Catherine’s Dressage Blog

 

 

January 10th, 2016

I had a super time at my first official show as an open rider and trainer. Can I just say how weird it was to see “senior professional” when I was printing out my membership cards? I am really looking forward to this period of learning and growth. The ponies were so amazing and each one tackled new obstables. I couldn’t be more proud!
Kim Pribble’s Vito, a coming eleven year old KWPN gelding, performed his first Intermediate I test (and only my second!) for a 71.053% and a blue ribbon! He felt so great and I am really enjoying developing our partnerhip together. Our ride felt very harmonious and he tried so hard to be right there with me.
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My own Sophie, a coming seven year old Westphalian mare, debuted at 4th Level with a win and 69.865%! She is really a fun horse and it was great to get back in the ring with her. She hasn’t shown since last March since I was traveling so much for various championships. I’m very excited to see how she continues to develop, she is such a smart mare!
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Michael and Vickie Hendershott’s Sunny, a seven year old Thoroughbred gelding, competed at his very first recognized show and earned three blue ribbons with scores up to 69.2% in Training Level! Sunny is a rescued ex-racehorse that I’ve been working with for the past two years to help him through some past baggage, and it’s so rewarding to see him building confidence in himself! He is a great little guy!
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Thanks so much to my whole support team, especially the team at Adventure Farms and my mom Annie Chamberlain who came out from Arizona to help me! Big thanks to my sponsors 2kGrey (www.2kgrey.com), YS Nutrition (www.ysnutrition.com), Custom Saddlery (www.mysaddle.com) and Equine & Essential Arnica Gel (www.tristanjade.com). I’m so excited to work hard and enjoy the upcoming show season!
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January, 2015
After Vito’s stellar FEI debut in 2015, Vito has been nominated for the KWPN-NA Performance Horse of the Year! It’s such an honor. Vito is owned by Kim Pribble.
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Losing my best friend “Chance”.

About a week and a half after Chance’s colic surgery, he developed an infection called peritonitis as well as a few other complications. He was so tough and fought it out for a couple of weeks, going back and forth from starting to improve and then regressing again. Finally the vets decided his best chance was to go back in for surgery to try and lavage his abdomen and see what else was going on. Unfortunately, once they were in surgery they discovered that the infection was much worse than they had hoped to see and he had severe adhesions in his intestine that would make recovery impossible. He had to be put to sleep so he would no longer suffer.

The vets were amazed that he had still been in such good spirits and not even acting very sick considering how severe his condition was. But that was Chance; always happy, always goofy and always trying to make people laugh. I am so devastated by his loss as he is irreplaceable; not as a competition horse but as my friend. He has always been there for me, through joy and heartache. I am heartbroken that I will no longer have him to turn to, but will forever cherish the unforgettable memories we have together. I have been thinking over our amazing journey together, and this is a summary of our partnership:

(Photo: Susan J Stickle)

My mom first found Chance for sale online when he was a four year old in Seattle. However, I was only eleven at that time and we weren’t ready to buy yet. But something about him caught her attention, and she kept an eye on him over the next year. When he was a five year old he moved down to California to be sold. By then I was twelve and had decided to pursue dressage as my career, so the next step was to find the right horse.

My mom and I went on a buying trip with my aunt and trainer Shari Patterson-Blaylock, and at the recommendation of Shirley Rector we picked Chance. He didn’t have a barn name in California and only went by Verdicci, so I gave him the nickname Chance after one of the main characters in the movie Homeward Bound. We formed our bond over the next several months and it was clear right away what a happy-go-lucky horse he was and that he always wanted to be the class clown. We started showing Training and First Level and went on to win State and Regional Championships as well as the Arizona Dressage Association Futurity.

When I was fourteen, we decided to make the jump up to the FEI Junior Level. It took us both a while to figure out the flying changes and they were still iffy at times, but that first year in 2009 was all about experience. I got to experience my first CDI competitions with him and went on to represent Region 5 at my first NAJYRC. We placed 9th there individually and I was ecstatic to be in the top ten. The next year we competed in the Junior division again, this time with much more precision and experience. At the 2010 NAJYRC we won the Individual and Freestyle silver medals. I couldn’t believe it; it was the first “big” thing I had accomplished and I owed it all to Chance. We then went on to win the Junior Reserve National Championship at Gladstone, capping off a magical summer.

In 2011 we moved up the Young Rider division, where we competed our first PSG tests for 67%s. Qualifying went very well and we were all set to compete at the NAJYRC again with Region 5. Then, two months before the competition I shattered my right elbow after being kicked by a horse while lunging. I was told not to ride for six months but only took one month off, determined to still ride on my first Young Riders team. Once at the NAJYRC, I realized what a bad decision I had made. The team test went ok and we won Team Gold with Region 5, which I was very proud of since it was my first team medal. However, a combination of me wanting so badly to do well but knowing at the same time that it was physically impossible to ride that well with my elbow led to disaster. I made just about every possible mistake you could ever make in a test and we ended up dead last with a 55%. I was devastated and thought I was a complete failure.

(Photo: Susan J Stickle)

After coming home, finishing up my rehab on my elbow and taking the time to deal with everything mentally, I was ready to get back at it again. We were able to get in one more show before injury struck again, this time for Chance. He had torn his right hind suspensory while playing too hard in turnout. We took rehab slow and it was about a year before he was just ready to go back to full work. Then, one day he bucked me off, ran around and tore his left hind suspensory. Another year off. Although this period of injury was definitely hard to deal with, it strengthened our bond even more as our relationship was all about me caring for him and him being there for me when I needed comfort or just a laugh.

