Sometimes I feel like my dressage education is an add-a-bead necklace. I take lessons, I ride and audit clinics, and I observe riders, and each educational opportunity gives me a new pearl to add to my chain. In the weeks since the Judge’s Forum and FEI Trainer’s conference in West Palm Beach and Loxahachee FL, I’ve found my teaching and riding sprinkled with the pearls I gleaned from my trip.
The first pearl was for me. The major reason I make the trek down each year is to re-set my standard. Winter in PA creates a challenge—how do I keep my standard high throughout the long months of riding alone? During the summer, I can sit ringside at shows, observing the JJ Tates of the world, and let my cognitive learning skills do their magic. I watch skilled rider’s body alignment, quietly effective aids, and the volume of their corrections. This information worms itself into my brain, and my mounts respond. But the magic doesn’t last forever, so by mid January, 12 weeks after our last show, my training was feeling a bit stale.
After two days of watching 7 CDI Level riders, including such names as Canada’s WEG rider Karen Pavicic on her up-and-coming mare Beaujolais, and Beatrice Marienau aboard her Nation’s Cup mount Stefano 8, develop their horses, my internal dressage eye is reset, my brain is working out new training ideas, and my arena time now feels much more inspired.
Venus was the recipient of the next pearl. She often comes into the arena a touch on the unresponsive side. For her, the pearl came from Alexandra du Celliee Muller’s lesson on her mount, Rumba. I watched as Alexandra tried to subtly, tactfully bring Rumba more in front of her aids, and how that made her seat more and more crooked, just like happens to me on Venus. Then, as the clinicians Lilo Fore and Hans Christan Matthiesen encouraged her to get a better reaction, Alexandra gave him a strong (but not ugly) correction, to which Rumba splattered forward, dropped his poll, and lost the collection. Ah, Venus and I know this pattern well.
Lilo gave cooking advice that clearly resonated with Alexandra. She described cooking soup, and how when the soup needs salt, you don’t come in with the entire bag, because if you get the soup too salty, it’s tough to fix it. Instead you add salt, you taste it, and then you add more if needed.
Was the result magical? I’d be lying if I said Lilo’s words made a 100% turnaround, but it did make a difference, in not only Rumbas balance, but Alexandra’s straightness. Lilo made clear to all of us, riders, judges, and auditors, that this is not a quick-fix problem. And, of course, as horses are apt to do, Rumba set out to prove Lilo wrong – he came in on day two more uphill and more prompt in his responses.
Slingshot also received a pearl, this time from Dana Fiore’s lesson on So Special. So Special wanted to come short and deep in the neck, putting too much weight on his shoulders, which affected his suspension. Dana applied the clinician’s corrections to “show him the way up” through variations in shoulder in– the two that made the biggest difference were trot-walk in shoulder in, and varying the angle of shoulder in while maintaining the same bend. Throughout the ride, So Special’s trot gained more and more airtime.
My students and I all received a pearl from Karen Pavicic’s lesson on Beaujolais and Debbie Hill’s lesson on Cartier, a 9-year-old Dutch Harness Horse (who, incidentally, at one point in his career came through New Holland horse auction). Both horses were big, powerful moving horses, with a ton of bounce in their gait, and a tendency to carry their heads high. The corrections – focusing on hands going with seat bones in the canter, connecting calves to the bouncy horse, and making collection changes in small increments to help the horse understand to use their hips instead of their neck, keep getting repeated in my home sandbox, both to myself and my students.
Like an add-a-bead necklace, each pearl I gain creates a more complete string of knowledge on how to better develop horses and riders in this beautiful sport.
I was pleased to attend a clinic with Boyd Martin with help of a DVCTA scholarship the week between Christmas and New Years in Unionville.
The clinic was sponsored by the Cheshire Pony Club and I organized it.
