In any clinic with two-time Olympian Jacqueline Brooks, two things are guaranteed: there will be lots of laughter, and there will be lots of analogies and images used. From asking riders to picture themselves as the pole in the centre of a carousel horse to imagining they’re riding a roller coaster heading up a steep incline, Jacqueline uses a creative approach to help riders create the feel she is looking for.
Jacquie recently taught a clinic at our barn at was fascinating to watch how she used the same visualization technique with every horse and rider and how it applied to each of them, whether working at First level or PSG. The simple idea of imagining themselves riding down a hill, or up a hill helped every rider improve their horse's balance and self-carriage.
It was so interesting, I wrote an article for Horse Sport about it - you can read it here.
Do you ever wonder what the judge is thinking as you're making your best effort to get through your dressage test without a mistake? Spoiler alert: No, they don't hate your horse, and yes, they can hear you cluck.
Canadian FEI 4* judge Brenda Minor recently shared some inside knowledge with me for a Horse Sport article titled 10 Things Dressage Judges Really (Really!) Want Riders to Know.
What's at the top of her list? Brenda really wants riders to know that judges are on our side. They want us to have a great ride and they love being able to reward great work with a great score. She also wants us to know that judges are human too, and mistakes do happen. In cases where the judge misses part of a movement (due to a sneeze, spilled coffee, flying test papers or any number of mishaps that can occur in the booth) judges are trained to give the rider the benefit of the doubt with a positive score.
Want to know more? Read the full article here:
In 2020, more than ever, it's so important to support our local businesses. That's I why I started highlighting Canadian equestrian products and services on my Instagram feed, and in doing so have discovered some amazing new products and brands!
To help everyone out there buy Canadian and shop local this year, I curated a holiday gift guide for Horse Sport. Part 1 covers tack and accessories, while Part 2 features riding apparel, grooming tools and horse health products.
So remember when I said after losing Caprice that I wasn't planning to get another horse again? But if the universe wanted to send me another super sweet, super safe schoolmaster I probably wouldn't say no? Well it did, and I didn't.
Just two weeks after Caprice died I met a lovely lady while scribing at a show. And just a couple of weeks after that, her horse unexpectedly became available for lease when his long-time leaser got the opportunity to purchase her dream horse. When I received an email asking if I'd be interested in leasing him it didn't take me long to say yes! And my longtime friend and part-boarder Kim said yes with me, so we are both delighted to share the lease on this very special boy.
His name is Ronan, and he's a 2000 Hanoverian gelding by Rotspon. Apparently the defining quality of Rotspon offspring is their wonderful temperament and work ethic. This certainly seems to be to true for Ronan so far. He's an absolute sweetheart - just a gentle, wise old soul who never says no, makes even me feel safe hacking in the hayfields, and not only tolerates all our snuggles and kisses, but genuinely enjoys them.
He settled into life at Nobleton Dressage like he's lived there forever and we are looking forward to learning a lot from him. He competed at Fourth Level with his previous leaser last year, so our learning is picking up right where it left off with Caprice, which is exciting.
But most of all, he's helping to heal the giant hole in our hearts, and for thank I am so grateful - both to him and to his owner for giving us this incredible opportunity.
It's been 45 days since Caprice died and I won't lie; it's been tough. I've always had the gift of choosing when to let my animals cross the bridge and the utter shock of losing her so suddenly is so much harder than I ever imagined it would be. I think of myself as a pretty stoic and practical person, but still burst into tears when I walk past her empty stall or see another horse in her paddock. I knew we wouldn't be together forever. but she seemed invincible, even at age 23. She lived a wonderful life and was happy, healthy and adored every single day from the moment she arrived in Canada right up to her last day on earth. But it still hurts.
I've learned a lot in the past few weeks, most importantly that people really are kind. For that I'm truly thankful. The support from my barn family, friends, and complete strangers is really touching. I've received so many messages from others who have gone through the same thing. Horses always break our hearts, but it seems we can't live without them.
I've learned a lot riding-wise too, with the chance to ride several different horses in lessons with several different coaches. For that I'm grateful as well. One of my barn-mates generously offered me the ride on her handsome Canadian gelding in a weekly lesson with our trainer and that's been fun. He is completely different than Caprice in just about every way. And at Nancy Maclachlan and Alan Young's lovely MacDay Farm, I was lucky to ride another friend's older schoolmaster a couple of times under Nancy's skilled and watchful eye. He is very much like Caprice in many ways, and yet still totally different in others.
The biggest test of my skills (and maybe the most fun) was the incredible opportunity to take two lessons from Esther Mortimer at M2 Dressage on her Grand Prix schoolmaster. I have always dreamed of doing tempi changes and passage and yes, it feels just as amazing as I imagined! And on this horse, at least, those movements seem ridiculously easy, yet I struggled with simple tasks like cantering a 20-metre circle. On a horse where every weight shift, a too-grippy leg, or an inadvertent poke with the spur means something, you really learn to be as quiet and effective as possible.