Finally he was ready to get back into the show ring after a long hiatus, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before that happened, I made a big change. In November of 2013 I moved away from home to train with David Wightman and Kathleen Raine in Murrieta, CA. After getting into the swing of things at their barn, we competed at our first show in January of 2014. The first day I was so nervous, but we made it around the ring for a 64% in the PSG.

After getting that first test under our belt, I felt so much more confident and the next day we completed our very first Intermediate I test for a 69%. In February we started showing in the Young Rider qualifiers again with much success, earning a 69% average and being selected to represent Region 7 at the NAJYRC. That summer is one of the best highlights of my life thus far. After making the decicion to only focus on my performance and not on the results, Chance and I had a magical competition. We led our team to the gold medal with our highest FEI score ever of 72%.

We then went on to win Individual and Freestyle gold with a 71% and 72%. It was something I had only ever thought about accomplishing in my wildest dreams, and Chance made it all possible for me by being such an incredible partner with the biggest and most generous heart. About two months later we competed in our first Intermediate II test for a 67%, and a month after that we competed our very first Grand Prix for a 64%.

Chance had therefore earned me my USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medals. This year we debuted in the Under 25 Grand Prix and won our first CDI with a 67%. After another successful qualifying season we went on to compete at the Brentina Cup Championships. While we had a bit of a rough go the first day, we fought back like we always do and earned 4th place on day two and 6th place overall. Our scores also made us the USDF Year End Intermediate II JR/YR Champions. There is so much more I could say about what he’s done for me but I will leave it at that.

Words cannot describe how much I love Chance and how much I will miss him. I am forever grateful for everything he has done for me and he will always have a special place in my heart.

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Lessons Learned in Germany Help Light Path to Success
By Catherine Rose Chamberlain
            This summer I was selected to participate on the USEF Young Rider European Tour because of my results in the Young Rider tests in four CDIs in California where I achieved a 68% average with Avesto van Weltereden. “Vito”, a ten year old KWPN gelding by Gribaldi out of Tevesta by Krack C, is owned by Kimberly Pribble of Chandler, AZ. I also grew up in Chandler and I moved out to California to begin working for David Wightman and Kathleen Raine at Adventure Farms in November of 2013. Vito’s owner Kim decided to send Vito for training in December of 2013. He had only been shown up to First Level at that point and could be quite opinionated and strong, so David and I began working with him together to bring him up the levels. In 2014 I showed him 3rd Level for the first time in the spring, and David showed him 4th Level in the fall. While we still had to work hard to try to get him to be more accepting and supple, he showed great promise for the FEI levels and achieved scores of up to 74%. This January, the idea first came up of me trying to compete in Young Riders with him. 
We all agreed to give it a shot even though he would be quite green because he is always a very solid competitor and reliable in the ring. We did our first Prix St. George in a small show and had a great result, so we then entered our first Young Rider qualifier at a CDI in Burbank in February. We competed in four CDIs throughout the qualifying season, and Vito was a trooper as he gained experience and strength all the while. At the end of the qualification period, he was at the top of the ranking list for the European tour, had made the Region 7 team for the NAJYRC and was ranked 4th for the USEF Festival of Champions. We were thrilled when we got the invitation to compete at the Young Rider Nations Cup at the CDIO-Y in Hagen, Germany. Soon preparations were being made for a busy summer. To be honest, organizing all of the travel details was probably the most nerve-wracking part for me. I was really scared that I would forget some small detail and not be allowed on the plane! Luckily I was able to get everything in order and soon Vito and I were on our flight overseas.
     My actual time spent in Germany was fairly short, but definitely jam packed with excitement. I was able to bring Vito to stay at Johann Hinnemann’s barn two weeks before we had to leave for the competition in Hagen. It was a wonderful experience. I was able to work at the barn and ride a few other horses during my stay. We would start at seven in the morning with feeding and stall cleaning. Once all of the chores were done we would all eat breakfast around nine. There were about six or so working students at the barn, along with head bereiter Stefi Wolf. Everyone was very nice and welcoming, I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with them and am thankful for all of the help I received while there. After breakfast we began working the horses and continued for the rest of the day with other chores and clean-up mixed in. I got lessons from Herr Hinnemann, which was great. We worked a lot on getting my half-halts to come through better since Vito loves to go and can get quite strong. This went hand in hand with working on getting him to be more supple in the jaw and looser over his top line. Herr Hinnemann also made sure that I focused on the accuracy of my tests. Each line of tempi changes had to be perfectly straight with the middle change at X. The voltes had to be precisely eight meters and my half-passes had to have a flowing line to the proper places.
 It was really helpful working on all of those details and making sure that I wasn’t giving away any unnecessary points. Heading into Hagen, I felt prepared and ready to represent my country to the best of my ability. USEF Youth Coach George Williams was on hand to make sure everything was organized and taken care of, which was a big relief. He did an amazing job and it was so helpful to have him there with us during our first major experience like this.
     The atmosphere at Hagen was quite electric. They also had a huge youth jumping show going alongside the dressage competition for ponies, juniors and young riders. The barns, roads and arenas were always very busy and nobody gave a second thought to what might spook a horse. You had to be on your toes and prepared for anything to happen at any time. Luckily Vito handled the environment quite well and adjusted to the chaotic settings without many problems. I also got to spend more time with teammate Ayden Uhlir and her groom Jessica Hainsworth, which was a lot of fun. They are both great girls and I’m so happy that I got the pleasure of meeting them and being on a team together. Even though our group was small, we had a lot of national pride and team comradery which was great to feel at my first international competition outside of the U.S. When it came time for the team test, I tried not to focus on the fact that it was such a big competition or the expectations that I had. My only goal was to walk out of the ring knowing that I had produced the absolute best test that we were capable of on that day. Vito and I were able to do just that and had a great ride, earning a 68% and 6th place individually in the class. Our U.S. team placed 6th in the Nations Cup and Ayden and I were very proud of our efforts. It was such an enormous honour being able to represent the U.S. in Europe and it’s an experience that I will always treasure.
     Unfortunately, when Vito and I entered the ring for our individual test he got quite distracted by an annoyance on his ear and we had several uncharacteristic mistakes. We pulled it together as best as we could and still managed a 65% despite the bobbles that we had. It was too bad that we had to have an off test just then, but in this sport you are going to have struggles and it’s best to learn to embrace them and let every experience teach you something. Over the years I’ve actually grown to love these challenging times, even though it’s hard to accept in the moment, because I know it will help me grow and develop as a person. Without adversary you will never discover how strong, determined, accepting or hard-working you can be.
 We made it into the small final for the freestyle and had a solid ride, earning 6th place individually. I was so inspired by the top riders and horses that I saw and it really fuelled my passion to work even harder to achieve my goals and dreams. It was such an amazing experience and I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity. I have to give a huge thank you to USEF, George Williams, Kimberly Pribble, my trainer David Wightman and everyone at Adventure Farms, my parents Annie and Glen Chamberlain, my sponsors YS Nutrition, 2kGrey, Intrepid International, Custom Saddlery, Equine and Essential Arnica Gel, and so many other people who made the 2015 USEF Young Rider European Tour a big success and an outstanding learning experience.
     The lessons I learned in Germany definitely paid off. Vito and I flew straight from Europe to the east coast to compete in the FEI North American Young Rider Championships. We had an amazing time and earned team gold with our teammates from Region 7 and individual silver! About a month after that we headed to Lamplight in Illinois to compete at the Festival of Champions. After our best competition to date, were named the 2015 Young Rider National Champions! The experiences I had and the lessons I learned in Germany definitely taught me so much and really helped us grow together as a team. This is my last year of eligibility as a Young Rider and I couldn’t have wished for a better way to finish this part of my career. I am so excited to see what the future holds and will continue to work diligently on everything I learned in order to become the best rider and horsewoman that I can be. 

