Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dolly Returns to Lincoln, Clem's New School, One of the Sweetest Faces I've ever seen

 Lincoln Again, and Again!

     The Sudbury River                                                                       Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

       It is getting to be a lovely habit, trailering a couple of the horses to Lincoln to meet up with Anne Dykiel and her little pony Ice (formerly Nitelite)  The trails are so beautiful and the footing fabulous.  Very few of them are marked so I'm completely dependent on Anne.  Normally we go out for 1-2 hours but given the abundance of trail networks we've apparently just scratched the surface of what Lincoln has to offer.  Here I am along the Sudbury River, mounted on four-year-old Elementa, with Dana Dykiel and Kip.  Kip is a ten-hand (barely) Shetland cross and proof that great things really do come in small packages.  No matter your size or age, when you come to Windflower you begin with Kip.  Not everyone rides her, of course, but everyone learns round penning with her.  And there is no better pony for our smaller students on which to learn.  She does it all and will even come into the most adorable little dressage frame when ridden by our more advanced little ones.

       Kip was a freebie when I got her.  Plucked out of field she was completely untrained, but now she's worth her weight in gold.  I frequently pony children on the trails, where they get loads of posting practice (16 hand Tica only has to walk.)  The students learn how to adjust their bodies as they ford streams, cross bridges, and go up and down hills.  Kip never puts a hoof wrong.  Thanks to this Mighty Mouse of ponies, her riders become confident and quickly develop great seats.

         Red Rail pony greets Kip                                                                                            Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

       Elementa, a four-year-old Saddlebred/Andalusian cross, is the smoothest horse I've ever ridden and she has three lovely gaits.  When I sold my five-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Andalusian cross several years ago, I started looking for another Andalusian cross but younger.  With a son in college it was all we could afford.  I looked at many candidates on the web.  Elementa kept coming up in my searches but I really didn't want a a half Saddlebred and didn't bother clicking for the details.   I thought that for the non-Andalusian half something with a dash of Sandro Hit or Totilas would have been nice.  Scrolling down on yet another site, there was Elementa yet again.  This time I clicked on the information.  There were the usual words I associate with Andalusians:  "Great temperament, sensitive, upper level dressage prospect."  There was a YouTube, so I clicked on that, too.  "Wow!"  It was in slow-mo and I could see that her trot was huge.  And the canter, well, there were only two strides of it then, but it seemed pretty expansive.  Hmm, time to call in the big guns.  I grabbed my cell:

       "Lois, are you near your computer?"
       "Yes."  A few clicks and USEF S-level and FEI I (Four Star) level judge, and very dear friend, Lois Yukins  had the site.  "Saddlebred?  I love Saddlebreds!"  ( I'd forgotten Lois had trained one to Grand Prix.)
       She clicked on the YouTube,  "Oh, buy her.  She's so balanced," she urged with soft excitement.  "You can always sell her later."

        That was it.  Another phone call and Elementa became my first, and so far only, "YouTube baby."  Just four years later I wouldn't think of selling her, though I do wish she were a bit bigger.  Her parents were 16.1 and 16.3.  Elementa is just 15.2.  However, she has demonstrated herself to be a very slow grower, so I'm hoping she'll put on another couple of inches, entirely possible.  We backed her at three but haven't really begun real work until now at four and a half;  she was just too gangly.

       While teaching I frequently sit on one of our young horses:  they learn patience and the fact that they don't always have to be rushing off somewhere just because there's a rider on their backs.  I was in the middle of the dressage arena on Elementa while a student was on Firefly riding the perimeter.  Elementa wanted to keep her eye on her equine friend but knew she was supposed to stay in place.  She solved that problem by doing beautiful turns on the forehand.  And so I did what Juliane did with Dolly on the trails:  I gave the aids for the turn on the forehand as she was doing them.
        Elementa is a supremely confident, mischievous lady.  She once galloped full-tilt across the pasture, lost her footing and fell.  Naturally, I was worried, but not for long; she didn't get up for nearly a quarter of an hour but only because she'd landed where she found herself on a patch of grass that caught her gustatory attention.  She grazed where she fell.

