Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Magic of Piaffe

I have learned so much from Alfredo Hernandez. He has certainly given me a precious gift as he has taught me and my Four Star Farm crew the understanding and patience necessary to teach the piaffe.
It takes a bit, but the beginnings can be taught when the horses are first started as a young four-year-old and then throughout their training developed in a very systematic way.

The rules and the process I have learned.

Initially done in a rope halter
Pressure is added slowly and patiently
Moving back, coming forward, and moving around their center of gravity
The horse must move away from pressure
Relaxation must be a priority
The horse must stay over his feet
Straightness is key
Reward must be instantaneous
Ask the horse to lift each leg…eventually holding it and then putting it down
Don't ask for too much (SOOOOO IMPORTANT!!!!!)
Keep every session short
Be aware and foster confidence and willingness
Often the best steps come after the horse has bucked and released the tension in the back
Respect and ground manners must be maintained (don't let the horse pass you)
Teach the horse to offer the steps of Piaffe
Reward! Reward! Reward!

Mounted with a Ground person
The horse must never pass the ground person
Prepare the horse
Keep the horse straight
The ground person must be acutely aware of when to ask, apply pressure and when to back off
The rider needs to allow the piaffe without interference
Again at the slightest understanding and effort the reward must come quickly from both the ground and the rider
("Walk and Reward" as Alfredo would say!)
Keep each "ask" brief and remember not to push
The horse will tell you how much pressure they can handle

Mounted on your own
Imagine your ground person
Let your body relax and prepare the horse
Straightness remains paramount
Relaxation, willingness and confidence are the framework for success
Ask and let the horse find it
The rider must not force the steps
At first keep some forward steps to keep the horse from feeling trapped

The  above videos in this blog are of Sunny Delight, an 11-year-old Trakehner that we have for sale. He is a successful event horse that could obviously have a career as a Dressage Horse! Taylor Lindsten, assistant trainer at Four Star Farm, and her horse have learned the techniques outlined here well.  He moved through this process in just a few short months. Well Done Sunny and Taylor!

The clip below is of Virginian Sky and I.  He brings me so much joy. He has been a pleasure to train and I know that with him I will soon realize my goal of the USDF Gold. His oldest offspring will be three this spring and I can't wait to start this journey with them!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Today's thought:

There is an energy that thinking an idea is solely yours that can be very destructive.......don't get sucked in. Collaboration should be encouraged; it is the best kind of energy and even the smallest contributions to a collaboration should be recognized and appreciated......when you do this everyone's creativity involved will be freely flowing and AMAZING things will happen!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Life is sooooo precious.

Within a 10 hour period I was reminded twice how fragile life is and how little I can really control.
Last night, I went to roll over in bed and because I hurt my knee at Rebecca Farm a little over a week ago, I wake up in pain every time I move to lie on my stomach.  Of course, my stomach is usually my go-to happy place but my knee has caused me to rethink comfortable sleeping positions. As I squirmed in pain and started to reach a different level of consciousness, I became aware of a strange noise outside.  I thought, "it's raining and the hay is not covered".  Frustrated with those consequences, I gingerly lowered myself out of bed to go to the bathroom. After hobbling to the bathroom like a stiff old woman, I opened the window to see how hard it was raining.  The wall of flames not 30 feet away was probably one of the most frightening things I have ever seen.  I immediately knew we had only a few precious minutes.  I moved fast and woke Sean, Sydney and Taylor up.  Sean later told me that he has never heard me use that tone and that alone scared him. Thankfully, there was very little wind and Sean had the sprinklers on and the hose running immediately.  I told Taylor and Sydney to get all the animals in the car.  I called 911 as I ran to get the barn foreman, Larry, from his house about 200 feet away. Once I had him rustled out of bed (it was 3am),  I ran back to my house to get the cars moved with the animals.   Sean was doing an amazing job keeping the flames off the house and putting that part of the fire out; Larry went to the other end of the fire which was threatening all the paddocks.  I found myself directing the fireman through the barn so that they could get to the different hot spots.
While it was happening I was too busy to think of taking pictures but here are the pictures from the morning after. That fence is less than 25 feet from our porch and you can see how close the fire got to the horse's shelters......inches.

