Day 1 of the Carl Hester masterclass is done and dusted and what a day it was! More than 1,200 spectators packed the Caledon Equestrian Park and I can't imagine a single one walked away disappointed. Carl was personable and funny, able to put the riders at ease while honing in on areas needing improvement with a laser focus. Some changes were dramatic, others more subtle, but every single horse and rider demonstrated a noticeable improvement in their way of going with Carl's help.
Fair warning: I was working at the clinic in an official capacity, so sometimes work duties took me away from the ring. Though I didn't see every moment of each session, I will recap each one briefly to the best of my ability for the benefit of those who couldn't be there in person.
Session #1 - Four year olds
Andrea Bresee & Ismeaux
Erin MacQuarrie & Iron Butterfly
The four-year-olds were originally scheduled to come in together, both to give each other confidence and because Carl feels an intense 45-minute session like this is too much for most horses that age. However Erin's horse was understandably overwhelmed by the atmosphere during her practice rides and she opted to take a conservative approach to preserve her young mare's confidence. After allowing Andrea and Ismeaux time to work with Carl alone, Erin, who came with her horse from New Brunswick for the clinic, had some relaxed walk time and a little trot around the ring. With a positive experience in the ring for the horse today, here's hoping they will be able to do some work with Carl tomorrow.
Some key points from Andrea's ride:
- Young horses have different musculature than more mature horses. Ismeaux not developed yet in front of the withers, so need to ride in a way that encourages him to fill up and lift this area.
- Practice asking the young horse to lift and carry the frame for a few strides, then stretch forward and down. Repeat.
- To raise the horse's frame, bring the hands together with knuckles touching
- In the stretchy trot check whether the area in front of the withers is lifting: in this case it was.
- Horse has a lovely natural rhythm in walk, trot, and canter.
- Never push him faster than his natural "swing speed," as the horse will fall on the forehand.
Session #2 - Five year old
Maya Markowski & Something Royal
This lovely mare owned by Fiona McLellan was very calm and focused in the stadium environment. Comments from Carl:
- Complimented the horse's "easy attitude" but would like to see more reaction to the rider's leg.
- Alert the horse first with a cluck, then touch with the heel and the whip to get a reaction from the hind leg.
- With enough repetition the horse will learn to react immediately to the leg alone, without the need for cluck or whip.
- Don't ride a 5 year old horse too deep in the corners; they will lose balance
- Timing of aids for trot to canter need to be more precise, especially with a young horse
- Horse has good gaits, lovely nature and work ethic, needs to improve suppleness
Session #3 - six year old
Cecile von Martels & Captain, My Captain
Carl commented that the FEI 6 Year Old test requirements are quite demanding: shoulder in, half pass and flying changes all in self carriage. For that reason we usually only see pros such as Cecile riding this level as it is very difficult to bring a horse correctly to that level in such a short time frame. Tips from Carl:
- To learn flying changes, horse must have self carriage in a short enough canter
- Work on adjustability of canter forward to longer strides and back to shorter strides without losing balance and self carriage
- Alternate sitting and rising trot with young horses. Carl does little sitting work until horse is 6.
- Horse must learn to stand immobile and relaxed on no rein. You cannot hold the horse in place in halt.
- Carl noticed Cecile's riding idol was listed as Charlotte Dujardin and joked, "I don't think I can help you anymore."
Session #4 - Third / Fourth Level
Kahla Ishoy & Sakima
Jacqueline Brooks & Emmett Top
Spectators got two for the price of one today as Carl suggested Kahla and Jacqueline ride together both days rather than one today and one tomorrow. Great example of two stunning, talented, yet totally different young horses.
Sakima is an 8 year old Hanoverian imported from Germany and owned by Kahla's mom, Cindy Ishoy. Carl's exercises for Kahla:
- Perfect the canter to walk transitions, aiming for a 9 or 10 quality.
- Let the walk freely move after the transition from canter, stepping more forward until the horse is truly through.
- Lighten the hand on the last stride before the downward transition to maintain the canter energy into the walk
- To improve flying changes, motivate the horse's outside hind with your outside leg.
- Again work on ability to move forward and back within the gait
- Take the risk, go more forward into the change. Might make a mistake but end result is straighter, bigger, more expressive changes.
