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Mon, 2015-03-02 12:08

Podcast: Future & Young Event Horse Symposium Recap with Susan Graham White, Robin Walker & Marilyn Payne

Authored By: Chris Stafford Radio
Robin Walker (r) evaluates a young horse during the "Evaluation of the Young Event Horse Prospect" seminar.

Susan Graham White, Robin Walker and Marilyn Payne discuss the “Evaluation of the Young Event Horse Prospect” symposium that was held in Ocala, FL from February 16-18, 2015. The event was presented by the USEA in support of the Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse programs. Listen here or on the podcast player below. 


Chris Stafford: This is the United States Eventing Association's official podcast.

                             Hello and welcome to the program. Well this week we're going to have a roundtable discussion between Marilyn Payne, Susan Graham White and Robin Walker, about the FEH and the Young Event Horse symposium which took place in Ocala, Florida, last week.

                             Let's begin with you, Susan, and how the first day unfolded that morning in the hotel.

Susan:                Yes, thank you. We started first thing in the morning with confirmation and I presented a Powerpoint program that was conformation of the eventing sport horse. Started out right from the beginning talking about form to function, showing lots of slides with pictures, and examples of various conformation things that were both positive and negative. Then really trying to define how those positives or negatives would affect the horse. Whether they would affect soundness in the long run, whether they would be something that would affect the training process.

                             Really dividing it up so that people, when they were looking at horses, whether they're looking at young horses or they're looking at fully developed horses, could make better decisions to know. Because we know there's no perfect horse out there but if you understand with what you're buying how that conformation is going to affect either the trainability or the future soundness it helps you make better decisions. We want the breeders of course to really think about that and their choices as well.

                             We did that and it brought up some pretty lively discussion. I thought it went very well. Then we moved on to Faith Fessenden, her presentation. I think I'm going to throw this back to Robin to talk about that a little bit. I'm sorry Faith can't be here but Robin was going to take over for her.

Robin:                Thank you. We've been discussing on the committee some way of making a presentation that didn't cross over to the really good stuff that Maren Engelhardt had for the YEH. We came up with this between us that Faith would start to dig into what had already been done in American breeding. She was able to highlight Nina Gardner, Mary Hazzard, and also something which I found completely fascinating and I think every other person who did, the whole Italian guy Tesio and what he accomplished during his lifetime with the breeding and the way he applied his system and how it very much relates today.

                             I was thrilled with that because when you look at the influence of American blood in European stud books, both in the national hunt area and in the sport horse breeding, I'm more familiar with Ireland having grown up in England. When you realize the amount of American blood that is there and has been there for years, I thought it was an excellent presentation and really getting people to think that if we're going to breed a better horse in this country, a more competitive horse, and overall a better quality horse, we've already got a lot of the right stuff and a lot of the right ingredients already here. I thought that went very well and really made people sit up and think.

                             Then after that we moved on to really the main business of this year for FEH which is the introduction of the canter and the loose jumping. Obviously the thinking here was that we have something that is safe, organized, very teachable, very repeatable. This has been on the couch for a while as we were finding out when we were discussing all the concepts it takes an awful lot of thinking through all the details.

                             I was incredibly fortunate to have Samantha Allan agree to come down and help with it. She's got a lot of experience in this department and did an awful lot of the legwork, I think Susan you'll agree with that. An awful lot of the legwork in putting the format together and …

Susan:                Yeah. Absolutely.

Robin:                A lot of the written materials that we were able to present. We started with an overview of the scoresheet and I managed to get some videos from Ireland of loose jumping. We were able to look at those in a classroom setting and go through our scoresheet, present my information, present the written information, and then start down the road of defining how we were going to administer all this and how we were going to develop this through to the championships after the three-year-olds in the fall.

                             Susan, I'd like to throw that back to you and get your thoughts on that.

Susan:                Yes. I thought that the presentation there was a really good introduction to all of that and then of course from there we headed over to Longwood after lunch and that was when we were able to totally demonstrate the whole thing. I thought that we had a fantastic team there between Robin and Sam and we had a couple extra people helping out. I think Robin can maybe talk a little bit about them because they were … One of them was Erin Freedman from our committee and the other one was Jamie, correct? Who works with you, Robin?

