Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Proper Horse Turnout for IEA Shows

I stewarded my first IEA show of the season on Sunday, hosted by Milton High School at Wills Park in Alpharetta, Georgia. I was pleased with the overall turnout of the horses in the show and decided to write about it in this week's blog.

Below is Milton High School horse, Petey. I'm going to use him as my model as I discuss proper horse turnout in IEA shows.

Milton High School IEA Horse, Petey.  A Good Example of Proper Turnout for IEA Shows.
Photo Credit--Ashley Wilson

Appropriate and safe is always more important than fancy.  
Petey is not a 17 hand warmblood with 3'6" potential, and he doesn't have to be. He is a 15 hand quarter horse with a heart of gold who will carry his riders safely around a fence course while allowing them to demonstrate their equitation skills.  

Horses should be clean and well groomed.
Petey is not body clipped, nor is he braided or wearing a fake tail. He is, however, freshly bathed and groomed. His mane is pulled and his tail is brushed and free of tangles and shavings. His fetlocks, muzzle, ears, and bridle path are trimmed. His weight is good and his feet have been recently trimmed.

Tack should be clean, well-fitting, and workmanlike.
His tack has been cleaned and oiled on a regular basis, not just the day before the show. The bridle and martingale fit correctly and all the leather parts are in their keepers. The martingale stopper fits snugly enough to keep the martingale in place. The saddle is of workmanlike quality and the style (close contact) is appropriate for hunter seat equitation. The saddle billets and stirrup leathers are safe and in good repair. The stirrups are plain fillis and have stirrup treads.

Saddle pads and fuzzy girths should be freshly laundered.
The girth and half pad are obviously not new, but they have been washed and are clean and fluffy. The saddle pad is also clean and has a nice team monogram on the side. Petey's name tag is pinned securely on the right hand side.

Boots and wraps should fit well and be conservative in color
Finally, Petey's splint boots fit well, are on the correct legs, and are a conservative color. Bell boots and polo wraps are also permissible in IEA shows. They should also be a conservative color (black, brown, or white, as appropriate for the horse's color).

IEA riders, how can you properly turn out your horses at IEA shows?

Start at home with a daily regimen of grooming and tack care
If you want your team horses' coats to gleam with a healthy shine at the horse shows, you need to groom them thoroughly at home on a regular basis, not just the day before the horse show. Take time before and after each lesson to curry and brush their coats, get the mud off their legs, and untangle their manes and tails. If it's warm enough, hose your horse off after you ride.

Clean the tack every time you ride. Take time after your lesson to clean and condition the leather on the saddle, bridle, and any other tack the horse wears, such as a martingale. Keep an eye on the stitching on the bridle and stirrup leathers and let you coach know if anything needs repair.

If the horse you lessoned on wore boots, wipe them down after the ride or, if it was really muddy that day, hose them off in the wash rack. Don't leave dirt or mud on the boots. Over time, not only will it cause the boots to look dull and dirty, it can actually damage them and make them wear out faster.

Wash saddle pads, half pads, fuzzy girths, and polo wraps on a regular basis, not just the day before the show. If you wash them regularly, they are more likely to stay the color they were when you bought them, and they will be softer and more comfortable for the horses.

Put an extra shine on everything the day before the show
If it's warm enough, give the horses a bath, making sure you shampoo them all over and condition their tails. If it's too cold for a full bath, you can give them a sponge bath.

Pull their manes (only under the guidance of your coach). If you don't know how to pull a mane properly, watch your coach or an experienced team mate so you can learn for next time.

Take a good look at all the tack. Give it one last cleaning, and while you're at it, make sure everything is in good working order. Tell your coach if you notice something that doesn't look right. Make sure that you have a freshly laundered saddle pad for each horse, as well as any other cloth tack each horse wears (half pad, fuzzy girth, polo wraps, etc.)

Keep in mind, if your whole team has been keeping up with the daily grooming and tack cleaning, the day before the show will be a whole lot easier and less stressful.

Get it right on show morning
The morning of the show, give the horses one more thorough grooming and clean up any manure stains they may have gotten in the stall the night before. Clean their hooves inside and out, making sure there is no dirt or mud on the outside of the hoof. Brush the mane and tail, getting all of the shavings out.

Tack them up properly, making sure that the saddle pad is even on both sides, the half pad is positioned correctly, and the girth is the right size (you should have a couple extra holes on the billets above the girth on both sides in case it needs to be tightened later).

Put the boots on the correct feet, with straps facing backwards, or make sure the polos are wrapped correctly. If you don't know how to put on polos, ask your coach or an experienced teammate to do it while you watch and learn.

