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Official Publication of the United States Dressage Federation

Does That Foal Have FEI Potential? (p. 24) Sport-Horse Conditioning Tips from Dr. Hilary Clayton (p. 12) Marilyn Heath Explains the Revised Pyramid of Training (p. 22)

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22 30

(Balance and Lightness of the Forehand from Increased Engagement)



Impulsion (Engagement and the Desire to Go Forward)


(Connection and Acceptance of the Bit through Acceptance of the Aids)

ne gh rou Th ence” i ng asi Obed cr e “In and ss

“Ph ysi Pro cal D gre eve lo ssi ve pme Co nd n t t h itio r nin ough g”

(Improved Alignment and Equal, Lateral Suppleness on Both Reins)


(Elasticity and Freedom from Anxiety)


(Regularity and Tempo)


24 30 35


Can dressage success be predicted?

4 INSIDE USDF Get a Jump on Your Dressage


6 RINGSIDE Hope Springs Eternal

By Sarah Evers Conrad

American athletes win first-ever World Equestrian Games medals By Kim MacMillan


An overview of WFFS and how breeders are fighting back By Heather Smith Thomas



Are you feeling “stuck” in your riding and unable to progress? By Penny Hawes


5 8 10 44 46 46 47


By Kevin Bradbury

By Jennifer O. Bryant

12 HORSE-HEALTH CONNECTION Some Thoughts on Conditioning Dressage Horses

By Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Diplomate ACVSMR, MRCVS

14 CLINIC Sequential Schooling of the Dressage Horse

By Hilda Gurney

22 THE JUDGE’S BOX The New Pyramid of Training

By Marilyn Heath

48 THE TAIL END Teaching Two

By Katherine Roe


ON OUR COVER The 2015 KWPN filly Katarina d’Rosa S (Ampère x Farrington x Jazz), bred by Sonnenberg Farm, Sherwood, Oregon. Photo by Gina Ruediger.

Volume 20, Number 7


December 2018/January 2019


inside usdf


Spice up your next dressage show with a Prix Caprilli class By Kevin Bradbury, Administrative Council At-Large Director


ere’s a dressage-test pattern you probably haven’t seen before: D-E, half-pass left; before H, flying change; M, change rein over jump #1. As a show manager, one of my goals is to make dressage shows interesting and fun. A potential “fun” element long on my list was Prix Caprilli (a dressage test incorporating jumps), which I offered for the first time this past summer. I had received requests for Prix Caprilli classes over the years but had never offered them at shows. I myself enjoy jumping, so I finally decided that it was high time to offer the class and evaluate the response. Entries were sparse at first, but even with a single entry here and there, I started getting more questions and expressions of interest. By the end of the summer, we had five Prix Caprilli tests one afternoon! In modern dressage in the United States, Prix Caprilli has a following at non-US Equestrian-licensed dressage shows. Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival, which holds Prix Caprilli classes, is often referenced as an example; and many schooling shows offer Prix Caprilli classes. It is less common to find Prix Caprilli at licensed dressage shows, but the US Equestrian dressage rules do specifically permit the inclusion of Prix Caprilli tests. Dressage and jumping have a shared history. In the 1960s and 1970s, First through Fourth Level classes at some dressage shows required riders to jump a fence after completing their tests. A 1970s Prix Caprilli test shared with me featured a row of cavalletti and three jumps, one of which was a combination. Prix Caprilli also encourages beneficial cross-training (which Dr. Hilary Clayton discusses in detail in “HorseHealth Connection” on page 12 of this issue). Many dressage trainers

cross-train their horses in jumping, and Prix Caprilli offers an opportunity to showcase those benefits. Prix Caprilli adds another dimension to dressage—one that makes dressage more interesting and diverse. The exhibitors who rode Prix Caprilli tests at my shows were, in general, very positive about their experiences, and several spectators expressed interest in showing Prix Caprilli themselves next year. Holding Prix Caprilli classes does mean some added work for the show, because jumps are needed for both the test and the warm-up. The tests that we used did not dictate exact dimensions and placement of the jumps, but care must be taken to ensure that jumps do not impede the path and geometry of the test pattern. There is nothing in the rules about Prix Caprilli warm-up, but it seemed prudent to have a separate warm-up designated only for Prix Caprilli. To avoid any possible concerns from exhibitors in other classes, we held the Prix Caprilli classes at the end of the day when no other arenas were in use. Finding jumps to borrow was not difficult; one facility had jumps, so it was especially easy. Next year, I will probably acquire jumps specifically for Prix Caprilli classes so they can become part of our regular show equipment. Prix Caprilli classes have been well received at my shows so far, and I hope to see more exhibitors sign up for the classes next year. It is a fun option for exhibitors and spectators— and for the horses! s

4 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

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Hope Springs Eternal Sport-horse breeders focus on the future

The Official Publication of the United States Dressage Federation EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Stephan Hienzsch 859/271-7887 •

——— Editorial——— EDITOR

latest efforts in our special report, “Genetic Disease Strikes the Warmblood Breeds” (page 35). All of us who are involved in dressage need to support our sport-horse breeders. Were it not for the wonderful horses they bring into the world, we would have no sport. Even those riders, trainers, and judges at the top of the dressage food chain marvel at the talented horses being bred today. There are sport horses to suit every sort of dressage rider, from kids and amateurs to international competitors. I particularly admire those horses that possess not only top dressage talent but the steadiness of temperament that makes them suitable for our para-equestrian dressage riders. These remarkable horses and their riders are gaining visibility in the equestrian world, and at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018, US para-dressage team members won their first-ever WEG medals. See page 30 for our report and fabulous photos of the WEG para-dressage competition. Happy holidays, and may your dressage dreams come true in 2019. If you love your horse, take a moment this busy holiday season to drop his breeder a card or a note with a photo. It will mean the world to the breeder.

Jennifer O. Bryant, Editor @JenniferOBryant

6 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Jennifer O. Bryant 610/344-0116 • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR


Melissa Creswick (CA) Margaret Freeman (NC) Lisa Gorretta (OH) Anne Gribbons (FL) Terry Wilson (CA)


Janine Malone Lisa Gorretta • Elisabeth Williams


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Danielle Titland 720/300-2266 • USDF Connection is published ten times a year by the United States Dressage Federation, 4051 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, KY 40511. Phone: 859/971-2277. Fax: 859/971-7722. E-mail:, Web site: USDF members 7 receive USDF Connection as a membership benefit, paid by membership dues. Copyright © 2018 USDF. All rights reserved. Reproduction of articles requires permission from USDF. Other text may be reproduced with credit given to USDF Connection. USDF reserves the right to refuse any advertising or copy that is deemed unsuitable for USDF and its policies. Excluding advertisements, all photos with mounted riders must have safety head gear or USEF-approved competition hat. USDF assumes no responsibility for the claims made in advertisements. Statements of fact and opinion are those of the experts consulted and authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the policy of USDF. The publishers reserve the right to reject any advertising deemed unsuitable for USDF, as well as the right to reject or edit any manuscripts received for publication. USDF assumes no responsibility for unsolicited material. All materials must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Questions about your subscription or change in address? Contact USDF Membership Department, 859/971-2277, or POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO: USDF, 4051 IRON WORKS PARKWAY, LEXINGTON, KY 40511. Canadian Agreement No. 1741527. Canada return address: Station A, P.O. Box 54, Windsor, Ontario N9A 6J5.



orse breeding is all about hope and promise. Breeders mate the best to the best and hope for the best, as the old saying goes. Although there is a tremendous amount of science and high-tech wizardry involved in modern horse breeding, we can’t engineer greatness. All we can really do is select a mare and a stallion whose bloodlines, traits, and performance records complement one another, and hope that the pull of the genetic slot-machine lever will come up a winner. When it comes to horses, there are always “sleepers” that don’t show their true talents until they’re a little older, but sport-horse breeders typically know which of their babies are special. Some breeders say they can spot FEI potential even at the foal stage. In our cover story in this special stallion and breeding issue, “From Foal to FEI” (page 24), experienced sport-horse breeders and dressage trainers share their stories and their advice to those who—as Olympian Laura Graves did with her Verdades—want to invest in a foal for the future. Unfortunately, as breeders also know all too well, the business of breeding inevitably brings heartbreak. Mares abort, foals are lost at birth, and babies suffer injuries. This year brought a “new”—not really new, but largely unknown until now—worry to the sport-horse world: the genetic disorder warmblood fragile-foal syndrome (WFFS). A group of sporthorse breeders has banded together to raise awareness of this catastrophic genetic defect and to encourage owners of warmblood stallions and mares to test their stock to determine whether the horses carry the WFFS gene, and sport-horse registries are also beginning to require testing. Learn more about WFFS and the


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Freestyle Awards Should Be Expanded


fter reading Janet Hannon’s article on the upcoming changes for freestyle (“Freestyle Connection: Introducing the 2019 USDF Freestyle Tests,” October), I have some observations. She said that freestyles are rising in popularity and that there is the chance to compete at the US Dressage Finals. While both are certainly true, one has only to attend local shows and to look at USDF’s yearend All-Breeds award standings to see that very few adult amateurs and junior/young riders actually compete in freestyle past Second Level. Why is this the case? I asked my fellow competitors, and the overall answer was that beyond the USDF freestyle-bar rider awards, there are no further freestyle goals to achieve. Although the breed organizations could offer AA or Jr/YR freestyle awards, it appears that they offer only one open category for each level. And at local shows, organizers say that there are not enough freestyle participants to warrant offering separate classes. But I have seen countless other dressage classes with only one or two entrants, and they receive awards. My fellow riders say: What’s the point in competing against the open riders while also being grouped with First, Second, and even Third and Fourth Levels in one class? Dressage riders are goal-driven: We respond to rewards. And speaking of goals, not every adult amateur can go to the US Dressage Finals, even though it’s a great honor to qualify. USDF has always been supportive and rewarding of riders working on goals. Freestyles are highlights at shows, with most classes attracting large audiences. If you want those classes to grow, maybe show organizers and breed organizations can offer freestyle divisions and awards for adult amateurs and junior/ young riders. But for now, we aren’t feeling the love. Name withheld by request

8 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

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Your Dressage World This Month FINANCIAL AID

FEI Mulls Future of WEG, Recommends Sport Changes at General Assembly


n the wake of the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) Tryon 2018 in North Carolina, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) declared its intention to solicit bids for individual world championships in its eight disciplines for 2022. Dressage and paraequestrian dressage championships would be held in combination.

WEG REDUX: At the 2018 FEI General Assembly, the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 are discussed by Equestrian Community Integrity Unit representative Andrew Smith, FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez, and FEI director of Games operations Tim Hadaway

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez made the announcement during the 2018 FEI General Assembly in Manama, Bahrain, in November. Preference will be given to multi-discipline bids, she said. “This does not necessarily mean the end of the FEI World Equestrian Games,” said Ibáñez, “and bids to host all-discipline Games will still be considered.” Recent editions of the WEG have been plagued with financial woes, logistical difficulties, and other challenges (“Silver Linings,” November). Infrastructure construction for the Tryon WEG was not completed on time after the

original 2018 host city backed out just two years before the opening ceremony, and the problem-riddled 2018 WEG endurance competition was eventually canceled. Hurricane Florence depressed spectator attendance in Tryon, and the storm forced the cancellation of the dressage freestyle. There have not been individual quadrennial FEI-discipline world championships since the WEG debuted in 1990. Holding the dressage, para-dressage, jumping, eventing, reining, driving, vaulting, and endurance championships “all under one roof ” is an exciting equestrian extravaganza for spectators, sponsors, and vendors; but some say the format has become too expensive and unwieldy to stage. Dressage Judging Working Group issues recommendations. The FEI Dressage Judging Working Group presented an update on the implementation of its 19 recommendations, ranging from reconfiguring the judging system to eliminate possible bias, to formatting future judging directives and references to ensure that they are specific to the specific viewing position of each judge. FEI relaxes officials retirement rule. Seventy may be the new 50, but the dressage community has long chafed at the FEI rule requiring officials to retire at that age. That’s going to change: The age limit will be replaced by a competency-based evaluation system. FEI officials reaching the relevant age limit as of 2018 may apply to continue officiating providing they have been active for the past two years, their application is supported by their national federation, and they are in good standing with the FEI. FEI officials who retired in 2017 or before may only reapply once the competency-based assessment has been implemented.

10 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Instructor/Trainer Program Grant Fund Established


s a founding member and examiner of USDF’s Instructor/ Trainer Program, Gerhard Politz, Glendale, California, knows the positive impact that a formal classical education can have on young dressage professionals. Understanding that finances can hinder participation in educational programs, he created the Gerhard Politz Instructor Education Fund for Young PAYING IT FORWARD: Adults. Politz and friend To be administered by The Dressage Foundation, Lincoln, Nebraska (, the fund will award grants for young adults aged 18 to 25 to attend the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program. Grants will range from $500 to $1,500. The initial application deadline is April 10, 2019. “Having gone through professional certification programs in England and Germany,” said Politz, a native of Germany, “I am fortunate to have had great mentors and teachers. I believe it is very important that people acquire a good foundation early in life if they aspire to become professionals, which is my reason for establishing this fund at TDF. I am currently donating clinic fees for these grants, so anyone who wishes to participate in supporting young adults through a clinic can contact me at”





Beth Haist, Dressage Specialty Retailer


ob title: CEO, The Horse of Course, Claremore, Oklahoma, and two mobile units (thehorseofcourse. com)


What I do: I basically run the dressage mobile on the East Coast. So I’m in New York in the summer, and I’m in Wellington, Florida, for the winter. I also give lectures about bits and bitting all over the place. How I got started: I routed airplanes for a living. I used to go to Europe every

What you need to know this month

year, and people would ask me to bring [equestrian] stuff back for them, because at that time there wasn’t that much here for dressage. Somebody came to me and said, “You know what to get. How about we’ll do it together?” I said, I already have a job. They said, “You can be the consultant, and we’ll just do this part-time.” Well, here we are 20 years later, and it consumed my life to a point that I didn’t ride any more, didn’t have the farm any more. It was just the tack business completely. Best thing about my job: My clients. Worst thing about my job: The amount of correspondence. My horses: No. I couldn’t possibly. It’s sad. I think maybe I’ll end up being an owner. Tip: Scotchgard your saddle pads and your white breeches. That will make them stain-resistant for up to two years. —Katherine Walcott

Attention, 2018 Award Recipients AWARDS NOT PICKED UP at the 2018 Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet will be mailed to award recipients at the end of December. Please contact the USDF office if you have not received your award by January 30, 2019.


