Earlier this month, the Retired Racehorse Project announced the acceptance of 673 trainers into its 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover competition. At this stage in the game, some of those trainers already have their Makeover horses, while others are still searching, outlining a game plan for the year (final horse registrations aren’t due until Aug. 1). While many of those competitors will be professionals in one of ten competition disciplines, many will also be amateurs, doing their best to improve a horse by early October in hopes of winning the $100,000 grand prize.
With that in mind, a panel of experts gathered in Lexington, Ky., last week to discuss the challenges that can arise for first-time competitors – many of whom may be working with an off-track Thoroughbred for the first time. The discussion was the featured educational topic for the February meeting of the Kentucky Horse Council’s Kentucky Equine Networking Association.
Dr. Fernanda Camargo, associate extension professor at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, said nutrition tends to be an overlooked consideration, especially for those who are new to Thoroughbreds.
Camargo said training for the Makeover can come with stresses to a horse’s energy needs which may not seem immediately apparent. Although a horse’s work in the several months of the Makeover will likely be less intense than on-track training, they will still be in regular work, increasing their energy requirement. They also may be trailering to shows more frequently, which can burn more calories. Horses in new pasture arrangements can stress weight off if they are low in the herd’s pecking order. Others may be more sensitive to weather changes or flies (stomping and moving away from flying insects does take some energy, after all). Under saddle, a rider’s size and skill may impact the amount of strain placed on the horse, as a less balanced rider will be harder for the horse to carry. An owner more used to stocky horse types is going to have to feed the average Thoroughbred more than they’re used to just to meet their basic requirements, especially those in work.
Camargo often encounters people who think they can maintain horses on hay alone, as long as it’s good quality alfalfa. For a Thoroughbred, Camargo said this is doubtful – based on an example calculation using a nutrient analysis from a typical alfalfa hay, Camargo said a horse in work could need as much as 34 pounds of alfalfa hay daily to meet their basic needs. Grain can help make up for this calorie gap, though experts caution it’s best to feed grain in small, frequent meals.
As an extension agent, Camargo encounters a lot of questions and misconceptions about equine nutrition. One of her most frustrating common myths: alfalfa hay makes horses hot and is bad for their kidneys.
“This is not true. I don’t know why people believe it,” said Camargo, who said alfalfa’s high protein content could only be an issue for a horse with pre-existing kidney disease.
Dan James, trainer and co-founder of Double Dan Horsemanship, gave Makeover newbies some perspective from his background, which has included Mustangs, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds. James has worked with feral horses and problem horses alike and also has experience starting young Thoroughbreds and retraining OTTBs for eventing.
James pointed out that OTTBs won’t need to be completely restarted – treated as if they were unbroke or feral horses. There are some things, like saddling, and the basic walk/trot/canter under tack, that are very familiar to them. One thing they may not come with, though, is the knowledge of more fine motor skills.
“When I’m going through the process of teaching young horses going to the track, under saddle or even with long lines, I actually don’t teach them to back up,” he said. “I teach those young Thoroughbreds the minimal amount they need to know because in high-speed, high pressure situations, the less things they know, the better it is for them. The less buttons, the less things that are going to get in the way to cause confusion.”
For James, this means young horses’ relationship with the bridle is mostly bearing down and running through. It also means they may not know much about lateral work or bending into corners, which requires them to use their backs and legs differently. If their new job requires more exacting movements, that’s going to be the part that takes time, not getting them used to riding across a field.
James also urged Makeover trainers to seek help. Many riders may prefer to bring a horse along themselves, either to save money or for the pride of self-sufficiency. No matter how good you are, he emphasized, this is a missed opportunity for learning. An outside perspective can only help both horse and rider.
Emily Brollier Curtis, dressage rider and trainer in Lexington, urged Makeover entrants to think about the audience for their horse if they’re planning to sell after the event is over. While Curtis prefers a hotter-tempered athletic horse for its agile movement and energy, she recognizes most amateurs are more interested in a horse with a quiet disposition. That, she said, will be most of your market when you go to sell.
In Curtis’s experience, getting an OTTB off the farm and letting them go to a show as a non-compete (a horse not entered but approved by management to walk and hack around the grounds) is incredibly valuable.
