, keep their leg long to cover the black boot marks on their white(ish) saddle pads and put granola bars in their pockets before we leave the house if they want to eat for the weekend. These people make me look bad. And it pisses me off.
And what about my own students? Showing up on time, dressed neatly with shirts tucked in and even belts to complete the tidiness of their outfit. Always progressing and giving their best effort even when it feels like +40 and they look like passing out. These kids always say “I’m fine” when I ask if they are overheating, exhausted or dehydrated. They are learning fast, forcing me to come up with a new lesson plan EVERY LESSON. Do you know how tiring that is? Sometimes, within a lesson, I’ll have to think on my feet and come up with MORE progressions to help push them further than I had planned. Can’t one of them struggle? Can’t one of them get stuck so we can just keep repeating the same exercise over and over and over? Why are they all such overachievers? Their need to make me keep adapting the lessons to their expanding skill sets is killing me. One of them has to go down .
The list could go on, but I need to restrain myself a little…So how am I going to vent all of this pent up rage? Well, an opportunity is presenting itself after the Oakhurst Horse Trials on July 31 that might just give me the chance to get a little revenge. This year, at our annual Competitors / Volunteers party, which is a fundraiser for our Midsouth teams, we are holding our annual Silent Auction organized by Barb Eamer to raise funds. We have also added a new attraction to help in the fundraising effort. This is one we are all looking forward to with great anticipation…
BOUNCY JOUSTING! Say it again to yourself just to absorb the awesomeness… Bouncy. Jousting. Need more info? It’s an inflatable ring with 2 pedestals for competitors. Each competitor is armed with an inflated weapon (jousting thingy) to whack their opponent off their pedestal.
Whacking, pushing, shoving, and generally being rowdy is encouraged. We will be running a round robin competition, with a Champion declared at the end – to revel in the glory for as long as they feel the need to brag about it. We will then be entertaining Grudge Matches. That’s my time. My moment. I’m going to have to choose wisely. Ruth and Meg and I have already been discussing technique and style that will be the most effective. (Hint – Meg’s opponents may need helmets, Ruth’s might want to consider a cup…)
Every competitor and volunteer at the Horse Trials gets a party ticket. More tickets to the party will be available from the Secretary for $20.
I’ve got a few more days to come up with my victim selection. It’s going to be a tough decision. My daughters might want to consider cleaning their rooms and being extra helpful this week if they want to stay out of the line of fire. Just saying…
Congratulations to our Dressage Team who posted some amazing results at the Silver Show at Oakhurst on July 23 – Which can be seen here.
The past week has certainly been a busy one! Our weekends are usually the focal point for our efforts and energy, but last week there was a little excitement thrown into the mix mid-week that kept everyone busy. We had Canadian Olympian Jessica Phoenix join us for a 2 day jumping clinic at Oakhurst. Bringing some new exercises and pushing riders to use new skills over different obstacles, Jessie helped the clinic’s attendees grow and learn over the 2 days. There were lots of smiles, lots of spectators and many, many pictures posted over the 2 day clinic.
The second day got a little more exciting when a visitor showed up in the cross country field during the lunch break. A small(ish) bear wandered across the property – right through the field a dozen horses had been galloping around jumping jumps in for the past 3 hours. While bears are not uncommon in the area, we don’t often have them appear and pose for a crowd in a busy cross country field. Perhaps this one had been disturbed by our commotion all morning and was taking advantage of the quiet lunch break to make his getaway to a quieter part of the farm.
Whatever the bear’s reasoning, I’m sure it had spent the morning putting up with our noise and activity, and felt we were the ones doing the disturbing. Since the sighting, there have been one or two more on Fernbank Road and I have noticed a vigilance in our riders to making sure they don’t go out alone and they make some noise while hacking. I’ve also overheard several discussions along the “Well, I’ll hack with you because I think my horse is faster than yours, and as long as I can outrun you, I like my odds…” Keeping it real.
On Saturday, Ruth took several horses and riders to Wesley Clover Park for the warmup day for the new Ottawa Horse Trials. Riding on the property and around the stadium the day before the event gave many of our younger riders, and horses, a good chance to calm the nerves before heading out to compete on Sunday. The horses that went on Saturday all seemed more comfortable and confident on Sunday.
Sunday was a beautiful day – sunny, warm and breezy. We had 13 competitors at the Ottawa Horse Trials and kept busy from 6:20AM until our last rider finished shortly after 4:30PM. I spent a lot of the day at the Stadium ring and got to see many rounds from our happy team. One of the great things about watching an Oakhurst rider test their skills during competition (apart from the smile that comes with a successful finish, or watching put the plan we came up with into action and finding success) is the group of cheerleaders that seem to always be there. Even when I thought I’d be heading to the ring with just the competitor, I’d turn around at the end and see the whoop whooping, cheering, clapping and smiling faces of a dedicated team of cheerleaders. Our team has great parents / friends / owners and teammates. They are always there ready to share a smile every time someone riding under the Oakhurst banner steps into the ring. It makes me smile every time.
We also threw a little party into the week for Canada Day – and did a run through of teaching lesson topics for coach Megan Jenner and Sarah Catt. Competition Coach evaluations are coming up at Oakhurst on July 18th and I’ll be recruiting riders for that next!
With the Derby at Oakhurst coming this weekend, I’ll be hoping for some rain during the week (keeps the dust down and softens the ground) a cool, sunny day for Sunday, and that the bears have somewhere better to be for the day. I’m sure by now the bear has found a quieter place to roam, but I still planning on being relatively noisy and annoying – accompanying someone a little slower than me – if I head out on the course this week.
PS – Big love goes out from Team O to team member Kieryn Davison – she had her ACL repaired yesterday morning and is finally on the road to recovery from her (non-riding!) knee injury. Heal fast and keep smiling Kieryn. We can’t wait to see you in the saddle, grinning again soon!
The past few weeks have been a busy whirlwind of dressage shows, events, derbies and general equestrian fun. As we move through show season I am reminded over and over that many of us wear several hats as we prepare for, travel to, compete at, and recover from all of the horsey outings. As my daughters seem determined to compete, I have had to spend a little time figuring out just where I fit in their program.
This may sound funny, as I am their parent first, obviously. And I am pretty clear on making sure that I am not their day to day coach – Ruth coaches Emma and Megan coaches Zoë. …Except that I cover lessons for Megan and Ruth when they are not available…And I coach as part of the team at competitions…So sometimes I am also their coach.
So occasionally that line gets a little blurred. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t WANT to coach my own children. I’d love to stand beside the ring and keep telling them what to do. I’d love to say “sit up and use more outside contact”, etc. but I’m not sure who that would help. As coaches, we have spent quite a bit of time learning what our role in our athlete’s program needs to be. As a parent, I have also done quite a bit of research to figure out what our athletes need from parents. It turns out the two roles are very different. And I think they need to be different to give our athletes the support they need and deserve. At the Eventing at the Park Horse Trials a few weeks ago, I had to wear both hats at different times in the weekend for Emma. It became clearer to me how the two roles work together but are very separate.
The Oakhurst Coaching Team had the following responsibilities:
- Schedule – who trailers where, when and who will coach them when we get there.
- Course walking
- Goal setting – in the lessons before the competition and course walks, goals are discussed for the specific competition.
- Technical decisions – changing corks, tack, track or ride goals based on weather, terrain, etc.
- Preparation and Warm up – ensuring each horse and rider has an appropriate warm up to prepare them for the challenge presented in the phase ahead. From helping them achieve suppleness and roundness to setting warm up jumps that keep them nimble and sharp, each horse and rider pair have different needs that we must be prepared to accommodate.
- Anxiety control – Coaches need to be aware of rising anxiety in their riders and horses, and help refocus an athlete’s control over the stress.
- Post-Performance Analysis and Debrief – as our athlete comes out of the ring, we are reminding them of the goals achieved, standards met and providing some constructive criticism to be applied to the next phase, next ride or next competition. Competitions are fantastic learning experiences – discussing, in the moment, the good, the bad and the ugly can help our athletes grow exponentially for the future.
As a parent, I needed to do the following:
- Food – Drinks so no one gets dehydrated. Food to stop people from passing out. And parents know the drill – it has to be healthy, and delicious, and edible from on top of a horse, and still taste good if it’s hot / cold / lukewarm / pulled out of a wet raincoat pocket. And you have to keep pushing it at them all day. “Did you eat? What did you eat? When did you eat? Are you hungry? Can I bring 47 snack to the ringside for you? When is the last time you had a drink? How much did you drink? Are you thirsty?” Etc. Every 7 minutes. All weekend.
- Clothes – Making sure my daughters have clean(ish) clothes to start the day. Finding (or telling them to) the microscopic stock tie pin that has been misplaced in the weeks since the last competition. Packing extra socks / pants / shirts as the weather / child requires. Making sure they are reminded to put on / take off layers as needed. Sewing sparkles onto any and all show clothes for extra brilliance.
- Schedule – Our schedule for sleeping, getting up, running through the house looking for the lucky Unicorn socks, chugging coffee in the car on the way to the barn is determined once the trailering times are set.
- Transportation – Either getting my girls and all of their stuff to a competition and home again or making sure they have a way to get there and back if I am busy wearing my coaching hat.
- Emotional support – “I know you can do this”, “I’m so proud of you for doing this in the rain / sun / heat / cold / snow / etc.”, “Are you having fun?” are the “coaching” my daughters need from me on the day. I need them to know that the end result for us as a family need to be “was this fun?”. If it’s not fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.
- Picture taking / videotaping / tweeting / facebook bragging etc. About every nanosecond of brilliance being performed.
- Financial support – Lots of this. More than hockey parents, I’m sure.
I’m sure I’ve missed some of the responsibilities for each role. But what it comes down to for me is that in my coach hat, I am technically preparing each student to perform at their best – and, let’s be honest, our coaches love for our students to win. We are supporting the athlete through the competition experience by helping them find technical focus, helping them perform at their best and educating them to make decisions as equestrians that will propel them to further heights as they progress through the levels.
As a parent, I want to know they love doing this. If not, we can go back to dance – I’m good with sparkles – or find something else to do for fun. They don’t need pressure from their mom. They need someone they can count on to be proud of their accomplishment, who thinks they are amazing, even if they know they have things to work on. I try really, really hard not to “coach” them when I have my parent hat on. They HAVE amazing coaches who will work through the technicalities of their rides with them. I’m there to support as a parent, not pressure. I don’t want them to feel they have let me down if things don’t go well in the show ring. I’m proud of them for doing it, for going out there and giving it a try. I let them know I’m proud of their good sportsmanship, positive attitude and effort displayed. I’m hoping it’s a fun weekend for our family – because it’s a lot of time, effort and of course $ to be miserable.
Ruth has entered the same world as Tate has started competing this year. I’m sure she’ll agree – coaching is an easier job than parenting. (But not so easy you don’t need us…) At the end of the day on Sunday at Ottawa, coaches went home, put their feet up and reflected on the amazingness of their students. Parents went home and unpacked the car, made dinner, poured baths, tried to dry out wet leather boots, and tried (7 times) to wash brown leather stains out of white britches. 7 times. My coaching clothes just went through the wash once. Washing white britches is my new part time job.