Robin:                Yeah. The other guy was Mike Nolan who worked for me last year and he's here visiting again this year and agreed. They'd both done a huge amount of loose schooling in a lot of different forms. I think the main point I wanted to get across during that demonstration was the need for a team that knows what they're doing or that was perfect with the first horse that was going to get a little bit saucy and start testing the waters to see who was in charge. I thought it was amply demonstrated how you all need to be on the same page, otherwise things go wrong. I actually thought that went well that beginning bit.

                             Then my little green horse that's really never done too much of anything yet, I wanted to bring in and show people how really to get going so that we keep it productive but going the right way. Most of those decisions that you make, those of you that have done a lot of this, will know are all decisions made in the moment on the fly. There's no real textbook for this, it's all judgment on the day or in the moment.

                             I felt we were able to demonstrate what we were going to be asking the horses to do in the finals. I explain all that and show the beginnings of the path of how to get there.

Susan:                I thought it went very well. I didn't want to miss … We also did the in hand portion of it and looked at yearlings and two-year-olds and three-year-olds, confirmation and on the triangle movement, and talked about scoring them and talked about all of the things that will be the same at the championships. The yearlings and two-year-olds will still just be in hand on the triangle, conformation in hand. Then the three-year-olds will do the free score and free jump.

                             As Robin and the team were demonstrating with horses the free score and free jump, Faith and I were able to be outside and be talking with people about what we were seeing, what we liked, how we would be formulating scores, all of that sort of thing.

Marilyn:            Yeah this is Marilyn. I have to say I was on the sidelines for the all of day one. I was really thrilled that there were so many breeders that were there and so many buyers and trainers that were there to learn about it. That was really interesting. It was great to see the free jumping and everyone really loved watching that. Not only watching how to do it, because a lot of people had never done it before. It was wonderful. The range of horses that you had and the different way you dealt with each horse.

                             Then it was really good to see the horses and see the ability. It was great to develop people's eyes to see, try to be able to evaluate if a horse really had a good jump and if it had three or four star potential. I think there's a lot to this besides training horses but also evaluating horses for people. It was wonderful.

Susan:                That wraps up day one for us. Go ahead, Robin.

Robin:                There was plenty of food for thought at the end of the whole day. I thought it went very well. Obviously there's been all sorts of questions and interest going forward and we're going to be able to flesh the bones out in future seminars during the course of the year. But I think the initial introduction went very well.

Marilyn:            Okay and then we went on to day two which was mostly the YEH day. We started … First I talked all about the methodology of judging and what judges are looking for and how riders need to ride their horses to present them in the best way so they'll get the highest scores. We had lots of discussion about that. Lots of questions from riders and lots of questions from breeders about how to show their horses. It was very valuable.

                             What we got from it, we realized that people need the education. We're thinking possibly of next year for the symposium of trying to show how to present your horse. Whether the FEH in hand obviously and the YEH how to ride them to show their true potential, show their horses off. Because people get upset because their horses aren't shown off as well as they can be. But if they know what the judges are looking for then it will be a lot easier. We thought that would be … Everyone really seemed like they wanted to learn more about it so we'll probably try and do that next year.

                             I'm sure for FEH that would be great too, right Susan? We've talked about that a lot.

Susan:                Yeah. We've had a lot of people ask about handling demonstrations, that sort of thing. There's just so much to it. That's why these symposiums have to be over a couple of days or more just because there's so much involved. Yes, absolutely. Understanding how to handle them or understanding how to connect with the right professional to help you present them well is really essential.

Chris Stafford: Marilyn, can I bring you back in again. That second day started with David O'Connor's presentation, could you speak to that?

Marilyn:            I was just going to talk about that because that's exactly what Susan was referring to was the pipeline that David talked about getting these horses in the United States, breeding them in the United States. We have top stallions that are used in Europe. Our thoroughbred stallions are used in Europe all the time and we need to produce our own horses here. We need to encourage the breeders to produce these horses.

                             He went into a long discussion about how valuable it is to use our own mares and some of our competition mares. Now with science has developed the embryo transfer and we don't have to have the mares stop competing in order to breed them. It's really interesting that we can bring these horses along now without stopping. He really encouraged that and encouraged competing our mares, competing our stallions, and trying to produce the horses here in this country so people will be wanting to come here to look for horses instead of us going to Europe. It's not that we don't have the good horses here we just don't have enough of here and in as central a location as in Europe.

                             Also David really emphasized that the breeders and the riders need to connect. We need to get a pipeline so that riders who they don't necessarily have to be three or four star riders they can be the FEI riders but not at that level that are really good at bringing along young horses. They have the patience and they have the time. Trying to connect them with breeders to bring these horses along.