Walking into strange barns and riding unfamiliar horses with new-to-me trainers has been a test of my anxiety but also a confidence booster. Stepping so far outside my comfort zone showed just how much Caprice (and Meredith!) taught me in just a year. For that I'm incredibly grateful too.
Everyone who welcomed me into their barns and onto their horses was so kind and so patient. The chance to see how other programs operate, figure out new horses, try difficult movements and exercises, or just hear fundamental skills explained in a slightly different way has been a gift - a silver lining in the dark cloud of the past 45 days. It's been like going on vacation and seeing incredible sights, tasting new foods, and experiencing different cultures. You love it, and you learn from it, but at the end of the day you still look forward to going home.
More than anything, this experience has taught me that my barn feels like home to me. I will be back there sooner, rather than later, with a horse to love and call my own again.
So what happens now? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot this week and one I ask myself as well. First off, I need to heal. Losing Caprice so suddenly feels like I’ve been hit by a truck and I don’t think the reality has begun to sink in yet.
A wise friend gave me some great advice: “Don’t be sad that it’s over; be happy that it happened.” I’m both, and that’s ok.
I always said after Caprice I wouldn’t get another horse, that it would be time to be financially responsible and maybe just take lessons or find a part board. That’s definitely an option. But I also had no intention of getting another horse after retiring Gus, and the universe sent me Caprice less than a day after he left!
So if the universe wants to send me another super safe schoolmaster that’s ready to step down but not ready to retire...or really any super safe dressage horse suitable for two middle-aged ammies with lots of love to give but no budget...I probably wouldn’t say no
And just like that, the dream is over.
I can’t even believe I’m typing this but we lost Caprice today after a devastating colic. Our barn staff were all simply amazing, and our vets did a great job stabilizing her so we could safely get her to Guelph, but there was really nothing they could do.
My heart is broken and my mind is just numb from shock right now, and it hasn’t begun to sink in. But she had the most wonderful, long, and pampered life and was happy, healthy and loved her job literally right up to her last day. I only had a year with her but it was the best year ever.
Run free my love, you were one in a million
I've read that the average adult amateur dressage rider never competes past First Level. I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it wouldn't surprise me given the time, money, discipline and training required to move up the levels. Many AA's squeeze their horse time in between school or busy jobs, chauffeuring kids, looking after aging parents, and many more responsibilities. For a lot of us, riding is an escape from the stresses of everyday life and the pressure of showing just isn't on the agenda.
Success is personal; it depends entirely on your own goals and your definition of success for yourself. That being said, I am in awe of those amateur riders who set and achieve their goal of competing at the FEI levels. So far in this Amateurs (Not) Like Us series, I have introduced you to two of them: Anne Leueen and Jennifer Black.
Today we head west to Maple Ridge, BC, to meet Elda Hajdarovac, a former eventer who developed a love for dressage and never looked back.
Meet Elda Hajdarovac
Occupation: Social Media Assistant at Simon Fraser University
Horse: Burlesque aka “Ivy” a 2005 Warmblood bay mare
When did you start riding, and specifically focusing on dressage?
I started riding when I was 7 years old. I joined a lesson string program in South Langley. From there I kind of hopped from barn to barn riding anything I could. I started focusing on dressage back in 2010 shortly after doing some eventing. My dressage coach (who is still my dressage coach) told me I had a knack for it. I really enjoyed the reward and harmony I managed to get in dressage and so I stuck with it!
Where did you find Ivy and how long have you had her?
I found Ivy about 3 years ago. At the time I had spent 6 months looking for my next dressage horse. After talking to my coach about holding off buying she had mentioned I should try one of the broodmares that were for sale at the barn I was riding at. I gave it a go and instantly fell in love with her.
Who do you train with?
I started my dressage career with Kiersten Humphrey, a Grand Prix rider and Equine Canada level 2 certified coach way back in 2010 when I was still eventing. Shortly after training with her she showed how fun and rewarding dressage can be and so I decided to fully switch over to the discipline. Since then its been 10 whole hearted years with Kiersten. Our lasting coach/student relationship is sure something I am proud of!
What were your goals then and how have they changed?
I knew I wanted to both train and compete in dressage. I didn’t really have a specific goal in mind other than riding the best I could and hopefully progressing through the level. Very early on Kiersten kept saying I had talent and that she sees me going far. I have to say I didn’t really think that was possible. However, as the years went by (with numerous lessons and horses under my belt) this once distant vision started becoming a reality. It wasn’t until I bought Ivy that I really started getting serious about my riding and had the itch to succeed and compete at the FEI level. Eventually my goal is to compete at Grand Prix. I am confident to say that with Kiersten’s help I will get there in no time.
