Sunday, February 20, 2011

PRO stands for a better sport!!

I was really disappointed a few days ago when reading some comments on Eventing Nation in response to Will Faudree's support of PRO.

PRO is an organization that was put together by Professionals to better the Sport we not only make a living at but are also incredibly passionate about. Our simple idea was to build the sport by promoting its strengths... showcasing Top Professionals that demonstrate not only excellent ability in the tack but the ability to reach out to to people beyond the small world that is Three Day Eventing.

The reason we want to attract outside people to join the "CLUB" the club being "Eventing" not just "Professionals" is for many reasons. First to attract prize money. This prize money attracts spectators which in turn sets a high standard for the Events that the Organizers can afford to provide. That standard will be reflected in a promotable venue but also put an emphasis on good footing for our precious horses and ensure a high level of safety in that of course design and building. This affects not just the Professional but the adult amature, the young rider, the weekend warrior and every member of the club. This emphasis on safety also encourages a higher level of training and knowledge which also effects all levels of the sport. To be direct we can not invite outside people to view our sport and display poor riding, poor horsemanship and in worst case scenario a preventable accident involving horse or rider. This is where PRO comes in...

I have a healthy amount of ego that allows me to believe in myself and what I do, but I am certainly aware of my weaknesses. Yes PRO does have ego. We sat down a few years ago and looked at our sport and said how can we make this thing that we believe in and are good at grow. In this conversation we did not sit down and pat each other on the back we said "We are crap at reaching out to the general public, we are crap at taking a shower at the end of a long day and going out and socializing with people that could help our sport grow,we are crap at promoting ourselves and our sport, we are great at complaining to the organizers, complaining to the USEA, we are great at working long hours that are self serving in that we are just growing our own individual business and not actually working together to grow our sport. WE ARE GOOD AT WHAT WE DO, WE ARE HARD WORKERS, WE ARE HORSE LOVERS, WE ARE CHARISMATIC, WE ARE DETERMINED, WE ARE DRIVEN, WE ARE EVENTERS so we developed PRO to use the PRO's to PROmote EVENTING!

PRO has done some amazing things in the past two years. Free course walks, bringing prize money to events to help the organizers ( I realize this is at the top level but the intention is to have a trickle down effect), We have created a format to promote safe riding in young rider training divisions and offered free training for a week with Professionals for the winners, We have joined a group that connects athletes to charities.. PRO has joined up with Operation Home front as a group ( this being a charity that helps the families of the military.. since that is our sports foundation), we have also as individuals joined with athletes for hope.. which helps us in our hometowns to connect with charities that are special to us, there are several other things that we have done and several things we have on our agenda to keep improving not only events but education on all levels.

I understand that the name PRO insinuates it is an organization only for Professional Riders but that name is there to set a tone, not define the group. The tone is intended for the person outside the sport looking in. If PRO Tour is put on a program it assumes a certain high standard. The standard also implies that the organization is "RUN" by people very well educated and immersed in the sport this does not limit the voices in the organization. I was genuinely shocked at some of the reactions to the name of this organization. I assumed due to the fact that all Eventers, at all levels, are so intertwined that the intent of the naming the organization "PRO" would be obvious not offencive to those whom assumed they were not included in this PROgression of the sport. But you know what they say about people that "Assume" ... and i am guilty of assuming as well as certain others.

I hate talking about problems but I love problem solving.I have trouble speaking to people that are so focused on everything that is wrong... If you are going to point out a problem to me then you better have enough time to sit down with me and figure out a solution. PRO is a group that is "run" by the "Harvard Graduates" but that is only so we have a well educated panel to give our organization some depth and a respectable voice. That voice comes from "all members and all levels" in the organization. So I suggest becoming part of the solution, get involved even if that means bringing specific problems to the table and sitting there with us while we figure out a solution.

My promise as an Executive Board Member of PRO is that if you get involved and use your voice in a room where problems have a chance to be solved and an idea has a chance of becoming a reality you will not be disappointed. "We" can all be in the "Club" of PROmoting positve change in Eventing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wizzard looking great my hands holding the reins fipped over in one of Anne's favorite training tools!

