The Parelli Savvy Summit: The Land of Milk and Honey for Equestrians


Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of attending the 2016 Parelli Savvy Summit (, and celebrating their 20th anniversary of this amazing event at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado—the land of milk and honey. For some reason, I have always referred to the Parelli Ranch as “the land of milk and honey”, and I recently asked myself why? The first image that popped into my mind was A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh—a beautiful series of books my father read to me almost every night as a child— and the loveable bear’s search for “hunny” in the Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie the Pooh was never happier than when he was scooping honey out of a honey tree, or had his nose stuck in a pot of the sticky gooey stuff.

Parelli Instructors representing the 378 Parelli Professionals from over 20 countries. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016
Parelli Instructors representing the 378 Parelli Professionals in over 20 countries. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016.

Unable to fully reconcile my connection with the ranch to Winnie the Pooh, I decided to look up the phrase land of milk and honey on the Internet. My favorite definition that came up was from the website Culinary Lore ( It explains: Land of milk and honey is a literary expression that comes from one of the greatest works of literature ever written, the Bible. In Exodus, when God instructs Moses to lead his people, the oppressed Hebrew slaves of Egypt, out of bondage and into freedom. He promises them their own land. He does not tell them exactly what land, but describes it as a land flowing with milk and honey.

Again, maybe a stretch on the connection with the ranch, but upon further introspection, perhaps not so much. The key word in this phrase to me is “freedom.” Pat Parelli often refers to the ranch as “The Eagle’s Nest.” The eagle represents freedom and liberty, doesn’t it?

As Linda Parelli often says, “How interesting!”

Now, it makes complete sense to me. In my mind and experience, the Parelli Ranch IS the land of milk and honey, because there, I have learned to break free of my previous “assumptions” about horses and how to work and play with them. Most importantly, I have learned to break free from the assumptions I have made about myself. Horses have the ability and power to transform lives. By studying them, so can we. If we tune into our “natural” selves, and appreciate the natural power of horses and working in natural partnership with them, we can free ourselves from our preconceived notions and beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us.

One of the most inspiring demonstrations at the Summit this year was the spotlight session with Caton Parelli, Pat’s son. Thirty-three years ago, Caton was born with hydrocephalus—fluid on the brain, and the condition left him with extremely limited body function. The doctors told Pat and his former wife, Caton’s mother, that it would be best if they institutionalized Caton. Pat refused. Not only did he refuse to sequester his child from the world, he decided to put him on a horse. Pat strapped Caton to the saddle with a seatbelt of sorts. While mounted and holding the lead rope of Caton’s horse (a term called pony-ing) Pat and Caton took to the fields and mountains, riding and herding cattle. Unfortunately, when Caton was 12 years old, he suffered a stroke caused by his condition. A blood clot had traveled from his lungs to his brain, rendering the left side of his body completely immobile. Again, Pat and Caton remained undeterred, and Caton continued to ride and play with horses, activities that eventually helped him to regain his mobility. Since then, he has competed in branding, reining, roping and cutting competitions.

Caton Parelli. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016.

During the Summit Spotlight, Caton and his mount cut a cow from the herd. Pat challenged Caton to run alongside the cow and lean down and touch her between the ears. Sounds easy, right? As Caton and his horse sped around the arena chasing down the cow, the crowd cheered with abandon. After several adrenaline rushing laps, Caton was able to reach down and touch the cow on its hind quarters. He didn’t touch the cow’s head, but no one cared. In those moments, we all not only saw, but lived through, the difficulty of the challenge—a tough one even for a perfectly abled-bodied person. The moment Caton’s fingers finally touched that cow, the crowd roared and rose to its feet in thunderous applause. Once the ovation subsided, Pat said to the crowd, face beaming, something to the effect of, “I don’t have a handicapped child. He’s a horseman.”

Horses can heal, and this was one of the highlights of the event this year.

Caton is but one of the many examples of the healing power of horses you will find anywhere in the world. In the last two articles in my blog, “The True Measure of a Champion is What is in Her Heart”( and “Para-Equestrian Dressage Begins at the Paralympic Games” ( about Para-Equestrian Olympians, I highlighted five amazing athletes with major physical challenges who competed in the top equestrian sport in the world, the Para-Equestrian Dressage competition during the Paralympic Games. Each one of these athletes has had to overcome many incredible physical challenges, and they have done it with the partnership and love of their respective horses.

The Parelli Ranch. Photo by Kari Bovee

Come to think of it, perhaps Winnie the Pooh does have a connection to the land of milk and honey, or rather the Parelli Ranch. Pooh lived a pretty carefree and simple life in the Hundred Acre Wood, free from preconceived notions and assumptions about things. Through his characters, A.A. Milne approached common human problems in life with a philosophy built on nature, purity of heart, and simplicity. His characters were all animals that facilitated lessons and experiences for Christopher Robin, their human, just like the horse does for many who use equine therapy to learn and heal.




Para-Equestrian Dressage Begins at Paralympic Games

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are well under way having started with their opening ceremonies on Wednesday, September 7.  Starting tomorrow, Sunday, September 11, one of my favorite sports in the Paralympic Games will begin, the Para-Equestrian Dressage. Seventy-six Para Equestrian Dressage athletes from 29 countries will compete this year, 78% whom are women. The oldest competitor is 67 years old from Great Britain, and the youngest is just 18 years old from the U.S.

As I mentioned in my last article about Canadian Paralympic athlete, Lauren Barwick, “The True Measure of A Champion Is What Is In Her Heart”,( the Para-Equestrian champion is truly someone to be admired. While these competitors must contend with their physical limitations on a daily basis, they must also be safe and responsible for a 1,200 pound, living, breathing, moving mass of emotional horseflesh.

When I started researching these articles, I, like many people I’m sure, didn’t quite understand the definition of “Paralympic Athlete”. As Lauren and US Para-Equestrian Angela Peavy explain in the two videos I cite in this article below,  the term “para” does not mean “paralyzed athletes”, but rather it means “parallel” to the Olympics. The Paralympics are the Olympic games for people with physical disabilities to achieve the same elite status as able-bodied competitors. Para-Equestrian Dressage is the only Equestrian discipline in the Paralympics.

Para-Equestrian Dressage was first included in the Paralympic Games in 1996. The athletes are classified according the level of their impairment. From the website: The competitor’s mobility, strength and coordination are assessed in order to establish their Classification Profile. People with similar functional ability profiles are grouped into competition grades. The Grades range from Grade IA for the most severely impaired, to Grade IV for the least impaired. The competition within each Grade can therefore be judged on the skill of the individual competitor on their horse, regardless of the competitor’s impairment.” (Source: .

Since equestrianism is a fairly dangerous sport for even able-bodied riders, the equipment has been designed to keep the para-equestrian as safe as possible. Much of the equipment uses Velcro and rubber bands for easier and faster breakaway if needed during a fall. Balance is also extremely important. Saddles are often made with extra padding to facilitate the rider’s equilibrium and communication with the horse. Class and disability profiles are used to classify the type of equipment a rider can use for competition.

This year, four very talented riders from the United States will be competing in the Para-Equestrian Dressage events at Rio:

Sydney Collier from Ann Arbor, MI, will be competing with Dusty Rose, a 2003 Oldenburg mare, owned by her trainer, Wesley Dunham. Sydney began riding at 7 years of age with aspirations of becoming an eventer. Diagnosed with Wyburn-Mason syndrome, a rare congenital birth defect, Collier underwent medical treatments, radiation treatments and three unplanned brain surgeries to combat the illness. As a result, Collier completely lost the vision in her right eye and suffered a stroke causing her to lose the use of the left side of her body. She had to relearn to walk and also to regain the muscle control on her left side again. Undeterred from training, Collier, as a Ib Grade competitor, has won many outstanding championships. At age 16 she made her first appearance as a part of a U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).

Rebecca Hart from Wellington, FL will be competing as a Grade II rider with her own 2002 Danish Warmblood mare, Schroeters Romani. Born with a rare genetic disease called hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), a progressive impairment that causes muscle wasting and paralysis from the middle of the back down, Hart also would not be steered away from her dreams. In 1998, she purchased her first horse and decided to compete internationally. Hart has represented the U.S. in several international events. In 2014, she purchased Schroeter’s Romani and won the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships in both 2014 and 2015. Hart is a seven-time USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion.

2014 Para Dressage Festival of Champions, Para WEG Selection Trial.

Margaret “Gigi” Macintosh from Reading, PA, will be competing with Rio Rio, her own 2006 Rheinland Pfalz-saar mare. Gigi broke her neck in 1999 during the cross-country phase of an eventing competition, resulting in incomplete quadriplegia. Her love of equestrian sport kept her going. After her  hard work to regain her mobility, Gigi now competes in para-equestrian dressage as a 1A competitor. She recently started riding without stirrups to counteract the effects of leg spasms that occur while riding with stirrups. She recently took team gold at the Wellington CPEDI3* and won the Grade Ia Freestyle
She was also the Individual Grade Ia Champion at the Wellington CPEDI3*with Rio Rio.

Angela Peavy, also known as Annie, from Avon, CT and Wellington, FL will be competing as a Grade III rider with Lancelot Warrior, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding owned by Heather Blitz and Rebecca Reno. In utero, Annie suffered a stroke, which affected the left side of her body. She began equine therapy as a 4-year-old and got her first horse at age 10. Smitten with dressage, Annie and her mother traveled to Portugal for “dressage vacations.” She couldn’t get enough of the sport and took three lessons a day while abroad. When she returned home, a friend introduced her to para-equestrian dressage and Annie began her journey toward representing her country in dressage all over the world. Annie’s hard work and dedication landed her a spot on the U.S. Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Annie is one of the few para-equestrian athletes who also competes in able-bodied dressage.

Like Lauren Barwick of Canada, these athletes have found meaning, purpose and healing through their horse partners and healthy competition. Enjoy this video with Annie Peavy and Rebecca Hart as they explain how dressage and competition has helped them to heal and work toward achieving their dreams.

Sources: (,, Wikipedia, Parelli Success Stories,

The True Measure of A Champion Is What Is In Her Heart

Champions are the type of people who have chosen a road less traveled. They have sacrificed their time, money, and sometimes their relationships, to achieve their championship dreams. There is a certain drive and force of will these people have that not everyone is fortunate enough, or strong enough, to foster.

As we are in the midst of the Olympic season, first with the Games in August, and now with the Paralympics starting this week, we get to see these champions doing what they do best, at the peak of their performance, competing for the elusive Holy Grail of all awards, the Olympic Gold Medal.

LONDON, ENGLAND 01/09/2012 - Lauren Barwick, riding Off to Paris, in the Dressage Individual Championship Test - Grade II Final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Greenwich Park. (Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Canadian Paralympic Committee)
LONDON, ENGLAND 01/09/2012 – Lauren Barwick, riding Off to Paris, in the Dressage Individual Championship Test – Grade II Final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Greenwich Park. (Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

Athletes of this caliber are indeed special, but one in particular stands out to me: Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. Lauren is a 4-time World Para-Equestrian athlete and 3-time Paralympic medalist, having earned gold and silver medals in the Paralympic Games in Beijing (2008). In 2008 and 2014 she was named
Canada’s Equestrian of the Year and in 2015, she was inducted into Canada’s Paralympic Hall of Fame. All amazing achievements, yes, and all from a person who has no feeling below her belly button and paralyzed legs. It seems mind boggling, but what draws me to Lauren is her devotion to and passion for natural horsemanship. In addition to all of her monumental achievements, Lauren is a Parelli 4-Star Senior Instructor and Horse Development Specialist.

Lauren was introduced to the Parelli Program before her tragic accident. As a jumper, she appreciated the methods and learned the hallmark Parelli Seven Games. But, like many of us, at first, she didn’t take it too seriously, and just had fun with it. At 22 years of age, while training to perform stunts with horses for the movie industry, Lauren climbed to the top of a pile of 100-pound stacked hay bales at feeding time. The stack was unstable so she jumped 10 feet to the ground and one of the top bales fell on her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Lauren thought she would never ride again. Three weeks later, she was allowed home for a visit, and wheeled herself down to the pasture to see her horses. Only one approached her, unafraid of the contraption she had to sit in for the rest of her life. Her horse, Peanut, had not forgotten her owner, and as horses are so apt to do once a bond is created. Peanut loved and missed Lauren unconditionally. After that, Lauren felt she might be able to ride again.

In 2002, just two years after her injury, Lauren hired a trainer and began competing internationally, representing her country. She was nominated for and began training for the Para-Equestrian 2004 Paralympics in Athens, where she came very close to achieving Top 3 in the dressage competition. In 2005, Lauren realized that she no longer wanted to train the way she had trained for Athens and wanted more of a partnership with her horses. It was then that she reached out to Pat and Linda Parelli and began her natural horsemanship journey once again. Still with no aspirations to continue on to Beijing in 2008, Lauren went to the Parelli Colorado campus for a two-week audition to become a part of Pat’s barn. Lauren says that after seven days of riding with Pat in the mountains, she was inspired again to see how far she could go with her horses. She moved to Florida to train at the Florida campus with the goal of competing in the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics. It was through Pat and Linda that she found her Paralympic horse, Maile, and realized her Olympic dreams. Lauren has another shot at the gold this year at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, September 7-18, with her horse Onyx.

Lauren inspires me in so many ways. She has overcome what seemed to be insurmountable odds to achieve her goals, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to be a better partner to her horses. She wanted to be completely involved in their training, both physically and emotionally. Although I have no aspirations to achieve what Lauren has in her equestrian career, I can relate to her desire to want more than the ribbon. She wanted those awards to really mean something, from her heart. She wanted to be able to foster a deep and meaningful relationship with more than just one “good” horse. She wanted to prove to herself that she had the heart and the desire to be the best partner she could be to a number of horses. Regardless of what she may do in Rio this summer, in that she truly has succeeded.

Sources:,, Parelli Success Stories, Parelli Tube,

Princes William and Harry–Princess Diana’s Legacy

Do you remember where you were on the morning of September 1, 1997, nineteen years ago? Do you remember what you were doing? What you were wearing? I do. I was in my robe and had just gone outside to retrieve the newspaper when I read the unbelievable headline on the front page. Princess Diana was dead. I walked back into the house in shock, thinking to myself this had to be a mistake, or a hoax, or a dream. As the reality set in, I sat down at the kitchen table and cried.

I have often wondered why the death of a princess in a far-off land impacted me so much. I think it was because she was the first royal who people could really identify with, who I could identify with. To me, she was an ordinary girl, a school teacher (as I was at the time) who married into extraordinary circumstances. She was everything the royals were not: fashionable, down to earth, vulnerable, and real. The world fell in love with the shy beauty who married a man who would be King. Her wedding was the wedding of the century and the whole world stopped to watch it on television. We celebrated when William and Harry were born, and we mourned when we realized that the fairytale princess’s life wasn’t such a fairytale after all. We watched the princess struggle through a distant relationship, extramarital affairs, scrutiny from the royal family and the press that hounded her like they have hounded no one else before or since. We watched her struggle with her own demons, like anorexia and bulimia, and her achingly public divorce.

As needy and desperate as the press made her out to be, Diana lived a life of compassion and goodwill and served over 100 charities. When she divorced, she resigned from most of them to dedicate her life and her work to the causes of her heart: leprosy, HIV/AIDS, land mines and homelessness. She remained active on boards serving Centrepoint, an organization that provides accommodation and support to homeless people aged 16–25 in the United Kingdom, the English National Ballet, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, The Leprosy Mission, the National AIDS Trust, the Royal Marsden Hospital, a specialist cancer treatment hospital in London, and the British Red Cross Anti-Personnel Landmines Campaign.

But her most impressive role, the role she cherished above all, was that of a devoted and loving mother. No matter what came out in the press about Diana’s foibles and problems, no one ever doubted her love for her children or the type of mother that she was to them. Both boys, little princes who have grown up to be important public figures, have tried to emulate their mother with involvement in charity organizations and good works to benefit their country and the world.

Both princes volunteered at the British Red Cross to aid Tsunami victims in 2004. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and heir to the throne, has granted his patronage to Centrepoint, the Royal Marsden Hospital, the Mountain Rescue England and Wales organization, and a philanthropic initiative called 100 Women in Hedgefunds, among many others. Harry, also known as Henry, Prince of Wales, is involved in The Invictus Games, a Paralympic-style sporting event for injured servicemen and women, which he founded; The Fisher House UK at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, one of the Invictus Games sponsors, Help for Heroes, Walking with the Wounded, WellChild, and many more philanthropic organizations. In 2009, The Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry was set up to further their charitable ambitions. In 2012 the foundation was renamed The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, to include Kate, William’s wife, following their wedding in 2011.

Princess Diana, by the age of 36, succeeded in making her life’s mission, which was to help the world, come to fruition. It is so unfortunate that when she finally rose above the despair and unhappiness in her life, it had to end. She would have done and been so much more. Nineteen years later, when I read all of the articles posted about her life and death at the anniversary of her passing, it still makes me sad. Her sons have said that they want to ensure that their mother, “The People’s Princess,” will not be forgotten. I don’t think they have anything to worry about in that regard.

Cowboys, Indians and Queens, Oh My!

Relationships between royals and commoners don’t happen very often. In 1936 England’s King Edward VIII’s affiliation with a commoner forced him to lose the crown when he wanted to marry the famously divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Since his time, things have loosened up a bit. Prince Charles married the late Diana Spencer and is now married to Camilla Parker Bowles. England’s beloved Prince William married Kate. All of these relationships, perhaps aside from Charles and Diana, sprung from shared passions. As I wrote in my last article about Queen Elizabeth, “The Queen’s Private Passion” (, we all know about QEII’s passion for all things equine, particularly the horse itself. This passion has led Her Majesty, too, to engage in an on-going, unlikely relationship with a commoner—who is also an American.

An avid thoroughbred racehorse breeder, the Queen wants only the best for her four-legged friends. In the late 1970’s, the longest reigning monarch of all time reached out to a cowboy from California who had fostered the reputation of being “the man who listens to horses.”

Like his fellow horseman Pat Parelli—also a cowboy from California whose had an audience with the Queen, Monty Roberts decided as a young man that violent means for training performance animals was not the answer. Roberts studied horses in the wild and learned how they communicated with one another. He noted their body language, how they set boundaries, showed fear and expressed annoyance, relaxation or affection, and then developed gestures to mimic those behaviors. Robert’s method came to be known as “Join Up.” Impressed with his philosophy and training methods, the Queen hired him to help train her racehorses.

Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of "The Man Who Listens to Horses". (wikipedia)
Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of “The Man Who Listens to Horses”. (wikipedia)

Robert’s relationship with the Queen has remained steadfast since the 1980’s. With the Queen’s encouragement, he wrote a book entitled, “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” Published in 1996, the book became a phenomenon. Documentaries were made and more books were published. In 1998 he became one of several natural horsemen who served as inspirations for the movie “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford.

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Roberts with an honorary Membership of the Royal Victorian Order—an order of people who have served Her Royal Majesty in a personal way—for his contributions to the racing establishment. He has served the Queen and her horses for a quarter of a century.

The relationship between the QEII and Roberts was much more widely accepted in the late twentieth century than the relationship held between her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and one of her Indian servants. In fact, Victoria’s friendship with 24-year-old Abdul Karim, who was 42 years her junior, was viewed as more akin to a scandal.

After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Victoria missed the companionship of a man. Albert provided support, ideas, and indispensable advice to the Queen from the time they courted, until his death. Queen Victoria later found solace in John Brown, a servant she also had a deep and lasting platonic relationship with after Albert’s death. In Karim, Queen Victoria was once again able to find the same comfort after John died.

Queen Victoria at her desk, assisted by her servant Abdul Karim, the 'Munshi'. Date: c. 1885 (
Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, the ‘Munshi’. Date: c. 1885 (

Brought to England in 1887 as a personal servant to Queen Victoria for the Golden Jubilee, Karim immediately endeared himself to Her Magesty with his gentle nature and advanced intellect. She gave him the title of “ Munshi”, the Urdu word for “clerk” or “teacher”.  Within one year, he had become one of her most trusted confidants and she promoted him to a status well beyond servant.

Although the Queen benefited intellectually and spiritually from Karim’s advice and companionship, the rest of the royal household did not see his value. Many of Victoria’s other staff and servants thought him well beneath them and resented the closeness between Karim and the Queen. The fact that she showered him with gifts, honors, and a large land grant in India didn’t help matters.


I found this relationship so interesting that I have infused it into my second Annie Oakley mystery novel. Like the unusual relationship between QEII and Monty Roberts and Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim respectively, Annie Oakley found herself in an unlikely friendship with royalty of another kind. Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux Chief and warrior, who was also a principal player in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, became smitten with Miss Oakley, when he first saw her perform in 1884. The great Sioux Chief felt that Annie was “gifted” by a supernatural force that enabled her to shootequally accurate with both hands. Because of this, and their close rapport, the Chief symbolically “adopted” her and named her Watanya Cecilia, the Sioux name for “Little Sure Shot” – a moniker that stuck with her throughout her career.

"Little Sure Shot" (
“Little Sure Shot” (

I think that unlikely relationships are always the most interesting to read and write about. The single factor in each one that bonds each of the people in them together is a profound respect that crosses social, racial, and religious boundaries. It is truly remarkable and heartwarming for Her Royal Majesty QEII to reach out to a cowboy fromCalifornia; for Queen Victoria to take in an Indian servant as a confidant, and a for a famed Indian warrior to be so touched by a young white girl’s special talent, that he wants to make her his daughter. It reminds us that no matter what a person’s title or status in society, we are all human beings who have a desire to share our passions and interests. I think it is a good lesson for all of us.

Olympic Spotlight: Parade of Nations Features Equestrians as Flag-bearers

It is a shame that Olympic Equestrians do not get as much attention as the other athletes at the Summer Games. As I mentioned in my previous article, “Equestrianism in the Olympics”, ( these athletes have much more to contend with than the other athletes because they also have to take into consideration the care and well-being of their equine partner—a partner who really has no choice or say as to whether they are to compete or not.

It was especially moving when Dutch dressage rider Adelinde Cornelissen, a previous Olympic medalist, gave up her Rio Olympic dream of winning the gold because she felt her partner Parzival, a chestnut gelding, was not up to the task. It was determined that Parzival had suffered an insect bite, which caused a fever and swelling in his jaw. Once he had been cleared by the vet, Adelinde was ready to perform, but ended up retiring mid-test, because she knew her horse was suffering. That is the act of a true champion.

While the Equestrian events are not given prime-time television and press coverage, their efforts and talents are appreciated by many viewers and fans.

I was pleased to see that four equestrians, all show Jumpers, were given the spotlight during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations when they were honored and chosen by their countrymen and women to serve as flag-bearers. The country’s Olympic committee, the country, or the Olympic athletes themselves choose each flag-bearer–a truly special honor because only one person per country can receive this unique opportunity.

The four equestrian flag-bearers at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics are as follows:


Al Thani Photo: Arnd Bronkhorst/
Al Thani Photo: Arnd Bronkhorst/

Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani represents his country, Qatar, and its Show Jumping Equestrian Team, which makes its first appearance at the Olympic games this year. The 34-year-old athlete competed at Rio as the team’s anchor. To make their goal of competing in the Olympics, the Qatar Equestrian team began training with Jan Tops of The Netherlands in 2012. With one of the world’s best-known show Jumping trainers to push them, they made their goal and the country of Qatar named Sheik Al Thani their flag-bearer. Sheikh Al Thani leads his team with experience as a two-time rider in the World Equestrian Games, and a three-time rider at the World Cup Final.


Longines Global Championships
Ouaddar: Longines Global Championships

Abdelkebir Ouaddar from Morocco is among one of the oldest athletes to compete in the Olympics at age 54. Raised as one of their own by the Moroccan Royal Family, Ouaddar rides several of the King’s horses for training and in competition. King Mohammed VI makes sure that Ouaddar and his horses travel with the finest of everything at their disposal. Ouaddar started competing at age 14. He was the first Moroccan to qualify for the World Championships in 2013, and the first to compete at the World Championships in Normandy in 2014. This is Ouaddar’s first Olympic Games.



Jeroen Dubbeldam carries the flag of the Netherlands in this year’s Parade of Nations. At age 41, Dubbledam is one of the most experienced and well-respected members of the Netherlands team. He claimed an Olympic gold in 2000 at Sydney, and also the world champion gold at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, as well as the team gold in 2006 and 2014. The Netherlands has a large presence at the 2016 games, with 239 athletes in 27 sports. To be chosen to carry the flag among all those amazing athletes gives credence to Dubbledam’s reputation as a superior sportsman.




