Wednesday, June 12, 2019

An Auditor’s Take on the 2019 Benchmark Farms Jumper Derby

by Peyton Dvorak
Photos by Taylor Bohac

         June 1st was a blue skiedand breezy morning, and as my car pulled up to Liz Atkin’s stunning Benchmark Farms, the air was glimmering with excitement and the driveway was lined with sponsor banners. A long row of cars was parked in front of the gorgeous main barn, and spectators and riders alike were bustling from the barns to the beautifully decorated front porch.

Upon entering the barn, I was greeted by a gorgeously organized breakfast, and I arrived just as the clinic for the low jumper group was beginning their session on the flat with renowned clinician Diane Carney. I took my seat in the viewing area adjacent to the ring with my camera and notebook in hand, ready to soak up all of the knowledge I could get. The group’s flat consisted of lots of “leg riding”, which was a term Carney coined often in the session, emphasizing that riding from the leg is an extremely important component of riding on the flat and over fences. The riders worked with transitions from halt to canter and trot to canter to practice “riding off your leg and body, not your hand” and being “seamlessly forward” throughout the transition. The concept of the “pulley rein” was also discussed, both as a training and emergency method to try and stop the horse in an out of control situation. Riders paired this concept with halting in the corners of the indoor arena and using one's vertical position to halt their horse. Riders jumped a course that included an in and out with a liver pool, and a few jumps that would’ve been defined as spooky, such as jumps set with large barrels as filler. The riders jumped up to .80 m and .85 m and progressed steadily throughout their time over fences. Before long, the first group was dismounted and heading back to the barns to take care of their mounts, all with homework and things to think about for the next day’s competition, and the next group of the morning was walking into the ring to begin their clinic. This medium height group worked with many of the same concepts reviewed in the prior clinic, with more complex exercises, such as collection with shoulder in and shoulder fore. Carney also discussed the horse’s longitudinal and lateral movement, and how depending on their horse’s balance and way of movement, he may be more or lesseasy to collect and ride. Participants jumped a modified version of the original courses, with larger heights set up to make the exercises more challenging for both horse and rider. The medium group also ended with takeaways from their lessons and things to work on for their classes for the following day. The third and final group consisted of riders jumping up to 1.30 m on their mounts. During their session on the flat, Carney emphasized having the riders getting their horses to "track up” and “go forward” which had been previously echoed in the prior clinic groups. The advanced riders worked small cavalleti sets into their session on the flat, helping them prep for their courses later. When it came time for the over fences portion of the clinic the riders worked with liverpools, tricky bending lines, and two separate gate jumps, which is emulative of obstacles found in a typical jumper course. Carney worked with the riders on galloping to the fences and being bold in their riding, saying that pace and impulsion were on their side as the jumps went up. Carney also remarked that riders must “take and apply the riding lesson”, explaining that utilizing a concept that one has learned isn't a one and done process, that it is about practicing it and using it in all of your future aspects of riding and competing. This was a great closing comment for the clinic, as the next day, the riders would be showing in their respective classes and applying what they had learned during their lessons.  

Diane Carney and judge Sarah Booker provided commentary with each round.

The next morning, I arrived bright and early to Benchmark Farms to see riders, grooms and trainers hurrying around the grounds, preparing for the day's events. I peeked into the arena to see that a new and interesting course had been set according to clinician Carney’s direction, and a slew of fellow spectators had taken their seats, ready to watch the competition for the day unfold. As spectators quieted and commentator Diane Carney and Judge Sarah Booker took their places in the ring, students from the day prior filed into the arena one by one prepared for their rounds; only this time as competitors. Every rider and horse were beautifully turned out and prepared for the competition. Each pair was allowed a few warm-up jumps coached by their respective trainers before the actual rounds to keep with the tone of education set by the clinic day. After their warm-up, competitors started their rounds around the challenging track for the day, and upon finishing, returned to Carney and Booker to review their performance, and talk about positives and things to improve upon. Carney made a point to a nervous rider after their round that made me personally reflect.  She wisely stated that getting nervous is a natural part of showing, but the only element that was different from the clinic the day prior was the fact that you dress up in different clothes. This piece of advice can be easily translated to all of us, as the only part differing a horse show from our regular practice riding is the added element of dressing up, which creates an unconscious anxiety. This is definitely somethingthat was eye opening for me and it seemed to help the rest of the day’s riders as well.  Watching every round was exciting, and the crowd kept the energy up by cheering during each of the class's jump offs, which made things even more entertaining. 

