Saturday, September 14, 2013

Steffen Peters clinic sponsored by Hassler Dressage at Riveredge

Photo Courtesy of Hassler Dressage
Last Sunday I audited a clinic with Steffen Peters.  Steffen Peters is by far my favorite rider to watch -- he is one of the few riders where you truly cannot see his aids and the horse and he are in such good harmony they look like they are dancing partners.   So when I saw he would be in the area I had to go.

The day began with setting my alarm for 4:30 am so I could feed my animals and prep the truck.   Of course I was so excited I was out of bed by 4:20 am!  By 5:00 am I was out the door and beginning my course to pick up five fellow enthusiasts along the path to Riveredge Farm in Chesapeake, Maryland.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the fabulous facility.   You enter the sprawling farm between two brick pillars and proceed down a paved driveway between shade trees.  The farm, built in 2010 with the finest architecture and functional attributes, is a pleasant cross between Southern charm and European elegance. Weathered wood, cast iron latches and copper accents abound.  Large stalls, grass paddocks, all weather footing and weather controlled arena make it extraordinarily functional.  As a barn junkie, I felt like I had access to a rock star's home.

Photo Courtesy of Hassler Dressage
All seven rider and horses were upper level who enjoyed a private 45 minute session.   If I could criticize anything about this clinic it would be the same thing I wish at most upper level clinics -- as an amateur rider on a backyard horse, I wish they had some riders or horses closer to my level.  I understand that someone schooling 1st or 2nd level is not going to want to pay huge fees to attend a clinic but this is something that would make it more appealing to a majority of auditors so perhaps the increased auditors would help subsidize those lower level riders.

With that said, although the riders at the clinic were working on canter pirouettes and piaffe, there was still plenty a lower level rider like myself could learn from the clinic.   Good riding is good riding ... at every level.  And the basics of dressage - forward, relaxed and straight -- are the same at every level.

Steffen Peters is a great instructor who expects riders to listen and perform well but is also encouraging and instructs in a soothing quiet voice.   I know each rider went home with an echo of a quiet, slightly German accent of "goooooood" in their head!

Good Enough
A primary theme of Steffen's instruction was "good enough".  I heard him say many times that once you got the job done then you need to move off and do something else.   Don't drill the exercise over and over once your horse has done it correctly.   Along those same lines he frequently emoted that you "test" the movement.   Test to see if its there and then move on.

He compared his visits to the gym to help us understand why "good enough" is a concept worth embracing.   When you are at the gym your trainer may give you an exercise to perform and it may take awhile for your brain to wrap around how to do it.  You try and may do it okay the first time, but not perfectly.   You move onto another exercise and come back to the first one after a bit.  The second time you try it though your brain has had some time to reflect and learn and you most likely will do it better on the second attempt.

For example, he schooled the riders to "test the IDEA of the piaffe, not doing the entire piaffe movement."  If the test shows that the piaffe is working, there is no reason to continue schooling it.

At one point one of the riders was attempting a canter pirouette and the horse was backing off.  Steffen pointed out that the second you feel him begin to back off the pirouette, you need to push him forward out of the circle.   Be proactive and be quick and accurate in your responses to your horse's actions.  By the time he or the auditors saw him backing off, it was too late.  Obviously, you cannot take this approach during a show so schooling is the time and place for it -- you need honesty in each movement and your proactive and timely response will get you there.

In a number of the gaits, Steffen discussed the preparation required before the actual gait change.  For example, at one point he said, "if I tell you to walk and you do it a half hour later, I'm perfectly happy" because we don't spend enough time to prep for the walk.  Certainly he was exaggerating a bit but I did get the feeling that he would prefer the half hour prep than no prep at all.

One tip he gave as good preparation for a down transition was to be careful not to give away the rein, but to maintain the contact. 

"Be picky about the meaning of each single aid."  Each aid should have a meaning and teach something.  This also applies to schooling as a whole.   He felt that you should not school a 20 meter circle just to do a 20 meter circle.  Thought into WHY you are doing the circle and a goal to achieve should occur while schooling it.

For example, "Don't just do a half pass to do a half pass, do a half pass to achieve more suppleness."

His theory is that while you are doing the movement itself you never compromise but you do compromise by taking breaks between each attempt.  He wanted honesty and correct movements but then let the horse rest and stretch or move onto another exercise. 

Steffen also reminded us that going from walk to trot to canter to walk are all done in the test and so we need to be able to mix up what we do in schooling as well so they know they aren't "done" when they go to walk.  He also encouraged the riders to do quick transitions from one gait or movement to the another.  The "important part is quick repetitions."

Steffen cautioned one rider who is getting ready for some major shows to not ride differently for the show and "crank it up a notch".   Ride no more or no less than you do when schooling.   Adrenaline and excitement will help you get that extra sparkle without consciously shooting for it.

Consistency is also important when practicing your movements.  Use "simple aids as if he has always done this."  Test the movement as if you believe it will go perfectly and then if it does not, adjust your schooling to help you achieve the perfection.   "If it goes wrong, then we fix the problem.  Don't anticipate the problem."

Overall, this was a great clinic and well worth the long drive to get there.  Completely enjoyed the facility and Steffen did not disappoint.  I loved his honest, consistent but calm approach.  

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lesson and Solo Trail Ride

Golly and I heading down the trail
I had a lesson this weekend that we did at our local park and the weather was so nice that I decided to go on a trail ride afterwards.  As we approached the woods, I realized its been a good year, or maybe two, since we have done a solo trail ride.   Golly was not thrilled about turning away from the trailers to head toward the trails.  He jigged and did his best to turn away.  Stopped in place.   Backed up.   And generally did his best to evade going that way. 

I stuck with what we had been practicing -- providing firm steady pressure as long as he was going backwards or holding still and then neutral soft legs the second he took a step forward.   Reins stayed fairly neutral the entire time, just ensuring that he kept his head facing the woods.

In less than five minutes, we made it the trail head and we started down the path.  The second we entered the woods, he calmly moved forward and the rest of the ride was on the buckle and at a steady but relaxed pace.  Even when a hawk came swooping out of a tree, he startled slightly but kept on his steady pace. 

I had forgotten how nice it was to be alone with your horse in the woods.  Its like taking a walk with your best friend.    Its even better when the temps are in the 70s in there is no humidity!

Definitely need to repeat this again very soon.  All weekend I've had a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness and appreciation for the good reliable horse that I have the privilege of owning.  Riding with friends is fun but riding with just you and your horse is good too!

Begging for treats after our ride
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Another Trail Ride -- Two in the Same Weekend!

Just a quick posting tonight.   Had another great trail ride today.  Started off with some schooling in the field while I waited for everyone else to tack up and then worked in the ring for a bit.  Worked on the 1,2,3 method of getting him to move forward off light cues (see the previous posting on that).   Even cantered in the field a few times and while it wasn't a nice straight canter it was a canter off an easy cue so I will take it.

Then went on a trail ride with the great group you see in the picture.  One of the riders was taking her "new to her" 4 year old horse out on his first ride off the farm with her.  They did a small creek, a bridge, hills and a tough stream crossing today.  Very impressive and I can't wait to see where they are a few months from now once they have some more time to solidify their relationship.

Back to work tomorrow... sigh...   Its been a good long weekend.

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