How much is an extra axel really worth

When deciding to go to Aiken or Florida, Florida's final winning point was due to its close proximity to Wellington. Wellington is where the best of the best show jumpers, dressage riders,polo players and sometimes the odd lucky Eventer spend the winter. This town leaves nothing to the imagination. As I drove down Appaloosa trail to have 3 lessons with renown show jumper Katie Prudant I realized I was in the Hollywood of Equestrians. I have to admit the barns that look like magnificent houses, the horses grazing on manicured front lawns, arenas dripping with the latest felt, rubber,silk and probably cashmere left me short of breath and a desperate for an open field. But none the less it is a breathtaking sight.

This year USET granted several listed riders with a $2000 grant for training. You basically need to spend it with a specialized approved instructor ( like Katie or Oded). Fortunately this year the grants were allocated to just the rider not horse and rider combination. I decided to spend my grant in one trip getting multiple lessons of different horses, so I could get more bang for my buck ( and there was some bucking!) This also kept me from over focusing on Tate. Tate had 3 rails down in Holland so obviously he needs some attention but looking at his over all performances he is quite a good show jumper. I want to make sure I keep that in mind so I don't go overboard in his show jump training. Over correcting can sometimes be as bad as no training at all, it can easily scare or make horses nervous leading to stops or other disobedience's (which we saw a bit of this year at WEG).

My lessons with Katie were great. She is a technician who analyzes and notices the smallest details. After my lessons I came back to Katie and asked her for her overall impression and what I need to work on in all my horses. She said Im to nice to my horses on the flat. This comment in itself proves the depth of her knowledge that not a comment was made on my jumping but my flat work. She said I need to put my horses in difficult places, work through the "tough times" with them to build a stronger relationship and make the job at the competition almost a relief. This brings me back to a comment David said to me several years ago..he said" Sinead I train hard enough that I can win on 75%. So if my horse is not perfect I still beat everyone in the class and when you have the rare day of 100% you win a gold medal".. thats pretty cool.

The next day I headed over to Anne Kurskinski's farm to have a lesson and show her a lovely show jumper I have for sale. As I trotted around on her manicured grass show jump field that backs on to the multi million dollar WEF show grounds and this 5 time Olympian walked out and said " Hey Sinead how is your season going" I though the $32 dollars I spent on having two extra axles on the highway was worth this. I struggled to find something witty and brilliant to say and wow her with my intellect and horsemanship but I just said " great how has your season been? " The cool thing is she then spent the next 10 min actually telling me how her season was going in detail.

Anne has no problem putting the jumps up which is great! Sometimes your flaws are easy to mask over an average size fence but when you are cantering down to 4 and 1/2 feet it highlights the slightest lean or shift in your position. I felt a bit green at the heights in the beginning but by the end of the lesson both Wizzard and I had improved immensely. I always love it at the end of the lesson when the instructor says "great that was fun" and that is what Anne gave me at the end of our ride.

Today I have training sessions with Mark Philips which I am excited about. Tate has improved quite a bit from our last sessions so im looking forward to the next step. Then we are headed to Rocking horse this weekend, Pine Top next weekend ( tates debut yay), DerbyCross the next weekend (, Back to New Jersey with everyone for two weeks after that, down to Southern Pines and the Fork for two weeks, Fairhill the next week, Then Rolex for the week.. and then and then and then... Katie said to me " you eventers work very well at speed you need to work on slowing down" so I guess Ill plan on working on slowing down sometime in May :) !


How much is an extra axel really worth

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day 3... Success!

Alarm clock... zeppo(my dog) is taking up more than half of my single bed in the carlton arms. My phone comes to life.. boyfriend text ( he starts work at 5am so text begin early)... email from pnut in NZ ( they are in the middle of the day when we are in the middle of the night)... facebook message from someone in Aiken curious if I need I am there and need my horses acupunctured?....text message from a student curious about putting her horse on dream horse or equine now..... Snooze or Dismiss..... Dismiss.....brush teeth .. cup of tea.... blackberry messenger from Megan... " are you on your way Tate has some fill in his hind legs".... " I'm five minutes away"- me....7:15am ... today started like any other day......

Today I had my last training session with Mark at 9am and thank god we got to jump! I have only had a few jump schools with Tate since Boekelo and the focus has been more on single fences than course work. When horses get to the advanced level every jump counts. Meaning that I want my horse to last as long as possible so I plan every jump and what I want that jump to accomplish. I don't waste my horses legs trying to improve "my eye" or "my position" or to "try it one more time to be sure".. every jump counts. I knew today I would be putting some jumps together and was eager but also not entirely sure where Tate's confidence stood after his trip abroad.