I love having the opportunity to wear both hats. I’m good with hats. They help whole crazy hair issues. I hope one day I can parent as well as our team parents, you guys are awesome at your job – and thanks for so much great advice on how to get white britches nearly white again, and for all of the substitute parenting you give my girls when I am wearing the coach hat. It doesn’t go unnoticed – Its part of what I love most about this team.
10,000 Steps. That’s what healthy folks tout as the number of steps we should aim for every day to stay healthy. That’s a lot of steps. I upgraded my phone a while ago and it came with a handy pedometer feature. It keeps track of how many steps I take a day – provided I actually keep it on me all of the time. If I hit my step goal for the day, I get notified of my amazingness. I left the goal at 10,000 steps when I first started – because ultimately I’d love to meet that goal consistently. But then a few months ago, I got tired of rarely meeting that goal and dropped the number to 7,500 steps a day. Now I meet the goal several times a week.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had days where I go way over and almost double the goal. But not often. Not enough to make it a habit. Now I am meeting the goal most of the time so I feel like a real champion. But am I? I know that the goal is lower than I really want it to be. It’s definitely achievable, but isn’t 10,000 steps? I COULD achieve it with a little more effort. And when I meet the goal for the day is it realistic to think I can just lie down and wait for tomorrow because the goal is complete? Does it make me give up on my bigger goal?
I think I have dumbed down my goal enough that I have made it achievable, but not really out of my comfort zone. We all need some small achievable goals, to make the steps to our big goal more achievable. But we need a big goal. A dream that makes us keep getting up when we fall. A goal that makes every saddle sore and stepped on toe and sore bicep worth it as we work our way towards the dream.
I watch so many of our students at Oakhurst set big goals for themselves and then struggle and work every day to get closer and closer to those goals. Does everyone have a goal or a dream? I hope so. Do they all share them with us? Not always. Which can make it hard for us to help you get there. I hope that my students will share their dreams with me. Then I can help them take steps along the path to making that an achievable goal.
Every year in our Show Team meetings we talk about SMART goals:
We are setting them all of the time – Competing helps us measure those SMART Goal steps towards the desired end result. “Today in my dressage test, I want to keep both of my canters after the circles all of the way to the corner without breaking”. “Today I am going to ride a clean stadium round”. etc. Each of those SMART goals is a step on the path to your big goal. Or they should be. If you let your coach in on your dream, they can help build the path to make that an achievable goal. If we don’t know the dream, it can be tough for us to put you on the right path.
So I think my step goal may need some tweaking. It’s certainly achievable, but it was probably being achieved every day before I got a step counter on my phone. So I’m not exactly pushing the envelope dreamwise. While I don’t intend to run a marathon (my steps are done walking!), I want to walk longer cross country courses this year without getting cramps in my bum. What’s the big dream? Right now, to walk as fast as Coach Ruth, all of the way around a Prelim course – before I have daughters going that level.
What’s the goal now? The first step on that path? 10,000 steps per day. Will I be able to do it right away? I’m not sure. But will I start trying? Absolutely! I’ll never get to the big goal if I don’t start taking steps towards it.
Goals can change. They can grow and evolve as you pursue the steps to meeting them. A few of my students got to go out this week on the Cross Country course for the first time this year. There were lots of smiles, some breath being held and some new skills being tried out and used. We had a fabulous time. I think some goals may have been realized out in the front field last weekend, and maybe a few new goals or dreams have popped up on the horizon for a few riders. Don’t be afraid of them. Even if that dream seems completely unattainable right now, start taking the steps towards it and make it an attainable goal. Along the way you might find that the dream is very achievable, or that the process takes you in a whole new direction and you find an even bigger, even better, slightly scarier dream to turn into a goal. But if you don’t start walking (or riding) towards your goals, you’ll never realize how far you can get.
I can’t wait to get out there as Eventing season starts and watch our students take steps on the paths to their goals and dreams. I’m going to be fighting my own way along the path to my goals too. One step at a time.
When I looked at the calendar a month ago and realized when my next blog was due I thought “great, the MOST BORING week of the year. The ONE week with no clinic, show or event on the weekend. Still the end of winter, so there will be NOTHING to write about.” I started to try to think of all sorts of inspirational topics that I could try to elucidate upon to motivate our students and the Oakhurst family to just keep plodding forward through dreary cloudy, rainy (snowy) spring weather until we could get a few more weeks into the summer and have SOMETHING exciting to write about. But as I sit here putting the events of the last week on paper, I realized something very important about life around Oakhurst.
It’s not quiet. It’s never boring. Just when you think it might slow down for a second, something exciting, invigorating and even completely unexpected can happen turning the activity meter right back up to full blast. Don’t believe me? This Friday evening we all went to bed thinking we’d have a quiet weekend of riding in the arena and possibly hacking outside on the weekend to keep us entertained…but then at 6:37AM Saturday morning I received this text from Coach Ruth: “BABY!!!!!”
I guess Daisy had her own plans to fill the quiet time…and gave birth weeks before her due date (or so we thought) to this little firecracker:
Her third foal, and her first filly Buttercup was born in the wee hours of April 16th, out in one of the paddocks beside the house just in time to watch the sun come up. After wrangling the new mom and foal into the barn, Ruth, Mark, Meg and Eric were all starting to feel like their “quiet weekend” had just kicked up to full speed in a hurry! Just hours after being born, Buttercup became a social butterfly, enjoying a constant stream of visitors all weekend. Daisy, being the best mom EVER has been incredibly tolerant of all of the new attention. I bet she’s looking forward to a quiet weekend sometime soon!
As if to celebrate the arrival of new life, the sun FINALLY came out this weekend. We had some truly glorious weather and everyone ventured out of the arena to feel the sun on their skin. I even saw horses without blankets! The great weather, harrowed and dry large sandring and need to shake off the cobwebs drove a large group out on a group hack on Sunday. The horses bounced along just thrilled to be outside, following friends and not getting frostbite. The riders chatted excitedly about the coming show season. IT’S SO CLOSE NOW!
The group was so excited to be outside enjoying friendship, sunshine and their equine partners, I even managed to get a group pic at the end:
The other thing that I saw happen this weekend – and despite my best effort to be the first to do it, I was too slow by 30 minutes – lessons OUTSIDE. Without arena walls and filtered light. With sun and wind and sand and birds and horses in turnout fields and flags flying and all of the other excitement outdoors brings. It was great to see the excitement on faces as students realized they could ride outside and actually do more than walk through mud puddles. The thrill of that first ride outside – real ride, with schooling and cantering and sweating because the sun is hitting your shoulders, and the well deserved hack down the driveway after, was plenty of excitement for everyone who found time to ride this past weekend.
It was great to see so many people just enjoying a “quiet weekend”, which didn’t seem so quiet anymore. Excitement is all around us, but sometimes we assume the lack of a plan means boredom. If we know one thing about Oakhurst, its that there is always a plan. There is always someone in charge of the next event, next show, next clinic, next education session. These rare weekends with no plan don’t happen very often. I’m not sure how that one snuck up on us to be honest.
A few of us stood in the barn Friday evening and said “so…Sunday. What are we supposed to be doing?” Megan and I definitely had a moment of concern that perhaps we had just missed the memo, or spreadsheet outlining our tasks for the weekend. Turns out we didn’t need to worry. Mother nature, or Daisy and Buttercup and the Sun came up with a great plan to keep everyone busy.
This week Ruth and Mark are off to the Equine Canada Annual Convention in Montreal – watch for some exciting selfies Ruth has promised to send as they work to help shape equestrian sport in Canada on their various committees and boards!
Our next boring weekend planned is October 8/9. I can hardly wait. I’m sure something exciting will be preparing in the wings to keep us entertained. 🙂
This weekend the Oakhurst Show Team had our 4th Mental Training session with Paige Mattie. This session, we practiced our deep belly breathing, went through a script for muscle tension and relaxation to help us feel when muscles are tense and release the tension so they can function properly (made me have to pee, I’m apparently great at holding ONE muscle tight, anyway) and introduced a new idea – pre-performance routines. When Paige first asked us if we have any routines the day before, day of and minutes before competition, we all thought very hard and struggled to come up with anything. Are we talking “Always put my horse’s boots on left front leg first and work clockwise or I’ll fall off?”, or “If I don’t have Honey Nut Cheerios with 7 sliced strawberries (sliced horizontally, not vertically) for breakfast I might as well give up now” or “I NEED the socks with the Unicorns farting rainbows under my boots for Dressage – they make my horse go better. And I CAN’T sit the trot in the flowery socks. It’s just not happening.” That kind of routine?
Well…turns out those are rituals or superstitions. And while they can give confidence when we might need it, the kind of routines we were discussing and caring about are the routines that allow us to be prepared and find the right amount of confidence and activation to perform at our best. Understanding what gets us from 2 days out to trotting down the center line is different for every person and horse, but if we can identify those routines, we can put together more opportunities to go out and shine – clockwise boot application or not.
So then we tried to think about the routine that works best for us. I mean, sometimes I have a toasted bagel with peanut butter, piece of fruit and cup of coffee (x2) for breakfast on show day, sometimes I’m in too much of a rush and I have a handful of raisins/cornflakes/stale pretzels while I drive to the barn trying to wash them down with a stray bottle of water that I found in the car door. Does that affect my day? Absolutely. If I start the day in a rush, I never seem to catch up. I spend all day running from one spot to the next always getting there just a few seconds later than I wanted to. Not the best frame of mind to approach competition – and I’m not even riding. Can planning our days leading up to the competition really help us? Can it hurt?
After a bit more discussion, it became clear that we actually have a pretty strong pre-performance routine, we just weren’t aware of it. When we think of competing, we start planning what will get us there as soon as we get our times from the competition organizer. For a one day horse trial, once we know our dressage time, we work backwards to figure out our schedule. For example, if I’m a student riding and my Dressage time is 10:00AM Sunday, then I can build my schedule back from that…
10:00AM Salute at X
9:57AM Recite test to Ruth/Helen/Blair/Megan at in-gate. Remove horse boots. Deep Breathe. Try to remember why I wanted to do this anyway. Think of how fabulous this test is going to be. Hear from coach “In you go girl, big smile and shine bright” (my magic words that I HAVE to hear!).
9:30AM Mount – My horse needs 25-30 minute warmup for Dressage. More and he’s too tired to move off my leg. Less and we will probably demonstrate an advanced movement like a pirouette at “C” because the judges booth is “scary”. Make sure parent/groom/transport mule has my gloves, jacket, spurs, water, test copy, towel, etc.
9:10AM Tacking up – Make sure boots are put on in clockwise order (not taking any chances).
9:00AM Final Brush and tail sparkling – The sparkles need a few minutes to dry.
8:40AM Unload horse from trailer – go for a little walk to make sure he stretches his legs. Offer him a quick drink and groom for dressage. Make sure no braids were completely destroyed on the trailer.