“I know these racehorses have seen a lot of things, but you have to think about, in their history when they haul somewhere, their job is to be hot and fired up and ready to go,” she said. “It’s my job to teach them ‘I’m going to haul you somewhere, and I might not even ride you’ or ‘I’m going to haul somewhere and we may just hack around.’”
Curtis said the Makeover seems to be doing what it’s meant to do – five years ago, she got lots of calls from people offering OTTBs free to good homes. Now, she’s seeing clean-vetting horses reach as much as $3,500 to $5,000 before they leave the track, and the most talented of those can cost upwards of $30,000 with less than a year of professional training if they have a clean bill of health.
By By Carolyn Kaberline, Special to The Capital-Journal
Now in its 22nd year — only its fourth in Topeka — this year’s Equifest of Kansas event, scheduled for Feb. 22-24, will feature world-class clinicians, a variety of competitions and a trade show focusing on everything equine, as well as home decor and art.
In addition to bringing together horse enthusiasts of all ages and disciplines, Equifest serves as the main fundraiser for the Kansas Horse Council, enabling the organization to carry out its mission of supporting and representing the equine industry in the state.
Justine Staten, executive director of the Kansas Horse Council, answered questions about the popular event.
Since Equifest is now in its 22nd year, how has it changed over the years?
From a programming perspective, we have implemented a variety of competitions that serve to display various disciplines in the equine industry. Breeds on display vary from year to year to provide our audience exposure to many different breed types, both popular and rare. Our educational workshops will typically include something timely in legislative updates or health-related issues, as well as what is popular, from trail-riding experiences to sports psychology, to horse health and nutrition information or fundamentals of riding instructions.
What is the main purpose of Equifest?
This event serves as the primary fundraiser of Kansas Horse Council and the KHC Foundation, both nonprofit organizations. One branch serves as education and public policy and the other branch serves as education and scholarship awarding. Our mission is to educate attendees about the equine industry in an entertaining way. Our primary goal is to promote all breeds and all disciplines and to educate folks on what activities and opportunities are available with horses. Our foundation goal is to provide scholarships for secondary education to equestrian members.
Who are some of the clinicians for this year, and what are their topics?
We will have Dan James, our headliner, a natural horsemanship expert who will teach fundamental skills on getting the correct lead and creating the desire to spin. Dan is a remarkably accomplished horseman who will simplify some stumbling blocks we may experience in our show ring goals. On Sunday he will teach us some of his tips and tricks for marker training for those who are interested in beginning natural horse training.
We will also have Mustang Maddy wowing us with her zebras and mustangs. She will introduce them and reflect on her training time spent with them. Maddy is a liberty trainer and she will go through steps of communication with equines, as well as how to achieve bridleless riding goals, and also demonstrate her skills of liberty with multiple horses.
We also will meet Tami Purcell Burklund, the winningest female jockey in Quarter Horse Racing and two-time NFR Barrel Racing champion. She will share some of her life experiences and provide tips and tricks she has learned from making it to the top of both disciplines. She invites questions from the audience that she can provide live demo answers to in the arena.
Last but not least, we will have Kip Rosenthal, an accomplished jumper horsewoman who has a background in education and a Ph.D. in sports psychology. She will take riders through steps to achieve confidence and provide the audience some great lessons in managing mind over matter.
Will there be competitions this year?
Yes. On Friday and Saturday nights, we have the Tim Trabon Memorial Ranch Rodeo, where 14 teams of real working cowboys show off their skills at ranch work simulated events. This year we also have the R Bar B Top Horse Challenge back, which includes a timed event, cattle sorting, cowboy jumping, an obstacles challenge and a freestyle final. We also have an Equestrian Drill Team competition. Watch three teams compete in a precision pattern — same for all, a patriotic pattern of their own making and the freestyle final. Plus, spectators will enjoy the Carriage and Driving Society of Greater KC’s Equifest Driving Derby. Watch as 10 competitors vie for fastest time on the course driving around obstacles in a given pattern. They sport colorful attire and drive anything from miniature horses and carts to one of the largest Percherons in the Midwest and a larger rig.