Canadian-bred Emmett Top is by Negro, making him a half brother to Valegro. Carl's comments for Jacqueline included:
- Horse "sits" so much naturally, need to encourage him to sit a little less and reach forward.
- Need to keep the wither lifted with the horse reaching out to the bit
- With such a huge canter stride, Emmett can get heavy, landing on the forehand in the flying change. Use travers and shoulder-in without allowing the horse to slow down.
- This horse is an overachiever!
- Need to help the horse carry himself with the wither up, really benefits from rider rising in the trot
Session #5 - Demonstration ride
Rebecca Edwards & Ramiro
Rebecca is an accomplished British young rider, member of their Young Rider team at the 2017 European Championship Under 25s Star the Future Award.Ses She trains with Carl and he commented that she has a similar background and shares other similarities with Charlotte Dujardin. For this clinic, Carl thought it would be interesting for the audience to see Backy ride an unfamiliar horse, and one who is not her usual type. Canadian FEI junior rider Allison Youngdale provided her lovely gelding Ramiro for the demo. Carl led Becky through several exercises while she provided commentary regarding what she was feeling, thinking, and doing to learn how to get the best out of an unfamiliar horse. Super riding from a clearly talented rising star.
Session #6 - Prix St. Georges
Vanessa Creech-Terauds & Fleur de Lys
The only Canadian young rider of the day, Vanessa more than held her own against the more experienced pros. Carl commented how impressed he was with her talent and performance. Exercises and comments for Vanessa included:
- In a hot horse the tension can sometimes enhance the expression of the gaits or, as in Fleur's case, make them a bit tight.
- Use shoulder-in on a circle to improve relaxation, pushes horse away from inside leg and horse becomes more settled on the bit.
- Want to improve pirouettes? Horse first needs to be able to canter on the spot.
- "On the spot" means still having impulsion and self carriage, but at a speed someone could walk alongside the cantering horse.
- Work forward and back within the canter, taking the lift created in the collected canter with you into the more forward canter.
- Pirouettes were well executed but need to show more suppleness and bend.
- Used forward and back exercise also to improve flying changes: 4 strides of forward canter, flying change into very collected canter almost on the spot.
- Do not neglect halts - have to perform them at the start of every test.
- Horse MUST stand still and be relaxed on a loose rein
- For square halts use small walk steps into halt to encourage horse to bring hind legs forward
- Small changes make a big difference with this horse
Session #7 - Intermediare II
Karis van Essen & Camistry J
Karis has trained this horse to the big tour herself - no small accomplishment! Carl suggested working on a couple of fundamentals which will help them at Grand Prix:
- Not using corners well, makes the ring 18x60 instead of 20x60.
- In trot first, then canter, go straight down the wall towards the corner and halt before the turn. Turn on forehand to change direction and repeat.
- Great exercise to make sure the horse is really on the aids
- Use centre line and long diagonals rather than the perimeter of the ring for shoulder-in in canter, followed by flying change at the end.
- Practicing away from the wall tests the straightness and ensures the horse is really through.
- Make the horse straight using the inside leg, not by bending the neck
Session #8 Grand Prix
Jaimey Irwin & Donegal V
This pair was an absolute treat to watch and the audience was enthralled. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Carl was very enthusiastic about Donegal, calling him his favourite type of horse and saying he had enormous future potential. The audience clearly appreciated what they were seeing, bursting into applause at the end of each exercise. Some tips for Jaimey from Carl:
- Don't let the horse get too quick. Come out of passage slowly into a passage-y trot before on to collected trot.
- Great demonstration of how we as riders can improve the trot. Can be a bit quick and flat but use the collection to develop more suspension and swing and the trot is much more spectacular.
- Half passes were well done: lovely, quiet and fluid - making Carl's job easy
- In piaffe and in transitions from piaffe to passage, focus on keeping horse light.
- Tremendously talented horse
Tomorrow we do it all over again with several new riders to watch, including Jane Fraser who travelled with her horse all the way from Nova Scotia, Tom Dvorak, Tina Irwin, Megan Lane and Brittany Fraser. Time for me to put down the laptop and go to bed!
Check out our Instagram and Facebook feeds for some behind the scenes pictures from today. On Monday I will post a full gallery of photos from all three days. If you're at the clinic tomorrow, wave and say hi! If you can't attend, then check back tomorrow night for the rundown on Day 2.
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.