Wong: www.Zimbio.Com
Wong: www.Zimbio.Com

Isheau Wong of Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) does her country a great honor by being the first athlete in the country’s history to compete in the Equestrian portion of the Olympic games. At 27 years old, Wong won the spot to compete at the Olympics against her friend and long-time trainer, Samantha McIntosh of New Zealand. Wong tells that it was tough to be McIntosh’s rival in that competition, but she put her reservations aside and just rode as fast as she could. She beat McIntosh’s time by three seconds.

I have hope that equestrian sports will be better recognized in the Olympics in the future. After all, four flag-bearers from the sport were chosen to represent their countries in the opening Parade of Nations and during the closing ceremonies for the Parade of Athletes. Despite rumors that equestrian sports would be eliminated from the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, the Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to keep equestrian sports alive in the Olympics.

I encourage you to do what you can to further support Olympic equestrian sports, so that we may continue to be inspired by these horse and human champions who compete in perfect partnership. Enjoy the closing ceremonies—and look for our proud equestrian friends from Qatar, Morocco, The Netherlands, and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) during the Parade of Athletes.

Equestrianism At The Olympics

As a horse enthusiast I find it interesting that many people do not know that equestrianism is actually an Olympic sport. I also find it interesting that people do not realize that dressage is part of the Olympic Equestrian family. Actually, it is amazing to me that many people do not know much about dressage at all. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and poetic of disciplines, and it requires an absolutely rock solid relationship between horse and rider to be successful.

Dressage has its history in the military, going way back to the first documented accounts of the discipline in the writings of the Greek Xenophon. The horses chosen for this military discipline had to be obedient and maneuverable, and required a rigorous system of training. “The system of training was built upon throughout the ages, with many well-known riding masters, military and civilian, writing books expounding their methods.” (Source: United States Dressage Federation –

Campionato Provinciale S.O.
Early Olympic Dressage Photo Campionato Provinciale S.O.

Equestrianism in general, and dressage in particular, did not make its debut in the Olympic games until the 1900 Summer Olympics, and then only as a military discipline. Commissioned military officers and “gentlemen” were the only people permitted to compete in the Olympic equestrian disciplines. The military test included obedience and maneuverability (or what would become dressage) and the ability to jump obstacles.

After the US Cavalry was disbanded in 1948, the focus for dressage shifted from military to civilian competition, and it quickly gained momentum. Women as well as men ventured into the sport and in the 1952 Summer Games, women made their first equestrian appearance in dressage. It wasn’t until 1956 and 1964 respectively, that women could compete in jumping and eventing.

Equestrianism is one of the few Olympic sports in history where women and men are allowed to complete against one another. In team competition, teams may have any blend of male and female competitors, and are not required to have minimum numbers of either gender; countries are free to choose the best riders, regardless of their gender.

Dressage has changed dramatically since its early appearance at the Summer Olympics. Jumping is no longer required, but the tests on the flat are now more difficult and include more challenging movements such as the piaffe and the passage. Today’s dressage horses are specifically bred for the discipline and their movement is much more refined and dramatic than in past years.

Lis Hartel from Denmark was the first woman to win a silver medal for Individual Dressage in 1952, and she was also the Danish champion that same year. Hartel had the heart and drive required to be so successful. Despite contracting polio in 1944 at the age of 23, which paralyzed her legs and affected her arms and hands, Hartel was determined to continue her equestrian career. Against medical advice, she went on to finish second at the Scandinavian championships, despite the fact that she needed help to get on her horse every time she rode.

In 1992, Hartel was inducted into Denmark’s Hall of Fame, and in 2005 she was named one of Denmark’s top 10 athletes of all time. An empowered woman, Hartel paved the way for other empowered and dedicated women in the sport.

That type of drive and dedication brings to mind other empowered women and Olympic athletes who will be competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympics such as Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. Her story is especially moving to me because Lauren is also a practitioner of natural horsemanship and is a Parelli 4-Star Instructor and Horse Development Specialist. Lauren became paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 22 when a 100 pound bale of hay fell from 10 feet above onto her spine. When she left the hospital, Lauren said she would never ride again, but it was her relationship with her mare, Peanut, whom she now calls her “heart horse”, that gave her the inspiration and courage to ride again. To date, Lauren has earned gold and silver medals in the Beijing Paralympic Games 2008, as well as bronze and silver medals at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Most of us have no room to whine or complain that horsemanship is hard and often frustrating. To overcome such a tremendous hurdle takes an inner strength that most of us can hardly imagine.

Liselott Linsenhoff , a German equestrian and an Olympic champion, became the first woman to receive an Individual Dressage gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics. In the 1968 Summer Olympics she took home a team gold with the West German team. Lisenhoff won many world championships and her daughter, Ann-Katherine, also became an Olympic champion in equestrian arena.

It’s funny how a passion can run through families. Equestrian Olympic athlete Zara Phillips Tindall, the second eldest grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II and daughter of Princess Anne, says her love of horses came from her grandmother. ( Her mother, Anne, participated in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal as a member of the British team riding the Queen’s horse, Goodwill. Zara, as a member of the Great Britain Eventing Team, won a Silver Medal at the London 2012 Olympics. Sadly, Zara did not make the team this year and will not be competing at Rio de Janeiro – but there is always the next Summer Olympics four years from now.

The latest female equestrian to win the Olympic gold medal in Dressage is another Brit—Charlotte Dujardin with her power horse, Valegro, in 2012. Dujardin is said to be the most successful British dressage rider in the history of the sport and the winner of all major titles and world records. She has been described as the most dominant dressage rider of her era. With Valegro, Dujardin currently holds the complete set of the available individual elite dressage titles; the Individual Olympic Freestyle, World Freestyle and Grand Prix Special, World Cup Individual Dressage and European Freestyle and Grand Prix Special titles. Dujardin is the first and to date the only rider to hold this complete set of titles at the same time.

Dujardin and Valegro are competing in this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but this year will be Valegro’s last. Dujardin is retiring her partner after an amazing career. “Dujardin says she will not let the pressure of being an Olympic champion affect her. ‘I just take it all on board. I try not to let that all bother me. Riding Valegro always makes you smile, so I enjoy it.’” (Source: article”Charlotte Dujardin: Valegro to retire after 2016 Rio Olympics,” published November 16, 2015 –

(Source: Dujardin’s World Record Breaking Freestyle test at London Olympia, FEI, Published December 18, 2014)

This year, the United States has four stellar Equestrians on its Dressage team: Allison Brock from Loxahatchee, FL with her partner Rosevelt, a 2002 Hanoverian stallion; Laura Graves from Geneva, FL and her own KWPN gelding, Verdades; Kasey Perry-Glass from Orangevale, CA with her partner Dublet, a 2003 Danish Warmblood Gelding; and the well-know Steffen Peters from San Diego, CA with his partner Legolas 92, a 2002 Westphalian gelding.

While all of the equestrian athletes, both horse and human, are to be greatly admired and respected, I always like to root for the home team. Best of luck to the four riders and their partners on the US Dressage team, and best of luck to Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. I’m on the edge of my seat!

I hope this article helps to shed some light on the uniqueness of all equestrian endeavors and especially the role it plays in the Olympic games. The bond between horse and rider is absolutely vital to achieving greatness in equestrian sports. Most athletes must be in tune with their bodies, take care of themselves, and learn to push their limits. The equestrian athlete not only has to take care of him or herself, each one also has a 1200 lbs. partner, who needs love, attention, and understanding, to take care of as well. I sometimes think this is taken for granted. I hope that I have helped people to appreciate the enormity of an equestrian athlete’s passion for and dedication to their sport. Go USA!

Note: Some of the material in this article has been cited from, and Dressage Today article “Get to Know Canadian Dressage Paralympian Lauren Barwick”


The Queen’s Private Passion

Photo from Daily Mail
Photo from Daily Mail

In light of the recent events surrounding Brexit, we’ve seen a lot of coverage of the royal family, particularly Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In April, she celebrated her 90th birthday and the photographers went wild. In July she was photographed during the annual Order of the Thistle service at St Giles’ Cathedral (The Order of the Thistle is the second-most senior order of chivalry pertaining to Scotland. The oldest order is its English equivalent, The Most Nobel Order of the Garter.)

In short, we see a lot of photographs of England’s beloved Queen, but the ones I love most are of QEII with horses. She is either sizing up their conformation with a very concentrated, stern, or discerning look on her face, or she is simply beaming. In many photos, she is reaching out to touch the nose or neck – all the while with a girlish grin on her face. I recently watched The Queen: A Passion For Horses, a documentary made by Clare Balding. In it, England’s stoic Queen actually giggled with glee while inspecting one of her newborn thoroughbred foals.

One cannot hide one’s passion, not even the Queen of England.

Horses have the ability to bring out the best in people. That is one of the aspects of horse and human relationships I like to bring out in my books. In Dead Eye Dame, the novel that my agent is currently selling, Annie Oakley has a tremendous relationship with her horse, Buck. Through Buck, Annie is better able to handle the volatile emotions that come with the stresses of performance and competition, not to mention the horrible things I do to her throughout the course of the story! Buck is her rock, her constant companion. He, like all horses that are treated well, loves her unconditionally. They have established a bond. To Buck, Annie is just a horse with two legs instead of four.

Queen Elizabeth, a woman whom many people have criticized for her lack of emotion, understands this relationship and bond extremely well. According to her cousin, Margaret Rhodes, when Elizabeth became Queen at the tender age of 25, she “had to sacrifice within herself many emotions. With horses, she is in another world.” It is a world in which she can be herself—just another human being. As natural horsemanship trainer Pat Parelli likes to say, “With horses, once you take off the halter, all you have is the truth.” I love that statement. For me, it means that horses have the ability to make you look inside yourself and see what is truly there. If they run away from you, it might be wise to do some soul searching and figure out what kind of vibe you are transmitting to them, and probably the world. On the other hand, if your horse is “in your pocket” as they say, there is a bond of trust there. And trust, for prey animals like horses, does not come easy.

