Working with Champ and Malcolm Barns – Part Two

Words by Chris Hector and photos by Roz Neave

In part one, we left Champ happily lunging with master dressage trainer, Malcolm Barns. This time, Samantha Bartlett is back in the saddle and Malcolm is happy with the quality of the work he is seeing:

“At this stage, I think Sam should be working on straight lines to push Champ forward a bit more. Circles to get him using the inside hind leg a bit better. Using the circle she can get some loosening to the inside.”

“I like the ‘diamond exercise’ – you ride straight from the middle of the short side to the middle of the long side. That makes you use your outside aids to stop them drifting out. I start on this exercise fairly early, but I’m not too demanding at first.”

“Initially with the young horse it is quite acceptable if he has his front out and his hindquarters in. If you are too obsessive with bringing the front in, you may succeed, but you will put the hindquarters out, which is a very bad fault.”

“Slightly quarters in is not a serious fault and you can use that position so that when you go to canter, he is in a position to use the leg you want. Many riders pull the front in and then the horse canters on the outside leg. So you’ve really got to put the front out, but actually you are putting the front in front of the hindquarters. Kyra Kyrkland said that when she came to Dressage with the Stars, that if you had the front out, you were going to lead with the correct leg, and this was quite acceptable with a young horse. You are really opening up his inside so he so he will hit the leg you want.”

“Later when you come more to collection you have to put him more on one track, and when you do have collection, you can start placing his front in.”

“I like the frame Sam is riding Champ in. People are so mixed up in their terminology – particularly in regards to behind the bit and on the forehand. Horses can be very very deep and not necessarily be on the forehand. On the forehand is when they hang and then the centre of gravity goes further forward than it naturally is.”

“Unfortunately some judges can’t see this, if the horse is behind the vertical or a little bit low, they will say ‘on the forehand or overbent’ and it may be neither of those things. It’s a shame, when we get the overseas judges in Australia to help us, they help the A and B judges and not the novice judges. Then the Novice judges try to judge novice classes as if they were judging at Grand Prix standards…”


“Here he is accepting the rein nicely, the ears are pushed away – he perhaps could be a little longer. Here we are working on direct flexion, because this is the roundness through the body as opposed to roundness from side to side of left and right flexion. In fact he could be a little deeper.”


One concept that Malcolm used in the lesson that we found fascinating was that of ‘pushing the ears forwards’:

“You don’t want to try and make the horse’s neck longer by dropping the reins because if you do that the horse will go longer – but longer on the underside of its neck. I think it was Paula Price who wrote something about ‘push the ears away’ – and I thought that is good because riders can relate to that. I don’t mean that the horse has its ears pricked as opposed to being back, but that it is stretching the top line.”

Interestingly, this master of rhythm feels that in the early stages, the horse has no rhythm:

“Initially when you are teaching the horse to become regulated, they don’t learn rhythm, because if you put someone else in charge of them, they would just run. What you are teaching the horse is to be regulated, and teaching that it is perhaps better to have a slower rhythm, than having them too fast. At this stage they might not track up – later as you push them and they get a bit more forwards, they will track up. They can only get as far as a straight line dropped from the nose, and that is as far as they can go with the hind leg, and they don’t really over-track until you can bring them regulated and for that they have to have a slow rhythm. If you try for a faster rhythm at the beginning they won’t move any more, they just go faster and they learn to run.”


“This is what I call a schooling trot, or schooling canter or schooling walk. It is not a medium walk or trot or canter or even a working walk, trot or canted because in both of those the horse is up, that is a competition pace. This is a schooling pace. Here he is very nice and deep.”


“A lot of people, push their young horses, saying ‘come on, he’s not tracking up’ but all that happens is that the horse goes faster and they still don’t track up, because they are not using their bodies.”

“It’s a great help to count your rhythm. I was amazed when I was working in Germany, the children sing, they play the piano or violin, they go dancing, and the rhythm is built in, they don’t even realise they have it, it is almost automatic. As well as that the children go to gymnastics, callisthenics, they learn rhythm from swimming.”

‘Riders can develop that feel by learning to count the outside front leg of their horse. I like to count in sixes: not just ONE/TWO, ONE/TWO because that can speed up and you don’t notice it. But if you count up to six, I find you can hold the rhythm better. There’s one girl I teach, and she was a ballet dancer, and her rhythm is just automatic, she just feels it. And that is what you have to do as a rider, get it automatic in your body, then you can regulate the rhythm of the horse.”


“Sam is testing with her inside rein now, and that is necessary so you don’t hang on the rein. Testing the inside rein shows not only that you are not hanging on to the rein, but also that the horse is moving from the inside leg to the outside rein. Ultimately we want the horse to balance to the outside. So Sam has moved her hand forward to make a loop, later we can test with both reins, to test self carriage, but here we are just testing that the balance is moving to outside from the inside leg.”


“It’s great to see Sam ger her chance with such a nice horse. She came to Oakwood when she was 18 or 19, a really talented kid, and you don’t get many highly talented pupils. We have a large base but the top riders are few. It is wonderful to see her now with such a lovely horse. I hope she just takes him slowly, but she’ll get there – she has had the experience of taking her other horse, Party On to Grand Prix. I think she’ll get there with this one.”

“Sam has had to work her way, which is very different from buying a trained horse. You can buy a trained horse and in five minutes you can ride the thing (Sam would be able to ride it in two minutes!) but training them to get there is very different to sitting on a horse someone else has made.”

“If she keeps going the way she is, she is going to make something very exciting with this one.”


“Sam’s hands are a little bit wide but Champ is a young horse and she has an even contact with both reins. It doesn’t look as if she is pulling on the inside rein. If you pull on the inside rein, it is going to pull the balance to the inside, and you want it to go to the outside, letting him step across with his inside hind leg.”


Christopher Bartle – The Next Step: Part One

BartleOpenerAn interview with Christopher Hector

Photos – Roz Neave, Julia Rau and archives…


Is CB headed for his next success?

It’s now official, Christopher Bartle, eventing super coach, after leading the Germans to two Olympic gold medals (three if not for Bettina Hoy’s blonde moment in the showjumping at Hong Kong) and one silver, has left the mighty German team to take over a consistently under-performing British team. This is the first part of a long ranging interview that began at Pau**** and continued on at Adelaide****. I have left it largely as it happened, since Chris is such an interesting guy with so many fresh ideas, and he also has a very elegant way of expressing himself. – CH


Do you think it is more of a challenge in the UK, and for that matter, Australia, for a coach to work with a group of riders who all have different methods and philosophies, from very good to seriously wacko, where with your Germans they came nicely trained out of a very specific program…

“I think there certainly is an advantage in Germany,  they do have a good basis – I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in GB, it does, and what you’ve got to take in, is if a rider gets to the stage where he or she is of interest to the squad, then conventional or whacko, they clearly have talent and performances, and it would be a mistake to ditch all that, and say, right now you are under my tutelage, and you’ve got to change everything that you have done.”

“Clearly what I’ve got to see is why did their success happen, how far can it be further developed and be produced more consistently. I want to work very much with the existing trainers, and not somehow take over. That system has worked very well for me in Germany – that was one of the first statements I made to the squad in Germany when I started, you’ve got all these good trainers in Germany, why aren’t you using them?”

Luhm¸hlen 13.06.2013 Vielseitigkeit CCI****: Bundestrainer Chris Bartle (GBR) geht mit Ingrid Klimke (in rot) und anderen Reiterinnen den Cross ab (hier am Lotto-Hindernis) Foto: ©Julia Rau Am Schinnergraben 57 55129 Mainz Tel.: 06131-507751 Mobil: 0171-9517199 R¸sselsheimer Volksbank BLZ 500 930 00 Kto.: 6514006 Es gelten ausschliesslich meine Allgemeinen Gesch‰ftsbedingungen

Christopher walks the course with Ingrid Klimke – in the background, famed equestrian photographer, Jacques Toffi cycles to the press room…

“At that stage, the eventers felt themselves separate, they more or less trained by themselves, and then they spent weeks, months in training camps with the team trainer – in a totally artificial situation away from their homes, and I don’t think that worked particularly well. So we changed that, Hans (Melzer, team manager) and I, and used a much more flexible training model, and very much working with the riders’ own trainers.”

“Some riders clearly had very good trainers, and some needed direction to find the right trainer, and as you are well aware, there is a dressage trainer that is right for eventing, and there is a dressage trainer who is not so good for eventing. You need someone who can combine the various elements of eventing, into the package. If I get the job with the British team, that’s what I want to do, work with the trainers, put across my philosophy to the trainers, and clearly to the riders as well. I want a triangular situation where I am the coach overall with the individual riders and their coaches.”

read on below 

Was it scary sixteen years ago to take up a position in Germany where they have such a strong tradition of their own? It was much more formal then, than it is now…

“It’s scary to think that it was sixteen years ago. Certainly in my little sphere, we got rid of the ‘Herr’ and ‘Frau’ the day I arrived and it was Chris and Rudi and Hans and co. There is still that discipline, an old fashioned-ness about the Germans that is a positive. They come up and shake hands, and don’t quite salute, but there is no sloppiness and I think that is a good thing – it makes them from a training point of view, good to work with. There will always be some people who question what you say, and I don’t mind that at all, that’s a good thing. Blind faith is the wish of some trainers, but it is certainly not mine, because once the riders are out there, they have to think for themselves.”

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The team, Hans Melzer and Christopher de-brief Dirk Schrade

When you started with the German team, clearly they had good dressage scores, but they tended to fall apart cross-country…

“Actually when you go back to the statistics, and this is me bragging at the moment, I was training the dressage for the Brits at that time, and for five or six years, the Brits were always in front of the Germans after the dressage. The Germans needed to lift their game as far as dressage was concerned, and I had very good allies there in terms of, particularly Ingrid Klimke, and Hans Melzer, who were very pro trying to improve the dressage.”

When did you first lay eyes on this slightly square, slightly balding, rider from the south of Germany…

“Don’t be too negative, he’s a charming guy. Michael and I get on really well. He is clearly an amazing talent. You’ve probably seen the photo of him at the age of ten that was sent to St Georg magazine for George Morris to critique. It’s an amazing picture because you can see his confidence and his eye, even at that point. I met him in 2003, that was when I first saw him in competition – he had some fairly old fashioned Warmblood horses at the time. He definitely had that winning attitude but he was fairly rough at the edges, even though he clearly had that winning streak about him. That was partly because of the type of horses that he was riding at the time. From 2003 to 2009, my rôle was much more keeping an eye on him, taking every opportunity when I saw him at competitions to compliment him and give him ideas as to what could be better, to motivate him to think, basically the team trainer thinks you are a rising star – that’s important for any up-and-coming rider or athlete.”

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Christopher and Magic Michi and Sam…

“I can’t say I had any formal involvement in his training until he joined the squad in 2009 and even then, through all that period from 2009 to 2016, my rôle is very much as an extra to the team the Jung family already has, his mum and dad, and the home team. I don’t try to take over in any way but try to channel my ideas and information as much through his dad as I do directly to Michael.”

Now Michael is riding horses that are generally 75% blood – who effected that transformation?

“I think it was partly by accident and clearly by design in the sense that they could see that the type of horses they had before were not the right ones for the modern sport. As you well know, landing on a superstar is not easy and is often by accident. In the case of Biosthetique Sam it was purely by accident, not a horse that any of us would have put our hand up at the auction to buy. FischerRocana is one that they sourced locally and that was probably more intentional, they went looking for a horse and found her. The idea of having more blood became more clear to them in those first seven years or so. They were getting results, but the Warmbloods were breaking, and just didn’t have that class. I know Michael is looking for more horses right now…”

Olympic Games Rio 2016

‘We will get there’ says Michael Jung – on course at Rio

Four four-star horses in stable…

“But we all know what the sport is like, in equestrian sport you always have to be looking to the future.”

Have you ever seen him ride as rough as he rode at Rio?

“I wouldn’t say how he rode at Rio was rough. At an Olympic level it is technically four-star but it was really three-star, but star levels don’t really count at Olympics. It was an Olympic track and at the end of the day, it was a really clever track, despite all the negatives one could say about it. The fact of the matter is, Michael had to fight for it, it wasn’t just a style competition, and the fact that he can move from being a stylist to making it happen, is what sets him apart from the rest. Yes, I would criticize a rider who was unfair to his horse, but not a rider saying, YES WE CAN and YES WE WILL…”

JungFather

The Jung team – father and son,  Joachim and Michael working with Takinou

He was saying it fairly definitely…

“He was saying it definitely, but that was what his horse at that time needed. You had to believe, and if you don’t have that, you can tick all the boxes and you can follow all the rules about how to sit correctly and ride, but if you don’t have that extra yes, we can attitude, then at the critical moment, you will lose it.”

I understand that Hans Melzer’s innovative strategy for Rio was that he was going to send his best riders out first and blast the opposition out of the water – it didn’t quite work that way…

“It was a good plan at the time (he’s laughing) – I think it was an excellent plan, then sadly Sandra (Auffarth) made a little mistake going into the water, lost her position for a split second, and that was critical. That’s what made that course so interesting because you couldn’t afford to make a mistake.  If Sandra had gone out first and achieved what I hoped and expected, we would have blown the other teams out of the water.”

ChristopherBartleBest

“The great thing was that Michael set off with his typical attitude, and mine as well, we don’t play safe just because that has happened, we just ride how we planned to ride. Clearly Michael has to make the decisions from fence to fence as to how his horse is going whether he goes the quick way or the long way, he makes that decision at the moment, knowing what the goal is. Certainly our strategy at that moment was that we were still on target to go for gold, not to play safe.”

The French were playing safe…

“They played safe with their third and fourth riders but it is not my attitude, or Michi’s attitude, nor Ingrid’s. Sure you have to make some decisions and my one regret is that I didn’t tell Ingrid to go long at the last water, but there we go, it is easy with hindsight.”


ChrisBartle photoChristopher Bartle – A History

Were you an odd man out when you started eventing, because it was the era in which a leg yielding on the way to the Hunt was considered adequate dressage training, and anything more dangerously liable to ruin the horse cross-country and you were coming from an academic and very serious dressage background…

“That’s right. My mother was very academic and translated a number of the classic dressage texts from French, and Hans von Blixen-Finecke, who was my primary trainer, had been an Olympic Three Day Gold Medallist in 1952 on Jubal, and the other horse he trained, Master Rufus, was ridden by Henri Saint Cyr in the dressage and also won a Gold Medal. Incredible. So that was drummed into me as a kid, that dressage is clearly a sport in its own right, but that dressage comes from the French word, dressur, which means to train, and all the movements we do in dressage have a rôle in equestrian sport outside dressage.”

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Hans von Blixen-Finecke on his way to Gold

How did your mother become so involved – translating some of the great classic works…

“You could either say it was boredom that pushed her in that direction – because she’d sent us all off to boarding school and she wanted something to do – but she was also clearly a very intelligent person and for her, horses were not just about going off hunting, the typical Yorkshire equestrian scene. She always had an enquiring mind, you didn’t do something because you were told to do it, you had to understand, you had to keep asking the question: why?”

“I well remember my mother’s interest in the ‘why’ taking her into physics to understand the principles…”

ChrisBartle mother

Christopher’s Mother…Nicole Bartle

Did she go to France?

“My mother was from Belgium, she was a fluent French speaker from the French side of Belgium. Because of the war, my mother never had the opportunity to pursue her equestrian ambitions, so it became more of a hobby than pursuing her passion as a professional. When we were kids, she went to Nuno Oliveira, one of her first mentors, and he was again, someone who was not just wonderful, but an out-of-the-box character. Then she met Hans von Blixen-Finecke somewhere, and they hit it off really well because he was very much a thinking rider and trainer. He had the same attitude of mind, it wasn’t a case of just doing things because of tradition, you had to be able to answer the question – why?”

read on below

Were you genetically coded to become a rider-cum-trainer?

“Probably yes in that sense, in that I ended up with horses as a way of not getting a proper job. I finished an economics degree and every year after that my mother used to ask me when I was going to get a proper job, I’d say, next year.”

