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3 Questions with Stressage Stories

For me, dressage can actually be far more scary than hunting. (My OTTB makes sure of that.) It doesn’t feel great when your horse has a complete and utter tantrum when you insist he respect the outside rein, or when you get about 3ft of lateral steps when trying to leg yield across the arena. Even if you can gallop a 3ft coop or navigate a ditch that would make most DQs pee their pristine white breeches, dressage can make you doubt you have any riding ability at all.

Photo credit Pat Michaels. This trot brought to you by dressage. (Bracing neck brought to you by the fact that we are about to gallop off into a field)

So when I came across Lucy McKeown’s Stressage Stories blog, I knew had found a kindred spirit. She is a young UK-based rider and writer who covers her dressage adventures and the psychology behind success. We’re doing a little exchange where we ask and answer the same 3 questions:

Describe how dressage makes you feel in 3 words

Dedicated, inspired and elegant

What are your favorite parts of your sport?

Firstly the satisfaction of nailing a certain movement. Knowing that you have set the horse up ready to be able to dance and move effortlessly underneath you

Which leads me to my next favorite… the feeling that my horse starts to relax and trust me. The correct communication just feels like magic (even though we all know it actually comes from a lot of hard work!)

Are there any common misconceptions in dressage that you want to clear up?

A common misconception of dressage is that it is elitist and only for those with loads of money and the fanciest horses. However dressage is french for the word training and so this training can benefit any horse and rider no matter who they are.

There is also the misconception that it isn’t fun and friendly. I have noticed quite the opposite. So many people know the struggles of the sport and want to encourage you.

Have you or do you ever suffer with nerves and if so, what are your top tips?

I do get nervous a lot. Especially for big competitions. My top tips would be to view nerves as excitement (your body does the same things in response), plan loads (and plan some more… Then accept that there will be some things beyond your control, so make sure your plan is focused on what you can do and what solutions you can bring to the table.

Miscellaneous Shenanigans, Newbie Tips

The Part of Foxhunting No One Talks About

Yes, that’s right… I’m going to talk about it.

Volunteering. (What, was that not what you were thinking?)

Especially since this year has been such a wash in terms of weather, footing, and a broken/sick horse, a major part of my involvement with the hunt club this year has been volunteering. It’s not as exciting as hunting, but it can actually be a pretty fun excuse to hang out with hunt people and make friends. And volunteering is absolutely critical to making hunting happen at all.

Hunt breakfasts need food and people to pass out drinks at the stirrup cup. Hunter paces need scorers, timers and trailer parking organizers. Hunt parties need organizers, decorators, and people to come early and stay late to set up and clean. And that’s not to mention hunting itself, which couldn’t happen without the masters and honorary staff (whips, secretary) who are not paid!

As disappointing as this season has been for my riding, it’s been a banner year in terms of volunteering for the hunt. So I thought I would detail a few (admittedly, incomplete) aspects of being a hunt volunteer!

Volunteering at the Meet

Passing out snacks at Thanksgiving Meet
  • Bringing food and drink: always appreciated at a stirrup cup or post-hunt tailgate. Personally I NEED food after I hunt if I don’t want to get woozy as I’m doing all of my post-hunt chores at the barn.
  • Field secretary: The field secretary is usually the same person at every hunt. He or she collects cap fees from guests and makes sure all riders sign a waiver.
  • Whipper-in: an incredibly demanding volunteer job (though many hunts have at least one paid whip). The whipper-in helps to control the hounds and prevent them from going in areas where we are not allowed to hunt, or from crossing dangerous roads. You need to be a bold, capable rider who knows the territory and hounds well, and you need a fast, fit horse.

Volunteering at a Hunt Party

Parties cannot happen without volunteers!
  • Social Committee: Most hunts have a Social Committee which organizes the year’s parties. We usually end up having about 1 hunt party per month!
  • Coming up with party themes and logistics. The social committee needs to strike a balance between parties being fun and interesting, and being cost-efficient. Ideally the parties break-even in cost vs. money made, though of course it is great if the parties make money for the hunt!
  • Coordinating volunteers: Most parties need a checkin person to collect money (if it’s a party that requires tickets to cover the cost of food), a bartender, setup, cleanup, decorations, someone to wash cloth tablecloths after the party…there are so many small details to think of!