8:20AM Set off in search of bathroom. Chat with other competitors about how amazing the day is going to be.
8:10AM Unload Tack Trunk(s), lawn chairs, pop-up tents, BBQ’s, snack station and garment bags from car and trailer. Set up where I will groom and tack up my horse.
8:00AM Arrive at show site.
7:30AM Trailer pulling out of Oakhurst. Convoy of 45 cars following.
7:15AM Load horse on trailer. Double check locker to MAKE SURE tack and all essentials are loaded in car/trailer.
7:00AM Put shipping boots on horse and try to pick 48000 shavings out of his tail. Put fancy shipping halter on. Try to avoid having toes crushed as horse dances like a young flamingo because shipping boots “feel funny”.
6:45AM Arrive at Oakhurst. Feed horses going to the show and double check all tack has been packed. Assess damage to braids / white or grey body part stains.
6:38AM Leave home – it’s a 7 minute drive to the farm from my house. Neener neener.
6:00AM Alarm goes off. Wake up and put on clothes laid out the night before. Eat sensible breakfast and make sure all drinks / cold food is loaded into cooler and cooler goes in car. Try to drink as much coffee as possible in 38 minutes. Fill travel mug.
OK, So we actually DO have a pre-performance routine for the day of competition. Yours might be a little different. You might have time included for other things, or need more or less time for each step, but hopefully you are thinking of what works for you and what doesn’t. This plan should work well for me, but then again, other things will happen that alter the plan: Trailers might not leave on MY schedule. They might leave earlier for other students, so I’ll have to back my plan up a bit and figure out how to use the extra time. But knowing my plan is already making me feel like I can get there and be ready! If we keep working backwards, we know that we always (almost always) course walk on Saturday afternoons. I know my course walk with Ruth is at 2:30PM. If I have to be standing at the start box at 2:30PM, I might figure this out for my day (working backwards from the times we know, to the times we need to know):
After course walk, I will return to the barn to load my tack into the trailer and bath/braid. That will take me about 2 hours.
4:00PMish – Drive back to Oakhurst
3:45PM – Course Walk Stadium with coach – 15 minutes to walk with coach, 5 minutes to jog again on my own.
2:30PM – Course Walk XC with coach – 45 minutes to walk and 30 minutes to walk again on my own.
2:25PM – Find XC startbox on course map and jog (run) to it.
2:15PM – Arrive at show site and find secretary to get numbers / maps
1:40PM – Leave Oakhurst to go to course walk at show site. Leave 5 extra minutes for Tim Horton’s drive thru (lunch!).
So if I have to leave Oakhurst around 1:40, I’ll probably ride in the morning and pack most of my trunk and get my shipping and braiding gear ready before I leave. So now I have most of the day before organized.
HEY…We DO have pre-performance routines. We can even go deeper into them and figure out when to have snacks and hydrate, what movements we need to ensure we perform in our warmup (lots of transitions, circles, etc.) but at least we have a plan. Do all athletes have this sort of plan? We are finding out that the good ones do. The elite athletes, who perform to their best as often as possible, have been refining their plan for years. They know that they need X amount of time to tack up or warm up or eat breakfast. They know how many snacks make them feel strong and energetic, and how many leave them sluggy and unfocused.
With all of that being said, we are excited to let everyone know we are going to start pre-performance planning this year with our Show Team! Ruth has been working on Pre-Competition Routine worksheets (Horse Trials ones have just been added to the Student Downloads page on the Oakhurst website!) to help you figure out the best formula for your day. Have a go at filling one in – fill in as much as you can and then go back to it after the competition and see how it worked. Would you change something? Was 20 minutes to find the porta-potty too short / too long? Did you need more time at the gate? Is there something you would like your coach to say to you at the gate? Or to NOT say?
Start noticing what works and what doesn’t and it will be a lot easier to add the things that work and make sure your team knows the things that don’t. Be prepared to adjust your plan if needed. If the plan doesn’t work because of some uncontrollable force (i.e. a hail storm delays a phase) be prepared to be flexible. You know what you need to do, it’s all mapped out, we can work to condense the plan and get those boots on that horse in shorter time (still clockwise of course) if needed. I think this will be a continually evolving process as we learn, but knowledge is power!
P.S. – If you haven’t received yours in the mail just yet, check out the Spring 2016 edition of the Ontario Equestrian Federation newsletter WOAH! Several Team Oakhurst members have credits in this magazine:
On page 4, Oakhurst’s own Mark Nelson has written his quarterly message to members and includes a picture riding Danny taken by Cheryl Denault.
On page 28, you’ll see a pic of our school horse Nike being lunged in a pic taken by Emma Richardson – above the article “10 Tips to Lunge Like a Pro” written by …me!
This week in mental training with our enthusiastic leader Paige Mattie, everyone was challenged with learning a few different breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help with performance anxiety and stress.
This time of year our focus is on learning new skills. We are all setting new goals and learning new skills for the next show season. I always think that this time of year will be relaxing and quiet. I guess if I wasn’t at Oakhurst, it might be! But around the farm, the intensity has just shifted direction for a bit. Still busy, just in a different way. The days now include Mental Training clinics, an upcoming Sport Nutrition clinic, Drill Team practices (with music next weekend!), Theory clinics (lunging next weekend) and ongoing coach development and training. Plus lessons of course. And crappy freezing rain / snowstormy weather to navigate through. So there is still not a lot of spare time! Add into that pile all of the extra things on our plates – like raising children, writing blog and Journal entries, planning for holding 2 Championship competitions next summer and generally adulting (all of the things that are EXPECTED of you once you start to get OLD) and it becomes pretty handy to know those stress reducing techniques.
The trick to any technique like tactical breathing is not simply in being able to perform the action during the training, but to practice, practice and practice the technique so that it becomes part of your routine. There are so many times that remembering to use your deep diaphragmatic breathing or anxiety release techniques that incorporating the habit into practice will only make it easier in competition.
This past week, Ruth held a Thursday Night Smackdown in her 6:15 group lesson. Some of the skills this group has been practicing are ready to be put to the test. What’s a smackdown? Here’s how it works: The group started off with 2 jumps of their choice to warm up. They were then given course maps and the challenge to learn the course as quickly as possible. The first person to go is awarded a bonus point. If they go clear, they get a second point. If they do the correct course, they are awarded a third point. After 3 rounds, and the addition of a disco ball hanging off the jump with cow wings, contestants were given two “Oakhurst bucks” – one to put between each leg and saddle. At the completion of the course, competitors were awarded 5 points for each bill they still had.
The distraction of hanging onto the money is similar to distractions you are faced with in competition. Whether they hung onto the money or not, the competitors agreed that their focus was distracted and anxiety was increased. During the next Smackdown, I hope the girls remember to use tactical breathing and imagery to provide confidence and focus. It will be an interesting experiment to see if there is a difference in their rides. Although I’m sure the next Smackdown will have a different challenge. Ruth likes to keep them guessing.
Since Paige’s training on Sunday, I have started trying to fit some tactical breathing in when I feel my shoulders creeping up towards my ears. Think of some times it would help your brain get the oxygen and peace it needs to regain control. I’m sure there are more than a few times a day in everyone’s life. Here’s a sample of my deep breath moments for Monday:
5:35am. WHEN is the alarm going to go off. Did I miss it? I’m wide awake already.
5:45am. Stupid alarm. Can’t a person sleep at all?
6:05am. Slowest coffee maker in the world. Why don’t we buy a decent one. Or drink instant coffee.
6:10am. Zoe’s not awake. Why isn’t she awake?
6:40am. Zoe’s still not awake. She’s SITTING on the couch, how can she not be awake? Can she wear those pyjamas to school?
6:55am. “Mom, do you know where the glove that matches THIS one is? My bus is coming.” Seriously.
7:15am. OMG I just went down the driveway to meet the bus in my pyjamas and haven’t brushed my hair yet. Let’s not even discuss makeup. Debbie the bus driver must think I’m a lunatic.
7:30am. WHERE are the pants my whole outfit for today is designed around? I can’t change it, I don’t have a backup plan! Someone must have stolen them.
8:00am. Who makes people read something 28 pages long before a conference call at 10:30am. I only got this last week. I don’t have that kind of time. I’m still on page 26 of the book I’ve been reading for a month.
9:30am. The OEF Coaching Committee conference call is at 10:00. WTF. Did they change it? I’m not ready. And I told Ruth 10:30. She won’t be ready. RUN to the car!
9:33am. Did I leave the flat iron turned on? Is the house burning down? If I do a u-turn here will I slide off the road and ditch the car?
9:50am. Where is the phone number for the call? Why didn’t I print the stupid page with login instructions?
10:15am. Expected to talk and sound intelligent on this call. And Ruth’s not even here yet, I don’t know the answers. I always ask her first in case my question is stupid.
11:15am. Can I fit in lunch before the NCHTA meeting in North Gower at 1:00? Should I drink the big glass of water if I have to drive to there? Did I bring the address?
12:00pm. Fish & salad or poutine? Why do I have to deal with issues like this?
12:45pm. Where is this house. I’ve been here a dozen times but I’m a directional illiterate so I might be lost. Or really close. Or really lost.
1:01pm. Which seat should I sit in? I don’t want people to think I’m in charge, but I want to see what’s going on.
1:37pm. My turn to speak. I hope I don’t say anything stupid.
1:46pm. Questions. How do you even PLAN to answer those. I hope I know the answers. Please make them easy questions. Did I put eyeliner on? Everyone is looking right at me.
2:30pm. How MANY oatmeal cookies is considered acceptable to eat during a meeting? Why did they put them in front of me? Is this a test? I think I’m failing.
2:40pm. How MUCH water did I drink. Seriously. It’s hard to sit still with a full bladder. Does it look like I am wiggling? Ugh.
2:53pm. First to leave, first to discover how many people arrived after me and are now parked behind me. Now I have to go back and ask people to get their boots on quicker. Or wait in my car, casually pretending to do something that looks like I’m not waiting.
2:55pm. Which direction is home? Which way did I turn onto this damned street? Am I lost again? Seriously. Didn’t I drive here an hour or two ago? How can the street have changed this much?
3:22pm. How long can you drive with the orange gas light on? Why didn’t I get gas yesterday?
And so on. If I practiced breathing every time I felt some anxiety, I’d be the most mellow, focused person ever. Totally capable of dealing with anything. I’m working on it. So if I shout “don’t forget to breathe” at you this week, I’m just trying to help you become the most fabulous cool competitor, with nerves of steel and the ability to use your brain in every situation imaginable, that you can be.
So quit worrying, just breathe. If you can’t remember how, ask me. I’m practicing all the time.
When I figured out that my next blog week would be at the end of January, I thought “OMG, what on EARTH will I have to write about at the end of January? How boring and quiet that time of year is!” Wrong. So wrong. We have had lots going on the past few days. Tons in fact.
- Drill Team started again – round 2 – bigger and better! Ruth tells me these teams are epic – more like “Thrill” Team watching them work…
- We had another Mental Training session with our Team Sport Psychologist – Paige Mattie. I sadly had to miss this session and have heard from several team members (and coaches) that this session was even better, more thought provoking and more intense than the last. I can’t wait for the next one. I’ll be there with bells on. I have been filled in on the homework given by Paige, so my students had better not assume they can slide by without completing it!