After you put on the bridle and martingale, check that all the fittings are in their keepers and you have no leather straps hanging out of place.

Take pride in your horses' turnout
Proper turnout of your team's horses at IEA shows demonstrates not only that you have respect for the judge and equestrian sport in general, but also, because you are preparing your horses to look their best for other competitors to ride, it also demonstrates good sportsmanship.

If you the horse you drew is turned out especially well, take a moment to tell the horse holder and let her know you appreciate all the hard work her team put into getting the horses properly prepared for the show. It always feels good to know that someone noticed all your hard work and appreciates it.

Thank You!
I'd like to say thank you to the Milton High School IEA team and coach Lauren Kambler for turning their horses out well and allowing me to use their sweet Petey as a model. I think he was enjoying all the attention!

If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to like and share on facebook. Thanks! --Amanda

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

IEA Equitation Over Fences--Tips for Improving Your Performance

First off, thank you to everyone for the positive response to last week's post, Equitation on the Flat--Tips for Improving Your Performance.  I decided to follow up this week with a post about fence classes.  Here are fifteen tips for improving your performance in IEA Equitation Over Fences:

Your Warm-Up Fences
The IEA format allows riders to jump two practice fences before executing their course. You can learn a lot about the horse you are riding during the warm up.

1.  Use your two warm up fences to figure out your horse.  Does he lag behind your leg or pull you to the fences?  Does he have a flat or round jump?  Does he have an abnormally long or short stride?  Does he have a simple or flying change? 

2.  Use your two warm up fences to determine if your horse needs a spur or crop.  If the horse description sheet indicates that a spur and/or crop is optional, I recommend going into the warm up with the spur and/or crop.  You can always remove the spurs or drop the crop before going into the show ring if you determine from your warm up that you don't need them. 

3.  Use your two warm up fences to practice any special tests required in the course, such as a halt or trot fence.  If the course requires a halt, I recommend performing a halt after jump one, then picking up the canter again for fence two.  If the course has a trot fence I recommend cantering the first warm up fence, then transitioning to a trot for the second warm up fence in order to determine the horse's willingness to break to a trot from a canter after a jump.

Your Equitation Over Fences Round
Once your two warm up fences are complete, its time to head into the show ring for your fence round.

4.  Have a plan for the beginning of your course.  Are you going to do an opening circle or head straight to fence one?   Are you going to do posting trot then canter; sitting trot then canter; or go directly from the walk to the canter?  All of these are permissible in IEA shows.

5.  Have a plan for the end of your course.  Are you going to do a closing circle or head directly to the gate and walk out?  Are you going to transition down from the canter to a posting trot, sitting trot, or directly to the walk?

6.  Enter and exit the arena at a walk.  Entering or exiting at a gait other than the walk can be cause for elimination in IEA shows.

7.  Make note of any special ring instructions and make sure you follow them.  For example, a dotted line may be drawn on the posted course diagram delineating the area for your opening circle.  Crossing the dotted line while doing your opening circle is cause for elimination.  Also, the course may instruct riders not to do an opening and/or closing circle. Not following these instructions may result in a major penalty from the judge.

8.  Enter the ring ready to win.  Be ready at the gate with your game face on.  Have your feet situated correctly in the stirrups and your reins organized.  As soon as the ring person opens the gate, walk in with purpose and begin your course.  Judges don't like to be kept waiting.

9.  Don't cut your corners.  Use the whole arena and make square turns to the fences.  One of my trainers used to say, "you're paying for the whole arena, you might as well use it..."

10.  Do the striding that is appropriate for the horse/pony you a riding.  If you drew a 17 hand warmblood with a huge stride, it may be appropriate to go for the horse show step.  If you are riding a 15 hand quarter horse with a short stride, the add may be the better choice. Also, be consistent.  If you start with the horse show step, maintain the horse show step throughout your course.  The same with the add step.

11.  Establish a nice, forward rhythm right from the start and maintain it throughout your course.  I find that if you concentrate on keeping a forward, consistent rhythm, the jumps will come up nicely.

12.  Get your leads in the corners, whether simple or flying.  Simple changes are not penalized in IEA competition.  If the horse description sheet says the horse has a flying change, give him one chance.  If you don't get it, or you only get the front, perform a simple change to get on the correct lead.  Always try to get your new lead before you reach the corner.

13.  If you have a refusal, take a moment to catch your breath and gather your composure, then circle back around and try again.  Don't get in a hurry.  Take your time to set up an organized approach.   