US Dressage Festival of Champions to Return to Lamplight


ollowing its successful 2018 move to Lamplight Equestrian Center, Wayne, Illinois, the US Dressage Festival of Champions will return to that venue in 2019, US Equestrian announced in November. As they were in 2018, all 14 US Equestrian dressage national championships—including the Young and Developing Horse championships and the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals—will be held at the 2019 event, August 20-25. Learn more at



“Triple A” Magazine Features Dressage Destination



ne of our country’s most recognized bastions of classical dressage was featured in the November/ December issue of AAA World, the member magazine of the well-known travelers association AAA. In the article “All Access Pass,” Tempel Farms, Old Mill Creek, Illinois, was spotlighted as a destination offering behind-the-scenes tours for curious travelers wanting more than the standard visitor experience. The item touts the spectacle of watching Tempel’s Lipizzan stallions in performance and mentions that special tours offer the opportunity to watch training sessions and to visit the Lipizzan mares and foals. USDF CONNECTION

December 2018/January 2019


Some Thoughts on Conditioning Dressage Horses From playful foals to interval training, the latest science on developing sound and happy equine athletes

By Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Diplomate ACVSMR, MRCVS


he most important fitness requirement for dressage horses is strength. If you look up a definition of strength, it includes wording indicating the capacity for exertion or endurance but also the power to resist force. Dressage horses require both of these types of strength in different locomotor tissues.

NATURE’S CONDITIONING PROGRAM: Foals’ natural play behavior is the best way to build strong bones and soft tissues during the crucial early years of life

The muscles are the motors that drive locomotion. Muscular contractions generate propulsion, support engagement, elevate the forehand, and maintain a rounded posture of the neck and back. The type of muscular strength required for dressage is different than the explosive power required for jumping; instead, dressage horses need muscular endurance so that the muscles can contract repeatedly through the duration of a test or train-

ing session without becoming fatigued. One of the functions of the ligaments and tendons is to help the muscles to support the joints by limiting their range of motion. For example, the suspensory ligament and the digital flexor tendons support the fetlock and limit sinking of the fetlock during weight-bearing. These structures are somewhat elastic, so they stretch as the fetlock sinks and recoil as the fetlock rises. Strength allows the ligaments and tendons to resist the loading forces during weight-bearing. A dressage horse needs muscular strength and endurance to perform the movements without becoming fatigued, which would result in deterioration in the quality of the performance and could lead to a muscular strain. Dressage horses also need to have strong ligaments and tendons to support the limbs when they are loaded. Tendon and ligament injuries are most often repetitive-strain injuries, which implies that they are the result of repetitive, relatively low-level loading rather than a single catastrophic event, such as stepping in a hole. The injury takes the form of a strain, such as suspensory ligament desmopathy (pulled suspensory) or superficial digital tendinopathy (strained tendon). Going back to our definition of strength, muscle requires the capacity for exertion and endurance, whereas ligaments and tendons must be able to resist tensile forces. In this article, I’ll discuss some management and training tips to influence the development of appropriate types of strength in a dressage horse, with the goals of maximizing performance while maintaining soundness.

12 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Foals Need to Behave Like Foals It has been established beyond doubt that the first two years of a horse’s life are the critical time for the development of joint cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Exercise is essential during this time period to optimize growth and development of these tissues so that they will be able to withstand the loads imposed during dressage training later in life. Beyond two years of age, these tissues have limited ability to strengthen in response to the stimulus of exercise, and they have limited ability to heal if they are injured. The most effective way of building strong, resilient articular cartilage, ligaments, and tendons is through turnout with other foals during the early weeks and months of their lives. Foals’ normal exercise and play behavior have proven superior to any structured exercise program for this purpose. Play behavior is beneficial because leaping, bucking, rearing, and play-fighting load the limbs in a diverse manner that stimulates multidirectional adaptations of the locomotor tissues. Take-home message: Horses that are destined for athletic careers need the opportunity to run and play as foals and yearlings in order to develop into sound, resilient athletes. Try to find out how your dressage prospect was reared before making a decision to purchase.

Start the Young Horse Slowly, and Progress Gradually Opinions vary as to the ideal age to start a young horse. Some trainers prefer to wait until the horse is skeletally mature, at four or five years of age; others start earlier in order to be ready to compete in young-horse classes. As a rule of thumb, the earlier the horse starts work, the more slowly the workload should be increased. Modern-day sport horses are immensely talented, and this makes it easy to forge ahead with training the technical skills. The problem is that this rapid progression may not allow sufficient time for the muscles to adapt and strengthen.


horse-health connection

Strong muscles help to support the joints and relieve some tension from the ligaments. Without appropriate muscular strength to share the load, stress on the suspensory ligaments and flexor tendons increases, setting the stage for a possible future repetitive-strain injury. It is the trainer’s responsibility to control the horse’s rate of progress up the levels to allow time to ensure the development of adequate muscular strength and fitness for each new level of competition. Moving up the competition ladder too quickly risks activating an injury that may plague the horse for the rest of his career. Take-home message: Athletically talented horses may learn the movements more quickly than their lessgifted peers, but they need just as long to develop strength and fitness, and this limits the overall rate of progress. Allow time for strength development at each step of the training process, and avoid the temptation to move up the levels too quickly.

Higher Levels of Competition Require Highly Sport-Specific Conditioning Although early diversification is beneficial to a young horse’s health and development, there comes a point in dressage training when specialization is necessary to develop the highly sport-specific muscular strength required. One of the reasons that it takes so long for a horse to reach the higher levels of dressage is the

interdependence of technical skills and muscular strength. Muscular adaptation is specific to the joint angle and speed of contraction. It is not sufficient simply to activate a muscle; the muscle must be worked repeatedly in the same manner, as in the dressage movements. This means that the horse needs to be able to perform a movement correctly in order to strengthen the appropriate muscles. As the muscles get stronger, performance of the movement improves. [

Diverse Activity Benefits Young Horses Diversification implies that an athlete is involved in a variety of sports and activities through which they acquire an array of skills, many of which apply across different sports. In training dressage horses, early diversification facilitates learning a range of motor skills and building a strong foundation. Any benefits from early concentration on a single sport tend to be offset by the limitations in motor-skill development, a greater risk of overuse injuries, and boredom. Young horses undoubtedly benefit from early diversification, and statistics show that if horses compete in two or more disciplines before they are seven years old, they have longer competitive careers than those that participate in only one sport. Take-home message: Diversity in the training program benefits the young horse’s physical and mental development. USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


horse-health connection

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Cross-training, like this treadmill session, helps to relieve horses’ boredom and varies the physical workout

A good way to develop strength for upper-level dressage is to repeat the dressage movements in an

interval-training format. Interval training is a conditioning technique in which periods of intense exercise, called work phases, alternate with rest intervals that allow partial recovery and reduce the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. An example of interval training for dressage is to perform a set number of steps of a movement that requires muscular strength (such as half-steps or pirouette steps) as the work phase, followed by moving forward in an easier, more relaxed gait, which is the rest interval. Several repetitions of alternating work periods and rest intervals form a set, after which the horse has a longer rest, usually at the walk, before performing another set. Over time, the number of steps that form the work period is increased progressively, leading to improved endurance in the actively contracting muscles so that the horse becomes stronger in a highly sportspecific manner. For more tips on interval training for dressage, see “Intro to Interval Training” below.

One caveat: In order to improve strength in a beneficial manner, the horse must perform the movement correctly; otherwise the wrong muscles or the wrong coordination patterns are trained. Take-home message: Incorporating the movements of the sport into the conditioning exercises yields highly specific improvements in muscle strength and endurance.

Cross-Training Is Beneficial— but Maybe Not for the Reasons You Thought Cross-training is a popular method of building sound, fit, all-around athletes, both human and equine. For the equine athlete, a huge benefit of cross-training is that it gets the horse out of “the sandbox” and doing something other than drilling the dressage movements. This has mental benefits in relieving boredom and also—very important—the variety reduces the risk of repetitive-strain injuries by


elp your horse build the strength he needs for dressage work through interval training, in which periods of work are interspersed with periods of rest. Here’s an example of dressage-specific interval training. On a 20-meter circle in collected canter, increase the degree of collection for one-quarter of each circle, and ride the remaining three-quarters of the circle in collected canter. The increased collection is the work interval, and the “regular” collected canter is the rest interval. Perform four circles; that’s one set. Then allow your horse to rest for two minutes in a free walk on a long rein. Repeat the entire sequence on the opposite rein. Practice the interval-training sequence three days a week as part of your training session. In week two, increase the number of circles from four to five in each direction; in week three, increase to six circles; and in week four, to seven circles. By the end of the fourth week, your horse should be getting stronger, and it should feel easier to maintain the very collected steps. At this point, you could change the exercise in one of the following ways: • Split each set: Ride four sets, each with four repetitions of the canter circles; then build up the number

of repetitions in each set as before. • Maintain the same number of repetitions, but gradually increase the amount of very collected canter until, after a few weeks, it occupies half of each circle. • Change the pattern: Ride the very collected canter in a straight line along the long side of the arena for 10 meters, followed by a 20-meter half-circle. Repeat on the opposite long side. The distance covered in very collected canter can be increased each week, but now the horse must remain straight. These are examples of how an interval-training exercise can be made progressively more challenging to strengthen the horse. You can devise your own variations to address weaknesses in your horse’s performance. What distinguishes strengthening exercises from regular training exercises is the adherence to performing a set number of repetitions and the regular increases in the distance or intensity of the work periods. Always pay attention to the quality of the work. If the horse becomes fatigued, cool down carefully and, if necessary, cut back on the work periods for a few workouts.

14 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION


Intro to Interval Training

imposing different loading patterns on the limbs. Therefore, cross-training falls under the category of diversity rather than specificity. Cross-training can take many forms, depending on the availability of equipment and facilities and on the rider’s preferences. It might include hacking, hill work, galloping, jumping, swimming, underwater treadmill, cold-water spa, or working equitation; it just needs to be something different from schooling in an arena. We should realize, however, that crosstraining does not specifically enhance dressage performance; rather, its value lies in preserving soundness and preventing boredom.

Meet the Expert


r. Hilary Clayton is the professor and Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair emerita. She was the original holder of the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, East Lansing, from 1997 to 2014. At the same time, she was a professor in MSU’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. A world-renowned expert on equine biomechanics and conditioning, Dr. Clayton is president of Sport Horse Science, LC, which is dedicated to translating research data into practical advice for riders, trainers, and veterinarians through lectures, articles, and private consultations. A USDF gold, silver, and bronze medalist, she is a longtime USDF Connection contributing editor and a past member of the US Equestrian Federation’s Dressage Committee.

Take-home message: Crosstraining is a valuable addition to a dressage training program as a means of preserving orthopedic health, but it is not the key to elite performance; this requires highly sport-specific training.

A Delicate Balance Through the use of physiological conditioning, we aim to improve the horse’s performance by increasing his strength, power, stamina, and brilliance. Our

efforts to improve performance are, however, tempered by the need to build and maintain a resilient musculoskeletal support system that can withstand the rigors of training and competing. There is a delicate balance between doing enough work to stimulate strengthening and doing too much, which has a damaging effect. When in doubt, err on the side of caution because repetitive-strain injuries are a serious risk to the horse’s health and indeed to his entire career as a dressage horse. s


Trainers Conference January 21-22, 2019 High Meadow Farm • Loxahatchee, FL


Debbie McDonald,

US Dressage Technical Advisor and the

US Dressage Coaches Debbie McDonald

Christine Traurig

US Dressage Young Horse Coach

George Williams US Dressage Youth Coach

Charlotte Bredahl

US Dressage Assistant Youth Coach

For attendance criteria, registration, curriculum, and travel information, visit

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019




Sequential Schooling of the Dressage Horse Fourth in a series. This month: Shoulder-in. By Hilda Gurney Photographs by Hillair Carthine Bell


houlder-in may be introduced in several different ways, depending on the characteristics of the horse. If your horse has a fairly reliable, steady, on-the-bit walk, it can be introduced at the walk. In most cases where the walk doesn’t energetically move forward or the horse doesn’t maintain contact or constantly breaks into a jog, the shoulder-in will be best introduced at the trot, while long hours of remedial schooling are spent on the walk.

FIGURE 1. Shoulder-in is a three-track movement. The rider’s inside leg is used just behind the girth, outside leg farther behind the girth, and both hands shift slightly to the inside. The horse’s bending should fill out the outside rein, while the inside rein stays slightly off the neck. Adapted from a series published in Dressage & CT, September 1978-October 1979. Reprinted by permission of the estate of Ivan I. Bezugloff Jr.