Chloe Butler and High Altitude with trainer Andrea Hendricks.

Earning the first blue ribbon of the day was Chloe Butler and High Altitude in the Voltaire Design Jumper Derby. Liz Atkins competed in and won the Lewis Veterinary Services Jumper Derby aboard Carletta. Both winners were awarded ferns thanks to Showplace Productions.

Liz Atkins and Carletta earned the second blue of the day.
After both morning classes had wrapped up, attendees made their way up to the facility's balcony to be greeted by a gorgeous champagne brunch sponsored by Homestead Veterinary Hospital and Pro-Stride. Over the delicious lunch, those present were briefly educated on the new technology behind Pro-Stride, a new veterinary treatment, by Dr. Mark Cassells from Homestead Veterinary Hospital, and Pro-Stride representative Emily Lundstrom. Auditors could also speak with a representative from Voltaire Design, who was present at the event. As lunch 
came to a close, viewers were called back to their seats to prepare for the last event of the day, the Benchmark Stables Jumper Derby.

Chris Johnson and Dutch Martini flew to the win in the final Benchmark Stables Jumper Derby of the day.

With the crowd cheering and the air filled with excitement, we all watched as Chris Johnson and Dutch Martini soared through their jump off to secure the top spot on the podium. After their victory gallop, special awards were handed out to participants, including Best Turned Out Horse and Rider, sponsored by Cynthia Zitko, which went to both Cassandra Jarchow and Casino RSS and Catie Hope Rose and Johnny Bravo. Both riders were awarded special prizes, as well as a fern. Most Improved Rider, which was sponsored by Pouwer Patties, went to Skyler Hendricks riding The Countess and the Dover Sportsmanship Award was won by Nancy Desmedt. Commentator and clinician Diane Carney closed the Derby by thanking the event’s sponsors and congratulating the riders, saying that they had all improved and rode well. 

Nancy Desmedt earned the Dover Sportsmanship Award.

Overall, my time spent at the Benchmark Farms Clinic and Jumper Derby was wonderful, informative and exciting. Liz Atkins and the Benchmark Team put on a spectacular event, and Diane Carney allowed for it to be an educational experience for everyone in attendance. I'm so thankful to have audited and can't wait to head back next year! 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Here's to Horse Show Moms - Past, Present and Future

Here's to horse show moms past, present and future. You know, the ones who sacrifice having a life so their kids can live the dream because kids are their joy. It's time to thank the moms who get up at all hours to make sure we are on to school at 5:30am, who find us breakfast when nothing is open, who help braid, clean tack and polish boots. The moms who wipe a horse's dirty nose, scrape mud off our boots and trudge through the rain to see us show for our 2 minutes in the ring.

Perhaps you've had one of these special horse show moms and can recant numerous stories of what they've done to boost your riding career. I know my mom would get up at 3 am to braid horses with me to have money to pay for leasing and showing. She was there to hold horses at the ring, share in the joys of my good days and blue ribbons and wipe the tears on the bad days when you were thrown in the dirt.

Thank you to the moms today who allow their kids to learn, help find opportunities to ride and experience different levels of the sport, and who financially figure out how to work at the tack store, sell horse treats and squander grocery money to pay the horse show bills.

Thank you to the future horse show moms, who can't wait to put their babies on a pony for the first time and will  feel horrible the first time they fall off. The future moms, who will do the same or more for their little riders as their moms did for them to become another generation of amazing horse show moms.

Thanks to my mom, who without her I wouldn't be where I am today. Thanks to the moms today who keep our next generation of olympic riders on the map, and thanks to the future horse show moms who make little one's olympic dreams alive.

Horse show moms, you are one of a kind, loved, and never appreciated enough. Thank you for all you do and cheers to you, enjoy your day (which really should be at least a week!!)!