Also check out the stall barn as the breed showcase competes for best-dressed hospitality stalls. And let’s not forget one of the largest Kansas Farrier Association competitions around — in the stall barn, Friday morning and Saturday morning. Benched seating will be available as they forge, build draft shoes, and then live shoe some draft horses. You can come in and warm yourselves by the heat felt from their fires.
Are there any activities that will appeal to youngsters?
Absolutely. Of course, kids 12 and under are free, so we definitely keep something for our youngsters. We have horses to be viewed and petted in the stall barn, including Duni the Painting Horse, plus up in the Mall of Equifest (otherwise known as Maner Conference Center) we have the Kansas Farm Bureau Kids Corral where they can meet rodeo queens and princesses, rope dummies with the K-State Rodeo Club and ride a stick horse over pony jumps. Let’s not forget about the face painting available there, and we have a local kids’ book author, Brandy Von Holton, who will be reading horsey stories periodically each day. Also, in the Ponderosa Room (Sunflower Ball Room of Maner) you can bring your youngsters to the Leaping Llamas Painting Station, where they can paint a Breyer Model Stablemate to take home.
Is there anything that will appeal to non-horse enthusiasts?
Absolutely. Do you love art? Do you love home decor, jewelry and clothing? Do you love music and cowboy poetry? Then we’ve got a place for you. We have hundreds of vendors carrying something for everyone, plus in the Foundation Silent Auction, with gift cards and experience packages to be looked over and bid on. Who knows what kind of a great deal you can leave with? And in the Ponderosa Room we have cowboy poetry and live music going daily, plus beautiful artwork on display and for sale with the proceeds benefiting college students.
How many vendors are expected? What are some of their offerings?
I expect 140 to 150. You can find anything from fun and funky metal art and other home decor items; one-of-a-kind artwork; cowhides; clothing; jewelry; jeans; boots; outerwear for the cold weather; horse tack, feed and supplements; grooming supplies; hats, purses and other accessories; home and barn building ideas and equipment; trailers and trailer accessories to tempt you. Plus you’ll get information from service providers and state parks, and learn about what collegiate equine experiences are available, find out where to go for fun with your horse and ways you can get involved in outdoor activities without a horse.
Based on previous Equifests, what kind of attendance are you expecting? How far away do some of the attendees come from?
We typically see 12,000 to 15,000 attendees, and of course our expectation is on the high side of that figure. We have interest generated from all the surrounding states plus Illinois, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., Texas, California, and in the past we have even had Hawaii present. It is interesting to learn from folks that they heard about this from a friend or found it on social media, etc.
What buildings will the event occur in?
We consume the entire Kansas Expocentre campus to include Domer Arena and the Stall Barn, Landon Arena, Exhibition Hall and Atrium, and we take over the Capitol Plaza Hotel, up the corridor from Expo, where we utilize all the rooms in the Maner Conference Center for vendors, the Foundation Silent Auction, the Kids Corral and workshop lecture rooms, plus live entertainment and the Foundation Art Sale.
What does it cost to attend this year’s Equifest?
Kids 12 and under are free. Daily wristband price is $18 in advance and $25 the week of event, then the three-day wristband price is $40 in advance and $45 the week of event. You can walk up to the Kansas Expocentre box office or get your wristbands ordered online at www.equifestofks.com.
Carolyn Kaberline is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan James, world famous Australian horse trainer and equestrian performer/entertainer, has been horseback since he was 6 weeks old. Growing up in Queensland on a cattle station (known in the U.S. as a ranch), James went from working on horses to a varied equestrian background that included three-day eventing, show jumping, dressage and race horses.
After joining forces with Dan Steers to create Double Dan Horsemanship, James’ flair for equine entertainment was noticed by industry professionals and connections were developed that led to Double Dan Horsemanship’s first trip to the United States to perform as the opening act of the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. It’s been a whirlwind ride from that point, with James traveling the world to showcase their brand of natural horsemanship training, their specialty niche of Liberty horses, and winning one high-profile equestrian competition after another, as well as marrying and having a child. Lincoln Rogers sat down with James during 2019’s National Western Stock Show to talk about his life and career with horses. (Note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.)
LR: What made you get into horses?