“To a degree it was force of circumstance that took me down the coaching / teaching road, because I had to finance my competition aspirations, but at the same time, it was something that I really enjoyed: being able to answer the question ‘why’ and explain it better to my pupils. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to have lots of ‘guinea pigs’ – pupils, both horses and humans, who I could experiment with, and each one of them contributed something to what I know now. One never stops learning, so you could say that even now, the people that I help, are also my guinea pigs to a certain extent.”

Bartle and von Blixen-Finecke

Christopher and Hans von Blixen-Finecke

You ended up riding in the Grand Prix dressage at the Los Angeles Olympics, was that just because your eventer was better at dressage than eventing…

“It probably was an accident. Wily Trout was an eventer, and quite successful, then four weeks before he was to go to Burghley, he tweaked a tendon, and in the nine months it took to get him back and in the process of bringing him back, I got bored of doing normal work, and decided, why can’t he do what the dressage horses do? I worked on his flying changes, he seemed to have a talent for piaffe and with the guidance of Hans von Blixen-Finecke in particular and his motivation we started to get there. It was also going to Goodwood one time and seeing Reiner Klimke on Mehmed, and being inspired by what Reiner did, but also thinking I can do what the other ones are doing. For a horse that wasn’t bred to be a dressage horse – in those days, horses were just horses, they weren’t born to be dressage horses or showjumpers, or eventers – he did really well. Sixth at the LA Games…”

ChrisBartleWilyTrout-Mar11

The eventer turned Olympic Grand Prix competitor – Wily Trout

In those days were you an eventer having fun doing dressage, or seriously a dressage rider…

“The thing about dressage is that it is only fun to win, so it was a challenge to get to the top of the mountain, and getting Wily Trout there was quite an achievement , but I was frustrated I hadn’t got to the top of the mountain on the eventing side. The next mountain was Badminton…”

MoreBartleWilyTrout3

Wily Trout

And the hero this time is Word Perfect – where did you find him?

“A dealer’s yard. We were stopping the night, attending another event in the area and as one does in a dealing yard, you start putting your head over stable doors. Word Perfect came out, and something attracted me to him. He had a very ‘blood’ looking head, he was probably only three quarters Thoroughbred. He was out of a mare, that if you saw her, you would never believe she could breed a Badminton winner. He was bred more on the jumping side, he was a very good jumper, that’s what attracted me, when I popped him over some fences.”

“I took him home, and regretted for a year, having bought him. I got frustrated with him because he wouldn’t jump a ditch. I’d spend an hour trying to get him over a ditch, he was frightened of them, so I gave him to my wife, Alison, and she played around with him for a year and he turned from an introverted horse with no self belief to one who was clearly enjoying life, and I took back the ride from Alison, and he went from Novice to three-star in one year.”

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Christopher on his way to winning Badminton with Word Perfect

Keep an eye out for part two…


Christopher Bartle was also an Olympic dressage star and he is a great dressage teacher. Enjoy this vintage series that will take your horse to Collection and FEI Level tests click 

Read about Hans von Blixen-Finecke here: http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/whos-who/von-blixen-finecke-hans/

George Morris – A celebration – the complete file…

Words – Christopher Hector

The photos are from the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

Today is George’s birthday, it’s also the beginning of a week long celebration of George Morris and the training philosophy he has so eloquently espoused over the past half century…

George Morris’ book, Unrelenting, is like the man – astonishing! The darned thing is over 400 pages long, and took up a fair slice of my Christmas ‘break’, that is when I wasn’t flying to Sydney, to watch the great man in person with his best ever team of Aussie pupils, at Vicki Roycroft’s stables.

My friendship with George goes back to 1987 when he kindly autographed his classic Hunter Seat Equitation, “For Chris, A good ‘watcher’.” Thirty years later, the inscription on Unrelenting reads: “Christopher – A great friend who gets ‘it’ and isn’t afraid to say it… Thanks”

George Morris has never made any secret of the fact that he is gay, but as one of George’s star pupils, Chris Kappler points out in his forward, ‘Some will find it surprising to meet George as a fast-living playboy, who, in a time when it was not accepted by many to adopt or pursue a gay lifestyle, comes out in a way that allowed him to abide by the strict boundaries of his professional life, while still exploring his creative, tempestuous, spontaneous self.’

Gay but not exclusively so, and George at the age of 78 still relished the thought that the Wellington social set suspected that he was having an affair with his writing assistant, the ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ Karen Robertson Terry, when she moved in to work on his book.

Indeed the book comes with a warning: this book is a candid portrayal of my life. Innocents and those faint of heart or closed of mind may wish to proceed no further.

At one stage in the book, George estimates that he has had something like 10,000 sexual encounters, and while each and every one of them does not make the pages of Unrelenting a fair few do – beginning with his dalliance, at the age of 19, with movie star, Tab Hunter.

For more information go to The Dancing Horse

George was born into a life of luxury and privilege, of ‘old’ families and glamorous country houses, of hunt clubs and horses – and he soon discovered one of the passions that was to dominate his life. He was lucky in that he met a very great teacher in Gordon Wright. George was desperate to ride but he was also a timid and fearful rider, Wright had the answer:

For my first lesson I was instructed to get on an old school horse, Silver King. He had probably foundered and wasn’t good for much more than slow gaits and tiny fences, but it was the perfect way for me to relax and start at the beginning, learning Gordon’s methods. He started me from scratch. literally from a standstill on Silver King, and taught me basics like keeping my eyes up and focused ahead. His very methodical and technical approach rebuilt my riding and my confidence.

George’s great teacher, Gordon Wright

Soon George was competing in equitation and hunt seat classes with Gordon’s help, but his friend Victor Hugo-Vidal introduced him to the next great mentor in George’s equestrian development – Bertelan de Némethy:

One day Victor told me he’d heard of a man from Europe training horses down at the Rockefeller’s barn in Westchester County and took me down there to watch him. Peering into the schooling ring, I immediately noticed the foreign horseman’s class and sophistication; he wore gloves and longed horses in side reins. He worked horses with snaffle bits doing basic dressage and gymnastic work over cavalletti. It was a different kind of horse training than we’d ever seen before. Victor and I would sit by the hour and watch him work horses.

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In 1952, George won the prestigious Medal and Maclay equitation class at Madison Square Garden, and already some of his life long obsessions were in full flight. One of the great things Karen Robertson Terry has done is collect dozens of quotes from friends, students and associates of George. Winifred Gray was too young to go to Madison Square Garden, but remembers ‘waking up the morning after he won the Maclay and seeing his picture in The New York Times. Then just as I was finishing the article, the phone rang and it was George calling from New York. He said, ‘I won!’ I told him I knew it and that I’d just read all about it in the paper. And he replied, ‘Oh I haven’t seen the papers yet…’ and after a pause, ‘Winnie, look at the picture carefully for me.’ ‘Yes?’ I said. And completely serious, George asked, ‘Are my heels down?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied earnestly, ‘Yes, George, your heels are down.’

Riding Game Cock in a Junior Olympic Jumper Class… and yes his heels are down

Unrelenting, George’s recently published autobiography provides a fascinating glimpse at the American jumping scene, precisely at the moment when the new American style, which was to dazzle the world, was emerging…

Christopher Hector continues his review of the book:

Really George’s equestrian education must have taken place in a golden era of American equitation with some of the most brilliant teachers ever assembled on hand.

When de Némethy decided George needed to ‘learn how to sit’, he was dispatched to German dressage trainer, Richard Wätjen:

‘I wasn’t sure what Bert meant; I was already quite successful at shows, and I didn’t quite know what was deficient with my seat. It didn’t take long for me to understand. I took War Bride to Mr Wätjen’s stable in Bedford, New York, for two months and trained with him. Richard Wätjen was revered above all others as a god among horsemen because of his incredible seat and position on a horse. The German school is, of course, very focused on the development of the seat. I worked with Mr Wätjen on and off the longe line, usually without stirrups, and worked War Bride the entire winter with side-reins to get her to soften and be less high- headed.’

The great German stylist of the seat, Richard Wätjen

‘Many decades have passed since I outgrew riding with draw- or side-reins but at that time in my riding education, it was a good experience to work on my seat, connection and feel… As usual, Bert had been right and my time there was an integral part of my education. Exposure to the German school of riding was invaluable.’

Very early on George found himself ‘magnetically drawn’ to teaching, and his six-year-old cousin, Whitney Ann Harvey was amongst the first of his guinea pigs:

‘The riding lessons were terrifying. One exercise stands out as a least favorite. George would tie the reins at the withers of our ponies, remove our stirrups, and blindfold us. He would then lead each pony to the side of the ring where three fences were set up. He would hit the pony with a crop and we would jump the fences we could not see! If we didn’t do it perfectly we would have to repeat the exercise over again. Years later I broke my arm during this exercise when my horse went one way and I went the other.’

‘George was unpredictable and a perfectionist. He was also by far and away the best riding instructor anyone could ever wish for. We won many blue ribbons and enjoyed being part of the horse world for a number of years.’


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On his first trip as a competitor to Europe in 1958, George was well placed to observe the differences in riding style.

‘The American jumping style was startling to see in Europe in those days and even an uneducated spectator noticed the difference. At that time, there was no opportunity to watch show jumping on television and the crowds at the shows were often seeing an American ride for the first time. The typical European rider rode with a straight back and deep seat, pulling the reins with sometimes hard hands in an effort to get deep to the base of the fence. As the horse left the ground, a rider would often throw his body and kick his lower leg back with a huge, visible effort. Imagine watching a dozen or more riders with that rough style, then watching a rider entering the ring, picking up a gallop with a softness of hand and seat, and seemingly floating around the course like water streaming over stones in a riverbed. Those watching were inevitably struck by the beauty of that flowing, soft style with the rider positioned quietly forward and the horse freed to make his best effort. Not only was it beautiful, our American style was effective, and we gave the Europeans a run for their money.’

The US Team in Dublin 1958 (left to right) Bill Steinkraus (Kasar d’Esprit), Frank Chapot (Diamant), George (Night Owl) and Hugh Wiley (Master William)

From the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com)

Traveling with de Némethy was to travel in style. The male riders were invited to an evening at the McKee Barracks in Dublin, and George who had three tuxedo jackets with him, white, powder blue and black. “I dressed in my powder blue jacket with black trousers and walked down the spiral staircase to meet the others. Bert, standing in the lobby in black tie, took one look at me, pointed his finger up the stairs and simply said, Up! I said nothing, did a turn on the haunches, and headed back up to change into my black jacket.

Two years later, George was back in Europe, this time preparing to ride in the Olympic Games in Rome, and George learned something about the trickery that goes on at Olympics:

‘I learned everyone pays attention when it comes to the host team trying to take a home-field advantage. Frank Chapot told me that he saw exactly the same course as the Olympic course set up forty-five minutes out of Rome at a training stable. Perhaps the Italians had a little bit more time to train over the Olympic course than the rest of us! It’s hard to say for sure, but I learned over time that there are always politics and funny business at the Olympics.’

George was once again battling with his nerves:

‘The night before the individual class I didn’t sleep for even a minute! I paced and fretted all night in the living-room area of the hotel, wearing down a pathway in the carpet. The first horse was slated to go at seven in the morning. there was no qualifying in those days, which meant every rider from every country rode in the individual competition. I finally gave up completely on sleep and before dawn walked down to the Piazza di Siena.’

‘I walked into the Piazza as dawn broke over the stadium, which was lined by tall thin cedar trees and thick grass soaked through from the morning dew. I stood at the in-gate and looked out over the course for the individual show jumping event. The size of the fences was absolutely staggering. In those days, Olympic jumping courses were significantly bigger than even the largest Grand Prix courses, even the Grand Prix at Aachen. The course, to me, looked positively unjumpable. I thought there was no way I would get around. My order in the class was very early, and I knew the turf would be slippery still from the dew and the sun would be coming up over the hills right into our eyes. But there was nothing to do but try my best, even if it was an impossible task. A feeling of dread followed me as I prepared and warmed up Sinjon, convinced the day would be a disaster.’

George got round with 12 faults and was amazed at the cheering from the crowd, until de Némethy told him, he was the first with less than 40 faults. In the end, the locals, the d’Inzeo brothers took gold and silver, with David Broome just edging George out of a bronze medal by one fault. George and Sinjon then were part of the silver medal winning US team.

George and Sinjon at the Rome Games

From the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com)


Home, George realised he wanted more, and walked away from horses to a life in the theatre, joining the school at the Neighbourhood Playhouse:

‘Theatre school was a totally new life for me. We had dance class, acting class, improvisation, and voice lessons. We also took fencing, worked on costumes, props, and sets, and learned about the technical running of a stage production. The Playhouse was a very comprehensive school. Some of my classmates regularly worked out at a gym and I started to do the same after school. Since then I’ve always been someone who makes fitness a priority; I still go to the gym regularly today.’

The George Morris VOICE is a fearsome thing but it is interesting to learn that it did not come naturally:

‘As a teacher, my voice has always been a central part of my identity and livelihood and people tell me it’s my voice that sets me apart at any horse show. But you might be surprised to know that my voice has also been the cause of massive stress and anxiety at times in my life. As a teenager, I was teased about my high-pitched, boyish voice and I retrained myself to speak with a deeper more masculine voice when I grew up.’

George with Beverly ‘Boobs’ Rubin on stage

From the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com)

At Theatre school, George learn to enunciate and project his voice and had many big roles, often singing roles in musicals, but then: ‘All of a sudden, one day, there was a line in a play that started with an ‘h’ sound and when I went to speak, no voice came from my throat, just empty breath – the sound completely stuck in my throat.’

Decades later George leant that there was a tiny gap in his vocal chords, that fatigue caused it to crop up, then anxiety caused it to worsen. George stayed another year in the theatre, and mostly his voice was fine but ‘Always in the back of my mind – and discouraging me from reaching for stardom on stage – was the voice issue. Adversity in your life is often a blessing in disguise.’

Before long, George Morris was not only the most influential of American coaches, but his fame had spread to Europe, and he was soon attracting pupils over there. One of the first was the Swiss rider, Thomas Fuchs:

‘I first saw George in 1979 showing in America, and I remember seeing him schooling horses in the morning and he was always in the counter-canter. I thought, well he must know he’s on the wrong lead and be doing it on purpose! We had a really hard time with the shows in New York, Washington and Toronto, that year. The Swiss team was always last in the Nations Cups. I talked to George a little bit and then organized a ten-day clinic in Switzerland that following year with all the best riders in our country. We became friends and he came back to show a bit and teach for many years. What happened after was that people started laughing at us because we were counting strides and measuring distances on courses and we rode with longer martingales, all because of George’s teaching. In the early eighties nobody measured, so this was really new to us. Good German riders were laughing at us, but then we started to place better and better at the shows. We had quite a few good European Championship results.’

Thomas Fuchs and Diners Dollar Girl

The gold medallist at the Los Angeles Games, Touch of Class, was another that slipped past George. One of his students David Boley turned up with a ‘little, hot, 15.3 hand Thoroughbred mare off the track.’ They tried her, and George delivered his verdict:

‘David, this mare has no scope. Send her to Vince Dugan the horse dealer and let him do something with her. She’s no hunter and certainly doesn’t have enough scope to be a jumper!’

The next time George saw her, Leslie Burr was in the saddle, in a Low Preliminary Jumper class, the ring ‘had a little pond with ducks in it at the far end. For the entire show, Leslie couldn’t get that mare to go down to the end of the ring because of the ducks! She’d jump around the top half of the ring, and would never go down to the bottom. It’s hard to believe it was the same mare that went to the Los Angeles Olympics.’

Joe Fargis and Touch of Class

Bert de Némethy not only revolutionized jumping riding, he also turned around course designing:

‘Before the Los Angeles Games, Olympic show-jumping courses were diabolically large and a completely different sport than the courses at Grand Prix level. It was a total bloodbath! The fences were a foot higher and two feet wider than any Grand Prix, even the Grand Prix of Aachen. When you see the fantastically beautiful jumping courses at today’s Olympic Games, know that it was Bert de Némethy that delivered us into that world. When he designed the courses in Los Angeles, he flipped course designing on its head in one fell swoop. Always obsessed with the strategy of course building from basic gymnastics to Grand Prix, Bert was a genius in the creation of the most complex test of horse and rider. He knew how to challenge the scope, strength and guts of a horse and rider while also testing intelligence and quick thinking when it came to precision, speed, turns and judgement. Bert de Némethy single-handedly took Olympic course building from the historically huge, solid and dangerous to the extremely technical, varied courses we see in international championships today.’

