"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, January 23, 2015

Maryland Horse World Expo

Charles and I attended the Maryland Horse World Expo for the first time last year. Last year we stayed in Timonium over the weekend, but this year I just picked a day and we drove to and from the Expo on the same day. It's only an hour away and the forecast promised beautiful sunny weather.

Saturday had several lectures I was interested in seeing/hearing, so this is the day I chose to attend. Of course the first lecture I wanted to hear was at 9:00 am, so we woke up very early (for a weekend) to get ready and head up to Baltimore County.

Charles dropped me off at the Maryland State Fairgrounds so he could go to The Sound Garden in Baltimore. Charles has a HUGE movie collection that is made up of used DVDs; he loves used CD and DVD stores. If you're into used movies and CDs, Rolling Stone Magazine voted Sound Garden the #2 best music store in the country. So you can see why he wanted to go, since we were already in the area!

I bought my entry ticket and got in line to go into the Cow Palace for the first lecture. I was glad I had come with Kathy and Zoe the previous year, as it meant I knew where to go for each lecture. The Cow Palace is huge when you see it for the first time, with different areas for lectures and presentations.

Jeff Dwyer: Bareback Riding for Improved Balance, Seat and Feel

This lecture was the whole reason why we woke up at the crack of dawn. Here is a great article about Jeff and Coca, the horse he was riding at the lecture I attended.

Jeff and Coca, photo from his barn's Facebook page.
I'm going to talk about the lectures/presentations I saw in bullet form. This may or may not be interesting for some, but I like to write down what I learned and my observations for future reference:

  • Jeff presented the basics of bareback riding, starting with your basic seat: relaxed legs draped around the horse's barrel, no gripping with calves, pinching with knees or worrying about heels down. 
  • Ankles should be relaxed. 
  • Any tension in the legs will lead to bouncing around on the horse's back when moving faster than a walk, and he demonstrated at trot and canter in the small round pen where he was working.
  • I would attend a second bareback lecture that day with Brendan Wise, and the most important thing that both him and Jeff stressed was having very solid brakes installed in the horse that you are riding bareback and/or bridleless. 
  • Jeff demonstrated placing his toes in front of the horse's shoulders to request a stop when riding bridleless. Tapping in front of the shoulders with your toes can be used to teach the horse to back up. This kind of blew my mind. 
  • You train a horse to be mounted bareback just like you would train them to be mounted with a saddle. Train to mount from both sides: the whole mounting-from-the-left thing started when knights needed to get on a horse with a sword hanging from their waist on their left. If they had mounted from the right, they would have gotten tangled up in their sword. I had always wondered where that myth came from. 

I came out of that lecture inspired and called Charles to tell him I see some bareback bootcamp in his future. He laughed. :)

I had about an hour to kill before the next lecture I wanted to attend, so I walked around the Cow Palace South Hall checking out all the vendors. A lot of great stores had booths this year.

Horse Loverz had a huge section and some killer sales. Gracie has the thin rubberized web reins and they have started to deteriorate, leaving black stains on your hands from the rubber. I scored a new set of reins in the rubberized web...for $12!!! Regular price was $99. And no, the leather on the ends was not cardboard, which was a big surprise. They feel similar to Smartpak's Plymouth bridle line. I was beyond thrilled.
Yes, this is a Smartpak booth!! But the only specials were on supplements, which we're already doing.
I had a shopping list from Kathy and one of my own, and I saw some of the things I had been asked to look for and others were nowhere to be found.

The hour flew by and I walked over to the Cow Palace arena to find a seat on the bleachers for the next presentation I wanted to see.

Jane Savoie: Create Suppleness: Unlock Your Horse's Body

Jane Savoie
I had a feeling I knew what this was going to be about: using dressage concepts for relaxing and stretching your horse, which is what it ended up being about after all. But this was Jane Savoie!!! I have never seen a clinic/presentation by her and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to her teaching style, especially knowing what a difference she made for Gail. And sometimes just hearing the same things explained by a different trainer (and even more so a trainer, rider and clinician as incredibly accomplished as this one) with a different choice of words will help you better understand things you have not quite grasped before.