Boyd started each session by speaking with individual riders about their horses age and level of experience. The groups were organized by experience of the horse and rider and split with adults riding together and kids in their own groups. Flatwork started each group and there was an emphasis on rider position and how it affects the aids. The horses were asked to go forward, back and bend. The riders were given tips on how to achieve this and we discussed why it is important to do these things. Boyd kept things fun for all and we started with grid work after the flat. There was an exercise at one end of the arena of rails on the ground in a curve. This was with a bounce distance for more experienced pairs and a one stride for less experienced. The rails were raised to X’s then verticals. Gradually we added a fence and a bending line to the exercise. Another exercise that day was riding a two fence combo with a forward or waiting entrance to achieve a four or five stride distance between the two fences. There was finally a grid in the center of the arena that we started as an X. Concentration for the group was having the right line, jumping in the middle and staying straight after the fence.
The second day was course walk with Boyd going over each step and what he would be thinking, what he would be asking, where he would be looking and why. There was shorter session of flatwork then we started jumping and gradually adding fences and finally jumping the course. The preparation paid off and everyone had a great time. It was a solid learning experience for all.
Unfortunately I have an old back injury and my youngster tripped in the curved fence exercise and triggered it. I was able to complete most of day one then Boyd did the final grid. I was only able to do the warm up on day two and my daughter finished it on my young horse. I was disappointed to not be able to finish but my horse was a star and I was thrilled with him.
Thank you DVCTA for the support in attending the clinic.
While clicking the submit button for my entry, I paused for a moment and thought, I really hope the weather holds. November in Virginia can be beautiful sunshine or bitter cold rain, and the latter would not make for a fun weekend. However, I pushed my weather concerns away with a second thought, I’M RIDING WITH WILLIAM FOX-PITT!
Early Thursday morning, we trailered over to Great Meadow and upon opening the truck door I could hear William already teaching lessons. On my way over to the ring, I was met by the clinic organizer, Kelly Gage of Team Engaged Clinics, and a few of the wonderful clinic sponsors, Jeep, Musto Clothing, and Albion Saddlery. I picked up my rider-goodies and quickly found a seat to watch the morning lessons.
Thursday was a dressage day for everyone, which would be followed by the riders’ choice of jumping or dressage for the following days. From the novice packers, to the young event horses, to the advanced horses, William kept a consistent theme: the horses must be happily moving into a contact with both reins. He asked most riders to post the trot (A huge relief for me!) in order to help the horses move freer and loosen up down the contact. The only differences between the lessons were the movements schooled after the warm-up. An advanced horse worked on adding expression to extensions and lead changes, a young training horse worked on lateral movements, and an experienced preliminary horse worked on finding better balance in the counter canter. Throughout all of these different lessons, William asked riders to be accurate with their figures and their aides, to be riding from the leg into a happy contact, and to give the horse breaks at appropriate times. During my lesson, I worked on transitions within the trot and canter to reinforce the idea of riding from my leg. It should no longer surprise me that a half hour of very correctly running through simple figures with well-placed half-halts will drastically improve the quality of the movements. However, this lesson and the ones that I watched served as a wonderful reminder of what can be accomplished with a happy horse that is moving off the leg.
Friday was my off-day since I only registered for two lessons. After a tour of the Middleburg-Warrenton tack stores, I returned to Great Meadow to watch some show jumping lessons. As I walked up to the ring, I was surprised to find that William had set what seemed to be a fairly simple course. A triple combination was set on both quarter lines along with gently bending s-curve lines set across each diagonal that passed through parts of an X formed by four verticals in the center of the ring. Each horse came to the ring warmed up, and William assessed their readiness by asking riders to jump several fences in the trot. If the horses still seemed tense, he would ask the riders to stay in the trot while working into patterns that included a clover-like series of roll-back turns through the four jumps in the X. He recommended that everyone school jumps in the trot at home to help the horses relax. Riders could approach with a contact or with loose reins, but they could not be wishy-washy. From there he spoke with riders and observed to find weaknesses to be worked on. Each combination played with different striding in the lines, altering paths on the bending lines to add or subtract strides without necessarily changing the canter, and finding a happy contact for jumping. By the end of the day, I was excited to jump!