       Another time she was grazing on the front lawn.  This I allowed  her to do frequently because she was so very slender and the grass there is rich in early summer.  I  hadn't noticed that Juliane had taken a student out on the trail.  Apparently, Elementa took no notice either.  But, according to Juliane, a few minutes later she did.  Elementa came galloping down to edge of Nagog Pond.  Juliane was still well ahead of her but could see what happened.  There was a couple standing at the water's edge.   Now, Elementa is a very friendly horse and saw no reason to deprive this pair of her royal presence.  And being young and energetic she continued to canter up to them.  Well, if you're not experienced with horses and you see one heading full-tilt in your direction, what do you do?  Of course, you get the hell out of Dodge.  Unfortunaely, for this couple,  the only route out of Dodge was Nagog Pond.  They took it.

      Juliane yelled, "She's friendly!" but it was too late.  I didn't hear about this until later, but apparently the rather wet couple was quite good-natured about the whole thing.  Here follows a photo, taken a year ago, which might explain why Elementa has a high opinion of herself:

   Elementa                                                                                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


       The next day I returned to Lincoln with a different group.  I rode Firefly, Ben returned to ride Brit, Anne was on Nitelite, and Juliane rode precious Dolly again.  Late in the day it was too dark for pictures but we had a great time.  Juliane briefly got on Firefly and deftly rode over a series of cross country jumps.  Dolly was perfect and clearly enjoyed the trail.  In fact, at want point she just started up at the trot with all of us following.  Normally, Juliane would have immediately done a one rein stop but Dolly was so clearly being brave and enjoying herself we wanted to reward that initiative.  

Clem In Basic Training

         We are fortunate to have the wonderful "Especially for Pets" less than a mile from our house.  They proffer every item you wish for your dog or cat and offer classes in obedience.  Two weeks ago Clem began obedience training with Jim under the tutelage of trainer Christine Macdonald.  Below is how the class began.  Clem was sure he was there just to play with this charming cockapoo (cocker spaniel/poodle) Brodie.  The feeling was mutual. 

  Clem and classmate Bodie                                                                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


 The other member of the class was a handsome American bulldog named Ginger.  She was more reticent to mix it up with boys, and who could blame her?  Here they all are at a relatively quiet moment:

    Bodie, Clem, and Ginger                                                                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011   

       The first command they learned was "Watch!"  The human students pointed to their own two eyes with their index and middle fingers.  If the dog did watch, a nice treat followed.  The watch command is given to gain the dog's attention for any other command to follow.  In this case, it was "Sit."  Here is Clem politely cashing in on good behavior.

                   Clem's reward                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Clem and the others were already prepared for this.  Jim found it difficult to teach "Sit" after "Watch" because Clem had already learned "Sit" and would sit as soon as he made eye contact with Jim, even before Jim could give the command.   In fact, at home when we call Clem to come, he will run excitedly to us, and at a distance of three or four feet will do a screeching slide until he's seated squarely in front of us.  Ty Cobb couldn't slide better into second base, though Clem's a gentleman and has no spikes up.

       Various other commands followed:  Clem learned "Down" quite rapidly after Christine got on the floor, inviting Clem to follow her treat-holding hand under one of her bent, raised legs.  She held it just low enough that Clem had to crawl under.  In the down position he was then given his reward.  Here's Clem with Christine:

   Clem and Christine                                                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

        The second week consisted of a review of week one followed by the introduction of "Watch, step 2" accompanied by a distraction.  The handlers would hold a treat out sideways but wait for eye contact from the dog instead of the dog's looking at the treat to the side.  Every self-respecting dog wants the treat, but only when the dog stops watching the treat to the side and correctly looks back at the owner's eyes does a different treat materialize from the owner's other hand.  This teaches the dog to pay attention to the owner's face and voice, not the distraction, even if the owner happens to be holding the distraction.

       Then there was the "With me" command, in which Clem needed to learn to keep watching Jim while they walked forward.  This was hard.  Stacks of dog food piled nearby, coupled with knowing that the toy aisle was just around the corner, formed a compelling alliance of distraction.  So did the other dogs.  The trick was to reward Clem in that nanosecond in which he was "watching" Jim.  Not easy.  Clem has become good at this at home, but home is usually much less stimulating than the pet store, lots of other dogs, or walks in the woods with myriad fascinating scents.

       We're still working on the "Wait" command in which Clem must sit and wait for one among many things:  before going out the door; before getting out of his crate; before getting out of the car.  As well as the subsequent "Let's go!" command when Clem must follow us.

