I was very lucky to attend the Carl Hester master class in Vancouver over the mid November weekend. It was awesome!!
Seeing this clinic was a bucket list item for me, I have watched him ride for the UK for many years and have found his books excellent reads. I think it’s really awesome what he has done for the Equestrian sport in the UK, especially dressage. Something he empathized was that he did not come from a “horsey” family and he did not have lots of money, he brought the best horse he could with the money he had and it was the training that made the horse, not the price tag.
Mr Hester has an distinct and direct way of dealing with each horse and rider even though most wanted to work on the same concerns.
We got to see a some really nice horses and some excellent riders, which helped the rest of us understand that the issues remain the same even as we progress. We are all looking for better connection, better paces, and more ‘spectacular’ results that can only come from more relaxation and impulsion.
We learnt that they only school the horses 4 days a week, and the actual learning time is only around 30 mins, they are stretched before and after each ride, ridden out twice a week and a day off with as much time out in the field as possible. The young horses live out as much as possible and are only brought in to work. I think something we can all take from this is that horses need to relax and be horses and we should not “drill” them.
There was some much information, especially on how to improve the upper level movements , but when it really came down to it there were some key points we can incorporate into our own ridden work.
He emphasized the need for the horse to stretch. Each horse was asked to stretch and to work in a longer frame. Athletes stretch before training, our horses are athletes, they need to stretch too!
Leg on… leg off…
Leg off a ‘lazy’ horse, and leg on a hot one. The hot horse needs to accept the leg and listen to it. The lazy one needs to stop depending on the rider to keep them going. ( Stop nagging them!!) If you ask the horse to do something, they should continue doing it until you ask them to do something else.
Leg = reaction. It may not always be the reaction you ask for BUT that is OK! Appreciate that the horse is learning, and try to be clearer with the ask the next time.
Transition, transition, transition….
Ride every transition like it is part if a test and ride LOTS of them. And by lots he was looking for hundreds…
How often have you ridden a transition, especially down a pace that has just been ugghh… but you have not corrected it because, basically no one is watching. Stop that! Ride them like they really matter, because, basically they do. If you ride each transition forward and correct, it becomes habit, and when it comes to test time, a non issue!
Keep an eye on your hands. A good hand is a hand that is constantly communicating with your horse, it just looks like it is doing nothing! They are forward hands that correct while looking still. First though, keep them in a good basic position. Hands up and in front of you with the thumbs up and close together. This is not news, but it is something I see often, hands are dropped and turned over, this leads to a gap in communication with the horse. Fixed hands block the communication. We often heard, thumbs up, hands together. It is nice to know that even advanced risers need reminding of this occasionally!!
There was so much more information about how to ride different movements, improving collection, changes and piaffe and passage, but the above is a good starting point and easy to implement for any rider.