Equine Tech Collaborative, Mastermind Innovation Series: A Mindful Approach to Horse and Rider

Equestrian, General

Hello Beautiful Friends!

Today I want to share another fabulous experience I was able to have in Wellington this week. If you have been following along I’ve been speaking a lot to experiences lately. If there is an opportunity to have an experience where you can learn and surround yourself with people who share your passions, where else would you rather be?!

The inaugural Masterclass Innovation Series took place at the Wanderer’s Club in Wellington and was presented by the Equine Tech Collaborative to benefit the USEF Equine Disaster Relief Fund.

The Equine Tech Collaborative was formed in 2017 by founders; Barn Manager, Equo, Jumpfax, and StableGuard. New partner additions include; Electronic Vet, Epona Exchange, Etalon Diagnostics, and Event Clinics. What a phenomenal collaboration by a great group of entrepreneurs! I find these collaborations and events (hello Equestrian Business Women Summit) to be incredibly inspiring, motivating, and informative. This one did not disappoint. Not knowing what a new event like this would bring, I imagine the hosts will be pleased with the turnout.

The first panel, The Soundness Spectrum: Maintaining Horses’ Soundness Through Proactive Management consisted of Dr. Tim Ober, the official vet of the US Equestrian show jumping team, Danny Ingratta, FEI groom for Team Millar, Dr. Sheila Schils, equine rehab innovator, and Olympic show jumper Daniel Bluman, with Jennifer Wood as moderator.

The first question for the panel was, what they look for in assessing a new horse into their program:

Tim Ober: He spoke to looking at the horse overall. Skeletal, the strengths, and weaknesses of their conformation, and shoeing. He likes to see the horse freely as well as under saddle. Sometimes they will do joint flexions in hand and other times they will do the flexions under saddle, depending on the circumstances. He explained that all horses typically have a road map of issues in which you have to rank and make a plan for their program based upon this baseline of knowledge.

Daniel Bluman: Daniel spoke to gathering as much information as possible to get a baseline. He talked about using cavalettis to assess the horse’s tendencies under saddle…are they fairly straight forward? Do they drift left or right?

Sheila Schils: She looks at the horse as a system of pulleys, levers, and vectors. She examines the length of stride, tempo, straightness, poll to tail flexion, back, neck, and lastly lateral flexion.

Danny Ingratta: Danny shared that when he looks at a new horse (which he joked usually arrives at midnight), he looks at their condition and attitude in their stall first. He pays attention to how they stand…square, parked out, or other indicative stances. He also checks them over to familiarize himself with any existing bumps or uniqueness that may be apart of that horse.

Let me just say right off of the bat that after this first question was presented, I was all in. Having perspectives from these very different positions that come together from a team to approach on assessing the horses was just super cool.

The next question was how often horses should be seen for routine checks after entering the program:

Tim Ober: Grand Prix or high-level horses that are in a season of intense showing, like here at WEF, should be seen every 2 weeks. Otherwise, about every 6 weeks should reasonable and appropriate.

Daniel Bluman: He takes several weeks of getting to know a horse before he will think about taking them to a competition.

Daniel also talked about routine at this point. He said that he keeps a regular schedule for the horses between jumping and dressage work from week to week. This he says, allows him to notice changes in the horse in executing the repeated exercises.

The next question was asking the panel what cues they look for in spotting issues:

Sheila Schils: Passively assess the horse. Watch it in the stall and as it walks out of the stall. Watching the horse in those first steps after the rider gets on from the mounting block. She likes to see the horse without influence of movement.

Danny Ingratta: Listening to the horse’s footfall when they walk.

Tim Ober: He stated that there is a fine line with these signals. He stated that people often “raise their hands” too early.

My thoughts? This is definitely a touchy issue. You don’t want to downplay something that could be serious…where you could cause further damage by waiting it out. You also don’t want to be setting off an alarm when it’s not necessary. This is something that you can assess better knowing a horse well.

Tim mentioned Danny by saying that often times, Danny or a groom of his expertise will know what is wrong with the horse before he ever arrives to assess them.

The next subject they spoke about was managing stress in horses:

Tim Ober: He looks at the horse’s condition – weight, muscle, skin and coat condition, eating habits, etc.

Daniel Bluman: Daniel feels that proper nutrition is a key factor in keeping them feeling their best.

Danny Ingratta:  High strung and stressed people reflect that onto the horses they are partnered with. He talked about using a team approach and figuring out stress triggers.

Sheila Schils: She had a bit of a different take on this question and talked about different types of stress. She started by explaining that she looks at it on a molecular level.

“Stress for a muscle is cool beans.”

Soreness of muscles is a stress that leads to strength. She emphasized this is good stress, not to be confused with distress. She also explained that in talking about the muscle stress to strength, the worst thing you can do is let a horse sit in the stall the day after hard work or a big class. A day off is not the ideal. She compared show horses to marathon runners. She said that after someone runs a marathon, they should be getting up and running the following day. Not hard, but starting out with a very slow easy run and lengthening naturally as you go. She said that this will make your recovery about 2 days versus 10.