       Christine is a wonderful, warm teacher and we have great fun.
Every once in a while Christine will demo a move with her own beautiful, black standard poodle Mercedes Ann.  It's truly impressive to see her eyes absolutely riveted on her human, despite a multitude of distractions, including our own little Clem straining at the leash in order to get acquainted with this gorgeous girl.  Dream on, Clem--too old for you now.

       On the home front, Bella has come round--not all the way--but she actually now likes Clem some of the time:

     Peace in the Valley                                                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011   

A Wonderful Boy Hopes For A Home This Holiday:

       This is Tommy, a two year-old American Staffordshire mix who deserves a great big apology from mankind and lots of compensation in the form of love and care.  This charming fellow was pulled in terrible shape from a high-kill shelter.  He formerly served as a bait dog for some of those sick twists out there who get a thrill watching dogs tear each other apart.  The "job" of a bait dog is to teach other dogs to attack.  He can't fight back because his muzzle is taped shut.  Additionally, he's physically held in place by his  handler.  To add to his horrendous suffering, Tommy's despicable owner cut his ears off with a a pair of scissors in order to "dock" them.      
      Incredibly, Tommy has come through all this with a wonderful temperament.  Look how he wraps his paws around his rescue friend Jeff!  And he bares no grudge against those who assailed him, man or beast.  Contrition is not even a requirement for his forgiveness.  And, as you can see, he wears his heart right on his--well, adorable face.  So, please, please, if any of you have room in your ark or know anyone else who might have room in theirs, please contact my friends at:

Winter is Here!

    Flies, mosquitos, and ticks have exited stage south, but frozen water buckets, heavy winter blankets and frozen arenas have entered stage north.  We had one premature snowstorm in late October, but there's now not a flake to be seen, and all is brown and gray with remnants of faded summer green.  But snow will come.  Already many horse people with the means, skill, or the desire to do so have migrated to compete in jumping or dressage in the "Sunshine Circuit."  More will leave after the holidays.  Winter was once regarded in New England as a restorative time for riders and horses:  we practiced rather than competed, or we even let our horses do nothing for a month or two.  But now, if you're really serious about pushing you and your horse forward, winter tours in West Palm, Ocala, or Wellington seem de rigueur.

        But my horses wouldn't like Florida nearly as much as their trail rides through a foot of powder.  And here they are constantly turned out though, of course, with shelter.  I haven't yet decided whether I have gotten a better passage through the tide pools of Crane Beach or the snowy trails outside my door.  I think it's a toss-up.  And I can't decide whether I like galloping on the beach or in the snow better.   How lucky I am to have trouble deciding between these glorious choices.

       A part of me, of course, would like to go to Florida:  have great lessons, get great scores, all the while feeling fit, loose, and tanned under the whisper of rustling palm fronds.  But another part knows that, in the end, this desire doesn't have a jot to do with what really--and, I mean--really matters.  Beyond saying that what matters is the care, love, and well-being of friends, family, and the citizens and critters on this crazy planet and all the life it contains--even the invidious forms--I'm not certain.  But I'm working on it.

       My family, including our puppy Clem, and all the animals at Windflower Farm, wish you the very best for  this holiday season:

                 Elf Clem                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly, and may you enjoy the happiest of holidays.  From Windflower Farm,









Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Historic Ride For Dolly! Firefly and Elementa, too. John Quincy Adams, Thoreau, and Ingrid Klimke

Dolly at home                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Dolly:  Following in the the Paths of John Quincy Adams and Henry David Thoreau

       Since that frigid February day when she first came to us, Dolly and Team Windflower have been working hard to undo the previous four years of neglect, starvation, and injuries she suffered at the hands of a cruel--or, best case,  stupifyingly ignorant--owner.
       These past several months we've been hand-walking her on the trail or ponying  (leading her from another horse), as well as doing groundwork in the round pen and dressage arena, all this in order to build up her muscles.  Occasionally, just to let her become accustomed  to the feeling of a human on her back, Juliane sat on her while I briefly led them around the property.  That in itself was a very big step.  She apparently had little or no experience with humans until they shoved her, and her herd mates, into a stock trailer for the two-day drive from their Mississippi "home" to an east coast slaughter auction.