Despite missing out on Diester, Armand Leone pays fulsome tribute to George’s role:

‘George’s biggest contribution, in my opinion, was how he developed so many great women riders. One of his greatest talents was helping riders overcome stage fright. George had to overcome it himself. It was very simple: you make a plan, your work on that plan and focus on it, then you don’t have time to be nervous! He was able to address and understand both the psychological fear of making mistakes, which most everyone has, and the physical fear of being hurt. He was able to inspire riders to rise above their self-imposed limitations and insecurities. He pushed students out of their comfort zone and instilled a certain drive and aggressiveness in women in particular, to enable them to become the world’s greatest generation of riders – the Katie Prudents, the Leslie Burr Howards and the Melanie Smith Taylors. When you think about it, George was very central to women excelling in the sport of showjumping during a time when women were still redefining their role in our country.’

It was a two-way street, Katie tried to help George out when he made his return to top level jumping in 1988 when he rode Rio to victory in the du Maurier Inrternational at Calgary, at that time the richest show jumping class in the world:

‘George and I joke about that day, because I was trying to help school him in the warm-up ring before the second round of the du Maurier. I was talking through some of the lines on the course, and George was so focused on what he wanted to do in the ring that he barked back to me, ‘Stop it, I can’t listen to this! I know what I’m going to do.’ And he was right. He was in the zone. The second round was a lot of pressure but he rode it beautifully. After he won, I told him he was just the absolute worst student, talking back to me like that.’

George and Rio win the Grand Prix of Calgary

From the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

American dressage coach, Robert Dover based himself for a while at Hunterdon and he and George would endlessly discuss half halts.

‘I put George on my Grand Prix dressage horse more than once. Even though he wasn’t as practiced in a classical dressage seat because he was always riding hunt seat and the jumpers, within five minutes he could do the entire Grand Prix on my horse. It didn’t matter if it was an easy horse or a hard horse. He’d ridden with top dressage people in his life and he had such a strong feel that he was able to look very good. He delighted in the advanced movements: the piaffe, the passage, the pirouettes, the tempi changes – all thrilled him.’

And it would seem George was something of a match-maker, Robert again:

‘I rode up one day into the arena at Hunterdon. It was a very hot day and some riders were jumping inside to get out of the hot sun. There was a young guy setting up jumps in the arena that caught my eye. I rode right past him and up to George and asked, ‘George, I just have one question: who in the hell is THAT? He said, ‘That’s Robert Ross and he’s here from California for a clinic.’ Later that evening, I promptly invited myself over to George’s pool party the next day. And that was the beginning of a twenty-seven-year long relationship with Robert Ross. Now we’re married.’

George admits that being gay was not entirely easy:

‘Today it’s quite different in that being gay is very accepted, but the feeling of being stigmatized – being an aberration from the norm – never stops, no matter how respected you are in your field. Despite my unapologetic stance that I’d held onto since the late fifties, I’ve struggled through my entire life with not feeling entirely comfortable in either straight or gay society in America. Most often, I feel at home with certain special people in my life or groups of friends who seem to strike the balance between the two worlds with intelligence and open-mindedness.’

George was one of the selectors of the team for the first ever WEG in 1990 and in the middle of a huge dispute as to whether Debbie Dolan or Anne Kursinski should be in the team. Eventually Anne was selected and a law suit ensued and the equestrian community sadly divided. It lead to an entirely objective selection system – which just did not work – before a combination of objective and subjective evolved as Anne Kursinki explains:

‘During Bert de Némethy’s era as Chef d’Equipe, the selection of the team was always subjective. This system worked because the pool of horses and riders who the experience to compete at international level was so small. This system continued when Frank Chapot took over. However, as the pool of riders grew so did the problems of selection.’

‘Looking back, perhaps things did need to be shaken up a little bit – not necessarily how the teams were selected, but just in transparency of the process. Everyone wants to have the best team they can but some people felt they were in the dark as to how decisions were being made. Of course, the lawsuit itself was a result of strong feelings that the decision was unfair, specifically for the Stockholm team. However, I think that reaction was partly due to a lack of understanding about how the decision was made and why.’

‘The whole shake-up resulted in almost complete objectivity in the selection process for years afterward, to avoid the appearance or accusation of any unfairness. We had some very good teams in those years, but there were also instances where using objective scoring didn’t produce the best possible team.’

‘There are always factors that come into play over the months leading up to a big event. Today, we have a great system where there’s objectivity to create long lists of candidates and some subjectivity as well in the final choices. It’s all spelled out and there is excellent communication about the process. In the end, subjectivity can be used as long as its defined carefully how, when, and why it’s being used.’

Ann Kursinski and Starman at the 1990 WEG

From the book UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson and used with permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

George Morris will not tolerate slackness. Chris Kappler recalls:

‘I recall George came home from Europe and it was one of the first times I’d been on my own for a while running Hunterdon without him around for support. Running a barn isn’t easy: George joked to me once, ‘If it weren’t for the clients and staff, it would be an easy business!’ That being said, I’d lost a grasp on the grooms and standards had slipped a little. The grooms were maybe a little above themselves and the clients were showing up not quite on time for lessons. When he returned, George was absolutely brutal in the barn, on the grooms and the clients, reasserting his authority over the entire place. The whole staff dug in and worked in a very somber mood in response to George’s toughness: this went on for a week or more. Morale got pretty low. Then one day, he brought in a framed sign and propped it up on the front of his desk. It said, ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves.’ It was classic George! Just when things were really starting to look like the dark cloud would be there to stay, everyone laughed about the sign and things lightened up a little bit as we went back to work as usual. It was just what was needed. He knew what it took to rein everyone back in, but he also knew when to release the hold and when his point had been made.’

‘We had a great twenty years together, George and I, and we’ve remained very close ever since. His ability to stay current in the sport is pretty amazing. He stays sharp, brings in new people all the time, and wants to learn from other people’s perspectives and disciplines.’

George is also an acute critic of the way in which show jumping is going, what he calls the pussification of the sport, where the tough natural obstacles are thrown out to make it easier for very rich, not so good riders, to get around on the horses the mega-dealers have prepared for them. It’s not really a new new trend. Back in 1984 at the WEG in The Hague:

‘Pierre d’Oriola (who was the only rider to win the individual show jumping Olympic gold medal twice, in ’52 and ’64) drove from France to watch the WEG. His comment to me was something to the effect of, ‘They sit down in the saddle too much, the fences are all the same, and therefore all the courses are the same and the spectators get board. I’m leaving the show.’ I was surprised to hear someone put it so bluntly, but I couldn’t have said it better myself! That was the direction show jumping had been going in for years, and we’ve continued on that trend ever since. For most shows, the arena is very much the same and the fence material is the same. The courses are familiar. The riders, for the most part, are behind their horses too. The old champion hit the nail on the head over twenty years ago, and we’ve still facing the same challenge.’

 Pierre d’Oriola = showjumping has lost its way…

 

There is no doubt that the Sydney Games were a resounding success, but there is equally little doubt that the arena surface was a disaster:

‘At each of the Olympic Games I had attended from Rome in 1960 to Atlanta in ’96, the footing was by and large acceptable. Montreal was one exception to that rule, but Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, and Atlanta all managed to produce safe, quality surfaces for show jumping. That’s why it’s such a mystery to me why the footing in Sydney was so poorly done. It consisted of loose sand over a hard, concrete-like surface. Horses would try to set themselves at the base of a jump and when they tried to push off, they would slide. The feeling of instability lead to the horses jumping defensively and not extending themselves in their take-off. They also couldn’t trust the footing on the landing side of the jump and the horses pulled their hind end down more quickly in an effort to get all four feet on the ground.’

I could go on with the quotes, but really it’s time for you to rush out and buy your own copy of Unrelenting, but I will finish with one last tribute from McLain Ward:

‘First and foremost, George is a horseman and a horse lover, and for him, horse sports are his life’s pursuit. That’s the kind of person I want to be in the trenches with, and in my view, it is a key to George’s success and to his popularity – not just among the masses, but among the top athletes. George is not just preaching from the sidelines: he is someone who lives and breathes horses, day in and day out. As a boy I knew who George was and even though I wasn’t one of his students, he absolutely influenced me. George set the tone for what the modern teaching system was in the United States and around the world. I’ve always taken it as a great compliment that even though I wasn’t one of George’s students, others feel I have embodied and followed his system. George’s dedication to excellence and striving to improve and win is something you only see in a handful of people in the sport. Riders like Beezie and myself take that philosophy to heart. In our sport, where methods are constantly evolving, George’s approach of staying true to classical horsemanship while being open-minded with a desire to learn and continue to improve is one I emulate. There’s a balance – you have to be open-minded to evolution and improvements while appreciating the classical base of correct riding and horsemanship.’

For myself, I have enjoyed almost thirty years of friendship with George. He has always been so wonderfully generous with his time. In Rio when I was in a flap that my showjumping story was going to be weak, he took time out from managing the Brazilian team to meet me in the press room, and save my day.

Happy Birthday George…

 George Morris at Mt White – the Master takes a clinic with some super talented riders… NEW AND EXCLUSIVE

NEW and EXCLUSIVE: George Morris – It’s simple, it’s just not easy

 


Back in 1988, I wrote my first GM story – here it is:

http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2017/02/george-morris-teacher-genius/

Settle back to enjoy George taking a clinic – click

But there is still more wisdom to be had try –

http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2010/07/george-morris-and-the-ultimate-learning-curve-part-2/

In fact there is a whole file of GM articles, just check out his entry on our Who’s Who

Morris, George H

 

 

 

George Morris – Teacher Genius…

By Chris Hector

The man is a phenomenon. An artist and a teacher who has changed the face of the showjumping world. There is scarcely a top rider in the United States today, who has not studied at the feet of the waspish New Yorker – George Morris. Four out of the five members of the Gold Medal team at the Los Angeles Olympics were Morris pupils – and the current top combination on the world scene, the group they call ‘George Morris’ all girl team’ of Anne Kursinski, Katharine Burdsall, Joan Scharffenberger and Katie Monohan Prudent is proving over and over again the George Morris dictum that good, stylish riding is effective competition riding.

The Morris’ style! Lisa Jacquin and For the Moment, and below: Joan Scharffenberger and Winnipeg

The link between style and success has been well established in the United States (or many years. It is a lesson George learned from his first great teacher: 

“I was very lucky when I was young I lived relatively near to the man who was at the time the greatest American jumping teacher, Gordon Wright. He came out of the cavalry at the end of the war, and has written many books. He lived about half an hour away from where we lived when I was about eleven and I started riding with him.”

The story continues below the advertisement…

That first break opened new doors – paths to other great horsemen…

“Because of that piece of luck, I did very well showing early and got on the American team at a very early age. On the team, I worked with Bert de Nemethy, who was a world master of cavaletti, gymnastic and dressage work – he was the coach of our team. I was lucky again because in the winters, he had me go to a man called Richard Watjen, one of Germany’s great pre-war dressage trainers. I also spent one summer in Mexico with Mariles Cortes, he won the Games in ’48 and he was a genius. After the Olympics in Rome, I went to a guy called Gunnar Anderson, who is a dressage trainer living in the States.”

“So at a very early age I was lucky to be near some very great horsemen. They were my principal teachers.”

Melanie Smith and George Morris

In America did the riders always realize that there was a very close connection between very good flat work and good jumping?

“Gordon Wright started that idea in the States, along with a Russian horseman who settled there, Vladimir Litteur. We’ve always had a good mentality of horsemen in America, with racing and fox-hunting, the attitude is very good, it has the horseman-like approach of England, but with a little more of the technical, methodical approach of the German mentality – and the sympathy of the French mentality. I like the American horseman’s mentality – I always have.”


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“De Nemethy really fixed any thought that jumping and dressage could be separated – because he was a great flat rider, and a great cavaletti trainer – bridging the connection between the flat work and the gymnastics. Amongst jumping riders there are different degrees of interest in flatwork. I would say as a jumping trainer I am at the top of the scale, there are not many who like the flat work any better than I do. Take Conrad Homfeld and Michael Matz, they are great keen flat riders – then it drops down. We have riders who might go through the motions on the flat, but they are not really interested, they don’t really realize how important it is – but the good ones do.”

“Some people in the States feel that I am too pedantic, too much interested in dressage. Many in the dressage community would like me to give clinics in dressage, but I am too busy, more interested in dressage for jumping. I’m not interested in dressage as an end in itself.”

The pupil at work! Conrad Holmfeld and Abdullah.

Do you see yourself as a competitive rider or a teacher?

“Oh as a teacher. My priority hasn’t been riding since 1960. I think I’m more gifted as a teacher. I’m a very good rider, still a very good rider in competition. I won a class at Madison Square Garden last month, and I was second at Spruce Meadows – the biggest show in the world – just before that. So I’m still a very good rider, but my greatest gift and greatest contribution is as a teacher.” 

Certainly ‘being a teacher is something that George Morris appears to enjoy – even if, at times, some of his students find him a good deal less than enjoyable. One member of the Australian Olympic long list suffered the indignity of being banished from the group. “Is there one thing this boy can do right?” demanded Morris – before deciding that whatever he could do, it wasn’t going to be done in his clinic.

But he was equally quick to warm to the student who really was prepared to try. George Morris is a great one for setting distance problems, for giving riders the option of the short or the long stride, of letting the jumps and their relationship be the teachers. At his Olympic squad school, he set a line of jumps and informed the pupils that they could be ridden short four or long three, short five or long four. The first few riders took the nice safe short stride option, before that magnificent young man on the flying machine, Gavin Chester wound his horse up from back on the fence and set sail flat out for the line, determined to jump off the long stride or die in the attempt “I like the boy!” came the instant response.

At his Olympic Squad clinics, George was sure he detected a change in the attitude of the Australian riders…

“Oh yes, yes, there’s always a change – even the ones who don’t admit to it, or resent it, or pooh pooh it. Even if they don’t know they’ve changed – they have. Of course, the ones who accept it, and like it, and admit to improving, they improve a lot. Now in Australia you always need more association with the outside world. You have to develop your own teachers, you must have clinics. You must send your riders to horse shows and events in other countries … reading, anything you can do to associate yourselves with progress.”


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There were some (notably unsuccessful) showjumping riders who were unimpressed when George taught in Australia for the first time. He had nothing NEW to offer, no magic gimmicks to sure fire success. And they are at least partly right, for the essence of George Morris’ horsemanship is age old.

“The methods I teach have stood the test of time, not only with me, but with many other trainers. If you try to circumvent a problem with a trick or a gadget or a funny technique, the problem will always come back.”

At the schools at the VEC it was an entertaining sight to see the group of showjumping and eventing riders riding basic dressage movements, oh so seriously. Lengthen the stride on the long side, collect a little on the short, now some shoulder in, now change the rein across the diagonal – this last produced mass confusion, but there was no doubting the intention of the exercises, nor the attention of the teacher to detail!

Slip a finger over the rein, slide your foot just a fraction further into the stirrup, roll the hands over for just a second – and detection, and correction was instant.

The position of the foot was crucial.

“My weight belongs in my heels, not in my knees. What keeps the stirrup in place is not pushing down into the irons – it’s the weight driving down into your heels. It’s better to have reins that are too long rather than too short, and better to have stirrups that are too short than too long.”

World Champions: Katharine Burdsall and The Natural – products of the equitation system

All the time, George was pushing the riders to get their horses more under control, more in tune…

“If I have a very excitable horse I go slower and slower until I get regularity. People talk a lot about rhythm, but it’s only regularity. All your horses are on the muscle. They need lots of walk, sitting, rising trot transitions.”

With the little shoulder in movements, with the emphasis on nice smooth transitions, the riders were encouraged to get their horses rounder.

“All people do the wrong thing with a high headed horse because it’s a natural reaction to drop your hands when the horse goes high. DON’T. When the horse raises its head, follow him up a little and show the horse the way to lower his head.”

“If you try to pull his head down, then I can come back in twenty years and his head will still be up!”

George had already spotted a number of faults that characterized our Australian way of riding:

“I’ve been trying in Australia to get rid of hollow horses. There are riders who sit too far back in the saddle and hollow the horse’s loins. Those who sit back in the saddle have to consciously move forward.”