Just a few hours later, as I drove up the driveway after going to morning Mass to express my gratitude to God for keeping my family, my animals, and the farm from harm, I looked out over the pastures and noticed one of my mares had a white sack hanging under her tail. Again I had a rush of adrenaline and knew I had to act quickly in case there was a problem.  Obviously, this maiden mare hadn't realized that she was suppose to foal at night in her comfy stall with all the straw!  La Coura was having some difficulties, but there were two black legs and an adorable little muzzle showing, so I told myself to be patient.  Larry, once again, came to the rescue, showing up just in time to help La Coura with the next set of contractions; once the head and shoulders were out, the rest slid out easily.  A Girl!  I love my mares and am very happy to have another blessed one by my stallion Virginian Sky (owned with the Fontana Syndicat)!

My adrenaline roller coaster certainly left me exhausted.

I am so thankful for this beautiful foal......and for the safety of my family. Hug your family, kiss your ponies, and say your prayers.  We really have no control over what life throws at us.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Germany...with Friends and Horses!

There really is nothing like it.  It is exciting, suspenseful, emotional and thrilling! I look forward to this trip every year and now that I am leading a tour for the experience I find the trip even more rewarding.  Sharing it with friends (and strangers that become fast friends) makes the trip even more memorable. Whether you are in the market for a horse or you just love the idea of going on a horsey adventure, the trip to Germany to experience the Hengstmarkt (stallion market) should be on your bucket list.  The culture, the food, the shopping, the people and ahhhh the HORSES!  We visited the farm where Silvermoon stands (the sire to the great Blu Hors Matinee) and he looked AMAZING!  Even at his age he floats around the arena and has legs as tight as any four year old! We got a chance to see Susan Mahoney's youngster's.  Her coming two year old black gelding, Lestat by Hofrat (by Gribaldi) looked fantastic as he trotted around his field with his band of two year old colts. I am looking forward to his arrival in the US!

is absolutely incredible.
This year was a little tame compared to some years past but still made me fall madly in love with the Trakehner horse all over again!

They awarded the Trakehner Stallion of the year to Connery! This award is highly coveted and prestigious.  It often predicts the future world beaters. Gribaldi (Totilas's sire) was the 2008 Trakehner Stallion of the year just before Totilas took the world by storm!

This year was particularly interesting because the German Verband inspection committee went out on a limb and picked the PINK stallion as the Grand Champion! His name, Donauruf. He of course was stunning....but he really did look pink! He is by E.H. Herzruf out of a mare by the Thoroughbred stallion Exobitant xx.  It was nice to see the German Verband selecting for horses with some blood! He sold at the auction for 300.000 euro (which is $390,780 US dollars).  That is a large chunk of change for a two year old unbroke colt!  His owner (pictured here) has had several champion stallions over the years and she has managed to do it with only maintaining a herd of 4 mares!  I guess she has figured out how to make money in the breeding business!

I am already starting to plan next year's trip.  We will be visiting three stud Farms as well as the Trakehner stallion market in Neumunster.  It is a great opportunity to have someone else worry about all the details (rental car, hotels, food), meet new people, and have friends to travel with! If you are interested in joining us on this tour please let me know so I can update you throughout the year on plans for the 2013 Germany trip. For more information about this trip visit:
and if you would like updates or to register to join us next year please email Natalie

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Be a Benevolent Dictator

Another whirlwind couple of weeks!  The Greg Best clinic was once again an incredible learning experience for all. Greg always gives 110% to all the participants and this time was no different!
After the clinic we had the opportunity to have Greg coach us at the Sonoma Horse Park Jumper show. The picture above is of Jedi in the 1.20 class.  Those are 6 ft standards!  What a great way to put all we learned in the clinic into practice. It went so well I am moving Jedi up to Advanced this weekend at the Woodside Horse Trials.

Here are some of the Gregisms we tried to make use of!........

