November 2017 - Whirlwind trip to The Netherlands and Germany

I am still pinching myself after another whirlwind trip to The Netherlands and Germany with my friend of many years and student, Emma Weel.

We had a wonderful time with Jeff and Annemieke Vincourt in NL and with Viola Abrahams in Germany.

Highlights in the NL, included Jeff taking us to Divosa Horseworld, and in Germany, Viola took us to the Oldenburg CDI 4*, which was amazing!

An eye opening tour of Amsterdam i.e the Cannabis capital - where a coffee shop is not really a coffee shop, the red light district is not for children, despite a family restaurant located next door, and where you're highly likely to get knocked down by one of many thousand bicycles!

Watching Annemieke train her 7 year old mare, Fimoza, was a treat and lunch with Annemieke at 'Long Island' restaurant was YUM!

We stayed at a gorgeous B&B in Annemieke's village, and we saw 2 beautiful horses, a 6 year old KWPN gelding by Vivaldis; and a lovely 10 year old advanced schoolmaster, by Painted Black. Places we visited included Amsterdam, Haarlem, Veeningen, Zuiwolde and Utrecht.


In Germany, we were gobsmacked by a 5 year old, at Gestüit Nymphenburg, owned by Helmút von Fircks.

We travelled over 1000km travelled at approximately 190km/hr on the autobahn, with 'DJ Viola' (our own nickname for Viola), and places visited included Bad Zwischenahn, Oldenburg, and Doorsten.

We shared so many funny times and made memories to last a lifetime; from interpreting Dutch and German English (vege-tables); and trying to work out German toilet paper! The autobahn's with open speed, was not so much fun; but Emma (wife of racing car driver, Paul Weel) loved it!

Food we loved included, cheese soufflé from a Dutch vending machine!

Dutch patè, German pretzels and black bread, and Nutella crepes from a food stall at the Oldenburg CDI (and Emma was quite the fan of the Wine).

And maybe, from this trip Emma and I will bring one of the horses home to Australia. If this happens, ' Nicole Tough Dressage' will look forward to a new chapter of caring for, and training a new equine partner for Emma and Paul.

  Impressions from the Riders xoxo Intimate Masterclass with Charlotte Dujardin 2017

On a beautiful winter’s day at the spectacular QLD State Equestrian Centre, and with thanks to sponsors, Riders xoxo and The Saddlefitter, we were treated to an educational day with triple Olympic gold medallist, world record holder and champion, Charlotte Dujardin.

Her no hold back approach and honest feedback was refreshing in its realness.

Her messages were simple and some of my favourite ‘Charlotteism’s’ include;
  • ‘slap the rider, pat the horse’
  • ‘learn to love your right rein, like you love your left’
  • ‘pat your horse like you love him’
  • ‘make them wait, don’t let them guess’
  • ‘short reins win gold medals’
Throughout the day, she dropped insights to her own horse preferences, her training routines, her personal training sessions, and shared her strengths and weaknesses. It was also refreshing to hear that even she has a BAD day on a horse, and that having that bad day on a horse, has the power to ruin her whole day – just like us!

One of the many things she loves about the sport is the many different shapes and types dressage horses can be, and that each horse you train, teaches you something.

She says dressage is ALL about the training, the discipline and attention to detail. She says “Dressage is all about repetition. Riders have to be focussed in their riding and have a plan for every session.”

At one point in a session, Charlotte digressed and explained the importance of rider fitness and alignment. Vince Corvi used to say – “Crooked riders create crooked horses” and this was Charlotte’s point when she said – riders create the same problems in their horses. She stressed the importance of rider physiotherapy, sports remedial massage and alignment. She intimated that we owe to our horses to be “even in our riding”. She shared that she has a personal trainer and does resistance training on her weak side, and a little bit of cardio.

Session 1 was all about training young horses...

Charlotte is a big advocate of not buying huge paces, for the long term strain this can place on the joints. Instead she looks for 3 correct paces with a good walk and canter. She stresses that having a horse that wants to work with you is more important than having the biggest talent. She is not a fan of Young Horse classes for the reason that they are all about rewarding the big, flashy paces, and less about the training of horses for FEI.

Charlotte said - With young horses, it is very important that the rider is the leader, and it’s about giving the horse a good feeling. She says – it’s not about forcing them around in an outline, but more about getting the horse to work in a supple relaxed way. She stressed the importance of transitions, and says a session should be made of hundreds of transitions. She likened transitions to ‘building foundations’, and she said, ”do them as good as you can, every time you do them”.