                             As you said there's a million different ways to do that and make deals with different breeders. It would help the breeders to have riders that they could trust to bring the horses along. It would help the riders to have a pipeline of horses to bring along. We're definitely going to try and work on that through our committees and see if we can coordinate that so that we can get breeders and riders together.

                             He also emphasized the basics that you have to bring a horse along correctly because we can have the most fabulous horses but if they're not brought along correctly with the correct basics that you're just wasting your time and you're ruining these horses and then they will never see their potential.

                             He talked about how he addressed the upper level riders when he started as coach and talking about the training scale. He's so emphatic about using the training scale with these young horses and bringing them along slowly so they understand and producing these top horses. It was very interesting and very educational and of course very inspiring. It got breeders wanting to breed and it got riders wanting to ride. It was great.

                             After that Maren spoke. Maren Engelhardt is from Germany and she spoke mostly about what they do in Europe and about the Bundeschampionat and how they bring their horses along. Which was very interesting but the best part of her whole talk was that she had videos of horses from these championships and she had just videos of them galloping. Then we would stop and we would evaluate that gallop, we would talk about it, we would score it. It was great, everyone really pitched in and talked about what they liked, what they didn't like. Then we would watch the same horse jump and we would then go through the whole same routine of watching the horse jump and evaluating it jumping. Then we would talk about it and score it.

                             Then, the best part was, she would have a slide up saying what the horse is doing now because these videos were from maybe five years ago, six years ago. Now what this horse is doing. It was really exciting to see that now this horse has just won the gold medal at the Olympics and this horse has just won Badminton or Burghley and this horse was on the winning German team at the last championships.

                             There were also some horses that never made it. This horse was eventually sold as a show jumper and he became a show jumper. Which was really great to see after watching him. You think wow that horse looks powerful but he doesn't look like he can cover much ground, and then you find out he did he went on to be a show jumper. That was a very valuable experience.

Susan:                Yeah, that was a good presentation.

Marilyn:            Yeah. That was the end … Then we went over to, in the rain, to Longwood. We had given all the participants a choice because we knew it was going to rain and it had already started raining and this is at noontime. We said do you want to stay here, we have lots more slides, we have videos of our championships that we can watch, we can stay in here or we can go over there and the riders were all willing to come in the rain. All the auditors said no we want to go. They all went and we all went and went out in the rain.

                             First we were in the indoor and we just talked about the flatwork, about what we're looking in the dressage section, evaluating the quality of the gait. Then we took those same horses out and we did some gymnastics with them which was so educational for people to see. Your first impression was not always your final impression. You'd see them jump a crossrail and it would be boring, they would just walk over it like no big deal, and you would think this wasn't a very good jumper. But then as you raise the fences the horse really kicked in and said yeah, I got it. Then it was worth jumping. But they were just bored at the lower levels.

                             Then you have other horses that are phenomenal jumpers that jumped well through the whole thing. It was really a good experience for everyone including the horses. Unfortunately it got so muddy so we did shorten it because we didn't want the young horses … They'd be so game to jump and then they're landing in the mud so that wasn't very good. We then moved on and just did a few single fences.

                             I don't know if Robin or Susan if you were there then?

Susan:                I was going to say I was not there at that point. I was back at my own farm taking care of the horses here because we're down here in Florida. But I know that last year I was there for that section of it. I know how incredibly helpful that is for people to actually see it going, to visualize it.

                             Frankly they've got to visualize it in all kinds of situations and all kinds of footing and everything. Obviously within reason but that is one of the things with all of these programs when we're judging them, especially the YH, it often is something that is out in the weather. You have to be able to evaluate them no matter what. It's challenging for some horses, it really is. It's challenging for the horses and the riders.

Marilyn:            These were very game horses. Yeah because then we went out and we jumped cross country fences and we basically let them because of the footing and we tried to get everyone to go whenever they wanted to go so they could get out of there. We let them pick their own line, ride whatever course they felt was comfortable for their horse. Some would jump a small fence and then maybe move on and maybe jump a bigger one. But it was really fun to watch them jump.

                             We also had a two star horse come to jump to show more the final product of how these horses will end up. It was a real eye opener for people.

