I can't stop smiling. That was simply the best weekend ever, and I bet there are 1,200 other people out there who agree! Day 2 of the Carl Hester masterclass was even more spectacular than the first. We are so incredibly lucky to have a facility like the Caledon Equestrian Park, and so very fortunate that Craig Collins and his team put in the effort required to host a world-class event like this for Canadian dressage riders and fans.
I have hundreds of behind the scenes photos to go through and many tidbits to share from Carl in the days to come. But for tonight, before I collapse in an exhausted heap, here's a little recap of each session today.
Session 1 - four year olds
Andrea Bresee & Ismeaux
Erin MacQuarrie & Iron Butterfly
A super day for both these young horses. Carl had a few general tips for young horses:
- At this age stick to long lines and big circles, and don't interfere with contact too much.
- Encourage horse to reach for the bit, both in contact and in stretching trot
- Lots of stretching, lots of walk breaks
- Have a warmup plan in your head; just going around and around doesn't accomplish anything. Focus on working the topline.
- Know when to stop, when enough is enough for your particular horse. Push to the limit, but not past the limit.
Ismeaux was calm, cool and collected again today - a truly remarkable temperment in a 4-year-old. Carl's comments for Andrea included:
- In the walk, use your upper body and arms to push the horse's head and neck away from the body. Think of a rowing motion.
- already has a good walk but improves significantly once the horse relaxes
- Focus on lifting the part of the neck right in front of the wither
- When the horse wants to curl behind the bridle a little, think of nose forward
- Use light touches with whip to encourage horse to push from hind end.
- Lovely horse, very willing, nice nature
Erin had a challenging couple of days Thursday and Friday trying to encourage Iron Butterfly to relax in the intimidating stadium atmosphere. The environment was simply too overwhleming for this young mare at first, so Erin made the smart decision not to overface her, opting to end their session with Carl yesterday after successfully spending a short time in the ring at a relaxed walk. The strategy worked, as her horse displayed the calm, willing nature Erin's used to seeing at home in the big ring today. Carl really appreciated that Erin travelled for 15 hours from New Brunswick for the clinic. "If I have a competition more than 90 minutes away or a start time after 4pm, I withdraw," he joked. Carl's other comments for Erin included:
- Erin set the horse up for success with her approach yesterday
- Horse looking today exactly as he likes to see a young horse go
- Good job allowing the horse to go foward into her downward transitions and find her own balance
- Nice natural rhythm but can get quick; slow down by sitting up with upper body, no need to use reins
Session #2 - Five year olds
Tina Irwin & Simsalabim
This is a very talented young mare and Carl was clearly impressed, saying several times that he'd like to take her home. He said there was nothing "man-made" about Sim's trot; she showed even, long steps, a very strong hind leg, is able to lift the shoulder up and reach in front. At this age the only element missing is the suspension, but these good mechanics now suggest she will have a lot of expression in piaffe and passage in the future. He also was very complimentary about the quality of Tina's riding, not surprising for a Pan Am Games silver medallist! Additional comments included:
- Always remember to bend from the leg, not the hand
- Don't expect perfect collection in a 5-year-old but must be forward and active with the correct rhythm
- Trot is already very good so would focus more on training the canter
- Point of trot to canter transitions is to push from behind
- Point of canter to trot transitions is to go forward to the hand with swing & rhythm
Session #3 - Six year olds
Jane Fraser & Banjo GCF
Full disclosure - I have a soft spot for this horse / rider combo. Jane and her sister Susan are legends on the east coast, and are widely credited with introducing upper level dressage to the Atlantic Provinces. They were my first dressage coaches, travelling to Newfoundland regularly to teach us - a bunch of kids on Quarter Horses who didn't have the first clue about the training scale, or what the outside rein was for. Our regular coach, Kathryn Macleod, brought Sue and Jane to the province for regular clinics and worked with them to develop training plans for each of her students. 20+ years later it was surreal to stand next to Sue today while watching Jane perform brilliantly in front of Carl Hester. Some of his comments included:
- Thrilled to see a rider who bothers to train the basics, this after Jane produced three flawless halts in a row.
- Use small walk steps into the halt to bring horse's hind legs forward
- Start with transitions on the wall to help keep horse straight, then test straightness with halts on centre line
- Ride in shoulder fore position to help horse bring hind legs closer together, as horses are naturally wider behind than in front
- Trot/halt/trot is an important exercise not only for the dressage test but because it is the foundation for future passage work
- Impressed with flying change; green but straight and correct
- Lovely horse, so trainable and willing to be helped. "I might steal him," said Carl.
Session #4 - Third & Fourth Level
Jacqueline Brooks & Emmett
Kahla Ishoy & Sakima
This pair got the benefit of sharing their sessions in order to ride both days with Carl and it was great to see the progression from one day to the next and the beginnings of higher level work such as passage.
Comments for Kahla:
- Focus on timing of the aid for flying change. If you ask once horse is already up, it's too late. Ask when he is about to come up.
- Carl noticed changed to the right weren't quite as straight. do changes along the wall to help horse stay straight.
- More forward canter will help him stay straighter as well. Keep that impulsion from the forward canter into the collected work
- Rider must define the rhythm, don't let the horse decide what it is
- Lovely, elegant rider, Carl says as the daughter of Cindy and Neil Ishoy, she was "bred to have good hands."
Comments for Jacqueline:
- This horse really benefits from rising trot, helps him get quicker off the leg
- When horse tends to get too slow, use travers to make him soft on the inside rein from the outside leg
- Started off working on flexions today so the blockages Carl noted in the canter yesterday weren't there today
- Jacquie must have dreamed about bend last night - not enough there on Saturday but much better today
- Tendency for this horse to keep neck too high and a bit back, must always work on neck long and reaching out to the hand. Improvement in Emmett's already lovely gaits was immediately noticeable when the neck softened and lengthened slightly.
- Talent for passage is clearly there, this horse finds it easier to start from a jog, then move into passage.
- Exciting horse for the future
To be continued...
Lots more to talk about including another demo ride from Carl's student Rebecca Edwards, a masterful example of how to ride the PSG from Tom Dvorak, and a stunning Grand Prix prospect ridden by Olympian Megan Lane. Last but not least, which Canadian's horse did Carl say was "better than several of the horses currently ranked the top 10 in the world?
So sorry but I've been up at 5am three days in a row, have a mountain of laundry to do, school lunches to pack and kids to tuck into bed, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to read my thoughts on the rest of Day 2. Stay tuned!
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.