       This reinforced for Dolly what she and all horses instinctively know, that human beings are predators:  our eyes are in front, ears far to the side, and, for the most part, travel in straight lines.  Horses are particularly protective of their tails, ears, and legs, and, of course,  abdomens, which house vital organs unprotected by their skeletons.  And they are wary of anything that might want to launch onto their backs.  Horses know that there are some creatures--mountain lions, for instance--whose preferred method of attack is to take them down by leaping from a cliff or boulder.   Dolly--with less than a year of positive human experiences to off-set four years of negative ones--would have to take her own leap, the metaphorical leap of faith, with us. 

        We accustomed her to the saddle and girth by having her wear them while we worked her from the ground and took her for her hand walks.  She was already used to a human towering over her:  when I groomed her (always a pleasurable encounter) I would stand on a little step ladder and lean over her back, sometimes putting my full weight on her.  Head-trainer Juliane would occasionally sit on her bareback giving "Mother Strokes" (seven year-old Amalia's coinage for large strokes) while I led them around the front paddock. 

       Two weeks ago equine vet/chiropractor extraordinaire Dr. Liz Maloney gave us the long-awaited green light:   Dolly could now be ridden.  So with the help of Juliane last week we began the real work that we hoped would lead Dolly into a full, rich life that would include the show ring.  First, I led Juliane on a saddled Dolly through the woods on a local trail.  It went without a hitch.  Dolly seemed to enjoy her outing, and she didn't give Juliane a second thought, which at this stage of her training was exactly what we wanted.  She had taken the first leap of the faith.  More leaps to come.   

        Because the trails that abut my property are narrow and often rocky I decided it would be best to trailer Dolly--and Tica--to the beautiful Red Rail Farm in nearby Lincoln, where Ice  (formerly Nitelite) boarded.  The wide trails there are relatively rock and root free.  The farm and abutting fields and woods were originally owned by John Quincy Adams, and it is just beautiful.  I also brought along our mule Brit for our friend Ben to ride.  This just a few minutes after our arrival:

          Dolly, Brit and Tica                                                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       We ventured out:  I on Tica ponying Dolly (ridden by Juliane), followed by the shorter-strided Ice and Brit.  Dolly was a perfect lady, happily walking forward while taking in her new surroundings--Adams Woods.  In fact,  she was so good that Juliane and I decided to do something I'd never done so early on in training a young horse:  I unhooked the lead.  Here is the result:

            Dolly and company                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

              Dolly was even happier without the modest impediment of the lead, and couldn't have comported herself better.  And this in no small part to Juliane who has a great seat, is brave, sensitive, and supporting.  She also brought some additional knowledge she'd gained while training with natural horseman Roddy Strang at his Pennsylvania facility.  When we turned right, Dolly would naturally follow Tica.  At that moment Juliane would open her right rein and press lightly with her left leg, giving the aids for a right turn so  Dolly would form an association.  Juliane did this for all subsequent turns as well as halts. 

       We stopped here (see below) for a picture, forming a circle so that Dolly would feel secure with a horse both in front and behind her.   Just above the set of railroad tracks on the right you can glimpse the famous Walden Pond (Thoreau complained about the train coming so near his cabin by the pond).  We hied out of there as soon as Anne took a picture.  Had a train come through our horses' body language might have seconded Thoreau's complaint in a far more physical manner.

   Circle halt                                                                                                                                Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

       As our ride continued Dolly went over bridges and up and down numerous hills, balancing herself and Juliane incredibly well.  We trotted on a few straightaways and Dolly even broke into a balanced canter for a few strides.  Then it was back to Red Rail.  She had been out nearly an hour and done exceptionally well.  That was enough.  She loaded into the trailer without hesitation.   And how wonderful that Dolly's first truly liberated ride should be on trails frequented by the abolitionists Adams and Thoreau.

       For those of you who have recently joined The Windflower Weekly, here is a YouTube I made about her life up until last May:

Firefly and Elementa in Adams' Woods, Too!