14.  Even if you make a major error or feel that you had a bad round, exit the arena with your head held high and a pleasant expression on your face.  Never show disappointment or frustration while in the show ring.

15.  Most importantly, do the best you can with what you are given.  IEA competition is about showing the horse you are riding to the best of his and your ability.   The judges want to see you create the best possible ride on whichever horse you drew.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to like and share on facebook.  --Amanda
IEA Rider Amelia Stone, photo credit Kensie Arnold

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Equitation on the Flat--Tips for Improving Your Performance

As IEA/IHSA season ramps up, here are ten ways you can improve your performance in equitation on the flat classes.  These suggestions are no substitute for good quality instruction from your coach, just ideas for giving you an edge over your competition.  Good luck and happy riding!

1.  Get noticed. You can’t get a good score if the judge doesn’t see you.  Stay away from large groups of riders.  Find a good spot where you can be by yourself.

2.  Use the quarter line when riding down the side in front of the judge.  If you are up on the rail right under the judge, he/she can’t see your position.  If the quarter line isn't an option, stay a few feet off the rail as you pass the judge.

3.  Be aware of the horses around you and stay out of trouble.  If you see a large pack of riders up ahead, cut across the ring to avoid the pile up.  Also be aware of any horses wearing red ribbons on their tails.  A red ribbon means the horse kicks and you should keep your distance.

4.  Learn to pass correctly.  Always pass on the inside and give the other riders plenty of room on all sides.  Make sure you are at least one horse-length in front of the horse you are passing before moving back over onto the rail.

5.  Learn to feel your diagonals and leads.  In equitation you should be looking straight ahead, not down at your horse’s shoulder looking for leads and diagonals.

6.  Practice your sitting trot every time you ride.  Many equitation classes are won (or lost) based on the sitting trot.  Practice your sitting trot on every horse in your team’s barn, the bouncy ones, the smooth ones, the big-strided ones, and the short-strided ones.  Knowing how to ride the sitting trot can help put you at the top of the judge’s card.

7.  Work without stirrups every time you ride.  Equitation judges are looking for a strong, tight leg that doesn’t move around when you trot or canter.  There is no better method of strengthening your leg and core than working without stirrups.

8.  Take your time during transitions.  You don’t have to leap into the canter the moment the announcer says so.  Take a second or two to organize yourself and your horse before making the transition.  This also applies to reversing.  You don't have to change direction immediately when the announcer calls for a reverse.  If someone is right behind you, wait a couple seconds before you turn around to give them time to get out in front of you in the new direction.

9.  Show off your good stuff and hide your bad stuff.  If the horse you’re riding has a smooth gait that makes your sitting trot look great, make a pass directly in front of the judge.  If the horse is bouncy and you’re flopping all over the place, stay in a group on the rail.

10.  And last, but certainly not least, enter the ring ready to win.   First impressions are important.  Make sure your boots are polished, your feet are in the stirrups correctly, and your reins aren't twisted before you walk in the gate.  Don’t mosey into the ring or look around at your teammates.  Enter with your eyes up and march down the rail in a strong working walk. Put your game face on and let the judge know you are the winner.

If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to like and share on Facebook.  Thanks! 
Equitation on the Flat Lineup
photo credit Cyndi Gallagher Simmons

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tips for an Efficient Morning Schooling Session at IEA Shows

As IEA season approaches, some coaches have contacted me about stewarding their shows and asking me how they can run their shows more smoothly.  So I decided to do a couple blogs for IEA coaches (and team parents and riders too!) giving some suggestions for running smoother, more efficient shows.

Today's blog post gives ten suggestions to help the morning schooling session run more efficiently while also allowing each horse the schooling time he needs to perform at his best.

1.  It is helpful to split your show day in half and hold two separate schooling sessions:  a 2'6" and 2' schooling session in the morning followed by the 2'6" and 2' fences and flat classes, then a cross rail and beginner flat schooling session at mid-day followed by the cross rail fences and flat and beginner flat classes in the afternoon.

2.  Decide beforehand whether your morning schooling session will start with 2'6" or 2' and make sure everyone who is providing horses knows this so there is no confusion as to which horses should be tacked up first.

3.  Ensure that the horse providers know which heights their horses are jumping beforehand so they know when to school.  Don't forget the alternates have to school at their highest height even though they are just an alternate.

4.  Have enough qualified schooling riders so that you don't have horses standing around ready to school, but missing a schooling rider.  Make sure the schooling riders know the course and any special tests that you would like them to school (trot jump, halt, etc.).  The schooling riders should be professionals or experienced juniors or amateurs who can give the horse the schooling he needs to perform well. 

