One of the best 'extra' benefits of equestrian sports is to see so much of the world and to meet people from so many different nations and cultures. We travel to clinics, we travel to competitions, we travel for training. I have lived in 3 of the 4 corners of the USA as part of my training: Seattle, Washington-Carlsbad,California-and Wellington, Florida! For competitions and clinics I have traveled to Germany, Holland, the Netherlands, New Jersey, Kentucky, Oregon, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, and Michigan. The last few months training in Voerde, Germany with Johann Hinnemann has been one of the greatest opportunities to explore the world and myself I could have asked for. Saturday afternoon I ride my bike to the train, lock it up and catch a train anywhere I can travel and return by Sunday night. I have seen the dom in Cologne, the Brandenburg Tor (gate) in Berlin and the Stadtkirche (state church) in Dortmund. I have danced with friends in Dusseldorf and wandered through the gardens of many a city park. I have given an impromptu concert among new friends in Ermelo. The fun thing is you don't have to go far or to grand places like Paris. There is so much world to see and so many horse people around the world. We are all connected with our love of horses. It has been fun to learn about the tradition and culture not only of the people (like the Dutch men being the tallest in the world) or seeing the Bruge Madonna from the movie Minutemen yourself; but also to learn about the embedded culture and traditions of horses within a society. For example, there is a castle in Ingolstadt, Germany that is now a museum where they preserved the indoor jousting area. The entrances to the castle are long slow cobblestone wide paths for the horses. The entire first floor of the castle is entirely to host horses and indoor winter training. The Germanic tribes in 1255 started construction. You can feel the integrated role horses played in their survival and defense. You can see the giant banners of the knights families fluttering from beams in the ceiling. It is very surreal to imagine the connection to every day life horses played. Horses here weren't hobbies or pets. They were integral parts of the family. They were necessary to survive and they were also part of the pride and strength of these people. They gave them power not only to live but to grow and conquer. The way Sjapoer always made me feel strong and free.
I guess the lesson or advice for today is get out, explore and use the opportunities your given not just to become better riders or trainers but better citizens of the world!
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
In August of 2012, I had a life altering and sudden move to Washington from Texas. In a period of less than 2 weeks I left my parents, my friends, and my culture to relocate to cold, rainy Kirkland. My parents thought it might make the transition easier if I made some new friends quickly. They contemplated removing me from the online International Academy that I had attended for the last 5 years to go to a local public high school. Many of my parent's family and friends were pressuring them to give me a “normal life.” They often suggested, in the kind way people who care about you do, that I was missing out by not attending football games, or going out on dates. So I went to 'check out' public high school those first few days of Senior Year! After only a few hours of observation at the school, I gained a new appreciation for my unusual educational background. My K12 online international academy experience allowed me to develop myself and my sense of identity separate from the intense peer pressure and need to conform of a typical high school experience. Everywhere I looked, during my observation time, I saw not compromise or healthy respect for diversity but pressure to submit. Everywhere I looked, I saw pressure to change in accordance to preconceived ideas. This pressure interestingly came not only from students, but from teachers as well. If I had been in that environment for four years perhaps I would not have become the independent person that I am. I may not have had the confidence to take off for Europe on my own, or to take huge risks for my dreams. What I realized in those hours was a previously unrecognized positive that came from sacrificing the ‘normal’ childhood experience. Those few hours gave me a great insight into being proud of being me. That time of getting a taste of 'normal' made me realize what a trivial word that 'normal' really is. It also made me a lifelong advocate of charting your own path and following your dreams. What would I have gained by sacrificing myself and my goals for the ‘normal’ or ‘expected?’ Now when I travel to youth conferences and clinics I talk to young people about finding their passion. I truly believe that life is about living for what makes life worth living and that driving passion may not be the same for everyone; for some it is riding, for some it may be helping others, for some saving the environment and perhaps a million other possibilities. The secret is to find that passion and make your life, not the life others demand from you.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Dressage is a bit like pairs figure skating, in that you have to have harmony and trust in your team to create the beautiful balance of the complex movements. That only comes from spending a lot of time together. This partnership is developed on trust and knowledge of each other. You have to learn to feel your horse’s thoughts and to be able to make small and gentle adjustments in your riding in even the largest and most out of control situations. This has taught me to be calm and thoughtful even in a crisis. When our partners get scared or distracted it can be very dangerous. They are large and powerful animals. I joke with my athlete friends that while they may be flipping around upside down to do death defying tricks on their skis the goal of dressage is to look in complete control and make everything look easy. At least their skis aren’t trying to buck them off or jump off the mountain at the same time!