DJ: Growing up in Australia on a working cattle station, that opportunity with the horses was always there. I sat on a horse when I was 6 weeks of age, but never really, really got hooked until there was one particular pony that we found on the side of the road that mom and dad bought for a couple of hundred dollars called Tonto. From that point on, this is what it has been.
LR: What was your first break as far as leaving Australia to launch a horse career and making a home base in Kentucky?
DJ: I had run my own small equine business in Australia for a few years and got a little bit burned out. I ended up spending seven years in western Australia on a far north remote cattle station. During that time when I was there, I ended up with a horse by the name of Ari. He was the pinnacle point in where we are today. I started out doing some tricks and stuff and then we would have guests come to the station and I would do a little entertainment there. Really, the first big break, there was a big show down in Perth at one of the casinos and there were 14,000 people a night for three nights that we were there. And at that show, there were quite a few American acts that came across. You know … right time, right place, and how God works in amazing ways. Jump forward a few more years and they became some of my initial contacts when I came over here to the states.
LR: What has made you and Double Dan Horsemanship stand out in the equestrian world?
DJ: I think the thing that probably was our niche and set us apart and probably has been the key point has been our Liberty horses. That is what I truly believe is the real key component for us. We have been very fortunate that our particular Liberty program, that we adopted from Heath Harris and have continued to teach, has certainly been ahead of the game in a lot of areas as far as mainstream stuff goes.
LR: As a humble guy, how challenging is it to create the public relations necessary to make a living at what you do?
DJ: I think the most important thing is that our work or the horses speak for themselves. I have always felt that the horses and what they could do, on the days that it all came together, that the horses spoke for us. I have never felt that we have to go out there and blow our own trumpet to say hey, we are this, that, or the other. I am not comfortable with that. That is not who we are. And I believe that the reflection of our work is what sets that standard.
LR: Is there a goal you have for what you do?
DJ: Dan Steers, my partner in the business, and I, we always believed that we wanted to be able to reach the person that got drug along to come see an event. Because the person that is already there, that is excited about it, they are already on board. It is the person they dragged along, whether it is their husband or their wife, if we can reach them and introduce them to horses and see that they have a good time and put a smile on their face, that is when we are doing our job.
LR: What do you think of the crowds at the NWSS?
DJ: One of the most amazing things to me, and I was talking about this with one of the other Australians today, for us it is mind boggling that you can have two rodeos a day in the Coliseum, plus a Wild West Show in the Events Center, all happening at the same time. That is insane. To think that number of people can come along and attend this and see such a variety of things going on. One of the crowds that I personally love the most is the freestyle reining crowd. They get it, they are educated, they know what they are looking at, and they appreciate good horsemanship and good reining.
LR: What is your favorite part of what you do?
DJ: Honestly, the part that is still the best to me is when I am at home, I am working my own horses, I get to work on something new, and it starts to come together. That part has never got old and is still, for me, the most exciting aspect of it.
LR: You often mention God after you perform, how integral is your faith to your connection and work with horses?
DJ: It is very deep. I feel that probably a lot of the big lessons — people might say it is the Holy Spirit or a gut feeling — I feel that at a lot of those pinnacle points, God has really spoken to me through those horses. I think that at the end of the day the most important thing to us is that God or Jesus has allowed me to live this life that I get to share, and to share the good news with others. ❖
POWNAL — The tall gray former racing horse reared up and pulled on its rope.
The small group of riders in the arena with their horses at Wilden’s Run Farm watched as horse trainer Dan James told Tara Dee Ratzer not to back down.
She used the whip as Summer Dancer pulled away, until he walked — somewhat — placidly in circles around her.
“It’s not easy to stand your ground, when you have a horse coming at you like that,” James told the group at the end of the morning’s exercises — part of a three-day horse training clinic at the farm.
“In that moment, back there — he had to back down,” James said of the horse.
James, an internationally recognized horse trainer, will spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the farm giving seven riders a foundation in “liberty training,” in which a rider directs a horse with just a whip, without a halter and lead rope.
“When people see it … it looks like a magical type connection,” said James, who is based in Lexington, Kentucky.
Liberty training is a commonly requested clinic topic, he said.
Through the morning, James instructed the group of seven riders, wide-ranging in experience levels, through leading their horses.