The horses have to GO when rider says go, and come back when asked. The riders should be asking constant questions, and correcting when wrong answers are given.

At the young horse stage, the transitions should be progressive for example, trotting smaller and smaller until they walk. She says, never ride the young horse backward, always forward and light in hand.

Don’t practise forcing them to work in a position where they are tense, and don’t stay riding in your comfort zone. You’ve got to be able to GO forward and let them be horses. One of the most important things to teach the young horse is that they must carry their own head and neck.

Session 2 was about the next stage of training. Charlotte again stresses the importance of hundreds of transitions. She says don’t get stuck in one rhythm. Ride transitions within the paces… hundreds of them every session. In shoulder-in, ride smaller trot and bigger trot and smaller again – literally hundreds of transitions.

And when you ride bigger, they must not get stronger… they must not pull. Correct with a re-balancing aid and repeat the movement again, until they don’t get stronger. Say to the horse – do not pull, then the rider must let go and say to the horse – stay there by yourself.

If you ride a bad corner, you ARE going to ride a bad movement. Turn away and ride the corner again.

Never avoid exercises on the weak side. The side that is more difficult is the side that needs more work.

First establish one rhythm and one angle – then you can change the gears.

Charlotte shared her thoughts on BIG marks… you only get really big marks if you are brave. Really big marks require risk. And yes, taking the risks means a chance of mistakes, but she would rather take the risk and ride for big marks, than the alternative.

She says that all horses have either, a natural talent for sitting OR pushing, but the rider has to train both. and one of my favourite Charlottism’s – “you have to learn to love your right rein, like you love your left”.

Charlotte said, ideally the 7 year old dressage horse should be able to canter as small as a person walking beside it… so keep practising!

Session 3 was about training at Medium/advanced level
, and for this session, it was all about the rider needing to be the one in charge and not hang on the rein, holding the horse in position. Charlotte says this is backward riding. Don’t just sit in one trot… challenge the horse, mistakes don’t matter. If they make a mistake, just turn away and repeat it.

Charlotte stressed again – the importance of never getting into the habit of doing bad transitions. She had some great exercises such as shoulder in/travers/shoulder in, as a good exercise in control;

Another good exercise was, Canter half pass to X, followed by a half 10 metre circle in travers and straight into another half pass, as an exercise to develop the canter pirouette.

Charlotte suggested that the rider should try to use the horse’s power instead of trying to contain it. And she stressed again, the importance of the horse being able to carry its own head and neck.

Onto session 4 with the small tour work.
Here Charlotte had her hands full with, what she called, an exceptionally talented horse, who often answered ‘no’ to the riders questions. Charlotte was excellent in not shying away from the problem areas, but instead, repeating the exercise, by breaking it down to be a bit easier and building the horses confidence back, to try the actual exercise again. The mare often objected when life got hard, but Charlotte insisted, on never giving up and never allowing the horse to quit. She said that often the rider gets very frustrated when the horses have days like these, and she was so refreshingly honest about the fact that we, as riders, all have training sessions that ruin our day!

Charlotte had some great exercises with the canter pirouette, all based on making the horse wait, and not letting them take over and guess. Make the canter in travers on a circle, make the steps smaller and bigger… when they try and take over, shoulder in or leg yield out, and then travers again. Make the size of the circle smaller and bigger… again - make them wait.

Make the exercise easier for the horse to comply, then build it backup again. You must never let them quit.

Charlotte said this horse had “unbelievable talent and expression but she has to be mentally able to cope with what her legs and body are able to do.” She suggested that the horse is actually behind the leg and cheats in the downward transitions, by not thinking forward and dropping her back up in the transitions.

And in the extended work - she’s got to go bigger without getting heavy and taking over. Her last advice was to take the horse back a bit in order to go forward.

The last session was about training at Grand Prix level, which she says takes 6 years of training to get to, and then 2-3 years to get good at it. Of this horse, Charlotte congratulated the rider in having trained the horse to this level, and commented how amazingly amenable the horse is. She noted that the horse is naturally croup high with a slow hind leg and a way of going that likes to ‘flick and hover’. ‘Don’t let the trot dwell.’ She said the rider has to lift the forehand to compensate and think quicker with the hind legs. The horse tends to drop his back and push away with the hind leg slow. Charlotte said - Push his bum down, and don’t let him push you up. And the advice to the rider – again, no bad transitions and never accept no reaction.