- We attended the Annual Awards Banquet for the National Capital Horse Trials Association – where our Oakhurst Show Team members made us very proud by being awarded many trophies for their competitive achievements in 2015. Including the Team Challenge winners – proving their total dominance over the dozen other teams in the region! Team Untouchables – Megan Jenner, Zoe Richardson, Tatum Nelson and Taya Davison were unbeatable because of their hard work both on and off of their horses – riding when they could and volunteering at every event possible to earn their award. These young ladies made us very proud by living the Oakhurst Family philosophy of both being competitors and finding a way to give back to the sport that they love. Well done champs!
Aside from all of those fabulous things, I have spent the past few days working hard at becoming a better coach. Spending 2 days (Sunday and Monday) in the Equine Canada boardroom learning to: Design an Equestrian Sport Program (yearly training plans), Manage an Equestrian Sport Program, and Training Mental Skills for Equestrian Sport. Megan joined me for Monday and joined in the learning and fun. I knew that we already did some of the things that would be covered in this course, but wanted to see how much of this information we use in our day to day coaching lives at Oakhurst. I love going to coaching functions with other coaches – from all disciplines – it’s always a great opportunity for us to spend some time sharing ideas, letting each other know what works for us and what doesn’t and learning little tips and tricks to make each of us better. I always learn more than the course can teach me. I was happy to see some familiar faces in the room – some I have not seen for many years, some have been mentors (or teen idols!) in the past and some are new to me. There were some of each in this course. The chance to learn from and with some of the brightest minds in coaching in our sport (like Vicki Andrew!) is so exciting and valuable and I’m always so thankful they are willing to share their experience and knowledge with us.
I feel like over the 2 days one thing became very clear to me. I’ll get to my revelation in a second, but first, let me tell you about the training. I spent all day Sunday “learning” how to do Yearly Training Plans (YTP’s). We’ve been doing them for years – everyone on our Show Team does one for each horse every year they compete. I spent some of Sunday thinking “Yup. But I already KNOW all of this. Ruth taught us.” She has taught us every part. You know what coaches know. And those of you have done them for a few years are starting to see how valuable they can be to you and your horse and your competitive careers. They were a new concept for some coaches. So you are a step ahead of many of the coaches out there!
On Monday we did some mental training for equestrians. We did an exercise where we had a paperclip hanging from a string. The end of the string pinched between our thumb and forefinger, elbow resting on the desk, we had to hold our hand still and focus on the paperclip. With only the power of our mind, we had to make the paperclip move in a clockwise circle. Then pause the paperclip and move it in a counter-clockwise circle. We were then told that the truly smart ones among us could make our paperclip do a figure 8 without moving our hand. Mine circled clockwise. Mine circled counter clockwise. Mine could pause. Mine WOULD NOT do a figure 8. After a few minutes of serious focus and brainpower, I started surreptitiously looking around the room to see which coaches were the “smartest”. They couldn’t do it either. I concluded “well, my paperclip is defective” (I don’t want to be the only one to fail the smartness test!). It was an interesting exercise in focus and also showed me that I’m a lot more competitive than I like to think. I also think if I had a better paperclip, I could have ROCKED that exercise. A fancier paperclip and perhaps a nicer string would have made a lot of difference. Seriously.
We talked about focus and distraction, anxiety and attitude. Our clinician did a wonderful job presenting the course content and a few months ago I would have thought it was amazing stuff, but we have Paige Mattie on our team. In 2 sessions with Paige, our students have done more exercises, come to a deeper understanding of their mental and emotional strengths and started putting into practice more new mental strategies to make them stronger than I could learn in an afternoon in a boardroom. We are going to be amazingly strong by next summer.
One of the things we had to do on Monday was talk about “what are the key traits of coaches you admire?” As a group of 12 coaches who have been coaching for many years (probably hundreds of years if you added our careers together!) this is the list we came up with (in no particular order):
- Sense of Humour
I’m sure you can think of more. I would add “has curly red hair” to the list, but with no other redheads in the room I figured they’d think that was a bit self serving. I don’t often praise my sister or tell her that she has done a great job, but as I sat in the room and listened to the other coaches talk about their experiences and programs, I realized we are a very lucky bunch. Perhaps the most important revelation I had (don’t laugh, sometimes the obvious is hard to see) is that our Head Coach Ruth Allum has put together a truly amazing program for the students and coaches at Oakhurst. She has taught us all more about being good horse people and given us more tools for success than many will ever get the chance to learn. Every one of our students knows how to do their Yearly Training Plan – and does one every year during and after the Show Team Meeting(s). Many (seriously, an awful lot) equestrians at all levels of competition and experience, don’t know about YTP’s or understand their value and benefit . Ruth was wise enough to admit that we are not Sport Psychologists and the best way to give our students the best learning opportunity possible was to bring in an expert. Every one of our students that has taken the challenge to work on their mental strength is learning skills that will make them stronger as equestrians, athletes and people. The program she has built – through sheer hard work and determination, challenges she creates, opportunities she presents for our students and collaborative and inclusive environment she has convinced us all to be a part of is one I am proud to include my name on.
I came away from my days of training feeling very lucky. I get to work with my sister.
And I bet if I asked her today, she wouldn’t be able to make the paperclip do a figure 8.
But I bet by Friday she’ll show me how to do it.
I’m going to practice. H
We are all starting to feel the effects of too much Christmas celebrating, too much making merry and toasting the end of the season. It’s time to get back to the grind and remind ourselves to start coming up with resolutions to become better, smarter, more amazing coaches for 2016. I have come up with several standard resolutions that I am mulling over for the next few days. Hopefully I will be able to stick with at least one of these gems and make 2016 totally fabulous. But if I fail miserably, at the very least I shouldn’t be any WORSE than I was in 2015. Right?
- Eat Healthy.
So, more vegetables and salad in my life and I will drink more water in a day than a camel pulling up to the first oasis after a 7 day trek across the Sahara. No problem. I’ve got this. Although…OK. Let’s be realistic, all of those boxes of After Eights and homemade cookies are not going to eat themselves. And if I don’t get to them soon, they will go bad and will be wasted. I’m all for conservation. I don’t want to be accused of being wasteful. So once I have plowed my way through the mountain of chocolate that has made its way to my house this Christmas, I will TOTALLY be on the vegetable bandwagon. We all want healthier, stronger fitter coaches who can at least keep up during course walks, right? Although If I just invest in good rollerskates, I could perhaps convince my students to tow me around as part of their strength training. Seems more likely than living like a rabbit. This one may be aiming a bit high in all honesty. Maybe I can just “eat healthIER”. I might be able to pull that one off. But just in case, where do you think I can purchase healthy looking rollerskates?
2. Exercise more.
Slow down. What counts as MORE? I have a pedometer on my phone, so I have a good idea of how far I go in a day normally. I aim for 7500 steps a day – but if I put my phone down and walk to the loo or kitchen, I figure those steps are missed so I add them in manually – I usually round up because I don’t want to short myself. I figure a thousand for each unmonitored trip must be about right. I feel good about it. So what is MORE exercise? If I ride the riding lawnmower around the yard for an hour or two, the pedometer counts about 12,000 steps. I figure technology can’t be wrong, so I’m super active on those days. And I’m sure the daiquiri I am drinking while riding must count as fruit, which is almost the same as vegetables. Maybe I should cut the grass more. Or ride the lawnmower for course walks. At least I don’t teach from a chair in the arena, so I figure the standing up has to be counted as some sort of exercise! How much more is realistic? Maybe I just need fancier running shoes to LOOK like I’m doing as much as it feels like I am doing. Or more stretchy clothes to guilt everyone else into thinking I am totally in the middle of my workout and just stopping to talk to them.
3. Pursue further education.
Every year the coaches at Oakhurst continue to upgrade their education and take clinics, classes and coaching certification education on an ongoing basis. I am always forced to do most of this continued education by Head Coach Ruth Allum. To be honest she’s a bit of a bully about us “making ourselves smarter”. Like we’re not amazing already. But it’s fine. I don’t take any of it personally. I’m currently reading a book called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck about how most people approach their lives from a growth or fixed mindset. A fixed mindset lets us believe that we possess a certain amount of talent or skill in any area, and any downfalls come from either outside influences (“There was a jump judge beside the jump I fell off at, and they spooked my horse. Not my fault!”) or a limit to our skills and abilities. A growth mindset lets us believe that there is always something to learn, to continue getting educated, to continue improving and getting stronger, smarter, and more competitive (“The jump judge next to the jump really surprised me. I need to pay more attention next time I’m on course so I notice where people are sitting that might surprise us. I don’t want to make that mistake again.”).
This book is reminding me we need to approach problems as starting points for learning and growth, we can overcome obstacles by assuming there is always an answer, we just need to see the challenge in working through the problem to learn and grow, rather than assuming the obstacle is insurmountable. I am optimistic that ideas like this make both my approach to coaching and my students approach to riding with my guidance, more successful in the future. We are always looking for new ideas like this to help us be stronger and more well balanced coaches. I think understanding this book will add another facet to my coaching style and delivery. At least I hope so. I am on page 14. Out of 268. I’m pretty sure I’ll get through it by the end of the 2016. I’d better, if I don’t then I probably haven’t learned much from the theory – and at this point, I’ve really only read the introduction, so not finishing the rest of book would be seriously awkward!
4. Spend less time using technology and more time enjoying nature.
Seriously? I mean I spend quite a bit of time at the barn already. And if I’m not posting the pictures, blogs and updates on the Oakhurst website, Facebook page and Twitter, who will? Right now, Ruth texts me things to post. I’d have to teach her how to do it all by herself. And then she wouldn’t NEED me. And I wouldn’t get those lovely middle of the night texts with a random picture to post for everyone’s amusement. I often use my technology outside. I spent quite a bit of last summer sitting at the picnic table in the middle of the sandring, or leaning on a cross country jump updating a status or uploading a pic on my phone or iPad. I feel like it helps me enjoy the nature. Except when there are bugs. I hate bugs.
- Quit an addiction.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t have any substance addiction – I don’t smoke, I don’t drink very often, I take vitamin D and Reactine every day, but that’s about it for drugs. Coffee? OK 2 cups a day is pretty much required for non-grouchy functioning. But If quit those 2 cups, you will all regret it. Morning lessons will no longer be a viable choice. I mean, if it’s THAT important to you, I’m sure I can let it go. But I think we can come up with something better. Let’s keep thinking…
Television? I don’t often watch a lot. I’m not addicted to any specific show or series. I don’t usually turn it on when I am home alone – except to watch the occasional cooking show. Technology? OK, I’m on my phone or iPad a lot. Most of the time really. I guess it is an addiction. But I don’t think it’s a problem. I’d know if it was a problem. I’m pretty sure it’s totally normal. Maybe I can google it.
- Take up a new hobby.