       Firefly and Elementa had visited Red Rail a few days earlier that same week.  We were joined by Anne and Ice.  Here we are, less, Anne who took this:

  Adams Woods, Lincoln, MA                                                                                             Anny Dykiel copyright 2011

         I love dressage but I also love trail riding:  and the two are not incompatible.  When I was in Germany and Holland several years ago, I saw much of what I had already read and heard about.  In many barns, riding horses--particularly dressage horses--only get out of their stalls to go work in a ring.  They are seldom turned out with other horses or in large areas.  This is partly out of fear that they may hurt themselves.  Horses are a commodity.  The great dressage horse Totilas, who rose to stardom under the expert hands of Dutchman Edward Gal, sold to Germany for more than 13.5 million dollars (well over ten million Euros.)  Additionally, some professionals believe that letting a horse run around in a pasture and riding it out on trails and beaches will interfere with the development of gaits for the competitive dressage ring.  If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that  I think that is absolute hogwash, as well cruel.  The goal of dressage is to make manifest those gorgeous natural moves a horse exhibits when he is riderless and completely at liberty.  It's a travesty to take that liberty away for purposes of artifice, vanity, and profit.

        Of course, many trainers are true horsemen and women and do not subscribe to these beliefs.  They have competed and won at the highest level of dressage by letting their horses be--well, horses.  Please view the training methods of the amazing German rider and trainer Ingrid Klimke--daughter of late Olympian Reiner Klimke.  She has excelled at the top in both dressage and eventing.  Ms. Klimke is a firm proponent of cross-training:  her jumpers do dressage and cross country, her dressage horses jump and do cross country and her cross country horses, of course, do all three.  And they all school cavaletti and do hill work.  Please check her recently released DVD series:  "Training the Young Horse."  Her horses are the picture of mental and physical health.  The DVDs are themselves well-presented and informative.  I watch them frequently and recommend them highly. 

       Fear, I think, is another reason riders won't take their horses out of the riding ring.   Many amateur dressage riders are over-mounted; that is, their horses temperament and/or abilities exceed their own ability to safely control them.  I'm always taken aback at a dressage show when I see a rider, some even at FEI level, being led by a person on the ground to the arena where they will perform their dressage tests.  Dressage is in part a measure of the partnership of horse and rider.  When a mount is so out-of-hand that another person is required to get you where you want to go, then something is very wrong. 

       These same people--as well as numerous professionals--won't lead there horses anywhere without a chain over their noses.  They would have more energy for performance if their horses were taught to behave in-hand as well as under saddle.  Resorting to leads with chains to prevent horses from rushing ahead or pushing into them handlers is indicative of serious gaps in training.  It's not fair to the horse to permit such bad and easily remediated behavior.  Horses are either looking to lead or looking for a leader.   Much of the time the chain only "works" because the handler using it yanks down hard when the horse tries to be assertive.  By allowing an ongoing tug-of-war, the "trainer" gives the horse the feeling that he (the horse) is neither the leader nor the truly led.  It's a kind of purgatory.


       In my own small backyard way I try to emulate Ingrid Klimke's methods.  With her lovely gaits, four-and-a-half-year-old Elementa is just on the threshold of a dressage career.  But here she is taking a cross country jump with Juliane in Adams' Woods:

         Elementa and Juliane                                                                                          Anne Dykiel copyright 2011

        We almost lost our six-year-old Haflinger Firefly to Potomac Horse Fever two years ago.  She ran a fever of 107.5  (just under 42 degrees centigrade) and lost over three hundred pounds (136+ kilos)  in less than a week.  She also foundered in both forelegs.  This is what she looked like then:

         Sick Firefly with Dana                                                                             Juliane Dykiel copyright 2011


       And here she is a few weeks ago:

              Firefly                                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       The following shot is of Firefly in Adams' Woods this past week.  It was getting dark so the original image turned out quite blurry.  Photoshop can only do so much, but I hope you can see Firefly's considerable athletic ability:

         Firefly and Juliane                                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       It's been a fun week:  To walk the paths that John Quincy Adams and Henry David Thoreau frequently traveled underscored how lucky I am to live in this history-rich area.  John Quincy Adams--our sixth President and son of John Adams--is considered the greatest diplomat and Secretary of State in U.S. history.  As I mentioned earlier he was ardent opponent of slavery, and in the twilight of his life, successfully argued the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the slaves who revolted aboard the slaver Amistad.  