  • The presentation started with 2 very wound-up horses, one an adorable bay pony mare who was quite worried and a gray Arab mare who was "up" enough that her rider hand-walked her for the first 5-10 minutes or so before mounting. Jane had to hold the Arab so that her rider could get on; she just wanted to go.
  • Jane had the riders focus on cadence: on making the walk slower and more deliberate by simply using the riders' seats and rewarding correct responses with a lightening of the touch on the reins.
  • Once the mares were more relaxed, Jane had the riders do an exercise where they turned their inside hand as if turning a key on a door, tilting it so that it was palm up and knuckles down, while keeping it close to the hand holding the outside rein. 
  • The goal of the exercise was to get both mares to relax their toplines so that the topline became longer than the line under their bellies. They worked at the walk in both directions, then moved up to the trot.
  • The Arab mare was somewhat ewe-necked, which was accentuated when she was nervous at the beginning. The change in her halfway through the presentation was quite dramatic:
Check out the gray Arab. 
I wish I'd thought to take "before" pictures. She looked like a completely different horse!
This presentation was a good reminder of an effective exercise to use with the girls when they are nervous. 

I had an hour to wander around after this. I bought some Bavarian nuts at the stand and walked around both Cow Palace halls, going up and down checking everything else while munching on my nuts. Charles joined me shortly after this and accompanied me in my wanderings.

This was a stand for barley fodder! I sent this pic to Karen. I had never heard about this until she moved Ashke to his new barn, where this is fed as part of the horses' nutrition program as a substitute for grass. I was very excited to see this here!

 After this we walked over to the Exhibition Hall Arena in one of the other fairground buildings for the next presentation.

Wendy Murdoch: SURE FOOT for the Horse; Comfort, Confidence and Balance

I won't deny that this lecture was one of the big reasons why I chose Saturday for attending the Expo. Gail had a clinic with Wendy back in December and the Sure Foot method sounded absolutely fascinating. Of course I wanted to see how it works in person. Wendy Murdoch specializes in rider body awareness and has translated that knowledge to the horses themselves with the SURE FOOT pads.

Wendy Murdoch
Photo from here.
  • The group of riders was very varied: one girl riding an OTTB (she was in Julie Goodnight's presentations last year) in a close contact saddle, a woman riding a snowflake chestnut Appaloosa who was in some of the Western presentations last year, a girl riding a strawberry roan Appy mare who was also in several of the Western lectures last year, a little girl on a tiny Palomino spotted pony in an English saddle, and woman on a spotted TWH gelding in a dressage saddle (he was an interesting color, what looked to be a cremello tobiano, with almost white pale gold spots, blue eyes and pink skin). Very different horses, very different disciplines, which made this lecture all that more interesting!
  • What really made this lecture though, was the roan Appaloosa. She was a super laid-back horse last year, going quietly in Western self-carriage on a loose rein. This year, she was a hellion: SUPER defensive of her personal space, pinning her ears flat against her head and threatening to kick any horse within a 15' radius. After one particularly bad spinning episode where the mare nearly collided with another horse while the Appy's rider tried to get her under control, the rider simply dismounted and proceeded to hand walk the mare during the next 30 minutes of the presentation or so. The mare was calmer with her owner on the ground, but still angrily pinning her ears and baring her teeth at any horse remotely close to her.  
  • Wendy slowly went around, asking each rider to stop and let their horse sniff the pads. If the horse was calm about this introduction, Wendy proceeded to lift one of the horse's front feet and placed the pad under said foot. 
  • Some horses didn't want to put weight on the pads initially (the TB and the roan Appy) others had their foot on the pad for only a second or two (the pony), while others loved the pads so much they simply stayed on them until their riders asked them to walk on! 

The TWH.
"Oh, you want to put that green thing under my foot? Alright."
(Note the roan Appy mare in the background with the angry pinned ears. This was before she had the fit that caused her rider to dismount.)
"This thing is squishy...I can totally put all of my weight into it and streeetch..." He slowly moved forward into this position and just stayed like that. It looks like he was focused on something in the distance but he was simply stretching. See the happy ears?
Later, standing with both front feet on the pads and swaying.
When the horses had more than one foot on the pads, they would go into this sort of calm, happy trancelike state and start swaying gently. I've never seen anything like it.