Saturday was cross-country day, and the exercises from yesterday’s course had been altered to include skinnies, arrowheads, and corners. Although I had not ridden the course the previous day, it seemed as though he set the lines on a more forward stride to reward a committed ride. To help re-balance the horses after stepping out down a line, William set a double bounce on one of the quarter lines that could be jumped at the beginning or end of an outside line or bending s-curve. This course immediately highlighted issues with straightness and forward riding in almost every pair, but that was the point. Again, William asked riders to begin by trotting everything, especially the new odd-looking skinnies. Then, he checked in with everyone’s experience and goals before sending us right into the course work. I spent most of the morning worrying about two of the skinnies: one was a single barrel with a 6’ rail set across the top of it, the other was a 3’-ish by 3’-ish wooden box. My novice horse had never seen anything like that, and I already knew that straightness was an issue. William put my concerns to rest by adding wings and lowering the barrel so that I could start out by riding confidently forward. Once we were jumping out of the right canter and staying straight at the lower height, William put the barrel back on end and raised the corner. As with the other horses and riders, I wound up jumping a much bigger and more technical course that I had initially thought we were capable of, because he methodically built us up to the task. He had us focus on the canter, the striding, the approach, and the connection so that the jumps just happened – regardless of what they looked like. Everyone struggled, and William took care to explain that struggle was a good thing in small doses. The mistakes and the issues point out what we need to work on, but he warned that we need to be careful to not undermine the horse’s confidence. He practiced what he preached by pushing horses and riders to their limits momentarily and then sending them down a single line to regroup. By the end of the day, I felt like I was ready to move up a level!
The experience of riding and learning from William Fox-Pitt is one that I will remember for a very long time. He thoroughly enjoys teaching, and that was evident in every lesson. On one of the days, he happily taught from 7am to 8pm! I want to thank William, Kelly, and all of the sponsors for making this clinic possible. Also, I’m not sure who called in the 60 degree days for November, but they were also much appreciated!
Klimke-Hassler Dressage Training Symposium October 29, 2016
The Klimke-Hassler Dressage Training Symposium was held at Hassler Dressage at Riveredge, a lovely and expansive facility in Chesapeake City, MD. This event was a collaboration between American trainer Scott Hassler and German Michael Klimke, who have been friends for many years and often team up to coach one another. They stressed the value of having educated eyes on the ground, as that exposes new perspectives, which keeps standards high and training on the right track. In addition to their demonstrated prowess in the saddle, both men have experience working horses in hand, which is a key skill when teaching piaffe and passage. Several of the lessons incorporated in hand work, and it was interesting to see how the horses responded differently to the increased pressure. We were treated to a diverse range of experience levels, from a 5yo just starting to figure out flying changes, to a seasoned grand prix horse and his young rider aiming for U25 division.
The 10 pairs that kindly allowed us to watch their lessons were:
Eiren Crawford & Godot SFF (5yo KWPN g)
Kelly McGinn & Eureka (7yo KWPN g)
Katarina Antens-Miller & Adriano (8yo SWB g)
Ange Bean & BR Danny’s Secret (14yo ArabX m)
Jordan Rich & Ellert HB (7yo KWPN g)
Clare Green & Watson (12yo Hann g)
Melissa Vaughn & Awel (11yo KWPN g)
Sarah Thomas & Argo Conti Tyme (14yo Old g)
Cindi Wylie & Edelrubin (10yo Westfalen g)
Scott Hassler & Harmony’s Star Agent (10yo Old g)
Each lesson started with ample time for warm up in all three gaits. Michael’s warm up plan focused on having the horses active and stretching down to the bit as much as possible to loosen the entire topline, especially in the loin area behind the saddle. Scott mentioned that this isn’t the perfect warm up plan for every horse. More than one was a little too unsettled to start working in a completely free and relaxed manner, particularly in a new environment with almost 200 auditors packed at one end of the arena.
Scott worked with one horse that was particularly overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The horse benefitted from a more supportive ride past the audience. The rider employed what Scott called “coaching” aids to carry the horse past his source of anxiety. Scott then challenged the rider to return to using normal “training” aids as soon as possible. This meant dialing back the rein and leg aids a bit and asking the horse to carry himself with (hopefully) renewed self-confidence.
Scott’s point was that we should be checking in with our horse often when training, not just cruising along until we need to make a correction. The recommendation was to never go more than 6 strides without a half halt. When you’re coaching, they may need to be as often as every other stride. However, while we need to be pro-active, that doesn’t mean changing your ride in anticipation of an issue. The half-halts enable you to be in tune with your horse so you’re less likely to be surprised by a spook or shy and can address it in the moment. Half-halts also help prevent the rider from being talked into carrying the horse unnecessarily.