Charlotte really worked on the difficult canter zig zag movement, and again came a favourite charlottetism – ‘slap the rider, pat the horse’. She wanted the canter more uphill and collected, the shoulders leading, and more control of the straightness in the changes – and wow, what an improvement.

Wow – what a day; and made even better with the fabulous Riders xoxo Fashion Show in the lunch break!

Charlotte’s no hold back approach is refreshing. Her attention to the meticulous practise of this sport and her passion for dressage is real.

She has shown the world that a girl with a dream, who has someone who believes in them, and who is not afraid of hard work – that dreams can be realised.

Thankyou Charlotte for a truly inspiring day!

And thankyou to Leesa Murray for the courage to think BIG and for bringing World Champion, Charlotte Dujardin, to QLD!

2016 Carl Hester Masterclass

It is not often enough that trainers such as Carl Hester visit our shores. When they do, it would be remiss of a trainer and/or Judge to miss the opportunity to watch, learn and absorb as much as possible. It was of course typical Melbourne weather (aka FREEZING) and it was great to catch up with so many friends.

Carl Hester is quite simply a master trainer, and one who loves horses. Below are some notes I took of the Masterclass.

On Dressage and the Requirements of the Dressage Horse:

* The aim of dressage is to enhance the natural gaits

* If the ambition is Grand Prix, the canter is the most important gait. It must have a 3 beat rhythm and be active by nature. And then, has the horse got the desire and will to work?

* The most difficult thing about dressage is doing it well

* A horse can be tense… this doesn’t mean it won’t make a good Grand Prix horse. Tension isn’t always a bad thing. Positive tension is necessary. However, negative tension disrupts the paces 

* Sharp/alert horses learn quicker

* Hot horses need leg ON but not spurs

* Horses learn more on the 2nd day, so on 3rd day – hack out

* When looking at an unbroken horse – look for great hindleg activity/engagement.

* No long backs – but remember a great work ethic can overcome mechanics

* A good horse has to want to go on its own

* As a rule, you can; Tell a gelding, ask a mare, discuss with a stallion

* Riders have to be consequential with a mare; they can’t be dominant

On Training Young Horses:

* After the paces and the transitions, what are we working most on? Self-carriage and uphill balance

* Don’t ride corners steep on young horses – they aren’t strong enough

* Self – carriage – young horses need to learn to carry their own head and neck

On Warming Up

* They don’t need to be impressive in the warm up

* Always start every session with the basics – rhythm, contact/stretching, transitions, straightness

* There needs to be physical and mental relaxation to stretch and this has to happen to create suspension and impulsion.

* Don’t wear them out before the test

The Walk:

* The walk doesn’t have to be huge. It only has to be trainable for Grand Prix

* With tense walks – “not a rising walk” needs to spend more time with legs on the ground

* To make a walk bigger – push the head and neck more forward to make his body longer

* Walk pirouette tip – Take the outside front over the inside front. Take both hands to the inside

The Trot:

* The trot is where the rider has the most influence

* Suspension changes a trot out of all recognition

The Canter:

* The canter makes the trot better

* If the horse canters better in medium canter, so the riders job is to catch THAT canter

* Train different speeds in canter to better the engagement and relaxation

On Straightness:

* Riding STRAIGHT is the most difficult thing to do and attention is needed on it EVERY training session. The saddle goes to the side when the horse is crooked. In canter, ride the inside hindleg between the hind legs

* Straightness needs focus every training session

On Spooking:

* Some horses are scaredy cats. This shouldn’t be punished, but worked through

* When a horse spooks – it holds itself. The best thing to do is shoulder in. Get their body  moving again. “Horses always spook on the same side.”

On the Half–Halt:

* Should be achieved within a stride and LET GO (Uberstrachen)

* The rider’s core strength is where you have to hold the horse – NOT in the rein

Rider Position:

* No double chins! We have one chin…. Look in front of horse

* Thumbs UP

Some General Training Tips:

* As trainers, we should be led by what the judges want to see and are rewarding. (This puts a great deal of responsibility in the hands of our judges)

* When training corrections – think repetition NOT punishment

* Whatever you decide to do – repeat it until it is taught

* Corners become very important. Everything happens out of a corner

* Always do the opposite to what the horse wants to do… if he wants to roll over the bit, put them up…. If they want to hollow, ride them low and over back

* The neck at the end of the session always gives a good impression of how they have worked in the session

* When you ride – think about what’s happening behind the saddle

* Flexion is done with the fingers and pushing into the outside rein

* If they tend to come “over the bridle” as an evasion, bring hands together and ride the last plait higher. (Vince’s ride the last 4 plaits up from the wither) “Let the underneath of the neck come longer.”

