Monday, October 23, 2017

TEAM Clinic with Lendon Gray

A few weeks ago I was privileged to ride in a clinic with Lendon Gray at Tempel Farms in Gurnee, Illinois. Over the years I have been involved in Dressage4kids, a non-profit that allows many youth dressage riders to have access to educational opportunities, such as the clinic. As a rider aging out of the Young Rider Division in the upcoming year, it was a very nostalgic weekend for me. I reflected on the first time I rode with Lendon at a Michigan clinic at Hampton Green Farm over 5 years ago and reminisced about the week-long clinics I had participated in with D4k. I thought back on the endless opportunities Lendon had provided me and had only feelings of gratitude. 

This clinic, however, was special for me. I would be riding along side 2 of my students, one borrowing a pony I had trained and competed to my bronze medal, and the other riding a horse in training with me that we bought almost 2 years ago that earned reserve champion in the FEI Children's National Championship. I was proud to have the opportunity to have Lendon see my students and the dedication the girls had to their riding, not to mention excited to have her teach me on my new mount, Rankrado, for the first time.

It was a great group of riders, with super talent and feel, which made the clinic very educational to audit. As an up-and-coming professional, I had many exercises and training technics Lendon used that I was able to add to my "toolbox" for the future. She stressed riding downward transitions forward by thinking of starting the new gait (from trot to walk, think of starting the walk, not stopping the trot) and always pushing to ride better by always riding with precision and having high expectations of you and your horse. As Lendon reminded us, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

Of course I had a wonderful weekend, but I wanted to know what the girls thought of riding with Lendon. They are both 13 and had a blast riding together. Dressage4kids has a way of connecting youth riders, and I myself know I have horse friends all over the country because of Lendon!

The girls both agreed that Lendon was straight forward and got to the point. Vivi Gramza rode Mariska, an American Sport Pony mare owned by Bia Leffingwell and her family. After only a few rides on the pony, she entered the arena for her lesson with Lendon. "Lendon placed high expectations on me," she said. "There was no time to fool around... If I wanted to be a good pair with her we would have to work together as a team. Lendon taught me that it isn't always about the "frame" the horse is in, but it is the collaboration and the willingness that are important. If the horse is listening to your aids and is forward, then you will develop a dressage "frame" from correct riding."

Bia Leffingwell rode her gelding Luke Skywalker who she competed in the FEI Children's division with. She explained to Lendon that her goal was to move into the FEI Junior division in the up-coming year, which lead to 2 lessons dedicated to pushing the pair to a higher standard of riding. Bia says that, "Lendon was inspiring and pushed me to my best riding. I realized that you can always aim for something better. Whether you’re working with an extended trot or flying changes, your horse can always add a little more reach or a little more jump. I realized that this doesn’t necessarily always come just from obedience but from your contribution as a rider helping your horse."

It is without a doubt that we all enjoyed the entire learning atmosphere of the clinic and the information that Lendon provided us. Lendon Gray's clinics are an amazing experience for any rider who wants to succeed in dressage, and we are so lucky to be involved in Dressage4kids!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lights, Camera... Auction!: The Production of Sport Horse Auctions

The doors leading to the stables at the Hannoveraner Verband
       The Rider Exchange Program at the Hannoveraner Verband allowed me to learn first-hand about sport horse auctions. Watching the horses, riders, and grooms along with having the unique experience of observing auction videos and pictures be taken, and meeting with those who create the catalog, allowed me to get a holistic and honest view of what is involved in creating a successful auction from start to finish.

During my time at the Verband, I was able to aid in two sport horse auctions, the elite auction and the November auction, as well as the stallion licensing and market. And, with the January auction coming to a close in Verden, I feel it is a relevant time to explain the "auction process" to those unfamiliar.

Riding Horse Auctions
With the catalog published well in advanced to the auction, the horses are able to be viewed in a short video showing the basic gaits. Those interested in buying are able to choose horses of interest based on their pedigree, photo, and video which are all available online at
2013 Stallion Danciero V (Dancier/Cordoba) being identified at the Elite Auction prior to the jog
Vet Check 
Auctions at the Verband are a two week process. Day one horses arrive in the stables, many from across the street at the Verband's training barn, where they have been preparing to be sold, while the remainder of the collection arrive from outside stables.

Day 1 all are identified with Hannoveraner passports and microchips before being jogged on hard ground in a vet check. It is of the upmost importance that the horses are fit and sound for the two weeks ahead. Additionally, all horses have x-rays that are available to be viewed, and the vet staff at the Verband are available to discuss the vetting of each individual horse upon request.