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Riders at Hunter Holloway Stables Take Working Out Seriously

We hopped right in on a workout session at Hunter Holloway Stables in Wellington, where trainer Petr Julianov works with the riders. For the eight weeks that junior riders Britta Belline and Hannah Loeffelbein have been showing at the Winter Equestrian Festival, they have added a weekly workout session with Julianov in addition to their riding duties scheduled by Holloway. The two girls say they have learned a lot about fitness and will be continuing a workout program at home.

The hour long session starts with some stretches followed by some squats. The workout included exercise bands for working the outer thigh, kicks for the hips and inner thighs and of course, what workout would be complete without working on the core and abs. The session had a variety of exercises for balance, strength and dexterity such as some friendly soccer, jump squats, medicine balls and kettle balls. The girls agree the sessions have definitely helped them in the tack.

Hannah Loeffelbein works out with Petr Julianov at Hunter Holloway Stables.

"I know for sure I couldn't even touch my toes the first week," laughed Loeffelbein, "but now I can go to the middle of my feet."

"Hand-eye coordination and balance has improved for me," added Belline. "Also my ankles were really weak, but now I can actually keep my heels down without my feet rolling underneath me when I'm jumping."

So why isn't riding enough?
Britta Belline works on her core and hand-eye coordination.
"Most sports have conditioning in addition to the sport," commented Belline. "If you play basketball you don't just play basketball, it definitely helps you to be stronger in the saddle."

"It helps the athletes become better balanced, they improve all around and improve their riding," said Julianov. "People can also train on FaceTime from Europe and other places they travel to for sports so working out is easy from anywhere."

Julianov recommends working out an hour at least every other day with 15 minutes of warm up, the workout and 15 minutes of cool down. He works with many show jumping and dressage athletes as well as hockey players and athletes in other sports.

Holloway has private sessions scheduled with Julianov and continues to work on core and shoulder strength for her riding. She started the workouts because of issues with her shoulder, which has improved over the weeks. Holloway tries to work out 4-5 times a week depending on the show schedule.

"Petr (Julianov) is great! He's fun and really helps you achieve your goals. He's good at training everyone at their own level," said Holloway.

Top athletes such as Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut, are serious about their time in the gym as well. Athletes also use trainers to come back from injuries which can be minor or major, all so they can quickly get back in the tack and back to competition.

Belline and Loeffelbein definitely plan to continue some training at home with a friend or on their own because they learned simple exercises they can do with equipment that's easy to purchase such as kettle balls or bands. Especially for those days you just can't make it to the barn, you can get in a quick workout to build strength.

As for me, I totally enjoyed having someone to work out with to have some new exercises to add to my own routine.

What's your workout routine and what helps you the most with your riding? Maybe your barn can organize some group sessions and try the eight week challenge!

Special thanks to Hunter Holloway Stables and Petr Julianov for letting me join in!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Auditor’s Take on the 2018 Galway Farm Equitation Classic

Hunter Holloway demonstrates with clinician Diane Carney.

by Peyton Dvorak

It was early Friday morning, and anticipation and excitement lingered on the brisk fall air as the tires of my car crunched down the driveway of Lorrie Canady’s very own Galway Farm. The venue was decorated to the nines, and riders and spectators’ bustled to-and-fro, preparing for the day’s events. To my left, I saw clinician Diane Carney setting course, tape measure in hand and crew of helpers running every which way. She made it seem as if she was conducting a perfect symphony, and her masterpiece of a course was already in the works. On the edge of the ring, I spotted the Hunter Holloway, a demonstrator for the day, and upon seeing one of my biggest idols, I grabbed my camera and sprang out of the car, ready to begin the next three days of the annual Galway Farm Equitation Classic. 

Once the course for the first of the two clinic groups was set, I took my seat to watch the sessions begin with light flat work. Right off the bat, clinician Carney had participants practicing with riding forward, using diagonal and lateral aids, and going through ground pole courses that included turning in reverse and bending lines. All of those methods Carney repeatedly used to help improve riders in different areas throughout the day in both of her groups. I wasn’t surprised when the “Five Key Components of Jumping”– pace, line, distance, impulsion, and balance, were eventually referenced, as that method helped riders to prepare for the over fences portion of the clinic that took place shortly after the flat. When riders finished their courses, professional Hunter Holloway jumped up to 1.50m on two participant’s horses as a demonstration, which was incredible to see!

