Here there be dragons...

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2009 Coaching Symposium Day 1

George Morris, Ingrid Klimke, and David O' Connor. There aren’t too many bigger names than that. Putting all three together for a three day clinic? Not to be missed. For those foolish people who *did* miss it – my notes from the day. Not nearly as exciting of course, but possibly better than nothing *g* Enjoy!

So day 1 is dressage day with Ingrid Klimke and David O’Conner.

And even though it was dressage day, the focus of the morning was cavelletti. I’ve had a few coaches advocate jumping in the warmup for dressage, but this was the first time I’ve seen it applied quite this way. Starting at the walk, letting the horse walk through the cavelletti on a reasonably long rein – encourages stretching, rhythm, and relaxation all through the exercise. The rider’s only job is to stay in the middle and follow with their hands.

After all the horses were walking through properly and picking up their feet, they moved on to the same exercise in trot. And later two trot cavelletti, one extra space, two trot cavalletti.

For the young horses that was enough and they moved on to stretching and bending – which was far more successful after the cavalletti.

The more experienced horses moved onto cavalletti on a circle. A variety of “wheel-of-death” type exercises. Intermediate level included go over 4 trot cavalletti on the wheel, then canter half the circle, then trot the cavalletti, canter half the circle, rinse and repeat :) Focus always on accuracy (esp of bend over the poles), relaxation, and stretching. Horse must stay on contact all the way through w/o rhythm changing. Many had trouble with the bending aspect of things – mostly with hindquarters swinging out. This exercise made it evident to them just how much so – far more than any number of 20m circles ever would’ve done.

The adv level exercise was done in canter; again on the bit, connected, relaxed. Cavalletti at B and E, but the interesting part was there were two at B – essentially a mini-bounce on a circle. Now these were prelim level horses, so the “jump” aspect of the cavalletti was a non-issue, but the coordination and bend definitely applied.

A variation of one cavalletti at each of the four points on the circle was also suggested but not demonstrated.

Throughout all of this the focus was on rider accuracy and for the horse the first three phases of the pyramid: rhythm, suppleness, contact.

Some random notes from these exercises:

- re pace: tell the horse and then leave them alone. They should maintain the pace until you change it. Remind them if need be, but you should train them to the level that you don’t have to be continually telling them. Esp an issue w/ the lazier horses.
- With the cavalletti give each exercise 8-10 tries and then change the topic. Can try again later if necessary but more repetition at that point and things will likely deteriorate.
- If the rider is relying on their inside rein to turn have them do the exercise with their reins in a bridge, focusing on turning the shoulder instead of the head/neck.

There was also some canter work with two cavalletti set about 5 strides apart where they worked on riding in 4, 5, 6, 7, or even 8 strides between the two. Focus again on relaxation, rhythm, accuracy and connection. Used to improve longitudinal suppleness.

Some important teaching/riding theory to come out of this:

Rider Responsibilities (as per David)
1. Direction
2. Speed
3. Rhythm
4. Balance
5. Timing

Horse and rider must BOTH be relaxed before learning can occur

Riding needs to be instinctive.
- “if you think about it, you’re too late.”
- Consider all you can do while driving (eat, talk on the phone, sing along with the radio, swat the kid in the back seat, change your clothes, put on your makeup…) Not that you necessarily *should* be doing any of these things, but the fact is that you spend very little thought on steering the car, how much pressure you apply to the gas/break, etc. It’s basically instinctive. Riding needs to be like that. That you react automatically to minute changes without having to think about it – because by the time you’ve thought “oh I need more left rein now” you’ve passed the prime moment for the correction.

In order to be able to repeat what they’ve learned independently the rider must know:
- how they did it
- why they did it

Drill Riding:
The rules are simple – no passing, no circling. (unless in a dangerous situation)
Teaches: thinking, pace control, discipline, responsibility
Encourages instinctive riding since the rider has to focus on external issues.

The afternoon was a series of mini-lessons followed by test riding. Ingrid specifies that after *every* lesson she teaches, the student rides a test. Focusing on putting all the pieces together in the test environment.

One of the biggest take-aways from this is that *any* horse can have an 8 halt. It doesn’t matter how they’re built, or how their gaits are. All they have to do is stop square, round, and stay there. (hahaha does anybody else find it amusing that the horse can and should be square and round at the same time? I love this sport!). It doesn’t require any natural ability, it just requires consistent and determined training.

Another interesting consistent throughout was the idea that you cannot go continually *more* forward. Go forward into the movement, but then use the half-halt to rebalance and reorg before going forward again.

The other uniquely German phrasing which I loved was Ingrid’s “be couraged” as in, particularly in medium/lengthened/extended gaits go for everything they’ve got. Even if you end up pushing too far (break gait) make it as impressive as possible.

And of course throughout the tests were the focus on complete accuracy, obedience, relaxation and suppleness of horse and forward gaits. Which one would expect :)

By far the most interesting test to watch from my point-of-view was the one in which David called the test (in point-form) so we all knew where the rider was going, the rider rode the test as though in competition, and Ingrid stood at A as the dressage judge but explained what she’d be considering for each movement.

They also did other versions (such as evaluate at the end of the test) but I found that format by far the most interesting and valuable.


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