The second day the horses begin training with their auction rider. The first days at the Verband are about the horses getting comfortable with their new stables, riders, and in the arenas. The riders take time to work with the horses and familiarize them, both the warm up and the auction arena. This is a very important part of the process, as most of the horses are between the ages of 3 and 6, and the seek confidence from their riders to show them the way.
The auction arena during the Stallion Market Photo Credit: (Caitlin Kincaid)
During the first week, presentations begin. All of the horses are warmed up then ridden in the auction ring to be viewed by potential buyers. This allows the opportunity to see how the horses handle the change of atmosphere and watching the process gives buyers a better sense of the horses. The warm up, lunging arenas and stables are all able to be observed to get a holistic, honest view of not only the horses, but also of the auction process.

Throughout the week potential buyers have the opportunity to trial ride horses of interest advisors are available to assist in selecting suitable horses if desired. Of course those interested are welcome to ask questions of the riders and are welcome to visit the stables to see the horses in the stalls. Videos of the presentations are also posted online in the catalog.
Desideria, a 2011 Dannebrog/Pik Bube I mare & me relaxing during the November auction (Photo Credit: Caitlin Kincaid)
Auction time
On the last day of the auction process, the 2nd Saturday, the horses are auctioned to the highest bidder. The auction arena is filled with customers as the horses enter one last time, one at a time, in numerical order. Horses trot or canter around the arena as bidders fight for the winning bid and after congratulations and flowers are given to the new owners. 

After the Big Day
Some horses leave the Sunday following the auction, especially those that will remain in Germany. Those who are bought outside of the country often will stay additional days while travel arrangements are made. The horses all receive a day of rest on Sunday following the auction. The following week they continue to be ridden by the riders at the Verband until leaving for their homes, however some horses remain at the Verband for training. When that is the case the new owner may select a rider for the horse to be in training with, and the horse will be taken the the training barn at the Verband, just across the street from the auction stable.

Want to learn more about the Hannoveraner Verband or the Rider Exchange Program? Check out their website at


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dressage4kids: A Roadmap to Success for Youth

The borrowed stallion Thys of Seagail Friesians & myself at the 2014 Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic 

In honor of the annual Robert Dover Horsemanship Clinic, I want to take a moment to thank Dressage4kids. I originally wrote this piece last winter for the Braley Gray award presented to Kim Boyer, but found it fitting to share it again to show my graditute for the program. I know I would not be the rider or person I am without the support of Dressage4kids and the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program.

Dressage4kids is a non-profit that is dedicated to helping educate the youth of dressage. Nationwide the organization hosts a variety of clinics and festivals that promote education on and off the horse, from grassroots to Grand Prix. 

How it Began
Kim Boyer met Lendon Gray when Olympian Courtney King-Dye had the ride on Kim's Grandioso. “She (Kim) came to me, as I was Courtney’s trainer,” said Lendon. But, years later, the two have been working together to promote youth dressage in the United States, making a real impact on its progression.

That journey began with a Dressage4kids Youth Dressage Festival in New York. When Lendon invited Kim to come watch the festival, it turned out that Courtney had a competition with Grandioso at the same time in the same area. Not having witnessed it, Kim did not have a clear understanding of what the festival provided for riders, but the show seemed like fate, as Kim was just adopting 2 girls at that time. As soon as she watched the festival, Kim instantly knew that she not only wanted to have her children involved, but that she herself wanted to be involved.  “I was impressed with the Youth Dressage Festival and how healthy the atmosphere was for these kids. It was teaching them to be responsible and care for something much greater than themselves.” Kim instantly recognized that these kids were learning not only how to become great riders, but great caregivers to their horses and fell in love with the program.

Knowing she wanted to provide the same opportunity for youth riders in the Midwest, Kim joined with Lendon and opened her facility at Hampton Green Farm in Michigan for Dressage4kids to begin hosting a one day version of the New York Festival and combining it with an Emerging Dressage Athlete Program (EDAP) Clinic, one of the very first of its kind.  “EDAP was something I was thinking about for a while, but was not sure about how to get it started. Kim encouraged its development, and her moral and financial support have helped to make the program possible,” said Lendon.

Kim admitted that she was unsure how the festival would run in an area with less youth dressage riders, but said that putting it on was a learning process that has paid off, as there is now almost three times the amount of participants as when it began. And, combining the clinic with the festival was an idea that Kim said, “…Allowed for the less experienced riders that were in the festival to be exposed to the more experienced riders of the clinic.” Not only that, but having been the first festival after the large New York ones, Lendon explained that it “proved that smaller versions of the large show can be successful, and EDAP has expanded all over the country since that first clinic at Hampton Green”. 

