Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lamplight lights up for fall jumper show

WAYNE, Ill. - You can get close enough to get sprayed with flying arena footing. Close enough to hear the rider whisper to the horse. Close enough to smell the exertion. Close enough to see the expressions of horse and rider: determination, anticipation, concern, sometimes fear.

The sprawling Lamplight Equestrian Center is host to many high-end horse shows during its April-to-October season, including the recent Showplace Fall Classic Championship. The Classic is a series of hunter/jumper competitions ranging from junior and pony level events to sanctioned regional finals for the top horses and riders in the Midwest.

There's prize money at the top. Winning a single class can earn a $25,000 cash prize. A slim 1/100 of a second can determine the difference between the $25,000 first-place award and a second-place finish with much less for a prize. To reach for that fraction of a second requires horse and rider to fly.

Jumps are set at 5-plus-feet heights in a pattern each team navigates as fast as it can with as few errors as possible. In the instant rider and horse leave the earth, there's quiet, near silence. If the next sound is that of a soft thud and grunt, the jump was cleanly cleared. But if you hear the clatter of hooves striking poles, then the jump is wrong, time to the finish increased, poles knocked over creating errors or the chance of something much worse.

While the jumps are lower and the prizes smaller, junior events at Lamplight are no less intense than the professional classes. Young riders complete courses set to the age and experience levels of the specific class. Learning to fly with your horse is clearly an acquired interest with some apparent addictive qualities.

You're more likely to see fear creep into faces in the junior arenas.

There are reasons Lamplight is what it is where it is, said manager Tom Moxley. The curious should use the Internet to search for Oaklawn Farm, the Dunham family and Wayne, Ill., he suggested.

In 1835, Marc Dunham purchased land in Wayne and began to import and breed French Percheron horses for sale to expanding transportation and agricultural interests. According to Wikipedia, Oaklawn Farm was at one time home to at least one-fifth of all imported French horses and stabled more than 1,300 head on the 1,700-acre property.

Dunham got fabulously wealthy with his enterprise and built a castle made from rock mined near Racine, but over time, cars and trucks and tractors replaced horses on the landscape. For Wayne, Ill., the pattern of an equine community was established.

The area is one of the oldest and largest equine communities in the country. A showplace such as the Lamplight Equestrian Center that's now more than 50 years old is part of the community fabric.
At Lamplight you can choose what you want to see. If you can't make up your mind, sit between two arenas and watch both. From some spectator areas you can watch two arenas at once and keep tabs on a third all while seated right next to a jump.

To understand how Lamplight works requires a grasp of scale. During the Fall Classic, officials reported more than 400 riders at all levels were competing. To pull that off, space is needed. The grounds of the center cover more than 50 acres.

There are 450 permanent stalls in attractive barns. In addition to the barns, another 1,000 stalls are kept under large Camelot-style tents. Everything is wired and plumbed plus there are 46 stalls devoted to washing horses.

To make large shows move along, Lamplight has six hunter/jumper arenas, seven dressage arenas and four warm-up rings each with compacted limestone base and surface, according to its website.

Lamplight boasts that it's located in the center of one of the oldest equestrian communities in the country and is home to many champion riders, horses and competitions. Extensive remodeling and landscaping over the years have helped to make spectators part of each event.

For people seeking, if even for a moment, to touch and feel the grace, elegance and competitive pressures of big-time horse events, the Lamplight Equestrian Center can place you squarely in the center of the action.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Prairie du Chien historic mansion grounds home to authentic Victorian-era equine event

There's the prime rib dinner with 350 of your friends as the sun seeps into the Mississippi River. But dinner Saturday evening is getting ahead of things. A major sanctioned carriage driving event held on the grounds of a signature historic Victorian mansion, on an island in the Mississippi River, on the site of a frontier fort, add up to one of the most unique equine experiences in the nation.

By definition, carriage driving is hitching horses to vehicles by means of a harness. The Carriage Classic, held Sept. 9-11, is a driving competition with 11 classes covering a range of activities, all emphasizing the dress, styles and vehicles common to the 19th century.

Villa Louis was built in 1871 with the fur trading and investment fortunes of Hercules Dousman and left to his son Louis.

"It's not often you can put together a historic site like Villa Louis with a historically compatible event like the Carriage Classic," said Michael Douglass, Wisconsin State Historical Society site director. "The classic is our biggest visitor day of the year."

Louis Dousman also jumped into the horse business, buying into the first of the American Standardbred breed, founding the Artesian Stock Farm, and building a half-mile racetrack in front of the mansion.