Catherine Tyree and Diane Carney have discussions on what it takes to be on top.

Following the clinic sessions and wrapping up the first day, those who rode and attended, including myself, were welcomed to a wonderful Italian feast and a special question and answer session with Carney and Holloway. Everyone was encouraged to seek advice and ask questions, and during that short session, I learned so much as a rider and person from both speakers.  It was such a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere after such a long day, and it gave me lots of time to reflect on all of the day’s teachings. I left Galway Farms anticipating the next day’s clinic and getting excited for Sunday’s competition day.

The 2018 Galway Classic group.

Saturday morning began the second day of the Galway Farm Equitation Classic, and I was up bright and early to see the day start out seamlessly, with another clinic by Diane Carney; who had groups of riders this time jumping heights of 2’6”, 3’, and 3’6”. The clinic began with a light session of flatwork which benefited both the horse and rider before the jumping portion of the class. Carney started the participants with shoulder in exercises, voltes (twenty-meter circles that are not as easy as they look), and plenty of turns in reverse. Riders also demonstrated the using of an “english bridge”, a style of holding the reins which generally helps a rider keep better control. Carney partnered this method with exercises centered towards the rider’s balance at the posting trot, having them put one arm out, one hand on their heads, and placing an arm behind their backs, all while holding their reins in a secure fashion with their other hand. I’m very familiar with those methods personally, as they appear in George Morris’ classic “Hunter Seat Equitation”, and I practice with them tons at home.

Clinic members then worked on a number of varying exercises over fences and seeing the variety of riders and how they handled everything Carney threw at them was by far the most interesting part of my day. As I watched participants navigate the tricky courses, I also noticed how Carney molded every mistake a single rider made into a learning opportunity for the whole group. This is certainly my most favorite aspect of her training, and her phrase “I teach one of you, I teach all of you” will be engrained in my mind during future clinics or group lessons I may be apart of.

Participants jumped multiple courses going into the afternoon, with all three groups benefiting from her presence and expertise. Also in attendance was experienced amateur rider Catherine Tyree, who helped riders set and walk out Sunday’s competition courses in preparation for the show the next day.
After completing the organization of the next day’s course, clinic goers were once again invited to a fabulous dinner with another question and answer session, which this time included special guest and 2010 Hunterdon Cup winner, Tyree, as well as the day’s clinician, Diane Carney. Attendees were again given the opportunity to ask questions, and I nervously asked a few of my own, which took up too much courage than I care to admit.

Lisa Campbell rides to a medal. 

Sunday morning rolled around and I arrived to the grounds eager to see what was in store. Attendees like myself were treated with an exquisite brunch and the opportunity to enter in some very generous raffles.  As soon as those events concluded, the show day begun.

The competition included the High Galway Equitation Classic, the Low Galway Equitation Classic, the High Galway Hunter Derby, and the Low Galway Hunter Derby, as classes. Each of the courses collectively included concepts that were focused on during the clinic days, which helped riders to gain perspective and more experience with the weekend’s educational aspects. During the break between the Equitation Classics and the Hunter Derbies, judge Diane Carney sat down with competitors after placings had been given to discuss scores, techniques, and improvements, which I though was an intriguing concept compared to traditional showing.

Lorrie Canady, Cassie Jarchow and Molly McAdow.

Taking the top prizes of the show day were Skyler Hendricks in the High Galway Equitation Classic, Lisa Campbell in the Low Galway Equitation Classic, Cassie Jarchow in the High Galway Hunter Derby and Pauline Schultz in the Low Galway Hunter Derby. It was so amazing to see all of the rider’s hard work during the clinics pay off in their final rounds.

Once the show events had ended, special awards were given, with highlights being the judge’s choice award, presented to Erica O’Neil; best turned out horse and rider, as well as the highest scoring handy round were both won by Casino RSS and Cassie Jarchow. Highest scoring amateur was won by Lisa Campbell, and the sportsmanship award was won by Pauline Schultz. After the awards ceremony, the last meal of the weekend, a delicious lunch, was enjoyed by attendees, and an interesting and informative closing discussion with Diane Carney and Lorrie Canady, the owner of Galway Farm, occurred.

