Shannon Peters is a U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist, and three-time National Championship competitor. She loves bringing young horses up through the levels, and competes regularly both in Southern California CDIs and other top shows. Shannon is married to Olympic dressage rider Steffen Peters, and together they operate Arroyo Del Mar in San Diego, California. Do you have a question you want Shannon to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How important is it to have quality tack?
Very! Quality tack, most importantly quality, well-fitted tack, can really increase how happily your horse trains, as well as the comfort of the rider. Many horses will completely change their expression, attitude and rideability when something is changed, for instance a different snaffle. Just changing the pressure point in the mouth may improve the elasticity of the contact, the quietness in the connection and acceptance of the bit. Equally, I find trying different nosebands to be very beneficial for some horses. Some prefer no flash, a standard noseband with a flash, while others prefer a drop noseband for the lack of upper jaw pressure. I’ve recently tried the Tota nosebands on several horses, and they’ve really been a game changer for some. Good quality leather, soft padding and appropriate fit are all so important in getting the maximum benefit in your training. Of course, saddles can be one of the most important pieces of tack on your horse. Finding a good quality saddle, with the appropriate tree and properly flocked to your horse, makes a world of difference. I’ve always felt this isn’t something that should be done without a qualified saddle fitter that can not only sell you a saddle, but truly recommend the appropriate one, or properly fit the one you have.
What do you look for in pairing a horse and rider?
There are some important points to keep in mind when looking to match a horse and rider: What the level of the rider is, whether they’re professional or amateur, what their aspirations are, physical limitations, time limitations and prior experience are all starting points. Generally, for amateur riders, I always like to match a horse that’s several levels above the rider’s current training experience so the horse is confident in its abilities to carry a rider who may not be so confident. There are only rare instances where matching a young horse to an inexperienced rider is a good idea, and I usually try to steer clear of this scenario.
What do you do for a horse that’s nervous or distracted?
Time and proper training usually make these horses better. I hear of so many people that automatically resort to supplements, and hope that the answer is at the bottom of the supplement bottle. This is rarely the case. Of course, there are nutritional deficiencies that may at times be contributing to behavior, but in general, just like a child in school, the more they learn to focus on the task at hand, or the exercise, the less they focus on their environment. The more you can connect with a horse in a way that they understand, and the more they feel confident in you as their partner, the more their demeanor changes for the positive.
What do you think are the most important factors in avoiding stress-related injuries to a horse?
Providing the right amount of cross training is crucial in both the mental and physical health of our horses, in every discipline. It not only mentally stimulates the horses and keeps them fresh and happy, but physically keeps them able to train the collected movements without as much risk of repetitive strain injuries. Cross training can involve cavalletti, low jumps and gymnastic lines, cantering hills for hindquarter strength, walking and trotting on firmer ground, or just nice, leisurely walks on the trail. Do the best you can with what’s available, and avoid getting stuck in a routine. Winter time can be quite challenging when you live in cold climates, but use your imagination! Be creative to keep yourself and your horse fit and challenged in different ways.
What riders do you look up to and why?
My mentor of 20-plus years, Karl Mikolka, I’d have to say would be at the top of my list. He hasn’t ridden for many years, but you’d never know that when he teaches. At 80 years old, you feel like he’s right there with you, and his clarity and knowledge is beyond words. I’d say for currently competing riders, the two riders I love to watch are my husband (of course!) and Carl Hester. I believe they ride and train with the same empathy for the horses, and it shows in the correctness both in the warm-up arena and the competition arena: happy horses that are working with and for their riders.