Scott cautioned that riders often make the mistake of looking for too much of an immediate difference in ‘feel’ after one half halt or transition within the gait. Instead we should think of each one as micro-adjustments, subtle balance shifts. The rider should not feel an abrupt change in each one. However, the ground person should easily be able to see the cumulative effect of a series of them; a more elastic, attentive, and expressive horse.
In the evening lecture, both Michael and Scott went a little more into their overarching training philosophies. They reiterated the need to consistently be firm but fair to give a young horse the best chance to develop, physically and mentally, into a top athlete. Although most of the lessons we watched were about addressing basics rather than specific test movements, Scott touched on his approached to training the “tricks”. The following are his four stages when starting a new movement:
i. Introduction/Exploration – Be playful and do not drill the movement
ii. Training – Be more persistent but give the horse plenty of time to process as they are sorting out a new way of using their bodies and developing the musculature to support it
iii. Maturing – Be fairly strict about getting a prompt and obedient response to aids that should be well established at this point
iv. Owning – Not only can you reliably execute the movement, it looks polished and effortless and you are capable of making smooth adjustments within the movement
Michael advocated for riders to gain a strong theoretical understanding of the sport by reading and studying classical horsemanship. He told the story how, after achieving top placings at world championships as a young man, he went to ride at the Spanish riding school in Vienna where they promptly stuck him on a lunge line without stirrups for the entire week. He described it as a good lesson in staying grounded and always working to strengthen your foundation, since that is what everything else has to build upon. Scott stressed that we need to be students of the horse, striving to seek understand from their point of view. Most training issues are from a lack of understanding or strength, not because of willful disobedience.
Thank you DVCTA for the opportunity to be reminded of how incredibly generous and tolerant our horses are. I came away from the day with a several new training tools, and renewed sense of responsibility to find the art within the sport.
I am not one to attend many clinics, in fact, I have probably attended fewer than ten clinics in my riding career. While on Facebook one day, I saw a post advertising a clinic with George Williams in August and I decided to go for it with my horse Picasso. I am very glad that I did as we had a great but very hot day!
To say the day was hot is a gross under exaggeration! Everyone in the northeast was suffering. I decided that riding in this clinic was too important to pass up, so I packed plenty of water and ice and headed down to Maryland. By the time I arrived my truck temperature read 102, and P was a little sweaty in the trailer. I was already frustrated because my truck electric and my trailer electric were not speaking to one another and desperately needed couples therapy. Still, I wanted this opportunity, so off we went to the ring we went. By now P was momentarily dry and we entered the arena to begin our warm up.
To give you quick background on my horse, I have owned Picasso “P” since he was a weanling. He is currently showing Fourth Level and schooling Prix St. George. He can be quite opinionated on most things and is known around the barn as the playful one that bites, a lot! George had us begin by working on some transitions and clarifying my outside half halt. Balance and thoroughness have always been challenging for us. Both of us feel that we know exactly what we are doing at any given time and the other is just totally clueless. How humbling it is to find out that a tiny change in the placement of an aid that your home instructor has told you on a regular basis could make such a difference! As an instructor, I know the feeling, but we all know instructors make the worst students. Suddenly, P was balanced and my abs that I usually consider to be strong were burning with the fire of a thousand suns.
As we took a short break I noticed P was having a very hard time catching his breath and had not really started to sweat. We took a 15 minutes to sponge him off and walk him so that he could get back to a normal rate so that I did not go into motherly over protective mode.
Onward to flying changes! To preface this; I have spent three years begging, pleading, cursing, crying, reassessing, cursing, animal communicating and finally cursing to get a change. One change! As they say, one day they happen, and they did, just like that. Out of the blue, you just go in the ring and they go “changes? Yes, I do those! But not your way, human! MY way.” We needed some help with the right to left change, so that is what we worked on. I have tried a few things to help make it clean, but nothing has worked yet. I showed George the change to give him an idea of what we need help on, at least I thought that is how it went. What I actually did was let P get strung out and charge through the bridle, while I throw my body in hopes of getting something that looks like a change. So, we now have something to work on. Some rebalancing and the magic touch of changing the hand I carry my whip in and suddenly the elusive change was there, no problem (insert eye-rolling emoji here).
Onward to half steps! These were for fun and done after another long walk break while George explained the importance of carrying myself over my core better. I know it is my downfall and it is the only way I am going to improve my horse. Now I am even MORE committed because of how well P responded to my balance (again instructors being the worst students). I had been dabbling in half steps for a while unassisted by a handler with a whip. That in turn made P a bit too spicy. P finally accepted that George was not there to beat the skin off his body and he learned to sit on his hind end! He actually carried himself! He is a 1500 pound horse after all, so this was just a really awesome experience. The trot work after was so amazing I cannot wait to ride it again.
So in the end it is me, not P, that needs to straighten up to fly right. I just needed to spend the money, a two hour drive in the truck with no lights or brakes, and ride with the President of the USDF to FINALLY get that lesson to sink in. I will merge the rider I was to the rider I want to be. George is amazingly patient (even in the heat!) and so positive. Thank you to DVCTA for the sponsorship, I would absolutely do it all over again but perhaps without the heat and maybe with brakes…
On March 19 and 20th, 2016, the Delaware Valley Combined Training Association (DVCTA) hosted the USDF Continuing Education in Freestyle Judging Program. Saturday was filled with a classroom discussion held at New Bolton Center, and Sunday was comprised of live freestyle rides at Ardara Sporthorses. Presenters were Klassic Kur Freestyle Designer Terry Ciotti Gallo and FEI 4* and USEF “S” Judge Lois Yukins. The audience consisted of 12 Participants, made up of L-graduates and USEF-licensed Dressage Judges, approximately 25 auditors and 11 demonstration riders.
Yukins began the day by describing the path to creating the USDF Continuing Education in Freestyle Judging Program. Her description began with “a box of stuff” that was handed around the L faculty, but no one could sort out how best add the information into the already-densely-packed L Program itself. Yukins approached Gallo about the problem, who utilized her enthusiasm for freestyles and background in gymnastics judging to turn the “box of stuff” into this well-thought-out program.
With that introduction, Gallo began Saturday’s lecture. She started by defining the purpose of the event—to eliminate the “touchy-feely” element of filling in the “artistic impression” side of a freestyle score sheet, which often intimidates judges. The silence coming from the participants illustrated her point. Terry solved that problem by tossing Easter eggs filled with candy to everyone who contributed to the discussion.
Participation came more easily as Gallo outlined the specific criteria judges are to use to evaluate each category of the freestyle performance, augmented by video of good examples and poor examples. By putting the evaluation into familiar judging methodology of “Basics + Criteria +/- Modifiers = Score,” she created a comfortable format for judges to begin their evaluations.
Gallo began with an example of how music can enhance or detract from the horse’s gaits. She played a short video clip of Steffen Peters riding Ravel in a trot half pass, and played several music clips with it. The video clip never changed, but different music made him look lighter and more elegant, while other clips made him look slightly hurried.
Using this as her segue into explaining methodology for evaluating the “Music” line on the score sheet, Gallo stressed that suitability of the music to the horse is the primary factor in evaluating the “Music” score. According to Gallo, the criterion for this mark is the suitability of the music for all three gaits. If the music is suitable, the score starts at a 7. If the music enhances all three gaits, then the score is higher. Modifiers that can push the “Music” score higher are cohesiveness, or is there a common thread in the walk, trot, canter music, and seamlessness of the editing. If music is suitable, music works together, and editing is good, it can earn an 8.0 or higher. In summary, the “Music” score is about the music selection and preparation, and is the score least affected by the technical performance.
After that, Gallo tackled the topic of “Interpretation.” The primary criterion for “Interpretation” is what Gallo called “six-point phrasing.” She defined “points of phrasing” as times when the horse’s movements changed with a musical phrase or dynamic change. A ride that shows six key “points of phrasing” should earn a 7.0 in the “Interpretation” category.