* Riders need good temperaments too. Training lies in repetition – not telling the horse off

* “Over the back” means the bridge (ie: the back) has dropped. It hasn’t stayed up in the middle

* Refer to 2 bones: 1. Over his neck to the poll 2. The bridge and the hindleg

* The “bow” in front of the saddle has to arch

* Ultimately, the horse should be“Out on the bit, but soft in the hand”

* “Your feeling and my eye need to match up”

On Training at Medium/Advanced Level:

* If all is going well at this stage, the rider should be thinking half steps, tempi changes and big pirouettes

* Lots of canter - walk – canter. But very fussy with soft landings and every step of walk the same. A trained rider prepares and makes these transitions like breathing. When you do it – do it right. The horse can sleep for the next 23 hours

* Canter pirouette canter – I need to be able to walk beside the horse in canter. That’s how small his steps have to be – but not slower

* The half-pass shows the judge and trainer the suppleness in the work

* The working pirouette should be done in a working canter. Avoid exercises that make the horse think the movement is difficult

* Try travers – shoulder in – travers – with no tension in between

* A ‘bobbing’ canter means a lack of thoroughness and impulsion

* At this stage, Canter – walk – canter transitions need work every training session

* Don’t stay too long in smaller canter steps

* Use walk breaks to reward

Flying Changes:

* If late, make the hindleg quicker/sharper – you want them to anticipate. It is good if they want to do it. We want the horse to ask – let me do it

On Training at Small Tour Level:

* Trot work at this level is the same as medium/advanced

* The canter work is where this level shows the training or lack thereof

* Know that the curb is for refinement only – NOT holding the horse on the bit

* When you school your horse – always give and retake

* Are you holding your horse on the bit? Always ask Do you have self-carriage? The reins MUST be “bouncy”

* Find the quality of the gait on the circle and then prepare for the movement

* Change gears within the movement to improve the gait and develop strength

* Bring the horse back with a forward hand – this is where the rider needs core strength

On Training at Big Tour Level:

* Lazy horses don’t make excellent Grand Prix horses

* It takes 7 years to get to Grand Prix and 7 years to make it better

* The best quality work comes through relaxation (not laziness) and understanding – not tension and force

* Good Grand Prix test pirouette on CL exercise – on CL, and prepare for the pirouette but don’t do it. Ride bigger steps, the change and smaller steps for the pirouette again

* Piaffe – they can piaffe when you ask but not when they are tense. It’s an obedience thing

November 2015 - Stephen Clarke Clinic and Symposium

With the help from sponsor, the QLD Festival of Dressage, the Dressage QLD Judges sub-committee undertook to bring the FEI Official International Judge General, Stephen Clarke, to QLD – and bring him they did.

Stephen was quite simply – pure brilliance. I came away totally inspired to train and strive towards improvement in this ever challenging sport. A huge thankyou to the DQJSC, the QLD Festival of Dressage and to the event supporters, Riders xoxo, Stacey Alexander Equestrian Style, and Equistore, for making Stephen’s visit and this amazing opportunity possible.

After watching 3 days of lessons and the Symposium, below gives an impression of what Stephen Clarke is all about:

On Dressage
  • What we’re interested in, is that each horse has a future in the sport
  • Train the horses to do the job for themselves
  • The dressage horse needs to be active enough that you don’t need your leg; and balanced enough that you don’t need your rein
  • The rider must never let an exercise sacrifice the essential question about forward thinking

Some Stephen Clarke Quotes

  • ‘He knows what he is doing – so don’t let him pretend he doesn’t’
  • We should always be ready to be surprised
  • They have to earn their living
  • Let the family history GO
  • Horses are better at training riders than riders are at training horses
  • You can ONLY collect a horse that is in front of you
  • This horse has made too many choices in life already…

On Young Horses

  • The basic paces must be correct, in good balance and going forward of own accord
  • Sow the seeds for the future
  • The purity of paces must be maintained and enhanced
  • No limits in the frame
  • We don’t care if it’s a young horse or a GP horse, they must always be in front of the leg

On the Warm UP

  • Deeper, rounder, looser – stretch the topline longer
  • In the warm up, the rider has to check if there are any limits on how deep, how round, how loose they can put their horse. If the horse puts a limit on, it is the rider’s job to work beyond these limits. Push the limits away. There has to be NO limits.
  • Lateral submission through every turn and corner
  • The warm up is essential to make them sensitive

