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Brand Ambassador Journal: Ashley Madison at the Carl Hester Symposium

By Ashley Madison, Enviro Equine Brand Ambassador

On October 14 and 15, 2017 I was lucky enough to participate in the Carl Hester Symposium hosted by the New England Dressage Association. I kept a short journal of each day on our journey and what we learned from this awesome experience!

October 11, 2017

On Wednesday October 11, we loaded up the horses and equipment at our farm in Oxford, Penn. and drove about 8 hours to Pineland Farm in New Gloucester, ME. Gani walked off the trailer at 7:30pm with a spring in his step and looked fresh and ready to go! He had a nice sloppy meal with an extra pump of his EnviroEquine OmegaBalance oil and was bundled up for the chilly temps they were expecting. I was thankful to be greeted by my parents who live less than an hour from the venue and ready to get some rest after the long drive.

October 12, 2017

On Thursday morning, Gani looked as though he had slept well in the roomy stall at Pineland and we had a lovely light school in the arena before the Pineland staff and NEDA volunteers set up the arena. Gani felt awesome – elastic, fresh, fit and ready to work! I have to always be careful I don’t let him do too much. He has been on EnviroEquine’s ElectroBalance and OmegaBalance for over a year now and at 17 years old he has never looked or felt better! His coat is gleaming and covered with beautiful dapples and he has healthy enough feet to stay barefoot behind even as a Grand Prix horse. We double his oil when he is competing or traveling to help support him digestively and also as an anti-inflammatory.  These supplements have made an enormous impact on his overall health and has allowed him to be well supported on an entirely grain free diet.

October 13, 2017

By Friday all of the riders have arrived and the arena is all set up for the clinic rides. We school in pairs at assigned time slots and, again, Gani feels good. We do a little of everything but only about fifteen minutes of work with lots of walking before and after – I know we will have hard workouts in the days to come! He gets a nice soapy bath and has some hand grazing as well as time on our awesome Theraplate.  After Gani is all cared for, we get ourselves tidied up and head over to the reception with Carl that was held for riders and their guests.

What an incredible opportunity to chat with Carl! The riders are all introduced to the room and then we have about a half hour to just hang out and talk with him. He is so kind, funny and friendly, and he has a wonderful way of putting everyone at ease. Thank goodness! I got to ask him what advice he would give to his younger self, and he shared about the importance of teaching clinics and making good sales horses as being particularly impactful in the sustainability of a training business. It was surprising to hear that even at his level of notoriety he has to work to earn money by teaching clinics to be able to train the other days. It was refreshing to hear that he and Charlotte only work the horses four days per week, as Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays they are away teaching which pays the bills. It really goes to show you that the horses don’t need to work every day to succeed in this sport as some people believe, and also that the hard work never ends, even when you’ve made it to the top! This evening was such a treat to interact with and listen to someone who is so passionate and determined for their sport. We all leave feeling inspired and excited for tomorrow’s rides!

October 14, 2017

Saturday is here! OMG today is the day! There is a buzz in the air knowing Carl is in the house! We attempted to hand walk in the arena in the morning while the crowd was arriving and Gani was wayyyy too excited, and he decided that leaping around was a better way to spend our walk so we weren’t able to walk for very long. He is more fresh now than he ever was as a young horse! The young horses go first and so Gani is at the end of the day. I make sure he is clean, has his time on the Theraplate, and that all of his equipment is polished and ready so that I can relax and watch some of the rides. Carl was wonderful with the young horses, emphasizing that they should simply focus on very high standards for the basic aides and overall thoroughness. This was awesome to hear as I strive for the same things with my horses at home. He wanted each horse to stretch to the hand both out and down while maintaining rhythm and completing transitions which the youngsters did beautifully. The 6-year-old horse was a real highlight and the ride was so fun to watch as his talent for the future was obvious. The Third and Fourth Level riders were able to work some on movements like the half-pass and pirouettes, but the emphasis was still on thoroughness and straightness. There were some super exercises to add to my toolbox that I gained from these rides. Sadly, I missed the small tour horses both days as they were directly before my rides.

