Emily Miles (2014)
The Dressage Foundation granted me the excellent opportunity to train and compete in Germany for two months through the Anne L. Barlow Ramsay Grant for US Bred horses. It was an incredible experience and one I have always dreamed of; to be able to ride and compete in Germany is a privilege.
I was extremely lucky to be able to take not only WakeUp to train with Elmar Schmiehusen, but three other horses as well: WakeUp’s uncle, Weltdorff (Willie), Quantum Jazz (Quebert) and Floretienne (ET). Quebert and ET are owned by Leslie Waterman and bred in the USA by Judy Yancey. They are coming six and really proved themselves to me!
My goal with WakeUp was to really solidify and improve the piaffe and passage and show him in Germany. I wanted to get the experience and see how he would stack up. Wakey tries so hard but has some loss of balance in the transition between piaffe and passage. So we played around with trot, extended trot, piaffe and passage to get them to meld together. We tried to get him to have the powerful forward feeling of the extended trot, as well as the sitting of piaffe, in his passage. The point was to be able to make him so adjustable that it wasn’t a piaffe-passage transition anymore but a piaffe-bigger piaffe-small passage-passage transition. It took so much concentration, both from WakeUp and me, but I could feel him starting to understand.
We also were able to improve the canter. It is tough to find that balance between collection and expression. I sometimes still think that a collected canter isn’t going to be as expressive as an extended canter but I had to shift my thoughts on expression- a charging tiger is expressive but so is a coiled lion getting ready to pounce! Thinking of that visual of packaged energy helped me think of the expression coming from his entire frame, not just his legs. I so, so, so enjoy riding Wakey. He is simply fun and I am incredibly lucky every time I get to ride him.
Willie turns 13 this year. It is his third year at Grand Prix and he has taught me so incredibly much! He is the first horse I ever purchased, the first horse I have trained to Grand Prix from a baby, he earned me my gold medal and now he was the first Grand Prix horse I ever rode abroad… cool! The thing that continually strikes me is how much a first year Grand Prix horse changes. Usually we only stay at a level for one year and then we move on, but once you are at the Grand Prix, you hopefully get to stay there for a while. The horses don’t need to learn anything new, they just need to improve, and it is really neat how much they can improve.
Willie is an average horse. He has a clear walk, strong trot and rideable, workable canter. However, his canter can be short and earthbound, his trot can be quick and lacking swing and his walk can be very hurried. Our goal was to make his gaits the best they possibly could be and focus on making every movement being super correct. It took a couple weeks and Elmar riding Willie before Elmar and I were on the same page about how to approach him, his warm up and frame specifically. He likes to be too high in the neck and drop his back, but from the ground that is tough to see. So I need to ride him rounder and lower than a show frame, also with a little less trot, to really solidify his thoroughness and rideability before moving into the movements.
I admire Elmar for being able to have a discussion with me, hash out our different approaches and then agree to go my direction. He doesn’t feel threatened or offended by my questions, and the challenges make him a fantastic teacher. He has no need to always be right and is open to the idea that, just like with different horses, people will approach problems differently. With that being said, usually we would have our discussion, then he would get on and show me how it’s done- and I got to be humbled.
Quantum Jazz (Quebert) and Floretienne (ET) were my two projects that went to Germany as young horses and came back baby FEI horses. They totally impressed me and became part of the stellar squad. I am excited to be able to ride them and have such a supportive owner!
Quebert is a big goofball by Quaterback out of a Jazz mare. He is a 17.1 hand, flashy chestnut that sometimes gets ahead of himself and me! He came to Germany schooling the changes and some lateral work. He comes home about a foot more compact, with changes up to the threes and schooling pirouettes, piaffe and passage. However, the tough stuff we worked on was his balance, trying to remind him that extended trots or canters had to end and he had to listen to a half halt. Elmar was great about keeping things light. Even when we were playing with the half steps he would remind me to stay cool, not take the mistakes personally and keep tension at bay. As Quebert went from knowing the changes, to doing changes everywhere, to not responding to the changes, Elmar would assure me that it was totally typical and not to stress.
Floretienne is a prince that is afraid to get dirty. He is by Florestan out of the same Jazz mare. (Quebert is an embryo transfer.) He is 16.2 bay, but much lighter than his brother. He is the smart sibling that hangs in the background and makes Quebert test things first. It is so interesting to see the similarities between them but also how incredibly different they can be. A real study in the influence of a stallion. ET also made huge progress! His changes aren’t as advanced as Quebert’s, but he has insane talent for collection. Piaffe and passage are easy for him and the pirouettes come naturally. Even Elmar’s jaw was on the ground when we played with the piaffe for the first time, just played, and he found the rhythm and just did it! My challenge with ET is to bring him out of his shell to make him a show off like his brother! He needs the strength and confidence but I am so excited because I truly think he is a horse that will only get better as the work gets harder.
