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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  1. Ooh - what a great experience! Would definitely love to see him in person. I am riding in a clinic with Susanne von Dietze (she's the current "critiquer" in Dressage Today's Clinic series) in October. Riding with GREAT riders and clinicians is the certainly the best way to learn. :0)

  2. Oooooh... jealous! Taking notes as an auditor is one thing but getting to be a rider is quite another. I hope the experience is all you hope for. Can't wait to hear about it.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. I too find that I can learn something from every level of dressage riding. You're absolutely right: good riding is good riding. I also realize that as necessary as it is to be in the saddle to truly learn something (obviously right? lol), I learn so much from watching videos of my lessons. I also feel the same way about watching trainers work with other students. Then you can watch the process as the rider goes from point A (performing a particular movement), through a correction or critique, and comes out the other side hopefully having improved in some way. Because this has actually helped me to grasp certain concepts in ways that I was unable to before, I found subscribing to one of the dressage video websites, Horse Hero in my case, has been well worth the small cost every month.

    Also, I too LOVE the different architectures of stables and I will be checking out this facility later today. It looks gorgeous. I only wish these places existed where I live. But in the meantime, I suppose we can fill out heads with different layout and designs in preparation for building our own stables down the road ;)


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