What is your competitive highlight so far?
My biggest competitive highlight was doing my first PSG debut just this past weekend. Putting that tailcoat on and riding down the centre line was always a dream of mine and it finally came true! It is such a pleasure and honour to ride at such a high level. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for myself and my mare.
What have been the biggest obstacles / setbacks for you?
As an amateur, I think the biggest obstacle for myself was, as most would agree, finding the time and money to compete and keep my training up. Until last month I was a full time university student. As many of you know being a student you don’t make a lot of money or really have time with the endless assignments, essays, and exams. Despite this, I worked two jobs most of my time at university and pulled endless all-nighters to complete my homework. I was lucky enough that my professors in my program were extremely understanding with respect to my competitions and training and were happy to give me extensions when needed. Although there were times when I was writing essays in front of my show stall, haha.
Another obstacle that was hard for me to overcome was my mental attitude towards my training and progress. Moving up is no easy feat, but I think moving up to the FEI level is a whole other ball game. Not only are you asking more of your horse, but of yourself. Expectations are higher and with it the degree of technicality and precision. Every ride you have to come in with your “A game” and if you don’t it can all easily go down the crapper. Don’t get me wrong there are days where I feel like an 8 year learning how to sit the trot again, but the good rides definitely outweigh the bad. Learning how to control myself under pressure has been a large obstacle in my riding, but it also has allowed me to come a long way in my riding.
What's the best advice you can offer to other amateurs with competitive goals?
My most important advice for amateurs is commitment. Saying you want to ride at a level is one thing, but training is another. Progress isn’t always about going upwards, sometimes you go sideways, or even backwards. What is the most important thing you have to remember is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Also, find a coach that works well with you, but also don’t give up on that coach when it gets tough. They are coaches for a reason and see much farther into the future than you do. What seems like a giant feat now will feel so small in 6 months or a year from now. My coach once told me a perfect analogy when it comes to training. She said: “think of riding like you are painting a picture. Like an artist, the coach focuses on the fundamental techniques of the art form. Although in the moment you may not know what you are ‘painting’ or working to, rest assured the work will all fall into place! As you near the end you begin to see the bigger picture and all the hard work, dedication, and training that is put into the beautiful picture.” All in all, trust your horse, your journey, your coach, and most importantly yourself!
As part of my new affiliation with Breeches.com, from time to time they send me products to test out and review. How cool is that? I'm under no obligation to provide a positive review; they want my genuine, honest feedback and that's exactly what your'e going to get.
The first item they sent couldn't have come at a better time. We've been having a heat wave in Ontario that feels like it's lasted for two months already. Temps are above 30 most days with humidex values often in the 40s. Even riding first thing in the morning doesn't really help beat the heat, so I was excited to try this Equine Couture Ladies Giana short sleeve show shirt. It features a large mesh panel across the back for ventilation, and is made with moisture-wicking "Equi Cool" fabric.
The shirt is simple and stylish with clean lines and a sporty look, thanks to the tech fabric and quarter zip. Definitely nice enough to wear at a show or clinic, but plain and comfy enough for everyday schooling. The logo is subtle and not too big. Overall a nice modern update on the classic short sleeve show shirt.
Fit and function
The cut is on the long side, with the bottom sitting closer to the hip than the waist; a length I prefer to avoid any riding up or gapping between the shirt and my breeches. The fabric is not as stretchy as I thought it would be, but it's very lightweight and quite comfortable. Perhaps because of the lack of stretch, it fit me a bit on the small side. In most brands I wear an XL on top, but in this particular product I would be more comfortable in an XXL. One of the things I really appreciate about this line of apparel is their inclusive sizing; the shirt is available from XS to XXXL. Have a look at the sizing chart and if you are in doubt, I'd recommend going up one size.
Did it keep me cool? Honestly nothing can keep me cool when it's 33 degrees outside, except relaxing in the shade with an ice cold gin & tonic. But the fabric does dry quickly, avoiding that gross, damp, sticky feeling. The large mesh panel at the back does encourage airflow, which gives the illusion of feeling cooler, at the very least. I think that feature would be particularly helpful under a show jacket on a hot day.
Would I recommend it?
Yes - although not as stretchy and comfortable as some other tech fabrics I've tried, this shirt gets bonus points for the ventilated back panel, and for coming in a wider range of fabrics and being priced more affordably than many similar show-appropriate shirts.
Want 20% off?
Breeches.com has given me a special code to offer 20% off to Canadian Dressage Addict readers. Full disclosure - I get a small portion of the proceeds from any order that includes my code. No pressure, no obligation. But if you like cool horse stuff, and you like saving money, please feel free to use the code AKREAD20. The discount will apply to your entire order.
