Ep. 19: Office Hours

Q&A with Leslie Law & Lesley Grant Law
Recap from 12.28.21

Victoria Clayton holding two horses

By Victoria Clayton

Q: Where are you guys located and how many horses are in your barn?

We are in Ocala, Florida all year. We have about 20 horses in our main barn. We also rent a neighbor’s barn during the winter, and we have another 6 or 7 there at the moment.

Q: Tell us about your program. Are you primarily focused on teaching or competing or both?

Leslie: We balance all of it. We have a number of students based here with us. Lesley and I both have our competition horses as well. I am going into a busy time in January because the assessment for the U25 is coming up–one takes place in Ocala, one in Aiken, and the third will take place in California. It is a very busy season, and it takes a lot of organizing, which Lesley is great at! We also have competitions every single weekend.

Q: Can you describe how the USEF Under 25 Emerging Athletes program works and what the selection process looks like?

For the U25, anyone was allowed to apply a few weeks back. There is a qualification where you have to have a MER at the 3* level. Other athletes can also apply. The athletes that have met the MER automatically move forward to an assessment. The others that haven’t met that MER requirement could have been talent spotted to move forward to an assessment.

We have two days at the assessments:

The first day is dressage. They ride on the flat, and we will work on a few things so they have something to take away and work on.

The second day, we set up a show jumping course. They jump the course, we discuss it, and we will work on a few things. We also conduct a small interview asking about their horse, goals, program, and competition schedule for the year.

After the assessments, a shorter list is drawn up, and we have a meeting with the Professional Advisory Team about who I think should go forward. It gets discussed, and then the final U25 list gets drawn up: that is the U25 group for the year.

Edited to add: check out photos from the assessments.

Q: How do you decide when are horse is “peaking” athletically? Additionally, how fast do you think an amateur should be moving up the levels with their horse assuming they aren’t having trouble?

Oh my! Well, I think of the important thing is to actually watch the athletes. Just because the record looks good, does not necessarily mean it’s time to move up.

“Most of the time, my horses spend a good 12 months at each level regardless of if they are going well and winning or not. For us, that’s about 10-12 events at the level.” – Leslie Law

If an amateur has a more seasoned horse, the answer might be a little different.

Note, the lowest level I apply this to is Training level. At the lower levels, I do listen to what the horses are telling me. The horses I have at the low levels are typically the younger ones, and some are more confident than others. I listen to what they tell me and what they need. It can be different depending on what your program is. For us, it’s all about our horses succeeding and coming to their full potential. The answers to these questions will be different for every program, that is something to remember!

In regard to “peaking” athletically–scope, athleticism and stamina are the keys. You can have a very scopey, athletic horse, but it might not have the stamina to keep moving up.

Q: Lesley, how do you stay calm at competitions? Any practices or tips we could use?

Sometimes, I can get wound up too. It really depends on the show.

Anything under the Intermediate level is not a problem and just a job for me. With my young horses, I remember that the best is yet to come with them, and the lower levels are all about education.

I can get very wound up when I upgrade levels, and Leslie will agree with that.

“You have to remember that no one cares and no one remembers the day-in and day-out horse trials. Those are all about the education and the mileage you’re adding to your horse. If you’re doing it just as a hobby, remember that you are there to enjoy it!” – Lesley Grant Law

Q: When you’re looking at young horses to purchase, what are things that will make you say “no” ?

I look at 4 and 5-year-olds. I like to have the ability to sit on them and feel whether they’re an athlete, feel whether they have scope.

What would be a “no” is if it’s too careful and felt like it didn’t have scope. To go up the levels, the horse has to have good scope.

Regarding careful horses: a horse will go down to a fence and sometimes they will be a little bit looky at the beginning, but if you come around a few more times they won’t be worried about it. A careful horse will typically continue to be looky no matter how many times you go over the fence. Sometimes they will jump tight and too hard. The scopey ones will do it comfortably and not try too hard.

I think that it’s a little eventing-specific because they have to be bold and brave enough for the cross-country.

Q: Do you normally go to the same source or the same country to find new horses?
We like to go to Ireland for the young ones. Right now, we have a barn full of horses from all over the world. We have them from France, Holland, Germany, and England. We usually go to Ireland first for the young ones because that is easy for us. Germany has a lot of nice horses as well, but we don’t speak German, and we don’t have as many connections there. England doesn’t have many young horses and they are typically more expensive. We would go to England if we were looking for YR horses with more experience. We would love to have one from America, but we haven’t found one yet.
Q: What are your suggestions or tips for improving a horse’s ground manners?

Leslie: If they behave while I am training and competing, I typically let them do what they want in their free time (hah). I can’t answer that because mine aren’t the best behaved on the ground.

Lesley: I think horses are just like humans, they have their own personalities. Some are born amazing, some are born rotten, some will improve, and some will never improve.

What we try to do is deal with them as they are. At the end of the day, you can only mold them so much. If you learn to deal with them under saddle and on the ground, you get the best relationship with each other. Some we can’t change, but we learn to deal with them safely. Some can change with their environment, change of feed, some are hormonal, etc.

Q: What are your barn safety pet peeves you have?

Number one is not being diligent or aware. Horses are very dangerous animals and being aware is most important. Don’t lead a horse out and look at Facebook, don’t graze your horse and be on Facebook. Be in the moment. Lead them properly. Don’t let them hit their hips on the stall and be lazy. Being aware of the animal is the biggest part.

Q: Leslie, how do you think your gold medal might have changed your career?

Leslie: I don’t know if it did change my career quite honestly.

Lesley: He wouldn’t have such a good-looking wife 😉 Maybe it helped you personally. One thing about him is that he is very level person. In horses, there are so many lows. One thing I admire in him is his levelness in all situations. Very rarely does he get low. I think that comes from his success, and I think that has changed him mentally and gives him an unspoken amount of confidence that has allowed him to continue to succeed.

“You’re only as good as your last win. Don’t beat yourself up when something goes wrong. Once you win a competition, enjoy it, but it’s about going on to win the next one!” – Leslie Law
Q: Do you have any tips or exercises for a green OTTB that is learning about connection and their go-to evasion is head straight up?

I think taking an OTTB you have to expect the contact is not going to be there because they have been doing a very different job compared to what we want them to do.

The important thing is to establish the rhythm. You need to look at what has worked over a long period time, like looking at the training scales. You need to look at the first thing which is rhythm and relaxation at the walk, trot, and canter.

The next thing on the scale is suppleness. It can be the simple thing like a 20m circle and being supple both ways. Once that is achieved, work on a serpentine. Lots of transitions will be very helpful.

The next thing is establishing that contact. Good tempo and working on the suppleness will lead to acceptance of the contact. Usually resistance comes from resistance in their body and back. You have to give OTTBs time.

Q: Do you ever use draw reins or sides reins or are those tools not in your program?

We lunge with side reins. I think that is a very good education for the horse because side reins have no emotion. So when the horse resists the side reins are just there; the horse works out when to give to the side reins, then the side reins give to the horse.

The good thing is that no one gets upset with the use of side reins because they don’t have that emotion like we do. I hardly ever use draw reins, maybe once every few years.

Q: Do you miss competing across the pond?

Leslie: I don’t really miss it. It’s as intense as you make it. The big competitions are intense here, just like the ones over there.

I think America has the best facilities in the world. I don’t think there is another country that has perfect footing for dressage and show jumping. The footing just keeps improving on cross-country. They are just getting better and better.

You make the most of where you are and enjoy the competitions for what they are!

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