Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WEG Weekend 1 - Recap

Back from WEG now, unpacked and decompressed, and I have to say it was a lovely event. It was incredibly exciting to see so many horse people coming together in what is arguably the most beautiful farm country that this nation has to offer (ok, I am biased) to celebrate the grace and athleticism of what is undoubtedly the most beautiful animal that this entire world has to offer (again, I am biased, but horses are darned near perfect creatures IMHO). Saturday got a bit hot, but all in all the weather was great for horse watching.

Highlights of Saturday's events:
  • Watching John Lyons' clinic at the KY Horse Park breed barn. I have followed Lyons' methodology since he came onto the training scene 15 (?) years ago. I applied alot of his training principles with my 3 year old Paint baby several years back, and they helped to turn a pushy, dominating, immature youngin' into a gentlemen with which it was a real pleasure to interact. John Lyons really underscores in his clinics that horsemanship should be relaxed and devoid of heated emotions. Stay calm, stay neutral, and recognize that your horse won't learn everything overnight but is always learning, and will process what you have taught him once the session is over. 
  • Session 2 of the team reining competition. Fast spins, showy stops, and some of the most luxurious manes in the business. Reining truly has become a global phenomenon, and it was fascinating to watch competitors enter the arena from countries that don't have a strong cowboy or gaucho tradition. I did notice that the American reiners seemed more broke and relaxed (and happy?) than some of the European horses, who seemed stiff in their spins and rollbacks. Perhaps that level of ease and engagement is what will continue to set our reiners apart. The US certainly had the recipe for success this year, as it took Team Reining gold on Sunday.
  • The "Kentucky Experience" tent. Really gave visitors a taste (quite literally, if you happen to like bourbon or KY wine!) of the many regional flavors of the state. There were KY gift items for purchase from local artisans, bourbon/ale/wine samplings, KY candy samplings, a live bluegrass band, and several booths set up that detailed the history and geography of the state. A great idea, and one which made my family feel quite at home!
  • The opening ceremonies. Really well orchestrated demonstration of the wide variety of ways that horses have become partners in our lives. I admit to being quite swept away with emotion when Wynonna sang "My Old Kentucky Home" as a ring full of Saddlebreds pranced around, and very nearly lost all of my composure as I watched Stacy Westfall and Roxy do their bridleless "thang." Those two together is pure harmony, pure trust, and about as true a love as I have ever witnessed between human and horse. Their connection is also direct demonstration of the power and simplicity of her training philosophy. Other great parts of the show included four retired racehorses going around the arena at a gallop for a few laps of friendly choreographed competition (they all looked incredibly excited to be back at their previous vocations), the Fresian dressage drill team from the Netherlands (so many gorgeous black steeds one almost didn't know where to look), and the pinto miniature horse hitch in the Mardi Gras parade segment.
A few negatives at the Games as well, that mostly had to do with logistics, and can hopefully be ironed out as the week progresses.
  • First off, the park signage and maps are pretty poor. It took my family and I forever to figure out that the "Clinician's Corral" is actually the KY Horse Park Breed Barn demo ring, and the "Village Arena" is right next to the Equine Village. Neither of these things are marked on the main WEG map, making for some frustrating moments as my family and I trekked to and fro across the park trying to find the demonstrations that we wanted to see.
  • To add to this, there needed to be more volunteers in clearly marked uniforms, that could help direct visitors. Every volunteer that we asked for info on how to get where were were going had no idea what to tell us, and fell back on "we don't know either, it's just the first day!" That's a real problem from an events organization perspective. There should have been knowledgeable staff available to help visitors navigate an event of this magnitude, and volunteers should have been better trained far in advance of Opening Day.
  • The food! Again, there was little signage telling visitors what type of food they could purchase from where, and the KY Horse Park standard sandwiches were pretty chintzy. Considering all the visitors from so many different nations, why not have something like a "Taste of Lexington" tent where spectators could purchase small plates from area restaurants? There were very few healthy or vegetarian options (I am vegetarian and this was a difficulty for me), and the food tents seemed ill-prepared to handle the volume of visitors.
  • Not near as much shopping as I expected. Both Equine Affaire and QH Congress feature significantly larger trade stall areas. Same with the "Equine Village" which was set up with booths about various breed and discipline organizations. Only a few booths set up, which could perhaps improve as the Games progress.
  • No good trolley or shuttle system for moving visitors with mobility issues (or who are just plain tired of walking) around the park. The park stretches on for many, many acres, and if you aren't prepared for or capable of a great deal of walking, you might find this to be a problem.
All in all, the horsey parts of the day were wonderful, and the joy of being in such a beautiful location while getting to see so much amazing horseflesh far outweighed the logistical annoyances. At the same time, the WEG crew has been planning this for years, and it's surprising that large details were overlooked. Regardless, I am looking forward to watching the remaining events this and next Sunday from the comfort of my living room, and have a rekindled love for KY and Lexington that may compel me to return after the games just to enjoy everything else the region has to offer.