5.  If you are using two rings (a show ring and a warm-up ring) you can allow horses to warm up on the flat in the warm-up ring before entering the show ring for their official schooling session in front of the steward. You can even have a cross rail in the warm-up ring for them to hop over.  Flat-only horses can also get started in the warm-up ring before entering the show ring for their required flat school in front of the steward.  Please remind your horse providers that they can begin in the warm-up ring, but all horses must school in the show ring in front of the steward.

6.  Tell your horse providers prior to the show day that the warm-up ring will open 15 minutes prior to the start of official schooling so that at schooling start you will have some horses already warmed up and ready to enter show ring to school in front of the steward.  

7.  Ensure all horses are wearing name tags so they can be identified by the steward and competitors.  The name tags should be big enough to be legible from a distance and preferably be on both sides of the saddle pad.

8.  Have a dedicated gate person who is responsible for getting the horses into the arena and keeping the number of horses in the ring at one time to a safe number (for an average-sized arena I prefer no more than six horses at a time).  The gate person should communicate with the horse providers to make sure all horses are on their way to the ring in time for their designated schooling session.

9.  Prepare a schooling list for your steward and gate person listing the horses by their highest fence height, including the alternates.  Have your gate person check off the horses as they enter the ring so he/she can keep track of who hasn't schooled yet.  You can also give a copy of this list to your announcer and he/she can announce which horses are needed at the ring.

10.  Have your gate person confirm spur/crop usage against the horse description sheet as each horse enters the ring.  The steward will also be checking this, but it is much easier to catch and fix any discrepancies at the in-gate.

A few notes in conclusion:

The morning schooling session can make or break your show.  The most important thing you can do is communicate with your horse providers in the days leading up to the show so there is no confusion on show morning.  

Also, never rush through the schooling, even if it is running long and your show start time is delayed.  Every horse needs a certain amount of time to prepare for the show day, and if you rush through the schooling you may create more problems later in the day, such as horses being pulled due to lameness or behavioral issues that could have been avoided by having adequate warm up time.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please take a moment to like/share on Facebook.  Thanks!  --Amanda

Steward Monitoring Morning Schooling, photo credit Doug Dershimer

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to Walk a Line

Today's post, "How to Walk a Line," builds upon last week's post, "Calculating Number of Strides in a Line" post.  We will go over how to physically walk a line on a jump course so you can calculate the number of strides you should get in each line.

First, recall from last week that each canter stride is 12 feet long.

When we are walking a jump course on foot, we humans walk with a 3-foot stride, which means that four of our steps equals one horse stride.

(3-foot human stride x 4 steps = 12 feet = 1 horse stride)

Also recall from last week that you have to account for the landing from the first jump (6 feet) and the takeoff in front of the second jump (6 feet).  Using our 3-foot human stride, we take two steps at the beginning to account for the landing, then another two steps at the end to account for the takeoff.

Landing = 6 feet = 2 human steps  
Each horse stride = 12 feet = 4 human steps
Takeoff = 6 feet = 2 human steps
Going back to the 48-foot line example that we used last week:
 6 + 12 + 12 + 12 + 6 = 48 feet = 3 horse show strides

Here is the same diagram with the human steps written in at the bottom:

2 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 2 = 16 steps = 48 feet = 3 horse show strides

The BLUE numbers are the two human steps for the landing at the beginning and two human steps for the takeoff at the end.  

The RED numbers are the four human steps for each stride in the line.

To keep track of how many strides we've walked, we have a special way of counting as we walk.  Say the following words out loud and imagine you are walking a line as you do so:

one-two, ONE-two-three-four, TWO-two-three-four, THREE-two-three-four, one-two 

How many sets of four did you just say?  You said three sets (ONE, TWO, THREE) = three strides

So you should get three horse shows strides in that line.

The hardest part of walking a course is learning to take steps that are exactly three feet long.  It just takes practice.  Coaches, here is a fun summer camp or rainy day activity to help your students learn to walk a line using a three-foot step.

Start by placing five cones in a straight line three feet apart.  Use a tape measure to make sure the distance between the cones is exactly three feet.  The total distance between cone one and cone five will be 12 feet, which is one horse stride.

Walk in a straight line next to the cones, taking one step at each cone.  Practice walking back and forth in both directions until you can make the correct size steps without looking at the cones.  Then try to do it with your eyes closed.

Then remove the three inside cones and try to walk from the first cone to the last cone in four equal steps.  Then try it with your eyes closed.

After a lot of practice you will learn what a three-foot stride feels like and be able to walk a line like a pro!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to like and share on facebook.  Thanks!