So I arrived at the barn and looked at Tate's legs which to me are like the back of my own palm.. but Megan being good at her job and new to Tate was aware that there was a change and quickly informed me. We trotted Tate up and as I had assumed he moved perfectly but just had some fill from a hard work out and a night in the stall. I then put on the kettle, sat down on the Haygain ( which not only removes all mold spores from hay and pretty much eliminates respiratory issues caused by mold, dust and other allergens... but also makes a warm seat in the morning!) and discussed with Meg the plan for the day with the other 11 horses in the barn other than Tate ...

I went over for my lesson and I was greeted with the pleasant surprise that Karen's lesson on Mandiba was running late. I got to watch most of this flat lesson which not many people are lucky enough to do at 9 am on a Saturday morning. Tate felt great through our whole lesson and fortunately there is not much to discuss. He jumped like a million bucks and the main topic of conversation was the possibility of double studding him on the outside of his shoes for Kentucky and possibly Burghley in the fall... I like that conversation....

After my lesson I got on a young horse that proceeded to try and drop me in the field about 20 times and then my phone started making those familiar sounds.... you are only as good as your last ride.. for about 15 minutes I was a four star rider on the track to the Olympic games... that was fun... then back to reality and back to the balance of it all ... which makes those 15 minutes of High Performance so so sweet.....

I have come away from these sessions a better horseman, communicator and hopefully competitor. I am looking forward to the next few weeks where I can put what I have learned into practice and then start this whole thing over again! xx

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 2 We have a plan

My day started with an email from my friend P-Nut in New Zealand wishing me the best of luck and letting me know she was supporting me 100%, that was followed by an ever supportive facebook post from Patricia at Ecogold (Patricia is the one who has urged me to keep up with my blogs and promised me people actually do read them!) and several phone calls, texts and responses to yesterdays blog. It is a really great feeling to have everyone from close friends and family to people I have not yet met connecting in some way to the little stories I have to tell. So thank you to everyone for sticking by me even when things are not so hot!
On to today's session....

Today started with a meeting with the USOC. The USOC( United States Olympic Committee) provides Olympic sports with a sports psychologist, a strength and conditioning coach and a nutritionist. Eventers have not really taken advantage of this, but with the theme of trying to modernize our sport the USOC's goals to make us more well rounded athletes fits hand and glove with these training sessions. So my morning started with a chat with the sports psych. ironic after yesterdays mental struggles!

The first thing we discussed was that I tend to over analyze in the dressage arena and lose my perspective on my priority. Sean and I made a plan to find a "technical neutral zone" basically when I feel my mind starting to go in an unproductive way on the flat I change my focus to something technical that I can rely on. For me this is sinking down in my heels, shoulder blades down and back, heavy elbows and look around the ring ( not over focus on my horses head!).. Then once I have achieved a technical neutral to focus on something in the future about to happen like a movement or the goal I am working toward.. for example if the trot is feeling "not right" focus on the trot I need for a canter transition. This plan I feel will work really well to keep me positive and forward thinking. The other thing that Sean said that kept repeating in my head was "to be aggressive you must be relaxed" I used that all day on my horses anytime one got tense or difficult I thought relax first then my timing was much better.

When going into my lesson today I felt like I had much more of a plan. I had watched the videos from yesterday so I knew what Mark was after and I had a good sports psych. chat so had a bit of a mental game ready for action if things got complicated. The beginning of the lesson went well we started in a great place and got right to work ( not one comment on stiff arms or bad hands YES!) toward the end of the lesson we got into a bit of a ... beating my head against a wall.. moment. The Captain was trying to get me to collect the canter but the way he was asking me to do it was not making sense in my head and certainly not in the french princess's (tate). I eventually stopped and pretty much said "I don't understand what your asking me to do" to which he responded " I know you can do this" to which I said " I know I can do it as long as I know what I am supposed to be doing".. here was a moment that got a little uncomfortable but sometimes this feeling leads to great things which today it did....