All in all, my experience at my first Galway Farm Equitation Classic was incredible, and I’ve already had a discussion with my trainer about riding in it next year. Getting to experience and capture the event through my camera was even more exciting, as I got to view everything as an auditor and as a photographer. The classic will most likely become something I will attend every year from this point on, as I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.  For now, I’m going to be practicing at home, using everything I learned from this weekend to help advance myself for my own clinic with Diane Carney, which is coming up soon!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races
by Elizabeth Stein

With the Preakness in the books and the Belmont Stakes only three weeks away, everyone around the country is in the horse racing spirit. In honor of that spirit, we decided to take a trip to Arlington International Racecourse, to see how a racing stable operates, and it wasn’t disappointing. As a hunter/jumper equestrian whose only experience with horseracing is watching it on TV, I can assure you, the glitz and glamour is only part of what makes a racing stable run.  

First, I have to give credit where’s its due, our day and all this insider information would not have happened without Alexis Kuhn, and everyone at Rodriguez Stables. Kuhn, 22, a Barrington Hills native, got into horse racing like most of us do, by watching it on TV. However, this former hunter/jumper rider was hooked and has worked her way up to being an assistant trainer, which is no easy feat in the racing business.

Kuhn, who owns two race horses of her own besides training, was able to give us an inside look into what it takes to run a successful racing stable and with three horses scheduled to race, was able to show us what it really took to produce a winning race horse.

And they're off! 

First thing you have to know if you’re ever going to get into racing is everyone has to be licensed, down to the hot-walkers. To become a licensed assistant trainer, Kuhn had to pass a 60-page test, get two letters of recommendation and complete a barn test. On top of all that, you need to be licensed at each track you’re racing at because the drug rules are different (their rules are closer to the FEI rules).  
If you want to be an owner of a racehorse, you’re in luck, it costs no money to board and no money to enter races, the betting handle provides the purse. You do still have to pay for certain things like vet bills and shoeing.  If you have an owner’s license and a trainer, you can buy a horse in a claiming race (the cheapest is five thousand dollars). Trainers charge a day rate, which covers their fee, the overhead like feed and tack, they make their money on the horses winnings, 10% goes to the trainer and the jockey.

As with any aspect of the equestrian sport, it’s not just finding the right horse, it’s finding the right trainer and creating the right program. For Kuhn, finding the right training method depends on the horse.

“We’re more conservative, we run once a month or every three weeks. We’ll train every day or six days a week slow training, trot two miles, gallop really collected or slow. Depends on what they need or what their bodies are telling you. It’s building endurance. Since these horses are bred to go fast, training is really slow, its about educating the horse and not pushing them past what they can do since they’re still growing, ” Kuhn affirmed.

There is a strict routine for before and after the race as well. After a race, the horses are walked three to four days for them to recover and usually before they are set to run, walked so they’re fresh. Race day routine can be different for each horse however, Kuhn’s own horse gets a little nervous so she’ll train him the day before the race or even the day of a race so he doesn’t know he’s running.  
Being one of the few women on the track has provided Kuhn with her own set of obstacles so her motto and the truth of anyone in any equestrian sport is simple- “The key is finding your motivation is to keep evolving and never take no for an answer.” And that method is paying off, the stable is winning at a 20% rate, which is huge in the racing the business.

The wonderful thing about equestrian sports is truly how diverse they are. Hunter/jumpers, horseracing, eventing, dressage, polo, reining, pleasure riding around the world, there are truly so many facets of the sport anyone with a love of horses can participate. This trip to Arlington provided one look into another part of our sport, with hopefully many more like it to come.

Video Project - Arlington Race Track

A Day Trip to Arlington Race Track
by Jingting Hui

Monday, May 23, 2016

Behind the Scenes - Arlington International Race Track

Behind the Scenes – Arlington International Race Track
By Nicole Janiga

Alexis Kuhn breezes a horse on the main track.