“I never saw a country where less respect is paid to training horses. Your horses go with their heads to the outside and their bodies to the inside. It’s not your jumping down here that is the problem – it’s your understanding of training and dressage which is so poor. Don’t give me this hogwash that the horses are too hot to handle. It’s just that the training is so poor.”

“You don’t need jumping in Australia, you need riding.”

“Ride with your thumbs up! There is a funny habit in Australia, where you invert your thumbs. Your hands are not just flat, they are past flat, they are inverted. The thumbs should be up.”

If our rider’s hands drove George to distraction, the habit of kicking horses to get them going sent him wild!

“You don’t kick in riding. It’s wrong. Kicking de-sensitizes your horse to your legs – and every time you take your leg off the horse to kick him, you jeopardize your security. Squeeze the horse, and if he doesn’t go forward, tap him with the whip. When a horse is schooled to legs, you don’t need legs, you just think legs.”

“Before you can understand hands, you have to understand legs. You can’t do much with hands until you have legs that are independent and soft.”

“Never ever kick the horse – that’s for the birds. In serious training we always carry a stick – not to beat the horse, but to support us.”

“I don’t kick horses. If I want more than leg, but less than a whip, then I’ll click to the horse. It’s a nice aid, clicking gives the horse some heart.”

“All over the world they teach riders to have a tapping, living leg. It’s a dreadful thing, a deadening thing, to be at the horse with your legs all the time.”

“The lesson of legs is through your whip – not through your legs.”

“Eighty percent of your time on the horse should be dressage and only 20 to 30% jumping. In Australia, I object to your education – not your guts, or experience or athletic ability – your education. I grossly object to hollow, hollow horses that jump upside down and hit their jumps.”

“Down here you people jump better than you ride.”

“Ask yourself – what originated style? Function! Function gave us form. If you teach good form, you get function. Why do we put the stirrup on the ball of the foot? Because it creates a softer, more effective ankle. We do it NOT to look better, but to DO it better.”

Even the mighty can have the occasional crash! George in a neckbrace after a fall at Hickstead with Jean Claude Vandenburge and Susanne Bond-Leone

The connection between riding well on the flat and over jumps was emphasized.

“The rising trot is the same as jumping a fence – the horse is throwing the rider out of the saddle. If you get it wrong posting the trot, then you are going to get it wrong over the jump.”

And we learnt there was posting and posting…

“They’ve taught you to bring your stomach forward in rising trot. I don’t like that. Get into position and let the horse do the work. Sink into the saddle and as you come down, open your hip angle – and your upper body comes close to the vertical. When you rise, close the angle between your hip and trunk. Let the horse do the work and see how little you have to do. When I say sink that means soft – come back into your horse’s back nice and soft.”

George does not agree with much that is taught in modern dressage – particularly the ‘tendency to use both leg and hand aids simultaneously.

“Do your half halts with your hands not your legs. Always use legs without hand, and hand without legs – that is a very old principle of the French School.”

“There are five rein aids: the direct rein, the indirect rein, the leading or opening rein, the pulley rein and the neck rein.”

“Legs, the rider can learn in three or four years – hands in thirty or forty years. There are good hands, bad hands, no hands and educated hands. I’ve taught tens of thousands of riders – and I’ve only ever had one pupil with educated hands… I won’t say which one.”

“Riders with bad hands are just butchers on horseback. In these clinics we aspire to good hands.”

After half an hour or so, George judged the riders, and their horses, sufficiently in tune to try a little jumping. But first riders were quizzed – what was the cardinal sin in jumping?

“The cardinal sin in jumping is hitting the horse’s mouth. That is the worst thing you can do to the horse. The second worst thing is hitting him in the back with your seat, and the third worst thing is swinging your legs back into his ribs.”

Morris has pioneered the crest release – both the short and the long release, where the rider’s hands are steadied on the horse’s neck George was quick to stress that it was not sufficient just to throw the hands up the horse’s neck and just as quickly pull them back:

“Rest and press your hands on the neck. That way you’ll get rid of the rotation when the hand comes back. Push the knuckles down and let the horse out of gaol! In the long release, put your hands half way between the withers and the ears. In the short release press your hands just in front of the withers.”

“If you hit the horse in the mouth with your hands you produce a horse that chips in on a short stride… then a stopper.”

“Instead of jumping in front of the horse with your upper body, let your hands do the work. Riders are jumping ahead of their horses because they do the work with the wrong part of their body. Move your hands – there is not a lot of work for the body. It’s very hard when you are riding a horse to do nothing. That’s the most difficult thing of all. The first step to timing is to be able to relax. Wait for your horse – wait for your jump.”

“You have a habit here when you are coming to a short distance of starting to hook, instead of waiting and letting your horse find his jump.”

Swiss student, Thomas Fuchs and Tullis Lass

If it was hard work for the riders, the horses had their share of learning curve to cope with too. Much of the schooling concentrated on making the horses think and learn for themselves. A false ground line behind the jump, and the poles were quickly corning down.

“That’s alright, I like a horse being stupid and green and hitting the jump. There is nothing so nice as a horse that has learnt to help himself. The Canadian showjumper, Ian Millar rides his horses out of balance in training. He does everything wrong to make it hard for them at home – in the Show Ring he rides like an artist. He is the best in the world today.”

Riders were encouraged to leave the horse alone and let it draw to the jump…

“As the jump gets wide, let freedom make it easy. Have the horse free and relaxed, gallop nicely to the jump and use very little hand. But when you ask him, go with him – never lie to the horse. Never ask him to jump and then not go with him.”

“Relax and trust your eye and give the horses scope. Get the scope from the horse’s gallop. I don’t like too much checking and ‘hand riding’. Hand riding comes from being excessively protective of the horse’s front end. Let the horse learn about his own front end and the hind end will also improve.”

“In the lower grades of showjumping I’ve seen in Australia, 70% of the faults come from behind. That tells you a lot about the rider’s hands. They are inverting and hollowing their horses. Don’t grab with your hands. Don’t try and force the distance. You can’t make distances that aren’t there appear. You’ve got to soften and wait for the distance to appear. When you see your distance, I want the leg very passive – don’t attack the distance.”

“Here in Australia, you’ve got better horses than your training.”

One of the US model ‘Morris’ superstars, Katie Monohan-Prudent

It was an amazing process to watch. George Morris is the master of setting up a line of jumps that will ask exactly the right questions – of creating a learning situation for both horse and rider.

“Give to your horse, let the horse study the jump, let him learn to bascule.”

And suddenly it all happens. The rider sits quiet, the horse rounds itself beautifully through the air, clears the jump neatly and cleanly – and the teacher is delighted:

“There you saw it. You did it. If you don’t like the first stride you see, sit still and bypass it, and take the short option. If you see a long option, a short one will come up. Relax your hands and arms and you will see it better.”

As might be expected from one who has spent a lifetime teaching, George Morris has an endless supply of exercises for his students. They are instructed to bridge the reins and take them in the outside hand, grasping the mane halfway up with the inside hand, and then standing in the stirrups – first at the walk, then at the trot.

“It’s a wonderful exercise for the rider to make the seat lighter, to put the weight in the heel. Watch me jumping. My seat is up, and then it is down – but be careful, when your seat comes down, it is like your leg or your hands, it must be tactful. When your seat is up, then your weight goes into your heels – not into your toes or your knees.”

Some of the exercises were even more entertaining. George would stand next to the wing, holding his hand up, and instruct the rider to look at his hand – on the approach, through the air, on landing and through the next corner.

And woe betide the rider who peeped down at the track!

Or instructing the rider to put their hand on their head, behind the back, on the hip – all in rapid succession, and all while the rider was sailing over a fair sized jump.

The lessons were taxing, exciting and ever so productive. At the end of the school, there was a queue of pupils coming to thank this master horseman who has so kindly given Australia’s riders the opportunity to share his wisdom, to benefit from his finely honed teaching technique. It was a rare privilege just to sit, and watch and listen… but at the end of the day, George Morris makes it quite clear that the ones who will really benefit are the horses.

“I’m interested in rider’s technique because I think it makes life easier for horses. Horses suffer when they are badly ridden – and the better the rider, the nicer the horse’s life.”

This article first appeared in the April 1988 issue of THM.

Visit the Saddleworld website…

If you like showjumping you should check out our library of showjumping articles:

http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/article/show-jumping/

 

Better dressage through cavaletti training? Yes!

 

openerHow can cavaletti work improve your dressage horse? The answer is simple: Pole and cavaletti training fosters suppleness, rhythm, increased concentration and impulsion. Our expert panel of Ingrid Klimke and Kornelia Kindermann show you how.

Original story featured in ST. GEORG and written by Kerstin Niemann
Translated by Ute Raabe / Photos by Jacques Toffi


ingridINGRID KLIMKE
At the age of 48, Ingrid Klimke has already secured her place in the equestrian hall of fame, and since she is right at the peak of her powers, there are doubtless many more triumphs to come. Like her father, Reiner, Ingrid has shone in both dressage and eventing. She was a World Cup dressage finalist in 2002 on Nector vh Carlshof, and has recently been competing in Grand Prix competition on Dresden Mann. As an eventer she has competed in five Olympic Games. Placing fourth at Sydney in 2000, on Sleep Late, fifth on FRH Butt’s Abraxxis at Hong Kong, as part of the gold medal winning German team, and again, the pair took home team gold from London. In Rio, she had to settle for team silver riding Horseware Hale Bob. She has competed at three WEGs, Lexington, Aachen and Caen. At the 2013 European Championships in Malmö, she was second on her new star, FRH Escada, and at the 2015 Euros, she was once again a member of the victorious German team on Horseware Hale Bob.

kornelia-kindermannKORNELIA KINDERMANN
Kornelia Kindermann, 33, celebrated her first success as a member of the winning team at the European Junior Championships in 2000. Her two horses, Holsteiner gelding Chamberlain by Calypso and Oldenburger mare Despinya carried her to more than ten wins at Grand Prix level, which earned her the Goldene Reitabzeichen award in 2011. She lists Rosemarie Springer, Karin Lührs and Jürgen Böckmann as her most influential coaches. Since September 2015 Kornelia trains dressage horses for the Holsteiner Verband and she has tested the exercises featured in this article on two four-year-old stallions.


r7q7414It seems like a paradox at first: As a dressage rider you probably picture a dressage arena and the different movements required at each level. Think rhythmic four-beat walk, a supple trot with an active hind leg, and a three-beat canter, nice and straight. To get there we commonly use transitions from gait to gait or within a gait, curved lines, circles and serpentines as well as movements like shoulder-in for more advanced horses. We all strive to present our well-trained and schooled horse at a competition and show off how well we have done our homework, and how supple, loose and regular our four-legged partner can move. But there’s more than one way to get there, and that’s where cavaletti work comes in.

Let’s be honest though – despite the fact that German role models like Ingrid Klimke or Jessica von Bredow-Werndl are well-known advocates of regular cavaletti work for their elite dressage horses – they still form the minority. There are plenty of dressage stables where you will be hard pressed to find a single pole or cavaletti. The same goes for many specialised dressage trainers. To help change this, St GEORG magazine has collated a selection of exercises, that all aim to improve your dressage training through a multitude of options. Here’s how.


1 – MORE RHYTHM AND BALANCE

Requirements:
4 poles, 4 cavaletti or 6 poles, 4 cavaletti (see diagram).

Tips for setting up:
Place two poles to form an alley of 1.3 metres width parallel to the centreline, preferably at G and D. Set up the four cavaletti between B and E with a distance of 1.3 metres. Make sure the two inner cavaletti and the two pairs of poles are all in line to build a straight alley down the centreline.

Objective:
Ride a three-loop serpentine with each loop touching the long side (red line). Practise rising trot over the poles. Changing the rein this frequently engages the hind legs and the back and builds up strength. Always aiming at the centre of the pole requires horse and rider to be focused.

Options:
– After the poles ride a transition to walk and then trot on again. These transitions in quick succession foster suppleness and strengthen the hind leg.
– Ride transitions on the centreline: Ride trot-walk transitions or simple changes on the centreline between the poles (blue and green line).
– Decrease the distance between the outer pair of poles to 0.8 metres. Start with the three-loop serpentines at a walk, then trot on after the first two poles, continue at trot over the cavaletti at X, then go back to walk over the last two poles.
– Change the poles to form a 90 degree angle to the centreline – two poles between F and K, four cavaletti at X, and two poles at M and H. Keep all distances between the poles at 1.30 metres. This is very beneficial for both of your concentration levels as you have to maintain the same regular trot rhythm between and over the poles.

Time required for setup: 6 minutes

Druck
x2p2076

SURE-FOOTEDNESS – The horse’s balance is going to improve with a few cavaletti lessons as it will become more confident and adept in lifting up its front and hind legs.

 

r7q7522

Maximum concentration and a perfect sequence, this horse is swinging through – the lesson is a success

Requirements:
7 poles, preferably long and coloured.

Tips for setting up:
First place one pole at X, at a 90 degree angle to the centreline. From there set up the next four poles, i.e. two on either side, 1.30 metres apart from X. Leave a 60-70 centimetre gap in between. Then place the last two poles on the centreline, again maintaining the 1.30 distance.

Objective:
This exercise may look simple, but it requires great awareness and focus of both horse and rider. Practise the outside line first and you will have plenty of time and room. Your horse becomes sure-footed and focused as it doesn’t have to step over a pole with each stride. Riding down the centre line over three poles is slightly more difficult, you need have the horse firmly ‘between your legs’ to stay on the line. Finally, the middle line with five poles really asks for straightness, control and correct aids by the rider.

Options:
– Start with trotting over the two poles on the outside line. The distance between these poles should be 2.6 metres, the horse will do two strides instead of one.
– Ride down the centreline. These are the three poles with 2.6 metres distances.
– Finish off with the narrow line, so that the horse trots over five poles with no in-between steps.

Time required for setup: 5 minutesDruck

Comments by the Experts

Ingrid:
It is important to change layouts regularly to keep the training interesting for yourself and your horse. I really love that you are not trotting over a pole with each stride here, but instead are able to vary the distances. The distances are still adequate but the horse now has to look for the next pole. These exercises really make horses responsive.

Kornelia:
This was my favourite exercise! Those outside lines are very inviting during the warm up, they stimulate a swinging back and require a correct, straight approach. Riding down the centreline was the first real test for me. How well is my horse reacting to my left and right leg aid? Does it stay straight? And finally the last narrow line over the five poles, I had to place my hands wider to make it work.

 


2 – THROUGH LANES AND GAPS 

Requirements:
6 poles. Or 4 poles and 2 cavaletti.

Tips for setting up:
Place a pole on either side of the diagonal, 1.30 metres apart. Start at X and spread the poles evenly, so allow for the same distance to the poles at M and at K.

Objective:
This setup can be used effectively throughout the lesson and at different levels of training. Riding on curved lines combined with riding over the trot poles improves the softness on both hands. Riding on the diagonal line between the poles gives the rider the opportunity to get a feeling for straightness and test if he’s got the horse evenly on both legs. As the transitions are ridden between the poles, they have to be exact. However, don’t ask for all three transitions on the diagonal, that’s too hard.

Options:
– During the warm up ride as many curved lines as possible and trot over the cavaletti.
– Towards the end of the warm up ride through the diagonal alley and include simple walk-trot-walk transitions. You can execute these between, before or after the poles.
– More advanced combinations can also include walk to canter transitions between the poles.
– Medium level onwards: Practise flying changes between the poles. However, you might need to increase the distance to 1.6 metres to prevent the horse from stepping onto a pole.

Time required for setup: 4 minutesDruck

The green line is suitable for the warm up. The blue line between the poles shows where to best ride the transitionssequence

The pole alley is a simple but effective method for training transitions, such as trot-walk-trot, to become on point and straight


aufmacher

The optical barriers help with correcting straightness 

Requirements:
10 poles. Or 6 poles left and 4 cavaletti on the right.

Tips for setting up:
Place six poles to form an alley in the shape of a one-loop serpentine on the long side. The distance between the poles should be 1.0 metre. On the opposite side set up two pairs of poles each, 1.3 metres apart, so that you can ride a half circle into the corner and out of the corner.

Objective:
The frequent change of reins will help the horse become more supple and balanced on both hands and eliminate stiffness. As you alternate between trotting over the poles on one side and riding between them on the other side your horse will learn to focus and establish a natural stride.

Options:
– Treat the poles on the long side at B as alleyways, whilst riding into and out of the corner on the other side, thus trotting over the poles. Go sitting trot in the corners.
– Include walk-trot transitions between the poles. First just one at B, then two at M and F.
– On the long side at E: Trot over the poles first, then transition to walk, then back to trot.
– For advanced combinations: Right-hand canter transition at C and proceed to canter through the pole alley on the long side (includes counter canter).
– Leave only one pole on the long side at E and ride a flying change over the pole. Practise one corner first, later both.

Time required for setup: 8 minutesDruck

Comments by the Experts

Ingrid:
Trotting over poles on curved lines assists in establishing an even bend of the longitudinal axis. I also like utilising the gaps. Horse and rider really get to know one another here; how many metres before the poles do I need to set up the transition? They are a perfect means for self-control.

Kornelia:
These options really test your horse’s skills. The trot part is relatively easy, the canter work more tricky. You soon realise how much leg is needed to keep the horse straight between the poles.

3 – TURNING AND BENDING

Requirements:
6 poles (see diagram) or 8-10 in a 20 x 60 arena.

Tips for setting up:
Form a V with two poles over the centreline. The distance from the centre of each pole should be 2.6 metres. Leave a gap of about 3.9 metres and then set up another V and so on.

Objective:
These few poles allow for a multitude of bending exercises – Goodbye stiffness! They encourage frequent and exact rein changes which in turn improve suppleness and flexibility. There is the option of riding continuous half-circles (red line), or loop serpentines as required in a dressage test (blue line). Depending on the level of training these figures can be schooled in trot or canter, with optional flying changes. Each time you negotiate the poles you increase your horse’s focus and improve its expression in the flying changes. This challenging exercise is confidence building as well.

Options:
– Instead of riding serpentines over the trot, go right along the centreline (green line). Don’t be fooled though, you need to have your horse on the leg to remain straight across the angled poles.

Tip for setting up:
To help with setting up the poles evenly, you can place two lunge lines on the arena floor to mark the centreline.

Time required for setup: 8 minutes

Druckr7q7584r7q7611

TOP: Trotting into the ‘V’ presented no problem for the four-year-old Holsteiner Damon by Damon Hill; BOTTOM: Two supporting poles make the approach onto the pointy end of the ‘V’ easier. 

Comments by the Experts

Ingrid:
Each kind of serpentine is of immense value in training, whether they are executed in S-shaped loops or more straight. This set up promotes correct riding of even circles on both hands. Riding over the angled poles or the V-shape also helps with assessing distances.

 Kornelia:
This exercise was most interesting. At first I found it rather difficult to keep my horse straight before the V. With two supporting poles placed as a channel towards the V the horses were able to relax and I could feel how working over angled poles can have a positive effect on suppleness.

 


4 – TIME TO CANTER

Requirements:
2 poles, 3 cavaletti. Bonus: the cavaletti can be placed at half-height as well.

Tips for setting up:
Place one pole at a 90-degree angle to the long diagonal, so that you are able to ride into the first corner of the short side. On the other side, set up a pole that allows for a half circle and back to the track figure. Then set up two or three cavaletti at the canter distance of 3.0-3.2 metres on the same long side.

Objective:
These options are useful for horses that experience difficulties with flying changes. The poles are intentionally placed like so, with a corner and the arena wall to follow soon after. This is great for horses that get a bit hot when practising changes. An added bonus: the poles act as a fix-point for the horse to change legs and for the rider to give the aid with minimal effort.

Options:
-The angled poles can already be used effectively in the warm up phase, both at walk and at trot and also for transitions to walk after trotting over the poles.
– Ride towards the corner to slow down a hot horse.
– The pole at F can be used to ride a flying change at the end of the diagonal.
– The combination of angled poles and cavaletti increase concentration. Please note: Practise the red line first, as the green line is more challenging.Reitbahn

x2p2007

The stallion demonstrates through his active pushing hindquarters how beneficial cavaletti work can be.

Comments by the Experts

Ingrid:
Not every trainer uses poles for training flying changes. However, my experience has always been positive. The horse has to change the sequence of its footfalls in the suspension phase. Some horses find it difficult to sort out their legs quickly enough; single poles, if placed correctly, can be a remedy. But don’t rush.

Kornelia:
The canter work over poles demands a certain level of skill and balance. Not every combination will find it easy to maintain a three-beat canter rhythm, let alone practising flying changes at the same time. I suggest starting by cantering over the poles first without changing reins, that’s tough enough!

 


Distances and Handy Hints

Standard distances for cavaletti training:
Walk: 0.8-0.9 metres
Trot: 1.3-1.4 metres
Canter: 3.0-3.2 metres

Consider your horse’s stride and adapt the distances accordingly. Later on, the poles can also be used to work on lengthening or shortening strides, even to practise some half steps over cavaletti at half-height.r7q7632 r7q7639

Champ meets Malcolm Barns

Words by Chris Hector and photos by Roz Neave

Champ was by Weltmeyer out of an imported Trakehner mare

Who better to give Sam and Champ a quick progress check than Malcolm Barns? Malcolm is one of the unsung heroes of Australian Dressage. A rider whose huge natural talent carried him to a win in Australia’s first ever Three Day Event and then saw him star in the show ring, and emerge as one of our first serious dressage competitors. Malcolm also possessed the insight (rare alas even today) that to really learn his art he needed to travel, and to travel to the home of dressage – Germany.

He brought back ‘crazy’ ideas with him. At a time when horses were jacked up and double bridled into a very artificial outline, it was Malcolm who taught that they must stretch and relax and find their rhythm. A tall thin man, Malcolm has the soul of a dancer or a musician, for him rhythm is one of those essential prerequisites to riding well. I remember well, and with great affection, many of his group lessons at Oakwood, where he would have us singing the beat of the inside shoulder as we made our way in serried ranks around the School, “left, left, left, left…”

But before any of that, it was time to check out Champ’s work on the lunge line.

I’m sure he knew, that Sam, good student as she was (and is!) would have given her young stallion a good grounding on the ground, but it was just as well to start at the beginning.

Malcolm had his text for the day well prepared. It goes something like this:

Things to think about when you lunge:

Safety rules are important. When lunging always wear gloves to prevent rope burn.

Never thread your hand through the loop, as this has caused many injuries to trainers; the fingers can go into the loop because then you can still let go. If you put your hand through you can be dragged.

Always lunge in an enclosed area. Never wear spurs when you are lunging because they can get caught.

The surface is extremely important, if it is slippery the horse can tip up, and it is hard to get the rhythm of their stride when they are floundering. Best is a solid base with between two and four inches of sand. You need just as good a surface to lunge them on as you do to ride them on. However always lunging in a round yard does not mean that the horse will automatically lunge in an arena. I’ve had lots of horses that have come to me, and people say, ‘yes they lunge’ but when you go to start them in the indoor school, they don’t really lunge at all. They are not between the driving of the whip and the containing of the lunge line, all that has happened is they have been chased around a round yard.

much more on how and why we lunge follows

Find out more: go to www.saddleworld.com.au

Reasons for lunging: For four-year-old backing (not breaking!). This is where I am so happy that they have cut out the Young Horse classes for the three-year-olds – even four is very young. It can be used to re-training; an alternative if the rider is injured. Twenty minutes of lunging is generally enough. Circles are unnatural for a horse really, and it doesn’t really matter if the horse bends out a bit, what we are really after is direct flexion with the lowering of the neck – not lateral flexion. A lot of people don’t like it when the horse bulges out a bit, so they tighten up the inside lunging rein and think they’ve got a good result, but all they have done is taught them hindquarters out.

I prefer to lunge with same length side reins, so I don’t teach quarters out, and to use my lunge rein to engage the outside rein. If the horse is fresh after time off, it is best to lunge before you ride – and with your young horse it is best to lunge for ten minutes before you get on, just so he is warmed up nicely.

Lunging is very good to teach beginner riders, and that needs an older horse, but it is not good to lunge with a rider on consecutive days because that is very hard on the horse especially with a beginner bumping around on them.

The European riders learn to ride on the lunge, and that is why 90% of their competition riders can sit, while 90% of ours, can’t. When you are lunging you are always training – not just having the horse rush wildly around – teaching them to go forward and come back, forward and back which is related to your half halt.

Be careful that the side reins are not pinching, often people put their side reins right around a string girth, or right round a girth with two straps, and then it can pinch. Just put it around the front strap of the girth, and it won’t slip down.

If you have a horse that is being difficult, and trying to run away, (perhaps he has been ‘lunged’ in a round yard with a stock whip) then the lunge line may go through the bit ring, over the nose to the ring on the other side but that is quite severe and you have to be careful with it because it works on the lips as well as the side reins on the bars, so it is not really very nice for the horse and doesn’t help the horse become confident with the bit. NEVER thread the lunge line through the ring of the bit under the jaw through to the other side because that has a nutcracker action and if you do that, you will never get the horse confident in the bit. That is a real no-no.

Find out more about IAHP: www.iahp.com.au

The trainer must learn to hold the rein in two hands to avoid the evasions that can occur when the rein is only held in one hand. If you lunge with just one hand holding the rein, the horse can turn in and away before you can adjust the lunge rein – that’s why you need two hands to develop an elastic contact.

“I like a roller to start off with. It’s not much good to have padding because I don’t do the roller up too tightly at first. If you have padding it can slip and give them a fright. But I do have the breastplate so that even if the roller shifts a little bit it is not going to slip back and ‘flank rope’ them. I find that after 3-5 days I can tighten the roller up and then I do need padding to protect the wither.”

“Here Champ is just walking freely without the side reins. If I’ve got the time, I like to work them freely for five minutes. They’ve got to learn to walk on the lunge, if they just trot all the time, they’ll learn to spin in, or run away from you. They really have to learn to walk, and that helps them loosen. Side reins can restrain them too much so leave them off at this stage.”

NOW WITH SIDE REINS

“When you do put on the side reins, too long is always better than too short. Too short they can get the broken neck-line, where the side reins have been tightened too quickly and they break at the fifth vertebrae instead of at the poll. I’m never quite sure what the ‘poll’ is. I think it is the first three vertebrae not just one.

If you start with just one outside side rein, then the horse can’t hit them and give himself a fright or bruise his mouth. When I add the second side rein, I make sure they are quite long, even if I do have to add a bit of hayband to make the side reins even longer. If they hit the side reins they can slip and fall over or rear and fall and hurt themselves. It does happen.”

 

STOPPING ON THE WALL

So how do you teach a horse to stop on the lunge?

“Go to the wall with the horse, actually getting there a bit before the horse and use your voice as you come to the wall, halt, so he associates it with what you want. Then if he is on the circle and you take a step towards the wall, he will go to stop. As they stop, I go out to them, to change the rein, or whatever, I don’t ever bring the horse into the centre of the circle. I start teaching them to stop in the walk. Once they are stopping on the wall you can move them away from it.”

“We want him to stretch and go down. This is where the ears are going away, he is nice and soft on the side reins, they are not pulling him in, or pulling him down but he is learning to accept the side rein and getting his back up and rounded. It’s like teaching someone to swim, when they first go into the water they put their head up and they can only dog paddle, they can’t use their legs or arms, and it is the same with a horse. You ‘ve got to teach them to lower the head, then the back comes up, they open up the shoulder so the front leg goes from the hoof to the wither, not just from the hoof to the elbow, and they also learn to use their hindlegs because they have the space to come through. If the horse has its head high, it becomes a leg-goer, not a back-goer as the Germans say.”

“Doing this work is very good for the handler as well, you have to wait and give – if you ask them to wait, and hang on, then you have troubles.”

“Now I’m driving him, he could go a little lower again, but he is accepting the bit, he is round in his back, the contact is quite light, he is working on the weight of the long reins, I’m not hanging on him. So he is learning to regulate. He is waiting to be driven. This work is very good for later, if you want to teach them piaffe or in hand work, this is a good start for them.”


Malcolm Barns – A life time with horses…

“I first became involved with horses nearly 70 years ago, on Elwood Beach. I remember my father putting me on ponies – that was the start of the damage. We lived in Balwyn, just seven miles from the middle of the city, and you wouldn’t believe it, but we had draught horses living just over the road. It used to scare my mother stiff because I’d be climbing up their legs. So when I was six, she sent me to the local riding school.”

What sort of instruction did you receive?

“None! It was just don’t fall off. Hang on. When I went out with the riding school, I was on a lead of course. He was a very good man, but he had no technical knowledge.”

You ended up riding in and winning – the first Melbourne Three Day Event, you must have picked up some knowledge somewhere...

“From Joe Stadelmann, and Mrs Coffey, and later from Franz Mairinger. There were so few instructors and they conflicted anyway. Mrs Coffey was marvellous, a real horsewoman. It was just a pity that dressage hadn’t come in when she was about because she could really handle a horse, on the flat and over fences.”

Then you went to Europe?

“Initially I went to England. I’d been judged in Australia by Col. Weldon, and he sent me to Robert Hall, and I spent about three months with him – one month of which I was Mrs Hall’s chauffeur. I went to Aachen and Hamburg with her, then back to England, but I wasn’t very happy with Robert Hall. I went back to Germany where I booked in for a month’s riding and then they employed me. By then I’d picked up a little bit of knowledge, but I didn’t really know very much. I hadn’t picked up much from Robert Hall except lunging – he wasn’t a great teacher so far as I was concerned.”

“The most important thing about Germany was what I saw – seeing horses work, seeing riders work. They don’t have private lessons like we do here, you just ride with a group – I always wanted to lead the group. I’d only been there five weeks and I started teaching, even though I couldn’t say very much but I could copy and I could parrot teach – sometimes the class would get out of control because I couldn’t remember how to bring them back again. I’d be teaching with the book of instructions in my hand, but sometimes I couldn’t find the page! That was a panic. I arrived in Germany in August. You were not allowed to teach unless you passed an exam. I did the exam in October, and came top.”

Malcolm and his Andalusian stallion, Hortelano

Coming back then must have been a bit of a shock – it would have been a bit better in Australia in 2002 when we have quite a few Grand Prix horses.... But back in 1969?

“There was no Grand Prix then! I think Intermediaire came in about 1973/4, and Grand Prix after that. I did very well with my Andalusian stallion, Hortelano who I imported in 1976, we did up to Prix St Georges and Inter 1. That’s all we had at the time.”

“The basic I got in Germany was very sound. Herr Brandl who I studied with had been the chief instructor at Warendorf at the age of 27 – he had already won the Hamburg Derby on Aar. He was a very old fashioned horse, a great big fellow. I had one ride on him and he bolted! Which was great for my ego – but they knew he would bolt. He always bolted unless you really knew the horse! Working in Germany was great; it was just a bit of a shock to come back home.”

Working on Winnie’s Jump: Part Three

In part two, we concentrated on a ‘getting to know you’ session for Winsome and her young rider, Laura Rowe. This time it’s Winnie’s turn in the spotlight, as a trainer, Michelle Strapp refines her showjumping technique.

As explained in the first of this series, while Winsome had a basic (very basic) dressage education, this jumping thing was totally new, and much of Michelle’s early work concentrated on teaching her what all those poles were about…

“With green horses, often the challenge is just to get from one side of the jump to the other. I had Winnie for a week when Laura went away, and what I just did was jump her each day, for a short time, until she understood that she was actually getting from A to B via the jump.”

“The problem is she has too fine a line between hand and leg to a fence, she’d come round a corner, cantering to a fence, and you would just sit for a second, and she would go back to trot, and you’ve lost your rhythm to the fence. For a younger rider, it is important that the horse actually takes them to the fence, so they can sit against the canter if they have some doubt, but the horse still keeps cantering to the fence.”

“A lot of the time, a green horse doesn’t even see the fence. They are looking at the trees, or a car going by, a piece of grass – so as you canter to the fence you know there is a good chance that they are not going to leave the ground, they might walk through it! When we had her for that week our whole concept was to give her the idea that when she turns to a fence, she is going to jump it, she is not going to go round it – she must watch the top rail.”