Volunteering at a Steeplechase

I freely admit there is FAR more to our Potomac Hunt Races than I even know about. It is a huge community event in our region benefiting TAPS. I have volunteered as a “crowd control” rider for several years, which I really enjoy. I love being “on the inside” because I remember going to events like this when I was growing up, and wondering how you got to be lucky enough to be one of the “official” people.

And you get the best seat in the house to watch the races.

  • Parking help: Normally a hunt member does this in a beat-up little sedan that he drives like a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler. It is really a sight to see on a muddy track.
  • Vendor coordination: We have a “Vendor Village” where racegoers can shop. A hunt member needs to be the point person for all the vendors.
  • Funding and organization: I have no idea how this happens! I know this is a gargantuan task that one of our Masters organizes with the Race Committee, who plan the event all year.
  • Grandstand announcer: Tells people what is happening in the races!
  • Tractors: Someone always gets stuck at the races…and hunt members are there to drag them out of the mud.
  • Ground volunteers: Wrangling increasingly drunk racegoers as the day goes on
  • Mounted crowd control: There are times when we need to make sure racegoers stay OFF the racetrack (obviously!) but most of the time this is a pretty easy and fun job. The hardest part is the parade at the beginning when they sing The Star Spangled Banner–very loud and spooky time for a horse. I have finally just given up on this part because my horse flips out. The rest of the day is mostly supervising from on high, making sure guests don’t let their kids or dogs astray, and letting the public pet your horse. More than anything it is positive PR for the hunt. So it is easy but very important to give people a positive association with Potomac Hunt.You and your horse need to be immaculately clean and braided.
  • Outider: Not only do you have your horse clean and braided, you need to be an excellent and bold rider on top of it. The outrider is the person who catches loose racehorses if they part from their rider.

Organizing an Intro to Fox Chasing Clinic

I have helped organize our intro to foxchasing clinic for a few years now and I always really enjoy it. It isn’t that long ago that I was preparing for my first hunt clinic, and I remember how incredibly nerve-wracking it was to try and not make a fool of myself. It makes me feel really good to be able to help other newbies through this experience and provide as much help as I can.

Organizing an intro-to-hunting clinic involves:

  • Advertising the event in local horse publications and on social media
  • Recruiting a horde of volunteers to handle food, setup, and cleanup–reminding everyone to be friendly ambassadors  to our guests! Looking at who helped in previous years and using SignupGenius works well.
  • Our hunt has speeches from the huntsman, masters, and hunt members about various aspects of hunting during the post-clinic breakfast. So I had to think of who might have a good story and convince them to speak. 2018 was my first year giving  a speech at the hunt breakfast!
  • Making sure everyone pays, checks in and signs a waiver
  • Making sure the Masters know people want a third field on this day!
  • On the day of–the idea is that you will have volunteers to handle most aspects. As the organizer, your role is to make sure things go on schedule and to handle any potential chaos.
Me, on the lookout for potential chaos at the Hound Walk Happy Hour

Organizing a Hunt Silent Auction

I did NOT realize what a gargantuan task this was when I was asked to help. It is really equivalent to a part time job so it’s a good way to volunteer if you are retired, if you have a flexible schedule, or if you are not working. NOT an ideal task if you have a full time job, plus a side gig and also enjoy riding your horse in your free time.

  • Organizing the party–Thankfully other hunt members are handling this but it would involve everything in the section above.
  • Sending out email and social media reminders to donate items for the auction
  • Individually contacting each person or business that donated items in the past
  • Figuring out a day and time for each person to bring the item to you or the clubhouse.
  • Driving all around the county to pick up items from those people who can’t bring items to you.
  • Keeping a TON of random fox related stuff in your spare bedroom (not recommended if you have 5 flights of stairs to get to your spare bedroom)
  • Enlisting volunteers to help set up items at the auction, emcee the event and do check-out

To be honest, I was feeling completely overwhelmed by the Silent Auction event until yesterday when I loaded up all the items in my truck and got together with a few other members to set up everything in the clubhouse. It really is true that many hands make light work–and it turns volunteering into something to enjoy rather than dread!

As a member of a hunt club, you SHOULD be volunteering! Even if it’s something small like bringing food to a tailgate. It’s always appreciated and always needed.