My name is Emily Ferguson and I am 15 years old. I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Since a young age, I have loved horses. I have been riding for ten years, and competing for five. In previous seasons, I have received multiple Junior Training and First Level Champion and Reserve Champion awards, as well as several Dressage Seat Equitation Medals. I began getting serious about dressage about a year ago, when I bought my current horse, Caruso. I usually ride 5 or 6 times per week, and we have been working hard together to prepare for the upcoming show season, where we will compete at 3rd level. Our goal is to compete at FEI Juniors before the end of the year. When I’m not at the barn, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, as well as keeping on top of my school work to maintain my honour roll status.
Our Interview with Emily:
Q: When did you first start riding Dressage?
I first started riding dressage in 2005, and shortly after I attended my first show with my favourite school pony, Duelly. At the time I was nine years old, and had very little knowledge about dressage. Even so, it was a great experience, and I was hooked from that point on. I wanted to learn more about the sport. In 2007 I purchased my first horse, a grey mare named Vanity Fair. We continued to compete in dressage shows together until 2010, earning scores up to 70% at Training level.
Q: Who are you training with?
I have been training with Melissa Bosma since September 2010. It’s a pleasure to work with her. I have seen major improvements in both myself and my horse already in the relatively short time we have been at her barn. She has helped me to push my training up into a whole new gear. I take away so much from her lessons, and I can now start to see myself accomplishing my goals, due to her wonderful coaching. I also have the opportunity to ride in clinics with Melissa’s coach, Armand Valkenborg several times per year, as well as with Irene Schweckendieck, who comes to Winnipeg semi-annually.
Q: How do you warm up your horse and why do you think it is important for warm-up?
The warm up is probably the most important part of your ride. Without a proper warm up, the horse cannot use his muscles correctly, so no correct training can take place. Most of my warm up is done in walk. I always let the horse just walk around on their own terms for the first few minutes, in order for them to find their rhythm and become comfortable in the arena. After that, I will pick up the reins to a longer, lower contact and begin stretching the horse. Caruso tends to be rather stiff when I first get on, especially in the winter or if he’s had a day or two off. I spend about 15 minutes still in walk making sure that he releases the tension in every part of his body, from his poll all the way down to his hips. I do this by riding a lot of small circles and lateral work. Another thing I work on at this point is getting him hot off the leg. Caruso has never been a naturally forward thinking horse, and because of this I’ve become a big fan of the “ask, then demand” philosophy. I ask him nicely to go forward, and if he does not react immediately, then I make sure to reinforce my aid with the spur or the whip. Those are the two most important components of my warm up, suppleness and sensitivity to the leg. I continue to do the same exercises in trot, and then we begin our work for the day.
Q: Who is your biggest influence in your riding?
My biggest influence is Melissa Bosma. As I said, I owe all my progress in the past few months to her. This has been a period of real breakthroughs in my riding, and I never would have accomplished it without her.
Q: What is a typical day in the training for you and your horse, and what exercises do you work on more than others?
Every ride begins with a good long warm up to get the horse ready for whatever we are planning to work on that day. We are preparing to compete at 3rd level in a couple months, so recently we have been starting to put our tests together. Rather than only work on the movements called for in the tests, I find that it’s a lot more beneficial to practice the whole thing. This helps us to fine tune all the transitions, and pin point which parts need more work than others. As well as practice the tests, I have recently been doing a lot of work on getting a better, more consistent connection. This means that I have to ask for more power from the hind end, and keep my hands steadier in front, so I can then use half halts to “recycle” the power back through the hind end. This creates a more active hind leg, and makes the horse more connected over the entire top line. That has been a challenge in the past, and I am thrilled about overcoming this hurdle.
Q: What is the most important training tip you can give other riders?
Always stay in a calm state of mind, and always be forgiving. Horses work with us willingly every day, and we should be extremely grateful. There is rarely a need to become angry with them. Don’t get frustrated and punish the horse when he doesn’t understand what you’re asking for. Just keep calm and keep trying to communicate, you’ll get it eventually. When you reprimand the horse for something he doesn’t understand, this just creates more tension, and will make everything harder. Be willing to forgive the horse when he makes a mistake, and give him the opportunity to correct it. Be quick to reward any amount of good work, and always be fair to your horse because the partnership goes both ways.
Q: Tell us about your horse’s personality, what he/she likes and doesn’t like!
Caruso’s show name is Rousseau. His nickname at home is Roo. He is a strikingly handsome black, 16.2hh Hanoverian gelding. He was born on January 30th, 2000. He is by Rotspon and out of Wolke B, by Wolkenstein II. I purchased him in Florida in May of 2010. I am so lucky to have found a horse like him. He is so loving and kind, and has a great sense of humour. His favourite game is zipping and un-zipping my jacket with his teeth! He loves his treats and his turnout. He is also a talented athlete and a genuinely happy horse. He is truly the best partner and friend that I could ask for, and I feel very lucky to have him in my life.
Q: Who is your favorite rider?
My favorite professional rider is Steffen Peters. I love every aspect of his riding and training. Whenever I see him ride, I think to myself “Now that is the way that dressage is supposed to be!” I have watched many videos of him teaching as well, and his techniques seem to get through to every horse and rider. He represents the sport of dressage perfectly.
Q: Is your goal to be in the Olympics someday?
I think that every rider’s goal is to one day ride in the Olympics, but that level of competition is so incredibly far away from where I am now, and I have always set very realistic goals for myself, and for that reason, no, the Olympics are not on my list of goals at the moment. I understand that it takes years and years of work to even get close to riding at that level, and even then, the circumstances must be perfect in order for you to actually get there. For now, I’m going to focus on what my goals are in the next little while. Many years from now, once I am riding at Grand Prix and getting the scores deserving of a spot on the Olympic team, then I will set my sights on it.
Q: What is your favorite dressage movement?
I love all the movements so it’s very hard to pick just one! There is something quite satisfying about riding a flowing, connected shoulder-in. When I put my inside leg on and I feel my horse glide perfectly onto three tracks, and feel his hind leg come up underneath him, it’s an awesome sensation. It’s not the most exciting movement, but I find it very helpful to get the horse to use his hind end a little more in both trot and canter. My other favourites are the canter half passes, canter pirouettes, and of course I appreciate nothing more than watching a nice correct piaffe or passage.
Q: Do you like riding to music?
Yes, I find soft background music can help to relax both the horse and the rider. However, riding with headphones can be distracting and also potentially dangerous. I like to be able to hear what’s going on around me. I am looking forward to choreographing my first musical freestyle soon. Freestyles are a very exciting part of dressage shows and I can’t wait to ride one of my own.
Q: What can you share with other riders the most important advice of learning Dressage?
As is true for many other aspects of life, the most important thing is to keep at it and not give up. It takes a long time to get good at anything, so don’t get discouraged if your sitting trot isn’t comparable to Edward Gal’s! If you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything.
Q: What can you tell other junior riders about reaching their goals in dressage?
If you want to accomplish your goals, you need to dedicate yourself to the sport. You can’t let anything get in your way. Hard work yields results, and that’s really all there is to it… hard work. There are no short cuts. Keep a positive mindset, always be willing to learn something new, and take all obstacles in stride.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” –Walt Disney
Q: What are your goals with your horse for 2011?
My goals with Caruso for 2011 are to score 65% or higher at 3rd level, and to compete at FEI Juniors.