Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reigniting the Passion - My Carol Lavell Adult Amateur Gifted Scholarship experience

In addition to developing new horse feed products, one of my other great passions is riding dressage. I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the Dressage Foundation’s 2013 Gifted Fund scholarship for Region 3. This scholarship was established in special remembrance of Carol Lavell's great dressage horse, Gifted, and is offered to adult amateur dressage riders to allow them to “set aside quality-time, in concentrated training away from the daily pressures of job and family”. And boy, did I need that! This was an experience of a lifetime, and below is an excerpt of my report on the experience (you can read the full piece posted at the Dressage Foundation website). I encourage any fellow amateur dressage riders to learn more about the program…it is a wonderful opportunity!

Roman and I on the first day of training
Nearing the end of 2013, I was at what I call a “riding crossroads”. I was having difficulty finding both the time and motivation to keep my 19 y/o OTTB Roman in regular work. Between my full-time job, my 2 year-old son, and other life and family obligations (including building a new house), my time in the saddle was getting less and less. Roman and I have been through so much together over the past several years. He took me from first level to Prix St. Georges, and I earned both my Bronze and Silver medals on him. He is a horse that gives his all and is definitely my “horse of a lifetime”. He is not ready to retire (he still thinks he is 5 most days) and I will never sell him, but I was beginning to contemplate leasing him to someone who could learn from him and devote more time to keeping him in shape. At a time when I was unsure of the future direction of my riding career with Roman, spending 5 days training with Erin Brinkman at Valhalla Farm was exactly what I needed. Thanks to the Dressage Foundation, this opportunity completely changed my mind about where Roman and I are headed together, and the passion I have for dressage has once again been reignited.

Erin took me back to the basics, and we focused first on my warm-up routine. Depending on how he felt coming out in the morning, we did lots of walking in the beginning. I incorporated leg-yields and other lateral work to help get him through on the right shoulder (his “problem area”), all while focusing on keeping a steady contact in the bridle. Some days we went to the trot or canter early if he was feeling sluggish. During the trot warm-up, she had me go on a 20-meter circle and allow him to stretch over his back and take his nose all the way to the ground. He loved this work, and I made sure he stayed bent around my inside leg. We started the canter on a long rein as well, and she had me stay in a light seat to encourage his back to come up. This gentle warm-up helped loosen him up more quickly than what I had been doing previously.

Throughout the week, we continued to focus on exercises to loosen him up in the right shoulder and to get his right hind coming more through in the canter. Basically, she wanted me to be able to put any part of his body anywhere I wanted it to go at any given time. We did shoulder-in, haunches-in, renvers, and counter-bending A LOT…on the long side, on the short side, on a circle, on the quarter line, etc. Wherever he felt stiff or blocked, that is the part that I would ask to move. Addressing these weaknesses through suppling exercises was crucial; because once I got through to that part, it was so much easier to do everything else. I figured out that when cantering on the right lead, I must keep him in a shoulder-in to keep him straight and keep his right hind coming under my seat. When working on flying lead changes, he tends to swing his haunches to the right when switching to the left. Erin had me ride my line of changes in shoulder-in right no matter which lead I was in, and this helped immensely. She also had me leg-yield off my right leg during the changes if he got ahead of himself, and this also helped to keep his attention on me and reminded him to respect my aids during the changes. Another exercise at the canter she had us work on was to go on a circle and half-pass to the inside, then leg-yield back. Also when half-passing to the inside of the circle, I would bring him to pirouette canter and ride a pirouette, which really helped keep him more supple and over his back compared to when I approach the pirouette from a straight line. At the trot, she reminded me to stay more aware of the rhythm and to keep him solid in his connection. He was only allowed to go medium trot if the rhythm and connection we right, and if not I would bring him back to working trot. In the half-pass, I asked him go with a more slow and animated stride to accentuate the rhythm and to “get the big muscles working”. If he came out of the connection, I would take him in a circle. I tend to baby Roman just a little and let him get away with not putting 100% effort in, and it was great to have Erin there to remind me what he is capable of and when to ask him for more.

My love of dressage runs deep, but I had let life get in the way of fostering that passion. The Gifted Scholarship brought me back “home” by giving me the chance to immerse myself into the sport that I love. Roman is healthy and sound, and at 19 years young I know that he and I have much more time together to keep improving. Every time I ride him I have fun, because he is that special. And now that my passion for dressage has been re-ignited, I am making a point to have as much fun as possible with him!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Budweiser Clydesdale commercial "A Hero's Welcome" for the Big Game!!!

We at Purina Animal Nutrition are so proud to be working with the folks at Budweiser and supporting the nutrition efforts of these magnificent Clydesdales!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Take a tour of our new palatability barn


We are now officially reopened for research since our ribbon cutting on Wednesday, January 15th.  For the event, we hosted a group of senior management, staff and dignitaries on a tour of our new research facility, which started in our newly renovated palatability barn.  Here are some pictures to give you a “snap shot” of the experience. 

