My name is Stephanie Bedford. I am a Junior/Young Rider from USDF Region 3. I live in Acworth, GA, but board and train my horse in Alpharetta. Last year I graduated with honors from Harrison High School and I am currently enrolled at the University of Georgia. I am majoring in Animal Science and my whole world revolves around horses and dressage. This year I am making the move to Hassler Dressage as a working student and I am anxious and excited to be a part of their team. I look forward to continuing to blog about my experiences, shooting photography, learning a lot and I hope to one day represent our country on the international stage. I want to make horses my career and keep enjoying life with my four-legged friends!
I own. Ride, and train a 7-year old Hanoverian gelding named Wӓhlen, affectionately called Val. I ended the 2010 season ranked 3rd on the USEF national ranking list and 1st in Region 3 as a Junior. At both my first FEI competition and my first time at the North American Junior Young Rider Championships, I led the combined Region 3/4 Junior Team to a Bronze Medal with my score of 65.622%. For the Individual Test I picked up another Bronze Medal with my score of 67.632%. On the last and final day with the FEI Freestyles I place fifth overall scoring a 69.250% with a freestyle which I had never shown before. Less than two weeks after, Val and I made the seventeen hour haul up to Gladstone, NJ for the 2010 Festival of Champions. We placed fourth in the Junior Team with a 67.568%, fourth in the Junior Individual with a 66.158%, and fourth overall.
I started riding dressage as an event rider after I purchased my first horse in 2004. At that time I was only doing Novice level Eventing, which includes nothing harder than Training Level Dressage. When I purchased my current mount in late 2006 as a three-turning-four year old as an event prospect I had no choice but start him in Dressage while I waited for him to get a little older so I could jump. 2007 was the first year I competed in rated Dressage shows, and it was the year I decided that I much preferred a sport that didn’t include galloping up to obstacles that didn’t fall down.
Who are you currently training with now?
My trainer this past season and for the past two years has been Jason Canton. I cannot say enough great things about him. He has been my mentor and my coach – my biggest cheerleader and critic. He has made such a tremendous difference in my riding and has gotten me through so many hard moments of training a Young Horse as my first dressage horse. He believes in increasing my knowledge and letting me problem solve and experiment to find a solution. Before we made the push to Young Riders this past season my lessons were infrequent at best; if I was lucky I would lesson twice a month. With the lack of full training for me and my young horse it was always important to teach me how to work even without a set of eyes to guide me. Jason has been amazing about promoting my education not only as a rider, but as a trainer. However, this year I was given the opportunity to ride and be a working student with Hassler Dressage and I will be training with them for all of 2011. I am very excited to be riding with Scott and Susanne Hassler as I got the opportunity to ride with Scott back in 2008 and had a blast in a Young Horse Symposium!
How do you warm up your horse and why do you think it is important for warm-up?
My warm up has changed a lot as my horse and I have both gotten older and progressed together. These days our warm up consists of a combination of things that vary in order depending on the day and what he feels like. As he has grown up we have started to add a walk portion into the warm up. I like to do a lot of steep walk half passes which helps him start to get mobile through his whole body. I do them not only on conventional lines but I try to ride them on diagonals and in zigzag patterns. Cementing the idea of bend and fluidity between changes of bend helps the rest of the work come easier. In trot and canter I ride in a lower and rounder frame with lots of change in directions, circles, and serpentine lines. I try to stay as unconventional as possible with my line because he is such a smart horse that gets bored easily with predictable work. He is ridden in a lower, rounder frame to begin with because he is a horse that likes to stiffen and hold his neck upright while dropping his back and hind end. I also like to start in with a little bit of the lateral work on the quarter lines – shoulder-in, haunches-in, renvers occasionally, and leg yields. This again helps with the idea of mobility within all parts of his body which carries into the rest of the gymnastic work. The biggest part of my warm up has to be changes within the gaits. I ride forward and backward in every ‘movement’ that I do within my warm up, including the lateral ones. The idea of speed control and adjustability is so important to establish from the very first moment I am on his back. When I am able to control the speed of each movement it allows me to add cadence and brilliance to everything later on.
