Interview by Libby Keenan
Prix St. Georges rider and noted Dressage coach and trainer Andrea Bingham of Harrow, Ontario, Canada opted to move her training base to Florida's gold Coast this winter.Join us as she shares some perspectives on the experience so far.
I started to take lessons at the age of 12, with Miss Violet Hopkins at the Windsor Equestrian Training Center. I had a 10 year sabbatical when my children were young, but other than that I have kept at my riding. I have had many wonderful horses to ride over the years and worked with some great coaches and clinicians. Life, the love of (all) horses and dressage has shaped me, positively I hope, into the rider and coach that I am today.
Could you tell us a bit about your horse "Voldemort"?
Voldemort is a Dutch Warmblood bred in Canada. He will be 8 this June. He is a delight to own and ride, and has tons of personality!!! He truly is my partner in this sport! He was an unbacked 3 (rising 4 year old) when I purchased him in March 2006. He has 'fast tracked' at his work - but he loves it.
You left Canada in mid December. We were already well into winter here. What sort of riding, feeding, training and general care changes did you need to make to help you and your horse adapt to living and working in a much different climate so suddenly?
There were many things to consider and do, in preparing the horses for the trip and helping them to adjust to the new area. First and foremost was finding a place for the horses to live and a place for us to live - that fit the budget!! Before the trip, their work and feed needed to be reduced. I elected to drive them down myself. I had to find places to stay overnight, as I was not prepared to drive straight through. I stopped in Kentucky the first night and Georgia the second. We had to find ways to encourage the horses to drink on the trailer, to prevent them from becoming dehydrated. We were quite resourceful, using flexible buckets as hay 'bags' and put wet hay cubes in the bottom. They did remarkably well with this system. The grain that we feed is not available here, so we had to find something comparable to use - and did. The feed store was most helpful in that respect. Hay is incredibly expensive in Florida - I have seen it as high as $34.00 per bale. It is hard to get consistent quality and richness in hay as well. All of this takes a toll on your horse. Once here we had to slowly bring the feed and work up to 'normal' level. We were fortunate that the first week we arrived was unseasonably cold for Florida - with temperatures dipping near freezing at night! owever, it quickly went the other way and became unseasonable hot. It took all of January to get him some what acclimatized. Also the sand is a concern. Our horses are not accustomed to the sand and the effects of it in the bowel - I am worried about sand colic!!
I am taking lessons 2 - 3 times per week with Evi Pracht. Also, Jacklyn Courtney Brooks has come down for the two shows and has given me lessons in between.
Several of the world's top Dressage riders have been there recently competing in the Master's Competition.Have you been able to watch any of these rides and if so, would you be able to share some highlights with us.
Yes, we were fortunate to be able to see the Masters - the Grand Prix on Thursday and then the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle on Saturday. It was amazing to watch those world class riders in action!! It was also helpful for me to see noted German rider, Ulla Salzgeber not be able to get her horse down the center line. Puts things into perspective, doesn't it.
We have also had the opportunity to watch Robert Dover schooling the Canadian hopefuls for the World Equestrian Games! That has been very interesting as well.
Guess what - they struggle too!
Are you planning on competing yourself while there?
Yes, I hope to do 5 shows while I am here.
What would you say have been some of the most difficult challenges training so far from home?
The heat has probably been the biggest challenge - but everything contributes. A new barn, different footing, different feed, new show venues, and on and on.
Have you had any chances to travel in the area a bit , sightseeing etc., or had any fascinating experiences you'd like to tell us about?
No sight seeing as of yet - but we do hope to get to Disney World! The Masters and Robert Dover would be the fascinating experiences. Also of course Evi coaches Ashley, so I have tried to be there when Evi is warming her up to compete, to see what they do - how they prepare - what are the easy things and what are the difficult things - fascinating stuff.
What advice would you give someone hoping to train in Florida for the winter , say , next year?
My advice is do it - as soon as you are able. It is such a different horse world to what we have at home! You can do it on a budget. We are not stabled or living in Wellington, but we are just outside and very close to the show grounds (15 minutes).
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your adventure with us. Wishing you and Voldemort the best.
Happy riding. Libby Keenan
Thank you!! Take care - Stay warm - See you at X.