He had them lead the horses through various exercises, including walking in a circle around them and backwards in the dirt-floored arena.
He helped individual riders as they go.
“When you think that she has gone where you wanted her to go, stop the whip,” James instructed Frank Lotano, 15, of Glenville, New York.
Lotano handled Mickey, a brown-and-white female horse. She often stamped her feet as Lotano lead her through the exercises.
James reminded the group to acknowledge that humans learning a new skill with a horse will want to repeat it again and again, when that might not be the best for the animal.
“If they’re starting to give you that answer [you want], give them a break,” he said. “Come back to it.”
A key component of training is to provide an equal amount of “release” as correction, he said.
“Like any animal, any person — if you push them hard enough … you’re going to get a fight,” he said.
If there’s too much correction compared to release, the horse will learn to resent the trainer, he said.
James, along with Dan Steers, owns Double Dan Horsemanship, a horse-training company.
He trained the original horses in the TV series Heartland in lying down and rearing.
Full liberty training can take years, so the weekend’s clinic will offer a foundation in the training, he said.
“He is one of the most phenomenal trainers out there,” said Tara Dee Ratzer, who owns Wilden’s Run Farm with her husband, in partnership with family. “I wanted to bring his name to the area.”
Ratzer said she also wanted to use the training to improve her skills, which she can use to develop the farm’s five sale horses.
“For me, the whole liberty training is just majestic and beautiful,” she said.
Ratzer, originally from Red Hook, New York, purchased the farm in December 2017.
She has been riding horses since she was 3 years old.
“I’m enjoying it,” Lotano said of the training. “I’m learning how to interact with the horse.”
The training is his first clinic.
“It’s just a different approach,” said his mother, Jennifer Lotano.
Jennifer Lotano is Ratzer’s aunt.
One attendee, Erica Altman of Saratoga Springs, New York, described herself as an “adult re-rider.”
She rode horses as a child, and then took a long break. She’s been riding as an adult since about 2006.
She brought her horse, 7-year-old Gianni, to the training.
“It’s an invaluable opportunity to get these guys, hands-on,” she said of the training. “[I think] there’s not really much around when it comes to this sort of thing.”
Training is everything for a horse, said Rita Dee, Ratzer’s mother.
“It’s live-saving for [horses],” she said. “In the end, they’re always going to have a great home.”
Horses with the least amount of training are often the ones that wind up going to slaughter, James said.
With education like liberty training, that can be a made less likely scenario.
Training is about two things: keeping people safe, and educating the horse, he said.
“Horses are an incredibly beautiful animal, but at the same time, they can kill you in a heartbeat,” James said.
The only goal that Autumn Schweiss had set for her longtime partner, Oakport Strauss, at the Morven Park CIC**, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Leesburg, Va., was to earn a final qualifying score for a CCI** later this year. Instead, the 13-year-old Irish Thoroughbred gelding bested a field of 16 to bring home a victory that was both “unexpected and fantastic” for a challenging horse who just two short years ago suffered a nearly catastrophic and potentially career ending injury.
Schweiss first met “Dave” when he was 6 years old and she was 17. She had just retired her former Young Rider’s horse after complications from surgery, was attending college and trying to juggle three jobs. In December of 2011, she and trainer Jon Holling managed to squeeze in a 24-hour trip to England, where she tried exactly three horses. Dave was the third—he had a few intermediates on his resume but was still green at the level. After he recovered readily from a badly missed distance into an in-and-out during her trial ride, Schweiss was impressed enough to bring him home.
“He had fire in his eyes from Day 1,” said Schweiss. “I should have known then that I had bought more than I bargained for.”
When Dave arrived stateside, Schweiss quickly learned that there was a lot more to him than she had seen during her brief trip abroad. Her new horse was both powerful and flighty; tight and tense on the flat, he also often took rails in show jumping. And on cross-country, “he has run away with me more times than I can count,” said Schweiss. Holling had her do gallops in a hackamore as a truce in the tug of war.
Still, they managed to have some success at the preliminary level in 2012, finishing in the top 10 at the American Eventing Championships (Ga.) that year. Even so, Schweiss found that she didn’t enjoy riding Dave very much, and considered selling him. “He wasn’t the competitive horse I’d thought I had bought,” she said.