Who is your biggest influence in your riding?
I would have to say that Jason Canton has really been the biggest influence in my riding career so far. I am inspired by his riding every time I get to see him on the back of a horse. His riding is what I aspire to look like. He has really changed my position and effectiveness so much since I started riding with him. I am always amazed at his ability to know my limits when I sometimes cannot even see them myself. He never pushes me past what I can do – even if it is past what I think I can do. He is hard to please but that is what makes riding for him so rewarding; when he compliments me I know it is hard earned and worth a lot. He never settles for less than my best. I respect him and have the most amazing training relationship with him. I am the kind of rider who wants to be pushed to my limits at all times, the kind of rider who is never satisfied with just being “okay”, and he is the perfect coach for me in this respect. His ability to stay so positive and in control of the situation at all times is something I strive to emulate in my own riding.
What is a typical day in the training for you and your horse, and what exercises do you work on more than others?
A typical training day is an extensive period of warm up that blends into whatever exercise I am striving to work on for that day. I am an intellectual person and I never get on the back of my horse without a goal or plan for the day – even though it changes from day to day. Usually we ride in the snaffle but that will change more as we get closer to show season. Right now we are in the process of working towards Young Riders for this next season which is confirming the Prix St. George work. Because of his age, he will be eight next year, strength is a key part of what we work on each day. Recently introducing the canter pirouette’s those are a big focus in the recent weeks. I am currently in a love/hate relationship with them; Val would probably agree here. We do a lot of speed control exercises which help strengthen him to sit down behind so his collection improves and he can sit and still maintain activity behind. We do a lot of transitions in and out of pirouette canter while on the straight so that I can be sure I have control of the tempo without the movement itself. We also really focus on the half pass work which is still hard for him. To the left everything is easy, but to the right he still gets stuck through his shoulders. To improve this in the trot we tend to go to passage half pass, again with the idea of speed control. He is a horse that likes to think and the harder the work gets the more he goes to work. By bumping up the difficulty the trot half pass becomes no big deal. In canter we work on zigzags with flying changes to keep him quick and thinking in every stride. Although the tempi changes are one of our hardest movements I cannot school these too much so I try to only do a line of fours once in a ride. He likes to count to three so we never ride them. To improve the tempi changes we do a lot of single changes without a count, placing them in specific spots, as well as simple changes. Recently we have started working the collected walk a little more, and we still school walk pirouettes almost every day to keep them sharp. Although we are gearing up for a season at Prix St. George, the end all goal is Grand Prix and that is something we never lose sight of in our training. He has both a passage and piaffe and we work on strengthening those as well. Just recently we started playing with the transitions between the two and that is usually what we do right at the very end of the work. Val loves both of these movements and so it is a reward and a way to end on a positive note.
What is the most important training tip you can give other riders?
Take the time to do things right the first time! Don’t convince yourself that you have time to “fix it tomorrow” or to accept an “okay” transition/movement/anything. To be perfect you must strive for perfection each and every day. However, don’t let the quest for perfection get in the way of accepting the progress that you make each and every ride. To make sure that you can appreciate the progress that you are making take the time to sit and write down your goals in a place that you can look at that often. Never underestimate the power of putting something in writing.
Tell us about your horse’s personality, what he/she likes and doesn’t like!