Gani was fresh as ever and ready to go, and he felt super as we warmed up in the outdoor arena.  It was a beautiful and warm day (thank goodness) after we have had some chilly nights here! After the warm-up Gani went into the arena at his time like a fire-breathing dragon. I thought that since we’ve done this before many times, he will calm right down once we go to work, but Gani had other plans! He was super electric and strong for most of my ride but in spite of this we had some good work in the canter which is his tougher gait. Carl worked with us positioning him in renvers to the left to help straighten him and after numerous crooked trips down the centerline I was able to really straighten him, which totally changed the balance of the canter. Carl asked if I was going to do any CDI’s with Gani and thought I should, which was a huge moment for me! He also made a point of praising me for training him myself from a young horse to Grand Prix which also felt really amazing! Gani isn’t perfect but he is all me – mistakes and all as I learned how to train horses. While I had wished he was a little less amped up for the ride, I was so proud of my little horse that has opened so many doors for me and given me wonderful experiences his whole life. Everyone (including Carl) loved that he was so fresh, spunky, looking good and ready for work at seventeen. To me, this is the most important thing! Sadly there was no video allowed at the event so there was no opportunity to watch my ride but I have replayed it a thousand times in my mind. Gani never works this hard all at once so I am sure is going to sleep well tonight!

October 15, 2017

Sunday is here! I am a little sore from yesterday’s ride trying to hold back the dragon, so I am hoping Gani is a bit less wild today. He feels good in the warm-up (clearly in better shape that I am) and we head into the arena for day two. Thank goodness today Carl lets us work on the trot/piaffe/passage, which is more Gani’s strong suit. We had some awesome exercises where we trotted directly into the corner to a halt, and then turned toward the corner and trotted out to get Gani waiting for me and rebalancing in the corners instead of rushing through. It really helped me have the ability to ride into each corner and control the balance of the trot. We worked on big leg yields in passage to make him more supple and then Carl walked beside me in the piaffe to vary the tempo forward and back. This was really good for Gani as he has a very good piaffe on the spot but I have never asked for any variety in the piaffe. By going forward and then thinking rein-back, it improved the sitting and quality of the steps in the piaffe. Both days Gani struggled in the free-walk when we were taking walk breaks as he was so amped up. Carl had us do “sharks teeth” zig-zags in the free walk to keep directing his energy so he couldn’t rush in the walk. This was a nice way to help slow him down without needing to hold him back.  Gani has never felt as strong or “up” in his whole life as he did for this clinic. I have never felt that I had to hold him back, and he has always had a very good effective half halt.

It was challenging for me to ride a different horse in front of Carl and a thousand people than I am used to riding, but it was great to learn tools for my toolbox to deal with a hotter horse. I really attribute his youthfulness at his age to the nutrition program he is on and the great care of our practitioners (farrier, masseuse, chiropractor, vets, and caregivers) to his excellent physical shape. The longer he has been on the Enviro Equine products, the more his overall health has improved. I am so thankful these supplements came into our life when they did and that my old man is still going strong!

Now that we are back home, Gani has returned instantly to his normal self. He is turning out and having a little break after his long travel and hard work at the clinic. All of my training horses are benefitting from the tools and exercises I learned from Carl and I think it is safe to say that I, like everyone at the clinic, walked away completely inspired. It was obvious why Carl is who he is – the attention to detail and high standards for basics is a common theme I have noticed in all of the top riders I have known. I loved that even though the work was, at times, challenging, it was always with clear purpose and keeping the horse’s best interest in mind. I think it is awesome that he keeps his young horses outside and even the FEI horses are allowed turnout, and it was wonderful to hear that they do so much work outside the arena with all of the horses. I hope that someday I will be able to visit his yard and watch he and Charlotte train.

I am so thankful for this opportunity and for my support system who make it possible for me to be here. Thanks to NEDA and Pineland who did an amazing job putting the clinic together, and huge thanks to my folks, staff at home, friends, and clients who made it possible for me to participate. I have to give major thanks to my awesome sponsors Enviro Equine, Theraplate Revolution, Custom Saddlery, The Kneaded Edge, and Neue Schule for their continued support and for being such an important part of keeping Gani feeling his best!  It really does take a village and I am super grateful for mine!

Ashley and Gani’s program includes: