Feeding a competitive dressage horse requires fastidious attention to detail. A young, growing horse for example, requires the right balance of forage, protein, minerals, and vitamins to develop at a steady rate and to promote healthy bone, muscle, and tissue development.
As a dressage horse matures and the demands of his work intensify, he requires nutrients for stamina, to fuel endurance work, and to maintain muscle mass and overall body condition; without putting on excess weight.
As with human athletes, high-quality protein is an essential building block to build and repair tissue and to build bones, cartilage and muscle.
Calories and protein are consistently monitored to determine ideal levels for each horse. Modifying nutrition as a horse’s workload increases or decreases is a constant balancing act to help ensure they look and feel their best. Selecting the appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements to help promote health is equally crucial.
It’s critical that performance horses have a structured, well-managed exercise regimen to develop their fitness and training proportionality. Just as with nutrition and maintenance, each horse has different needs and must be treated individually.
My most important job as the horse’s partner and trainer is to push him to be the best athlete he can be, while keeping him healthy, happy, and safe.
Some horses thrive on routine and need stringent consistency in their program, while other horses are enthused by new challenges and get bored easily in a repetitive environment. The key is to understand and respect the type of horse you have, and to use training tactics and exercises that best fit their personality.
Keeping the training positive by riding playfully and rewarding with positive reinforcement is crucial to keeping the horses happy in their work.
Preparation & Practice
Just as any elite, professional human athlete requires a highly structured routine, strict diet, regimented training, and managed care; an elite, top-level horse is no different.
On a daily basis, I carefully manage my horses’ well-being through the following regimen:
Top quality nutritional feed and supplements
A purposive customized training program
Regular veterinary check-ups and care
Daily journaling to document their performance, tendencies, progress and any issues
Aesthetic maintenance, both for the horse and the equipment I ride them with
Maintenance & Vet Care
The maintenance of my horses’ physical health is multi-faceted. Routine maintenance, such as dental work and vaccinations, are done biannually. If I feel a horse may be encountering an issue, like mild soreness, a veterinary check-up allows us to catch a problem before it becomes a larger issue that could have an impact on his performance.
Like human athletes, horses sometimes encounter injuries that sideline their training for a period of time. When an injury occurs for one of the horses, a thorough diagnosis is crucial; so that treatment and a rehabilitation plan can be developed as quickly as possible. When my horses have encountered injury, I am incredibly fortunate to have a state-of-the-art equine rehabilitation facility, Premier Equine Center, just up the road from the stables where I train. Premier has advanced equipment, as well as skilled, highly trained staff to help ensure top-quality rehabilitation.
Having close relationships with the individuals who are treating my horses is extremely important to me. Communication with the veterinarians I work with, along with the Premier team, is frequent, open, and detailed to ensure that the best decisions are made for each horse.
Daily Journal Log
It is important to me to have an organized system to track my horses’ care and training progress. Every day, I track in a journal what each horse did that particular date; including their exercise program, farrier work, vet care or physio treatment received.
Daily journaling helps me to keep track of each horse’s appointment ‘due dates,’ and allows me to monitor specific periods of time in their training to assess how they are progressing in their dressage education.
Since I ride and care for multiple horses seven days a week, the daily journal entries have been critical for monitoring and tracking hundreds of details over many years.
Sarah's Current Horses
Kanjer TC (aka Hatch)
Hatch is a 2015 Dutch Warmblood gelding I purchased with the support of partners, and imported from Holland late last year. Hatch came from the stables of well-known Dutch sport horse breeder Tim Coomans, who is responsible for producing several horses that have been extremely successful in Olympic Games over the past decade.
It took two trips to Holland, and rides on over fifty-five talented young horses, before I found Hatch. He immediately wowed me with his raw talent and incredible disposition.
After arriving in the United States, Hatch and I quickly developed a strong bond and began competing. Within five months, we had won over a dozen dressage classes, taking high point (receiving highest score of the show) at each of the competitions we entered.
While Hatch is young, my goal for the next several years is to compete with him to qualify for the prestigious U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions that is held in Chicago every August. The Festival of Champions hosts the top fifteen horse and rider combinations in the country, to compete against one another in front of an international panel of judges and audience.
As Hatch matures, and we reach the FEI level of his training, I have the long-term goal of qualifying him for an event that will allow me to represent the U.S. in an international competition, such as the Pan American Games.
Fuerst Domiro (aka Hank)
Hank is a 2009 Hanoverian gelding that I purchased as a six-month old weanling. I raised Hank and trained him from when he was first able to be ridden as a four-year old. Each year, Hank and I have moved up a level. This year we debuted at the Prix St. George, the first international level of FEI competition.
In 2015, Hank moved to Pennsylvania with us, when my husband Chris, was asked to relocate for a job opportunity. The move east gave me the opportunity to train daily at the beautiful “Riveredge facility,” owned by John and Leslie Malone, with world-renowned coach and rider Scott Hassler. In addition to Riveredge, the Malones also own a stable in Wellington, Florida, which is known as the equestrian capital of the world.
During the two years we lived in Pennsylvania, Hank and I traveled south to Florida both winters to train and compete in Wellington with Hassler. Wellington attracts riders from all over the world during the winter because it offers qualifying competitions for events such as the Pan American Games, the World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics. Being surrounded by that level of riding and horsemanship reinforced my desire to compete on an international stage.
I plan to continue training Hank up the FEI levels, with the ultimate goal of reaching the Grand Prix level.