 

My Journey through 2014 – Part 1
It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened between now and then! I’ll start back in November of 2013, where I made a big change and decided to move out to California to live and train. I was thrilled when David Wightman and Kathleen Raine of Adventure Farms in Murrieta agreed to let me train there and work for them. So my horses and I made our big move on November 8th and we’ve been here since. I have learned so much from them and am so grateful for everything they have done for me. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive barn with great people and horses alike.
I competed in my first show after moving to California in January of 2014 with Verdicci, known as Chance around the barn. Chance is a 2002 KWPN gelding by Krack C. I’ve owned and trained him since he was five year old and I was twelve. My trainers and I made the decision that I should try out for the Region 7 Young Riders team that year and this was our warm-up show. We competed in the Prix St. George for a score of 64% and in our very first Intermediate 1 test for a score of 69%. It was a great way to gear up for the season and pinpoint exactly what we needed to work on.
After that we went to the CDI qualifiers starting with the first one in Burbank in February. We had a great show and earned 69%s in both the Young Rider Team and Individual tests. Next we went to the San Juan CDI in March and earned a 66% in the Team test, a 69% in the Individual test and a 68% in the Freestyle. Our last qualifier was in Rancho Murrieta in June, where we earned a 67% in the Team test and a 69% in the Individual test. Once all of the qualifiers were done, the Region 7 Young Rider Team was announced as Anna Buffini and Sundayboy, Cassidy Gallman and Grand Makana, Lindsey Brewin and Valliant and myself with Chance. I was thrilled to be a member of such a great team and excited to do the best job I could for my team.
We knew that the Region 7 team had a good shot at medalling. Anna and Cassidy were coming off of a very successful National Championships where they had been crowned Young Rider National and Reserve National Champions. So when it came time for the Team test, we all went out and rode the best tests we could with the other riders, coaches, family and friends cheering each other on. I was ecstatic when Chance and I were able to produce the best test of our life. He was amazing and did everything just as I asked. We received our highest score ever in the FEI ring, a 72%. That combined with Anna’s 68% and Cassidy and Lindsey’s 65%s were enough to take home the Team Gold Medal!

I was so proud of my horse and my teammates. Our Region 7 Junior Team of Lauren Mack, Olivia Zeilinger, Danielle Bonovito and additional Region 6 member Heather Decent won the Team Bronze Medal. It was a fantastic day and one of my favourite memories.