       Henry David Thoreau perhaps known best for Walden Pond, 
is a favorite son of Concord.  Author, teacher, scientist, environmentalist, and political activist, Gandhi and Martin Luther King acknowledge that Thoreau's essay Civil Disobedience, together with his non-violent protests against government policies, were of profound influence.  And last, and certainly very least, I too, was influenced by this great man.  His writings were de rigueur in my English, history and civics classes in both high school and college.   My dorm room wall bore a Sierra Club poster of a beautiful stand of California redwoods with the following Thoreau quote, "In Wildness Is The Preservation of the World."

      Like some people, however, I also find Thoreau's writing on occasion a bit insistent and preachy.  Here's an example:

     Our life is frittered away by detail.  Simplify, simplify,      simplify!  HDT

       And so, as I was thinking about this week's blog, I couldn't resist devising this response:

       "Hey, Henry David, to the thine own quotes be true,
       Why three "simplify"(s) when simply one would do."

       Well, that's it for this edition of The Windflower Weekly.  In the next day or two I will release an extra edition which will catch us up on our new pup Clem's activities including a brief You Tube of his obedience class with Jim.  I will also introduce you to "Tommy" a sweet. beautiful boy who somehow still manages to love humans despite what he has been through.  He is available for adoption and will melt your heart when you see him.

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly,

      Dolly and Juliane                                                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

      See you soon--



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tica, Linda, Gil Merrick, The Chiropractor/Vet and Dolly, Clem's Homeschooling

Tica                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011         

       You read about Gil Merrick in an earlier posting:  now, five months later, he returned for another clinic at The Ark.  But this time Linda and I were able to afford two sessions rather than just one.  It was wonderful to see Tica, with Linda riding her, progress so quickly within the space of two lessons.  I wish I could show you them on day one as well, but I didn't have my video camera.  Though on the second day Tica was more relaxed, she seemed a bit tired so her trot and canter weren't quite as expansive as they'd been the previous day.  Here's a brief sample of the work Gil, Linda, and Tica did:

        One of Mr. Merrick's numerous pedagogical gifts is that he seamlessly slips into the combined role of teacher, coach, and friend to you and your horse.  There is never a hint of the irritation, sarcasm, or superiority which I, and I'm sure most of you, have experienced at least once in your efforts to progress in your sport.   By way of underscoring Mr. Merrick's civility and supportive manner, I thought I would jot down, by contrast, some of my least happy (and least productive) encounters with instructors.  Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

       While I was teaching cadets international relations at West Point in the early 1980s, I rode in a dressage clinic hosted by an Englishman named Tony.  The invited clinician, his former instructor Hildy Schmidt, had flown over from Europe.  Though I did have a vague idea what shape qualified as a circle, I didn't have a clue what constituted twenty meters.  My horse, being ridden by me,  wasn't helpful with the metric system either.   Early on, Frau Schmidt gave up on us and turned her pedagogical Klieg lights on Tony.  All was apparently going well--how could I really tell?--but then Tony's mount began to rear.  I halted and glanced over.  A horsefly the size of a well-fed hummingbird had attached itself to the animal's neck.

       "Forward!  Forward!!  For-waard!!"  Frau Schmidt screamed.
       (A thin stream of blood now ran down the poor chestnut's neck.)

       "I'm sorry, Frau Schmidt, a fly is bothering--"

       "If he vas concentrating he vould not be sinking of flies!" 

       On another occasion, I called a friend's cell number.  It turned out she was auditing a clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, given by a member of Germany's gold medal dressage team.  This instructor's style was akin to Frau Schmidt's.   But even louder:  I heard every impatient word.

       "Forward!  Forward!!  For--waard!!!"  Then "Outside rein!  Outside rein!!  Out-side rein!!!" 

       I could have audio-audited the entire despotic clinic from my sofa here in Acton, Massachusetts.  That is, had I wanted to.

       In Munich, over twenty-five years ago, I proudly showed a university professor and fellow rider a photo of my young Andalusian mare with whom I was planning to have an exciting dressage career.  He glanced down at my stomach--he had just learned I was two months pregnant--and said with a dismissive shake of his head:
       "No, you are too old (I was thirty-five).  After zis baby you will ride only in za park."
       If he showed up today on this side of the Atlantic I would happily have him accompany all my silver-haired friends, now finished with our competitive season, for a five-mile gallop along the sands and tide pools of Crane Beach.  Park, indeed.

       Lest you think I'm focusing unfairly on one nationality, here are two more examples.