Warm up- Even pressure in contact for stretch
Make the highest point as close to the withers as possible when stretching.
Still hands (carry whip under thumbs to see if it moves back and forth...seesaw)
lengthen and shorten in your warm up 
Push around turns with outside aids and leading open inside rein. Practice counter bend with tight turn and still forward so it will be easier when jumping

Watch outside ear in turn to keep from leaning and maintain straightness.

Straight, Collected, Lead change (if necessary)....after every jump

When horse is hot, use LESS bit because the horse is more reactionary when hot and too much bit makes the horse more reactionary. With a sensitive horse, more bit increases anxiety. Less bit equals less anxiety.

The mistake people make is trying to bit for ENERGY rather than SENSITIVITY.

Greg told the story of a lethargic horse that had no respect for its rider. So Greg suggested bitting to get respect, which is counter-intuitive for bitting a lazy horse. The rider also stiffed the horse over the jump, instilling respect for the rider. It woke the horse up and got the desired result.

Riders must give an APPROPRIATELY positive ride to the jump. Give horses what they need and never drop below that level (which might be a stiff arm over a jump).

Greg does not like having riders halt during a course because it's too easy on the rider.

Ride the canter, not the jump

Use proportional resistance (vs. give and take), offering resistance proportional to what horse offers.

Rider should either want to land after the jump with the same control as before the jump OR start with more and finish with less.
15-20 lbs of contact, if you find yourself without the exact amount big deal. If you start with 1/2 lb and suddenly have 2 it changes a lot.

If horse worries about landing don't realease (overrelease) over fence so there is less change after.

Practice walking distances.

Ride into contact to avoid weak hind end when riding lines.

Riding with low hands makes smooth and positive ride....also takes away from riders ability to invert the horse by being left or not following in the air.

Think about what level of impulsion is needed for height of fence

What is a sustainable ride? Ex: Don't let horse drift into turn after fence by the 10th fence, dive and turn!

Riding is an exercise in mistake management.

If fussy about lead change pat immediately when he gets it right
Avoid confrontation
don't ask too much too quickly

Exercise: Pole- 60 feet -jump – 60 feet- pole
four and four
five and five
strides after jump should not be less than strides before...challenge yourself to put 4 and then 5

How far a horse takes off from jump does not correlate with the size of the fence....but with the size of the stride. They take off a half of stride before.

Release does not mean let go off.

Don't let horse get comfortable with disuniting (cross cantering/ trot canter gait)

Be consistently out of control through the whole process relative to what you feel comfortable with.

Every horse wants to get crooked in the process of collection.

Don't circle in the middle of a course (expect more from yourself).

90% of learning is self discovery.

Be a benevolent dictator!!!!!!

The next opportunity to clinic with Greg is September 1-3.
Limited spaces available. Auditors welcome! So sign up early!!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rolex in our future

Natalie and Jedi in 2012
Natalie and Aladdin in 2001

Oh my, has life been CRAZY lately. I definitely have been testing my ability to juggle.  My kids, the shows, two farms, planning an inspection, a Greg Best clinic, starting a couple young ones, a Pony Club Rally,  buying and selling horses for clients, dealing with my injured goodness.  I need to take a breath.

Thankfully my horses give me strength!  Jedi has been the source of the twinkle in my eye.  He has been reminding me what it was like (once upon a time) to have a special horse (sniffle) that feels like you could light the world on fire!  A horse that makes you dream of the Olympics, a red coat, and possibly a Rolex watch! Jedi easily skipped around the CIC** at Galway for a fourth place finish and then the CCI** at Twin Rivers for fifth would have been second if it weren't for one very expensive rail down in show jumping.  I am so glad Greg will be here in two weeks to put the polish back on my show jumping!

Watching the four star at Rolex on my computer this weekend was even more exciting this year knowing that I have a horse that should be ready to meet that challenge in 2013. Both Allison Springer and William Fox Pitt are inspirational and I have enjoyed how technology took me to Lexington for an exciting three days of competition.

Thanks to all of my team who have been so supportive and helpful in these last couple of crazy months! Linda, Katie, Susan, Marjorie, Anya, Rodney, Anja, and my wonderful kids Tyler and Sydney.