Moving on to the Individual test, I definitely felt the pressure to reproduce the same result. I had never been in that situation before so it was great experience to have to deal with my own and others’ expectations. I decided that I just had to focus on my performance and not the scores or other things I couldn’t control. With that in mind, Chance and I had another great ride and were able to earn a 71.8% and the Individual Gold Medal. I couldn’t believe it, it’s something I dreamed about since I was little but never something I thought would actually happen. I was so thankful for Chance in that moment and everything we had been through together to get to that point. When it came time for the Freestyle I just wanted to have fun with him and end on a high note. We did just that with another 72% and the Freestyle Gold Medal. I still can’t quite believe everything that happened and am so grateful to so many people. Needless to say Chance got a lot of carrots and apples that week! Stay tuned for my next post detailing the rest of the adventures we had last year!

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Learning from the Best – My Trip to Arroyo Del Mar

In September of 2013, I was able to spend three weeks at Steffen and Shannon Peters’ beautiful facility Arroyo Del Mar, culminating with a weekend spent at the CDS Junior/Young Rider Championships held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. This amazing opportunity was brought about by a generous grant from the Renee Isler Grant from the Dressage Foundation, to whom I owe many thanks. I learned so much on this trip and I came home more motivated than ever after spending time watching such accomplished riders as Steffen and Shannon working diligently every day. They work so simply with their horses, allowing their honed timing, tactfulness and finesse guide them through their rides. There were three main points that really hit home for me over the three weeks I spent in California. Read on to discover what I found to be their secrets to success.

1) Allow the horse to guide you in each training session.
Any accomplished rider knows that it is an absolute must to have a plan in mind when training a horse. There are usually short term and long term goals, along with a weekly overview of what one wants to achieve over the course of each seven days. However, Steffen and Shannon seem to have both come to the conclusion that the horse must be allowed to guide you in your training sessions each day. Yes, it is essential to know what you want to work on each time you set a foot in the stirrup, but it cannot take over your whole ride so that it ends in fighting and frustration. For example, if Steffen was working on a zigzag canter half-pass where the changes of directions and flying changes were a struggle, he would take the exercise back to the very beginning and work on simple changes and transitions for a while until the horse gained confidence and balance once more. Then, when the original exercise was approached again, the ridability and obedience allowed both horse and rider to be successful and move on to the next task. So with that in mind, I learned to keep a strong focus on the origins of each exercise and know when it was necessary to take a step back and solve the root of each and every problem encountered.

2) The rider affects the horse with their position and aids, either helpfully or harmfully.
I have had the opportunity to clinic with Shannon before and I always love her emphasis on position and rider biomechanics. If something is going wrong or is a real struggle during a training session, always look to yourself first to see if you are hindering the horse in some way. It is amazing how small things such as a wrong shift in balance or an incorrect hand placement can prevent a horse from working correctly through its’ entire body. Shannon has a great eye for such things and I love having lessons with her because she can give you a few corrections on your position that you can work on for months until it becomes ingrained into your muscle memory. When you watch both Steffen and Shannon ride, you can see the smooth changes they make to their balance and the little things they do with their leg and hand aids to allow the horse to work to its’ full potential. So many people do not realize the importance of this factor in their everyday training. It’s not enough to look pretty; one must learn to ride correctly and tactfully with flowing, soft aids in order to truly maximize the performance of the horse and rider as a team. I loved seeing these two amazing riders still focusing on every little detail in this way and feel that it sets a great example for other riders who may become forgetful when it comes to working on their position or correctness.

3) Relaxation and harmony must remain at the forefront through all levels of training.
One of the main things that Steffen is always praised for as a rider is how relaxed and at ease his horses look in the show ring. As one can imagine, it is the exact same picture at home. Of course everything can’t always be perfect and there are times when mistakes occur or corrections must be made. However, the harmony always remains through all of it, allowing a horse’s confidence in the rider to remain high. It was so refreshing to see rider after rider enter the ring and ride through both the best and worst moments of their training session with tact and thoughtfulness. It’s a true testament to their training philosophy that both Steffen ad Shannon have been able to show multiple horses at the FEI levels with the same trademark contentment and relaxation. I believe that Ravel is the ultimate example of this. Each test he came out so soft in the contact, swinging over his back with a happy expression in his eye. A stark contrast to many of the horses you see in the FEI ring nowadays. Whether I was watching a four year old or a finished Grand Prix horse, they were all ridden with the same patience and understanding that I hope to emulate someday.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I am so grateful to have been able to learn from such amazing horse people. The facility was beautiful, the people were kind and the horses were absolutely magnificent. I was able to finish off my trip with a successful showing at the CDS Junior/Young Rider Championships where I took home the Training Level 18 and Over Reserve Championship with my four year old Westphalian mare Sophina. Thank you so very much to everyone who made this trip a possibility for me! It was such an honor and a privilege to learn from two of the best riders in the country, as well as receiving the warm hospitality from their entire team.
Catherine Chamberlain

 

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The Trip of a Lifetime

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Europe for ten days on the Dressage Foundation’s Young Rider Olympic Dream Program.  (Read more about the program requirements here: http://www.dressagefoundation.org/Olympic_Dream_2012.htm)  When I first heard I was chosen to participate in this year’s program, I knew I was in for the experience of my life.  I had always wondered how the lifestyle of European equestrians differed from ours, but seeing if first hand really brought to light some of the differences that could help improve dressage in the United States.  It was such an honor to visit seven of the best barns in Europe, and I am so excited to share what I have learned in hopes to inspire others just as I have been inspired by these amazing people and their horses.