On the ‘Up’ Frame

  • Be ‘up’ or ‘down’ – never in the middle
  • Be Black or White – no grey

On ‘Behind the Leg’

  • Don’t ride it faster because they are behind the leg – it’s all about reaction
  • Make him sharp and forward
  • BE the tiger – and then Be as quiet as a church mouse
  • You need energy in order to collect it
  • If you feel them behind, give little surprises - a lot
  • If he back peddles (thinks backward or backs off) in the downward transition – flat out gallop in response
  • Don’t put up with half-reactions
  • Give yourself a lecture about what you’re NOT going to do: no compromises with leg reaction… when you touch them with the leg, there will be a bloody (not literally!) reaction

On Resistence

  • When a horse offers resistence, we can make the mistake of taking it personally – and we mustn’t do this
  • Some horses LIKE to argue and if they succeed – they win
  • Don’t get sucked into the fight
  • Use a combination of exercises to develop what you want… this is quite a good game to get him into – shoulder in, to a more forward gear, to travers and then a 20 metre circle deep, round and loose again
  • If he sets himself against you – ride one side in leg yielding – don’t join in with what he’s doing
  • Give him a break and then we’ll change the ball game a little bit
  • When he runs away – stick to your plan – shoulder-in a little bit
  • He just HAS to do it – perfection can come later
  • Don’t get sidetracked – stick to the plan - horses like this are good at changing the subject
  • Horses are good at training riders! We want to be better at training horses, than they are at training us to accept what they are prepared to offer
  • The important thing is your constant message – I won’t get sucked into your resistence – it’s a psychological game
  • He would like to be long and on the shoulders – try not to go there – do shoulder fore 15 metre circle and upper body back – stay on the hindleg with a forward hand. He’ll have no choice but to come to the hindleg
  • He’d love for you to hold on to him where he wants to be – but we’re not going there, refuse to support him
  • Ride a smaller circle with leg on, rather than pulling him back to the hindleg

With Spookiness

  • Don’t take him on with the rein in the spook, but be clear about submission to the bend
  • He needs to be more worried about your inside leg than what he wants to look at!

With Horses with a ‘Slow Hind Leg’

  • By nature – he pushes away to evade engagement – goes passagy
  • Make sure the tempo is quick enough to be a REAL trot tempo
  • GO more fast forward than he would like
  • Onto canter, and again too slow… quicker, quicker; you need a real crisp jump to each canter stride
  • Even though he is an FEI horse, you need to always train him like a good 4 year old
  • There must be no blocks anywhere – deeper, rounder, looser
  • No matter how advanced the horse – pay attention to the quality of the warm up
  • NO ‘hover’ – the hind leg must go under – end of story
  • Keep hands in front of your body – always into a more forward contact
  • Train him into a fast forward button
  • When you bring him back with the rein – you compound the problem – he blocks in the back and goes slower behind. Instead bring him back with a forward contact and think shorter/quicker
  • Ask for quick, sharp and handy reactions - and then a quick thankyou on the neck
  • The rider has to build ‘come back quick’ into the work – and if any back peddling – GALLOP
  • Watch he doesn’t slow down in the hindleg when you alter his balance more to the hindquarters
  • He has to learn to come back by stepping under – rather than coming back on your rein

With more Phlegmatic (ie: lazy) Horses

  • She is a bit of a diesel motor
  • Bit deeper – just so you know there are no limits. If you suspect a limit, push it away, don’t accept it
  • Be one step ahead of her
  • Trot – make lots of gear changes, even in the lateral work
  • Left to her own devices, she would be happy to just coast along – but it’s time to ask bigger questions
  • It’s all about producing honest reactions that you can reward her for, and not that you ask for something – and she thinks about it
  • Can you make gear changes in shoulder in? surprise her! Just as she starts humming to herself – surprise the hell out of her!
  • Always come back into more activity
  • She has to work for her living
  • And if she does come quicker – a quick thankyou from the rein

With Horses that Tends to Lean

  • She’s looking for too much support in the rein
  • Try lots of simple transitions – refuse to support her – Say instead, I expect you to carry yourself
  • Just make her good enough that you can let go
  • Absolutely forward contact – Don’t hang on – now you’re training her to do it for herself.
  • Take the ‘water wings’ (aka: floaties) off.
  • Canter – shoulder fore/up to the bridle/in balance – don’t hold her
  • Organise her when you have to – and let go when you can
  • Don’t support them
  • Forward contact
  • Keep hands in front of your body
  • Teach them to self-carry
  • Upper body away from your hands/let go of your inside rein
  • Rely and trust your half-halt
  • It always MUST be possible to LET GO. If you can’t, DO something about it