Over the past few years, I have met some amazing Canadian riders who have impressed me with their accomplishments, whether reaching the highest levels of FEI competition or overcoming incredible personal challenges just to get in the saddle. I wanted to profile some of their achievements and their stories, so decided to to start a new blog series called Amateurs (Not) Like Us.
If you missed the first installment featuring Jennifer Black, check it out. Today I'm excited to introduce you to an inspirational rider named Anne Leueen. Many of you already know her and her horse Biasini from her popular HorseAddict blog. Anne is a wonderful source of information, news, training advice and really all things dressage, but she's also a highly accomplished re-rider who has found success in the FEI ring in her 70s. How does this self-described "vintage rider" do it? We asked her:
When and why did you start riding?
I started riding when I was about 7 at a dude ranch in Arizona while we were on holiday. I started to ride on a regular basis at age 10. I went after school with a friend and my parents leased a horse for me.
When and why did I start to focus on dressage?
I never imagined I would focus on dressage . As a teenager I was eventing at Pebble Beach and I thought dressage was a joke. I had a 30-year gap from age 19 to 49 when I did not ride. When my daughter started she was interested in dressage, and by then I was 50 so I thought it would be more sensible if I did not jump and tried dressage instead.
What were your initial goals?
Initially I just thought I would like to get back to competing. After a couple of years I set my sights on the Prix St-Georges. When I told my 10-year-old daughter this she burst out laughing.
How have those goals changed over the past few years?
I rode my first PSG in 2013. Then my horse got ill and had to be put down. I was heartbroken as we had come up the levels from Training to PSG together. I got another horse and within six months I lost him as well. I thought about stopping riding but realized that if i gave up horses I was going to get old quickly. That was when I got Biasini. I do not have the goal of getting to the Grand Prix. I am currently 71 and Biasini is 15, so that would be an unrealistic goal. And that's fine with me. We are currently competing at the I-1 level and I am aiming for the Century ride, where the horse and rider's ages added together equal 100. Dressage Canada does not have this award yet., so I am going to go about getting that set up for myself and other elder riders!
You have dealt with some serious health challenges; how have they affected your riding?
The year my daughter started riding I was diagnosed with Systemic Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease in the same family as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was pretty ill, with all my joints inflamed and skin thickened and tightened all over my body. It can also affect the lungs , kidneys and heart, but I was lucky and did not experience that.
I started back riding to share a leased horse with my daughter. The Scleroderma stopped progressing, but then I was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer. I had a major surgery to have several working parts removed, and now have a permanent colostomy. The year after the cancer surgery my Scleroderma began to go into what the doctors described as a "dramatic" remission. Today I have only minor symptoms. I was not then and am not now on any medication that would have caused this improvement. My "miracle cure" was that I bought myself a horse! That was 20 years ago.
How do you define success at dressage for yourself?
This is a tough question. I do not measure it by my test scores. I think I measure it by achieving improvements in the things I am working on with my coach.
As an amateur what have been the biggest obstacles to success?
I have to say I have not really encountered any obstacles as an amateur rider. The USDF has awards to encourage amateurs and older riders. I have my Masters Challenge awards for riders over 60 right up to the FEI level. It is nice to have something to work towards and fun to get a nice diploma, elegant picture frame, and a medal.
What have been the most helpful tools or strategies in achieving success?
Good coaches! To me there is nothing more important than investing in good training. I am very lucky to have a very good coach in Florida, Luis Denizard ,and my home coach here in Ontario is [Canadian Olympian] Belinda Trussell. She had Biasini from the age of 4 until I bought him at 9. So I have had the benefit of a well-trained horse. He's not an easy horse to ride, but is very well-trained. Also Belinda does not treat me like a 70-year-old rider and she pushes me to do better and then even better.
What is your career highlight to date?
Last year Biasini and I were the Reserve Champions of the Adult Amateur division at Intermediare 1 in the White Fences Championship Series in Florida. This year we were Reserve Champions for the FEI Freestyle. I celebrated both of those.
Biggest setback to date?
To be honest any setbacks I have had have not been that bad. I'm not just being a social media Pollyanna about this. I am extremely fortunate and my setbacks are just first-world problems.
What's the most important advice you can give fellow amateurs?
Get the right horse for where you are now. Don't get sucked in to getting a big fancy mover when what you need is a sensible horse that you can enjoy. The horse I came up through the levels with was not a big fancy mover, but he was consistent and he gave me confidence. We learned together. I would not be able to ride a horse like Biasini if I had not had Tommie. And when you get the right horse, make sure you have access to a good coach and trainer who can help you achieve your goals. Finally, especially if you are older, it is paramount to maintain a very good level of fitness. I have to be fit to be able to ride well. We all do.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.