How do people have time for this one? Between working a part-time day job, teaching lessons, keeping the website and Facebook pages up to date, managing the NCHTA leaderboards, joining the OHTA Board of Directors, scoring for all of the Oakhurst competitions, writing a blog for the Ontario Equestrian Federation and being the mom of two active girls, I’m not sure when I could squeeze a hobby in. And what on earth it could be. Cutting the grass feels like a hobby sometimes, and it does tick the “get out in nature” and “exercise more” (if you can believe the pedometer on my phone) boxes. It eats up any spare time I can find and if I eat broccoli while I am riding the mower, it might just count as several resolutions at once.
- Think before you speak.
OK, when I do a lesson before the second cup of coffee, I sometimes have trouble finding the words in time for them to make sense to my students. Sometimes those students will glance at me with an “I’m PAYING for this?” look in their eyes. I’ve seen it. I don’t blame them. Frankly, they are lucky I showed up with matching socks and weather appropriate clothing that early in the day. One of the things you might not know about my lessons is how much preparation goes into them. I know it’s sometimes hard to tell that I’ve done any homework at all! But in reality, I watch Ruth teaching every week and then discuss my lesson plan, with my progressions for each of my students with her. We always discuss what her goals are for her students and what my students need to grasp from the weekly lesson so that they are ready to move into her program one day. This conversation happens every week between lessons, sometimes in fits and starts as I think of things to throw at my students, sometimes in one thorough discussion in which we share ideas. I am always prepared when I step into the ring to teach, and I know what my goal is for the lesson – and what I will do if we get off track along the way. I occasionally get caught totally by surprise and have to replan off the top of my head. It does happen, but after 23 years, I’ve got a few backup plans in my pocket. So basically, to stop the tongue tied’ness that sometimes happens when I am trying to coach as quickly as my fabulous students are learning, I should really drink MORE coffee. Gallons of the stuff. So I feel like suggesting I quit it for the sake of a New Years Resolution is probably not the best plan ever. Just saying.
So what am I going to resolve as an Equestrian Coach for 2016? I am going to have to think about it a bit more, but so far I think I’m looking at eating the occasional salad, buying some fancier running shoes and stretchy clothes, drinking more coffee, getting a camouflage cover for my iPad so it blends into nature more, finishing the book I have started reading before I forget what the first 14 pages were about and generally trying to better myself as a person and a coach so that 2016 is a successful, amazing year full of growth, learning and excellence.
Just like 2015 was.
Good luck to all of you as you reach for your new goals for 2016 – what is your New Year’s Resolution?
The past few weeks have been busy around Oakhurst – our competition dates for 2016 have been selected and announced, Drill Team has begun a pretty intense practise schedule to prepare for their big show on Dec 27th, awards dinners and banquets celebrating our competitors are happening on weekends – or are being planned for the depths of winter and lessons are having fun jumping the new exercise Coach Ruth sets up for us every week. This coming week’s exercise looks tricky, I’m interested to see how it will ride – as I told Ruth, she has to test it out for a few days before I send my students over it! Lucky for me, she starts using it on Tuesday and has until Thursday evening to work out the kinks.
Speaking of Coach Ruth, today is a special day for her – the anniversary of the day she became MY sister! To celebrate the day I got a sister, I thought it might be fun to follow one of her favourite blog styles and list 10 things you might not know about her.
1 – Before she started riding horses, Ruth ice skated. She was amazing at ice skating but gave it up to ride instead. Ruth had her own special technique: Standing on one side of the rink, holding the boards, she would rock up onto her skate picks, then push off and run a few steps on her picks to build speed. Then she would put both feet flat on the ice and glide until she came gracefully to (slammed into) the boards on the other side of the rink. She was amazing at speed-skating. Too bad her talent was not recognized at the time. Sadly our rink didn’t do any speed-skating lessons, just figure skating. I’m not sure the Richmond Figure Skating Club missed either of us when we “quit” to ride for 1 winter.
2 – Ruth loathes most vegetables. Especially the tree or shrub shaped ones. Except one – tomatoes (I know, I know, they are a fruit but humor me). She loves tomatoes. So much that as a kid she would pick them in our garden and eat them like apples. Who does that? (Tate does it. I’ve seen it. it freaks me out.) I don’t mind them blended into a sauce, but I draw the line at eating them as if they were a crisp juicy peach or pear. It’s wrong. As children, Ruth ate a lot of tomatoes off my plate at dinner. Thank god.
3 – Ruth hates Banana Chips. I do too. Thanks mom. Quick flashback – 2 little girls sitting in the back seat of the family car on a hot July day, waiting for their mom while she “just runs into the bank”. To keep the kids happy (maybe like 6 and 8 years old?) we are given a bag of banana chips – don’t know what they are? Someone came up with the brainwave idea to dry out little rounds of banana, cover them with honey or some sickly sweet sugary ick and sell them to be added to cereal. We had just picked them up from the health food store – apparently they are an essential ingredient in granola. We grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when granola was a big deal. Long story short, we ate a lot of banana chips in the back of a very sweaty car before the bank trip was over and were both quite ill afterwards. Even the smell of the damned things makes Ruth heave.
4 – Ruth quit riding when she was 9. She started at age 8 and then fell off a little paint pony named Sonny and quit for a while. After 6 months or so, once it became obvious that the rest of us weren’t going to quit and she’d have to keep coming to the barn anyway, she came back and started riding again. She overcame her fear and jumped back on the ponies and got right back into riding. She started competing a year or so later! The lesson here is that everyone has a bad day, bad ride or bad season. It’s the strong ones that shake it off and move on with their lives. Ruth has had struggles and bad days with horses too, they have made her stronger. But trust me, when she sees her students have a bad day, she gets it. She understands because it probably happened to her once upon a time.
5 – Ruth is a HUGE Arlo Guthrie fan. OK, you may have known that one. She did JUST go to New York City to see Arlo perform one of his final shows at Carnegie Hall. As kids, we used to listen to records (google it) and one of her favourites was Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”. Growing up at the end of the Vietnam War, we had family friends affected by the US Military Draft, and would hear rumblings of what was happening around the world. Alice’s Restaurant combined several themes that have always been important in Ruth’s life – understanding the song can help understand Ruth a little better. The song is funny. Ruth likes to keep a lot of humour and joy in her life. The song has a positive ending to a negative situation. Ruth always likes to look for the good thing that can be found in any experience – “Sure you fell off, but now we know your airvest works…”. Rather than turning this blog post into an essay, I’ll leave it at that – but here is the original recording of the song “Alice’s Restaurant” (no pictures, we were born before music videos, you’ll have to imagine the pictures in your head. Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of time to do it, the song is about 18 and a half minutes long. Ruth has patience.)
6 – Ruth had shoulder surgery on her left shoulder because she had it dislocated so many times by horses (like black Billee) yanking her arm right out of the socket. She has a scar on the front of her left shoulder from having a muscle pulled across from the center of her chest to the point of her shoulder to provide more strength and stop her arm from falling out of its socket. She is never happy when she is holding a horse that tries to drag her.
7 – Ruth has trouble navigating stairs. They have always been her nemesis. The stairs in the farm house were uncarpeted when we first moved to Oakhurst. The stairs have a 90 degree turn 3 steps before the bottom. Ruth used to fall down the stairs a few times a week. To the point that we would all hear “thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, THUD” (hitting the wall at the turn), then Ruth yelling “I’m OK” and none of us would flinch. We’d all just look at each other like “Oh, just Ruth falling down the stairs again.” We’d buy her grippy socks for Christmas and tell her to slow down, but nothing seemed to help. My parents eventually had the stairs carpeted. It didn’t help with the falling, but it did muffle the sound! Ruth has also fallen up stairs, it’s not a gravity thing. At boarding school she fell up the stairs to the dining hall and broke her collar bone. She’s better with elevators if there’s a choice.
8 – Ruth knows some Russian. She went to Brock university in St. Catherines to study the russian language. She went to Russia in high school and has had a real fascination with the culture (alcohol), food (alcohol) and people (who serve the alcohol?). This may have been an interest in foreign boys but at the time I thought she was going to be a spy. It never occurred to either of us that her being a redhead and rather loud would in any way be a kink in that plan. I would totally have signed her up for the secret service, I bet she could have blended in if she had to. She can do anything she puts her mind to.
9 – Ruth reads books. Actually if you ask Ruth, she will tell you that’s a lie. She’ll tell you that her least favourite gifts to get as a child were books. When offered a gift that felt like a book, she would hand it back to the gift giver and say “Thanks, but I already HAVE a book”. But she DOES read books. Not fluffy romances or vampire love stories, her favourite books are memoirs written by coaches. She has many books about where great athletes come from, how great coaches think and how sport can be developed. As a real book lover and avid reader, I’m actually quite proud to see she has a whole shelf full of books that she has read! I don’t think she’ll ever read the Twilight series, but she DOES read, despite what she tells you otherwise.
10 – Ruth hates when people try to give her a nickname. Her name is only 4 letters long, why change it? When she was little, people used to try to call her “Ruthie”. I remember a neighbour across the street from us in Richmond. The mom called her “Ruthie” and Ruth was so enraged that she stomped across the street to their house, knocked on the door and politely informed the mom through gritted teeth that “my name is Ruth, NOT Ruthie” and stomped back to our house again. She was 4 or 5 years old. She has NEVER liked to be called anything other than Ruth. Mark can get away with calling her “Ruby”, but I wouldn’t try it if I were you. She’s not so tolerant of that kind of shenanigans. Trust me.
Hopefully some of those points were news to you, and now you have a deeper understanding of what makes our own Coach Ruth tick. I could have gone on and on about how she had her own “frog training academy” at our cottage and how she really feels about all things Disney, but I’ll leave some secrets for another day…It’s her birthday today – don’t forget to show her love for her special day – she’s going to spend most of it doing what she loves – shouting at people riding ponies in a freezing cold arena!
Thank goodness she didn’t quit for good all those years ago. She is a pretty amazing coach, mom, role model and sister. I’m not sure the figure skating world was ready for her “talent”.
Happy Birthday Ruth! (I’m pretty sure this is the day we adopted you, anyway)
From your favourite sister – H 🙂
Show season is over, awards season has begun! Now that our event season has officially come to an end for 2015, we have started to enjoy all of the post-show season spoils, like the awards banquets for every circuit our riders compete on. This past weekend, Ruth & Mark made the trek to Mohawk Raceway (Campbellville, ON) for the CADORA Ontario Silver Dressage Awards lunch with Kristin McLaren, Barb Eamer and Jenna Mayhew. Kristin won 2 awards (and a door prize!) – 2nd Level Champion and 3rd Level 3rd place. Jenna won 1st Level 3rd Place and the 3 ladies (the Oakhurst Prancing Queens) won the Eastern Team Champion title. Woohoo! Our new dressage team rocked their first year!
We also celebrated Halloween last weekend. Oakhurst became a very spooky spot on the evening of Oct 30th – We had 9 daring contestants in our Halloween Parade. Dressing up in costumes with their favourite equine friends, they were tasked with presenting their costume to the judge and assembled crowd. After a lively parade around the arena showing off their costumed greatness, each contestant stepped forward and introduced their partner and theme.
