The Carl Hester clinic in Ontario is less than a month away and the internet was abuzz today as the rider names were announced. Fourteen horse / rider combinations will be featured over the two days, ranging from the FEI 4-year-old level to Grand Prix. As well a special guest (I'm not at liberty to say who yet) will do a demo ride each day.
So who are the lucky Canadian dressage riders chosen to work with Carl? Let's get to know them:
Originally from Saskatchewan, Andrea is a well-known rider and trainer based at FoxFire Equestrian in Uxbridge, Ont. She is an EC Level III coach and represented Canada at the 2007 PanAm Games, helping lead the team to a silver medal. Andrea will be riding Ismeux at the 4-year-old level
Does Jacqueline Brooks really need an introduction? The two-time Olympian and owner of Brookhaven Dressage in Mount Albert, Ont. is a Canadian fan favourite with her popular grey gelding D Niro. However the famous "Goose" is staying back in the barn for this clinic and Jac will be riding Emmett Top, a half brother to Valegro whom she has been bringing up the levels and competed successfully at Fourth Level this year.
Vanessa, daughter of well-known rider Diane Creech, is proudly carrying on the family dressage tradition. She has been a medallist at the NAJYRC, both in the junior and Young Rider divisions, and in 2017 began competing in the U25 Grand Prix classes as well. Her mount at the Carl Hester clinic is Fleur de Lis, a Hanoverian mare owned by her sponsor Leatherdale Farms. Vanessa and Fleur captured individual and freestyle silver medals at the 2016 NAJYRC and had a successful summer in 2017 competing at several of Europe's biggest shows.
Tom is another well-known and well-respected international rider who probably needs little introduction. He has represented Canada at the PanAm Games, World Championships and World Cup. Together with his wife Ellen, Tom operates Friday Hill Dressage in Hillsburgh, Ontario. He will be riding Cyrus in the PSG, an exciting young gelding owned by Carla Bahr.
Brittany is one of Canada's brightest rising dressage stars. Originally from New Glasgow, NS, she spent much of her career in New York and Florida working with Ashley Holzer. Brittany recently relocated to Montreal where she has established her own training business. We'll see her ride her KWPN gelding All In at the Grand Prix level in the clinic. This pair was part of the silver medal team at the 2015 PanAm Games, had a very successful winter in Wellington and summer in Europe, and just scored their first large tour victory with a win in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the recent CDI3* in Tryon, North Carolina.
Jane Fraser might not be a household name across Canada, but the Fraser family is something of a dressage legend on the east coast. Jane and her sister Susan are widely credited with introducing and nurturing high level dressage to the region and have been both competing and teaching throughout the Atlantic provinces for more than 30 years. Based out of Susan's Fraser Equestrian Centre in Port Williams, NS, Jane has been partnered with her clinic mount Banjo since 2014. At Bromont in 2016, the pair received an 80% at Training Level, making Jane the first Maritime rider with this remarkable achievement.
Jaimey & Tina Irwin
The owners and operators of Stoney Lake Equestrian in Stouffville, Ont. this husband and wife team have made a real name for themselves in the dressage world. They have been in the international spotlight since their Young Rider days and now have some very exciting horses ready to compete in the Grand Prix ring. Jaimey will be riding Donegal V in the clinic on Saturday, while Tina rides 5-year-old Simsalabim on Sunday.
The daughter of Canadian dressage legends Cindy and Neil Ishoy, Kahla has proven that talent runs in the family, both as a successful competitor and up-and-coming young professional trainer. She will be riding Sakima at Third Level, a lovely imported gelding owned by Cindy whom Kahla competed this summer, winning the Third Level Open Division championship at the Cornerstone Summer Classic.
As part of the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 PanAm Games and representing Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Megan Lane has etched her name in our national dressage history books. We're used to seeing her compete with her Olympic mount Caravella, but Megan has a string of top prospects at her home base Deer Ridge Equestrian in Loretto, Ontario. We'll get the chance to see Denver, a 2008 KWPN gelding by Vivaldi, at the Intermediare II level in the clinic.