Robert Dover Horsemanship Clinic
Then came the beginnings of the weeklong horsemanship clinics. “With some of my favorite people, Lendon, Courtney, and Robert, we began these clinics. The Courtney King-Dye and Robert Dover Horsemanship Clinics are great offshoots of the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program,” said Kim. These weeklong clinics began in Wellington, Florida at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in the Van Kampen Arena that is owned by Kim. These weeks involve lessons with multiple instructors who are at the top of the sport, many having attended the Olympics and multiple international competitions. Additionally, during the week, participants attend lectures that educate them on topics such as equine nutrition, vet care, saddle fit, and even the media.

Winter Intensive Program
Along side these clinics is the Winter Intensive Program that is held annually in Wellington, Florida at Kim’s facility, Hampton Green Farm. This intense 4-month program allows riders to experience the atmosphere of Wellington and gain exposure to top professionals. This program allows riders to focus intensely on the proper riding, handling, and maintenance of their horses, all while gaining the necessary tools to succeeding as an educated dressage rider.

Seeing Results 
Of the clinics and programs, Kim said, “We are seeing results; with participants receiving top finishes in the national and North American competitions.” Dressage4kids is preparing the future generation, whether it is becoming a great local trainer, or an international rider.

The goal Kim has with Dressage4kids and one of the things she finds most rewarding is exposing these youth riders to the top professionals in the industry. Kim says, “With these programs we are creating the next generation of international riders that can represent the United States. Not only that, we are creating well educated professional trainers, and, for those who decide not to pursue dressage as a career have developed relationships with the future trainers in order to become future sponsors and educated, ambitious adult amateurs.”

In the end, it is great for the future of dressage in the United States. “You have to aim for the top,” Kim said of the program. The riders are being started young, correctly, and riding with the best. Being able to encourage kids to find their way in dressage is doing great things for the sport. “Dressage4kids helps to broaden the base,” says Gray. Meaning that with it, the US is not only having more successful youth riders in competition, but more rising professionals that are getting a good start. Kim and Lendon come together to make Dressage4kids the complete package, with goals of developing top talent while encouraging those at the local level to continue on their dressage path. Not only that, but D4k encourages all aspects of horses and encourages the very young to be involved. As Lendon said, “starting kids in dressage is not typical in this country. But encouraging good instruction and providing opportunities is impacting the sport. We are finding the young and those that don’t have the opportunities and providing a road map for them to become the best they can be.” 

Dressage4kids opens the minds of young people in the world of horses to have goals and aspirations. The future of dressage owes Kim Boyer a great deal of thanks for her moral and financial support, along with her hard work in joining forces with Lendon Gray to take a New York Youth Festival, to a nationwide program that is producing excellent riders.

Interested in more information on Dressage4kids? Visit

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lunging: Enhancing Ride-ability and Teaching Balance

The auction arena during horse presentations 
After one month at the Hannoveraner Verband in their pilot Rider Exchange Program, I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with very talented young horse riders and trainers. The past two weeks at the Verband have revolved around the Elite Auction. On Saturday night, after the two weeks of preparing and presenting the horses for potential buyers, the auction took place. And while the entire process was exciting and interesting, I have been thinking about a very obvious, yet helpful tool that has been aiding in success for these youngsters: lunging.

Lunging has always been apart of my program at home. I have had it ingrained in me from the start that proper ground work, including good lunging, teaches the horse respect and relaxation while allowing them to find their own balance without a rider. Since working at the Verband, I have found that there may be no more important tool for working with the young horses then productive lunging. 

Many have the misconception that horses go on the lunge line to buck, play around, and run full speed to be tired out. Others dislike lunging because they think that horses are being forced into false frames causing them discomfort. However, neither type of the above methods of lunging are truly effective for the horses. Of course there is a time and place to let them play, but they must understand that lunging comes with good behavior. Horses are not allowed to get out of control and pull the ground person over, and it is the responsibility of the handler to keep the horse engaged and listening as if they were riding. 

With young horses especially, lunging is a useful tool that is multifaceted. It is helpful to understand that the horse has many of the same problems on the lunge line that they have under tack, and many of these issues can be improved on lunge. 

This is why my rider Juliane (Jule) Kunze-Bretschneider and I work out a plan for each of the horses, including the most effective method of lunging for the individual. Some horses are worked more over the back then others, some need transitions, and some must be worked in a more open frame. In each case, it is critical to analyze the behavior and confirmation of the horse to create a flexible plan that may change day by day. We use lunging as an extension of riding to enhance our work under saddle, always keeping in mind that the principles of the training pyramid apply to establish our primary goals: rhythm, looseness, and contact. Thus, enhancing ride-ability, teaching balance, and preparing the horse for a productive ride with lunging is aiding many of the young horses at the Hannoveraner Verband and setting them up for success!

Want to learn more about the Hannoveraner Verband or the Rider Exchange Program? Check out their website at

Interested in reading more horse blogs? Check out Horse Junkies United where I am a guest blogger!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Having a Plan

Another week has come and passed at the Hannoveraner Verband. We have experienced new and exciting things nearly everyday, from visiting high-end breeding facilities and watching stallion testing, to visiting the horse museum and site seeing to learn more about German culture. But, my main take away from this week is an underlying factor that is a huge component in the success of training any horse; you must have a plan.

Visiting a small breeding operation 

Unlike in the United States, horses are a part of the German culture and a serious profession. Becoming a professional means understanding that there is a basic way to start and train a horse that establishes fundamental principles, no matter what the discipline. There is a high stress on the training scale and an in-depth education of the rider off the horse. Each week we have theory sessions revolving around correctness of training and basic gaits to enhance our riding abilities. Each horse we get on we focus on attaining rhythm in relation to looseness and contact while always keeping in mind that our positions impact the balance of these young horses. It is critical that we maintain correct posture while following the gaits of the horse to allow the natural movement without restriction.

A slide from our theory lecture

I am extremely grateful, not only to our Program Director Daniel Fritz, but also to Juliane (Jule) Kunze-Bretschneider, the rider I am an assistant to for these two months. Both of them have been so insightful in teaching me how to be effective and productive on the young horses. 

Each day I am reminded by Jule that I must have a plan in my head. Each horse I rode this week was a bit difference, but understanding their mentality, confirmation, and way of going was key to putting the horses in good balance in order to develop confidence and strength.

A wonderful 3-year-old Dancier mare Jule and I are preparing for the Elite Auction

Having a plan with black and white riding and frequent rewards keeps the message clear to the horses while remaining fair. Jule stresses that the horses must have feed back from the rider to understand they are doing the right thing. She often tells me to pet the horse on the inside hand or to "give him air", and expression she uses when she wants me to give the reins. I find this act as a reminder to give the horse a reason to breath and relax so they can further develop trust and confidence in the rider.  

Whether I need to ride the horses with the neck up and out with an active hind leg, use frequent transitions to encourage him to step into the contact, or ride a bit deeper to get the horse's back up, having a plan in mind for the individual and proactive riding is making the difference for these young horses. In the end, we hope to make them feel organized, interested, and prepared to excel in their work not only today, but in their future training. 

Want to learn more about the Hannoveraner Verband or the Rider Exchange program? Check out their website at

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Not Your American Stable: My Journey to Germany

The four exchange riders, Maren Reinbold, Caitlin Kincaid, Jessie Nemzoff, and myself outside the Verband

I have had the amazing opportunity to join the Hannoveraner Verband as a member of their pilot Rider Exchange Program for 2016. Through their selection process, four riders, Maren Reinbold, Caitlin Kincaid, Jessie Nemzoff and myself have joined in Verden, Germany as young assistant dressage and jumper riders to expand our knowledge of training, managing, and presenting young horses. 

After week one working as an assistant rider at the Hannoveraner Verband, I feel that I am becoming a part of the Verband team. Good riding of these outstanding young horses, keeping the barns clean, and working to make upcoming auctions successful is in mind each day. However, what is most refreshing thus far to me as an American rider is the effectiveness of the stable's operation and the closeness within the team. 

Riders, grooms, and stable hands gather each morning at 7 to clean the barns... Together. After the horses are fed, straw is added to stalls, and barns are swept, we collectively go across the street to have breakfast and coffee together. 

Each day at the Verband I am learning, but each day I am also appreciating the barn culture here. We are all working hard to do the best in every aspect, whether it is tidying up or riding the loveliest young horse. No one is too good to grab a broom and sweep, and no part of the horse management is more important than the next. Rather, great pride is taken in all aspects, producing well rounded horses and an efficient barn. 

The young horses are being ridden or worked nearly every day in a forward thinking program that is creating equine partners that are brave, confident, and eager to please. All the horses work well in the arena with many other horses and are social because the riders instill in these youngsters that there is no need to worry. 3 year old stallions ride calmly in busy arenas with distractions at the Verband and so can any horse with the proper management and exposure.