Questions from the audience:

Q: How to approach injury rehabilitation and the timeline for getting back into competition:

Daniel Bluman: It depends on the type of injury. You have to work as a team. You have to give plenty of time for recovery. After the time off, even if the injury is fully healed, getting the horse’s fitness back takes additional time as to not reinjure or create new injuries. Patience is key. He said that if he is told 2 months off – he does 3. If he is told 4 months off does 6. He told us that when reinjury occurs, it means big vet bills and low motivation.

Miscellaneous takeaways:

  • Daniel talked about having a plan and setting goals for the peak time in his show season and working backward from there and making a plan.
  • Sheila mentioned that horses with high adrenaline often work through the pain and make themselves more vulnerable to injury.
  • Danny gave an example of horses getting summer sores in Florida and how difficult that fix can be. He stressed that people need to remember that there are no instant fixes. For instance, when you are using a new product, give it enough time to yield results.

PS – while nobody did any other product name dropping, Danny did give some credit to Perfect Products Protector on the summer sore healing process.

I was secretly hoping to learn about their specific routines when it comes to products and favorites, but I can understand why that would not have been discussed.

Nicole Lakin, of Barn Manager. Also a founding member of The Equine Tech Collaborative & Nicole Salazar (that’s me:))

The second panel, In Good Company: Top Riders Discuss the Skills and Practices That Help them with Mental and Emotional Challenges. Panelists Kasey Perry-Glass, U. S. Dressage Olympic team silver medalist, World Equestrian Games gold medalist, Adrienne Sternlicht, and the return of Daniel Bluman, moderated by Mental Skills Coach, Author, and A Circuit competitor specializing in equestrian athletes, Tonya Johnston.

Tonya started with a quote;

“Do not fear work that has no end.”

An interpretation of that is one I can very much relate to…in horses, in work, marriage, kids – it applies to so many things. Just when you think you have something figured out, it changes! It evolves and you have to adapt and figure it out all over again. you never stop learning.

The first question was about the go-to routines for these riders:

Adrienne Sternlicht: Before a big class, her routine often includes meditation and/or listening to chapters of books. She will also use a run before she rides. Overall she likes to think of it as a pendulum – what can bring her back to a good place. Trial and error. She said something I found really interesting and so true!… Here in Wellington, it is more of a lifestyle sport than a “regular” competition. How true! There are always so many things to do and places to be.

Kasey Perry-Glass: She identified herself as an overthinker. Simplifying in any way possible so she can downsize in her mind is her best practice. She thrives on organization and routine. She braids her own horse and that is part of her routine that helps her. She also mentioned listening to audiobooks, like You Are A Badass.

Daniel Bluman: He started by saying that routine is priority number one. If your mind shuts down on you, your routine can keep you on track.

He also explained that he tries never to focus on what is at stake before a big class. Remember why you started (one of my big mental go to’s). When you are anxious, be thankful for what you are doing. Most importantly, spend time with the horses and get to a place of peace.

He will routinely ride his horse about an hour before the class starts to get connected and in the zone.

Adrienne Sternlicht: The flood gates of humor then opened up between the panelists. Adrienne eluded to the fact that Daniel can often be found taking a nap right before warming up for a big class.

Adrienne talked about how much preparation reflects in the ride. She likes to keep very busy right up until it is time to go (and definitely won’t be found sleeping). She suggests finding rituals that give you comfort and to be unapologetic about what works for you.

Tonya then asked them what they do when things go sideways, or as I like to say, go south:

Daniel Bluman: He talked about dwelling as little as possible – there is too much time to do so if you allow it. Instead, decide how to address whatever the problem may have been.

“If you have to fake it, fake it”

…Until you make it? He also talked about a healthy balance between life and sport. Not bringing a negative attitude home and having it affect the people in your life who will not appreciate being around you in that mode.

Kasey Perry-Glass: She said that she has a go-to venting person. A specific person she can call and vent about a ride or result with.

Adrienne Sternlicht: She talked about being fully committed to the long term goal, don’t be attached to the outcome.

“ Be committed, but unattached to the result”.

Next Tonya asked about how the riders deal with distractions:

Kasey Perry-Glass: Take a moment to yourself. Take things one step at a time and prioritize as to not become overwhelmed with a great big to-do list.

Adrienne Sternlicht: Listen to your intuition about what you need. Adrienne is invested in yoga and for her, connecting to her breath and getting out of her mind and into her body is important. She mentioned a go-to book, Letting Go, specifically noting chapters on fear and desire.

