My first post about Day 2 of the Carl Hester masterclass covered the young horse sessions in the morning. Once of Carl's most valuable tips from the whole weekend came during this portion of the clinic. While discussing youngsters in general, he noted his preference for buying only "cheap" horses ("cheap" to Carl is under 10,000 pounds). He noted that any young horse is a bit of a risk; spectacular gaits and conformation at 3 or 4 are still no guarantee of success at Grand Prix. Carl's advice: invest in the training. That's where you get your money's worth. That wisdom applies to every rider and every horse, particularly us amateurs who juggle riding time around the demands of jobs, families and other commitments. My advice? Take Carl's advice. Work with a good trainer consistently, both in lessons and with the trainer riding your horse, and do it as often as you can afford.
Back to the clinic recap!
Rebecca Edwards & Cosima
Carl's student Rebecca - one of Great Britain's top young riders - gave a demonstration ride on Cosima, a Holsteiner mare owned by FEI Junior rider Allie Youngdale. Cosima is much hotter and more sensitive than the gelding she rode on the Saturday, and Becky explained to the audience what she was doing and feeling while Carl put her through her paces.
She struggled at first to keep Cosima in a consistent contact and Carl had a unique solution to prevent the mare from coming against the hand - one my own coach Debbie often has me try whenever I'm tempted to get in a pulling battle with Gus. He took away her curb rain and asked her to reverse the snaffle rein so that it comes over the top of the hand and down between the thumb and forefinger - what's called a "driving rein" by some. Rebecca noted she felt an immediate difference and the improvement in the connection and relaxation was clearly visible to the audience.
Click here for a photo of how to hold the "driving rein."
Tom Dvorak & Cyrus
Pan Am Games silver medallist Tom Dvorak has had a very successful season competing the lovely Cyrus, owned by Carla Bahr. It was a pleasure to watch this pair in the clinic as Tom skillfully executed the exercises prescribed by Carl. Feedback from Carl included:
- Tom has already established a straight, clean and correct flying change with this young horse
- To achieve 9s and 10s you have to be willing to take a risk. Ride forward, create more expression and trust your horse.
- Exercise to test knowledge and adjustability of your horse's stride - ride the short side of the arena in 8 canter strides, then 10, then 7, then 12. Tom executed each challenge flawlessly.
- Same concept using tempi changes on the diagonal, varying the number and the difficulty: 3 changes every four strides, then four 4s, seven 2s, etc. Are they placed evenly on the line? Tom is very disciplined and knows his horse well. He knows precisely where to begin his changes on the line, and how to vary it and lengthen or shorten the stride depending on the count.
- Flying change aid comes from the lower leg, not the upper body. Tom is a good example of a rider who keeps his hip down, seat down, and leg down in the change.
- Cover more ground, and take risks by making each change bigger than the canter stride
- Passage/trot/passage transitions were repeated until Cyrus was bringing his hind end underneath himself more rather than pushing the hind leg back. Improvement in the trot expression and suspension was significant following this simple exercise.
Megan Lane & Denver
The crowd was treated to its second Olympian of the day when Megan Lane entered the ring on Denver, a 9-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Deer Ridge Equestrian. In what might have been the understatement of the century, Carl commented: "Cute horse." Spectacular is a more accurate description. Megan hopes to show Denver at Grand Prix next year and he certainly has the talent, training, and superb gaits to bring her success in the international ring. Carl's comments included:
- Super canter on this horse. Quality and expression in the canter is what makes the difference between a 7 and 9 for flying changes. A better canter, like the one in this horse, results in a higher moment of suspension in the change.
- Horse has a natural ability to collect but can get slightly behind the leg in collection, pushing up and down rather than out to the hand. Transitions in and out of medium canter help keep the horse forward to the hand.
- Carl likes to teach the canter zig zag to the horse using leg yield, rather than half pass at first. Start with 4 strides in one direction, change, and 4 strides the other way, then work up to 6 strides.
- Perform the exercise in a minimum of working canter, don't collect too much.
Every movement is created in the corner, don't let the horse slow down and get behind the leg in the corner, this is where you need to go more forward.
- It doesn't take an expert to see this horse is an exceptional mover.
Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu & All In
"Presence" is the word Carl Hester used to describe All In, Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu's Grand Prix gelding. It's more than his sheer size (enormous) or the quality of his gaits (breathtaking) but a commanding presence that makes everyone in the room take notice.
Judges have noticed as well. Thanks to her back-to-back freestyle wins at Saugerties and Devon this fall, Brittany is currently the top-ranked Canadian dressage rider (#64) on the FEI world standings. Carl stated that All In was among the top 10 horses in the world. High praise for a girl from New Glasgow, NS! Some of Carl's comments as he worked to perfect their performance included:
- Brittany usually works the canter first, then trot, so Carl suggested lots of transitions forward and back in the canter.
- Tempting to override such a big powerful horse. Allow the horse to do it himself until he relaxes and starts to sit more and come down with more weight on the hind legs.
- In preparation for pirouettes, work on shoulder-in and travers on the 10m circle.
- Excellent exercise for more fluid pirouettes that don't lose the forward energy: From the corner half pass to X, pirouette at X, continue across the diagonal in half pass. All In showed some tension and stickiness in the pirouette during this exercise so Carl suggested doing two - first a regular pirouette, followed by a larger working pirouette with the neck relaxed and down.
- A good pirouette starts and ends with shoulder-in. A good shoulder-in before you begin is half the battle.
- Shoulder-in, pirouette, straight ahead, change lead, shoulder in and pirouette again, all on centre line. Excellent test of straightness and control.
- Passage work shows some 8 and 9 quality steps, but could still be be lighter and rounder.
- In walk think of pushing the horse's head and neck away from the body. (This advice was repeated in several sessions from young horses to Grand Prix. Something we should all try at home I think!)
- Walks like he's on hot coals - would like to see feet stay on the ground for just a fraction longer with each step.
- In piaffe think of very small piaffe steps with the front end to keep the shoulders lifted and the back swinging.
- Should be always using invisible moving and closing of fingers to keep the horse soft to the bit, not taking over or getting strong.
- With a light, small rider and such a big horse it's the bending that will keep him soft and ridable.
- Stretchy trot and a long walk session is crucial after an intense work session like this.
- This is a horse that is going to be representing your country.
- What is an athletic horse? We're all looking at it.
- I'm very jealous. Who wouldn't be? Exciting, lovely horse to finish up our sessions with.
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.