Aids for shoulder-in are as follows: both hands move to the inside to bring the horse’s shoulder inside the track; inside leg just behind the girth, keeping the horse’s haunches on the track; outside leg behind the girth preventing the haunches from swinging to the outside (although this fault should not be worried about or corrected until the horse has a basic understanding of shoulder-in); both legs continue to move the horse forward into the rein contact. Weight should be more on the inside stirrup than the outside stirrup. The rider’s hips should be in alignment with the horse’s hips, with slightly more weight on the inside hip (Figure 1). All of the above sounds good until you put it into practice. It takes the horse about two strides of shoulderin to find out that it is a suppling and collecting exercise. He has to bend both his spine and rib cage as well as carry his inside hind leg more under his body. In three strides, your quick-thinking horse will find one of many effective resistances to avoid the gymnastic effects of the shoulder-in. As soon as the rider recognizes and corrects one resistance, the horse is bound to try another. Only when the rider is able to recognize and correct all the resistances and assorted combinations of resistances that the horse thinks up will the shoulder-in be consistently performed correctly. When first asked for the shoulderin, the horse should be rewarded by being straightened after only a few strides. A three-track shoulder-in is

16 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

asked for. If more angle is requested, leg-yield will be performed, since a horse’s spine can bend laterally only slightly. Too great an angle will also keep the horse from moving sufficiently forward. Quick reward will help motivate the horse to please you. Gradually the shoulder-in can be maintained for longer periods. The horse may be straightened by moving him into a circle, a change of rein, or by moving his shoulder back onto the rail (Figure 2). Straightening of the horse’s neck should be done as his body is brought back to the track so that the neck and body are kept in alignment.

FIGURE 2. A: Transition from shoulder-in to a change of rein. The horse is straightened for the change of rein. B: Transition from shoulder-in into a circle. The bending can be maintained throughout.

One of the first resistances usually encountered is the horse simply coming in off the track, all of him, instead of responding to the rider’s inside leg. Correction may be effected by the rider using a stronger inside leg and repeated half-halts to prevent the horse from moving off the track. Counter-shoulder-in is another effective correction technique (Figure 3). Counter-shoulder-in is easier for the green horse to perform than shoulder-in. The rail prevents the horse from moving off the track (unless he jumps the rail). During the counter-shoulder-in, the rider uses the opposite aids as for shoulder-in.

The horse’s neck must not be allowed to turn too far outside the rail, but must be kept in alignment with the horse’s body. When the horse

performs counter-shoulder-in right, a half-turn in reverse may be performed followed by shoulder-in right. (Left counter-shoulder-in would be followed by shoulder-in left.) Practicing counter-shoulder-in followed by shoulder-in is helpful for the green horse (Figure 4). “Neck-in,” alias “popping the shoulder out,” is the most commonly seen evasion (I have judged Second Level classes with over 20 entries without ever seeing a shoulder leave

the track—only the neck). In performing this effective evasion, the horse generally brings his shoulder in for a stride or two before breaking his neck at its base and popping his shoulder back out on the track. He moves forward on one track with his head still nicely in, and his rider none the wiser for the trick the horse has played (Figure 5). To correct this problem, the rider must make sure that he or she isn’t using too much inside rein, telling the horse to turn his

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USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


clinic neck in. First, use less inside rein and see if this corrects the problem. If not, try using more outside rein with the hand placed near the horse’s shoulder (Figure 6). Frequently, if this correction is effective, the rider will have the unhappy surprise of finding that the horse does not really respond to his or her inside leg. Shoulder-in means

FIGURE 5. Shoulder-in with too much neck— the most common fault.

FIGURE 6. Alternating shoulder-in with moving in from the rail. A useful exercise for correcting the tendency to throw the haunches to the outside.

that the shoulder is inside the track and the haunches are on the track. When performing “neck-in,” the horse has both his shoulder and haunches on the track. When “neck-in” is corrected, he will frequently avoid bending by simply ignoring the rider’s inside leg and bringing his haunches off the track along with his shoulders. Correct this fault by making the horse respond to the inside leg, moving his haunches back to the track. Beware! He will try to pop his shoulder back, too! If this correction isn’t effective, work on counter-shoulder-in, reinforcing the active leg with the whip as necessary. When the counter-shoulder-in is performed well, alternate with shoulder-in. “Rushing” is another common resistance. When the horse rushes, half-halts should be used until the proper tempo is reestablished. These half-halts can be performed during the shoulder-in. Another exercise is to execute a circle whenever the horse begins to rush, performing shoulderin again on the track. Increasing the angle will also help the rusher somewhat. An increased angle keeps the horse slower due to the greater crossing of the legs. Most horses rush because they confuse the rider’s positioning inside leg with a driving aid. Increasing the angle will not only mechanically prevent the horse from rushing, but also clarify the positioning effect of the rider’s inside leg. “Loss of impulsion” is another common resistance. This is frequently a rider problem caused by pulling hands. A simple correction is to stop pulling. Many riders forget to use forward driving leg and seat aids when executing shoulder-in. The shoulderin aids should be superimposed on the standard driving aids for the gait. A common fault is for the rider to thrust his or her outside leg forward instead of maintaining its pulsating driving effect behind the girth. Frozen hips are also common. Supple hips should maintain the rhythm of the gait during the shoulder-in. In cases when the rider is assured that his or her aids are

18 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

correct and impulsion still is lost, the rider may increase driving aids and, if necessary, use the whip. Too much angle makes the horse slow down. Lessening the angle will help the horse to move more forward. When impulsion is established, the angle can be again increased by slight degrees until impulsion is maintained at the proper three-track angle. Moving the horse forward in a lengthening after shoulder-in will help engage the horse for the lengthening, and having the horse ready to lengthen will keep the impulsion in the shoulder-in. Tilting heads are usually caused by lack of impulsion. Half-halts to better connect the horse will generally solve this problem. When a horse moves into the bit from the rider’s legs, he generally won’t tilt. However, if a horse is one-sided, unilateral half-halts with greater pressure on the hard side may be necessary to even up the contact and remedy the tilting. The horse’s neck must not get longer or shorter during the shoulder-in than at the collected trot. “Haunches swinging out” is when the horse moves his haunches to the outside of the track rather than bringing his shoulders in. One cause may be that the rider is not bringing the shoulders in from the track by moving his or her hands toward the inside. Another cause may be that the rider is carrying the inside leg too far back, pushing the haunches out. The horse may avoid moving into the bit during shoulder-in by sucking back and swinging his haunches outward. A useful exercise for this problem is to alternate shoulder-in with moving forward on a diagonal (Figure 6). The horse must move forward into the shoulder-in. Creeping in off the track during the shoulder-in is another correcting exercise. It may be discontinued as soon as the horse is confirmed in moving forward at the shoulder-in. “Varying angle” is when the angle of the horse to the track increases and decreases. Unsteady aids from the rider may cause this problem. As soon as the rider has led the horse’s shoulders

in to the proper angle, he or she must neutralize the aids just enough to keep the angle the same. If the rider continues to bring the horse’s shoulders in, the result will be too great an angle, associated with its problems of loss of impulsion and resistance. If the rider eases the aids too much, the result is a decrease of the angle. Learning the right balance of aids to get and maintain the correct angle of the shoulderin takes practice and feel on the part of the rider, and obedience and attentiveness on the part of the horse. Once the horse will keep his shoulders in and his haunches out on the track, more attention should be paid to the bending of the horse. It is the bending that makes shoulderin the effective suppling exercise it is. Only when the horse is bent by the rider’s leg aids is his inside hind leg forced to move under and carry more weight. Practiced correctly, this exercise strengthens the hind legs and supples the horse’s rib cage and back. The horse must be bent evenly in his

FIGURE 7. Shoulder-in with the horse evenly bent throughout. The hind legs do not cross.

FIGURE 8. Leg-yield. The hind legs should cross. In shoulder-in they should not cross.

body from poll to dock. More bending at the base of the neck, resulting in the shoulder’s being popped out,

must not be allowed. In a correct shoulder-in, the front legs cross while the hind legs don’t (Figure 7). Cross-

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019




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ing hind legs mean that the horse is leg-yielding rather than performing shoulder-in (Figure 8). To bend the horse, the rider must use the inside leg just behind the girth while the outside leg is carried farther back. If the rider’s inside leg is too far back, it will push the haunches out, resulting in leg-yield. Too much angle will also cause a horse to cross his hind legs in an otherwise correct shoulder-in. On many horses, the outside leg may be passive. On most horses, the outside leg is needed more when the shoulder-in is performed toward the horse’s hard side, when he will most likely throw his haunches outward to avoid bending. On the softer side, he will probably be more inclined to bend too much in the neck. A pulling inside rein or hands that cross over to the outside are signs that the horse isn’t responding properly to the rider’s legs. Rein aids are a poor substitute for the bending leg aids. Whenever the rider finds himself or herself pulling on or crossing reins over

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to the outside of the bend. he or she must return to effective leg aids or lose much of the beneficial suppling effects of shoulder-in. The crossing rein holds the haunches on the track, a job that belongs to the inside leg. Correct circles (with the inside rein off the neck and the horse filling out the outside rein from the rider’s inside leg) followed by shoulder-in and other circles, whenever necessary to reestablish response to leg aids, is an effective corrective exercise. Shoulder-in at canter is important for straightening the canter. When introduced, only a slight angle should be requested. Too much angle will cause the horse to break gait. As the horse better understands this exercise, a slightly greater angle may be performed, but never so much that the canter becomes labored. The neck must not be bent more than the body, and the haunches must not be allowed to fall outward. The inside leg must be used just behind the girth and not farther back, or there might be confusion later with the flying-change aids. For a flying-

change aid, the rider would use the inside leg behind the girth. In shoulderin, the inside leg remains on the girth. Shoulder-in performed at the canter has the same aids, problems, and corrections as at the walk and trot. Canter shoulder-in shouldn’t be introduced until the exercise is performed consistently at walk and trot. Shoulder-in is always performed toward the canter lead. Counter-shoulder-in is practiced only at counter-canter and is extremely useful for correcting the horse’s tendency to throw his haunches too much toward the lead in counter-canter. Shoulder-in may be used to correct the horse any time he puts his body out of alignment by popping a shoulder or throwing his haunches either in or out. The rider uses shoulder-in to place the horse’s shoulders back in alignment with his haunches. Shoulder-in is an extremely valuable exercise in the gymnastic schooling of the dressage horse. s In the next issue: Travers, half-pass, and collected and medium gaits.

When Hilda Gurney wrote this series for Dressage & CT magazine, it had been only two years since she had won a team bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics with her legendary Thoroughbred, Keen. Forty years later, Gurney is still going strong at her Keenridge in Moorpark, CA, where she continues to ride, train, and teach. For her contributions as a dressage professional, competitor, judge, sport-horse breeder, and more, she was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame in 2007. Keen was inducted in 1997.

IN THE NEXT ISSUE • 2018 USDF yearbook • 2018 convention coverage • Results: 2018 US Dressage Finals, Regional Championships, Breeders Championship Series Finals

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USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


the judge’s box

The time-tested “training scale” has some wording changes. Here’s what’s new in the 2019 update. By Marilyn Heath


ave you ever noticed that the purpose of each dressage level is stated at the top of each test, from Training through Fourth Levels? There, and also in the US Equestrian Rule Book, appears the phrase “to confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics….” In other words, the horse should demonstrate correct basics in order to compete at that level. So what exactly are those elusive basics? The basics are clearly and concisely

explained in the pyramid of training, which has been updated along with the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms and the 2019 USDF and US Equestrian dressage tests. Let’s go over the pyramid, with special emphasis on the revisions.

How the Pyramid Works First, it’s important to understand that the steps and concepts contained in the pyramid of training are • Required for the correct training of the horse, and


(Balance and Lightness of the Forehand from Increased Engagement)


(Engagement and the Desire to Go Forward)


(Connection and Acceptance of the Bit through Acceptance of the Aids)



n gh rou ce” Th ng dien e asi cre nd Ob a



“Ph ysi Pro cal D gre eve lo ssi ve pme Co nd nt th itio r nin ough g”

(Improved Alignment and Equal, Lateral Suppleness on Both Reins)

(Elasticity and Freedom from Anxiety)


(Regularity and Tempo) UPDATED WORDING, SAME GOAL: The pyramid of training aims to guide dressage training correctly

22 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Climbing the Pyramid: The Steps Explained The main headings in the 2019 revision are Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection. Each heading is followed by a brief parenthetical description: the definitions in the 2019 Glossary of Judging Terms, which summarize the concepts that accompany each step on the pyramid. Along with each step is a meaningful paragraph or two of explanation. To get the most out of your study of the pyramid of training, pay attention to the explanations of the words in the pyramid. The first step on the pyramid is Rhythm (Regularity and Tempo.) Rhythm is the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot, and pure canter. The tempo must be consistent and appropriate to the horse, and the horse should be in balance and self-carriage suitable to the level being shown. Dressage training should enhance the gaits, with correct tempo and balance allowing increased freedom and elasticity. Quality of the gaits is often the first directive idea of each movement. The two major changes in the 2019 pyramid update are the replacement of Relaxation with Suppleness on the second step, and the replacement of Connection with Contact on the third step. Let’s look at these terms in more detail. Relaxation has to do with the horse’s mental and physical state. Mental relaxation (freedom from anxiety) is a positive quality. A horse’s physical


The New Pyramid of Training

• Interrelated. In other words, from the very beginning of dressage training, we are working toward the goals of each step on the pyramid—on the rhythm of each gait, on suppleness with elasticity and relaxation, on acceptance of the aids, with impulsion, engagement, throughness, obedience, and straightness. All the time, with every horse at every level, we are addressing balance and an increasing lightness of the forehand.

and mental/emotional states often go hand in hand. His physical state requires muscle tone for function. As the horse moves, his muscles alternately contract and relax, but sustained contraction or rigidity of the muscles is harmful. Relaxation requires the absence of muscular contraction other than that needed for optimal carriage, strength, range, and fluency of movement. Suppleness (Elasticity and Freedom from Anxiety) is needed for the horse to move with flexibility, pliability, and elasticity. Suppleness is related to the horse’s conformation—that is, the length of the bones and angulation of the joints. However, the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons can be improved over time through proper conditioning and exercises. They can also be negatively impacted by incorrect training or riding. The USDF Glossary of Judging Terms defines elasticity as “the ability or tendency to stretch and contract the musculature smoothly, giving the impression of stretchiness or springiness.” Anxiety refers to the horse’s mental and emotional state. Contact (Connection and Acceptance of the Bit Through Acceptance of the Aids) means that the horse should be ridden from back to front, with the energy created by the rider’s driving aids received in the rider’s allowing hands. In other words, the horse must accept all of the aids, resulting in a harmonious interaction between horse and rider. The stretching circle demonstrates this concept, while the releasing of the reins demonstrates self-carriage. Together they demonstrate the quality of the connection. Impulsion includes the qualities in its accompanying parenthetical description: Engagement and the Desire to Go Forward. The horse carries himself forward with elasticity in his step, suppleness in his back, and engagement of his hindquarters. Impulsion is measured by the period of suspension in the trot and canter. It is required for the development of the medium paces and of (with the addition of collection) the extended paces.