 Photo by Caitlin Kincaid

So, although I have been here just a week, it is evident that the friendly atmosphere of the Hannoveraner Verband and their dedication to correct horsemanship is what creates their success worldwide... And the happy horses here think so too!

Want to learn more about the Verband or the Rider Exchange Program? Check out their website at


Monday, January 25, 2016

Christine Traurig Lessons: January 24, 2016


During this lesson we allowed her to get tension out of her body by moving forward on the straight line following the track of the fence line in the outdoor arena. Gradually we added ten-meter circles in at the ends of the arena. The most important message from the lesson is that Gabby must remain obedient. I find this true in all aspects of her training, that she must remain attentive at all times and engaged in her work.

Christine emphasized that while working I have the ability to have my calf on her. With an inability to use the leg, the rider looses influence over the horse. We worked on using the calf in a secure way, by applying pressure that she then would yield to. Because we desired relaxation from this sensitive, hot, mare, Christine made it very clear not to apply the leg in a kick or a bumping motion, but in squeezes of the calf. 

Anytime that Gabby had a distraction that produced a reaction that took her away from work, I was instructed to keep my hands low (especially the outside one) and keep my calf on. Christine reminded me of the importance of the influence the outside rein can have when placed on the whither. For this reason, I held my strap with the outside hand during the warm up to ensure the rein was low and steady.

We also worked on the quality of the trot. Christine constantly reminded me to ride on and more forward into a steady accepting contact in which the mare then began to relax her neck and back. Working on the longside and along the track allowed my inside leg to have a positive effect of engaging the inside hind leg without the outside hind stepping outward, cultivating an improved connection in the outside rein.

Upon finishing the ride, I was told to continue to push the mare. In this set of work it is extremely important to maintain quality and enthusiasm. With the goal of Grand Prix, riders cannot forget this, as the last movements of the test are an extension and a demanding centerline of passage and piaffe. If the horse has the tone set from the beginning that they must exert the same effort that they began with, the final leg of the Grand Prix test in the future will be that much more successful. Good riding is not just about riding in the moment to improve the horse, but implementing positive reactions and ideas that will influence future training. 


While Adagio was quite on edge for his lesson, the work was extremely beneficial to gain suppleness, thoroughness, and relaxation. We immediately began working on a twenty-meter circle at the trot. Using the outside rein to influence the shoulders in a shoulder in positioning, Christine had me supple him in the ribcage from my inside leg. On the open apart of the circle we would rehearse the shoulder in feeling while pushing the haunches to the outside of the circle with a strong outside rein in the sitting trot, and on the closed part of the circle in the posting trot we would allow him to straighten and move on. This allowed him to focus his energy on me, loosing his back, ribcage, and neck. I could feel as I worked through this and gave the inside hand that he stretched into the contact and relaxed his back. Working the lateral work along side transitions within the trot combines to create great suppleness and attention in a simple way that the horse understands. 

In the canter we rehearsed the same exercises, with an emphasis on the transitions between medium and a more collected canter on the circle. With a great degree of inside leg on initially, gradually I was able to gain the suppleness around the inside leg. Adagio then began to release his back and neck as we worked through the transitions. Going forward and back is not a matter of obedience for him, but an issue of suppleness. The transitions exists with or without the proper usage of his body and this is the most important reason to practice the transitions with an active inside leg from me to engage the inside of his body to produce the qualities of throughness and bend.

Then we worked the mediums and extensions down the long side with ten-meter circles at the end of the long side. The circle encouraged him to stay through his body and improved the balance of the canter. Also helpful was the use of shallow leg yields, all for the same ideas, but also to improve the straightness.

Finishing the ride, Christine has me work on traver on the circle around her. Taking the throughness of the back and ribcage that we created with the transitions within the canter, we collected him and gradually decreased the size of the circle. The most important aspect of this exercise for me to remember is to keep an active inside leg on for the bend and engagement. It is not enough to use the outside rein and leg to turn and forget the inside of the horse’s body. The quality of his pirouette work has improved greatly over time, and I could really feel a great degree of sitting and suppleness that was the product of the work previous in the ride.

I loved listening to Christine explain the principles that I needed to exhibit while riding. She talked much about the quality of all three gates, making sure that the walk is forward, attentive and marching. That during all work the rider must have control of the horse’s poll, not in a dominate way, but that the rider knows what the poll is doing and has the ability to position it. Not to say that the horse cannot stretch, but that the rider never looses the ability to have influence, a principle that applies to the horse’s entire body, keeping him attentive, respectful, and relaxed in work. I cannot wait to improve this week and prepare for more instruction.