Monday, January 23, 2012

GCDA Opener Festival CPEDI3* Recap

There was no rest for the wicked, immediately after the Young Rider Graduate Program I had to kick my preparations for the GCDA Opener Festival CPEDI3* into high gear. My first priority was the FEI jog. Para equestrians have to follow the same FEI rules that able bodied dressage riders do, so my preparations  actually spanned back months, making sure vaccinations and all my clean sport information was up to date. We did have some concern going into the first horse show, Carino had a small cut on his leg about 10 days before the first show that had abscessed. He never was unsound, and it was healing, but it was clear that there was a blemish there, which was a cause for concern. Thankfully down here I worked Dr. John Lockamy, a vet who really understood the demands of the FEI clean sport rules, and we were able to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Pam Goodrich's staff, Shauna, Sarah Jane, and Ali were indispensable without their efforts really keeping on top of Carino's treatment plan things might not have gone as smoothly.

The jog was on Wednesday and we brought Carino and Dale's horse Erik over to the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center. After we set up the stalls, we had a limited amount of time to school in covered arena where we would ride our freestyles.  I am a grade III and under FEI rules I am the only one who can ride my horse, unlike the grade II and lower riders, who can have their trainers on their horses for a limited amount of time. Since Dale is a Grade II Roz got on Erik and I got on Carino and we went over to the covered arena to school. Stepping back into all the pomp and circumstance of the FEI classes is enough to still get my nerves going but Carino being the good guy that he is, really rose to the occasion which helped me get focused on the task at hand. We had a good school, we just did enough to supple up me and Carino and check all the responses. Then we headed back to the barn for the in barn inspection by the FEI vet.  At the inspection we informed the vet about the cut, he wasn't concerned about it which was a great relief to me. Then we went over to the jog, they jogged the countries in alphabetical order and then the horses by rider number and Carino happened to be last. Shauna had practiced jogging him at home and he had been quite good, but being the very last horse in a long jog had taken its toll on Carino's patience and Carino was a bit strong in the jog and he had to jog through twice so he would settle. We were accepted, and with that the horses were put to bed and we would get down to the business of showing the next day.

Thursday we had the team test. The warm up had felt pretty good, so all that was left was to head down centerline. Where he had been pretty sensitive in the warm up, he got a little slow in the arena. The test did have some nice moments, but the mistakes I did have were costly. He stuck in the first turn on the haunches, and the mediums could have been bigger. The biggest mistake was a swap in the first counter canter, again he got a bit behind my leg. While I would have liked it to be a better test, I ended up with a 57.531%. I was disappointed in myself that I had made mistakes, but I felt that the score indicated it wasn't an atrociously bad test and if I didn't have any careless errors I could see myself reaching my goal.

Thursday gave us a lot of good information, and on Friday we had an off day so we schooled and focused on getting him more sensitive to the leg aids as he had been a little dull to them the day before. The plan for the next days warm up also included a very short but intense warm up, so as not to waste our energy before we even made it down centerline.

Saturday was the Individual test day. The warm up felt good and I felt confident in my test.I could have had more in my medium gaits and the turn on the haunches could have been better, but I thought it really was a step up from Thursday so I was happy about that. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when my score came in, a 59.556%, I was so close, yet so far from reaching that magic 60% I needed for my qualifying score.

Sunday was the freestyle. It was a relief to have one day where I still got to show, but was not under the pressure of having a qualifying score. Looking at the judges feedback from my two other tests that week I decided I was really going to go for the mediums, if I could just fix one more thing I could end my week on a happy note, forgive the pun. Sunday we were back in the covered arena where had not schooled since the day of the jog, but horses had been handwalked inside. I entered the arena, they rang the bell, cued the music, and I was feeling good about my plan.

After the halt, I turn left at "C" and out of the corner I do my first medium trot across the diagonal. I was bound and determined to stick to plan and in my enthusiasm gave a strong leg aid to get the medium out and going. Carino, bless his heart, misinterpreted this as "Mom means business, she must want me to do an extended canter across the diagonal".  Luckily I was able to stick with him bring him and proceed with the test. In a way, it was not such a bad thing to have happen because I made a mistake and the world didn't end. I was able to get back with my music and finish the rest of my test without incident. I didn't get a good score, 54.333% because of the error, but it really was a game changer for my confidence. I was happy to finish out the week, hopefully getting all the major mistakes out of the way, and instead of feeling defeated because I didn't do my best, just looking forward to the next opportunity to prove myself. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Young Rider Graduate Program Day Two

My report from the USEF/USDF Young Rider Graduate Program Day Two.