"Louis probably thought he was getting into something on the ground floor. Who knows where it might have gone if he hadn't died suddenly in 1886," Douglass said. "His widow dispersed the horses."

Today, the 25-room mansion and grounds is in the hands of the state historical society. The historic site became the focus of some fresh attention 31 years ago as several community leaders brainstormed about the local economy.

"Prairie du Chien is a tourist town," said Dean Achenbach, a Carriage Classic founder. "Jay Hauser owned the Country Kitchen at the time and he asked me one day, ‘Dean, what can we do to extend the tourist season past Labor Day?' "

A driving competition might not sound like a big economic development plan, but Achenbach pointed out there were still a lot of farmers in the area with driving horses and he had his own interest in driving. Plus, the city had a top-notch historic site with an interest in period-based events.

"That first year there were three of us. We did some goofy things over the years to get participation. One year we sent an invitation out to all the farmers we knew offering them $10 for gas if they'd bring their horses into town. I don't know if it was the $10 or just that they had an invitation, but they sure showed up," Achenbach said.

Eventually the show needed some rules and became an American Driving Society sanctioned event. Adding rules changed the tone of the classic, Achenbach said. Local drivers were surprised by some rules at first, but the ADS sanction also increased the number of people interested in participating.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the event and the Wisconsin State Historical Society developed. Everything the Carriage Classic buys for the event such as arena fences and gates, public address systems, and driving course equipment is donated to the historical society. Much of it is used for other events and activities on the grounds.

"It's an unusual partnership," Achenbach said. "They trust us to take good care of the grounds."

As for economic development, the Carriage Classic brings people to town. More than 100 drivers registered to compete. On Sept. 10, about 700 people had paid admission to the driving event and more than 400 people took mansion tours, said curator Susan Caya-Slusser.

"On a busy day in the summer we may have 100 people on tours. (Sept. 10) we had a tour leaving every 15 minutes all day," Caya-Slusser said.

The carriage events place visitors in a time gone by. A class special to the Carriage Classic is the "Picnic." Exhibitors prepare their horses and carriages as if going out for a country drive and a picnic. All the competitors drive their rigs around in the arena and then go to a shady spot on the mansion lawn. Once at the picnic site, horses are unhitched and the picnic is spread.

Judging is based 20 percent on performance, manner and way of going; 20 percent on condition, fit and appropriateness of harness and vehicle; and 60 percent on overall impression including presentation of the picnic. Spectators may also cast a ballot resulting in an official winner and a popular choice.

About 14 years ago, Mike Rider took over as chairman of the event from Achenbach.

"Dean said it was time for someone else so I talked it over with my family and we've been doing it ever since," Rider said. "I like driving and I like the people."

The Saturday night prime rib dinner is only one of the more mouth-watering parts of the Carriage Classic. The rest of the event is as authentic a replication of the Victorian age anyone can hope to see.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Comforting touches: Practice helps relieve stress in animals

Tami Parr
You've probably had a stiff neck that hurt so much you had to turn your shoulders to look around. Horses can develop "stiffness" in muscles and joints too, and there's nothing as comforting as working out the tension with touch point releases and gentle passive range-of-motion movements, said Tami Parr of Equine a.t. Parr of Beaver Dam.

"Bodyworks is what it's called," Parr said. "It's not always what people think."

The practice of bodywork may include some rubs and stretches as part of the process, but the difference is in the touch and response technique, she said. While a massage works on the muscles, the bodyworks approach begins by identifying tension points in the animal's body.

"What I do is move my hands along and look for a response from the horse. Usually I look for responses in the eyes, the face and from expressions the horse may have in response to finding a point of tension," Parr said.

Once a point is discovered by a blink of the eye, a tilt of an ear, or a shift on its feet, the point is held with gentle pressure until a "release" is felt or noticed. Release is often in the form of licking and chewing, a change in breathing or yawning. The applied pressure may be held and let go a number of times to get the horse to release.

Horses often develop injuries and muscle pulls and stoically continue on by compensating for the change with another part of the body. More weight may get shifted to one side or the other or the horse will move in a slightly different way to protect the sore spot.

"Over time, the horse can build layers of tension, and that can change the way it moves," she said. "As the rider, you'll begin to notice little things. Maybe the horse won't always pick up the proper lead, or they'll refuse certain moves."

As an example, Parr said a barrel racer came to her with a well-trained, experienced 8-year-old Quarter Horse. The rider asked the horse for circles and was instead provided ovals.