Video of the TWH swaying. Look at the rider.
  • The roan Appy mare was initially reluctant to try the pads. She'd put one foot on them and then remove it almost instantly. She wasn't particularly interested in standing on a pad for more than a second or two when offered. Wendy did not insist; she simply had them continue walking after each attempt. She clarified that the goal of this isn't to train the horse to accept the pads and stand on them, it is simply to offer them and allow the horse to choose.

She was licking and chewing.
This was all during the first 10 minutes or so of the presentation, before the rider had to dismount.
Wendy later tried placing these wedge pads under the mare's hinds. Now THIS, this she liked. She stood there, licking and chewing, calm and happy even when other horses walked by. She stepped off of the pads only when ultimately requested by her rider (she was holding the reins off to the left.)
  • The pony with the little girl was also initially reluctant to step on the pads but eventually became more willing to try them. 
The little pony was initially pretty wound up about being in the arena with the crowd surrounding it. A normal response for all of the horses at the different presentations.
She liked the blue pads (softer) more than the green pads. She wouldn't remain standing on them, but even after placing her feet on them for a few seconds, she started doing this: stretching her neck down, licking and chewing. Her demeanor afterwards was much more relaxed.
  • After introducing the wedge pads, the Appy was calm enough for her rider to swing back on. Wendy brought the pads back out and this time offered to have her stand on more than one of them at a time.
3 feet on the pads. Note her mouth: she was licking and chewing.
Licking and chewing video

All 4 feet. She was still licking and chewing.

Check out her ears when the other horses are ridden past: they go back, but not flat against her head like they had been doing at the beginning of the presentation. No teeth baring. She'd rather stay on the pads. You can see some of her swaying if you look at her barrel and the rider, but it's very subtle when viewed from the side. 

Both Appaloosas are in this video. You can really see the swaying if you look at the rider of the chestnut Appy at the beginning of the video. Note how the roan Appy is starting to look around in an interested manner with ears pricked. She had not done that at ALL during the presentation, up until this moment.
This was a fascinating lecture, made more so by the horses and riders that were participating in it. Even Charles sitting next to me was like, "That's crazy! How on earth did she discover that?" One of the highlights of going to the Expo with him this year was that you could see the change in him: SO much more interest now that he's actually riding and actively participating in the horses' work himself! :)

We stayed in our seats for the presentation that would be following immediately.

Brendan Wise: Bridleless Riding and Training

I had never heard of Brendan Wise until this presentation, and I'm so glad that we saw this class. He is a TRUE all-around horseman:

He rides Western.
He does reining.
Note that there is no bridle on that horse!
He events.
He jumps.

He dressages at home...
...and in the show ring.
And he is an awesome bareback rider.
- All photos from the Brendan Wise Horsemanship Facebook page -
You don't see equine professionals like this anymore, who can truly wear all the hats and do it all well! This is his website, but if you go to his Facebook page there is so much to see and admire: photo after photo of him working with all sorts of horses, from draft crosses to Paso Finos to Andalusians to Quarter Horses to OTTBs to warmbloods, in any and all disciplines. All of the horses look relaxed and at ease, and he makes his job look easy. He starts babies and tunes up adults; he trains horses for re-sale and gives clinics and lessons on everything from groundwork to Working Equitation. He combines John Lyons natural horsemanship with classical dressage. Can you tell I'm impressed? I'm talking your ear off because I think more people should know about him. :) He is based out of Leatherman Lane Farm in North Carolina but gives clinics all up and down the East Coast.

Ok, back to the presentation!
  • Brendan and another rider named Melanie (assistant/trainer? I couldn't find any specific info on her on his websites but she works with the horses too so I'm going with assistant trainer) worked in the arena, Brendan on his small QH gelding Colt and Melanie on a huge Trakehner named Roman. Brendan was bareback on Colt, who was wearing a bosal, and Melanie was using a bareback pad...and no bridle. She had 2 dressage whips that she used to control Roman's shoulders and neck. Brendan told us Roman's story: he is a former Third Level dressage horse that came to them TERRIFIED of everything that wasn't enclosed in an arena. They started working with him and eventually Melanie chose to begin bridleless work as a way to give him more confidence. And it worked: he had done a stellar job in the exhibition held at the Cow Palace Arena the night prior. 
Melanie on Roman, bridleless. I apologize for the blurry iPhone pic. If you look closely, you can see her holding a thin white stick: it's one of the dressage whips. She had two, one in each hand held on each side of Roman's withers. She would use them to cue him to back up by tapping the front of his shoulders and to request bend of the shoulders and neck with a light tap on the desired shoulder/base of the neck. It was really cool. Brendan gave her full credit for coming up with this technique, saying that he hasn't used it yet himself but he really likes it because it allows you to do more upper level stuff. This training has given Roman a confidence he completely lacked: he has started doing low level cross country and was truly enjoying it, despite not having ever jumped before in his life.
  • Brendan went into a lot of detail explaining the importance of installing a solid WHOA button in any horse you are planning to ride bridleless. This can be achieved by working on the reinback or backing up command: to back up from a forward walk, the horse has to stop before he can switch gears. So if you can get the horse to back up easily without a bridle, you can get him to stop easily without a bridle. This was an interesting concept and not an angle that I had considered, but it rang true. 
  • One of the ways he teaches a horse to back up is by tapping the front of their shoulders with his feet. 
Brendan on Leia, a Friesian Sporthorse mare that is in training with him.
This is how you would cue the "back up" command bridleless.
Photo from Brendan Wise Horsemanship Facebook page.
  • He would eventually remove Colt's bosal and loop his bullwhip around Colt's neck to form a makeshift neck rope. He explained that this is how you eventually go to bridleless and on this day he was doing this with Colt prior to removing everything because the previous night the gelding had decided to just start galloping around the arena during the exhibit and Brendan had had no way to stop him. He had just sat down for the ride and laughed as he waited until Colt decided he was ready to stop. He laughed again as he was telling the story. The show had not gone as planned but he had had fun anyway. There is a moral to that story: you ride the horse you have and enjoy the horse you have at the moment. 
  • The sidenote to the story was that while Colt, his most experienced horse, reverted to an unbroke 3 year old, Roman the previously spooky dressage horse had been an absolute rockstar during the entire show. 
  • My takeaway from the neck rope is that it is easier to transition to bridleless if your horse knows how to neck rein. 
  • Melanie showed off Roman's skills by taking him over a small jump. This was absolutely impressive as she literally had nothing to hold onto: no neck rope and no mane! Roman's mane was roached!
Hands still on the whips, held lightly on each side of Roman's shoulders.
  • It was a great presentation, and even Charles was excited to get home after that and try bareback riding! Brendan does host clinics in MD and PA on occasion; I'd love to go to one of them at some point!

After this we had two whole hours to kill. We were hungry and debated buying food but the food at the fairgrounds is the overpriced greasy stuff you would expect so we chose to buy frozen coffees instead...because that is totally what you should drink when it's 28 degrees outside. ;) 

We checked out the horse trailers and I was finally able to ask about financing options and how the whole trailer buying process works. I figured it would be similar to buying a car but I honestly had no idea. The process seems to be a bit more laidback. We were able to check out in person the different kinds of stock-type trailer I'm partial to. The more enclosed models like the Featherlites are beautiful but having ridden in the back of one of those with Lily when we were returning from a trail outing during a Florida January, I can tell you they are HOT to ride in even in 60-degree weather, even with all of the windows open. We'd like to get a trailer sometime this year if we can, but some other things have to fall into place first.  