The judge presented awards for several different categories, including “Most Moo-ving Costume” and “Best representation of an Animated Character”. Contestants were awarded candy and certificates – and of course bragging rights and applause! and everyone retired to Ruth and Mark’s house for treats and drinks to celebrate the fun evening. It was a great chance for the team to get together and enjoy having a little fun with the ponies, and each other. Social events like these are always fun after the intensity of show season comes to an end.
Over the winter, we are going to be running several programs at Oakhurst that many boarders and students will recognize and enjoy. Drill Team is back – what is more fun when the snow is howling outside than trying to make a pattern for a dozen horses to ride – choreographed to music of course. Coach Ruth takes the drill team very seriously. Hopefully you’ve all remembered your moves like “the rainbow” and “hoe down spins” for this winter. If you are looking for a fun way to do one of your LSD (Long Slow Distance) works on your horse, join us – Drill Team is a great way to make those long trots wildly exciting for a change! I say we add some canter in to the action… Find out more here.
We are also planning a team bonding day in early December – can’t give all of the details yet, but this will be a get-together for all students / boarders to spend some time together playing games (Coach Ruth LOVES board games), eating food and doing some other exciting things – watch your emails for more details soon.
We are planning several new clinics and educational opportunities – watch the website calendar for those. Can’t divulge all of the details yet, but they will be amazing, I assure you!
We’ve got more awards dinners coming up soon – OHTA Banquet Nov 21st and the OADG Dressage Banquet on Dec 5th – several reasons to pull out the fancy (clean) clothes! Come and cheer for your teammates, or collect your own awards. It’s always fun at these dinners to try to identify people out of context – without a helmet and show jacket or horse underneath them.
Lots of horses are already being body clipped – they haven’t had the message that it is not yet winter. Ruth has her clippers sharpened and is starting to do some pretty fancy work already – check out Ash’s new racing stripes:
Winter is coming, let’s get ready to have some fun!
The Pioneers who came to settle Canada faced a LOT of adversity. Between finding a place to build a home in a new country, in a new hemisphere of the world, foreign to them, they had to deal with our winters with the biting cold and mountains of snow, summers with stroke-inducing heat and mosquitos bigger than the family dog and foreign soil filled with rock and stone, unforgiving to even the strongest pickaxe (around here anyway). Yet they overcame these adverse conditions to build successful and thriving communities across the country.
As I hovered in a porta-potty at Grandview this weekend – trying to keep from exposing any skin, lest the wind whipping through cause frostbite in the unmentionable region – I thought about how tough (stupid crazy fools) the pioneers were. They had to BUILD the outhouses. And an outhouse was a LUXURY for them. I would have sucked as a pioneer. I would have gotten back on the boat. “See you guys, it’s been a slice. I’ll be back when you get the whole indoor plumbing thing figured out.”
But the Pioneers were tough and made lemonade from the lemons presented to them. It occurred to me that eventers must be cut from the same cloth as so many of those pioneers. Saturday morning at the Grandview Fall HT it was a balmy 6 degrees – with 70km/hour winds. Not the warm tropical breezes you sit on a beach enjoying a pina colada from a coconut in, these were the bone chilling, frostbitten eyebrows, don’t leave any skin exposed or you’ll regret it kind that make you wonder what ever possessed you to spend the day standing out in the gale force arctic breeze when we have the luxury of indoor plumbing. And central heating. And where the heck did summer go?
Eventers are tough. And we adapt. We put on our turtlenecks, hiked up our Unicorn socks, switched to the heavy gloves, wore our winter jackets under our body protectors and joked about how “at least there are no bugs today” and “hardly any humidity in this wind”. And everyone went out and rode their buns off. Despite the crazy weather, we cheered for each other, helped each other reach for our goals, supported our team and finished the event like any other.
Rather than letting the imperfect conditions scare us off, or make us change our plans, we figured out how to ride (and coach or parent!) through the wind. One of our team mates remarked to me “The weather’s not perfect today is it?” The best response I could come up with was “Nope. Welcome to Canada.” The weather is not always perfect. Saturday it was pretty far from perfect! But at the last Olympics in London, the Eventers had to do Dressage in the rain. If it’s not perfect there, maybe riding in imperfect conditions will make us that much stronger when we get to the Olympics! And sometimes, It is what it is. A few people on our team found out that their horses go REALLY WELL in the hurricane strength wind. Who knew? Some found out that even if it seems like the conditions are not conducive to riding, they can do it anyway.
Maybe one day the weather will be perfect. And the birds WON’T fly during their dressage test, spooking their horse like at every other show. And the jump judges will be invisible so that their horse doesn’t have a panic attack coming around the corner to jump 5 on cross country, AGAIN. And the stadium ring WON’T be surrounded by people flapping scary umbrella’s during their ride. And conditions will be absolutely perfect for the first time ever. Imagine how AMAZING you will be on that day? With all of this training on less-than-perfect days, we’ll be ready! Let’s hope that one perfect day doesn’t happen too soon. I’d rather save it for the one day you need that epic performance for some sort of medal winning opportunity (or when they bring out the BIG prize money…). And if it still doesn’t happen on those days, you’ll be even better prepared for the challenge.
I know as a coach, I have not stopped drinking fluids just because I know I will have to visit the porta-potty several times during a very cold or wet or disgustingly hot day. But I have been perfecting my technique. I can be in and out – exposing the minimum flesh required and hovering like a hummingbird over a target flower – faster and more efficiently than anyone I know. My Pioneer ancestors would be proud – if I had any – my parents emigrated from England, so essentially they were pioneers for our family, but they lived in an apartment, drove a car, had baseboard heaters and indoor plumbing, so the whole hardy Pioneer thing was a bit missed in our ancestry.
So keep perfecting your technique – despite the heat, wind and rain, scary rocks, birds and umbrella’s – next time those things will be easier to deal with, you’ll be stronger and less flappable and the perfect day will be closer than you know. Coaches Ruth, Blair, Megan and I are happy to add layers of long johns, turtlenecks, hats, sunscreen and bug spray to help our team find their perfect rides on less than perfect days. We’ll share our secrets for surviving the porta-potty dash and keep learning and educating ourselves and teaching each other so that we can help our students overcome any adverse conditions. Everyone who rode this weekend is now a leg up on the competition the next time we attempt to ride as Dorothy and Toto careen past in a bungalow heading for OZ.
And we’ll be there to cheer the day it all comes together. Wearing as many layers as it takes.
It’s how we roll.
And a special HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to Tatum Nelson – Tate has finally reached double digits and is the ripe old age of 10 today. Woohoo! Enjoy your special day – and tell your mom I said you get to have a Birthday Week. Our pioneer ancestors would totally agree.
Team Oakhurst competitors at Grandview HT – Oct 06, 2015
Jr. – Alexa Bresnahan & Aragon – 2nd Place
Sr. – Darby Delle Donne & Silver Lining – 3rd Place
Sr. – Devon Svoboda & Abbigael – 7th Place
Jr. – Emma Richardson & Sokit2ya – 4th Place
Jr. – Rebecca Walker & Rookie
Sr. – Megan Jenner & Portia – 7th Place
Open – Miranda Lepore & The Duke – 7th Place
Phew, that was a busy weekend – 2 shows at Oakhurst in 2 days! This past weekend on Saturday we held an Upper Canada Derby at Oakhurst. The sun shone, local (and not so local!) riders came out and tested their partnerships over stadium and cross country jumps and everyone left smiling and happy at their new accomplishments. 112 rounds were ridden in the derby, in record time!
Sunday was the rain date for our Silver Dressage Show at Oakhurst. We had 61 dressage tests on a beautiful sunny day from Training to Third Level. Several Oakhurst riders (and ponies!) strutted their prancing stuff and showed off their teamwork in the dressage rings, scoring several more qualifying scores towards the Silver Dressage Championships – coming up at Oakhurst on Sept 12th.
One of the best parts of running these kinds of weekends is all of the teamwork that spontaneously happens because we all pull together in new ways to help make everyone’s experience enjoyable. It is always a joy to watch new horse and rider partnerships discover each others talents and weaknesses, and watch existing partnerships grow and accept new challenges. I saw a lot of both this weekend.
I also saw a lot of volunteers joining forces to help make all of our jobs a little easier, our days a little smoother and our experience a lot more enjoyable! From Barb Bresnahan – joining Joan in the Secretary booth to help hand out and collect numbers to Laura Kelland-May and Cheryl Denault jumping into judges booths to write for Dressage judges. From Tate and Zoe who helped run the Midsouth Tack Sale Fundraiser to everyone who helped keep the barn mucked, ponies fed and generally pitched in all weekend – THANK YOU!
One of the best things I saw this weekend (apart from watching my daughter Emma compete with a new partner and love it, seeing my daughter Zoe do her first course of verticals and watching my niece Tate go cross country on Jag, both of which made my heart swell – I’m a mom and an aunt , those things are special!) was an amazing display of teamwork from two local coaches. We have known both for many years, and have always held both in high regard, but this weekend they both went above and beyond to help Team Oakhurst.
On Sunday morning, one of our two dressage judges did not appear. When it became obvious that we were in deep trouble, with 2 hours of Training level tests and no one to judge them, many people stepped in to help solve our problem. It might sound simple to stick someone else in the Judge’s booth and have them judge – lots of people have experience watching dressage – but let me assure you, finding a judge, certified at the right level and available at a moment’s notice, is NOT EASY. So many competitors needed qualifying results from the show that we could not jeopardize their opportunity by putting an unqualified judge in place. From the outside, the show may have looked like we recovered and figured out what to do quickly, but trust me, it did not feel quick or easy from our end.
After making several calls to local judges, 2 of the coaches with students competing in the show offered us a solution. Patrick Evans offered to step into the judges booth for the 2 hours of judging we needed, and Kerstin Blaeske offered to coach his 3 students to ensure they had spectacular rides and earned their qualifying scores. To further ensure all of Patrick’s students had a fair chance to compete, they were juggled into the other judges ring. With some very generous teamwork from local coaches, a problem that seemed huge and very difficult to overcome became simple and solved in no time!
Aside from seeing so many people step in and help Team Oakhurst, I was very proud of our local coaches. Coaching has come a long way. For Patrick to trust that he has given his students the skills and training they need to enable them to shift gears and switch to a coach they were unfamiliar with and still perform brilliantly is a testament to his teaching. For Kerstin to step in and coach unfamiliar students during their most stressful moments and help them find comfort and bring out their best was exciting to watch. She figured out their strengths, weaknesses and needs quickly and adjusted her coaching to suit their rides. Both coaches did a wonderful job with the problem they were given.
This is one of Ruth’s philosophies that the coaches at Oakhurst hear often, but many coaches out there are still uncomfortable with – we don’t want to teach students who can only learn from us. We want our students to be strong, self-confident riders who have all of the skills and abilities needed to be able to adapt and learn from others. Our students should be teachable. They should be able to self-analyse and learn from others – hopefully they will progress to a time when they might be part of a team being led by another coach (Young Riders, CIEC, Olympics, etc!) and will be able to make the most of it – and then come back and share their new skills with all of us!