 

Beginnings – Arriving in Germany

My journey began when I arrived at the Phoenix Harbor Airport at 5 AM on Sunday, August 12th.  My first plane took me to Newark, New Jersey, where I met up with the other young riders and our chaperones.  So, along with Nicole DelGiorno, Jaclyn Pepper, Jenna Detandt, Eliza Sydnor, and Ashley Perkins, I got on the Lufthansa airplane headed to Düsseldorf, Germany.  Our plane touched down at 6:05 AM on Monday, August 13th.  After a nice breakfast and coffee, we were off to visit our first stable of the trip!

 

First Stop: Jan Bemelmans, Coach of the Spanish Dressage Team

The entire group could not wait to get started on our first adventure!  However, we hit a small bump in the road.   We thought we had scoped out Jan’s barn before grabbing a quick breakfast and coffee, but it seems we had found the wrong place.  After stopping in a lady’s yard, who was none too happy about us piling out of the car taking pictures, we went for a little tour of the countryside before finally finding the right driveway.  Nonetheless, we made it there unscathed and were floored at how large and immaculate his facility was.  It consisted of numerous grassy paddocks, a hot walker, a round pen, an outdoor dressage arena, an indoor arena, a jumping arena, several trails around the property, and many brick barns.  Jan leases about 15 of the stalls himself and has access to all arenas, trails and other equipment.  Soon we were directed to the right arena to meet Herr Bemelmans himself.  When we first walked in, he was just finishing up with a stallion.  After he took the horse back to the barn, he showed us around and told us a little bit about how he runs his barn and maintains his horses.  They all go out in turnout and are put on the hot walker for a bit to warm-up before they are ridden.  Bemelmans only likes to keep twelve to fifteen horses in training now because he likes the amount of time he can spend on each horse.  He even helped out with the grooming and care of the horses while we were there.

After the small tour, one of Bemelmans’ Russian students brought out her seven-year-old Hanoverian who is currently schooling Grand Prix.  She warmed him up, and then handed the reins over to Herr Bemelmans.  He plays with shoulder-in, renver, travers and half-pass.  He then incorporated some half-steps and passage, always mindful of the horse’s rhythm and balance.  Bemelmans would even reach back and touch the horse’s croup with his hand to engage the hind legs.  Herr Bemelmans appears to have great control with his seat, managing the horse’s suppleness and contact easily.  After finishing up with some easy canter work, Jan let the horse stretch to the buckle in the trot with the horse properly taking the contact down and stretching out his back and neck.  After that, Jan mounted a young 5-year-old that has been in training with him for about three months.  He said it is a future horse for a junior rider and that his main goal is to keep the contact softer because the horse tends to get quite strong.  Bemelmans really seems to like the horse and thinks it has great potential.  It is a lovely horse, and though Bemelmans has to make some strong half-halts to keep the horse’s power in check, he produces some lovely work.  These were the only horses we saw go today as Monday is mostly an off day for Jan Bemelmans.  However, even seeing these few horses go was a wonderful pleasure.  Bemelmans has super elasticity in his horses and he obviously cares greatly for them.  He is such a nice man and even took us to lunch afterwards and allowed us to pick his brain about his training philosophies.  Overall it was a great way to start of the trip!  We went to the hotel soon after that where the group was able to get in a nice nap before grabbing our first German dinner.

 

Fleyenhof – Hubertus Schmidt, German Master

The next day we arrived at the Fleyenhof, where Hubertus Schmidt trains.  After being promptly escorted to the side of the indoor arena, we were quickly focused on what was going on inside.  Herr Schmidt had the busiest barn out of all of the trainer’s we visited.  I am guessing we probably saw at least twenty to twenty-five horses go in the half a day we were there.  There were always four to six horses in the ring.  Herr Schmidt always had a horse going, along with Finish Olympic Team rider Emma Kanerva, who has been training with him for seven years.  He also had a Bereiter and two other working students.  Hubertus’s son even rode one of the Grand Prix schoolmasters the last hour we were there.  Apparently he decided to start riding when he was into his twenties!  With the ring being so busy at all times, the riders did not get as much help from Herr Schmidt as some of the riders did at other facilities.  However, they had the opportunity to ride some amazing mounts as all of the horses we saw there were superb quality.

 

Hubertus Schmidt was one of my favorite riders to watch.  He was so tactful and made everything look so easy.  Hubertus had such confidence in everything he did, obviously the result of years and years of training.  Almost every single horse that he rode was trained to Grand Prix, evidence that his system clearly works to produce top Grand Prix horses time after time.  We saw a lot of great piaffe there as well, an example of how engaged and active he keeps his horses.  All of the riders really seemed to keep active impulsion while maintaining a correct and steady rhythm, something that riders struggled with at other stables.  It was amazing to see this German master at work and I was so inspired by how natural and light he made everything look.  Hubertus Schmidt is truly one of the greats and it was a pleasure to see him in action.

 

Going Back in Time – The History of German Dressage

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we had the fantastic opportunity to visit the Warendorf State Stud and the DOKR, which is the German Olympic Training Center.  It was a great opportunity to see how the German’s history has given them an advantage in the equestrian world.  For example, the Warendorf State Stud was founded in 1826 and is almost as old as the United States itself.  Their depth in knowledge in breeding has resulted in high quality horses that are the norm instead of the exception like in the United States.  Also, visiting the DOKR was definitely one of the highlights.  The facility was immaculate and riders from every discipline were there training.  Seeing all of the pony riders, many probably future Olympic hopefuls, was like watching the whole puzzle come together.  Their whole system has been so successful because they know how to find and train talented young riders while breeding high quality horses able to match the talent now needed to be the best in the world.