After a intense and inspiring first day, we were all back for the second day of the Young Rider Graduate Program. We started off the day with Christoph Hess. Mr. Hess is the director of Training for the German Olympic Committee for Equestrian Sports and an FEI "I" judge for Dressage and Eventing. He is a really nice guy, I would ride with him in a clinic in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity. He had more of a socratic method to his lecture, which he began with the question what is an ideal rider?
A hard question to answer, but it brought up several themes for discussion:

  • A good rider must have patience.
  • "Between the small tour and the grand prix you have to walk through the rocky mountains without your shoes on." 
  • "Learn with your eyes". Take the time to watch other riders and pay attention to how they work their horses and what is successful.
  • "How do you act with success and disappointment?" 
  • Regarding downward transitions, "Start the trot, don't finish the canter."
  • Transitions and attention to detail are what makes for a successful riders. Since I brought up para-dressage tests, Christoph talked about his experiences with para riders, and noted how light para riders have to be and that riders should not use strength to accomplish the movements, it does not make for a good picture. If you have really good transitions and really pay attention to the small details, the small tour will come easily, don't get caught up in the drama of things like tempis and pirouettes, if you have the transitions the rest will come. 
  • If there is a fault, look to the rider first.
  • Learn different ways of riding, jumping and knowing other kinds of riding can help your dressage.
  • Being flexible in your body is what makes you look still.
  • A rider is always a beginner.
After Christoph, Debbie McDonald came and spoke. She is currently the USEF Developing Dressage Coach for the able bodied High Performance riders. I've worked with Debbie in the past and I consider her to be a mentor, she has an amazing eye and is very good at finding ways for he students to be successful. A lot of the questions the participants had were technical about the developing program, but this translates across the board:
  • Warm up is more educational than the show ring, the process is what sets your success.
  • Don't put too many expectations on the horse.
  • Think in different directions.
  • Treat everyone like they can be your next sponsor.
The next speaker was Kathy Connelly. Her topic was on the USDF Instructor Certification Program, again there was a lot of technical information about the program but speaking with regards on how to be a good instructor:
  • Have a mission statement.
  • Ride your weakness to a top level and keep it there.
  • Have a code of ethics.
  • Always preserve the horse and rider's dignity. 
  • Have a good mentor.
To dovetail Kathy, we had Bill Warren and Bill McMullin come in to discuss the "L" program. I have my scores for the "L" program and hope to start it soon. They discussed the nuts and bolts of the program. One interesting fact that I found is that it takes a minimum of twelve years to become an FEI judge. I was also able to ask a question that I have been turning over in my head for awhile, it is challenging as a para rider to enter national classes and even though the judge is a "R" or higher more often than not you are the first para test they have judged, and you can't feel confident that the scoring is going to be close to what the judges at the CPEDIs will give you. One of the Bill's (you will have to forgive me, I can't remember which one) said that eventually they would like to move towards a special certification to judge para classes like they are moving towards with the young horse tests. I doubt this will happen anytime soon, but I am of two minds about this. I like the idea of having judges that are educated in the tests scoring them, but I don't know how many would bother getting certified, which might limit opportunities to show those classes at the smaller shows I do at home. It's all hypothetical for now, but it will be interesting to see where this goes down the road.

Pam Goodrich was next up, her topic was training opportunities in the United States. Pam is a trainer at the barn I am staying at in Florida, and Carino is being cared for by her staff. I like watching Pam teach a great deal, she is very passionate and her eye is very sharp. She is also alway pushing her students to think critically about the cause and effect of their actions on the horse. These are some of Pam's thoughts on training that resonated with me:
  • Your teaching skills have to be broader than just teaching horses.
  • You have to keep personal goals but you also have to support yourself.
  • Read the USEF rulebook and know the definitions they provide.
  • Take the time to observe other riders. 
  • Hone your skills.
  • Competing is important because you are what you do, and if you are not a good competitor than coach people at shows.
  • Plan for long term goals.
  • Never take a loan on horse!
  • Know when you need to move on.
  • Knowing what not to do is important as knowing what to do.
  • When you take a clinic do as your told and always listen, you can always stop but don't write off the advice.
  • The broken horses are your best teachers.
  • There are systems of training, different systems work for different horses, like people with religion some people only need the promise of heaven and some people need the threat of hell everyday. 
  • Take the opportunity, don't wait for someone to give it to you. 
  • If you compete against the same people in your area all the time it can give you a false sense of where you stand.
Lastly to pair with Pam's talk, Michael Baristone came in to give a talk on training opportunities in Europe. His talk was less about how to get over to Europe as one might imagine, but it was more about how there is no longer a great need to go over to Europe and we should take advantage of the opportunities we have here, these are some of the points he made:
  • We have to make our own horses and riders and not rely on Europe.
  • All riders in Europe have the same problems that we do over here.
  • You need long term exposure to someone who is really good.
  • Europe should be viewed as a life experience opportunity and not as much under the lens of training.
  • Anyone who doesn't have anything to hide should let you observe them.
The experience over these two days was great. It was so nice to bond with people my own age that share the same passion that I do. It was also great to see the same themes repeated by so many well respected people in different ways. The level of consensus is reassuring that there is a path if you want to pursue this sport to the highest levels, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Young Rider Graduate Program Day One

Introduction- You will have to forgive me here, I'm back dating a few things, I've had a very busy few weeks and precious little time to give the detailed accounts of my adventures, taking the time on this rainy Monday to do so now! - Ellie

I was invited to attend the USDF/USEF Young Rider Graduate Program, sponsored by The Dressage Foundation. I was very honored that I was invited to attend, as I do not have the traditional background of competing in the able bodied young rider FEI classes. The program was also designed as a tool to help these young riders transition into professional dressage careers. While in all honesty I don't see being a professional as a viable career track for me, competing at an international level in para I have to have to the same standards for quality in my riding and my program that the other attendees are also striving for.

The first lecture was a panel of professionals who were out of this transition phase we were in, and had established businesses. The panel included Patti Becker, Lauren Sammis, and Katherine Bateson Chandler. I didn't write down who said what, but these were my important take aways from the talk:

  • Be honest, be ethical
  • Be deeply involved in your horse's care
  • Never burn a bridge 
  • Teach yourself how to teach
  • Keep your own education going
  • Most people go into it for the horses, but this is a people business
  • You can learn something from anyone
  • If you do take a working student position, someone is never happy
  • You are not entitled, be prepared to work hard
  • Luck is needed, but also don't squander opportunities
  • Don't ride dangerous horses just for the business, you don't have anything to prove
The second lecture was from an equine lawyer, Yvonne Ocrant. She spoke primarily on liability issues and how to protect yourself as a professional. These were some of the details I found to be interesting:

  • Boarding contracts should define services so you have a clear meaning of what constitutes a equine activity. 
  • You need to define the inherent risks of equine activity in your contract. 
  • Follow best practices, so you have a strong defense if a suit is brought against you.
  • Liability release should be one page, this way they can't say they missed something. 
  • Look at the liability release and does it make sense for the kind of equine activity you are engaging in, ie jumpers and reiners might have different needs in their release. 
  • Examples of inherent risk, in the midwest ice sliding off an indoor roof, in florida gators in a canal.
  • The two other important legal documents as a young professional are a trainer liability release and a bill of sale.
The third lecture was on sponsorship, which was given by Renee Isler who is a sponsor in the sport via her Renee Isler Dressage Support Fund from the Dressage Foundation. Prior to this I had always thought about sponsorship in the abstract, either some great patron that is willing to write the big checks for you, or product sponsorship because you have become so successful that your name has some currency with those involved in the sport and your using their product provides the company with some kind of value. While those types of sponsorships do exist, what Renee does with her fund, for me, was a revelation. She gives grants to riders to do things like attend clinics and further their training. While having a big patron buy a horse for you, or have a product sponsor provide your equipment is a great thing to have, the achieving  that kind of sponsorship is a rare thing. I see this kind of sponsorship as very beneficial to the sport as a whole, not just to those that are already achieving on the highest levels. Without going too far indepth, these were some of the topics discussed when approaching someone for sponsorship funds:
  • Know your sponsor
  • Have a plan in place for what you want from this sponsor
  • Have a resume that is effective
  • If your sponsor does fund you, how are you going to give back? Make a plan to pay it forward!
  • Budget. Get comfortable with the numbers, be as detailed and accurate as possible. 
The following lecture was from the Dressage Foundation, which dovetailed on many of Renee's themes. As a dressage rider I think it is an institution you should get comfortable with, so if the occasion arises it can be a good tool for success. These are some of the tips the Foundation representative gave us for successful grant applications:
  • Sometimes you have to apply multiple times before your application is accepted.
  • If you have a good proposal, the TDF office can help you see which fund would be best.
  • Research the grants and know your plan.
  • Don't just say what you think they want to hear, be honest.
  • If you don't get this grant, what are your plans?
  • If you don't get the grant and want to apply again, ask for recommendations to make your application more successful the next time around. 
We switched gears from there, and Rosalind Kinstler, my trainer down here, gave a talk on customer service. It was interesting for me as a client to hear this from the trainer perspective, and these were my take aways from the talk:
  • Keep a separation between business and friendship.
  • Be honest about what you are offering.
  • Schedule only what you can do, and stick with it.
  • Work on a strong professional base in your area that shares information. 
  • If there is a decision you are not comfortable with than don't do it. 
  • The horses always come first.
  • As a professional, your continuing education should be a very high priority. 
Hilary Moore from Dressage Today was next, she gave a lecture on media. She had an interesting exercise, she had Google searched all our names and given us a summery of the results she had found. I'm glad to say mine was fairly accurate, she had some interesting points on how to improve your media presence. I'm fairly tech savvy, but I do think it would be a good idea to get more comfortable with how to utilize google keyword and increase my earned media. 

Our last formal lecture was from Johnny Robb, she talked to us about how to market ourselves as riders. Competing internationally, you are in the public eye and how you are perceived is important. These are some of the key points from her lecture:
  • Define your business/goals.
  • Evaluate your mini marketing plan every six months to a year.
  • Have action steps and put together a timeline!
  • Get a friend to help you develop a strength list.
  • You brand- What do you want to known as, and what makes you different?
  • Be a go to person.
  • When seeking endorsements, do not go out there with a handful of gimme but instead tell them what you can do for them.
  • You don't have to win to get sponsors.
Lastly, we had Heather Blitz come give us a talk after dinner about her experiences at the Pan Am Games.  She was very kind to come talk to us, and her own path to success was very inspiring. She has worked with my Lusitano, Vadico before with his previous owner, I hope I get the chance to work with her at some point in the future. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winning the Mental Game

Many top athletes will tell you the majority of sports is mental. I think with para dressage the case is especially true. Not only are you working to control every footfall of the horse's movement, and as a para dressage rider I also have to fight against my own bodies natural inclination's to be able to give proper signals to my horses.  We owe it to our horses to maintain a good routine and training program so our horses are fit and relaxed so they can put forth their best performance. These are some of the tools I use to be in the best metal fitness for competition:

* Make sure the team around me is the best possible. The first step to a good competition is to be well prepared. That means I have a vet, farrier, and auxiliary help  such as massage therapist, acupuncture, and chiropractic. Most importantly there has to be a trainer that works well for me and my horse. 

*Make sure my equipment fits well and I have the adaptations I need. For example, I have a Trilogy Verago I love that really improves my position, and I work with a fitter to maintain it for my horse. I'm also always experimenting with different adaptations to see what can improve my riding while still staying safe. My current favorite piece of adaptive equipment are my Ontyte Magnetic Stirrups. It allows my weak left leg to stay stable in the iron, while still releasing if I need it to.

*Keeping myself in the best condition possible. This means in addition to riding I do cardio, weight training and pilates with myofacial release. I also make sure I keep my medications up to date, so I can focus and work on keeping my muscles loose.

*Visualization. I work on sports psychology techniques to try to do some once a week. I visualize my rides in detail, not just the perfect ride, but also rides with common difficulties and the solutions to them. The theory is that if you visualize the things that might go wrong, if they do you have a memory of how to fix it and you will react quickly. 