                             But then we had Leslie Law come and he evaluated the gallop for us. Unfortunately his was the worst part it was just teeming down rain. Everybody hung in there. He picked the best footing and let these horses gallop and it was so interesting to hear what he had to say and to see it right in front of your eyes. Because you can read these things and you can watch videos but boy when you see it right in front of your eyes … Yes this horse has really good ground cover and this horse has too much action so he may tire, he's a good galloper but he's just a little too much knee action so maybe he's going to tire when he gets to the three or four star level. You just don't know.

                             It was really interesting to see a horse that just fired off the leg. He kept talking about he wanted to be able to put his leg on and have the horse go. There was a horse that she just put her leg on and it blasted forward. Yeah, that's what he's looking for. You don't realize it until you see it.

                             Robin, were you there that day? I couldn't tell who was there.

Robin:                I was there for a short while but then with having all the horses over competing at the show I was in and out. I will say that David's presentation that I did with him at the convention regarding the pipeline and what we actually have in this country and how to pull it together and his interpretation, I enjoyed that very much.

                             I'm very happy to hear that that was repeated and reiterated because it's alarming when you look what the other nations have already done with the best of our blood to improve their own circumstances. I think it's high time that we started to get more serious, as breeders, about the assets that we actually have in this country.

                             When Faith and I were talking about her presentation I dug up some pictures of some old horses that I remembered when I was younger in England. [inaudible] Then that got my interest and I went digging around and found a few more that there's the pedigrees are just full of American blood that found its way into Ireland and into England then of course Clover Hill on his dad's side goes straight back to America.

                             Anyway I was thrilled to hear that David had said that again because to be able to produce the horses from scratch, and to know how to produce them from scratch, is my personal opinion on that is that's not a science it's an art form. The best horse men and women know how to do it and when to give a horse a breather, mentally or physically, and when to just put them on take over and let them develop. I'm very glad to hear that that's becoming more and more relevant in how we're producing horses over here.

Marilyn:            Right. We discussed that the top riders in the world really start their horses from the beginning. They don't buy horses that are already made. They start from the beginning and form a real partnership with them.

Robin:                Right. You couldn't have … Again I was thrilled that Leslie was going to get involved. You couldn't have somebody with any more experience than he's had over the years of looking at the sport in general, and the gallop in particular in this case. To have that kind of experience available to us is great. The more we can go down the road, the more we're going to educate people, the more we're going to make people think about decisions that they make both in their training, in their work programs at home, in their competition schedules, in their breeding decisions. I think its' going to take a while but we'll be all the better for it as we develop it further.

Marilyn:            That brings to mind William Micklem who judged our championships this year. He was very impressed with our four and five-year-olds. He said that it's one of the best batch of young horses that he has seen and that they surely in a few years would be very competitive with the best in the world. That was very nice to hear. We've got it here we just have to keep producing it, keep developing it.

Susan:                It's so excited to see and I know throughout this seminar that not only did we see riders and breeders coming but we had very good attendance. But we also saw them showing up for both programs.

Marilyn:            Right.

Susan:                I was so pleased with that because I think people are starting to realize that both of these programs, even though the one is the babies not on the saddle yet and the others are riding, how this is all one big picture. That the choices that are made from the beginning it just goes all the way through. The learning process if you're going to do young horses, whether you're going to do them picking them before they're at a riding age, whether you're going to breed them, or whether you're selecting horses already in the saddle, that the education of all of this counts for everything. That it's all tied together. That's, I thought, something that really struck me at this symposium more than …

                             We did one last year and we've done of course seminars all over the United States. This was just fantastic that we had so many people that were really getting it. Don't you agree, Marilyn? Between the two programs it just seemed like people were getting that one flows into another and the importance of it all.

                             For instance that now we can actually document that we have horses that have been stars in the FEH program and now have become stars in the YEH program. [inaudible]

Marilyn:            We had over 100 people come to watch this and we had to turn people away because the room wasn't big enough. I think Kate said there were 50 people she turned away. We're going to then have a bigger room next year but that was fabulous to see it.

                             Then when I saw that many on the FEH day and then the YEH day that there were that many and then even on the third day, which we haven't talked about it, there were a lot of people. We thought how many people would stay for two and a half days?

                             But we had a lot on the last day where Tim Holekamp talked about photography and videoing horses for sale and it was an excellent presentation to show people the why's, what to do, what not to do, to show your horse off to best of its advantage. For breeders, for riders, and for people that are looking for horses what they want to look for in a video and a picture. That was really helpful. Then we again did more of Maren's videos which was great.