Val is a goof ball! My friends and I joke that he really is a mare – a good thing since I am partial to them. He has opinions about everything, including the dressage work, and is not afraid to express them. I cannot count the times where we will be quietly going around the arena and I will put my leg on his side to kick him on and he throws a temper tantrum. I love his spunk and his attitude, and the fact he has no qualms telling me just how he feels about something. He likes to pretend he is a Spanish School Lipizzaner when he wants to get of work complete with Spanish walk and levades. With all of his tricks and personality I have no hesitation putting a complete beginner on him, and have been known to do so; he is patient with everyone but me and my trainer. On the ground he is as gentle as can be and has some of the best ground manners I have ever seen. I regularly get comments on how easy he is to handle which was we spent a lot of time on when he was younger. Having had him now four years, we know each other like an old married couple. He likes to make mean faces and pretend he is a big, bad gelding but he likes nothing more than a good scratch on his belly. He loves to travel and settles into new places without any fuss at all. He is also a work-a-holic. If I miss a few days of riding he lets me know that he did not appreciate my vacation. He literally will nip at you if you take too long putting on his bridle – he opens his mouth like a dinosaur to snatch the bits from you. He loves treats but isn’t pushy and will “beg” by curling his front leg up. He especially loves carrots, green apples, strawberries and Coca-Cola, but will take just about anything except red Delicious apples, sugar cubes, or Gum Bits. Only thing he strongly dislikes are blankets. If I had to describe him as any other animal he would be a cat – aloof, opinionated, but wants to be right in the middle of things when he thinks you are not paying enough attention to him.
Who is your favorite rider?
Besides my trainer, I would have to say that I most enjoy watching Edward Gal ride. I watched his Olympia Master Class 2009 and fell in love with his training philosophies. If you have not watched this video I encourage you to, and it can be found for free online. It inspired me to have a whole new level of consequence in my own riding. His ability to have absolute control over the tempo, speed, and cadence of his horses is just amazing. The moment my jaw dropped and I decided that I would be able to ride like him someday was when, on Sisther de Jeu, Edward was able to change speeds while in a canter pirouette – he was able to make it slower, then quicker, then slower. I aspire to have that much positive influence with such light aids. His partnership with Totilas needs no explanation on why it will forever be one of my favorites as well. I am really inspired by the European top riders as a whole and the quality and brilliance of the work that they have!
Is your goal to be in the Olympics someday?
It has been my goal since before I really understood what it meant. Each year that I get closer to achieving it I just get more excited. Horses are more than just a hobby or a passion for me, and riding in the Olympics and representing America is more than just a pipe dream. I won’t stop until I get on the world stage for dressage.
What is your favorite movement?
I think that there is nothing more amazing then riding a beautiful passage. The amount of collection and power it takes to maintain, while lightly dancing around the arena is incredible. It also helps that it is one of my horse’s true natural talents and he makes it enjoyable for the both of us. He feels larger than life – proud and beautiful – and it makes me feel invincible on him.
Do you like riding to music?
I tend to find riding to music can be distracting. I am so involved with my thoughts that usually it ends up not matching the tempo, gait, or pace that I am going which throws me off. I am a musical person outside of riding which contributes to my inability to enjoy the music as soft white background noise. There are a few times where I enjoy riding with music, either when it is classical or when it is the finished freestyle product and I am in the show ring.
What can you share with other riders the most important advice of learning Dressage?
Read and watch everything you can get your hands on. Just because you are not in the saddle doesn’t mean you cannot be improving your riding. For me dressage is 50% physical and 50% mental. I have always been a big supporter of theory, biomechanics, and the training pyramid. I think it is so important to know the “why” and the “how” before you ever try it on your horse. I am an avid watcher of videos online as well as reading magazines, books, and articles on everything from nutrition to lameness to flying changes. Dressage is more than just sitting on the back of a horse and doing movements; dressage is about everyday life with a partner. It is important to know about his or her feet, conformation, tack, medical care, stable management, and overall health as much as the riding aspect. Don’t forget to spend those quiet intimate moments in the barn with these amazing creatures either; I continuously learn and am humbled by them. And if all else fails – fake it ‘til you make it!
And last but not least, your goals for you and your horse in 2011.
I would love to have as successful of a show season at Young Riders as we did at Juniors this year, including a possible qualification for NAJYRC and Festival of Champions if all goes well. I am looking forward to getting my two Prix St. George scores for my silver medal as well. I would also like to start the one and two tempi changes with him before the end of the year, and just keep him on the training path he is going along now. Other than that I am looking forward to new adventures in a different part of the country, making new friends, and learning a lot more!