* Know the surroundings. That means practicing in a 20 x 40 ring, so you are confident in your geometry and the movements of the tests. I also had the opportunity to visit Jim Brandon Equestrian Center, this allowed me to become familiar with the grounds so it will be less imposing when I go there to actually show. 

*Keeping confidence up! Something that Robert Dover said in his clinic for para riders. You have to go into every test like you have already won it. Also regardless of the score you do receive, you have to remember how you feel when you leave the arena, and don't let those let little numbers on your score sheet dominate your emotions, this is easier said than done of course. 

What tips do you have to win the mental game of horse showing?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Goals for 2012

I have big plans for 2012. I hesitate to bring the "r" word as in resolution into the discussion because New Years Resolutions seem to have become associated with people making the same promises to themselves and the being unable to keep them. These are my riding goals for 2012, hopefully I will be able to make steps towards accomplishing each one, if not checking them off the list completely.

2012 Goals

  • Score a 60% on a team or individual test for Grade III at a CPEDI***. 
    • I'm already working towards this just by being here in Wellington, I've entered the two CPEDI***s this January, so hopefully I will be able to achieve this very soon.
  • Score a 60% on First Level Test 2 or 3 to complete my first and second level bronze medal scores.
    • I already got a 60% on First Level Test 1 this summer, and my Para FEI tests are equivalent to Second level, so I would like to fill in this requirement. 
  • Score a 65% on a team or individual test for Grade III at the Para Olympic Selection Trials.
    • If I achieve my first goal and I am able to go to selection trials, you need a 65% on one of the two tests to be considered for the team. It will be a difficult challenge, but not totally unattainable. 
  • Become a "r" Dressage Technical Delegate. 
    • This is part of my long term goal of becoming a para FEI steward. Good news is that there are lots of shows here in Wellington, so I should be able to do some volunteer work to get the ball rolling on this. 
  • Begin the "L" program.
    • I got my "L" program score this past year, so I would like to actually begin the program. I checked the USDF calendar and I don't see and section "A"s on the schedule, but I will have to keep monitoring this so I can attend when they do schedule one. 
  • Start scoring in the 70% range in para FEI test of choice at national shows.
    • This will again be a big challenge, but after my experiences I can safely say you can generally expect to score about 5-10% lower in international shows than you do in national shows. So I need to work hard to get the big numbers at the national shows so I get adequate ones in the international ring. 
  • Start schooling all Third Level movements.
    • I would like to work towards completing my bronze medal so eventually I will have to ride third level. Will need to learn/improve: extended gaits, half pass, single flying change. 
  • Be able to sit Carino's trot, and get Vadico really through in the snaffle and the double. 
    • This means I need to continue working on improving my strength and flexibility outside of riding via cardio, weight lifting, and pilates also get the coaching and training I need with the horses. Also attend more clinics and read more books, really steep myself in the theory so I can be a better trainer for my horses.

I know I probably won't accomplish everything on this list, but if I can just get a few of these things done I know I will be that much closer to my goals. What are your goals for 2012?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012



My name is Eleanor Brimmer. I am a Grade III para dressage rider, and 2011 was first year competing at an international level. I have two horses, Carino H a twelve year old Holstiner gelding by Caretino and Vadico Interagro a ten year old Lusitano gelding by Quixote Interagro. We are still very much in the development phase, but my biggest accomplishment of 2011 was qualifying both horses for the USEF National Para Dressage Championships, I was Reserve Champion and Third overall with Carino and Vadico within Grade III. Grade III is equivalent to second level, and includes riders that are blind or have mild multi limb impairment. My disability is Cerebral Palsy, that primarily causes muscle tightness on my left side. I causes many challenges in my riding, my body is not balanced and I have weakness on that left side.

I'm looking forward to facing new challenges in 2012. I'm currently in Wellington, FL with Carino training with Rosalind Kinstler for the winter. We have two CPEDI***s in January, where I hope to qualify for selection trials for the 2012 Para Olympics in London. While I am in Florida I am also attending the USDF Young Rider Graduate Program and I am going to working towards becoming a "r" technical delegate so I can eventually become a para dressage steward.