Straightness (Improved Alignment and Equal, Lateral Suppleness on Both Reins) is the fifth step of the pyramid of training. Since by nature every horse is crooked (or “hollow” on one side), it is important to work from the beginning The major changes to the pyramid of training are the replacement of Relaxation with Suppleness and of Connection with Contact.

to develop straightness. Gymnastic exercises help the horse to engage both hind legs evenly to prepare for the collected work, thereby improving both his lateral and longitudinal balance. Collection (Balance and Lightness of the Forehand from Increased Engagement) is the pinnacle of the pyramid. The beginning of collection is expected at Second Level, but obviously Second Level is not the end goal of dressage training. The same basics apply as the training progresses through the levels, all the way to Grand Prix. The rider of the Grand Prix horse must constantly strive to maintain a clear rhythm, a correct and steady tempo, a supple back, and acceptance of the aids along with engagement, an even acceptance of the bit and bend, and a balance appropriate to the level. To achieve collection, the horse must engage his hindquarters and use his thoracic-sling muscles. He pushes himself up and back over his hindquarters, while at the same time bending the joints of his hind legs to carry his weight increasingly on the hindquarters and storing the energy to be released in the extended paces. In collection, the steps become shorter and more powerful and cadenced, and the rider’s aids can become lighter.

Let the Pyramid Guide Your Dressage Training The aim of dressage is to train the horse to be in a harmonious balance both physically and mentally,

while progressively conditioning his muscles to protect his joints, tendons, and ligaments to ensure his longevity. By following the pyramid of training in your daily work, your dressage training can be systematic and progressive. Remember that the steps are interrelated. Never ignore rhythm to work on suppleness, or neglect suppleness to focus on contact, or disregard contact to address impulsion, or forget about impulsion when you work on straightness, or overlook any of these elements in your quest for collection. At the same time, don’t wait to work on the “higher” steps while you work on the “lower” steps. They are all interrelated! s Marilyn Heath, of Venice, Florida, is a US Equestrian “S” dressage judge, a USDF L program faculty member, and a member of the USDF L Program and Judges Committees. In 2013 she received the USDF Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her contributions to the L program. NEBRASKADRESSAGE.ORG

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USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


DRESSAGE PROMISE: The 2017 colt Modern Pleasure S (Expression x Wynton x Ferro), a KWPN stallion candidate bred by Sonnenberg Farm, shows his naturally active hind leg and ability to lift his forehand from a very young age

From Foal to FEI

Can dressage success be predicted?



24 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION


he barn is alight with a hushed excitement: The new foal has arrived. This eagerly awaited baby is the product of two accomplished FEI-level dressage horses, both with star-studded pedigrees. That sire and dam were chosen, of course, in the hope that their offspring would also excel in the sport. Does dressage success breed dressage success? If you’re in the market for an FEI prospect and a foal is what you want (or can afford), can dressage talent be determined at such a young age? We asked four experienced sport-horse breeders, trainers, and riders to weigh in.

Secrets to Predicting Success Maryanna Haymon, owner of Marydell Farm in Columbus, North Carolina, has been breeding warmbloods for 27 years. She says that dressage standouts can indeed be spotted at the foal stage. “Every one that I’ve looked at that I’ve said, ‘That’s an FEI horse,’ they’ve made it that far,” she says. When Haymon sizes up a foal, she watches it play and interact with its dam and the outside world. She says that foals with an aptitude for dressage will perform such movements as piaffe half-steps, passage, flying changes, and canter pirouettes as they frolic in the field: “These things are natural to top-level horses when they are babies.” Haymon also looks for evidence of innate bravery, curiosity, and a desire to interact with humans, all of which, she believes, stoke the work ethic needed for high-level dressage achievement. She likes to see a foal that’s willing to leave its dam’s side to come over and sniff Haymon and her dogs when they visit, she says. KWPN breeders Gina and Dan Ruediger are strong believers in the importance of the mare and the mare line in predicting success. The Ruedigers, who own and operate Sonnenberg Farm in Sherwood, Oregon, say that a mare line containing individuals with successful competition records and with a reliable record of producing good sport horses is likely to go on doing so.


Shopping for a Foal: What to Look For Before you begin searching for a young dressage prospect, educate yourself about sport-horse bloodlines. Consider your own dressage skill level (or that of the intended rider), and determine which lines have demonstrated records of success and popularity with riders of similar abilities, advises international competitor, trainer, and clinician Heather Blitz. “Just because top riders love certain types of horses, it doesn’t mean they’re right for less-experienced riders,” Blitz points out.

PROMISE FULFILLED: Breeders say they can spot FEI potential in their babies, like Callaway Farm’s 2009 Hanoverian mare Donatella CF (Donarweiss GGF – Tiadora, Tantris), pictured as a foal (top) and now competing at Intermediate II and Grand Prix with breeder/owner/ trainer/rider Kim Kobryn-Callaway, who has earned all of her USDF medals aboard her mare.

Now based in Wellington, Florida, Blitz is well known for her achievements with young horses during her tenure as head trainer for the Danish Warmblood breeding facility Oak Hill Ranch, in Folsom, Louisiana. Blitz’s best-known Grand Prix horse to date, the gelding Paragon (Don Schufro – Pari Lord, Loran), is an Oak Hill-bred. Blitz was there the night Paragon was born, and she’s the one who started him under saddle when he was three. Together the pair went on to win team gold and individual silver medals at the 2011 Pan American Games and were the US dressage-team alternates for the 2012 Olympic Games. Even in young foals, conformational attributes or drawbacks can be spotted by the discerning shopper, says Kim Kobryn-Callaway, who rides, trains, and breeds Hanoverians at her Callaway Farm in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. [ USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


“The trot can be ‘manufactured’ under saddle,” Haymon says. “That comes with strength and training. The walk is a gait that you cannot fix. You either have it or you don’t.” And with so much canter work in the FEI-level tests, a clean canter with good natural balance and “air time” is a must for the prospective Grand Prix horse, says Kobryn-Callaway.

INTERNATIONAL STAR: Trainer Heather Blitz brought the 2003 Danish Warmblood gelding Paragon to the highest levels of dressage, including qualifying as the reserve combination for the 2012 Olympic Games

“You can see angles [of joints, neck set, and so on] in a young foal regardless of growth stage,” Kobryn-Callaway says. “A lot of times, those angles can tell you about how the horse’s movement is going to be.” Although conformation is important, experience has taught Kobryn-Callaway that it needs to be paired with a top pedigree in order to seal the deal. Buyers look first for top bloodlines and a record of achievement in competition; then they’ll evaluate the individual youngster, she says. The Ruedigers look at conformation, movement biomechanics, and temperament in evaluating a foal, with hindleg activity and function topping their list. “If the foal really ‘carries’ when it is moving, you’re going to see the front end lift up, and that’s going to allow for the very advanced movements of the FEI [levels],” Dan Ruediger explains.

FEI Goals? These Two Gaits Are Key “I have heard that any horse with three decent gaits and a good mind can at least make it to the Prix St. Georges level in national competition,” says Kobryn-Callaway. “Obviously, the quality of the gaits determines whether they are a candidate for the international arena.” In evaluating a youngster’s gaits, both Kobryn-Callaway and Haymon put more emphasis on a quality walk and canter than on the trot.

26 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

“We follow the method of looking at the foal at three days, three months, and three years” of age, says Dan Ruediger. “I think your best time to view a foal is at three months old or around that date.” Many horsemen believe that the three-day, threemonth, and three-year marks coincide with phases in the young horse’s growth in which its body is fairly balanced. Evaluating a youngster during these windows of time, they believe, offers a fairly accurate benchmark of how the horse will mature. Blitz also follows this time line for viewing young horses, noting that Paragon followed the “rule of threes” to a T. “He was impressive at three days, three months, and three years, but not so much in between,” she says. “I thought he had good balance, a super canter, and personality at three days old. At three months, he moved in a trot barely touching the ground, and then it was a while before he was impressive again.” Horses, like children, go through awkward stages as they grow. “Those times aren’t very attractive or promising,” says Blitz, “but if you remember what you saw in the ‘windows’ when you saw them, they’ll most likely show up again. When Paragon was coming five, all of his FEI qualities were very apparent.” If you look at a foal that’s in an off stage of development, evaluating “uphill” movement can be tricky unless you have a practiced eye, cautions Blitz, who says she’s also seen young horses display an awkward walk during certain growth phases. Weanlings—say, around nine months of age—may look out of proportion in their conformation, Ruediger says. “That doesn’t mean it is not a quality horse; it just means it is going through an awkward growth phase.” If you suspect that a foal you’re interested in is in an awkward stage, you could try letting some time pass and scheduling a return appointment to see if it’s outgrown it, Blitz says.

Pretty Is as Pretty Does Right up there with good movement and gaits, temperament should be a sport-horse breeder’s goal, Dan Ruediger


The Rule of Threes

believes. It isn’t always the case, but a tough-to-handle foal may grow up to be a difficult horse under saddle, he says. A good temperament and ridability, both “interior traits,” are must-haves for an FEI-level dressage horse, says Kobryn-Callaway, and they are not synonymous. Temperament, Kobryn-Callaway explains, refers to the horse’s personality on the ground and in the barn. The concept of ridability encompasses the horse’s innate sensibilities under saddle: whether it’s naturally inclined to go forward (“forward-thinking”), to be light off the aids, to be spooky, and so on. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to assess a horse’s ridability until it is actually under saddle, says Kobryn-Callaway, who looks to some other factors to help predict a foal’s future ridability. For starters, she’ll try to locate other offspring from the same bloodlines and ride those horses, or talk with their trainers, with the aim of finding any common threads in the descriptions of how those horses are to ride and work around. Kobryn-Callaway also likes to buy from breeders who ride the horses they breed—as she herself does. “I have a mare who has had seven foals, and I’ve ridden five of them,” she says. “They do have different sires, but they are still very consistent. Because I have that data, I can predict what her foals are going to be like.”

What About Buying in Utero? Purchasing a foal in utero may seem the ultimate way to get the best bloodlines for the lowest price. It is also “a way to guarantee that you have that foal before it hits the ground and before everyone else sees it and wants it,” says Kobryn-Callaway. But buying in utero can be a risky move—the mare could abort, something could go wrong during the birth process, or the foal could be born compromised or experience complications during the first three days of life. That’s why some breeders, Haymon and Ruediger among them, don’t offer in-utero sales. “As a breeder, I’m taking the risk,” Haymon says. “I don’t want to have somebody who has bought this foal in utero and then the foal dies at two or three days old. That’s a heartbreaking, devastating loss, so it’s just not an avenue I go down.” To protect the buyer’s investment, Kobryn-Callaway advises that any contract to purchase a foal in utero include a live-foal-guarantee clause. She recommends dealing only with reputable breeders and doing plenty of research into both bloodlines and the breeding facilities’ management and nutrition programs before committing to an in-utero purchase. “If you like gambling, then purchasing a horse in utero might just be for you,” quips Dan Ruediger, who reminds buyers that genetics can be a roll of the dice. [

That Je ne Sais Quoi Quality



op dressage horses have an intangible quality known as presence. We can’t breed for it, and it can be hard to describe in words, but we know it when we see it, says sport-horse breeder Maryanna Haymon, owner of Marydell Farm in North Carolina. That look-at-me quality will catch not only the buyer’s eye but those of judges down the road, Haymon says. So if you find yourself drawn toward a particular foal, consider that factor in making a buying decision.

STANDOUT: The Marydell Farm-bred 2012 Hanoverian colt David Bowie MF (Don Principe – EM Rotina, Rotspon) was the 2012 Dressage at Devon foal champion and the 2012 Adequan®/USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Horse of the Year. This year, with rider Julio Mendoza Loor, “Davey” was the open Third Level reserve champion at the Great American/USDF Region 3 Championships.

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


The Ruedigers have two children whom Dan describes as very different from each other, “and that’s what happens when you breed horses, too,” he says. One year, Ruediger recalls, they bred three full siblings via embryo transfer. “You could tell from the moment they were born—conformationally, movement-wise, and in temperament—they were very different. When you would line them up, you would never believe that they were siblings. They were all talented, but in different ways.”