I had a discussion earlier in the day with David trying to figure out a way to communicate better and understand things quicker with Mark. He basically said you have to figure out a common vocabulary so that when you get to the ring at Kentucky you guys are not talking a different language. One of the hard things about these sessions is that you have only a few days to develop a relationship with the person you will be counting on to help you at some of the most important competitions in your life. So today The Captain and I had a bit of a communication block but we worked through it. After talking for a second about the theory behind what Mark wanted me to do I applied some of my own education on a way to make it easier for a resistant horse to collect. Bingo I went haunches in when Mark wanted me to collect this made sense to Tate, Mark said " That's it, you got it" then I explained what I was doing to "get it" and he applied his theory to why the haunches in was helping and the steps that needed to come next to get the "tool" of collecting more true in days to come. Huge learning moment not only in collecting the canter but communicating with the captain!

So I feel on day two I have a plan...I have some mental games to work on to help keep my focus well directed, I am trying to lay a communication foundation between the Captain and I so I can take full advantage of all the knowledge he has to offer, and my nutritionist says i need a multi-vitamin!

Jumping tomorrow... I ll try and get some pictures ... thanks again for the support!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Frustrated in a Field

I have not posted in a bit because we have been going at a rapid pace since hitting Florida. Things have been going great and the first event has come and gone with most of the horses performing well for their first outing but today I had a very frustrating day.

Today started our winter training sessions with Captain Mark Philips. I have been very fortunate for the last few years and have maintained a spot on the listed horse and rider combinations that benefit from funded lessons, recieving some training grants and last year was able to travel to Holland to compete. As we all know potential is easy to sell but at some point you gotta perform!

After Holland I was dropped from High Performance to Developing Rider due to a less than good show jumping round at Boekelo. It took me a bit to wrap my head around the decision due to the fact that I feel my horse is better than that one show jump round.. But that being said I just need to be better and not give anyone a reason not to put me on a list. So I kept my mouth shut and have been more than dedicated to fill the gaps in Tates training.... no excuses.

Since being in florida I have taken a few lessons with David who promptly told me my hands are technically not good now and that with Tate I need to keep his frame up, get him to take the bit and "sit at the end of the reins" . Tate is incredibly difficult to get to take a contact he tends to curl and sit right behind the bit... This makes communticating in the dressage ring like bad cell phone reception and you are trying to get your point across when you know only every other word is getting through. So in attempts to get my hands more steady to encourage Tate to take the rein I have been riding with a dressage whip held horizontally in both hands and with a very short rein. I felt like things were going very well or at least headed in the right direction until today...

Upon trotting into the ring today with the Captain his first comments were to put tate lower, to lenghthen my reins and that my arms are now incredibly stiff. Since starting tate back this winter I have been looking forward to the sessions to prove how much Tate and I had improved .. this was not going to happen today. Seems while trying to keep my hands still my whole arm has become stiff and in riding Tate so "up" I have lost some ability to have him push from behind.. While trying to figure out exactly what my priority should be in the beggining of the lesson I was slow to react and the captain was quick to point out that by the time he has to tell me to do something its already three strides to late. Frustration is setting in....

By the end of the lesson things started to click I got my prioritys straight, my arms bent and my horse pushing through. I stopped and expressed to Mark that I felt I needed a more concrete plan with Tates warm up. We always get somewhere at the end of the lesson but the begining always feels inconsistant, like the conversation is always changing. He promplty told me "the conversation will always change but the feeling should be the same". With that I came home and watched clips from last years training sessions and this years and realized that Tate is a completley different and better horse than last year. When uping your game and pushing yourself slightly out of your comfort zone one tends to feel as though they are actually regressing. Last year I remember not being able to complete a half pass the full lenth of the arena. Mark l said "it doesnt have to be perfect, get two good steps then move on" reconizing Tates greeness. Today I got in trouble because Tates shoulder fell in about a half an inch in the half pass that was accomplished in half of the arena. Mark asked if I felt it I said " a little bit" he responded " there is no such thing as a little bit, do it again".

The "conversation" is changing but my "feeling" of being hungry to win and desperate to improve is the same and sometimes frustrating. Today I left the ring near tears. Tonight I am willing tomorrow to come so I can do it better. I am also trying to keep some perspective so that I dont waste energy being frustrated but accept that to improve one must keep pushing outside of their comfort zone. So cheers to being uncomfortable and to good cell phone reception! xx