We then oohed and aaahed at all of the trailers that were ridiculously way, way, WAAAAAY beyond our price point in this life ever (unless we win the lottery...haha):

That's a shower on the right.
This wasn't even the most luxurious one: there was one with an electric fireplace!
But of course that one was packed with people checking it out and I didn't want to be the weirdo with the phone taking pics...
You can't help but think, "This would make endurance the most luxurious equestrian sport of all..."
(Whatever was on the TV was some infomercial)
Charles said this one was too big for his truck but he was pretty sure my Corolla could tow it. Lol
And that's him smashed against the window, peering in like some sort of groupie...hahaha...
We walked around both halls of the Cow Palace. I bought some rubber jelly curries for $2.50 at HorseLoverz, blanket leg straps for me and for Zoe for $4.99/pair, Bavarian nuts for Kathy, a backup halter for Gracie in mint green for $10, and a 10' lead rope for $10 (HorseLoverz was out of their $5 lead ropes...). I picked up brochures for Kathy on hay feeders and sheds, and checked out any and all tack shops. 

And then the two hours were up and Charles and I walked over to the Cow Palace Arena for the final lecture I wanted to hear that day.

Liz Graves: Classical Dressage for the Gaited Horseed Hor

We initially thought that this presentation had been cancelled. We found our seats early. Wendy Murdoch  was giving her "Effective Jumping Exercises in Small Spaces" lecture but she continued a good 15 minutes into Liz's time slot. Charles and I had just debated leaving, as we were both hungry and it was already dark outside, when Wendy suddenly wrapped up and Liz walked into the arena. 

Liz Graves specializes in gaited horses of all breeds and disciplines, as trainer, rider, biomechanics instructor, clinician, and horse show judge. Her curriculum vitae is impressive

Elizabeth Graves on an Icelandic at one of her clinics in California.
Photo from here.
  • This was another interesting mix of horses: 2 TWHs, including the tobiano from the Murdoch presentation earlier, a racking horse who was very wound up, a blue roan Paso Fino stallion, and a smaller dark bay horse with the cutest clip, whose breed I wasn't sure of. Maybe a Fox Trotter? If he was also a Walker he did not have the typical longer rectangular head and flatter croup that TWHs tend to have. He was the quietest horse in the arena (Liz later explained that he was a clinic veteran; he used to be quite nervous in this kind of setting when her and his owner first started working with him) and his name was Cuppa Joe. 
Cuppa Joe and his owner.
They were one of those beautiful pairs that are so in tune to one another that you can sense the love between them from across the arena.
Cutest clip job!! It's a coffee mug with a little strip of steam rising from it!
Cuppa Joe indeed! :D
  • Lateral movements should be done at the flat walk or trot, if your horse has a trot. Never do lateral movements at easy gaits (rack, singlefoot, tolt, etc) as the horse will end up pacing (undesirable).
  • Warm up on a loose rein. All gaited horses should be able to warm up on a loose rein. This was great to hear, as it is something I have always sought to teach all of the gaited horses I've ever worked with. SOOOOO many people train gaited horses to just up and go at their main easy gait from the moment the rider's butt touches the saddle! It's important that they be able to relax under saddle as well.
  • Liz had the riders practice what she called a vertical poll release by gently squeezing the reins with all 4 fingers over the reins (sort of a gentle half halt.) Four fingers over the reins creates a more fluid contact. 
4 fingers over the reins = this rider's left hand
  • The vertical poll release was her term for the horses bringing their polls up while still maintaining a relaxed topline.
  • Once all of the horses were calmly doing vertical poll releases, she had the riders work on inside poll releases, aka shoulder-fore.
  • Liz said that she doesn't like to work haunches-in or reverse shoulder-fore; only work towards the inside of the arena.
  • She prefers students do this type of work in snaffle bits or side pulls. She did say that it is ok to use curb bits as long as the riders have light hands.
  • Don't brace against the stirrups: this translates energy to the horse. Sit on your seat bones when asking the horse to relax. This was an especially enlightening statement: I tend to brace against the stirrups when riding in a saddle on Gracie, which might be why she is so "up" to begin with. She has been 100% relaxed and compliant bareback (so far! *knock on wood*) because I have no stirrups to brace against! I'm simply sitting on my seat bones.