Are You Right for a Foal? We’ve talked a lot about finding the right foal. But what about the flip side of the issue: Are you the right person to take on that talented baby horse? The much-publicized success story of Verdades and Laura Graves—whose mother imported “Diddy” from the Netherlands as a foal—may inspire buyers, especially budget-minded ones, to look for talented babies. Haymon reminds shoppers that a foal may be loaded with potential, “but once they leave [the breeder], it’s up to the owner, rider, and trainer to take care of that potential.” Buyers frequently ask Kobryn-Callaway whether a foal has FEI potential. Her usual response: “Do you have the potential

28 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

to train a horse to FEI, or will you find someone who can?” “Certain traits [in horses] are very heritable; however, without a good trainer, you’re never going to be able to utilize those qualities,” Kobryn-Callaway says. A rider/trainer who already knows how to develop a horse up to the FEI levels has an advantage in working with a youngster, says Ruediger; but even if you haven’t previously trained a horse through the levels, you still may be successful with a young horse if you are a good rider who relies on regular guidance from an experienced instructor/ trainer. Some sport-horse breeders research prospective buyers nearly as thoroughly as those clients research the horses they buy. “We’re so careful with the stewardship of our young stock,” says Dan Ruediger. “We have some great foals and some great young horses, but if they’re not trained correctly, all the work and breeding decisions and everything that we’ve put into it could just go awry.”

Science, but Not Exact Science You may know of at least one impeccably bred, textbookperfect equine specimen that is a dud as a performer. Con-


HOMEGROWN PRIDE: Sonnenberg Farm’s Gina and Dan Ruediger have followed the career of their homebred mare Allure S through the FEI levels and into success as a broodmare. She’s pictured with rider Angela Jackson after winning the Intermediate I Open Freestyle championship at the 2014 US Dressage Finals.

Are Foal Inspections Good Predictors of Success?

she says, she’s seen horses overcome conformational flaws to achieve success in competition if they possess the right combination of temperament and heart. If you do buy a foal, keep in touch with the breeder. Nothing thrills breeders more than to follow their “babies’” successful careers. Ruediger points proudly to Sonnenberg’s homebred 2005 KWPN mare Allure S (Rousseau x Farrington). Purchased by Dr. Kerrin “KC” Dunn of Timbach Farm in Depauw, Indiana, Allure S developed into a FEI-level dressage star who also earned the KWPN’s preferent and prestatie broodmare designations. That’s every sport-horse breeder’s dream: a healthy foal, placed in a home with good care and training, and matched with a rider who finds joy and fulfillment in working with that horse, whether it’s an international star or a steady lower-level performer. So if you love your horse, let the breeder know! s


ot necessarily, says Pennsylvania-based breeder and dressage trainer Kim Kobryn-Callaway. “Depending on the growth stage, they may not show their best,” she says, adding that she has been pleasantly surprised by the talent of several of her horses that did not earn raves at their foal inspections. For whatever reason, some horses that receive accolades as youngsters don’t live up to their expected potential under saddle. But don’t be too quick to write a horse off, says Dan Ruediger, co-owner of Sonnenberg Farm in Oregon: Some horses are simply late bloomers, while others may require more-skilled trainers or riders to help them develop to their fullest abilities.

Sarah Evers Conrad, of Lexington, KY, is a journalist, editor of the Certified Horsemanship Association’s The Instructor magazine, and a digital marketer. She has been a staffer at The Horse magazine and at US Equestrian’s Equestrian magazine before serving as US Equestrian’s director of e-communications. Now as owner of All in Stride Marketing, she helps small businesses with their marketing and content needs in addition to writing for publications.

versely, you may know of an unlikely-looking horse that is a cherished partner with an impressive record. These are the kinds of unexpected outcomes that keep both breeders and buyers guessing. Blitz, for one, has a long list of traits that she looks for in a horse: agility, coordination, suppleness, strength, elasticity, balance, and good conformation. At the same time,

2019 US Dressage Tests I n t r o d u c t o r y


F o u r t h

Ways to Learn

L e v e l US Dressage Tests Booklet

e Teests essag v e l t h L USo Dr F o u r 2019 r y – t o d u c I n t r

The 2019 US Dressage Tests booklet contains all of the USDF and USEF tests (Intro-Fourth Level) in one convenient guide - handy for carrying at shows, in your vehicle, or at home. The 2019 US Dressage Tests are effective December 1, 2018 through November 30, 2022.

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One of USDF’s premier test products, On the Levels features engaging videos to help athletes understand the requirements for tests within each level, commentary from top US trainers and judges, and segments geared toward improving difficult movements at each level. On the Levels is a great visual tool for riders of all levels to learn the new tests, while watching for common mistakes. The 2019 US Dressage Tests are effective December 1, 2018 through November 30, 2022.


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The official test app of the USDF, Testpro: USDF features not only the tests, but also diagrams, audio, and many helpful reference links. This useful on-the-go reference features all of the USDF and USEF tests (Intro-Fourth Level) and is a must-have for competitors, trainers, judges, and spectators. The 2019 US Dressage Tests are effective December 1, 2018 through November 30, 2022.

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


SHINING MOMENT: WEG first-timer Kate Shoemaker trots to Grade IV freestyle bronze with Solitaer 40

US Para-Dressage Comes of Age in Tryon American athletes win first-ever World Equestrian Games medals

S Equestrian had a plan for para-equestrian sports. Beginning about a decade ago, the idea was to move para-equestrian dressage—the international dressage discipline for riders with physical disabilities— to the forefront in the USA by fostering athletes’ development and upgrading the quality of horses. The goal: success in equestrian world championships and Paralympic Games. In September, that plan bore fruit in a big way at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 (WEG) in North Carolina. Each of the four US team members bettered previous WEG performances by US para-dressage riders. The Septem-

30 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

ber 18-22 para-dressage competition yielded the USA’s firstever WEG para-dressage medals, with Team USA finishing in fifth place, its highest-ever placing at a WEG. All four riders also qualified to advance to the freestyle competition.

Meet the Team Three of the four members of the 2018 WEG US para-dressage team presented by Deloitte were WEG or Paralympics veterans: Rebecca Hart, Angela “Annie” Peavy, and Roxanne Trunnell. Fourth member Kate Shoemaker had served as an alternate for the 2014 WEG in Normandy. Hart, 34, Wellington, FL (Grade III), rode Rowan




O’Riley’s nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, El Corona Texel (Wynton x Goodtimes). Hart was born with familial spastic paraplegia, a genetic disease that causes muscle wasting and lack of control from the waist down. She got involved with the Paralympic movement in 1998 at a regional competition that served as the selection trials for the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. Peavy, 22, Avon, CT, and Wellington, FL (Grade IV), rode Rebecca Reno’s 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, Royal Dark Chocolate (Royal Doruto x Don Larino). Partially paralyzed on her left side by a stroke she suffered prior to birth, Peavy began riding horses as a form of physical therapy. She got her first horse at age 10 and developed a love for dressage. After a friend gave Peavy an article about para-dressage, she began working toward the goal of representing the USA in international competition. She also rides in able-bodied dressage competition. Shoemaker, 31, Peoria, AZ, and Wellington, FL (Grade IV), rode the 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Solitaer 40 (Sandro Hit x De Niro), co-owned by the rider and her parents, Craig and Deena Shoemaker. A veterinarian specializing in equine sports medicine, Shoemaker also runs a private dressage barn and rides two or three horses a day. She battles motor-control dysfunction, muscle weakness, and spasms in the right side of her body caused by white-matter lesions from periventricular ischemia. Trunnell, 33, Rowlett, TX (Grade I), rode Kate Shoemaker’s six-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Dolton (Danone I x Londonderry). Able-bodied as a youth, Trunnell was an avid dressage rider with Olympic dreams who earned her USDF bronze medal and was part way toward her silver when she contracted a virus in 2009 that caused her brain to swell and put her in a coma. The resulting permanent physical damage keeps her mostly confined to a wheelchair, but Trunnell was determined to get back in the saddle as a para-equestrian. She has since earned a master’s degree in psychology with a focus in equine-assisted psychotherapy.

FIRST MEDALIST: When she won the Grade III individual bronze on El Corona Texel, Rebecca Hart became the first US athlete to earn a WEG para-dressage medal


Landmark Medals

In para-equestrian dressage competition, athletes are assigned grades, or official competition classifications as determined and governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), according to the severity of their disabilities. The grades range from I (most severely disabled) to V (least severe). Athletes compete only against others of the same grade. Each grade has its own individual, team, and freestyle tests. In the 2018 WEG para-dressage competition sponsored by Adequan®, the individual medals were the first to be awarded. Grades II, IV, and V competed on day 1, and Grades I and III went down center line on day 2. The team

SPECIAL MOMENT: Hart (right) becomes the first US para-dressage athlete to stand on a WEG podium. She poses with Grade III individual silver medalist Natasha Baker (left) and gold medalist Rixt van der Horst.

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


competition was held over the next two days, with each team member riding his or her grade’s team test. The finale was the competition for individual freestyle medals, with each grade’s top eight riders from the individual competition qualifying for the freestyle final as long as they had earned an average individual score of 60 percent or better. Hart, a veteran of three WEGs and three Paralympic Games, made history by becoming the first U.S. para-dressage athlete to medal at a WEG. She and “Tex” have been together for only one year, but they earned a score of 72.235 percent to take the Grade III individual bronze. Hart and her father, Terry Hart, “have a running joke that I get to keep all the ribbons, but he gets the medals,” she said afterward. “I have never been able to hand him one before. He mortgaged his house so that I could buy my first international horse and continue competing. I will always remember putting that medal around his neck.” The 2014 WEG Grade III individual silver medalist, Great Britain’s Natasha Baker, won silver again aboard the nine-year-old Hanoverian mare Mount St. John Diva Dannebrog (Don Schufro x Brentano II), with a score of 72.471 percent. Two-time 2014 WEG gold medalist Rixt van der Horst of the Netherlands also repeated her win, earning a score of 73.735 percent with the eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Findsley (Bellissimo x Broere Obelisk). In the Grade I individual test, Trunnell finished fifth on 72.143 percent. Grade IV riders Peavy (68.902) and Shoemaker (68.707) were sixth and seventh, respectively. As expected, the traditional para-dressage powerhouse countries Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark duked it out for spots on the podium in the team competition. With all of the Dutch athletes posting scores over 70 percent, the Netherlands took the gold on a team

32 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

total score of 223.597. Team Great Britain won silver on 222.957, led by the veteran Sophie Wells’ 77.233-percent score. Germany won the team bronze medal on 219.001. The USA’s team total of 214.940 was good enough for fifth place—a significant improvement over Team USA’s eleventh-place finish in 2014 and seventh at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky. Freestyle day had US fans singing with joy as American athletes produced the biggest medal haul in WEG paradressage history. Hart ascended to the silver-medal podium after posting a Grade III freestyle score of 73.240 percent. The unbeatable Van der Horst took gold again (77.347), and veteran competitor Dr. Angelika Trabert of Germany won bronze aboard the eight-year-old Westfalen gelding Diamond’s Shine (Diamond Hit x Florestan) (71.840). Marlene Whitaker of Custom Freestyles created Hart’s freestyle. “We went for a more ethereal/emotional type of music for Tex, so as not to overwhelm him,” Hart said of her sensitive mount. In the Grade I freestyle, 2014 WEG and 2016 Paralympics veteran Trunnell won her own first-ever medal, a bronze, on a score of 75.587 percent. Grade I freestyle gold went to Italy’s Sara Morganti and the 13-year-old Rhinelander mare Royal Delight (Royaldik x Don Primero), on 78.867. The silver medalist was the Latvian rider Rihards Snikus on the 10-year-old Latvian-bred gelding King of the Dance (Kadilac LS x Kings LS) (76.113). Freestyle designer Whitaker also created Trunnell’s freestyle, to music from the movie Forrest Gump. Said Trunnell: “I love how it has the ‘Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get’ part of the music just as we are coming down center line. It’s super cute.”