For me as a mom, this weekend was full of great displays of teamwork – ponies and riders working together to enjoy everything the weekend had to offer. As a coach, this weekend had amazing examples of teamwork – collaborating to help our own students and other coaches collaborating to help theirs. As someone working the shows, the many displays of teamwork from everyone who helped the shows go on, no matter what were inspiring. I think we’re right….
TEAMWORK really does MAKE THE DREAM WORK!
Thanks everyone – See you on Sept 12 for the Silver Championships at Oakhurst – when we get to do it all again!
To say the past week at Oakhurst has been busy would be an understatement! The last week has been an all-out whipper-snipping, miles of mowing, entry registering, jump decorating, dressage and stadium building, overwhelming temperature withstanding week of preparation for our biggest weekend of 2015. The preparation for our annual Horse Trials was certainly a frenzy of work for so many people, but one of the things I love about the event, after 20 years of running it, is that we have so many people who know their jobs and do them well. From Joan, taking & sorting entries, answering competitor questions and being our first point of contact with competitors, to Ruth, mowing 4837 miles of grass. Twice, to make sure it is pointing the right way. From Mark – building and moving everything not staked down on the property – and then staking it to make sure no one else can move it – to Megan and Blair – painting, whipper snipping and trimming everything to within an inch of its life. And from everyone else, jumping in to help wherever, whenever and however it is needed. Despite the fact that it is 98,000 hours of work that can only be done in the week before the event, somehow it gets pulled off every time.
And I think you have to agree, this weekend was better than ever! Shortening our horse trials to one day, but adding several extra events to fill out the weekend was a big hit for many competitors and coaches. On Saturday, our competitors started to arrive (actually a trailer load arrived on Friday from Quebec, mistakenly thinking our event started on Saturday. They were directed to the Ashton Pub to spend their spare time. They were happy!) and along with walking their courses and picking up their competitor packages, they were able to ride their horses in the dressage rings for our “Dressage Ring Familiarization” afternoon. So many competitors took advantage of the opportunity, and the result were many very smooth, lovely dressage tests the next day! A little rain in the afternoon and a lot of rain in the evening was perfect to help all of our footing soften up and absorbed all of the dust just in time for the competition.
Sunday morning, bright and early the Horse Trials started. I was only outside for a few moments of the day – my job is scoring – I stay hidden in a secret undisclosed location to process all of the scores of the day. It was the first time we have run the event on one day in a while, and for scoring, it just means that the flow of numbers to crunch keeps coming all day. And strangely, although I sent all day looking at the scores, I have no real idea how anyone did on the day – I look at all of the raw numbers and don’t take too much time to sit and read the final results! I did, however, listen to Ruth’s play-by-play of each Oakhurst Team member’s Cross Country ride. And I must admit, when I heard my students both completed their cross country successfully (one in her first event) there was a little victory dance and fist pump in the office. People who say coaches don’t compete are ridiculous. I gave Nike and Mowgli a virtual squeeze over every jump.
Our competitor and volunteer party on Sunday evening was a well-deserved break from the work of the past week and everyone’s chance to celebrate a fantastic day. The sun shone all day for us (Thanks Dad!) and every competitor went home safe and sound. With only one fall on the cross country course, our day was a wonderful success! The competitor party featured live auctions for Fury (soccer) and Redblack (football) tickets, a 50/50 draw that Tate and Zoe sold $300 worth of tickets for (but sadly Tate didn’t win, so no rollerblades for her yet!) and the silent auction organized by Barb Eamer. Everyone at the party was excited to support the Oakhurst and friends Midsouth Teams. And the dinner and cake provided by Todd and Sandy Brown were spectacular as usual!
Monday morning we all dragged our tired butts back out of bed for day 3 of the Oakhurst HT Weekend – an Athlete Development Breakfast & Clinic and XC/SJ Schooling afternoon. The Athlete Development Clinic started with a delicious (because I didn’t have to make it) breakfast provided by the Lone Star Ranch. Then our sponsor Keith Bean of www.beancars.ca spoke to us about truck and trailer safety and invited everyone to try backing a truck and trailer through a pylon course at the end of the clinic! Following Keith, Kara Edwards representing sponsor BFL Insurance spoke about what insurance competitors have through their PSO and NSO memberships and what other insurance options exist for equestrians and coaches. Kara gave us some great information in very simple, easy to understand language – insurance is not nearly as mind-numbingly boring as I thought!
Our next speaker was our keynote speaker Ozzie Sawicki. Ozzie has been Chef D’Equipe for the Canadian Paralympic Team at the last few Olympics. He is an Alpine Ski coach who specializes in building grassroots and talent identification programs for different sports. He has been working on a program called “No Boundaries” with Equine Canada which helps identify competitors at the lower levels who, with the right help, mentoring and guidance, might just make it to the top of the sport. Ozzie spoke about how to develop from good athletes to great. He spoke to our athletes about some of the key things they need to focus on (like sleep, nutrition and core strength) and he challenged us:
“Let’s create eventers who are SMART enough to be eventers. We can’t just gallop around crashing through things, we need to be smart and use our intelligence to be competitive.”
Ozzie also spoke about the importance of certified coaches. A topic I often blab about, so I was interested to hear his views (Ozzie is a ChPC – Canadian Chartered Professional Coach). Rather than argue the merits of coaching certification, Ozzie put it very simply, in perhaps the clearest reasoning I have heard. He said:
“If you are coaching and you are NOT certified, it does not mean you are not a good coach, it means a potential customer doesn’t know if you are good or not.”
Ozzie answered many questions and gave his audience a lot to ponder over the next little while. Definitely a fascinating morning! After the clinic, we ventured back out to the cross country course and watched many groups spend the afternoon schooling over the courses. Some were schooling umps they had struggled with in competition, others brought green horses to see the jumps while they were dressed and flagged. Other groups came to challenge some obstacles from the next level and see what upgrading would be like. The weather was beautiful and sunny and cool. A perfect ending to the weekend!
I am always impressed at how such an enormous task – running the event weekend – happens so flawlessly and simply in the end. I know it is because we have the best group of volunteers we could ever hope for. Everyone knows their job and is happy to do it. The volunteers stand in the sun all day in exchange for a little Oakhurst swag and a lunch. They do their jobs with authority and experience, being cheerful and kind to competitors while making sure that every little part of their duty is done. The entire day (from my perspective anyway!) ran so smoothly, it seemed to run itself! I am so proud to be part of this team – all of those competitors who don’t make it to our event have no idea what they are missing out on.
You should all be proud this week, Team Oakhurst Rules!
The past few weeks have been full of shows and events for the Oakhurst Team. Every weekend we head to at least one dressage show, event or derby. It has been a very busy summer already, and we are only just starting July! This past weekend we took a small group to the Upper Canada Derby at Meadowvale Farm in Carp. The day was bright and sunny. (And hot. Very hot.) After walking courses and looking at the questions being asked of the gang we had there, Coach Ruth made the smart decision with the team to drop everyone down a level from the level they had originally entered.
The name of the game for your coaches at these shows is confidence building and successful outings. The great thing about everyone on the team, was that no one argued the decision to compete “below their level”. Everyone took the change of plans in stride and reorganized their game plan to ride at a different level. Everyone came away feeling very successful at still having challenges to overcome and building confident and positive rides with their partners.
At the same time, the whole team pulled together and worked to cheer each other on at whatever level they rode, doing whatever they did. It’s always so wonderful to see how our team, and maybe all eventers, are so adaptable. We can change plans quickly and adjust to different scenarios without any real drama! We all worked together to help each other be successful.
One of the common topics I have been hearing students talk about the past few weeks is “What level should I be at?”
This sometimes sounds like “When should I be upgrading, because so-and-so upgraded last week?”, or “but shouldn’t I be going level “X” by now? I’ve been at this level for longer than someone else?” or “How long until I can go Prelim/Intermediate/to Rolex, etc.”. Or even “I SHOULD be doing this by now, because I have been riding for “X” amount of time.”
Those questions are common and asked often.
But before I can give any answers, let me explain a few things…
Riding horses is not a sport like gymnastics with a very short window of competitive ability. If you haven’t got it all figured out by the time you are 15, you don’t need to panic.
When coaches and Sport people talk about equestrian athletes, we talk about Long Term Equestrian Development. We know you can do it for many, many more years! Yes, you may learn skills more quickly when you are younger and developing muscles faster. But there is no age limit to riding.
Ian Millar is 68 years old. He is going to the Pan Am’s in a few days representing Canada in the Equestrian Show Jumping. Eva Maria Pracht won a Team Bronze Medal at 51 years old with the Canadian Team in dressage at the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.
George Morris – born in 1938 (76 years old – still giving clinics he rides in) – considered the founding father of hunt seat equitation – was recently quoted in an article, when asked why he still rides, as saying “because after 70 years of riding, I am finally STARTING to understand horses a bit”.
Still sceptical? Need a few eventing examples?
• Mark Todd (New Zealand) won the Team Bronze Medal for Eventing in 2012 at the London Olympic, at age 56.
• Andrew Nicholson – also on the Bronze medal winning New Zealand team at the London Olympics was age 52.
• Mary King (Great Britain) won a team Silver Medal for Eventing in 2012 at the London Olympics, at age 51.
• William Fox-Pitt won Badminton this year at age 46.
Trust me. You’ve got time. I bet at 15, these athletes had a LOT more learning to do!
The question of when to upgrade, what level you SHOULD be at has SO MANY variables which can affect it.
• What experience does your horse have?
• What experience do you have?
• How did your last outing go?
• Which way is the wind blowing today?
• How often do you ride?
• What do you WANT to do?
• What do you feel ready to do?
• Did you eat the right breakfast and wear the lucky underwear this morning?
• What will you get out of going to another level?
And so many more variables!
We often see, in our sport, athletes taking a step forward, then a step to the side, then a step forward, then maybe a step back for a bit. We don’t necessarily progress in a straight line from one level to the next without some blips and bumps along the way.
The biggest thing to remember is that every year is ONE out of (hopefully) MANY. Many, Many. (Sorry dad’s, but hopefully they will get jobs that help fund the learning and competing!) Don’t sweat the steps back or to the side, they are helping you build a bigger base of knowledge to lean back on when you get further along your path.
And don’t compare yourself to the other people around you – everyone is going to grow at a different pace. You might progress more quickly or slowly than someone else this year, but who knows what will happen next year. Sometimes it might seem that you are not progressing, but you are always learning. Every day is a different ride. Even on the same horse you can get different attitude/weather/fitness/energy level/hormones/etc.
The Oakhurst Team is awesome at cheering each other on, no matter what level we are working our way through. In 40 years, you’ll all be so much stronger, wiser and more confident than you are now, and you’ll wonder why you stressed so much about doing this show or that event at one level or another. Every horse is different, every rider is different. Several of our team members have had to change direction and take a few steps to the side or back this year. The general vibe I get from all of them is “I’m just excited to go out there at ANY level, I thought I’d really miss going “X” level, but actually, I just miss doing this!”.
That’s a great attitude!
Watching all of our competitors embrace the level they were competing at Meadowvale – even if it was not the level they thought they were ready for, and still come away smiling and feeling that they had a wonderful time out was a great reminder that, in the end, it’s all about having fun.
You don’t HAVE to do this. You GET to do this.
This past weekend we had our first outing at a local Horse Trial – Eventing at the Park at Wesley Clover Park in Ottawa, ON. Such a beautiful venue – with some exciting new changes and upgrades – is always a fun outing for our competitors. The Oakhurst Show Team brought 13 competitors ranging from Pre-Entry to Pre-Training this weekend. The weather was beautiful – sunny with a cool breeze to keep the bugs off. Couldn’t ask for better!
I realized as we worked through the day, that most of our team were new partnerships, or challenging new levels – everyone was pushing their comfort zone a little – which is always great to see! Some of our successes were great – like the many successful first outings with new partners. A few of our team struggled a little getting used to the challenges presented. But through the successes and learning (character building moments!) I was thrilled to see our team work together. I heard teammates celebrating successes, helping prepare each other for their individual phases of competition and commiserating with those who experienced setbacks – sharing stories of times they fell and found a way back up to the top. I think we all left this weekend a stronger, more cohesive team. I know that everyone left feeling good about some parts of their day and ready to jump into the fray and try again very soon.
The other thing I was proud to see this weekend was the number of Team Oakhurst members who volunteered their time to help at the Event. I saw 6 Oakhurst students out judging Cross Country jumps all day. Their commitment to help keep the sport thriving in our local area makes us very proud. Although I also remain sure that every time a team blue & yellow helmet cover sailed past them on cross country, they gave an extra loud cheer of support!
Over the past few weeks, with the start of cross country lessons and riding with more speed outside, I have heard a few students mention control – and whether they have enough. Control is a word full of meaning. The dictionary definition of control is: to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate. When we are riding, how much CONTROL do we, or should we have? When Ruth and I evented as teenagers, the saying was “You don’t need to HAVE control, you just need to know you can GET it.” As a teenager, I think I interpreted those words a bit differently than I would now.
At 15, I was riding a big (tank like) chestnut gelding (who used to pull logs out of the bush somewhere in the depths of Quebec) named DeeJay. I recall riding him at an Event at Farm of the Mountain (now Venturing Hills) in Luskville. Halfway around the course we had a long trek across a field to a large X made of telephone poles. Halfway across the field, enjoying the gallop, I thought “well, I don’t HAVE control, let’s see if I can GET it”. “Nope”. “Can’t get control.” (I weighed about a hundred pounds. He was used to pulling logs a heck of a lot bigger. I’m not convinced he knew I was even up there.) So my 15 year old brain made the brilliant decision to head towards the jump, because they always slow down to jump, right?. Not right. I must have flown about 10 feet in the air over that jump.
DeeJay left me behind and galloped off to the finish. In those days, if you fell off and you caught your own horse (and could get back on without help), you could keep going. DeeJay did a lap of the field and then galloped back to me whinnying. I guess it took him about a mile before he realized I was no longer up there. I was not thrilled to see him coming back (I believe I threw my crop at him to make sure I didn’t have to get back on), I was OK with the long walk of shame at that point. At least I was in control of my speed when I was walking.
To me, the saying “You don’t need to have control, you just need to know you can get it” meant that I could ride without any control some of the time. Now, after many, many years and many horses, my understanding is somewhat changed. We never ever want to have that feeling of being out of control. We need to know that when we ask, the horse will listen and come back. BUT…There are some things we can control and some we can’t. Here’s how I see it:
We (the rider) can control:
Pace: Our horse doesn’t know the times or speeds for the level we are going. It is up to us to decide how fast we must be going and when that pace has to change. Allowing galloping stretches, or balancing to coffin canter are up to us. We need to make sure we put the horse in the pace needed to do the job we present.
Direction or Steering: We are the only one in the partnership with a course map. We need to make sure we are the captain of the ship and get the team from point A to point B. Straightness into every obstacle is up to us. The horse doesn’t know where we are going, so we have to give them a clear path.
Balance: It is up to the rider to let the horse know that there is an obstacle coming that requires their full attention. That 6, 8, 10 (whatever you use!) stride balancing zone before a jump is vital to preparing your horse for his part of the job. If he doesn’t sit up and pay attention coming in to every obstacle, it is very easy for the partnership to fall apart (as I found out trying to use a jump to slow down a freight train all those years ago!).
The horse has to control:
Footwork: It’s up to your horse to jump the jumps, drop off the banks, etc. They need to figure out how to get their feet set up to navigate the obstacle successfully. If we try to make the take-off and landing up to us as well, we don’t let them do any of the thinking. The best horses are the ones that have to think, know where their best takeoff point is and know how to get out of a sticky situation. The more you can give a horse the right setup – pace, direction and balance, and let them take care of the jumping, the stronger they will become at figuring out the best way from one side to another.
Jump Effort: We can’t lift them off the ground. As much as we would like to, the most we can do is stay out of their way and let them determine how high to jump. For some horses that is the bare minimum (My dad had a horse named Mac who we joked was blind and jumped by braille. If the jump was 2 feet high, he jumped 1’11. If it was 4 feet high, he jumped 3’11. Every time.) For some horses, that’s a good 6+ inches over the height of the obstacle (Look at any picture of Sokit2ya jumping. Ever.) We can give them the pace, balance straightness and make sure they have energy – they have to lift the team off the ground.
Cross Country is a test of endurance, but to me it is also a test of teamwork. Riding is a partnership. Both partners have jobs. And both partners need to rely on each other to do those jobs to help each other. We can’t control every step of every ride. If we try, we will not be successful. We can’t get every step right 100% of the time. Let your partner take some responsibility. Give them the tools (pace, direction & balance) to achieve success for your partnership. Let go and let them do their part – make them thinking horses just like Ruth, Blair Megan and I challenge you to be thinking riders.
I’d like to change the saying.
I propose: “Control what’s yours to control, trust your horse to do the rest”.
Phew, that was a busy weekend at Oakhurst! Our ESD Dressage Show saw competitors ride more than 80 dressage tests on a very warm and sunny Saturday (May 09). It was wonderful to see so many people take advantage of the opportunity to ride their eventing dressage tests before the first Event this summer and even more exciting to see so many more competitors venturing into the dressage ring to ride “Dressage, Dressage” tests – including a few members of our Silver Dressage Team, who gave their test rides a trial run before their first official outing in a few weeks. On Sunday, May 10th, we held our first Upper Canada Derby of the season. The weather changed completely and it was overcast and cool all day – perfect for jumping! The Derby was a HUGE success, with 183 rounds (small error when we posted 177 last night – we were tired!) being ridden between 9AM and 5PM. The Oakhurst Whipper-In (Ruth!) did an amazing job of sending a continuous flow of horses and riders, keeping the ring constantly busy. I was pleased to hear from so many people that they love the format, the competitors learn and improve through the day and the format provides for continuous entertainment for the audience. After such a wonderful weekend, I can’t help but feel like show season has really started – 2 weeks to our next outing seems too long! Aside from the excitement of the weekend, my time recently has included a lot of coaching education, evaluation and certification. As most of Team Oakhurst knows, certified coaching is a passion for several of us in the barn. I often hear people ask why they should bother getting certified, or why they should look for a certified coach. I often reply “would you put your child in swimming lessons with an uncertified swim instructor? No? Then why would you put your child/parent/grandparent on a 1000 pound animal without verifying that the person teaching has had some education and been approved by some sort of governing sport body as capable of providing a safe and educational environment?”
I think the big difference between most sport coaches and equestrian coaches is that most sport facilities (pools, rinks, gyms, etc.) are publicly owned and managed. Most barns and stables are privately owned. Anyone can buy a barn, advertise that they “coach” and teach children whatever they like. Our students are lucky – the 4 coaches at Oakhurst are all active in the coaching system in Canada. We are all certified by the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program). We all have to attend several hours of education every year to remain certified. We also have a current First Aid certificate at all times. We are continuously attending clinics to share ideas with other coaches and learn the latest and greatest techniques for educating our students in our sport.
There is a lot of work required to become and stay certified. There should be. I would like to think that the student I am coaching is getting the most out of their time with me. I owe it to them to be teaching them skills that will 1. keep the horse and rider safe, 2. keep them advancing and learning, 3. keep them on track to achieve their goals, 4. keep them enjoying the sport for as long as they want to be involved. I feel like the more I can learn as a coach, the more I can help realize those goals. Watching Oakhurst’s own working student (now Instructor of Beginners!) Megan Jenner over the past year, I can confidently say that the Certification process has changed the way she teaches, for the better. Megan had done some teaching when she arrived. She was a good teacher, don’t get me wrong! But over the past 9 months or so, she has learned so many things about teaching lessons that have made her a more confident, more knowledgeable and more proactive coach than when she arrived. We have many evening discussions about how to teach – how to react to different issues, how to develop progressions so that lessons develop from a starting point and build to a completed concept at the end. Megan pointed out to me last night that this truly has been an “apprenticeship” for her – with her certification validating all of the concepts she has learned.
The coaching team at Oakhurst is very special group. We work together a lot. We spend time telling each other what works and what doesn’t in our lessons. We discuss how to coach each other’s riders if one of us covers for another. We compare notes on lesson plans and how each of us can use the exercise set for the week for our own students. I often sit in the ring during Ruth’s lessons and ask her a ton of questions after the lesson – “Why did you do that exercise?”, “Why did you set the exercise like that?”, “Was that for the horse or the rider?”,”How can I do this for my students at a different level” or “What part of this is essential for my Pre-Entry crew to understand” and on and on, so that I can set my students up to succeed both now and as they progress.
I hear arguments that the certification process is too rigid and does not take style into account, coaching is an art. I agree with part of the sentiment. Coaching IS an art. Riding is an art. If you gave Ruth, Blair, Megan and I the same lesson topic and asked us to teach a lesson, we would all teach the lesson differently. We have different styles, a different eye and different delivery. But we would make sure that the essential core of that topic is taught. We would all provide the safest environment possible for that lesson. We would all ensure that we only ask students to do things they are capable of. We would each look for that learning moment when the students say “ohhhhh, I get it”. I don’t think the certification process changes our personal style. It just teaches us the essential tools to help prepare students who will ride for a lifetime. Our students will progress, improve, understand the fundamentals of riding and be “thinking riders” who are capable of analyzing their own performance, planning competition seasons that complement their horse and setting short and long term goals.
The path to becoming certified is long and hard work. I would hope so, horses are big animals and we are putting loved ones on them and getting them to go very fast and jump big solid things. We should have to prove we know our stuff. Parents wouldn’t expect any less in the other 60+ sports that the NCCP certifies coaches for.
So I guess when someone asks me “why be certified?” I have to wonder why a coach WOULDN’T want to be certified?
Rant over… P.S. Oakhurst Students please note that Megan Jenner has now been added to our Lessons, Coaches & Fees page – her new fees are listed on the page.