Since then, Winsome had been back at her new home with Laura, where she discovered something much more exciting than jumping poles – jumping KANGAROOS! So amazing were these animals that Winnie, who has always been somewhat plump, actually went off her feed and fined down a little. She looked great when she came back to another jumping session with Michelle.

“She hasn’t jumped now for three or four days so it will be interesting to see what happens. She might just flop over and not watch the top rail at all, or she might actually remember jumping, that she’s had a few rubs, and be a little more on the job. You see a very good horse – they just don’t take their eye off the rail. Careful horses never take their eye off the rail, other horses look through it. What I found in that week I had her, was that we got a reaction when she had a rail down, sometimes quite a big reaction and I thought, wow, this horse can seriously jump – but the good part, considering the job this horse has to do for Laura, was that after three or four fences, that started to wear off and she said, I’m quite happy to do what I have to do. She’s really quite a conservative jumper. Good with the legs, but conservative, which is very important for a junior because if you have a horse that is too careful and you make mistakes, they are unforgiving.”

 

“It will be interesting to see how wobbly she is today, and how she travels down to the fence. Laura has been riding her so well, I can send her to home for three or four days, and she is not back being crooked – Laura is doing a very good job with her.”

And Winnie doesn’t just canter to her jump, she feels really good when she lands – but that doesn’t worry Michelle:

“If they want to play on landing, it means they are having a good time and as long as it is not being ridiculous, as long as they are not putting in huge pig roots, then it is best not to over react. If they are landing and just want to play, and you over-react, and grab them as soon as they land to stop them doing that, you affect the jump in mid-air. They are going to be waiting and anticipating that you will grab, and then you create a tightness. Just ride forward through the play. That’s one of the things about schooling a horse, bringing out its natural exuberance while still keeping it obedient, not crushing the horse.”

b

c

d

e

g

It was noticeable how Winnie’s canter had improved, and she was holding a lovely counter canter through the corners.

“She is getting a lot better balanced, a lot straighter, and counter canter is a great exercise to strengthen the gait because they use muscles in counter canter they don’t use in normal canter.

I like horses counter cantering in jumping lessons quite early. It’s not just strengthening, it’s a test of obedience too – you are keeping them in the ‘chute’. George Morris made us jump five-foot courses in counter canter for precisely that reason, it was difficult because all these automatic horses were hot to do flying changes, it was hard to keep them between your legs – discipline. Obviously, flying changes become very easy once you can do that.”

Having jumped the trot rail and the little fence once, Michelle lengthens the distance just a tad:

“The distance was a very steady six. She is actually starting to show a little more exuberance on landing. Before she landed and landed dead. Now she is starting to jump the cross rail and carry herself forward. You’ve got to remember that your first landing stride is your first stride to the next fence. Because she is landing and taking rein, and travelling from behind, then with this young horse, you don’t want to make that a negative. Her problem is that she doesn’t travel enough to her fences, she’s too fine between hand and leg, she’d much rather do six tiny strides than float down in five. So I just altered the distance a little to allow me to land and travel forward.”

“When you are on a young horse and you feel two strides out that it is not watching the fence, it is very tempting to do the old Australian quick jerk off the ground. The rider goes – WATCH the fence – and the horse goes hollow. I jumped a horse for someone the other day, and I just cantered down to a fence, and the horse walked right through it. It was actually waiting for me to do the quick jerk off the ground.”

“Once I’d jumped six fences then the jump became softer and bigger because he actually started to watch the front rail itself. That’s why some of the professional riders like to get those good junior riders to sit on their horses, they don’t have a lot of timing but they are very good at holding a rhythm, and staying in balance. You can get them to sit on your young horses really nicely and they don’t complicate it, they just canter down in a beautiful balance, they let the horse think about whether it is a little bit long or a little bit short, they might cluck a bit or a little whoa, but they don’t start doing the jerks to get them off the ground. That’s one of the hardest things with green horses – just sitting there when there is always the chance that they don’t take off, and they crawl along on their knees for a while, which is fun!!!”

Time to test whether Winnie was keeping her wits about her…

“Now we have put the fence up a bit, and I’m going to canter to the fence exactly the same way. We haven’t put it up a lot, but it is enough for a young horse to be caught. We just want to keep the canter uncomplicated, she is to watch the front rail and we want to see if she gives it a bit of a rub, or whether she tries a bit harder. And then come back and see what the reaction is the next time.”

“If you are looking for the superstar, you don’t mind if this reaction is a little backed off and very elevated. That might happen after she has worn the rail, but your superstar might stay elevated for the whole session. But because I’ve worked her before, I’m confident she’ll come back to how she jumped it the first time – and that’s what she needs for a junior for equitation.”

She jumped the little fence with style, in good form, and the canter is looking wonderful…

“Yes she is starting to get really buoyant, to free up. I’ll jump the double now. With a young horse, the first time they jump a double they tend to jump the first bit and then not know where to go after that.”

“You’ve got to keep them in the chute. It’s most important in a double for a young horse to land and take the bridle forward. What a lot of horses do – like the one I rode the other day – is land, and jam their neck up at you. What the rider has done is tried to keep the horse in the chute by hanging on to their mouth through the double, and of course the horse learns to put its neck back at you, it’s a really awful feeling even when the horse does jump. The most important thing is that I can keep a feel of the mouth, but allow my hand to float through the double to encourage her to take the rein, open her stride and give her the freedom of her back. That’s why the canter is getting bouncier because she is getting freer.”

“Horses always have a tendency to run one way or the other. It’s very minor now but she has that tendency to run to the right of the fence. Remember in our flatwork, which shoulder did she put out? The right one. It’s always the same. When riders come and say their horse is running down the fence one way or the other, generally you will find it on the flat… Horses use that as an evasion, they jump across the fence, instead of having to jump up through the wither and up through the back. But she has a very good attitude and actually has quite a ping.”

“When she started she couldn’t really find the jump, and it was a bit of a flop, and then every now and then, you would get the jump. When they jump enough fences they start to put it together.”

“Because of the job she has got to do, I’m not inclined to jump her over anything too massive at the moment. It’s a matter of getting out and jumping a few spooky fences, not that I think it is going to affect her too much. She just needs to jump a lot of fences the next six months because she has to give Laura confidence, and Laura hasn’t jumped enough fences to be accurate enough to be jumping bigger fences. At the moment Winnie is super confident. I can move her up and take the more forward option, or wait for a second option, and she stays in my hand and confident, very relaxed on landing- that’s part of her flatwork. It really pleases me, I don’t feel I could do any more with her.”

“Her attitude is super, and her rideability, she is just getting freer, she feels more alive in the paces. I think the trot work will just keep on improving.”

And just to prove that, Michelle shortens the trot just a tad, and Winnie starts to dance…

“It doesn’t hurt to do a little baby passage work, it gets her little hocks going, and she does it so well, you can keep her deep and easy – you never get to the stage of clashing aids. I can keep my hands dead still and just activate her hocks – it doesn’t hurt them so long as you are not forcing the deepness and the leg. She is so happy to be deep and it is quite easy to activate her, it feels quite springy, we’ll have to start teaching her passage piaffe. Everything is going great with her, we just have to get through the kangaroos.”

Lisa Wilcox – When there is a will…

Words by Chris Hector and photos by Roz Neave

When Lisa Wilcox was based at the Vorwerk stud in Germany, it was always an inspiration to visit and see her working with the stallions, share a visit…

The German dressage fans are having to come to grips with the fact that quite a few of their Grand Prix competitions are being won by an American, Lisa Wilcox, riding a team of stallions from one of Oldenburg’s largest and most historic studs.

Georg Vorwerk was one of the great breeders, and an adventurous one, not afraid to travel to France to find great stallions like Furioso and Inschallah. His daughter, Gudula, is also an innovator and the Vorwerk stud, under her guidance was one of the first to tap the emerging market for dressage horses.

Certainly Mrs Vorwerk struck it lucky when Rubinstein, partnered with Martina Hannover, went within a whisker of making the German Olympic Dressage team. He was one of the first of the new style of breeding stallions who also held their own in the competition arena.

Mrs Vorwerk was also prepared to look beyond her own borders when she went in search of a rider to replace Martina, and found her in former US eventing rider, Lisa Wilcox, who discovered dressage when she married a US based German Grand Prix rider/trainer – before moving on to Germany to hone her equestrian skills.

Once again, it is a move that has paid dividends for Mrs Vorwerk. Lisa Wilcox and Rhodiamant missed out on a place in the American team for Sydney when a qualifying show lost its COl status (don’t ask it is one of those American ‘objective selection’ things) but is well and truly in line for a place in the team for next year’s World Championships in Jerez. Riding Rhodiamant’s little brother, Royal Diamond, she took out the six-year-old title at last year’s Bundeschampionate – and with a string of top stallions competing at FEI level, Lisa is riding high.

So how does an American end up riding some of Germany’s most expensive stallions? In an earlier interview, Lisa suggested that the crucial ingredient was ‘luck’ – that she, Lisa was the right height, and in the right place, at the right time.

Watching her work at home you realise that an awesome ability to focus is probably the more important factor. When we arrived at 8.30, we were just in time for a cup of coffee with Lisa, at four o’clock, seven horses later, it was her last for the day. Throughout that time, the concentration was total, responding to each horse as an individual while at the same time working through a very defined system that she has developed with her Spanish Riding School trained instructor, Ernst Hoyos.

Her first ride was Regal Dancer and he was about to step out in his first test – which is why Lisa was reading the test book and muttering to herself as she traced out the pattern in the indoor school at a walk. She put down the book, picked up the rein and was straight into canter, a nice round canter, and a very nice flying change, the session had only just begun and Lisa was already asking for a very short canter, really making the horse take the weight on his hindlegs, and into a training pirouette, a very small volte making the horse bring his front around his hindquarters. Aside from the occasional slow, deliberate lateral flex, Lisa’s hands do not move, they are absolutely quiet and still. Now she is tightening up the pirouettes… we’ve gone IS minutes and still not a single step of trot!

Regal Dancer

According to Lisa, Regal Dancer is not the fastest learner:

“It took ‘Richard’ forever to learn about the double bridle – I even took him out on trail rides to get him used to it. It might take him longer to learn than say, Royal Diamond, who is super quick, but when he learns, he remembers. It is a mistake to start comparing horses, you can’t get mad at him for not being so fast to learn.”

next came a young Royal Diamond

Next in the ultimate fast learner, Royal Diamond aka Roy the Toy Boy – and a little tip for riders from Lisa. When Roz’s camera flash goes off in the Royal Diamond’s face, he takes absolutely no notice: “You see it so often at horse shows, the riders look at what they think the horse will look at. Don’t do it!”

Again, after a period of walk, Lisa has Roy straight into canter. This time she is working the young stallion in a snaffle, ‘I don’t need a full bridle until two days before the show…’ and again the rider is asking very early on for a real shortening in the canter, winding down the circle making the horse use his inside hind leg, and collecting through the corner.

Lisa rides with an absolutely classical seat and never ever sacrifices her position, always deep, centred, demanding that the horse carry her – and in the half passes she is exactly in the middle of the saddle. The grey throws off a series of dead straight flying changes, he misses one change, and Lisa immediately circles, and starts the diagonal again.

“That was my fault, I hear my trainer’s voice big time – SIT now.”

Royal Diamond gets his two times perfectly and Lisa releases him into a relaxing deep canter.

Royal Diamond

A little refreshing walk and it is into trot, loose and deep, getting that lovely balanced look:

“The goal every day is to work like you want it in the show arena – then showing can be fun, you don’t have to be stressed, and neither does the horse. Today we did more canter, yesterday it was more trot. I want to keep him fresh and happy. Sometimes at show after a test I’ll put him on a long rein, and you can imagine him lighting a cigar and saying- It wasn’t all that tough.”

For Rozier, to the photographer’s delight, we move to the outdoor arena, although perhaps it is not entirely to the rider’s delight, since there is a little band of mares on the other side of the hedge, and Rozier thinks it might be fun to join them. “You can’t blame him for being a stallion, that’s his job,” says Usa, and proceeds to get him delightfully soft and round, showing some lovely one times changes before they are off for a burn down the long side, then the medium change at X comes up so sweetly, and the horse is back, so collected it is almost cantering on the spot. Lisa even halts right next to a mare: “I let him look a little. He’s so polite about it and it is not interfering with his work I want him to feel happy.”

Rosey is moving from extended trot to passage back to extended, trot to passage, ending with a rising trot deep and round. “He’s doing Prix St George but he is a horse that will really like Grand Prix.”

Rozier

From an FEI competitor to a real baby – Raoul is just back from his 100 day test where he was 4th with 122 points at the Neustadt-Dosse testing station.

“It’s just my second ride with him, I just want to relax him in the indoor. He plays with the bit and pushes his tongue down. I think they must have been using a sharp bit on him, so I’ve gone to a fat double broken snaffle. You can’t blame the riders at the testing station, they have such a short time to get it done. He’s got used to just being with the other guys, now he has to learn about mares and foals again. Most important is that he has got to learn that even when he thinks he doesn’t want to do something, he’s got to. Got to learn that I am the boss. That’s why I am keeping him deep, I’m giving him lots of direction and security.”

“I ignore what he is doing. I talk to him; I use a lot of voice with young stallions. If you pressure them with your seat, they react negatively, if you relax your seat, they relax. I know when I get to this corner he is going to react, but I’m staying ahead of him in my thoughts, that’s how you can help a young horse.”

And sure enough, as Lisa croons, ‘it’s fine, it’s fine’ young Raoul goes smoothly through that ‘bogey’ corner.

Raoul

“By giving him the reins it relaxes the muscles in his neck, instead of tensing the muscles. I don’t make any change going into the corner. I am careful, watching but I don’t do anything different with my body. I stay relaxed but on my toes so I can react quickly if something goes wrong, but I don’t want him thinking – what’s she doing with her body?”

“This young stallion has done his performance test, but he is not licensed. We believe in him, and he’ll be licensed through the sport.”

On to another youngster, but one that has been in work for a somewhat longer time – Roadster, a son of Rhodiamant and out of a Furioso mare.

“My aim in this session is to work on the quality of the trot. I want more expression and a steady contact – when he came from the 100 test, he had a bobbing head.”

read on

In the canter, Lisa is aiming ‘not for collection, just a little bit less free’ and keeping him in a shoulder fore position to increase the activity of the hindleg and to get him to carry himself more. Even in the rising trot, Usa has the horse slightly angled from the wall, and you can see him taking the extra weight.

“Lots of young horses are wide behind in the trot, I don’t want to let him go wide behind, that is why I am building on his strength and teaching him to carry himself. I do lots of transitions from medium to working trot on the circle. Lots of little half halts on the outside rein. He is teaching me things about his father – I learn things from him I can use on Rohdiamant.”

Roadster certainly has his dad’s flamboyant trot!

Roadster

“The trick with stallions is to get as stubborn with them as they are with you – and to have time. You must be able to say, I can’t finish until I have corrected that.”

Friedenfurst is eleven and a serious FEI competitor.

“Now I want more expression in the piaffe and passage and in the one tempi changes. Fritz is seriously tall and I look tiny on him.”

Lisa is – surprise – quickly into canter on Fritz, winding in the circle – “I want to increase the activity of the hind legs, I don’t want him to get any slower in the collection, I’ll do lots of small circles, but not ask for pirouette. I want him to learn to keep cantering.”

And canter he does, and now it is pirouette time, lots of pirouettes, one after another, not just singles, double pirouettes and more double pirouettes.

Friedenfurst ‘Fritz’

“See now he’s in that steady rhythm and it is oom papa, oom papa instead of dat-dat-dat.”

A lovely pair of pirouettes and a line of super ones finishes the canter work, and it is into a huge extended trot, back to passage, and some lovely piaffe, a little advancing but clean, even and rhythmic.

“I want him to go forward in piaffe. He is only 11 and he is not strong enough to stay on the spot. Eleven is not old in the life of a Grand Prix horse. I let him go forward even in a test at a show, I want him to enjoy going to the show, not to get stressed. The most important thing is that it is even. You have to be careful not to put him out of rhythm, you must be supportive. Work him in a rhythm until he is settled in that rhythm, then ask for expression – otherwise you are never going to get an even rhythm.”

“He is so happy showing off. At the Trakehner Gala, the more they clapped the bigger he got! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after that one… Holy Cow!!”