"As I worked with the horse to find any restrictions it may have had, I discovered a muscle spasm," Parr said. "We were able to work with the horse over time and got it back into performance condition."

In cases of a performance horse being used to race or jump or work, a bodywork session may become part of the overall training program. Other times, complete bodywork is needed only once in a while.

"I'll teach people a handful of common moves to help their horse and to extend the time between complete bodyworks," Parr said. "And knowing how to do some of these techniques helps bring a new depth to the relationship owners have with their horse."

Veterinarians also are beginning to find a role for bodyworks as a recovery tool for horses post-surgery and following other medical treatments. Using a bodyworks therapy is especially useful for horses on stall rest, she said.

"The horse standing in a stall day in and day out can really begin to build up tension, especially a horse that normally has a lot of exercise and activity," Parr said. "Bodywork for a horse on stall rest reduces muscle restrictions and stress. The process also helps release endorphins, a natural pain and stress-reducing substance produced by the horse."

Veterinarians have to focus on the immediate medical needs of the animal and often rely on Parr to deliver the time intensive hands-on therapy. When involved in a medical recovery process, Parr said she is part of the team, keeping notes, sharing information and watching for changes. She'll spend up to two hours focused on muscle and movement, noting restrictions and documenting progress.

"Owners should never use bodywork as a substitute for veterinary care," Parr said. "Bodywork is a comfort and movement therapy, not the kind of medical care provided by a veterinarian.

"Regardless of the situation, handling your horse with an eye for tension and restrictions can help improve the riding and relationship experience. Often preventing restrictions will remove roadblocks before they become problems."

Friday, September 09, 2011

To shoe or not to shoe? That is not the question.

Rick Burten, Master Ferrier from Urbana, Ill., is a man on a mission. "There isn’t a single ounce of scientific evidence that shows shoeing a horse is harmful," Burton said. "But people hear things like ‘shoeing makes the hoof go numb’ and it seems to make sense to them so they believe it."

Along with the mission, Burten may also have a small chip on his shoulder. "People say, ‘sure you want to shoe horses. That’s how you make money.’ Really? If it was about making all the money I could, I’d quit shoeing horses and stick to just trimming hooves," Burten said.

What Burten advocates is doing the right thing for your horses. Maybe the right thing includes shoes or perhaps not. Speaking at the recent Horse Days event, Burten tried to dispel a few common myths about horse hoof care. Of special interest is a group of people advocating for the "shoeless" horse.

"There are horses that don’t need shoes," Burten said. "And if your horse doesn’t need shoes then you shouldn’t put shoes on him. It’s not barefoot (unshod) versus shod. It’s doing the right thing for your horse."

A trustworthy ferrier understands the differences between horses and making sure the animal gets proper care. The ferrier will work with you as part of a team that can include a veterinarian and a nutritionist and any other providers and handlers.

Since no two horses are the same, each animal needs a complete evaluation that should include consideration of what the owner needs, how the animal is being used, the kind of horse, and its living conditions. "I have an intake protocol," Burten asserted. "I watch the horse on hard surface and soft surfaces. I ask the owner a series of questions including the horse’s hoof-health history."

When considering hoof care and finding the right ferrier for your horse, Burten said it’s important for you to be the voice for your horse. Someone who refuses to have pictures taken of the hoof work probably isn’t going to work well with the team, for example.

"No two horses are the same and no two feet are the same either," Burten said. "If a ferrier works only by a formula they can screw the horse up. The idea isn’t to make all the hooves ‘even’ it’s to create the optimal position for each hoof."

Another common myth, Burten said, is that steel shoes can increase concussion/impact-type injuries. The first clue it’s a myth is the existence of so many different kinds of shoes. Burten explained that you match the type of shoe you use to the horse and what the horse needs. "And a recent study looked at concussion injuries and the use of steel shoes and discovered concussion injuries were actually reduced with steel shoes in performance horses," he said.

The horse business community ends up dealing with issues that are not truly controversial because of beliefs and values that have nothing to do with taking the best possible care of a horse, Burten said. Just because one person has good luck not shoeing a horse isn’t proof positive that no horse should ever have shoes put on, he added.

"There are cases when a horse should have shoes for a specific time and use and then may be fine without shoes the rest of the time. There are times when you may only need shoes on two hooves," Burten said. "Yes. There are horses that don’t need shoes."

Do what’s best for the horse is his final advice.
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