Erin MacQuarrie may not be a familiar name to many dressage fans in Ontario and points west, but she is well known in Atlantic Canada for more than 20 years of success in the show ring, her talent as a trainer and EC Level II coach, and the quality warmblood breeding program she runs at her Hampton, New Brunswick farm. Erin will be featured both days in the 4-year-old group aboard Iron Butterfly (not Iron Maiden as listed in the announcement), a Dutch warmblood she bred and trained herself.
Maya is one of Canada's up and coming young dressage professionals. She first gained international attention by twice representing Canada at the Nation's Cup in Wellington, FL with Lumiere, and hasn't looked back since. A former student of Canadian Olympian David Marcus, Maya now operates her own business, Equest Dressage, in Cambridge, Ontario. In the clinic she will be riding 5-year-old Something Royal, owned by Fiona McLellan.
Karis Van Essen
Born in Toronto and raised in B.C., Karis has ridden and learned from dressage masters all over the world. She spent time in California as a working student for Elizabeth McConnell, then travelled to Germany to work with Canadian Eiren Crawford. When she returned to Canada in 2010 she began working with dynamic duo David Marcus and Nicholas Fyffe, spending several winter seasons training and competing with them in Florida. Karis now operates KVE Dressage and will be riding her own mare Camistry J in the clinic at the Intermediare II level.
Cecile von Martels-Perry
The von Martels name is a familiar one to Canadian dressage fans. Though perhaps not as well-known internationally as her brother Chris, Cecile von Martels has been involved in the family dressage business her whole life riding, training, importing and selling top quality dressage horses. She will be riding Captain, My Captain in the 6-year-old level.
After what seemed like the wettest summer ever in Southern Ontario, I'm not complaining about finally getting some sizzling summer weather, even if it's at the end of September. Not sure if it's officially a heatwave but with temps in the low 30s and humidex values reaching 40 for the past few days, it sure feels like it!
Let me be very clear - I LOVE this kind of weather and LOATHE everything about winter. Every single day without a sweater at this point is a bonus, as far as I'm concerned. But to be honest, even I am struggling a little this week. Saturday I was so drained after mucking stalls that I didn't even bring Gus in from his paddock, let alone tack him up and ride him. I even broke down and turned the A/C on in my house - something I've only done 3 or 4 times since May.
I don't know if something in our bodies switches when the calendar flips to September, but hot and humid this time of year seems harder to deal with than in mid-July. Gus is struggling a little too, and gave me a bit of a fright today when he developed swelling in all four legs that made them look like sausages. With no fever, no soreness and no change in behaviour or eating habits, I was pretty confident it was simply stocking up doe to the heat and humidity. But still, it's not something any horse owner wants to see when they come in the barn! Happily an hour or so of walking and light work brought the swelling back down to normal, and Gus' cool shower afterwards was a nice treat for both of us.
If you're in Ontario, what are you doing to beat the heat? What are you dealing with elsewhere in Canada? Is anyone already having to blanket and bundle up for winter? Any tips you all can share to make the coming frigid season more bearable would be greatly appreciated! In the meantime I'm going to enjoy one more week of sweat and swimming pools :-)
What a wonderful weekend for the Canadians who travelled to Saugerties, NY for the CDI-W this past weekend! Lots of great scores and results, and a clear indication that the Canuck contenders for WEG 2018 are going to be strong.
Some of the wins in the FEI ring included:
Lori Bell & Flirt - CDI Prix St-Georges
Brittany Fraser & All In - CDI Grand Prix Freestyle
Denielle Gallagher Legriffon & Everton - FEI Test of Choice
Loren Hopkins & Denali - FEI Test of Choice (twice!)