On Transitions

  • Play the transition game with no compromises
  • Forward contact when you go forward to the upward transitions and ride forward to the downward transitions
  • Lighten up the split second you have them
  • Nothing backward in the point of contact
  • You can lift your hands momentarily to lift the poll, but don’t support him up there
  • When you make a downward transition within the pace, his tendency is to get on the shoulders… try to ride him in shoulder-in so he can’t get onto the forehand
  • Downward transitions are the chance for the rider to change the horse’s body weight to the hindleg
  • The half halt is a re-balancing aid and/or a warning signal
  • The rider should be able to Switch on and switch off the horse ie: have an energy trot and a sleeping trot

On Lateral Work

  • Leg yielding comes first because we need to make sure the rider has control of no bend, before they try controlling bend
  • Shoulder-in is uniform bend away from the direction of movement; travers is the same uniform bend, with a more 4 track angle, but looking in the direction of movement
  • No real difference between travers and half-pass – just the steeper the line, the more bend is required
  • The inside rein looks after the direction, the inside leg looks after the bend and activity and the outside aids control the movement
  • Any lateral exercise is only as good as the preparation…. So if you don’t have them in the preparation – don’t ask for the exercise
  • Aim shoulders always in direction of movement
  • Temptation for the riders to create bend with inside rein – this is a rider mistake – it is the inside leg’s job
  • Inside leg at the girth for shoulder-in

On Extended Trot

  • At the risk of an accident, make a dramatic transition – take a risk!
  • Make the drama happen in the first few steps

On the Flying Changes

  • There must be submission to the new positioning ie: the new side
  • The energy and quality in the canter before the change must be good
  • He needs you to be confident because he’s not that sure of himself – have very positive aids
  • The changes are better than the canter – they gave the game away! If they can change like that – they can canter like that!
  • If they come croup high and behind leg – the exercise is go on a bit, and then back a bit – and then a few one’s; on a bit back a bit – then a few one’s; they need to think forward

On Pirouettes

  • It’s the subtle ways they make us compromise, that we need to be aware of.
  • Try a 4 loop serpentine with half pirouettes over centre line and ride out really forward. Make the decision before you do it – have a destination and GO there
  • All you need for a good pirouette is to have him 100% in front of you with invisible shoulder fore
  • Make a decision – if it’s feeling small – make it big; If it’s feeling big – make it small
  • With her pirouettes – you must make the decisions – ‘Don’t let her hold you to ransom in the pirouettes’ – Try this - Ride a square, do a quarter pirouette in each corner and gallop in between – she must think forward – Once she goes into that labored slow motion canter, you’re lost

Piaffe Tips

  • The difference between piaffe and passage is the moment of suspension
  • Exercise 1 -stay in collected walk and stay in this gear and ask for a few short steps
  • Exercsie 2 – from collected trot, into short steps in collected walk gear
  • Reaction is EVERYTHING – must be electric
  • As soon as they are behind the leg – GALLOP!

For me personally, I took home...

  • Be prepared to react like a tiger, then sit as quiet as a church mouse
  • Be as effective as you need to be to get the job done
  • 100% respect of the half halt and the accelerator
  • Whenever you lose the uphill going (and he loses balance) don’t continue in the movement – gallop – get him in front of the leg and eager again – then continue
  • A good exercise – half pass on diagonal – straight on diagonal in medium trot – and back into half pass on diagonal
My thanks to sponsors, Horseland – Gold Coast and Proteq Equine Bedding, for their endless support. With their help, I can produce the horses in the best of tack, equipment and condition. Also thanks to Borsato’s owner, Traci Bolt, for every day I get to work with Borsato.

March 2014 - Annemieke Vincourt Returns

International Federal Trainer, Annemieke Vincourt from The Netherlands, recently returned to Australia for a 2 week tour giving clinics on the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne.

I started working with Annemieke in 2011 and cannot measure how much I have learnt. Her outlook on training is simple, systematic, and at the same time, fun and refreshing.

Annemieke says the horses need one easy stretching day each week, and the other days, “you challenge them a little bit”, “step by step” to be more supple, more elastic and more strong. In training, she says, “you have to take the horses to the edge, then each week, the edge is a little further away than the week before.”