Daniel Bluman: He spoke to the fact that there are both positive and negative distractions. When it comes to routine, he says distractions are not allowed for him. The focus needs to stay consistent. Whether there be something else going on, company, or other things that distract from his routine, he continues on and does what he needs to do for himself and his horses. On the other hand, he talked about positive distraction. If someone cracks a joke or makes him laugh right before a class, he welcomes it! He appreciates it.

The next question was about how they get from the warmup to the show ring and stay in the zone:

Daniel Bluman: Daniel says to trust your preparation and don’t overthink. To disconnect and let your subconscious take over.

“The more you think, the less magic you have.”

Adrienne Sternlicht: Prior to getting on her horse, she is often anxious. Once she gets on her horse, she feels at home.

She works on not stressing about what is to come, good or bad. For example, if her horse is better off of the right lead and the course starts to the left, she doesn’t get caught up on that and bring doubt into the ring. She admitted to a period of time in which she was having a rail late in the course, or even at the last jump – she would have this mindset or say to herself halfway through, “I’m going clear!” “What will I say if I win?” which was the exact time in which she’d have a rail. She had to stop doing this and it fixed the problem. As soon as the focus went to the end result and not in the present moment, that is when the rail would come down. Her advice is to commit to your round and remember that it is not over until you physically exit the ring.

Kasey Perry-Glass: Thinks about a teammate that tells her,

“Don’t eff it up.”

She said she often feels sick to her stomach before a big test – that is until she starts the routine with her horse of braiding and getting tacked up.

She said that once she has a plan, it’s time to feel secure in the plan.

In the Q & A with the audience, someone asked how they handle the situation in which they are riding horses for someone else and it doesn’t go well: (cue laughter)

Daniel Bluman: Own your own horses! Or at least part of them so they can’t take the ride from you for a bad class. He continued on (with some intermittent comedy) to say that it is better not to talk about it right after it happens. It won’t be productive. You can sit down together, but don’t discuss the details. It is much more productive and well received on both ends over dinner or the like.

Kasey Perry-Glass: If something happens to discount your ride, in your mind you should ride like you are trying to make up for it. Keep going!

Another question was directed to Adrienne about handling the pressure of a major competition, like the World Equestrian Games, she participated in during 2018.

She explained that you can’t ride the prestige of the event. The ride should be the same as it would anywhere. Intensity for a venue or name doesn’t produce a better result. It is the path you took and the work and results that got you there in the first place that matter.

“You are projecting your dreams onto an animal.”

“That time in the ring is a very private moment with your horse.”

An audience member asked about why the riders chose to work with a sports psychologist – if it was proactive or due to a significant breakdown:

Daniel Bluman: Circa 2013/14 Daniel went on his own with his groom out to Thermal (California) for the $1 Million Grand Prix. It was a long week for him there without much going on for him personally. During that week leading up to the class, he said he thought about what he would do with the winnings from the class if he got it. He thought about all of the expense it took to get he and his horse and groom there from Florida for this one class. He made the comment about being low energy and how the VIP at Thermal not being so good, which of course made many people giggle. So ultimately, he decided to work with a sports psychologist. Also joking that his Mom is a psychologist and he could never understand how people could pay for that. But ultimately, after doing it he said,

“It changed the sport for me and made me a better athlete.”

Kasey Perry-Glass: She explained that she went into a depression after the Rio Olympics and took a break. She turned to a psychologist to get her mind right.

Another audience member asked the panel how they keep their horses’ happy and mentally fit:

Adrienne Sternlicht: Practice diversity when engaging with your horse. She will hand graze her horses, let them sort of wander under saddle for a bit, and do a lot of trail riding.

Kasey Perry-Glass: Groundwork and bonding out of the saddle. When she refers to her seasoned horse, she doesn’t want to drill him. She likes to condition in other ways that are not so repetitive.

Left to Right: Kasey Perry-Glass, Adrienne Sternlicht, Daniel Bluman, Tonya Johnston

In conclusion, there was so much ground that was covered in those couple of hours. I could sit and listen to that type of discussion all day long. It gives me so much energy and happiness. There is a world of knowledge that you can learn. I thought that having the diversified panel was so great! It is fab to see things presented from different angles and roles in the teams that surround our horses. That is something I think about a lot. An example for me personally, is getting chiropractors (body workers) and saddle fitters to work in tandem when fitting a horse for a new saddle or making adjustments to an existing one that is an ill fit. A lot of times when the saddle fitter comes you just nod yes because they are the expert, right? Having a vet or chiropractor involved can completely change the outcome of that appointment – and from what I have seen, the best result comes from a team approach. I love that this sort of transparency and access to major players in the sport is being made more available. Especially in the horse world, where everyone has an opinion and there are not typically black and white answers. There are a hundred different ways that people approach the same thing. We always have to keep that in mind, but I think talking about these important topics in this type of environment is so valuable and I hope that it continues to gain momentum and that there are many more opportunities like this in the future.

Thank you Equine Tech Collab!

Learn more at https://equinetechcollab.com/

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