Allie Youngdale & Ramiro - clean sweep of the FEI Jr division, winning all three classes
Belinda Trussell & Carlucci - CDI Intermediare I
Belinda Trussell & Tattoo 15 - CDI Grand Prix Special
The best moment was perhaps seeing Canadians finish 1-2-3 in the CDI Grand Prix Special, with Ashely Holzer (she's still Canadian in my heart) and Lindsey Kellock finishing right behind Belinda Trussell.
Onward to Dressage at Devon!
I'm a lucky, lucky girl. Today I had the chance to watch and learn from one of the best. Rien van der Schaft, the national team trainer for the Dutch dressage team, gives clinics at Hill Haven Farm in Hillsburgh, Ontario several times a year and Hill Haven owner Alison Banbury was kind enough to invite me to audit.
I wasn't sure what to expect, to be honest, but am delighted to say Rien didn't offer anything new, or groundbreaking or earth-shattering. Does that sound weird? It shouldn't. Rien emphasized simple, clear communication with the horse and correct basics. Over and over he reinforced the need to maintain a "positive topline" with the horse lifting the back, relaxed in the neck and reaching forward to the bit.
The riders I saw were all very accomplished: well known local trainers Alison Banbury, Daisy Kosa, and Isobel Dopta, along with dressage judge Leslie Kennedy. With the exception of Leslie, all were riding lovely, talented, fairly young horses that they are bringing up through the levels (Leslie's horse is well established in the upper levels). The youngsters each had their own strengths and quirks but also shared a lot of similarities as they worked on finding balance and self carriage in the exercises presented by Rien.
Some tended to get high headed and tight in the neck and back, while others resorted to curling behind the bit and getting heavy on the forehand - both common issues in young horses. In each case case Rien used simple exercises such as nose to wall leg yield in the trot to create a horse that was relaxed, rhythmic, balanced and responsive to the rider's leg.
In the canter he had the riders use a slight leg-yield like movement - just a stride or two to shift the horse's weight - to prepare for the flying change. This simple exercise resulted in much smoother, correct changes, especially in the horses who tended to rush through the movement and change late behind.
The biggest treat of the day was watching Rien ride Sakima, the stunning young gelding owned by Cindy Ishoy and campaigned with great success this summer by Cindy's daughter Kahla. If I sound a little starstruck, it's because I am! No matter how many clinics I watch Cindy teach, or shows I go to where she's busy helping her students warm up, I can't quite get over my astonishment at being in the same room as my childhood dressage idol.
I don't have an educated enough eye to report in detail on Rien's ride, unfortunately, but I can tell you the main things that stuck out to me. He made the horse work - really work - always encouraging him to be more "through" from behind and not accepting anything less. As a rider he was soft, subtle and still 90% of the time, and firm when he needed to be. But immediately after giving a firm aid, he went right back to being quiet and soft, and rewarded the horse for responding correctly to the lighter aid.
Though quiet, his hands were never fixed in place or still. His fingers opened and closed frequently, always maintaining a light communication with the horse, and his wrists often had a slight rolling or wave action to them. Nothing every looked stiff or tight or harsh.
The biggest takeway for me was just how often Rien asked Sakima to do something different. Our coaches tell us this all the time - that we should be doing frequent transitions between and within gaits, circles, change of direction etc. Until this clinic, however, I don't think I understood just how frequent "frequent" really means. I don't think Sakima went more than 4 or 5 strides without a change of some kind, whether it was a few steps of lateral movement, more collection within the gait, a transition to a different gait, etc.
While not all of us are working on movements like passage and flying changes, as Rien and the clinic participants were, we can all put into practice the lessons learned. Nothing replaces lightness, relaxation, balance and self-carriage, and correct, classical basics. We can all work harder and stop accepting less than a good effort from our horses. And we can all do the hundreds of tiny transitions every ride to create a stronger, more elastic, more responsive horse.
If you are interested in learning more about Rien van der Schaft and his methods, he recently launched an online training program that anyone can benefit from. Check out some free sample training videos and learn more at DressagePro.com.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.