So out comes another of the Vorwerk stallion stars, Relevant ‘a big guy with a big eye, and he can see all those mares!’

Relevant

“This horse is just a pinch further along. You can stay more on the spot with him – in fact he gets to be a bit of an over-achiever after piaffe and passage, so again, I have to get him to relax.”

“I am working with him on getting his one times changes straighter, his twos are pretty good … I am so lucky that all the horses I ride are breeding stallions and are not going to be sold. Going into the WEG at Jerez, I’ve got Rohdiamant, Relevant and Friedenfurst.”

Once again you can’t believe how cool and elegant Lisa is, still as focussed as she was when she started out about seven hours ago. Lucky she has such a wonderful attention span because her sixth ride, Rohdiamant is a bit of a lad, especially on the outdoor arena where he can show off to the girls. Lisa just laughs and lets him play. To make things worse, things are hotting up in the car park as the local farmers arrive with their mares to be bred – it’s Wednesday, and the stallions are open for business Monday, Wednesday and Friday…

“In a situation like this, getting his attention goal number one.”

Rohdiamant

After fifty one times changes in a row, across the diagonal, through the corner, across the diagonal again and through the comer, and into a double pirouette, you figure she probably does have his attention. A little bit of walk, some piaffe and passage and into that amazing extended trot and back to piaffe.

“He has made the others so much easier to ride – I don’t have to think half as fast with them … ”

Lucky Lisa is giving two of her younger horses the day off, she may be looking as bright as she was when she started, we are starting to wilt. Time to sit down with a reviving cup of coffee, and get out the voice recorder.

The awesome thing is your concentration….

“It’s training. When my instructor, Ernst Hoyos came for the first couple of months, I left the arena with a headache, and I only had six horses at that point. It was exercising my concentration, I’d have to go to bed at the end of my meal, because I was finished. I’ve built that up over two and a half, three years. Being able to concentrate on every horse, the entire time, and knowing exactly what I have to do on every horse, and keeping organized.”

You say that even when he is not working with you, you can hear his voice?

“When I make a mistake, right away I know what it was, I know exactly what it was.”

That was an interesting concept, how your stomach is important in getting the right rhythm in passage…

”That is part of what Ernst is teaching about using the seat. If you think about putting your stomach in a forward position you are automatically putting the horse before you. If I suck my stomach in, my shoulders roll forward, and the horse falls on his face. But by keeping my stomach forward, and the horse before me, we get the result… and my stomach…”

Strong?

“It’s unbelievable. And that’s what keeps the position. You said ‘oh you haven’t changed your position the entire day’, it’s the strength, it is my stomach muscles. And my stomach muscles support my back muscles.”

But you don’t hollow your back?

“No, you just push your stomach out, you don’t do anything different, it’s just a way to think to yourself, keep yourself in a forward position. It’s part of a very distinct seat that Ernst Hoyos has brought me from the Spanish Riding School. It is really sitting loose – and that’s why I carry a whip all the time- so that I can just relax with my legs, and let them hang there. I try not to press a lot because the more I press the deader they are going to get to the leg. The less I come with my leg, the more electric they are when I do come with it. I use a lot of weight, stepping into the inside stirrup to get bend. I’m still in the centre of the saddle, I just sink more weight into one seat bone, but I am sitting straight. You don’t see it, but instead of having to come with my inside calf a lot to get bend in the ribcage, I can sit deep and step, literally step into my stirrup, and because of my weight, the reaction is that they go away from it and they bend. And if I don’t get that reaction soon enough, like with the young horse Raoul that I was working today, doing a lot of circles, I step then in rising trot on the inside stirrup, change directions, step in the other stirrup, to get him to learn to bend with my weight.”

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Do you think it is the influence of the Spanish Riding School, through your instructor, that you move so quickly to shortening work in a training session?

“No, I do that because you only have so much in the battery – that’s the horse’s energy level. Some people spend a lot of time at the beginning, long and low, draining the battery, then you want to get to the stuff where it’s really needed, and the battery is half empty. Also you are dealing with their character, they are tired and not so happy about doing what they are doing because they are running on half-empty. I’d rather soften up through transitions, forwards, backwards, this is my softening, and at the same time, I’m activating the hindlegs. Then I can get more quickly into the harder work, when the horse is at its best. You have to remember my horses have been on this program, so they know what they are doing, and they are fit, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, I built them up to this level. But you will notice that what I did with Roadster and with Raoul, that was very different, they are building up in the same direction, but they are not ready yet. My goal is to use the energy at the right point, that’s what keeps them happy about what they are doing, if they are strong enough and fit enough to do it. If I wait until they are tired, and say ‘okay piaffe and passage’ they go aaah, and I’m going to feel it, and their ears won’t be quite as… they have to have fun doing what they are doing. I have to teach them, but at the same time I want them to have fun. When I go into the arena, people say ‘wow! It looks so easy’.”

But you were saying sometimes it isn’t easy, sometimes there’s a tonne in your hand?

“Sure, but when it still looks easy outside, I’m happy about that, that’s riding, that’s my job. Grin and bear it when it seems like it is unbearable but the point is that the horses are never going to be the same, I’m going to have great days and I’m going to have other days. But it has to look the same all the time. I’ve got to present my horses to the best of their abilities and I can’t let the world see he is a little strong. That’s part of it, grinning and bearing it, and even when you say ‘shoot, he’s not so good today’ but anyway, that’s the sport.”

When you did your pirouettes, you almost always did one and a half or two pirouettes, never just one…

“It’s because if I come in and I notice I don’t have the right rhythm, then I keep going until I have it. Then I get ‘dee dum dee dum dee dum’ not ‘dum dum dum’. If I have the rhythm from the beginning to the end, then I get out. If I only ever do one pirouette, then they learn do one, and get out. They have to be on the ball – does she mean one, or does she mean one and a half, or is she going to do two. They’ve got to wait for me to lead, and that’s part of it- there’s no point in getting into a routine with them because they are smart, they are extremely smart, and they get ahead of you in their thoughts, and I’ve got keep them waiting for me. When’s the cue, when’s the cue, when am I allowed to leave the pirouette/ But mostly I wanted to wait until I got the rhythm I wanted and then let them out.”

Where did you find your instructor?

“Martina Hannöver was here, and working with Jo Hinnemann. Ernst used to do a lot of work with Jo Hinnemann. They would go together, it would be like ‘load up your horse and go to Jo and Ernst’ and they would work together, one would ride and one would work on the hand. And you would watch your horse being worked by two professionals, then they would switch, and the other one would get on, and the other would work underneath. They would work like 20 horses in a day those two guys! Jo had some things to do, and so he sent Ernst up here in his place to work with Martina, and that’s how the relationship got going. After I started here and Jo was getting involved with Holland and had so little time, Gudula said ‘I think I will call Ernst’ – and thank god. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

You don’t use your hands much except for that little bit of lateral flexing and softening?

“It’s a combined thing, I do a half halt straight to soften him in the throat latch, vertically, and just a small half halt laterally. More I don’t need otherwise I’d pull him out of balance and out of his rhythm, and I would have a rhythm mistake, in a half pass or whatever. I have to be able to do the smallest softening, that’s the magic so that in a test, nobody sees. I come into a corner and I notice ‘oh god he’s hanging on an inside rein’ and if he is used to being ridden this way, then I just need the bare minimum, and I can get the effect that I need without the judge going ‘rhythm mistake in half pass’ That’s why I am a firm believer in do what you would do in a test, at home every day, and then the tests are going to be that much easier. Keep on a really strict system. And what I want in a test, I ask for exactly that at home. There are no misunderstandings for the horse. He knows exactly my aids, softening aids, and he’s prepared, in a very short distance, I can get him pretty soft without anybody seeing. The most important thing is that I don’t bring him out of a rhythm.”

Do you go into a working session – say like the first one with Regal Dancer- with a plan? I had such-and-such a problem with him yesterday, so today I’ll focus on…

“He was actually pretty good today, I had more trouble with him yesterday, today he was pretty good, I was happy with the results of yesterday’s work. Today you noticed that I read my test through, and today I prepared him for things that will be coming at the competition this weekend. Doing these pirouettes on the centre line, and things like that. What I was doing today was a lot of transitions, because I wanted him to be able to come back, go forward, come back in a test situation. I want him to get used to expanding and contracting in a test situation, and that’s what I worked on today.”

You don’t have anyone helping you from the ground?

“My trainer, Ernst Hoya is coming next week, he comes for three or four days every two weeks. Other than that, I’m on my own. I’ve got my mirrors, and I’ve got discipline and his voice in my ear. I hear him all the time; it’s a funny thing. Even when he’s not sitting here on the bench, I hear him. This stuff is going through your head and as a rider, you have to have that self discipline every single day to get to the level we want – up there in the international sport.”

Is that hard for you – you are the only dressage rider here on the stud, doing it on your own?

“No not at all. I have my system, and I like not being interrupted by another system. I don’t have to watch something else going on, I’m just into what I am doing. It is very interesting to watch other riders at a horse show that I do. I sit down at the arena, you look, and you get ideas, and you talk to your trainer. At home I know I have my system and I’m not being interrupted, I can concentrate completely on what I am doing.”

When you came to the Vorwerk Stud, you had previously ridden in a ‘normal’ training centre – suddenly you were riding stallions followed by stallions followed by stallions… did that take some adjustment?

“No, it’s just when you are riding a stallion being aware that you are on a stallion and being sensible about the things you do. Other than that you are dealing with basically the same problems you have with any horse, except you saw today with a character like Rohdiamant, when there are mares nearby and they start whinnying, that adds a bit to my working day, getting their concentration 100% of the time.”

Which is largely a result of the rider concentrating 100% of the time – which also probably gives an entirely wrong picture of Lisa Wilcox. Off a horse, she is far from serious – in fact she is a very warm, very friendly and very funny individual – but on a horse…

French and Dutch breeding values

Christopher Hector looks at this year’s results

France was the pioneer when it came to ‘breeding by numbers’ and it was in France that the breeding values became more or less official policy, and in France that the reaction against the breeding values, the strongest and most vocal.

The BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Predictor) was introduced to French Horse breeding in 1988, two years before the German FN first published their integrated breeding values.

BLUP is a mathematical model used in all ‘breeding values’ calculations, but it was not designed for horse breeding – it has been used to predict everything from the frequency of volcano eruptions to the growth rates of chickens. In the case of the French horse, the BLUP is calculated from the ISOs (that’s performance results) of relatives, the sire and dam (if-and-when they compete) and of their progeny; a foal is then born with a BLUP rating based the performances of his forebears and his siblings.

 Journalist, and breeder, Bernard le Courtois

One of the most outspoken critics of the BLUP has been the French equestrian journalist, and breeder, Bernard le Courtois. Writing in the 1994 edition of Monneron, some six years after the introduction of the mathematical model, he had this to say:

“In the beginning I was optimistic concerning the BLUP; even though I have always been convinced that nothing can replace experience and observation and the know-how of a horseman. Today, with hindsight, I am aware of the system’s aberrations as well as the way in which it has been abused.”

“Many newcomers in the horse world grabbed onto BLUP like a childishly simple life-buoy. Suddenly they felt on an equal par with the professionals, imagining that this index would make up for their lack of knowledge, without realising that they were fooling themselves. They hid behind the BLUP, believing it would protect them.”

He turns to the evidence of the scientist, Professor Signoret: “The principle of the BLUP method is excessively simple, even simplistic. It affirms a priori that a foal that is born will, providing all else is equal, represent an average between his father and mother. Breeders, genetic specialists, and those involved in improving domestic breeds know that, generally speaking, this is not the case. Only milk production (in cows) is the happy exception confirmed by experience.”

It turns out that the equine BLUP index is nothing more than an adaptation of the American milk BLUP index!

read on

As a result of the negative reaction, the policy of using BLUP to license stallions has been scrapped, and the BLUP results appear just once a year in the magazine L’Eperon and it would seem no one takes very much notice of them.

Arnaud Evain, brilliant commentator

Arnaud Evain, another brilliant commentator on the French breeding scene, is of the opinion that currently the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. He feels that while in the past, the BLUP figures were over-used, particularly in stallion selection, that now they are not being used as they could be – not as a means of selecting stallions, but as a way of improving the mare band.

“If the BLUP is not a good predictor of the individual quality of a particular sporthorse, it is a very reliable predictor for the average quality of the production of a large group of males or females: for example, if you use the same stallion on a group of 30 mares with a BLUP of 15 and on a group of 30 mares with a BLUP of 20 and breed and train both groups under the same conditions you can expect with over 95% precision that the average jumping index of the second group will be 5 points higher than the first group!”

“The BLUP is a wonderful instrument to improve the genetic level of a large group, and a very tricky one to make individual predictions.”

Arnaud tries to explain…

Arnaud counsels: “This is a very accurate system but trying to understand it, brings a headache! You can take two Advils, one glass of good wine and call me tomorrow if you still don’t understand…”

Here is Arnaud’s key to understanding the French figures, you might bear in mind the need for either pain killers or a soothing glass in advance…

BSO means Best Linear Unbiased Predictor for Showjumping: the average jumping index of the progeny is expected to be, instead of 100, 100 plus the value of the BSO.

The CD is an indication of the precision, similar to the German and Dutch % prediction of reliability. When the CD is 1, it means that the prediction is 100% reliable; when it is less than 0.7, some big changes still can happen! So, for example, Diamant de Sémilly (Le Tot de Sémilly / Elf III) has the highest BSO, or breeding value, 29, with a CD of 0.99

The Value of the BSO changes – (+ or -) – when more progeny have been born and evaluated and when the CD, the index of reliability, increases.

The stallions are ranked not according to the BSO but the Borne Basse – BSO.

Arnaud again: “The ‘Borne Basse’ is the minimal value under which the BSO has 95% chances not to undergo when the CD will get close to 1! When the CD is high, the Borne Basse is close to the BSO. When the CD is low, the Borne Basse is significantly lower than the BSO.”

Now I did ask my pals at UNIC to explain what that paragraph means but they replied, they were sorry, but ‘we won’t be able to explain to you what this paragraph means in other words without confusing you even more.’

My friend and colleague, Jean Llewellyn, the editor of Breeding News for Sport Horses, is not one to give up, and when I told her the trouble I was having making sense of the dreaded Borne Basse, she unearthed Emmanuel Jeangirard – who came highly recommended as an expert on the French system of numbers!

Again, I’d suggest a soothing glass of white, but here it is:

First: what is said in the paragraph is correct, and I think that ‘lowest limit’ could be the good translation for ‘Borne Basse.’

The BSO (Blup Saut d’Obstacles = Blup for the jumping) is an estimation of the genetic value of a horse, but it’s not the true value. The more information we have (about the results in competition of the horse himself, but also of his parents, cousins, progeny…), the more we can approach the true value, and the more the CD, which goes with the estimated BSO, will approach 1. For example:

Case 1: The horse never competed, his sire and dam never competed and never had progeny who competed; in that case he will have a BSO with a CD near of 0, for example 0.15.

Case 2: The horse competed during many years, his sire and his dam line is very well known, and he, himself, is a stallion with many many progeny who all went in competition. In that case he (for example Diamant de Sémilly) will have a BSO with a CD near of 1, for example 0.98. If the competition results were bad, he will have a bad BSO (For example + 2) with a high CD (0.98). If the results were very good, he will have a good BSO (for example + 28) with a high CD. The CD doesn’t give any information about the genetic value of the horse, but about the precision of the calculation of the genetic value, about the confidence we can give to the estimation of the genetic value.

That means that:

In the case 1 (lower CD), if the estimation of the genetic value is for example + 15, the true value (that we don’t really know) is in fact for example between + 8 and + 22.

In the case 2 (higher CD), for the same BSO (+ 15) the true value is in fact between + 14 and + 16.

+ 8 and + 14 are the “Bornes Basses” of these two examples. These are the genetic values under which the real value of BSO has a 95% chance of never going below.

Using the Borne Basse is useful, because it permits us to compare different BSO. Which one is better between a stallion with a BSO + 12 (0.96), and another with + 15 (0.25)? The number 15 is higher that 12, however the second stallion is more risky, because there is more chances that his real genetic value would be low, and their Borne Basse should show that.

Thank you, Emmanuel.