She sought help from many top professionals, most of whom said the same thing. “I’ve been told by many that he’s not going to be ‘the’ horse,” said Schweiss. “People would get on him and say, ‘why are you putting the time into this one?’ ”
Desperate to find a solution to Dave’s quirks, Schweiss decided to try natural horsemanship and sought the assistance of Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship. James worked with Dave for 40 minutes before telling Schweiss that if she was going to get through to him, she would have practice the techniques with other horses first. She spent six months perfecting her natural horsemanship skills under James’ tutelage before turning her new knowledge to Dave.
For nine months, Schweiss did nothing but groundwork and flatwork with Dave. To her relief, she began to see a change in their relationship, and Dave began to show signs of trusting her more and more. “We completely started over,” saod Schweiss. “Somewhere in that nine months I found a whole new level of respect for the horse, and for how to train him. He didn’t even know how to just graze in a paddock—he would just run. He needed me to show him how to be a horse.”
With their newly strengthened partnership, in January of 2014, Schweiss set her sights on competing at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships at the CCI** level in her final year of eligibility. After an unfortunate rider fall at a preparatory event left them one qualifying score short, Schweiss hauled Dave for two days from her Florida base to compete at the Copper Meadows CIC** in Ramona, Calif,, the only remaining qualifier on the calendar. Three weeks later, they represented Area 4 at the championships in Lexington, Ky., placing fifth as individuals in the CCI** and fourth on the team. Encouraged by their success, Schweiss began to lay out plans to compete at advanced the next spring.
But in late 2014, while Schweiss was away teaching, the still flighty Dave was injured in a barnyard accident. He compromised the coffin bone and also sustained significant damage to both the deep digital flexor tendon and suspensory ligament in his left front. Schweiss was told that it was going to take a lot of time and money to bring Dave back, if it were even possible to do so at all. She was warned to not push him and to not expect too much; more than likely he would only be pasture sound.
For more than a year, Schweiss diligently and patiently worked with her horse. Even if all he did was hand walk down the road, Dave was kept moving. “I think that was the biggest thing that helped him,” said Schweiss. “He always had unlimited turnout. He never was locked up.” Even if she was away, Schweiss made arrangements to ensure that someone was available to take him down the road.
In 2016, Schweiss casually started riding Dave again. “We started walking, then trotting, and he was sound, and so we tried cantering,” said Schweiss. “Then one day my vet said, ‘you might as well try jumping him.’ ”
Schweiss competed at two events in the late fall of 2016, once at training level and then once at preliminary. They suffered a minor setback at the end of the year when a neck injury began causing signs of lameness, but again Schweiss’s familiarity with her horse helped lead to the best solution.
“For three months, my vets tried to convince me that it was the same injury bothering him again,” said Schweiss. “But I knew it was in his neck. I finally got them to try an injection, and he was instantly sound.”
Early in 2017, Schweiss competed Dave at Red Hills (Fla.), where he felt tight and flighty in dressage. But at Dave’s next event, the Poplar Place (GA) CIC*, Schweiss found herself in first and second place with him and her mare, Jive About Wonderland, heading into cross-country. “But due to the footing that day, I chose to pull him,” said Schweiss. “It wasn’t worth risking a re-injury.” Schweiss is convinced that Dave was mad about her choice; she says he was banging in the stall and when they went to load him to go home, he seemed indignant that he had been denied the opportunity to run.
“Dave does dressage and show jumping just so he can run cross-country,” said Schweiss. “Nothing else I ride runs cross-country like this horse.”
After a successful completions at the Ocala CCI* (Fla.), the pair paced eighth in the CIC** at Polar Place (Ga.) in early September.
When she came off the cross-country at Morven Park, Schweiss had no idea that she was on top of the standings. “We had an OK, but not a fantastic, dressage,” said Schweiss. “But he really jumped his heart out cross-country. I know lots of people were having problems, but I found out my horse was too fit. We took off a stride early at Fence 3. I knew I was in trouble coming out of the start. He ran with me a bit, and I knew I was going to have to work very hard for the next 25 fences.”