Annemieke herself has just started her home bred horse, Kansas C, at the Grand Prix level and all eyes are on her back home in The Netherlands. Representing her country is a dream that Annemieke and her family have been steadily working towards, but in The Netherlands, it is very difficult to make the National team... you have to average 72% to get a look in. At home, Annemieke trains with the great Johan Hamminga and Coby van Baalen. Working with Annemieke, you can feel the dedication to practice and improvement that comes from her deep in her soul.

Here are some tips I took away from this clinic:

The Warm Up

It is for stretching the long trapezius muscles of the horse. The warm up consists of hundreds of transitions; both full and ‘half’ transitions with the goal to bring the horse more and more onto the hindleg, in a non stressful and not too difficult way. It is a repeat of ‘the gas and the brake, expanding on both of these principles throughout the whole session. In the ‘gas’ – the horse must react instantly, and in the ‘brake’ – the rider must achieve it without the rein and with active hindlegs.

The Horses Mind

Annemieke says, horses are very simple animals, don’t overload them with too much information. If they have to learn something difficult, break it down into simple bits, and when they are understanding and trying, then make it more difficult. If the rider makes an exercise TOO difficult, this creates tension and resistence, and they try and run away.

She often says – play a little game with your horse... Communicate to your horse, "if you come back and sit with active hindlegs for a few steps/strides, we can go on and have fun in the bigger strides." If the rider repeats the game often enough, the horse will learn - it only has to work intensely for small moments, and from this it will develop a ‘forward thinking’ attitude when you ask it for the intense moments.

For the Rider

Annemieke constantly says, "make yourself taller"; and "think about yourself for a moment". She also says, think about what is happening behind the saddle and what is happening in the hindleg. And attention to detail... well Annemeike is the Queen of Details! I must have repeated the centre line 10 times each session, until I got an “ok, now you ride a good centre line”; and just cantering on the diagonal line to set up some changes... I lost count with how many times I was turned away because I didn’t bring a straight horse onto the line from the first stride!

It is always wonderful to be challenged by these International trainers. In their European barns they are surrounded by excellence, whilst we are a 20 hour flight away. Thankyou to Annemieke for sharing her knowledge in such a fun and enthusiastic way. I always come away refreshed and inspired after working with her.

My huge thankyou to Traci Bolt, the owner of Borsato, for the opportunity to work with Annemieke and to International Equine Connections, for organizing Annemieke’s return to Australia. We wish Annemieke the very best of luck making the illusive Dutch Team on the very brilliant Kansas C.

December 2013 - Stephen Clarke In Australia...

As a rider who is also a coach and judge, I think it very important for all riders to know that being a dressage judge is not easy.

The dressage judge must be a financial member of Equestrian Australia even if they don't compete anymore. They must attend 2 compulsory seminars every year at their level, a workshop every year to remain on the official list, and they must actively judge at their highest level 6 times every year.  It is the judge's job to inform the riders competing in the test they are judging, the reasons why they can't reward a 10 for the movements in a positive way, and they really care about getting it right.

On the plus side, the judge gets the opportunity to attend judges seminar's with the likes of such ambassadors to the sport as Stephen Clarke.

Stephen was one of the International Guest Judges at the Victorian Dressage Festival and conducted an A/B judges seminar after the event, on Monday 2nd December, at the Werribbee Equestrian Centre. Of course Stephen isn't 'just' an International Judge but also an Olympic level judge, Global Dressage General and the Chairman of the International Dressage Judges Club.

More important than all this, is his love of the sport, the horses, his respect of good training and that he is a really nice, down to earth guy - even if he is British :-)

Stephen commenced the seminar with "let's have a chat about our job description". What are we there for? He says, "Judges come under HUGE criticism and as social media and press gain momentum, there is even more pressure on the judge to 'get it right'". Stephen urged the attendees to be 'brave and honest and don't be intimidated by politics.' He believes our first responsibility is to the rider. He says, "the riders deserve a clear mark, with feedback, for their work. Don't worry about what the other judges are seeing and giving, and just judge what you see".

How do we arrive at the right mark? Stephen said, "be prepared to use the whole range of marks and balance the positive aspects with the negative aspects, and the mark will find itself".

From this simple introduction, a demonstration rider performed the PSG test with Stephen giving live commentary as the test progressed. This demonstration clearly reflected his theory that the balance of the good and not so good aspects of each movement did indeed find the right mark. During this first demonstration test, it was the canter pirouettes showed the weakness in the collection in this combination; and Stephen made a point of saying that at the end of the day, it is the rider who is responsible for what goes on.