Queen Riding at Ascot 1964It is said by many people closely associated with the Queen that she is unconditionally loved by her horses. She takes extreme care and caution to hire only trainers who treat her horses well, from Monty Roberts, the inspiration for the movie and book, The Horse Whisperer to Rochelle Murray, one of her stud grooms at Sandringham whose job it is to make sure that her young thoroughbreds learn to be comfortable around people from birth. Not many racehorse owners go to this effort to ensure that their horses are sound in MIND and body. Their horses are a means to an end, and that end usually involves money. While the Queen is competitive with her horses and wants them to win, what is more important is that they know they are valued. That kind of care and devotion only comes from someone who is emotionally connected to her horses.

It is true that royalty and horses go hand in hand. Just flip through the pages of history and you’ll find many paintings and photographs of royals on horseback either enjoying a leisurely ride or storming into battle on their fiery steeds. Elizabeth’s passion goes back to her childhood when her father, King George VI, gifted Elizabeth, age 4, and her younger sister, Margaret, with a Shetland pony named “Peggy.” Since then, Elizabeth’s relationship with horses has remained constant, and like many royals, she has owned countless equines throughout her life.

During Princess Diana’s funeral, the Queen got her fair share of negative press for not showing enough emotion. As her cousin Margaret Rhodes revealed, once Elizabeth became Queen, she has had to keep her emotions to herself, by putting on a mask of stoicism for the public. Even in the presence of her great grandchildren, there is often but a hint of a smile on her face. But, I believe that underneath the quirky hats and the regal mask of a Queen, there is a deeply benevolent person lurking beneath—one whose secret passion cannot be hidden. Just look at a photo of her, looking at a horse.

Photo from The Daily Telegraph
Photo from The Telegraph

Meet and Greet Monday: 7/18/16

dream-big copyIt’s the Meet and Greet weekend!! Ok so here are the rules: Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!

It’s the Meet and Greet weekend!!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

Source: Meet and Greet: 7/16/16


Coming Home To San Diego

San Diego is known for its sunshine, beautiful views, and friendly people. I always get energized when I come back to this beautiful city. This time, I am here for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. In addition to all the wonderful workshops and events, I came to attend the Death by Chocolate Party and the Daphne du Maurier Awards ceremony, put on by the Mystery/Suspense Chapter, Kiss of Death. My novel, Grace In The Wings, finaled in the Unpublished Daphne contest. I had a wonderful time in “chocolate heaven” and the novel ended up winning 3rd place in the Historical Mystery/Suspense category.

DaphneI first lived in San Diego as a small child. My memories of our U shaped house with a swimming pool are still some of my fondest. After we moved to New Mexico, I couldn’t get San Diego out of my system, so when I graduated from high school, I chose attend to college at The University of San Diego. There, I received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

My experiences at USD further nurtured my insatiable need to write. I worked very hard to get all of my pre-requisites out of the way so that in my senior year I could take three independent studies—all in writing. I met with my professors once a week, and then the rest of the week I could write and create. Pure bliss.

The campus itself, set high up on a windswept hill with white stone buildings, palm trees and a profusion of colorful flowers, gave one the feeling of traveling back in time to an ancient 17th Century European fortressed city. The majestic library, with its heavy leather-backed chairs, beautiful tapestries and floor-to-ceiling arched windows overlooking the bay, was a place of peace and quiet—perfect for stimulating scholarly pursuits. I spent many hours surrounded by the earthy smell of old paper and knowledge in that beautiful library and I still have fond memories of it.

The campus was built in 1949/1950. Bishop Charles Francis Buddy and Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill had a vision for a Women’s College. They chose the peak of the hill to build their campus because of its beauty. According to Mother Hill, “There are three things that are significant in education: beauty, truth and goodness. But the only one that attracts people on sight is beauty. If beauty attracts people, they will come and find the truth and have goodness communicated to them by the kind of people here.”

Her words proved true. The Society of the Sacred Heart volunteered to provide a $4 million endowment for the College for Women. The College for Men and the School of Law began classes in 1954, eventually moving into Thomas Moore Hall, now known as Warren Hall. More buildings were constructed including the blue-domed Immaculata Church, consecrated in 1959. Overlooking the campus, on top of the dome stands a lovely statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. When I attended college there, a rumor circulated that the model for the sculpture was none other than Raquel Welch. I’m not sure if the rumor was true, but it certainly amused the students.

ImmaculataIn 1972, the colleges merged and formed what is now the University of San Diego. When I first set foot on the campus in 1980, I knew I had come home. Whenever I return to San Diego, no matter where I am staying, I look for the blue dome on top of the hill. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and my time in San Diego certainly fostered that dream. It’s a place that rejuvenates my soul. Like the slogan of the 1980’s stated, “San Diego Feels Good All Over.”

Some of the information in this article comes from the University of San Diego website.