But at the end of it all, Schweiss’ deep connection with Dave has led her to a level of confidence in him that she had never expected to experience. “I now feel safer around that horse than I do around 98 percent of other horses,” she said. “I know what to expect.”
With this final qualifier on their record, Schweiss hopes to compete Dave at the Ocala Jockey Club CCI** in November. “He will then have some down time, and maybe then we will think about the ‘A’ word,” she said with a laugh, referring to the advanced level. “But every day is a blessing. I don’t expect this horse to do anything more for me than he already has.”
Nestled in between a few of Lexington’s historic and prestigious thoroughbred breeding farms on Leestown Road, there’s a new kid on the block, and he’s establishing a little piece of Down Under here in the Bluegrass. Horse Capital Reporter Samantha Lederman recently paid a visit to “Horse Whisperer” Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship.
The Australian Equine Performance Center in Midway, Kentucky, home of Double Dan Horsemanship USA (you might’ve seen Dan James at Rolex), recently hosted its first ever eventing clinic with Clayton Fredericks.
The farm is absolutely gorgeous and is well setup for clinics and haul-ins. As soon as you arrive on the grounds, you realize you’re outnumbered by Aussies — and in this case, extremely talented Aussies!
The three-day clinic started with dressage and after the first lesson you could start to see a trend. Clayton really focused in on the horse’s submission to the bridle and opening the throat. He reminded each rider that the horse could only track up to the point of its nose, so the further out the nose, the bigger the stride.
Clayton worked with each rider on a similar exercise: On a circle, turn your body to the inside to engage the hind end. And, oh, DON’T LEAN (easier said than done!). Once this has been established, use your fingertips, wrists or elbows to flex the horse to the inside and to the inside.
To help riders with this concept, Clayton asked them to keep their horse’s neck straight and to imagine the horse’s head as a clock. He then asked them to very gently move the head to the inside at 11:55 and then to the outside at 12:05. This helped soften the horse’s jaw and opened their throat, which, in turn helped them to become round and to accept the contact.
When a rider struggled with a horse to accept the contact and as a result the horse would throw its head up or pull down, Clayton would quickly ask them to follow the horse’s heads with their hands. He feels very strongly that pulling the horse’s head down does more harm than good, so instead take a feel with your fingers and flex the horse’s head to one side and then the other again. He preached “forward-thinking hands” to each rider throughout the day.
Clayton says the number one secret to riding is keeping the horse between your leg and hand. So, there you have it!
To begin the second day, Clayton had each rider canter over four individual raised ground poles set at random distances around the arena. He asked each rider to pay special attention to the balance and rhythm of the horse as they approached each pole.
As riders began the exercise, he emphasized the importance of keeping three-fourths of the horse behind you. After watching each rider try and fail to do the exercise perfectly, he brought everyone in to go over what he calls the ‘strong’ position to help them keep more of the horse in front of their leg.
To achieve the strong position, Clayton asked each rider to halt their horse, drop their stirrups and lift their legs up (while keeping them off the horse) until their knees were in line with their hips. After everyone took turns wobbling around, Clayton asked him or her to sit back until their shoulders were behind their hips. This position is what Clayton considers the best for when you need to balance your horse as it allows you to use the strongest parts of your body to control theirs. He also reminded riders that they don’t need to keep their legs on ALL the time — they should be used only when necessary.
After returning to a ‘regular’ seated position, Clayton took turns grabbing each horse’s reins and tried to pull the rider out of the tack. At first, almost every single rider fell forward until they realized that the key to staying in position was to go back to the ‘strong’ position they had just learned.
Instead of doing cross country on the third day of the clinic, Clayton changed the schedule to another day of stadium jumping to allow each rider the opportunity to solidify the new techniques he had taught the two previous days.
Each horse and rider navigated two grids, keeping in mind that they should use flexion of the poll to keep their horse’s attention prior to approaching the fence, and then they should remember to get in the strong position while leaving their legs relaxed.
The last exercise of the clinic was largely focused on straightness. Clayton setup a skinny with a two poles on each side providing the horse and rider with an angled line to follow. Once they felt comfortable making a figure-8 pattern while jumping each angle, he added in four more fences and asked riders to serpentine down the line, being sure to focus on the straightness of each jump.