 

Moving Forward – Monica Theoderescu, In the Footsteps of a Legend

By Wednesday we were starting to get into the flow of things, in short eat, sleep and drink horses!  After driving through the beautiful entrance gate, a nice lady escorted us out to the amazing outdoor dressage court.  Monica was riding her nine-year-old Westphalian mare named Tattoo.  This horse has been very successful at the small tour, placing 4th at Aachen and 2nd at Munich this spring.  One of Monica’s students, 16-year-old Jessica Blackmore, was also riding this day.  She rode three of her own horses and also had the privilege to ride Balagur, the famous Orlov Trotter trained by Monica’s father, George Theoderescu.  Balagur is an amazing horse, even at age twenty-two.  He could still do a wonderful piaffe for a 10 with his grateful little rider.  It was such a joy to see how happy this famous horse is, and he was a great example of how kind training can keep a horse happy and healthy for years.

Monica rode a couple different horses for us, one of them being Whisper, her most famous Grand Prix mount.  Whisper looked like he had such a kind character, both in the stable and under saddle.  Monica was able to produce very tight pirouettes with all of her mounts, which she attributes to a balance between collection and freedom.  Whisper’s tempi changes were also the straightest I have ever seen.  Monica also rode her horses extremely forward, especially in the beginning of her rides.  It was probably more forward than I would ride my own horses for such a prolonged period of time without many transitions, but when she brought them back they seemed to come into collection without any fuss.  Monica also seemed to have very strong contact with her horses, but it was extremely consistent and all the horses were very foamy and happy in the contact.  In fact, the horses at the barn had the quietest mouths I saw there.  Another interesting fact about Monica’s stable was that she had the means to only care for about fifteen horses at a time, many of which she owned herself.  As she showed us each horse, her love and respect for each animal shone through.  It was touching to see the relationship she had with her horses.  Monica is not living in the shadow of her father’s legend; she is stepping into his light and doing her best to make him proud.

Fun Times – Morton Thomsen, Teaching the ABC’s of Dressage

We made the long six-hour drive to Denmark on Wednesday night where we had a good night’s sleep at the Scandic Hotel.  On Thursday morning we headed to Morten Thomsen’s gorgeous barn.  As with Monica, most of the horses belong to Morten and his wife, Sarah.  However, he said everything is always for sale!  They have their own breeding operation and usually end up with at least two foals per year.  If something happens, as in this year’s case where one of the foals died due to complications, then they purchase foals at the Verden Foal Auction.  All of their horses were lovely and they obviously know what they are doing breeding and buying young horses.

Morten has a whole system compiled to train and break his young horses.  He starts with a lot of ground work done in a rope halter, teaching the horse to yield to pressure, bend, sidestep and lift their legs in response to pressure from a stick.  Morten explains that he wants to be a teacher, always patient and understanding.  He said that the basics are like the ABC’s for horses, an essential part of their knowledge.  Morten also tells us that learning must be fun for the horse, when it stops being fun, then you no longer have a partner.  When training, you must never punish a horse for giving an answer, even if it is the wrong answer.  If you always stop the horse from trying, pretty soon they will no longer care and shut down mentally.  You must reward them for attempting to give you the right response.  If the answer is not right, don’t get mad, just keep consistent pressure until they figure out the question and form the right answer.

I had the most fun at the Thomsen’s barn.  It was really a small family there, with only two riders working for Morten and Sarah.  Everyone there was extremely friendly, open and sweet.  They served us an amazing lunch on Thursday and answered every single question we had in detail.  We were able to watch at their barn all of Thursday and the first half of the day on Friday.  It was a fantastic experience and I wish everyone there the very best.

Frolicking Around – The Verden Foal Auction

On Friday night we made it down to Verden for the foal auction.  I constantly wondered how people can pick out a future international star when the foals are only three to six months of age.  We met Sarah Thomsen there as she was looking for a horse and she explained that she doesn’t look for super flashy horses, but horses that show a lot of looseness in the shoulder and suppleness in the back.  It was a great educational experience, but I would hate to have the pressure of picking out what I thought to be a great horse at such a young age because they were all just too cute!  Also, we got to witness the purchase of the foal that went for the highest price during the whole weekend.  Dandolo (De Niro x Florencio) went for 48,000 €.  It was a very exciting auction and we were lucky to witness it!

Halfway There – Klaus Balkenhol, Classical All the Way

On Saturday morning we had the privilege to visit the great Klaus Balkenhol and his daughter Anabel, known as Belli.  They have quite the stable, complete with gorgeous green pastures and a wonderful outdoor arena backed by the Balkenhol’s colorful garden.  After watching Mr. Balkenhol teach and ride, it was obvious the he has one hundred percent faith in the training scale.  He preached lightness, consistency, and patience to his riders.  These horses had the best rhythm and relaxation out of all the horses I saw.  I loved seeing how he let the horses take their time warming up without putting on any pressure to be fancy, so that they built up their energy later in a natural and easy way.  It was a pleasure to see the training scale at work and how easy it is to develop a horse using the classical system.