The six key “points of phrasing” are as follows:
1. Initial halt and salute
2. First movement changes
3. Lengthening or extension at trot
4. Lengthening or extension in canter
5. Gait change
6. Final halt/salute
If the ride shows more than these six “points of phrasing,” the score can go higher than a 7.0. Gallo showed her personal shorthand system for counting points of phrasing, where she made tally marks for each point of music phrasing or dynamic change highlighted by the choreography.
The modifier that can push the “Interpretation” higher is if the music expresses the gait. To illustrate this, Gallo played several music clips, and asked the participants decide if it was walk music, trot music, or canter music. She stressed that the horse does not need to be “in step” with the music, but if the horse is in step, as this is a very hard thing to do in a show setting, it should be rewarded. In summary, if a ride expresses more than six points of phrasing, has music that suggests the gait, and the horse’s gaits match the footfalls most of the time, the score should be an 8.0 or higher.
The third element Gallo explained was “Degree of Difficulty.” Evaluating this criteria is pretty clear-cut—if the requirements of the freestyle match the highest test of the level in all three gaits, then the score is a 7.0. If the freestyle pattern is harder than the highest test of the level, and is performed well, then the score should go above a 7.0. However, if the choreography includes a difficult movement, but it is not performed well, then the “Degree of Difficulty” score will be reduced. This score, and the “Harmony” score, are the two scores where the strength of the horse’s basics will impact the number earned.
Next Gallo explained the requirements for the “Choreography” score. “Design Cohesiveness” is listed as the criterion for this category on the score sheet. According to Gallo, choreography that shows a clear and logical pattern that is easy to follow meets the criteria for a 7.0. If the pattern uses the entire arena well, shows equal use of right and left rein work, and has some elements used in interesting or uncommon ways, the score should be higher. This score is mostly independent of technical execution, except when the technical execution makes the choreography hard to see.
The final element Gallo covered in the lecture is “Harmony,” which relies largely on the technical execution of the freestyle. Gallo said she put this discussion last because it is comprehensive of the entire freestyle performance. To earn a high “Harmony” score, the horse needs to be calm and attentive, and the freestyle should look easy and fluid. If the horse shows some tension issues during the ride, the harmony score should be below a 7.0.
Gallo and Yukins also discussed that the FEI Freestyle sheet differs a little from the USDF Freestyle score sheet, placing “Rhythm, energy and elasticity” on the artistic side of the score sheet, whereas USDF places the equivalent score, worded as “Gaits, Impulsion and Submission,” on the technical side of the sheet.
Day two involved using live horses to allow the participants to practice their new methodology. After Gallo used a live horse to demonstrate how she selects suitable music, Yukins took the lead in discussing scores for each of the 10 demo rides.
The demo rides ranged from a training level teenager on a pinto pony to a Pas de Deux to a CDI rider’s Intermediate freestyle. Yukins began by giving a tactful evaluation of the first ride. Her comments helped each participant understand how she arrived at her numbers, and helped each demo rider understand the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. As the day progressed, she changed tactics and started asking the participant judges to do the evaluating before she revealed her score. Yukins’ gifted teaching skills created a comfortable environment for the candidates to begin to use their new skills, by teasing the high-scorers that “they’d get hired a lot” and accusing the low-scorers of “Sunday grumpies.” By the last few rides, participant’s scores were very similar to Yukins and Gallo’s marks.
After two days of education, participants came away with a clear methodology for evaluating freestyle rides.
DVCTA would like to thank Lois Yukins and Terry Gallo for sharing their knowledge of judging freestyles with all who attended. Your style and your wit create such a positive learning environment for all involved. Many thanks to all our volunteers and to our demonstration riders without whom this weekend would not have been so productive:
Karen Anderson / Fhinland – Third Level Lauren Annett / Savannahh – Intermediate Tracey Basler / Bondurant – First Level Anecia Delduco / Captain Morgan – Fourth Level Melanie Delduco / Flacon – Fourth Level and Pas de Deux Lauren Kramer / Mazur – First Level and Pas de Deux Rebecca Langwost-Barlow / Chesapeake – Intermediate Silva Martin / Aesthete – Intermediate Jordan Osborne / Domino – Training Level Jamie Reilley / Feinest Proof – Second Level