When you walk in the front door, you are greeted with our new lab space which is over twice the size of our previous area.  On the left, we have some Quick Facts about the horse unit.  Did you know we have run over 300 tests on our high speed treadmill?  And we currently feed 570 lbs of Purina horse feed to our own horses on the farm every day? And by the way, we are expecting 10 foals this year, but our first due date is March 1.



This large room also neatly stores and organizes our microscopes, centrifuge, sampling materials, weigh stations, health supplies and more.  We have so much new space, our shelves almost look bare, but we know they will be filled in no time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clydesdales Check Up

A few weeks ago Mike Jerina and I traveled to Grant’s Farm to visit some of our favorite customers – the Budweiser Clydesdales.  It’s always great to play with these fabulous animals, as well as check on the new arrivals from Warm Springs Ranch (the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding farm in Boonville, Missouri) and say “good luck and see you later!” to the boys heading to Merrimack, NJ, to start training for their careers on one of the traveling hitches.

This last fall, several of my favorite boys headed to Merrimack, including Austin and Preston.  Hopefully, they will both do great in their training and I’ll get to see them pulling one of the wagons someday.  Altogether, seven horses headed east in the fall, and another four (at least) will be going in the spring. Lester Nisley (head trainer of the Clydesdales) will be very busy getting all of them ready!

Austin, when I first met him as a two year old.  Hope to see him on a hitch!
     
      Axel (far left) and Preston (second from right) are now at Merrimack in training.
Yes, I do kiss a lot of Clydesdales!  How can I help it?? J
As far as nutrition, we make sure that all the horses going into training are transitioned to performance diets prior to the trip to help reduce potential stress from the changing environment.  We also make sure that they are maintaining appropriate body weight and condition to prepare them for the trip to the East coast and the new work program they will be starting.  Once they arrive at Merrimack and get adjusted to their new digs, they will begin Lester’s training program.  It’s a very different lifestyle at the Merrimack facility compared to the leisure they all enjoyed at Grant’s Farm!

Several weanlings (now yearlings) arrived this fall from Warm Springs Ranch to spend the next few years growing and maturing at Grant’s Farm.  The babies are always fun to watch and interact with. They are just like all equine youngsters – playful, inquisitive, and energetic! 

Madonna is telling Blueberry to get out of her picture, and Kelly is just hoping for a carrot!
Our goal for the growing horses is to ensure that each individual’s diet is appropriate to maintain body condition as well as provide essential nutrients for optimal growth.  We want to give each youngster the best opportunity to become a member of the Budweiser Clydesdale team, whether on one of the traveling hitches, or as a broodmare back at Warm Springs Ranch.

If you get a chance to travel to St. Louis in the spring, summer or fall, be sure to visit Grant’s Farm for a tour and you can meet these lovely animals for yourself!

Friday, January 10, 2014

In the shadow of giants….

A few weeks ago, several of my co-workers and I had the opportunity to take part in a behind-the-scenes tour of Grant’s Farm, home of the up and coming and retired Budweiser Clydesdales.  Many thanks to Dr. Katie Young who organized the tour.  Dr. Young and Purina Animal Nutrition Center Equine Research Unit manager, Mike Jerina, are working closely with the managers of the Budweiser Clydesdales to optimize their nutritional programs and to learn more about how to best assess body weight and body condition in these incredible horses.  The supervisor of the Grant’s Farm facility, Amy Trout, and her assistant Michelle Speck, graciously spent over two hours with our group of Purina Animal Nutrition employees teaching us about the management of the Clydesdales, the Budweiser Clydesdale program of assessing and training the future hitch horses and many of the unique aspects of caring for and nurturing the Clydesdales young and old. 


Photo provided by:  Kent Lanter
Rudy is retired from the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch team and enjoying the “life of Riley” being pampered and adored by staff and visitors alike at Grant’s Farm.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year, Happy New Barn!

Happy New Year everyone!  You may have noticed that we didn’t have a lot of blog posts directly from the Purina Animal Nutrition Center the second half of 2013, and that is because our palatability barn looked like this: 

Our team was really put to the test in 2013 as they managed horses and research projects despite bulldozers, cranes, jackhammers and all things construction related.  Furthermore, Mike, Andrea, John, Margaret and Tim literally joined the construction crew full force and were hands-on with all kinds of day to day prep, building and finishing work.  We could not have accomplished what we did without their willingness to learn, help and jump in on all kinds of projects from tear down to grass seeding.  I have often said that we have the greatest employees in the world at the research farm, and boy did this year prove it.  So we are very excited that our palatability barn now looks like this:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Purina!
I love incorporating my animals into holiday cards, and I get asked from time to time how we actually get some of them done, especially the photos of the pony in Christmas lights and eating the snowman’s nose.  Here are my secrets:

Step one- Delegate: Get your poor husband involved and make him do the heavy lifting and construction-