If you are headed to the Games, enjoy yourselves, and I'd be interested to hear your perspectives!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let the Games Begin!!

The Equine Reader has arrived in Lexington! And returning to the storied farms and fields of my youth has already brought a rush of horsey memories flooding back. When you live, love and breathe horses the way that I do, there are few places in the world better for the soul than Kentucky bluegrass. Of course this year the Bluegrass will be the site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which has transformed the KY Horse Park into a world stage. Or, perhaps more aptly, a world arena. Which makes this trip all the more special, because I am so proud to come back to Kentucky while it plays elegant host to so many nations. Since I now live in NYC, I am well used to my city being an international melting pot, but KY's old school equine culture has always seemed worlds away. My childhood and teen memories have little bearing on my current cosmopolitan life, and my NY friends have difficulty grasping the role that KY played in shaping who I am. And so it is very exciting for me to be here now while the world experiences all of the unique KY flavors that have been a part of my life since its beginning.

But enough waxing poetic. Tomorrow it is on to the Games! There will be many stops on our agenda, starting with the John Lyons demo at 12:30, then team reining (go USA!) at 2, and Opening Ceremonies later tomorrow night. Not to mention shopping, shopping, shopping! And a stop in at the TB Retirement Foundation's Secretariat Center. Photos and full report to follow!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ex-reiner sails through new career in eventing

Love this!! Look at him go!!

Great story at the America's Horse Daily website about a little tiny QH ex-reiner that is now storming the ranks of the Herculean warmbloods and OTTBs that traditionally dominate the sport of eventing. Considering that I volunteer for an organization that retires many of these same OTTBs, I am fascinated by stories of horses finding happiness and new challenges in second careers. When it's a western horse that crosses over into the land of eventing, it's doubly exciting, because it proves that it doesn't always pay to maintain a narrow disciplinary focus. Dressage work can help in reining, and reining work can very obviously help in jumping and dressage. Of course, with training in reining comes a lot of work in developing those big stock horse hind ends, and perhaps that's why this little guy seems jet propelled over those cross country fences.

Cross-training a horse can, at the very least, add new flexibility and capability within the performance of the chosen sport, and even result in finding new paths towards success. Champion dressage rider Anky Van Grunsven might get to demonstrate her own cross-disciplinary finesse this fall at WEG if she competes with the Netherlands' FEI reining team. In doing so she will demonstrate that great horsemanship defies the boundaries of a single event, and that by riding in another pair of boots, much can be learned about our horses and our sports.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Prince Harry accused of animal cruelty after polo gouge

A strange little equine welfare story to report on this Friday. According to the Daily Mail, Prince Harry has been accused of animal cruelty for apparently causing a bloody puncture wound with his spur while riding his polo pony in a match yesterday. According to a witness at the match, the Prince continued to ride even while his pony bled from the very visible spur gouge. The royal camp disputes that claim, and a representative from the Hurlingham Polo Association asserted that the injury appeared to have been from an accidental hard knock or "nudge" instead of intentionally inflicted by the Prince while goading his horse forward. The Prince did seek immediate treatment for his horse's wound, and apparently it was not so deep as to prevent the pair from going back in to the match.

I am not entirely sure what to think of this. The Prince is obviously a capable rider, and has competed many, many times on the international polo scene. Is this simply an on-field accident, caused by his pony's bumping up against another horse while the Prince had his spur on?? Or is it the result of too much competitive spirit encouraging him to play his horse too hard in the match? The Prince is not by a long shot the only rider to be facing sanction this year due to an over aggressive use of some type of aid. On the other hand, polo has always, in my humble opinion, smacked of a macho "man vs. beast" sort of mentality. Of course I realize that most polo riders are skilled horse people who keep their horses well out of harm's way. But when the desire to win collides with the physical limitations of the animal used to get there, it seems there will always be riders who choose to be competitors first and horse people second.