Charles and I stayed for about half an hour of the presentation and then we quietly got up and left: we were too hungry by that point to sit around any longer. I would love to take Gracie to one of Liz Grave's clinics at some point if she ever has one in VA, MD or PA in the near future. I loved her laidback approach to the training of the gaited horse. 

As it would turn out, it was a good thing we left then because Charles had arrived at peak time and had had to park almost 2 miles from the Cow Palace! Apparently there is a race track at the Maryland State Fairgrounds which I had somehow not noticed until this moment: Charles had parked in the race track barns!

We stopped by Full On for dinner on the way home. It had been a wonderful day full of learning, and I was super excited to ride my horses again!


  1. Jane Savoie was at Equine Affaire a couple years back...big fan of hers! Sounds like you had a great time:)

    1. We did! The $10 entry fee gives you so, so much at this Expo!

  2. Sounds really interesting and lots of fun!! I've heard of Wendy Murdoch and the SURE FOOT pads - it's really puzzling as to how it works!

  3. Looked like a ton of fun and so informative! I went to the PA Horse World Expo last year for the first time and it such an eye opening experience.I'm curious learning more about the hand turning exercise that Jane Savoie discussed- I'd be interested to try that with Quest and see the results

    1. It was such a slight adjustment that seemed to have such big results. I'll try to have Charles video me doing it next time I'm at the barn with him.

  4. You can access Jane Savoie's turning the key suppling method at her site - there are a few free training video (teasers) available.

    So glad to see bareback riding being recommended, since that's all I'm doing lately. My former trainer didn't encourage working bareback. Looking forward to exploring Jeff Dwyer's site.

    Thanks so much for the thorough write-up. How fun to have be able to share that experience with your SO. (just a little jealous)

    1. Thank you for the link!!! And glad you enjoyed the bareback riding stuff! :) Charles is kind of an anomaly. ;)

  5. Sounds like a great Saturday. I am really a big wimp when it comes to bareback and have only cooled Gemmie out at the walk after a workout. Maybe someday I will get brave enough to really work at it.

    1. I totally understand! Liz and Gail have been huge inspirations on the bareback stuff, and the fact that Gracie really doesn't seem to mind. The last time I tried to ride Lily bareback, I got bucked off the second my butt touched her back! I haven't attempted it on her since!

  6. great recap - glad you had such a wonderful time!! i'm SO BUMMED i missed the expo again this year (still have never been even tho it's 20 min from my house... shame shame) but things always seem to crop up :( it's funny tho - i remember reading your summary last year when you talked about jim mcdonald's session, since he's actually the pro i used to get my mare trailering last spring lol. small world!

    1. It's totally worth going! I hope you can make it next year. There's also the one in PA next month. I dream of one day being one of the participants. I wanted to take Lily or Gracie this year and had been stalking their website to see when participants could apply but the concussion put a damper on those plans. Maybe next year!

      Small world indeed! :D

  7. The local trainer I love uses the feet thing to teach all green horses to back up. Q and Griffin respond beautifully to it. It is how I taught Griffin and re-taught Q. It's also good for reinforcing the "whoa".

    Are those nuts the sickly sweet smelling kind??

    1. I think they smell amazing...like roasted nuts and caramel, and that's basically all they are. But I have a the World's Worst Sweet Tooth, so maybe they would smell sickly sweet to someone else? Haha...

  8. Wow that sounds amazing! And only ten dollars?? I've never been to an expo before but it sounds like something I need to add to the bucket list. Thanks for sharing everything you learned with us!!

    1. You're welcome! I don't know about other expos, but our MD and the PA one are only $10 for the entries, and they have all sorts of stuff going on at once throughout different areas. It can be hard to pick what you want to go to! :)

  9. Except for the gaited horse session, I think you went to the same sessions I would have gone too:) I have been to the expo before, but I get so overwhelmed by everything that I don't get much out of it. I guess I learn better on my own or in small clinics. I'm glad you found the sessions informative, though. Can't wait to hear how things work when you try them!:)

    1. Great minds think alike. ;) I tend to have a hard time with crowded areas but Charles has desensitized me that way. I can put up with them now when it's something I really want to go to, but I didn't use to be that way!