ANOTHER USA FIRST: Roxanne Trunnell (right) won Grade I freestyle bronze, sharing the podium with silver medalist Rihards Snikus (left) and gold medalist Sara Morganti


EMOTIONAL MOMENT: Shoemaker hugs Solitaer 40 after his medalwinning performance

The day’s third US medal went to Shoemaker, who won bronze with her Grade IV freestyle score of 73.230 percent. Peavy and “Cocoa” finished seventh in the same class on 71.660. With an impressive score of 79.645, 2014 WEG individual silver and freestyle gold medalist Sanne Voets of the Netherlands grabbed another gold in Tryon, riding the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Demantur N.O.P. (Vivaldi x Elcaro). Rodolpho Riskalla of Brazil won Grade IV freestyle silver aboard the 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion Don Henrico (Don Frederico x Lauries Crusader xx), with a score of 77.780. Shoemaker said that she found “Soli” on line in 2015, went to Germany to try him the same week, and purchased him with the support of her parents. Their freestyle was two years in the making, Shoemaker said, and after hundreds of hours of work she still wasn’t satisfied. Eventually she contacted Tom Hunt, the British designer best known for creating medal-winning freestyles for Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin. Hunt used Shoemaker’s ideas and composed custom music, she said. “Most people don’t know this,” Shoemaker said, “but he actually recomposed the canter music the week of WEG, so the first time I was riding to it was at the Games. The timing with the music at the Games came off perfectly, and we were riding the dream that day!” When she learned that she was in the medals for sure, “I began to cry in that moment,” Shoemaker recalled, saying that she was “overwhelmed by the emotion of thankfulness for all of the people that helped us and believed in us.” WEG and Paralympic Games veteran Peavy rode Cocoa to music from, appropriately, the movie Chocolat. Her freestyle was also designed by Whitaker. “A highlight for me at WEG was strengthening my re-

TEAM EFFORT: Para-dressage athletes have a robust support system. Trainer Andrea Woodward leads WEG Grade I freestyle bronze medalists Dolton and Roxanne Trunnell, accompanied by Michel Assouline, US Equestrian head of para-equestrian coach development and high-performance consultant.

lationship with Cocoa,” said Peavy, whose trainer, Heather Blitz, found the mare in Germany two years ago. “Tryon was my first championship with Cocoa, so it was a major learning experience with her, but I couldn’t be happier with our performance.” After some time off, Peavy plans to compete Cocoa at the Prix St. Georges level. Later, she hopes to qualify with Cocoa for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

US Equestrian’s Strategic Para Plan US Equestrian’s 2013 hiring of former British Equestrian Federation performance director Will Connell as its new director of sport programs jump-started US para-dressage’s road to the medal podiums, said Hope Hand, United States Para-Equestrian Association (USPEA) president and US Equestrian Para-Equestrian Sport Committee co-chair. Connell, under whose leadership Great Britain dominated the equestrian medal hunt at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, brought to the US his experience in building winning teams and sport programs, Hand said. Other key steps were the establishment of more CPEDIs (FEI-recognized para-dressage competitions) in the US; the creation of US “Centers of Excellence” para-dressage training centers; and continued coaching from para chef d’équipe Kai Handt and other high-level clinicians. The program took another leap forward in 2017 when US Equestrian successfully headhunted longtime British para-dressage team head coach Michel Assouline, a graduate of the French National Riding School, as its new head of para-equestrian USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


coach development and high-performance consultant. US Equestrian has also launched a Para Coach Certification Program and, along with the USPEA, is working to promote para-dressage in order to garner increased financial support. As in all horse sports, top-quality mounts are pricey, and the US needs to continue improving the quality of its para-dressage horses in order to raise our international profile, Hand and Connell said. Temperament is paramount in a para-dressage horse, said Assouline, and mounts must have excellent gaits, especially the walk, which figures prominently in the lower-grade tests in particular.

Para-Dressage Fast Facts • The term “para” is derived from parallel, meaning that the competitions of para-athletes are parallel to those of able-bodied athletes. • Specially trained FEI classifiers assign each paradressage athlete a grade, or class of competition according to severity of physical disability. The FEI para-dressage tests correspond to the disability severity, beginning with the walk-only Grade I, which is considered equivalent in difficulty to USDF Introductory Level. Grade II (walk-trot) is equivalent to US Equestrian Training Level. Grade III (walk-trot) is equivalent to First Level. Grade IV (walk-trotcanter) is equivalent to Second Level. Grade V (walktrot-canter) is equivalent to Third Level. • In FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), at least one athlete on each team must be classified as Grade I, II, or III. No more than two riders from any one grade may be on a team. • Para-equestrian dressage is an FEI discipline that joined the WEG roster in 2010. At the FEI WEG Tryon 2018, 63 para-athletes from 23 countries competed. • Para-dressage joined the Paralympic Games program in Atlanta 1996. Athletes rode borrowed horses in those Games and in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics. As of Athens 2004, para-equestrians were allowed to bring their own horses. • Prior to the 2018 Tryon WEG, US para-dressage riders had medaled only in Paralympic competition. In Atlanta 1996, Vicki Sweigart on Miss Jane Marple won Grade II individual and freestyle gold medals; and Lauren McDevitt on Dilettante won Grade II freestyle bronze. In Athens 2004, Lynn Seidemann on Phoenix B won the Grade I freestyle silver medal.

34 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Looking Toward Tokyo As it does for the Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage, eventing, and jumping, the WEG serves as an important qualifying competition for para-equestrian dressage— in the case of para-dressage, for the Paralympic Games. Top-placing teams qualify for the Olympics or Paralympics. The top three para-dressage teams from the 2018 WEG qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Team USA, which finished fifth, therefore has not yet qualified. Connell said he’s not worried. “The target for the US para-equestrian dressage team [at the 2018 WEG] was not to achieve qualification,” Connell said, “but to halve the gap to the podium. This target was achieved and surpassed.” In 2019, the Paralympics qualifying process moves to a team ranking list, Connell said. “The highest-ranked seven teams qualify, and then the highest-placed team from the Americas not already qualified. We are confident that if our leading athletes maintain form and we can get teams to CPEDIs in 2019, we will achieve qualification for Tokyo 2020.” “We have a great group of riders and more lurking in the background, so I’m very excited about the future,” said Assouline. “I want to improve the strategy and the systems we have in place, and there are good coaches working by my side. I have other trade secrets and ideas to put in place for the future, and those will start being implemented soon after the WEG.” s Photographer and journalist Kim MacMillan and her husband, photographer Allen MacMillan, own and operate Loon Creek Enterprises, an 84-acre equine breeding facility and grain farm in northeastern Indiana. Digital Edition Bonus Content

Relive the excitement of the 2018 WEG para-dressage competition with on-demand video from the FEI.


IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Annie Peavy rides Royal Dark Chocolate as US para-dressage officials and supporters look on

Special Report

ROLLING THE DICE: Genetics is an odds game

Genetic Disease Strikes the Warmblood Breeds Little known until this year, warmblood fragile-foal syndrome is rocking the sport-horse world. An overview of WFFS and how breeders are fighting back. BY HEATHER SMITH THOMAS



lthough horse people have known for decades that some breeds are affected by genetic diseases, the sport-horse industry has been content in the knowledge that the warmblood breeds are free from such disorders. Until this year. The case of a Texas foal born with the almost unheard-of disease called warmblood fragile-foal syndrome (WFFS), a severe genetic defect, led to the realization that this “sleeper” disorder has actually been lurking in some warmbloods’ DNA for over 100 years. (See “The Foal That Changed the Warmblood World” on page 37.) Sport-horse breeders and veterinary researchers are working to publicize the issue and to effect industry change.

Advocates say that warmblood breeders, buyers, and registries alike need to educate themselves about WFFS and to take steps to halt its spread. Read on for an overview of the disorder and a look at how breeders are responding.

Genetics 101 To understand what WFFS is and how it proliferates, start with this genetics refresher. The color of your eyes and your horse’s coat color are examples of genetic traits, or inherited characteristics. Genetic diseases, like genetic traits, are passed on to the offspring from one or both parents. Some genetic traits are dominant, while others are recessive. A dominant trait is passed directly from parent USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


to offspring. A recessive trait appears only if both parents not only carry that recessive gene, but also pass it to the offspring. That’s why a recessive trait may “hide” for many years and suddenly appear as if out of nowhere, like the surprise of a red-headed baby born into a brown-haired family. Genetic diseases or defects result from gene mutations. Mutations occur from time to time as species reproduce, and “there is no way to avoid them, so it is important to stay on top of them,” says retired Cornell University veterinary molecular geneticist Nena Winand, DVM, PhD. But that’s hard to do when the genetic disease is recessive. “By the time a recessive genetic defect is recognized,” she explains, “carrier status for the trait may have already become widespread in breeds or closed breeding populations.”

WFFS Explained WFFS is a recessive genetic disease that manifests as a connective-tissue disorder in affected warmblood foals. WFFS foals have extremely fragile skin that lacks normal durability and strength, tearing or ulcerating at the lightest contact. In addition, their limb joints are so abnormally lax that they cannot stand. Mares frequently abort WFFS foals, but those that are carried to term must be euthanized soon after birth. Veterinary researchers and warmblood breeders are beginning to connect the dots between WFFS and foal loss in the warmblood breeds, says Duncan Peters, DVM, DACVSMR, founder and co-owner of East-West Equine Sports Medicine in Lexington, Kentucky, and resident veterinarian/consultant for the Lexington-based sport-horse breeding facility Spy Coast Farm. “Some mares that suffer early pregnancy loss or abort may have this condition,” Peters says, meaning that they may be WFFS carriers. “Some of the warmblood-breeding operations are starting to look into this, checking back through their breeding records to figure this out.”

How Was WFFS Discovered? In the 1990s and early 2000s at Cornell, Winand was researching various hereditary genetic defects in equines and other species, including humans. One, hereditary equine re-

36 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

gional dermal asthenia (HERDA), causes skin fragility and is found primarily in some lines of American Quarter Horses that trace back to a popular stallion that originated the defect. “One thing HERDA taught us,” says Winand, “is that recessive traits may exist in horse populations for decades before they are recognized as a problem.” In 2007, a veterinary researcher at the University of Guelph in Canada contacted Winand and her Cornell colleague William H. Miller Jr., VMD, a professor of veterinary dermatology, about a Hanoverian foal that had been presented for necropsy to a Canadian laboratory. The foal had suffered from a strange combination of severe defects: extreme joint laxity and skin that tore like tissue paper at the slightest touch. The dead foal’s breeder provided blood samples from the sire and dam and from other horses at the facility. “I processed the blood samples for DNA isolation,” says Winand, “but this project had to stay on the back burner because it didn’t give me an avenue to study anything. This material stayed in the freezer a long time.” The samples came out of the freezer in a hurry in 2011, when Winand and Miller got a call from the Wisconsin Equine Clinic & Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, about a warmblood foal that it had just euthanized. The foal had been born with the same set of gruesome defects as the Canadian Hanoverian foal. Provided with tissue material from the dead Wisconsin foal, Winand set to work. Within 24 hours, she says, she had identified a “devastating” homozygous mutation in a gene. The stallion owners refused to provide Winand with DNA material, she says, but she was able to obtain a blood sample from the dam. “The dam was heterozygous for that mutation, which means it was probably a recessive trait that had to come from both parents,” she says. Winand then tested her stored samples provided by the Canadian Hanoverian breeder. “Sure enough, both the sire and dam of that foal were carriers of the same mutation—evidence that this mutation is causing the very severe connective-tissue fragility,” she says. Winand had to do a deep dive into equine family trees to


TELLTALE SIGNS: The skin of foals with warmblood fragile-foal syndrome tears abnormally easily (left). Affected foals’ joints are so lax that they are unable to stand (right).

try to identify the origin of the WFFS mutation. She eventually concluded that the most likely source was a French Thoroughbred stallion (whose name she declines to mention) “that was used in France and Germany to upgrade the warhorse types of horses being used in the mid-1800s. This was the only common link, but that stallion was used widely…and is in the bloodlines of many [warmblood] registries.”

Rolling the Genetic Dice: How WFFS Is Inherited To geneticists, a carrier is an individual that possesses an unexpressed, recessive trait or defective gene. In other words, a carrier can pass the recessive gene on to its offspring but itself does not have the trait or defect. That’s why it’s taken researchers a while to get a handle on WFFS—because carriers look and act like every other normal, healthy warmblood sport horse. In fact, some known carriers are top performers, both in the dressage arena and as breeding stock. WFFS is a recessive trait, meaning that both parents must carry the defective gene in order for it to be passed on to the foal. But even when that happens, the foal doesn’t always have WFFS. Here is how the odds shake out.

A WFFS carrier has one normal gene and one recessive, abnormal gene. If a WFFS carrier is bred to a non-carrier, the offspring will be normal because it has inherited a normal gene from the non-carrier parent. However, the odds are 50/50 that that same offspring will be a carrier of the WFFS gene. It’s a different story when a WFFS carrier is mated with another WFFS carrier. When that happens, there are three possible outcomes. The offspring can be: 1. Normal but a WFFS carrier (50 percent chance) 2. Normal and not a WFFS carrier (25 percent chance) 3. Afflicted with WFFS as a result of inheriting the abnormal gene from both parents (25 percent chance).

Breeders Confront the Disease Many sport-horse enthusiasts learned of WFFS in April 2018, when the well-known breeding facility Hilltop Farm, Colora, Maryland, announced that its Hanoverian stallion Sternlicht Hilltop (Soliman de Hus – EM Rhapsody GGF, Rascalino) is a WFFS carrier. While the farm did further investigation into WFFS, Hilltop was removing Sternlicht from its breeding roster for the remainder of 2018, managing director Natalie DiBerardinis stated in the press release.

The Foal That Changed the Warmblood World



illtop Farm’s decision to test its breeding stallions for warmblood fragile-foal syndrome (WFFS)— which kicked off the publicizing of the disorder—resulted from a tragic loss experienced by one of its clients. In February 2018, Mary Nuttall, co-owner of Southernwood Farm in Conroe, Texas, had to euthanize a WFFS foal born to one of her seasoned and successful broodmares, the Westfalen Dorothee (De Kooning – Alabaster, Cor de la Bryere). The attending veterinarians, who had never seen the colt’s horrific symptoms of frag- HEARTBREAKING: This colt, bred by Mary Nuttall, was born with WFFS and had to be euthanized just 36 hours after birth ile, tearing skin and joints so lax he could not stand, frantically began researching and eventually recommended that Nuttall have the foal tested for WFFS. When the test came back positive, Nuttall contacted Hilltop, which is the US semen broker for the sport-horse stallions of Van Olst Horses in the Netherlands. Dorothee’s foal was sired by the Van Olst KWPN stallion Everdale (Lord Leatherdale – Aliska K, Negro). Having learned that Dorothee was therefore also a WFFS carrier, Nuttall then tested the rest of her breeding stock. “I discovered that one of my foundation mares, born in 1992 in Denmark, was a carrier.… Her fillies and their fillies have tested positive [as WFFS carriers]. I have four out of 10 positives—40 percent of my stock!” Shaken by the experience and the subsequent discoveries, “I am tired of people saying it’s no big deal and that no one should worry about [WFFS],” Nuttall says. “I think eventually more carriers will show up, and testing will become the norm. I’m glad the registries are starting to take it seriously. It had to come to the surface so people can discuss it and figure out for themselves how they are going to deal with this issue.”