That’s it, no more about Borne Basse, I promise…

The French system is perhaps the most sophisticated in that it takes into account the quality of the mares the stallion has covered: a stallion will make less points if he produces a genius with a super dam, than if he produces the same genius with a normal dam.

This is called the ‘harem effect’!

The harem effect is measured more precisely when more mares have been covered. That’s why the statistics indicate the total number of mares bred (nb juments saillies total); the number of mares with a significant BSO (starts to be significant when CD is over 0.4 … this is the « Nb de juments saillies avec BSO significatif ») and the average BSO of the harem (BSO moyen juments saillies avec BSO significatif).

Yes, you may pour yourself another glass of wine…

Diamant de Sémilly

Once again, turning to the example of Diamant de Sémilly – in the last season he bred 368 mares, and a very high proportion of his Harem were highly ranked: 356 of these mares had a significant BSO, while the average BSO of his mares was 8.35. The stallion who attracted the mares with the highest BSO was Quick Star (Galoubet / Nithard) , with 13.42 but then he only bred 12 mares. If we are looking for a stallion with a large book of mares, we must turn to Cornet Obolensky (who appears in the French lists under his original title, Windows vh Costersveld, Clinton / Heartbreaker) who covered 206 mares of whom 201 were graded ‘significant’ for an average BSO of 11.54.

next the lists…

 

Etalons monte 2016 avec BSO superieur ou égal à 15 et CD supérieur à 0.70 is the category of the stallions active in 2016 with a good BSO and a significant number of progeny incorporated in the calculation (at least over 10) so that the CD is over 0.7.

Looking at the top 30 stallions on this list, the maths are neat – 15 Selle Français, 15 ‘foreigners’ – five each from the BWP and Holstein, and three from the KWPN.

Not surprisingly, Diamant de Sémilly and Kannan are neck-to-neck when it comes to attracting the ladies – 368 for the Frenchman, 365 for the Dutch stallion. The third most popular stallion with a book of 221, sixteen-year-old Nervoso is a bit of a wild card. He is certainly well bred, by Diamant de Sémilly, out of Estrella del Dia, a Grand Prix jumper herself, and by the great Galoubet A. He comes from the family of the famous Starter…

All well and good, but the performance is perhaps a little thin, his best outing a win in a three-star CSI at Lons-le-Saunier in a career with Bruno Broucqsault that spanned 2008 to 2013 – nor does he seems to have sired anything notable. Odd that he should have covered 15 more mares than Cornet Obolensky…

Qlassic Bois Margot

Mylord Carthago (Carthago / Jalisco) is getting his chance with 180 mares as is Qlassic Bois Margot (out of a Galoubet mare) with 129, while his sire, L’Arc de Triomphe (Landor S / Pilot) despite finishing out of the top 30 with a Borne Basse of 15.73, still manages to attract 128 mares. Another imported son of Landor, Lauterbach (Contender) covered 154, despite being 39th ranked of the established stallions. Coming in at 51st, the well-promoted PSI stallion, Balou du Rouet (Baloubet du Rouet / Continue) was popular with 192. Another who was quite low in the BLUP standings, but still popular with the breeders was Penelope Leprévost’s young stallion, Vagabond de la Pomme (Vigo d’Arsouilles / For Pleasure) with 124.

Mylord Carthago

The world’s number one eventing stallion, Contendro (Contender / Reichsgraf) drew 263 mares – he has a Borne Basse of 13.10 to go into 64th on the standings.

Arnaud suggests that the other BLUP table, the one for stallions with a CD between 0.40 and 0.70 is not really all that important. “These stallions have a small number of progeny, or the BSO is only based on the ancestry and the performances of the stallion himself. In this case, the Borne Basse is only a ‘safety net’ and will change when enough progeny will be measured… My experience is that we should only look at a CD over 0.80 to start to find meaningful genetic value…”

read on…

Still there are a few stallions in this group that have drawn the mares. Way the most popular with a book of 305 was Andiamo Sémilly (Diamant de Sémilly / Muguet du Manoir). This young stallion was born in 2010, and he is certainly well connected, bred by Richard Levallois, at the famed Haras de Couvains, home of his sire, and grand-sire, Le Tot de Sémilly. Still you have to admire the mare owners courage, since while Andiamo was a champion as a four and five year old, he has yet to show his colours in international competition.

Candy de Nantuel

Not far behind him with 257 was the five-year-old, Candy de Nantuel (Luidam / Diamant de Sémilly). He is one of the GFE line up of stallions, and not surprisingly the promo is wildly enthusiastic: “He is the revelation of the year 2016 and the prototype of the modern sports stallion with a dream gallop, explosiveness, elasticity and enormous respect for the obstacle. His serenity, his blood, his flexibility and beautiful pedigree give hope for an exceptional career in the sport and the breeding.” It proves again that the French stallion owners have quite a turn of phrase, and that French breeders will give a younger stallion a chance.

At the other end of the spectrum in this group we find the proven sire, Montender (Contender / Burggraaf) an Olympic competitor and double European Champion with 162 breedings. Vleut (Quick Star / Cantus – out of the international Grand Prix mare, Audi’s Sikke) and a five-star winner himself, covered 176 mares.

Montender competing at Aachen with Marco Kutscher

It would seem that the days when the BLUP ruled French breeding are long gone, and perhaps that is a good thing…

over to the Dutch rankings….

The KWPN

What a wonderful sire Heartbreaker (Nimmerdor / Silvano) has been, and this year he tops the German and the Dutch standings. The Dutch divide their breeding values into stallions with a reliability of more than 90%, stallions with a reliability of 80 to 89%, and stallions with a reliability of less than 80%, and, of course, Heartbreaker heads the over 90% list with a breed value of 175, way out in front of his son, Padinus (Grannus) on 159.

Heartbreaker

Padinus has been the sire of solid performers at Three-Star shows rather than superstars, still he has produced seven horses that have won more than €50,000, including three that have won more than €100,000 with the standout star being Admara 2, out of a mare by the Burggraaf son, Murano, and the winner of €782,914.

Heartbreaker is the sire of 968 offspring over the age of 4, with 433 going on to compete (44.82%), his most recent competitors appeared in 2011, but bear in mind that Jeanette Nijhof told me she is sitting on some semen in the freezer box:

“In Italy they have a process called “ixci” – invitro fertilization. It is still quite expensive, but we hope it will become less expensive in the coming years and therefore we have kept one thousand straws of Heartbreaker. Then we’ll have the chance of producing offspring by the real ‘one’. The other option is cloning but I don’t know if we will have to make that choice, but we have secured his skin to make the clone if we want to.”

“Hopefully for the future we will have many more Heartbreakers. At the moment, in the WBFSH top 100 world rankings there are many direct offspring of Heartbreaker and 21 have mothers by Heartbreaker, so he is very influential on the sire side, but also on the dam sires’ side.”

Padinus

Padinus also had his most recent competitors appear in 2011. He has produced 490 progeny over the age of four, of which 172 have gone on to compete (35.1%).

Here are the top 25, I doubt you will find any surprises:

 

At the 2017 KWPN Stallion Show, 31 jumper colts were accepted for performance testing. The commission accepted an interesting balance of ‘something old, something new’.

Verdi

Established sires Verdi (Quidam de Revel / Landgraf) and Kannan (Voltaire / Nimmerdor) sent three sons through to the test, while young stallions like Flying Dream (Zapatero / Indoctro), Entertainer (Warrant / Corland) produced one each while Farfan M (Cantos / Lux) was successful with two. The four colts that made the championship were Jonkheer de Span (Farfan M out of Celebration Z by Calvin Z); the Kannan son, Juventus V G (out of  Duzella by Indoctro); Joyride (Verdi out of Rachel by Heartbreaker) and Jordan (Zapatero out of Elia by Mermus R).

Here are the top twenty jumper stallions with a reliability of between 80 – 89%:

Dutch Dressage Stallions

The Dutch have not followed the lead of the Germans in attempting to separate out the young horse results from the ‘real’ competition results, so their table of dressage stallions is once again something of a repeat of the past few years. Jazz is still the stallion with the highest breeding value – 191 – ten points clear of his son, Olivi (Aktion). Jazz has so far produced 2918 progeny over the age of 4, with 1060 going on to compete (36.32%).

Jazz – Grand Prix competitor himself

Olivi has been based in France since 2008, but has produced 577 progeny over 4 years, of whom 181 have gone on to compete (31.36%). Olivi does not feature on the latest WBFSH ranking of the top 50 dressage stallions for 2016, perhaps because his most successful international competitor is Triviant (Saluut) who finished 2016 ranked 149th.

Painted Black

Painted Black, by the Trakehner, Gribaldi out of a Ferro mare, who was a moderate GP competitor with Anky van Grunsven, and a super schoolmaster for young Spanish young rider, Morgan Barbancon, comes in third with a breeding value of 173, and earns the praise of an acute observer of the Dutch scene, Johan Hamminga:

“Painted Black makes good horses…” Better than himself? “I think so, because when you have a mare with more frame, more length in the frame, this is a good cross.”

Painted Black has produced 524 progeny over four, with 189 going on to compete – 36.06%.

Vivaldi

Johan is even more enthusiastic about the stallion in 4th, Vivaldi (Krack C / Jazz):

“Vivaldi is one of the best young stallions, and it seems with the offspring of Vivaldi that they have a very high level of rideability, so we hope Vivaldi will be a successful stallion with the blood of Jazz.”

more below…

What mares does he need?

“The most successful combination is Vivaldi / Havidoff, or Vivaldi / Ferro is a very good combination. Vivaldi needs power from behind, but his character is very good – so we are aiming for dressage horses with a good character as well as natural balance.”

Vivaldi has produced 930 progeny over four, for 281 competitors, 30.215%.

Interesting, not one of the top 25 stallions on the KWPN Ranking of Sires with over 90% reliability, sired one of the colts licensed at this year’s KWPN stallion show. Not one. Indeed the most successful stallions at den Bosch were the ageing Hanoverian, De Niro (Donnerhall / Akzent II) with three colts licensed, followed by Charmeur (Florencio / Jazz), Desperado (Vivaldi / Havidoff), Ferdeaux (Bordeaux / Ferro) and Bordeaux (United / Gribaldi), with two each.

Seven dressage colts went into the Championship lineup, which was won by Jameson (Zack / Negro / Krack C) while the Reserve, Jironn L is by Charmeur out of a Rubin Royal mare. The third placegetter was Jewel (Ferdinand / Santano) and in case, like me, you have no idea who Ferdinand is, he is a seven-year-old licensed KWPN stallion by Vivaldi out of a Havidoff mare.

Here are the top 20 dressage stallions with a reliability of 80-89%:

Meet the Saddleworld Horse of the Month – Diamantina

Meet the inaugural Saddleworld Horse of the Month, Maree Tomkinson’s Diamantina.

Maree has taken the mare all the way from Young Horse classes to representing Australia at the WEG in Normandy:

“We purchased Diamantina in 2006 from Johannes Westendarp whilst we were in Germany with Rodrigo for the World Young Horse Champs. She was 4 years old, she had a super canter and walk, and a very good trot that developed more and more as she grew older. She always had an amazingly active hind leg and a very good back. No matter how tense she may look in the neck at times, she always feels supple in the back and this she had from a very young horse. As active as the hind leg is, it can be difficult for her to find balance when there is so much power coming from the back end, and this has been our greatest challenge.”

“She was beautiful to ride as a young horse, always not so easy to teach anything new, strong willed and determined, very reactive but always reliable in the test. She could be like a hurricane outside the arena, but once she went in, she knew her job, and there was perfect harmony, it was like being in the eye of the storm: an amazing feeling of so much power, and grace, with perfect precision. It became a little bit her MO, the more wild she was outside, the better she was inside the arena.”

“Sadly in her later life, this was very much frowned upon, and her exuberance outside the arena was seen as tension and penalised inside the arena. By trying to curb her natural enthusiasm and exuberance it affected her energy and expression in the test. I always loved her the best when she was free and full of expression.”

“She had many injuries as a young horse, she broke her splint bone in the paddock as a five-year-old, was injured in quarantine as a six-year-old and had five operations on her hock and 6 weeks in the veterinary hospital. She was given a 10% chance of ever walking again. We hand walked her for fifteen minutes every hour, 24 hours a day for six weeks, and then slowly increased the duration of walking, but decreased the frequency. She beat the odds and made a full recovery… we were very lucky.”

(Article continues below)

“At seven years she had a ruptured ovary with severe colic and they wanted to give her a hysterectomy, fortunately she is one strong lady and this was avoided.”

“At ten years old she was in a car accident, we wrote-off the car and float, and she had major muscle damage to her left buttock muscle that now has a large dent in it.”

“She is one tough mother, the strongest, bravest horse I have ever known: a little neurotic, but as strong as they come.”

“She was always special, she was born that way, she demanded it and it was clear. I guess when we went back for the World Young Horse Championships it became very clear. She won everything she went in at that level in Germany, many M level classes and 6-year-old classes, lots of 9’s for canter and walk, the Oldenburger Championships and then 6th in the first round of the World Young Horse.”

“It was amazing and so exciting, she was a sensation wherever she went, we were offered an incredible amount of money for her, it was just the most wonderful time and so exciting for the future. And of course the future proved to be just as wonderful with many titles at small tour and then National titles at GP level and finally representing Australia at WEG in 2014.”

“On top of all that she has given us four beautiful foals, the oldest of which is five now. She has been so special on so many levels and has taken us on such a wonderful, interesting and exciting journey. She has been very good for the sport in our country, always so exciting to watch, able to draw a crowd and inspire equine and dressage enthusiasts alike.”

A day in the life of Her Highness…

“She lives in the stable closest to all the action, it is lined in rubber from top to bottom to try and protect her from herself with CCT cameras so I can keep an eye on her no matter where I am. She is always the first to be fed, cleaned, worked, everything. Not because she demands it, but because she is so special to us. She is ridden each day for a least an hour, 20 minutes walking first, and then mostly gymnastic work, usually in a snaffle with no spurs. She is extremely sensitive in the skin, so rugs, girth, saddle pads, bridle, spurs, even bandages will rub her if we are not very careful. Despite appearances she is actually a very lazy horse. At competitions when she becomes very reactive and hot, it is like riding a totally different horse, I have to be able to adapt very quickly to which ever Diamantina turns up for work on any given day!”

Diamantina has a ‘Princess’ moment in the trot up at the selection trials for the WEG in France

“She has one day a week on the lunge or in hand , one  day a week trail riding and one day a week rest. A rest day involves a good brush, Equissage, feet wash and dress, and 20 minutes walk x 2. In the afternoons she is walked or taken outside on a lunge lead to graze.”

“She is the only horse in the stable that does not go in a paddock. I have tried so many times to integrate her in the paddock with disastrous results that I have now given up. I have built her a big paddock with post and three-rail fences, no corners, a shelter, dam and trees surrounding for her and Rodrigo and Mikado to retire in when the time is right. She is still only 14 years old, so I hope we feel like competing again some time soon.”

“We feed the horses seven times a day, hard feed or hay alternating, and do a night check at 9pm with lights off… I can still see her in the cameras with night vision!”

“I hope she is a happy horse, we work very hard at keeping the horses active and happy and really take notice of how they look in their beautiful faces, and eyes. They will tell you exactly how they feel so long as you take the time to look.”

“At the moment Diamantina is taking a year off from competition, she has completed four European tours now and has been a full-on competition horse for ten years without a break. We need to look after her and keep her healthy and happy. We owe it to her. She has ticked every box, on every level, and proven to be more than we could ever have imagined. I am very proud of the way we have managed her career and forever grateful for the opportunities she has made possible.”

Maree and Diamantina – that’s her on the right of the pic – with some of her progeny, a four-year-old black/brown Totilas mare, a bay five-year-old Totilas mare. And there’s a two-year-old Fürstenball colt, and a yearling Fürstenball filly still waiting in the paddock…

“For me the first and most important part of the ‘sport’ will always be the horse, if you look after your horse the rest will fall into place. After that comes the sport, and finally the business. If you keep it in that order the integrity of the discipline will be maintained, as soon as the ‘business’ is more important than the horse then we have lost our way ethically.”

“We have always been clear that Diamantina’s welfare on every level came first above anything, and because she is so special, she always deserved the special treatment she received.”