Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lynne Levy, Equestrian

I love this interview with Lynne Levy and honored to have her featured on my blog! She has sensible ideas for purchasing, training and stabling a horse. Lynne has been a horse-lover for over 40 years. She is a seasoned rider and trainer, facilitating clinics that place emphasis on the connection between horse and rider.  She prides herself on fairness and honesty; a horse show judge not influenced by politics, fads or trends. She believes that all exhibitors have the right to be treated equally by a judge who is informed on the rules, discipline and standards of each breed.

Welcome Lynne!

Where in the world are you?
In the world I'm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. It's really rather an overgrown small town, very urban but yet pretty homey. In life I'm just a horse-crazy girl who never grew out of what everyone called a phase. After over 40 years of riding and showing about every breed & discipline I could, 6 years ago I was forced to stop riding for medical reasons. I said it myself, and hear it all the time - if I had to make the choice between riding or taking the chance on dying, I'd still ride; I love it too much. Truth is until you're actually faced with it you don't know how you'll really react. Since my first choice was life, I learned to adapt to a new way of staying with horses. I'd already done more than I thought I could in the show ring and was doing OK as a judge and instructor. So what's the big deal; I've always been analytical and enjoyed mental gymnastics. The reason I love judging open and 4-H horse shows; so many different breed standards. Fun!  So working out problems from observation is now what I do, plus judging and clinics.

What was your first encounter with a horse?
Growing up in Milwaukee we didn't have a farm or horses, but my father was a western movie buff, so we grew up with Gene Autrey, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers. That may have been what got my sister hooked first and, since she's 10 years older than I, when she wanted to ride, be it the nickel mechanical horse at the drug store or at one of the area livery stables, she had to take me along. When I was in junior high school she bought her first horse and STILL had to take me along. Neither of us has ever moved out of the city, but we have never left the horse world either.

How long have you been judging?
I started judging Open Shows between 15 and 20 years ago. I was unhappy with the breed bias that I saw frequently and decided to try to work to improve the chances for others; a Don Quixote complex maybe. That led to 4-H judging (a US Department of Agriculture program for Youth). In 1992 I felt that breed papers would add credibility and earned my card to judge Tennessee Walking Horses. I still work with the Wisconsin Horse Council Open Judges program to educate new and current judges on the variety that they will see in the ring to judge them fairly. 

Do you have a favorite breed?
There is no bad breed. My final choice to own is Tennessee Walking Horses, but I no longer own a horse. Judging and doing clinics, I have seen many horses of all breeds that I would take home if I could. A good horse is a good horse no matter the breed color or anything else.

What basic qualities do you look for when judging a horse?
What I look for varies by class. In a halter class, I want a horse whose conformation is correct movement, is sound and attitude is tractable; a horse with positive traits to pass on in the breeding shed. My main focus tends to be legs and movement.  In Pleasure classes, I want a calm smooth moving consistent performance. In Performance classes we add a bit more fire. But I never want to see a horse barely controlled or out of control.  Safety comes first and that [undisciplined] horse will be asked to leave the ring.  Again depends on the class.

How important is grooming to the winning horse?
Proper grooming is not an option. You're there to prove how special your horse is so make it obvious, BUT the best groomed horse with no manners, poor conformation or a poor performance isn't going to win Pretty is as Pretty does.

What disposition do you look for in a winner?
Again it comes down to the class. Some call for more spunk than others, but always well mannered.

What is your favorite show ring anecdote?
There were three horses that showed head-to-head in our area for quite a while. Ours being one of them. At the end of two days of versatility doing everything from English to Western to Reining to Over Fences, etc., it came down to two. As it was announced that I was 2nd and Greg Parker was high point Champion, Greg was SURE that we should have BOTH won the Championship. He really did win. Rather than taking a victory lap for pictures, he refused to move until after a hug from horseback we could ride out side-by-side, the way we had competed. Never have I seen such a gentleman in competition.

Where is your favorite arena?
The arena that I LOVE is in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. It's a large domed ring where the seating is right up to the sides of the ring. The audience can get nice and close to the horses.

What do you think of the new discipline, Western Dressage?
I couldn't have been happier when I learned that Western Dressage was finally being recognized. A friend of mine, Claudia Shipshock, was right there asking when we could start offering clinics and I've been doing 1 to 2 clinics a month for about 2 years now. There's nothing new about western dressage. What IS new is that it is finally being recognized. As for competition, people have been using the dressage principals for years. But can you picture the tough cowboy walking into the saloon bellying up to the bar with his buddies and saying Yep I ride (spit into spitoon) dressage. Oh yeah macho. Now it's OK to take the time and effort to go out and learn about tough cowboys to build a better partnership with your horse. Only about 10% of those coming to my clinics want to compete. But they ALL want to improve their communication with their horse.

As a horse owner, what can I do to keep a happy horse?
The best way to keep a happy horse is to put the horse first. If things aren't going well, don't get mad. Find out why… Is there a physical problem? Does he understand? It's not fair to punish a horse for not doing what he doesn't understand what you want. I'm not saying let him take charge. No. You pay the bills. But he is your responsibility. Do things to make him WANT to work for you. Give him reasons to do things and don't let him get bored. A horse who wants to work for you will perform far better than one who is forced. Like a child, if you only let him know when he's done something wrong, that's how he'll get your attention. So tell him when he's right too.

What should I look for when buying a horse? 
Figure out FIRST what you will be wanting that horse to do and what you are able to handle. Look for the horse that is already suited to what you want. Don't expect to take one type of horse and change him into another. Both of you will be unhappy. Also be brutally honest with yourself about your knowledge and ability. If you're not sure of either of those, take lessons first to find out where you stand and don’t go into it thinking that if it doesn't work I'll just get a different horse. Disposable animals are not acceptable. Once you buy that horse his life and well being are up to you.

Do you have advice for novice riders?
Take lessons. Not just from one trainer or instructor, but a number of lessons, not at the same time of course. Learn all you can. Clinics are a great way to learn, but keep in mind what works with one horse may not work with another. Horse’s are like us, they all have a different capacity and rate of learning. ALSO remember that not all who offer advice know what they are talking about, so keep the option of dumping the information if it's not worthwhile, just say uh huh & thank you.  If you have any interest in showing or are curious, ask to ring master at a couple shows. While the judge doesn't have the time to give you a lot of information, you'll be able to pick up a lot just by watching what is REALLY happening from center ring, and believe me it's not the same thing that people think they see from the rail. The biggest key is never stop trying to learn. No-one knows it all.

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Terry Savage said...

This is a wonderful article, and I can tell you -- knowing Lynne for several years -- that she lives every word she said. If you are lucky enough to take lessons from her, you'll learn a lot about yourself as well as about your horse and riding techniques. Make time to attend one of her clinics, even if you can't bring your horse. For sure, you'll learn something that will make you -- and your horse -- smile!

Anonymous said...

I just read this article on Lynne Levy, Kudos to her. Glad to see her getting recognition for her outstanding skills. The horse world is so much better off for her presense in it. She is truly a gem. Bravo. Keep up the high standards.
Karen Taylor, Milwaukee, WI

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