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


“We’d been working with a mare owner who lost a foal this spring,” DiBerardinis says. “It was not a Sternlicht foal, but test results on the foal showed it was positive for WFFS, so we knew her mare was a carrier. Neither of us knew of anyone who had ever tested their breeding stock or knew this problem existed, so we started by testing our Hilltopowned stallions. I naively thought everything would be fine because we’ve never had a problem—which is everyone’s response to this issue. When we got the test results, Sternlicht’s came back positive as a carrier, so we knew we had to disclose this information.” Hilltop’s goal in issuing the statement was “to get people’s attention and start discussion about WFFS and genetic testing,” DiBerardinis says. The move worked: On reading the description of the disease included in Hilltop’s press release, Lisa Lourie, owner of Spy Coast Farm, realized that she’d had a WFFS-affected foal six years ago. “I immediately gave [DiBerardinis] Spy Coast Farm’s support,” Lourie says. Since then, Hilltop and Spy Coast have teamed up with another prominent sport-horse breeding facility, Iron Spring Farm in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, says Lourie. Representatives are sharing responsibility for duties including research, peer education, and breed-registry communications, she says. Meanwhile, Spy Coast veterinarian Duncan Peters is searching for grant money to fund additional WFFS study. “We need to determine who will set policies about WFFS going forward,” Lourie says. In the name of transparency and disease control—and in the hope that other breeding facilities will follow their lead—the three partner facilities have tested their stallions and posted their carrier status online. They have also instituted the requirement that any mare owner wishing to breed to a carrier stallion have the mare tested beforehand, she says. Their ultimate objective is to halt WFFS by ensuring that, from this point forward, no two carriers are ever mated.

Not Just Horses


quines aren’t the only species that suffer from genetic skin defects relating to collagen, which is the main component of connective tissue. “The same mutation occurs in other species and was studied in a human family with an EDS type VI-affected child,” says retired veterinary molecular geneticist Dr. Nena Winand, referring to the EhlersDanlos syndromes (EDS), a group of inherited connective-tissue disorders generally characterized by abnormally lax joints and stretchy and fragile skin.

38 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Until now the warmblood world has not grappled with genetic diseases, and some in the sport-horse community have been resistant to the idea of testing their stock and publicizing the results, sources say. “I’ve found that the breeders who understand the ramifications and testing process have either had a connection with other breeds [that have had to deal with genetic diseases],” says DiBerardinis, “or they are dog breeders. For those of us without that background, it’s a new dimension to confront.”

How Prevalent Is the WFFS Gene? Researchers are trying to get a handle on how frequently the WFFS defect occurs. “We need to find out how prevalent this really is,” says Lourie. “We have a large data set from our own breedings, and now that we know a few of our mares are carriers and can test the stallions we bred to, we’ll see if there is increased incidence of early abortion, or whether just being a carrier brings with it any disadvantage.” “We don’t know why we don’t have hundreds of these babies born,” says Winand. She postulates that because warmbloods are not as inbred as some other horse breeds, the WFFS defect may surface less frequently. “Also, it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve had some popular dressage and sport-horse sires that happened to be carriers. This provided a greater chance of the phenotype emerging.” Evidence is beginning to indicate that a significant percentage of the warmblood population may indeed be WFFS carriers. In an initial localized sampling of 100 warmbloods, both imported and American-bred, from various registries, Winand was “astounded” to find that 10 percent of the horses were carriers. Even that number may be conservative: In May, the European animal genetic-testing laboratory Laboklin “adjusted the carrier frequency in their test population to 19 or 20 percent,” she says. As Winand has postulated, there may be a correlation between WFFS and pregnancy loss. Testing aborted warmblood fetuses and ruling out other causes of the lost pregnancies won’t be easy, she says, but she’s eager to follow up on the hypothesis. “Premature pregnancy loss happens in various types of EDS [Ehlers-Danlos syndromes], so it would not be surprising to see this with WFFS,” she says.

Breeders Urged to Test Their Stock “When people decide to breed their warmblood mares or keep colts as stallions, they should test those animals, now that we have a test available,” says Peters. “We need to know

if those horses are carriers, to ensure we never breed a carrier to a carrier.” “If the mare is not a carrier,” DiBerardinis says to breeders, “you can choose whether to ask for that information about the stallion, because you know you won’t produce a foal that expresses the disease.” “We are not saying people can’t breed their mares to a carrier stallion, or not to breed a carrier mare,” says Lourie. “That would be detrimental to too many people.” Through testing and selective breeding, “we can slowly start weeding out WFFS. The test can guide breeding decisions.”

WFFS Research and Development In the future, a test may be developed that could prevent the heartbreak and loss associated with WFFS foals. James MacLeod, VMD, PhD, a genetics expert at the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, “says an assay might be developed fairly readily in which the fluids surrounding an embryo could be tested for WFFS,” Lourie says. As part of the embryo-transfer process, the fluid could be tested after the embryo is flushed. “You’d know the status of an embryo, and then it would be up to the breeder whether to carry a carrier to term,” she says. Even if test results didn’t come back until after the embryo had been implanted in a recipient mare, “it would give an option to abort an embryo that was going to end up with WFFS.” The sport-horse breeders we interviewed want to learn from the experiences of those who have dealt with genetic

diseases in other breeds. The defect hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) in Quarter Horses is one well-known example, but genetic diseases also exist in Friesians, Arabians, and other breed populations. “We are fortunate,” says Lourie, “because Quarter Horse people did this before us and have a directive now. This makes it easier for us to be able to ask, ‘Where are the pitfalls? What direction should we be going?’” Lourie and her Hilltop and Iron Spring colleagues are encouraged by the fact that the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses, the international federation of warmblood studbooks, has put a discussion of WFFS on the agenda of its 2018 general assembly, being held this December, and will hold a workshop on genomic selection. “We hope we can help influence the direction of those talks,” says Lourie. “We’ll see how receptive they are to openly saying whether their stallions are carriers. If we can persuade the registries to get on board and indicate on a horse’s papers that it is a carrier, then the next person who buys that horse would know.” At press time, several warmblood registries had enacted WFFS-testing requirements for breeding stock, and some have partnered with laboratories to offer the test to stallion and mare owners. Contact your horse’s registry to learn more. s Idaho cattle rancher and freelance writer Heather Smith Thomas has been writing about horses and cattle, and raising and training horses, for 50 years.

Register Your Horse with USDF! The USDF Lifetime Horse Registration: • Fulfills USDF horse registration requirements for ALL USDF award and championship programs.* • Never needs to be renewed. *For information about rider/owner membership requirements for award and championship programs, visit the USDF website. USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


Halted at X BREAK ON THROUGH: Some athletes struggle to overcome psychological blocks to progress

Are you feeling “stuck” in your riding and unable to progress? Sport psychologists and performance coaches explain common causes and what you can do about it.

e’ve all heard of one—the rider who had such great natural talent but who could never fulfill her potential. The competitor who always rides the warm-up flawlessly and then bombs as soon as he enters at A. The student with a phenomenal horse who’s ridden with every big-name trainer in a 500-mile radius but can’t break 60 percent at Training Level. Why do some athletes seem unable to break through their own glass ceilings? Have you ever felt the frustration of not being able to deliver the performance you know you and your horse are capable of? We asked three professionals in the fields of sport psychology and performance coaching to explain why the brain and body throw up roadblocks to success, and how you can avoid or overcome them.

Identify Your Motivators Most dressage riders, especially those with competitive aspirations, have goals. Between the pyramid of training and the competition levels, dressage lends itself to the setting of progressive goals and the benchmarking of training progress. Even if we no longer dream of riding in the Olympics, many dressage riders aspire to compete at the FEI levels. Years ago, Olympian Lendon Gray joked that a shadbelly

40 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

and top hat should be mandatory at Introductory Level—to let riders get the “FEI attire” itch out of their systems so that they can then focus on training without pushing to achieve a goal they and their horses may not be ready for. While that’s an entertaining story, it’s also a tail-wagging-the-dog cautionary tale of what can happen when a rider hasn’t set a clear, attainable goal. If you want to feel satisfied in your dressage journey, start by determining what drives you to ride, compete, or both, says mental-skills coach Tonya Johnston, MA, of San Rafael, California, author of Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse. She asks her clients to create what she calls a motivation statement. “I have them write out every reason they can think of that they love riding,” Johnston says. “Just get everything down on a page. No numbered outline, no neat margins— get it all out. Write it willy-nilly all over the page. Then walk away. Come back in a couple of days. Which items speak to you the loudest? What gets you most excited? This is what makes you get out of bed at five in the morning. This is what makes you show up and do the work week in, week out. This is where you find you want to put your effort.” Once you’ve uncovered your motivation, it will be easier to set goals that are in harmony with your beliefs. If you compete because you love the horse-show atmosphere and




spending time with your horse and your friends, that’s important to know. It’s also important that the other members of your team know what motivates you. Your instructor’s goal may be to have a certain number of students qualify for championships or win awards. Your family’s goal may be to have you succeed at a certain level. Your own goal may be to have a fun weekend socializing at the horse show, and, oh yes, riding.

stuck right where you are—still wondering why you can’t sit the trot or relax in the show ring. When you tell yourself what you “should” be able to do, what you’re really doing is comparing yourself to others. Whether that comparison is to an unreachable ideal (ask any Olympian whether they’ve ever had a “perfect” ride) or to others’ achievements, the outcome is the same: frustration and disappointment. “Social comparisons don’t serve anyone,” Johnston says. “If your goals are misaligned with your motivation and People who set achievement-oriented goals may feel a de- you’re doing things because you ‘should,’ you’re not being gree of self-imposed pressure to achieve those goals. And fair to your trainer, who will get frustrated; your horse, who the loftier and more high-profile the goal, the greater the will get confused; or yourself. You have the most to lose, and pressure. Riders who achieve the dream of qualifying for the that’s your love of riding.” Johnston has clients list those things that are out of their Olympics, for instance, deal not only with the desire to ride well, but also with the pressures of increased media scrutiny control and things that are in their control. “Performance goals, rather than outcome and the wish not to let down goals, can help shift the fotheir nations and the many cus onto things that are in supporters who contributed Making excuses is a form of self-sabotage. our control, and help us feel to the cause in the hopes of more confident that we know winning medals. —Mental-skills coach Tonya Johnston how to create a good ride.” Johnston points out that There’s a term for the “pressure is largely self-inprocess of focusing on duced. It’s a choice.” The best way to handle pressure, she says, is to focus your energies things that are out of our control: outgrouping. Equestrianperformance coach Daniel Stewart, author of Pressure Proof on the parts of the process that you can control. “The expectations and the goals you set for yourself,” she Your Riding and of Fit & Focused in 52, describes outgrouping as “wonder, wish, and worry.” says, “are completely within your control.” “Wishing we were as successful as others; worrying Johnston distinguishes between performance goals and outcome goals. You can control the former but not the latter. about what the judge is thinking; wondering if we’ll do well “People often skip performance goals and go straight to in the show today,” says Stewart, of Naples, Florida, who outcome goals, like ‘This is the score I want at the show,’” she coaches athletes in sport psychology and fitness through says. “That’s out of your control. Your goals need to be based his Pressure Proof Coaching Academy camps, clinics, and on your own process: ‘I want this movement to be this qual- online video courses. “Those are all examples of outgroupity’; ‘I want to remember to breathe here.’ Having very small, ing. When we learn to stop outgrouping, we can eradicate performance anxiety.” specific things that you control will give you comfort.” In other words, you cannot control the judging, the horses and riders you’re competing against, or whether you earn a qualifying score (or an Olympic medal, for that matter). All You’ve been getting respectable scores on your Second Levyou can control are your attitude and your riding to the best el tests, and your Third Level schooling at home is going of your ability during those minutes that you’re in the arena. really well. Your trainer says you’re ready to move up. Your

Under Pressure

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Many goal-oriented people have lists of “shoulds”: I should be able to sit this trot lengthening. I should be able to stay relaxed when I head down center line. “Shoulds” are toxic, says Johnston: They represent a misalignment between your goals and your motivation. While you’re beating yourself up with “shoulds,” you’ll remain

show entry is in, your boots are polished—and then you blow off a lesson. You didn’t really blow it off, of course: You had to miss it because you forgot that you’d promised to bake cupcakes for your daughter’s soccer-team fundraiser. And then there was that rain at home right before the show, which made the arena footing a bit iffy. You didn’t want to risk your horse getting injured right before your Third Level debut, so you opted not to ride. [

USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


The day of the show, you stay too busy to do much think- Association of Applied Sport Psychology-certified consuling about how prepared you feel. You have an OK warm- tant who works with riders of all disciplines and helps cliup, and your test score is…a solid 52 percent. Bummer. You ents with issues ranging from panic attacks to the afterefconsole yourself with the thought that, between the missed fects of traumatic brain injuries at the La Jolla Center for lesson, the rain, and the footing, you didn’t have a chance Neurofeedback in La Jolla, California. to prepare thoroughly. It’s not as if you really could be exPollock understands all too well the fear-related issues that pected to have a great ride. equestrians can face: A longtime rider and horse owner, she Does this scenario sound familiar? Our egos will devise was badly injured in a riding accident that required months of any number of ways to protect themselves against the dis- physical recuperation and forced her to confront some of the appointment of failure, says Johnston, and one of the more same psychological obstacles that her clients face. common is to make excuses. It’s easier on your ego if you Knowing that she had to find a way to rediscover the joy don’t invest yourself 100 percent in an endeavor in which of riding if she were to continue with her equestrian puryou might fail, she explains. Think of excuses as the ego’s suits, Pollock took her own advice to start slowly. air bags: If you don’t succeed, your ego remains intact be“You start out with something you’re really comfortable cause the failure, you reaswith,” she says. “My first ride sure yourself, wasn’t really back was a trail ride in Kauai. Taking a step back to rebuild confidence is not your fault. It’s beautiful, and the horses “going back a level.” Don’t say you’re not good enough, Problem is, if you want to are dead quiet. The goal here so you have to go back. take your riding to the next is to have fun and to be safe.” —Equestrian-performance coach level, you need to risk some Stewart emphasizes that Daniel Stewart failure along the way. Until taking a step back to help reyou decide you’re going all build confidence “is not ‘going in regardless of outcome, you’re likely to self-sabotage—and back a level.’ We mustn’t define ourselves by saying we’re not yes, even those completely plausible excuses we tell ourselves good enough, so we have to go back. That’s not it at all. We and others can be forms of self-sabotage. You may not even dropped something valuable to us—our love of riding. We realize you’re doing it until someone calls you on it. need to go back and find it, work on it, and then move forward If you’re ready to finally push through to a new level of again. It’s like losing a set of keys: Unless you go back and find riding, you’ll need to have a heart-to-heart with the most what you’ve lost, there is no potential to move forward.” important (and skeptical) person on your team: yourself. For a rider who loves to go out on trails, a short hack on Johnston calls it a “core acceptance of ourselves,” adding, a “bombproof ” horse might be a good first step. For a dres“Being honest is crucial.” This is the time to decide that sage rider who’s struggling with fear, stepping back might you’re ready to commit and that you’ll own the results, mean riding in an indoor arena for a while before tackling whatever they are. an outdoor ring, walking and trotting instead of cantering, or staying on the lunge line to improve seat and balance before striking out solo.

Half-Halted by Anxiety

Other riders have a different sort of performance roadblock: Fear or anxiety cripples their progress. Some get so nervous about riding in public that they avoid showing, riding in clinics, or even riding when anyone is around to watch them. Fear, sometimes stemming from a riding accident or a close call, can become so overwhelming that it keeps a rider out of the saddle altogether. Most fearful or anxious riders feel frustration at not being able to participate fully in an activity that they once eagerly anticipated. Overcoming the fear requires finding a way to reconnect with your love of horses and riding, our experts say. Start by cutting yourself some slack and taking a step back from your present level and type of riding, suggests clinical and sport psychologist Timmie Pollock, PhD, an

42 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Calling in a Pro If you encountered a training obstacle or a behavior problem with a horse that you didn’t feel equipped to handle, you’d probably turn to an experienced equine professional for assistance. But when it comes to our own mental-health issues, we’re sometimes reluctant to seek help. If fear, anxiety, or a pattern of behavior is seriously impacting your riding or your performance, a professional mental-skills coach, sport psychologist, or therapist may be able to help you take down the psychological roadblocks. Pollock, who has had experience with several types of therapy on both sides of the couch, as it were, shares some techniques that she’s found useful.

Neurofeedback is “biofeedback for the brain,” Pollock says. In neurofeedback, the practitioner attaches electrodes to the patient’s scalp, and his or her brain waves are reflected on a computer screen. The patient then learns to control the brain waves to achieve a more relaxed wave pattern. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) “is the fastest, most powerful technique I know to clear problems related to fear,” says Pollock. Through EMDR, the patient’s brain goes into a very relaxed state that allows easier access to memories of traumatic events. Then the therapist helps the patient to work through the layers of fear or anxiety, which may have built up over the years. Thought Field Therapy (TFT) involves tapping on various acupressure points on the body to help clear emotional issues. According to Pollock, TFT can help reduce fear and anxiety produced by a variety of causes. It’s especially useful for riders, she says, because it requires no equipment and can be done nearly anywhere. HeartMath utilizes a portable heart-rate-monitoring device called the emWave, which measures a type of biofeedback called heart-rate variability. The emWave indicates when your breathing and heart rate are in a relaxed state. Relaxation is key to working through the causes of anxiety. Other tools: Visualization can be extremely helpful, says Johnston, who calls the technique “ideal for riders, especially for desensitization of performance anxiety related to showing.

You can imagine a particular show grounds, a particular arena, and mentally ride your test for a couple of weeks before you even get to the show.” Mindfulness, our experts agree, is a powerful tool in combating anxiety and aiding performance. Mindfulness training and meditation help to develop focus and concentration and can help put the brakes on escalating anxiety.

Get Your Brain on Your Side Our brains are incredibly powerful instruments, for better or for worse. If you feel as if you’re never going to get beyond 20-meter circles, if you find yourself making excuses week after week for why you’re not progressing, or if your fears are interfering with your love of horses and riding, then your brain can feel like your worst enemy. Don’t give up, says Stewart. You can overcome the negative self-talk, the roadblocks to success, and even the fear bugaboo. “We really know how to fix the challenges that riders— in particular dressage riders—face,” he says. “We know how the brain works; we just need to play by its rules.” s

Penny Hawes is a lifelong horse lover, rider, owner, and trainer. She blogs and runs a coaching practice at TheHorseyLife. com. She lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and various quadrupeds.

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Share Your Story... …or your views on a topic pertaining to dressage or USDF in “The Tail End,” USDF Connection’s member-written “back page.” Share your dressage discoveries, “aha” moments, challenges, and oberservations. Short “guest editorial” essays are also considered. All “Tail End” columns are the opinions of the writers and not necessarily those of the editors or USDF. Submissions accepted by e-mail only. Send submissions, along with your full name, hometown, state and daytime telephone number to, subject line should read “The Tail End.” Please be prepared to supply a clear color digital photograph of yourself if your piece is accepted. Simultaneous submissions will not be accepted.

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USDF CONNECTION • December 2018/January 2019


the tail end

Mother-daughter dynamic comes into play when mom tries to teach her daughter on a new horse By Katherine Roe


y daughter Sophie was about to turn 13 when we purchased a four-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred. Sound like a bad idea? It was, and it wasn’t. When we went to try Cisco, our trainer and his owner liked the way that Sophie and I worked with him. I had ridden extensively in my teens and twenties, and I was excited to share my love of horses with my daughter. Other than a fear of trails in the woods, Cisco was very quiet the first

him strength and confidence. Off we went (not literally, but we came close) around the indoor at high speeds. We spent most of that winter lungeing. Working with Cisco and Sophie became a delicate balancing act. We tried to maintain our program of one to two lessons a month with our beloved trainer, who helped us to address Cisco’s tight back and guided us through each step in his training. But three to five days a week, it was just Cisco, Sophie, and me in the ring.

FAMILY FOOTSTEPS: Sophie Roe and Cisco

nine months that we had him. Then the terrible fives (to my mind, the equine equivalent of the toddler “terrible twos”) set in. His Australian Thoroughbred back seized up in the Vermont winter cold, and good nutrition and steady work had given

Some days, it was easy: Cisco listened to Sophie, and Sophie listened to me. Other days were more challenging. Daughters don’t always want to listen to mothers, and horses don’t always want to listen to riders. Sometimes I found myself taking

48 December 2018/January 2019 • USDF CONNECTION

Katherine Roe is a speech language pathologist assistant and a proud mom of three who is still horse-crazy after more decades than she cares to admit. Sophie Roe is a first-year student at the University of Vermont, majoring in animal science and riding on the UVM equestrian team. Both happily live and ride in Vermont.


Teaching Two

Cisco’s side, advocating for his wellbeing when Sophie became impatient with his slow progress or spooky behavior. I preached that the horse looks to us for guidance, reassurance, and leadership. Failure to do what Sophie asked usually resulted from a lack of clear rider communication or of physical readiness on Cisco’s part, I intoned, not unwillingness. Despite her glares, I felt that these were important life lessons for a young rider to learn. Other times, when Cisco would pitch bucks that would nearly unseat Sophie, I was totally on her side. I frequently reflected on whether my daughter was right when she accused me of being overprotective. This was the most difficult dynamic to work out. As a mom, was I overreacting out of concern for her safety? Was I slowing Sophie’s and Cisco’s progress? If it had been financially feasible, should I have stepped away and let others take my spot in the ring? For a few years, the show grounds were a place where I did step away. Sophie would put on her trainer’s wireless earbuds, and together they would tackle the warm-up. I stayed on the sidelines, dry-mouthed and pale. If tears flowed after a disappointing test, the trainer’s reassuring words meant much more to Sophie than my own attempts to comfort her. Today, five years into our journey with Cisco, dressage shows are more relaxed. Sophie earned a score of 66 percent at Second Level at a recent schooling show. Sophie and I have both learned valuable lessons about teaching, learning, and patience. Most of all, we’re proud of how this unlikely pair has learned so much and come so far. s

OSPHOS® (clodronate injection) Bisphosphonate For use in horses only. Brief Summary (For Full Prescribing Information, see package insert) CAUTION: Federal (USA) law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. DESCRIPTION: Clodronate disodium is a non-amino, chlorocontaining bisphosphonate. Chemically, clodronate disodium is (dichloromethylene) diphosphonic acid disodium salt and is manufactured from the tetrahydrate form. INDICATION: For the control of clinical signs associated with navicular syndrome in horses. CONTRAINDICATIONS: Horses with hypersensitivity to clodronate disodium should not receive OSPHOS.

controls the clinical signs associated with

NAVICULAR SYNDROME Easily Administered via intramuscular injection

Well Tolerated* in clinical trials

Proven Efficacy* at 6 months post treatment

No Reconstitution Required

Learn more online

WARNINGS: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. HUMAN WARNINGS: Not for human use. Keep this and all drugs out of the reach of children. Consult a physician in case of accidental human exposure. PRECAUTIONS: As a class, bisphosphonates may be associated with gastrointestinal and renal toxicity. Sensitivity to drug associated adverse reactions varies with the individual patient. Renal and gastrointestinal adverse reactions may be associated with plasma concentrations of the drug. Bisphosphonates are excreted by the kidney; therefore, conditions causing renal impairment may increase plasma bisphosphonate concentrations resulting in an increased risk for adverse reactions. Concurrent administration of other potentially nephrotoxic drugs should be approached with caution and renal function should be monitored. Use of bisphosphonates in patients with conditions or diseases affecting renal function is not recommended. Administration of bisphosphonates has been associated with abdominal pain (colic), discomfort, and agitation in horses. Clinical signs usually occur shortly after drug administration and may be associated with alterations in intestinal motility. In horses treated with OSPHOS these clinical signs usually began within 2 hours of treatment. Horses should be monitored for at least 2 hours following administration of OSPHOS. Bisphosphonates affect plasma concentrations of some minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, immediately post-treatment, with effects lasting up to several hours. Caution should be used when administering bisphosphonates to horses with conditions affecting mineral or electrolyte homeostasis (e.g. hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, hypocalcemia, etc.). The safe use of OSPHOS has not been evaluated in horses less than 4 years of age. The effect of bisphosphonates on the skeleton of growing horses has not been studied; however, bisphosphonates inhibit osteoclast activity which impacts bone turnover and may affect bone growth. Bisphosphonates should not be used in pregnant or lactating mares, or mares intended for breeding. The safe use of OSPHOS has not been evaluated in breeding horses or pregnant or lactating mares. Bisphosphonates are incorporated into the bone matrix, from where they are gradually released over periods of months to years. The extent of bisphosphonate incorporation into adult bone, and hence, the amount available for release back into the systemic circulation, is directly related to the total dose and duration of bisphosphonate use. Bisphosphonates have been shown to cause fetal developmental abnormalities in laboratory animals. The uptake of bisphosphonates into fetal bone may be greater than into maternal bone creating a possible risk for skeletal or other abnormalities in the fetus. Many drugs, including bisphosphonates, may be excreted in milk and may be absorbed by nursing animals. Increased bone fragility has been observed in animals treated with bisphosphonates at high doses or for long periods of time. Bisphosphonates inhibit bone resorption and decrease bone turnover which may lead to an inability to repair micro damage within the bone. In humans, atypical femur fractures have been reported in patients on long term bisphosphonate therapy; however, a causal relationship has not been established. ADVERSE REACTIONS: The most common adverse reactions reported in the field study were clinical signs of discomfort or nervousness, colic and/or pawing. Other signs reported were lip licking, yawning, head shaking, injection site swelling, and hives/pruritus.

As with all drugs, side effects may occur. In field studies, the most common side effects reported were signs of discomfort or nervousness, colic, and/or pawing. OSPHOS should not be used in pregnant or lactating mares, or mares intended for breeding. Use of OSPHOS in patients with conditions affecting renal function or mineral or electrolyte homeostasis is not recommended. Refer to the prescribing information for complete details or visit or call 866.933.2472.

CAUTION: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of licensed veterinarian. * Freedom of Information Summary, Original New Animal Drug Application, NADA 141-427, for OSPHOS. April 28, 2014. Dechra Veterinary Products US and the Dechra D logo are registered trademarks of Dechra Pharmaceuticals PLC. © 2016 Dechra Ltd.

Distributed by: Dechra Veterinary Products 7015 College Boulevard, Suite 525 Overland Park, KS 66211 866-933-2472 © 2016 Dechra Ltd. OSPHOS is a registered trademark of Dechra Ltd. All rights reserved. NADA 141-427, Approved by FDA


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