      A friend of mine accompanied by one of her own friends was en route to a clinic given by a former member of the U.S. Olympic dressage team.  Already acquainted with the sharp tongue of this high-level rider, they made a pact:  they were not going to cry, no matter what was said or how it was said.   They succeeded, but others did not.  As my friend entered the ring, two weeping riders were leaving.

      A few years ago I entered a clinic given by a "gentleman" from Scotland whose Sally Swift-like work is known world-wide.  He'd written a book which I greatly admired.  So, I was totally taken aback when he sarcastically tore me into little pieces, and scattered my remains, metaphorically, about the arena floor.  In a flood of tears, I dismounted and began to walk out.  The organizer of the clinic caught me at the door and convinced me to get back on.  I shouldn't have.  I did, however, have enough residual pride and common sense to sell my next day's ride to someone else.  The teacher was back the following year for a November clinic.  The person in whose house he was staying remarked with some amazement that he had willingly peeled a whole bag of onions for their Thanksgiving dinner.  I peevishly remarked that I hoped they'd made him cry.

       These personality types are not confined to clinics and lessons.  One British woman studying dressage in Germany was told by a fellow boarder that she had a world-class horse but that he was never going to win any serious competitions with her riding him.  That person--together with that same horse--went on to ride in the Olympics and win a bronze medal.

       And then there are the instructors who pounce on the most vulnerable segment of the riding population--children.  I worked as an instructor at a local riding school (factory) for nearly a month.  But when I kept changing the horses out of their severe bits into loose ring and d-ring snaffles, it was determined that my knowledge of the horses' mouths was not nuanced enough.  And I stopped lessons too many times to work on body alignment.  They decided I needed to shadow one of their instructors in a group lesson.

       I did indeed learn, but not the lesson they had in mind.  There was one little girl, about ten, who was obviously terrified of jumping.  As she approached an in-and-out on her large pony, the little girl would invariably, out of fear, haul on the reins.  Thus, she was screamed at.  It was an accident in the making.  The more the teacher screamed the more she hauled.  All this was a normal reaction on her part.  She was in what I call the riding death spiral, a figure of speech occasionally all too literal.  When riders are afraid, they hang onto the reins but then do not release the pressure.  The horse learns there is no reward for his having slowed, so why should he bother?  Therefore, the more the rider hauls, the more the horse responds in kind--the other way.

       I was witnessing the evolution of a disaster.  The next go-around the pony tried to take the in-and-out as a bounce rather than a one-stride and crashed right through the second fence.  His little rider went flying and landed with a thud--her worst fears now realized.    She was then scolded for making all this happen.  The poor little tyke managed to hold in her tears and climb back on her now equally traumatized mount.  When it came time for the next jump, the little girl blasted over the obstacle,  precariously managing to stay on.  She received much praise for facing her fears.

       But when she dismounted she nearly crumpled to the ground.  She'd hit her head on the previous jump and said she felt dizzy.  This was the instructor's now sympathetic and thus, even more emotionally destabilizing reply:

       "Don't you know that when your head hurts you're supposed to get off?"

       OMG!  In that environment no child would dare think of dismounting--even if her own head was about to fall off.  I ran into the mother, whom I heard saying to another parent, "I guess you've just got to get back on when you fall off."
       I walked up to her.  "No you don't," I said, "and certainly not when your child is terrified and in circumstances that are increasingly frightening--and dangerous."
       I quit that farm that day, resolving that if I ever got another job teaching I would never force a child to ride through paralyzing fear--a modicum of uneasiness or apprehension, yes, certainly--but never ever the kind of self-fulfilling fear that actually causes accidents.

       Of course, the psychological roots of this kind of pedagogical tyranny are well known.  But I think the great Czech poet Ranier Maria Rilke sums it up better in "Imaginary Career" than any shrink ever could:  

               "The child bent, becomes the bender."

       Like some of you more advanced riders, I've been to clinics where the message and the messenger are both sub-par, to clinics where the message was appropriate but the messenger would have been shot in some cultures.  I have zero financial or any other kind of stake in this advice:  If you have a chance to ride or simply audit with Gil Merrick please take it.  In him, you'll see that the message and messenger are one, and that such oneness in a dressage trainer is to be cherished.

