The Great Winter Escape - A Dressage Training Oasis With Linda Zang

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Posted by Leslie McDonald


Linda Zang, Leslie McDonald and Dauntless enjoy a training break in sunny Ocala morning.
Linda Zang, Leslie McDonald and Dauntless enjoy a training break in sunny Ocala morning.
For those of us northern trainers with year round facilities to run and students to teach, winter can be very daunting. It’s a seemingly endless season of frozen buckets, treacherous icy paddocks, howling snow squalls that blow through the tiniest barn crevices and fractious horses that give new meaning to buck and bolt. On the receiving end as the stable owner/manager, winter must be met head on with intrepid determination bundled under thermal layers that top dress L.L. Bean pack boots, morphing a slender, summertime tail-coated physique into a facsimile of the Poppin’ Fresh Dough Boy with numb fingers. Some are blessed with the luxury of time and income to migrate south at the first threat of winter’s approach. Escaping the frigid environs with horses and clients in tow, they are fortunate to set up comfortable home-away-from-home stables with the tag line “South” after northern farm names. Horses bedded down and trunks unpacked, they settle in to enjoy the climate and competition until flocking back north with the spring thaw.

Much as I would like to pack up and follow the sun to Florida each December, the parameters of my business dictate that I remain in Ohio for the majority of the winter. My first responsibility is to my clients who are tied to the region by work and family. To them, a Florida getaway means a beach vacation with spouse and children, not a training escape with only their coach and horse, although most would secretly admit to daydreaming of that guilty pleasure.

Despite the demands of my farm, I do try to snatch a few weeks of personal southern training time in February when I’m feeling particularly beaten down by the elements. It’s my chance to grab a little “me” time with just my horses and corgi. For me, it’s never been about showing. Over the past 30 years, it’s been a chance to recharge through intense training with some of the tops in the sport who have seasonally gathered in Florida from Anders Lindgren to Uwe Steiner to Linda Zang.

This brief respite from the cold and snow to focus on my personal training goals can only be made possible through supportive friends, clients and spouse. They recognize the midwinter break is necessary to prevent me from falling into the abyss of seasonal exhaustion burnout. Behind every trainer lucky enough to pull off the great winter escape stands a dedicated team willing to step up to keep the farm running and horses happy no matter how the weather conditions may deteriorate in my absence.

It truly does take a total team effort to pull it off beginning with the daily morning check in phone calls to put my mind at ease. My girl in charge always concludes with a reassuring “Don’t worry about a thing. Got it covered. Just enjoy yourself and bring home all those great lessons you’re learning.”

I’m confident that there are ten pairs of eyes on a rotating basis always on alert to spot any horse or barn irregularities. My students even work out a buddy system to support each other’s training when lessons are on hold during my absence.

And, of course, a huge part of the load is born by my very supportive husband, Doug, who oversees control central in the frozen north while I’m enjoying the sunshine. Beyond being the “go to” guy with all farm problems mechanical or otherwise, he also helps with the long two day drive to shuttle the horses and my trailer home on wheels to our training base in Florida. During our joint absence, my wonderful farmsitter steps in to fill the void, armed with a multitude of skills to handle any emergency from barn to house.

The final team affirmation my last trip south was the surprise plate of frosted brownies with the yellow smiley face topping the saran wrap cover discovered on the truck dashboard when we pulled out of the farm at 6:30a.m., heading south with the horses into a light snow.

Leslie McDonald and Dauntless at the Majestic Farm Spring Dressage, Batavia, Ohio
Leslie McDonald and Dauntless at the Majestic Farm Spring Dressage, Batavia, Ohio
Over the years, the unflagging support of the team at Full Cry Farm has made the 12 hour days 11 months of the year, ever sore muscles, late night walking of a boarder’s colicky horse, and the long hours coaching in dusty arenas swatting insects that comprise the majority of a trainer’s year well worth every minute of the effort. For all their dedication and generosity of time on my behalf, my exceptional support team deserves a special sunshine thank you for turning dreams into reality no matter the season.

Leslie McDonald is a USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist who owns and operates Full Cry Farm Dressage Center in Batavia, OH. She is the author of four books entitled TIC-TAC, Making Magic, Down the Aisle and Musings of a Horse Farm Corgi. All books are available on Amazon or Kindle.
You can contact Leslie at: www.fcfarm@aol.com or checkout the website at: www.fcfarm.com

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