Stephen then went on to work with the rider on the weaknesses as they presented in the test, with advice such as;

1. Never stay in the same collected pace for too long. Open and close the pace, over and over to develop the idea and the strength.

2. Take more risk in the training. It doesn't matter if it goes wrong. GO more forward and come right BACK; and if you ask the horse to do it - DO IT - and when he does release the rein

3. Now try the pirouette again. Put him in shoulder-fore positioning, ask him right back and keep him him there in the first step of the pirouette

Of course, the pirouettes were better and the mark improved from a 6 to an 8.

From here, the seminar turned to a discussion about collection and the possibilities of it's misunderstanding. Stephen explained that the levels of dressage are systematically designed so that if a horse performs the movements of its particular level with ease and fluency, it is collected enough for that particular level. He encouraged judges not to use the word 'collection' in the elementary and medium levels, but instead to hint to the rider by talking about the qualities of collection, like balance, energy and self-carriage. In doing this, we, as judges, have a chance to influence the training in a positive way instead of saying - "needs more collection" and the riders possibly going home to shorten the reins and speed up or slow down depending on their interpretation. True collection requires more energy, power and freedom; and when the horse is strong enough, even more ground cover.

When questioned about what to do when a 'passagy' trot is presented; Stephen answered simply, if the tempo doesn't change in the lateral work or the medium/extended work, then it isn't 'passagy', it is energy and cadence combined. Of course if the tempo does change, then it is 'passagy,' and only a satisfactory mark is possible.

From here, Stephen discussed the difference between positive and negative tension. Ie: the importance of expression coming from tension or as it should, from impulsion and suppleness. Stephen also discussed the need for the judge to be sympathetic about the difference between internal (rider created) tension and external (atmospheric) tension.

Stephen talked about mistakes vs quality, saying, "it is the rider who takes the risk and pulls it off, that wins", and for the judges to "reward the riders who take this risk", and if it doesn't come off, consider that maybe the movement should still earn the same mark as the rider who doesn't take the risk... It all depends on the size of the mistake of course.

Stephen worked with a few lucky riders who elected to stay an extra day for tuition from one of our modern dressage masters. Out of this work, I made the following notes;

Is the horse balanced enough that you don't need leg to keep it going, or the reins to hold it together? How far away from the horse can you come with your leg? If the horse stays in canter, he is honest enough to start asking a few more questions. Go play with some gears and make sure the brake is off when you apply the accelerator; and tickle back, tickle back; take a risk, ask more back.

Show the horse what you want, then leave them alone.

They should react instantly - or else! Training is about producing the reaction, that you can reward them for. Make your point, then take the pressure off.

I can say that the DQJSC is close to securing a riders/trainers clinic with Stephen Clarke over Easter 2015, and in the meantime, they have International Coach and Judge, Anne Gribbbons, coming to the QLD State Equestrian Centre on February 2nd and 3rd for the QLD Dressage Forum, with the 3rd February open to everyone. Tickets for this forum can be pre-purchased through Karen Herald; Herald@hotkey.net.au or through www.qld.equestrian.org.au/default.asp?Page=34063.

September 2013 - Clinic with Federal Dutch Trainer, Annemieke Vincourt

Federal Dutch Trainer, Annemieke Vincourt, came again to the Gold Coast for 4 days of coaching in September. It was perfect timing for me after working with Annemieke in The Netherlands for the few weeks in August.

Below are a few tips that resonated with me:

On the Warm Up
  • Start in the 'posting' trot, really deep and soft
  • Don't support them, they need to carry themselves on their own 4 legs
  • Lots of transitions within the paces
  • Building towards getting them quicker behind in the 'posting'
  • The goal is to bring the hind leg closer to the front leg
  • Really deep is ok because then the wither can come up and they can really self-carry
  • Always warm up the same, that they relax quickly in the work session
Canter Pirouettes
  • Much smaller canter - go the edge in the training
  • Smaller canter but still active
  • Play a little in the hand in each moment, don't freeze and carry them
Flying Changes
  • Work towards helping them less
  • Give away the new inside rein in the moment of the change, hold the new outside rein
  • When you invite them to sit, ALWAYS leg first
  • When you apply pressure behind, release in front
  • 'HO' through tummy for brakes
  • 'Go' means go NOW
  • Do something hard - then something easy to oxygenate the muscles
A huge thanks to Jane Blomfield for hosting the clinic at her beautiful property in Guanaba and a monumental thankyou to Alicia and Annemieke for travelling all the way to Australia again, to share your knowledge with us.