       This little girl below, Amalia, age seven and a half, hails from Switzerland, and is at the very beginning of what is sure to be a great equestrian career.   She has been riding at Windflower only three months and is already an expert at round penning.  Here you see her driving Kip forward: 

   Amalia and Kip                                                                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       And in this next photo she has achieved join-up.  By moving Kip forward then making her change directions (but without direct contact of a lead line), Amalia has established herself as "herd-leader."  Thus, no reins or lead are required for Kip to follow her obediently:

     Kip "joins-up" with Amalia                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

              And now Amalia demonstrates a gesture of her own invention:  "The Mother Stroke."

              Amalia's "Mother Stroke"                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011 

           After a recent lesson, Amalia was administering huge strokes all over Kip.  I asked her what she was doing and she replied,  "Giving Mother Strokes."  This was news to me.
       "Amalia, what are 'Mother Strokes'?"
       "Well," she said, "remember when you told me how mother horses lick their foals all over when they're born?  You said you thought that was why horses liked to be stroked all over, and that it helps them relax.  That's what I'm doing, and I call it Mother Stroking."

       Dear Readers, having read the above, I expect to hear a collective "Awww" in cyber-space.  And since there is now an official name for it, I recommend that all of you give your horses "Mother Strokes" after each ride, which may be done with or without the slurping sounds Amalia makes with her tongue.

       I received this charming Christmas tree ornament from Amalia just this afternoon.  She made it out of polymer clay.  It will grace our trees for many holidays to come.  (The sloppy handwriting is my own.)

                                Amalia's Xmas horse             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

       Here is where I planned to include photos of Firefly, Elementa, and Dolly.  We took them to Foss Farm in Carlisle twice to use the jumps in the lovely ring there and then took them on a little hack.   But both times I forgot to insert my CF card!  I happily clicked away both times until I paused long enough to note that the 'no cf card' was flashing.  Argghhhh!!   There will now be an extra card in my camera bag at all times.  Otherwise, it went very well.

     Last blog I wrote about Rufo, the half-shepherd, half-pit bull who has been in a Yonkers, New York, shelter four out of the five years of his life.  The staff has refused to euthanize him because of his loveable nature.   I'm happy to report that as of April 1 Rufo will be adopted by my friend Jon.  Many years ago Jon adopted a dog I had found languishing in a local shelter.  Robbie became an adored member of Jon's home for many years until he died two years ago.  Since then Jon has been dog-less, a state which needed an immediate fix. 

       Unfortunately, the nature of Jon's work precludes him from adopting Rufo until Spring, but the people who run the rescue group,  and who were the ones who initially informed me of Rufo's plight, are trying to find Rufo a foster home until then.  They are even arranging obedience training for this lovely boy.   Though he is super-friendly, the nature of his living arrangements have precluded Rufo's being up to speed on social skills.  

       And now a Clem update:

             Clem chez lui                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


       Master Clem wins all hearts who have the good fortune of meeting him.  He is a charming puppy who continually amuses us with his adorable antics!  Even things for which he must be admonished--constantly stealing shoes and socks--brings smiles to our faces.  He loves his long walks, loves his food (turkey got a big "paws up"), loves to hop into bed with us, and even loved his trip to the vet.  "What needle?  Was that a needle?  Oh, this man in the white coat likes me.  I will lick him all over because I like him, too." 

       Next week Clem and Jim begin four weeks of obedience training at our local pet store.   At four months Clem is now too old for puppy kindergarten.  Not that he is without training:  he's just been home schooled.  I'm going to attempt to video the sessions and if any are blog-able will post them. 

                  Clem at liberty!                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

    Great leap forward, flaps up!                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

     Clem in repose                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011

             I don't quite understand!                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011  

       The above photos say more about this little man than my words can.

       I don't know if you've heard this, but their are "laughing clubs" springing up all over China.  It has been decided there--as it has been in many places--that telling jokes, that is, good ones--are beneficial for one's health.  Chinese routinely meet to laugh their heads off!  I thought I'd make a modest attempt to elevate my readers' endorphin level (mine, too, BTW) by occasionally including a humorous fact, story, or joke at the end of a blog entry.  This is from the classified section of a newspaper:

      "Free puppies.  1/2 cocker spaniel--1/2 neighbor's sneaky dog."

Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly and . . .

                Clem's silhouette                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011