Belli Balkenhol is also a wonderful rider and she was very open with us about her opinions regarding training and the systems in use today.  She does not agree with any methods that force the horse to be obedient or submissive, but praises riders who let the horses’ natural talent, grace and beauty shine through.  Belli also complimented the United States by saying that we appear to have great team camaraderie and having an open mind instead of a rigid system that can provide for fun and inventive training methods.  I loved seeing the whole Balkenhol family relationship because they all loved the horses so much and their team work brought these horses to their best form physically and mentally.  I look forward to seeing more great things from Belli Balkenhol in the future!

Show Time – Local Show in Coesfeld, Germany

On Saturday afternoon and for half of a day on Sunday we were able to attend a local jumping and dressage show in Coesfeld.  Belli Balkenhol and one of Klaus’s riders, Sarah Rogers, were also competing on Sunday and did a great job, with Belli winning her class on a fantastic little stallion.  There were also some young horse classes that I thoroughly enjoyed watching, one of the highlights being Helen Langehanenberg showing a couple magnificent babies by her Olympic stallion Damon Hill.  All in all, the show wasn’t that different from a show in America.  Even though all of the horses we saw were of great quality, I don’t think that the riding is necessarily much better than that of the United States.  I was excited to see that the US really isn’t that far off from reaching the excellence of the Germans if we work extremely hard and put our best effort into both breeding and training.

Fun and Games – Wolfram Wittig, the Class Clown

By Monday we were starting to realize that our trip was coming to a close soon, and it was a sad thought.  That made us all the more determined to make the best of the time we had left!  Wolfram Wittig’s stable was a great place to go when one is in need of some lighthearted fun.  Herr Wittig is a very nice and funny man, more than happy to let us watch that day’s proceedings.  We only got to see him ride one horse, a feisty stallion named Bertolli.  Herr Wittig was very patient with this stallion, letting him have a bit of fun on this lighter day of work.  He was very insistent that the horses must think of dressage as enjoyable.  As he puts it, “I don’t want the horses to feel like their field time is where they can enjoy their life and the ring is only time for work without any pleasure.”  When both horse and rider enjoy their work, it can be magical.

Also very interesting was Wittig’s breeding program.  Many of his horses are sired by his great Grand Prix horse Breitling.  Wittig also said that he enjoys owning and training his own horses and likes having a smaller barn so he can oversee their progress.  One thing that stood out in his horses was their straightness.  They all seemed happy in their work and Wolfram’s riders seemed to get a lot of help with their riding even though he stated that he likes riding himself much more than coaching.  He was a very nice man and seems to have carved out a successful program for his horses to remain fit and happy in their work.

Saving the Best for Last – Schafhof, a Place of Dreams

During our final day in Germany, we had the privilege to visit the Schafhof, home of Ann Kathrin Lisenhoff, Klaus Martin Rath and Matthias Rath.  As we pulled through the gates, we were met by a lovely lady who promptly showed us to the barn where she said, and I quote, “Matthias and Totilas are waiting for you.”  The grounds and the stables were immaculate, and it is amazing to think that the family only maintains this barn for their own private horses to breed and train.

We got to see a variety of horses go under Matthias, Ann Kathrin and a couple other riders all coached by Klaus Martin.  Every rider had a wonderful seat and quiet hands, and all the horses had wonderful impulsion and carrying power while maintaining lightness of the forehand.  I was very impressed by the patience both Matthias and Ann Kathrin had with their mounts, and their love of the sport was clear by the expressions on their faces.  The history at this barn was incredible and obviously, generations of work have produced this successful program.  The entire family was more than happy to answer our questions and share their joy with us.  It was very refreshing to see people who, even though they had the means, do this sport just for the joy of working with these incredible animals.

While we did not get to see Totilas being ridden, we had a nice visit with him in his stall.  He was a very sweet horse and Matthias could not hide the fact that the horse is his life’s pride and joy.  He and his father stated that they only sell a few horses when they are young if they feel they won’t fit into their program, but the rest stay with them for life.  Klaus Martin said Totilas will never be sold as he is now a part of their family.  It was a pleasure visiting all of them and I wish the whole family the best in the future.

The End – Changing Inspiration into Action

On Wednesday we all went our separate ways and headed back home.  It was a very sad day and I loved every single member of our little group.  I know we will be friends for life after sharing this monumental experience.  I was also strangely excited to be going home.  I could not wait to put all of this information to use and am so motivated now to become the strongest rider and trainer that I can be. I also hope to help and inspire others on their own journey.  I owe so many thank you’s to numerous people, especially everyone who agreed to meet us and help us on our journey, Beth Baumert, Michael Poulin, Jenny Johnson, Melissa Fillipi and all others from The Dressage Foundation.  I also want to thank all the girls on the trip that made it such an enjoyable and memorable experience.  Finally, I need to thank everyone at home who has supported me on my journey up to this point.  This list is extensive but includes my trainer Ashleigh Luca Tyson, the entire team and clientele at Westwind South Dressage, and my mother and father, Annie and Glen Chamberlain.  Thank you all!  I will do my best to make you all proud and to deserve the wonderful path you have set before me.

Catherine Chamberlain

 

Catherine’s Dressage Blog 2

April 22, 2012

*Building Excitement*

This being an Olympic year, all of us dressage riders are beginning to set goals for ourselves and our horses. Now of course only the top elite will ever make it to the Olympics, but something about watching the world’s top horses and riders vie for the right to say that they are the best in the world is tremendously inspiring.