At noon on Sunday morning, the gates to Arlington International Race Track open for a day filled with bright floral sun dresses, lunch and conversations on the terrace, and fingers being crossed for the favorite thoroughbreds to be the first ones to cross the finish line as the crowd cheers from the grandstand.

Before the races begin, crowds gather around the paddocks to see the muscular horses, highlighted by the sun, being brought out and exhibited with grooms and colorful silk attired jockeys preparing for the day’s races. With the announcer’s voice echoing throughout the park, talk of the horses, their odds, and their performance fill the open air. The eight horses in each race come out toward the grandstand and enter their starting gates on the track, ready to be released to gallop towards the finish line. After the few short minutes of excitement and anticipation, the volume of the crowd’s cheering increases until the winner enters the Winner’s Circle with owners, trainers, family and friends, scurrying to get in for a ceremonial photo and victory hugs before the next group of horses are brought out.

Unlike most hunter/jumper shows, horse racing attracts a wider variety of spectators. Guests don’t see, and often don’t realize, what happens behind the scenes at Arlington and all of the people that make it possible. Alexis Kuhn, assistant trainer at Rodriguez Stables, spent the day with Chicago Equestrian to show us what goes into making the well-known and well-loved tradition of horse racing happen every weekend.

With an alarm clock set for 3:30 am every morning, Alexis beats the sunrise and begins her day at the track by 4:15 am to exercise and train horses until 10:00 am. At the young age of 22, Alexis already helps manage 30 horses and owns two of her own. With memories from her hunter/jumper background, Alexis took a 180 spin and didn’t just dip her toes, but rather dove into the waters of horse racing.

 Alexis Kuhn after a morning of breezing horses.

Often times, many horses will train together.
Alexis and the exercise riders bring the training horses out to the dirt track, overlooked by Illinois Rt. 53, before taking them to the main racetrack. One horse after another, they trot, canter and gallop around the polytrack. With four feet floating above the ground for milliseconds at a time as the horse extends and contracts its body to cover more ground, the riders hover above their saddles with the wind gliding over their backs. As horses with flaring nostrils and glowing bodies covered in sweat complete their day’s work, their prideful strut carries them and their riders back to their barns after a successful session.
Alexis on the practice track.

After the horses are exercised and have concluded their journey back to the barn, they are hosed off with water while they dance around anxious to get back to their stalls. Each horse is then hand walked by hot walkers for a few laps around the barn, eyeing its own stall each time as it passes by and nickering to the other horses. Alexis ensures that each of the horses at Rodriguez Stables is properly cared for, seeing that they are getting their legs wrapped and poultice applied as needed, by venturing to the barn whiteboard to double check that the jobs are being completed.

Enjoying time off between work and lunch.
From the grooms carrying totes of brushes and curry combs from stall to stall and the hot walkers leading drying horses around the barn, each job requires a test of candidates’ abilities to ensure the horses’, riders’ and staff’s safety. Some tasks, like tacking a racehorse, have more rigorous requirements and are left to assistant trainers and trainers. With horse’s hooves carrying their bodies and jockeys at speeds of 45 miles per hour, having the saddle tightly secured in its rightful place is crucial to ensuring that no jockeys slip off and land on the ground among other horses running at similar speeds.

As the horses are saddled and brought out to the track, each racehorse’s “pony,” outfitted in a western saddle, makes the flat, black racing saddle on its companion seem nearly invisible by comparison. They aid the racehorse by jogging their prideful companion, eyes filled with anxious eagerness, out to their mark in the starting gate. By keeping the young thoroughbreds at bay, the “pony” horses serve yet another vital part in both the training and safety at Arlington and other racetracks around the world.

 Racehorse being led by its “pony.”
With all of the roles that it takes to make a day at the track possible, it is important to take a moment between races to sit back and remember the dedication and persistence that backs this sport.

Alexis believes that “the day you stop learning and stop evolving is the day that you’re done in this business… The key is you have to find your motivation to keep evolving and find something that motivates you to keep pushing forward … Mine is having a stake horse.”

On behalf of Chicago Equestrian, we would like to thank Alexis for taking the time to show us behind the scenes at Arlington Race Track, and we wish her the best of luck in following her dreams and finding her very own stake horse.

Alexis’s racing saddle.