                             Then we talked about the future of our two committees. Probably we should touch on that a little bit. We're again talking about having another seminar next year. I had mentioned that we thought for the YEH we would focus it more on training, training the riders, training the horses, training young horses. I think you with your free jumping I don't know if you have discussed that but I think we've got to expand that because you can do so much with that. Not just teaching people how to do it but also developing people's eyes.

Susan:                On the FEH side of course was a big change in our program that we're evolving to be more complete so that now we're covering the canter and the free jumping ability which has got lots of people excited and I think is going to really round out our program. It's completely … We've been wanting to do this for years we just had to wait for the right time for all the infrastructure to be ready for it.

                             We're really excited to be bringing that in, to be teaching it, to be adding it to our championship. It will be added to the championship this year on the east coast. I'm not sure that it will get added yet to the west coast this year but it will be added to the west coast. We're in the process of working on that.

                             It's just a time where we're looking at all of this growth happening very quickly. Trying to accommodate and really be there for people with educational materials as best as we can. We plan to produce some educational videos, it's going to be very important for our program. [crosstalk 00:32:23].

Marilyn:            We were talking about that also. Doing educational videos with the gallops, having lots of videos of gallops, and have it online so people could watch it and hear the comments.

Susan:                Also to have perhaps have some webinars, we've been talking about that as well. I think the educational videos are probably going to be the first big step to get out there so that people who can't get to seminars still really get a chance to get some of this information.

                             We're just trying to get it out there as best we can because people are excited about it, it's growing. The breeders are becoming very excited about it. It's very rewarding. I think it's great for eventing, the sport, it's great for USEA. I think we're all very pleased with how these programs are going.

Chris Stafford: Robin, would you like to come in with your final thoughts of the two days?

Robin:                I would agree with Susan and Marilyn wholeheartedly. One of the things I was just mulling over there as I was listening to that, I'm really impressed at how everybody involved has, in terms of the breeders and … When I judged the finals last year on the east coast especially, not the greatest day to be doing that with the weather, but how understanding and supportive our breeders have been of what we're trying to do. Very keen, great questions, and an understanding that this is by no means a program that is fully developed, and supportive of those moments when you get a question that you go yeah we need to think about that.

                             I think it's great that they feel involved and I think that's a part of it. They're involved in the decision making or have a role in the discussion that will mold the program for the future. I'm very happy to be confident in that. That the people who are breeding the horses and for them to know that we are acting in their best interest to put something together that is fair, straightforward, clear to understand, and developmental.

                             I'm very happy to see more emphasis being put on the production on the horses now once they get into the YEH realm and beyond. Very happy to see that the emphasis is there rather than just on the competing of the horses.

                             I said a couple of things at the end and I'm not sure I'd have been brave enough to say that in public unless David had already said it. But he has already said it. Because I would 100% agree with him, the horses need time to be produced and if they're competed too hard, too early, too heavy, then careers get shortened and all of the sudden that potential international horse is now no longer a viable animal.

                             I think we're going to see a change in this country dictated by the breeder. They're going to insist that their horses get done properly which I think is fantastic. I think it's going to ultimately improve us as a competitive nation because we're going to have more eyes on us internally about what we're doing with hopefully really nice well started young horses. I've felt that way for a long time but …

                             I made a couple of mistakes when I was living in England I know what that feels like when you're looking at a horse's career ended. I'm really careful with my own these days. I'm really glad to see that that is becoming a big issue in the top end of the FEH and then through to the YEH and beyond. I'm really glad that that's becoming a big part of it because that's where international teams get developed from. You're no good if you don't have the horses.

Chris Stafford: I think that summarizes it very nicely unless anyone has anything else to add.

Marilyn:            [crosstalk 00:37:26]. On the last day we also brought forward the point that both these programs are developing. They're just in a process of evolution. We just keep changing for the better. We change because we listen to what people want. If anyone has any ideas, suggestions, comments, we're very open. We would like to get feedback anytime.

Chris Stafford: On that note I would like to thank all of you for joining us this week. That is Marilyn Payne, Robin Walker and Susan Graham White. Thank you all very much indeed for your time, for the symposium, and for coming on the program.

Marilyn:            You're welcome.

Robin:                Thank you for having us.

Chris Stafford: You can find much more information about the symposium on the website at

                             Until the next time, thank you all for listening and enjoy your eventing.


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