I feel so fortunate that Leslie has given me the opportunity to develop these fun horses and thankful for the wonderful start they had with Debbie Hill.
“Unfortunate” is an understatement for how I felt when WakeUp came up suddenly lame the Tuesday before the first show in Germany. Over the next three weeks he recovered, but he was out for the rest of our time overseas. As nothing serious was found on the x-rays and ultrasounds, the vets all agreed it was most likely a twisted ankle and we are giving him time to make sure it heals perfectly. There is never a good time for your horse to be lame but this seemed like terrible timing! I tried really hard to look for some sort of positive silver lining, but let’s just say I wasn’t much fun to be around for a couple weeks. I felt so bad for him. It is just so scary to think that 7 years of work can just vanish into thin air in an afternoon. But WakeUp has already given me so much, so many opportunities and fun rides. As we start up again I appreciate every day, enjoy his excitement to get back to work and refuse to make any plans.
I was incredibly lucky to have Mr. Willie with me to still be able to compete in the Münster show! He was a total rock star, handled the crazy circumstances brilliantly and let me be in an awards ceremony with three Olympic Gold Medalists! It was an incredible experience and great for me to go through the process with very little stress or pressure. Simple things like there being no real stabling assignments or ring steward really take some getting used to. The paperwork and phone calls needed to get an invite to the show was something I had no idea about. You can only enter one horse per class or division and you bring your own number. Luckily, Ulla, Elmar’s wife, held my hand through the process.
The entire experience of dressage in Germany is amazing. We were in Warendorf, Germany, and it is the heart of horse country. There are 32 indoor riding rings within a 10 km radius! Our first show, the Münster KK Cup, was advertising tickets for the show on the radio. The newspaper had an entire extra insert to publicize the show! The local pub had flyers up! I don’t know about you, but I have never heard a dressage show advertised on the radio. The week of the show the local newspaper came out and did an interview with Elmar, WakeUp and me. It felt pretty neat to see my picture in a German newspaper with my name alongside Hubertus Schmidt, Ingrid Klimke, Isabel Werth and Nadine Capellmann. The dressage community seems to involve everyone. The cool thing to do on a Friday night is to have a beer at the stallion show or maybe check out the auction.
The support system for riders and breeders is incredible. They have the German Federation for horses and riding, or FN, the DOKR, or Olympic Equestrian training center, the Westphalian State Stud and the Sportschule der Bundeswehr, or military academy (including stables, rings and cross country jumps) all in the same small town. I couldn’t wrap my head around it! All the whispers and comments you heard while walking around the shows, or auctions, or stallion presentations were knowledgeable and in depth. “Yes, it’s a great horse, but she also rode his brother who was very difficult.” “His dam line goes back to the great Holsteiner stallion known for having uphill canters and super rideability but sometimes difficult necks.” “A quarter brother of his was the winner of the Bundeschampionat in 1999 ridden by John Doe and received an 8.6 in the canter and 9.5 from the guest rider Jane Doe.” It really is like sitting at an American Sport bar during March Madness and listening to all the guys! And speaking of guys, did I mention how many guys were there? Guys dragging their wives along- not vice versa.
I wish I had some amazing advice to give anyone thinking about a trip abroad, but I think every experience and person is different. I must say, I didn’t think I would, but I really needed my friends who came and visited. I’m a homebody anyways, so it was really tough being away from my husband and family, so having the best parts of home; my husband, family and friends come to visit was a lifesaver. I also feel so blessed to have gone to a barn where everyone was so supportive and genuinely nice. The family run facility reminded me of home and I always felt welcome!
I came home with a new appreciation for why I ride dressage. I appreciate my family and huge supportive network at home. I appreciate my best teachers, the horses, and the privilege of having my mother at home to help me continue my training. I appreciate that nobody has it all figured out, there is no secret recipe hidden in the cracks of the German bricks. The best thing you can do for your training is to dedicate focused time, measured not in minutes or days, but years.
I think this was an opportunity and experience that every dressage rider should see. It was always on my bucket list and I’m still in awe that it happened. Thank you so much to the Anne B. Ramsay Grant from The Dressage Foundation and all the people at home and abroad that made this possible.