So whether your goals are on the bigger side, such as preparing to compete in your first Prix St. George, or on the smaller side, such as learning to sit the trot, what truly matters is how you get there. One of the most important things I have learned this year while “playing” head trainer at my barn while my coach was pregnant, is that you can make the grandest plans in the world, but they don’t always pan out.

Horses get injured; riders don’t have the funding they need, etc. So, I have started to make goals without a specific timeline. When I first came to train with my coach Ashleigh Luca Tyson, I told her I wanted to do the North American Young Rider Championships these years, the Brentina Cup Championship that year, be schooling Grand Prix by that time, so on and so forth. She just smiled and said to take things one at a time.

I agreed but still had my little plan in the back of my head. But now, I get it! It’s great to have dreams and make plans, but as they say, it’s the journey that really matters. I have learned to really enjoy every moment I get to spend with my horse now, whether we are working on the FEI levels or just hanging out eating lunch together.

I don’t know what the future holds for us, but now the mystery is part of the excitement for me. I plan to shoot my dreams so high that if we fall a little short, I’ll still be happy with where we are.
So, as we all feel the anticipation and excitement that leads up to the 2012 Olympics, take a moment to wonder how all of these amazing athletes got there. Did they ever dream of this happening? Did they try previously and fail, only to make their comeback this year? I recently read a quote by Albert Einstein that says “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

I could not agree more! Let us all enjoy our horses this year; no matter how many ribbons we win or how many frustrating rides we seem to have. After all, these animals really don’t have anything to gain personally from these shenanigans we call dressage. Please appreciate your horses each and every day, and more than likely they will return the favor. Happy riding everyone!
~Catherine Rose Chamberlain~

 

December 31, 2011–www.dressageforjuniors.com

~ Through Thick & Thin ~

This year, I was able to attend the 2011 FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). I had competed as a Junior the past three years with much success, but this was my first year as a Young Rider at the age of sixteen.

I have owned my current equine partner Verdicci for the past four years, slowly but surely making our way from Training Level to Prix St. George. It was already such an accomplishment to have made it to this level, so I was determined to have a fun year as both my horse and myself learned the ropes of the FEI levels. Verdicci, known as Chance around the barn, is a nine year old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Krack C out of Nadine’s Monday by Jackson. Chance is a very talented horse, but I knew this year would not be without its’ struggles since we were both newbies at this level. Therefore, I didn’t set my standards too high, I just wanted to gain experience and become a better rider throughout the season.

Our qualifying season started out great! We traveled to a number of CDIs in California from our training barn in Scottsdale, AZ. These included the Mid-Winter Dressage CDI in Burbank, CA, and both the Dressage Affaire CDI and the Del Mar National CDI in Del Mar, CA. We were very successful, scoring in the mid-sixties and placing in the top half of our classes. After all was said and done, we qualified for both the NAJYRC and the National Dressage Championships with a 65.75% average.
Then, a tragic accident put a halt to all of my plans. I was lunging a horse on May 31st, Memorial Day, when it became wild and started tearing around the arena. In my effort to calm it down, I shortened the lunge line, but once it got close enough the horse spun its’ hind end toward me and kicked out, hitting me square in the right elbow. After a trip to the hospital in an ambulance, the surgeon told me that my elbow was completely shattered. It had fractured into seven or eight large pieces, along with several other tiny fragments. I went into surgery, where they put my elbow back together with a large plate and six screws. Then, a week later, I had to have another surgery to remove one of the screws that was impairing motion in my arm. My initial prognosis was a six-month recovery, meaning I wouldn’t be able to ride until December. I was devastated, but accepted the fact I would need time to heal.

I started physical therapy, a painful and slow process. But after a month, I couldn’t stand not riding any longer. With fierce determination, I worked day after day on the strength and range of motion in my elbow. By some miracle, I had recovered enough in two months’ time to join the Region 5 Young Rider Dressage Team heading to the NAJYRC in Kentucky!

As always, I had a complete blast at my third time at the NAJYRC! I loved seeing all of my old friends and watching the best Juniors and Young Riders of various disciplines in North America. Unfortunately my minimal preparation leading up to the Championships and my limited strength in my right arm did not allow me to do as well as I had hoped individually, but I was still able to help our team win the Team Gold Medal! It was a great year for Region 5 as our Junior Team also won the Team Silver Medal. Every single girl on our teams was a blast to be around and we all had so much fun together.
I want to thank my teammates Madeleine Birch, Aylin Corapciouglu, Brandi Roenick, Talia Hershaft, Devon Wycoff, Brook Santangelo, and Taylor Lindsten for giving me support and providing their friendship for another outstanding year.
Now heading into 2012, I can’t wait to begin the process all over again! I learned so much this year about what it truly takes to be an equestrian athlete, both physically and mentally. I am excited about what the future holds and I now believe that I will be able to make it through both the thick and the thin. I have so many people to thank for helping me on this journey, including my parents Glen and Annie Chamberlain, my trainer Ashleigh Luca Tyson and everyone at Westwind South Dressage, Renee Isler and the Dressage Foundation for their support this year, the Arizona DressageAssociation, the KWPN-NA, Little Creek Farm, Willy Arts, and countless other supporters.

 

 

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