My sport also requires close communication with an animal that weighs over a ton. Horses scare a lot of people because they seem unpredictable and have a lot of power. They are bigger and stronger than us and we can’t always control them. This make them in a lot of ways like guys who tend to be bigger and stronger too. Horses have the added issue of not being able to tell us what they are thinking or feeling so we have to learn to communicate in other ways and to learn to share with them our feelings and emotions without language. We also have to learn to work together as a team without force. Learning to communicate and to work as a team with my horses over the years has taught me about communicating with people. It has given me a lot of empathy to listen to what people (and nature) need without speaking. I mean being aware of other people’s needs without them having to tell you. I think this makes me really aware of people and very empathetic to others. Yet also to communicate with a horse you have to be consistent, dependable, and trustworthy. You have to build a bond that you will do as you say and will keep them safe. Having my horse treat me like his best friend and believe in me is probably the most rewarding friendship I have earned in my life.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Have you ever played Russian roulette? It’s a game of chance where you load one bullet into a revolver, spin the cartridge so you don’t know if the bullet is in the chamber and then you put the gun to your head and pull the trigger?
NO, of course you haven’t. That would be too dangerous to even consider, but yet I bet at some point in your life you have contemplated or maybe you even have ridden your bike, motorcycle, skateboard, snowboard or horse without a helmet! So you have played Russian roulette with your brain!
THE CDC states that less than ½ of all Americans age 5-14 wear helmets while participating in these activities and that number decreases with age. In 2010 they also note that over half a million people received ER treatment for head and bone injuries from biking incidents alone. Of these 26,000 were Traumatic Brain Injuries.
The CDC statistics show that rates of TBI have climbed slowly in the last decade. However the numbers are larger for men (nearly 40% increase) than for women (20% increase)and those most likely to die of TBI from lack of a helmet are young males.
So why are we playing Russian roulette with our brains? Why are we not wearing helmets? According to HELMET.ORG the helmet safety organization the common excuses for not wearing helmets range from
-It will make me look geeky---to
-it makes my head sweat—to
--it will make me go bald--to
--I’m just going around the corner and by the time I get my helmet I could be back!
While at the moment someone states these things they may seem valid…Let’s look at each one more closely.
So you think your helmet makes you look geeky or like a whimp? My friend Nick Goepper is an Olympic freestyle skier. If you go to his website or Instagram you can see him doing crazy and what most guys would call ‘manly’ tricks.’ Not only have his fans never seen him skiing without a helmet but he has said, “That people who don’t wear helmets aren’t showing their skill or daring because without a helmet you can’t take the kind of risks you need to get better and to do the really big tricks. So I know when I see kids without helmets that they aren’t serious about getting better and attempting the bigger jumps. You can’t improve your skills without the right equipment to give you the tools to do so.”
Look at the leaders of your sport. Does Shawn White snowboard without a helmet? Does Marlene Esparza box without one? Do you ever see Tony Romo play football without a helmet? No!
So the next time someone says you are a whimp or geeky for wearing a helmet you can say, “I dare you to walk up to Tony and tell him he’s a whimp for wearing his…until you do that I’m with him!”
As for sweating, I can agree that sweating in a helmet is uncomfortable. I have ridden hours a day in the Texas, Florida and California summers with a helmet. But now companies like International Riding Helmets (IRH) my sponsor have addressed a lot of these type of issues.
IRH puts vents across the top for air and interior lining which can be removed to be washed.
Companies have attempted to address style issues this way as well. By adding, for example, some bling, leather and colors…you can be styling and match your outfit. Some sports now have stickers and other things you can add to personalize and express yourself through your helmet. In essence, it has become part of your whole outfit. In many sports, the helmet is where all the sponsor labels go…so stick on a sticker or two and look like a pro.
US News and World Report Health noted in Feb, 2011 that wearing hats and helmets does not in any way cause baldness. So let’s dispel that urban myth right now. Anyone can google and find dozens of reputable sites like the CDC and helmet.org, the NYTimes and the Wallstreet Journal. All note that this is an urban legend and that there is NO scientific data in any way supporting that wearing a helmet will cause baldness.
So if helmets have improved design and appearance to minimize sweating, and wearing helmets is done by all the top professionals, and it doesn’t increase your chance for baldness, the only thing left to keep you from putting one on to ride is “time.” Yes it might take you 3 minutes to go to your room for your helmet. But that 3 minutes is a number far less than the days in a coma, weeks in rehab and months or years recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
In my sport of Dressage, Olympian Courtney King-Dye took a near fatal fall without a helmet in 2010. At age 32 she suffered a fractured skull. She has become the FEI Global Ambassador for helmet safety in the Riders4Helmets campaign. She would be the first to tell you, take the time to put it on!
Finally, for those of you who are parents or older brothers or aunts we may be guiding future generations …be an example of a SMART adult. Wear your helmet and when your kid says you look geeky tell them “Gee THANKS, I spent enough time and money on my college education I would hope it showed how smart I got!”
Be a role model, be smart, don’t play Russian roulette with your brain…wear a helmet every ride every time.