A Day to Remember!
A Day to Remember! - The Classical Riding Clubs 21st Anniversary Event by Claire Whitfield
As you’d expect for the end of July, it was a rather warm day at Keysoe, although it could have been the middle of winter, the atmosphere was so wonderfully warm and welcoming. The arena was alive with activity, a hive of people all eager to learn. The trainers, all dressed rather smartly, gathered in the middle of the arena, eagerly waiting to share, and discuss, their principles of classical riding. Then it started. Sylvia began to present her last big event -the Classical Riding Club’s 21st Anniversary Event.
One by one, the trainers were introduced, Patrick Print OBE FBHS (England), Uwe Spenlen (Germany), Colonel Christian Carde (France) and Nuno Cavaco (Portugal). The trainers all shared with us what Classical meant to them. Uwe in particular, gave a rather moving and compassionate speech concerning his plight to remove hyper-flexion from the training of the horse.
From the beginning, all the trainers messages were generally the same, they all wanted the best for the horses welfare. To do this, you need a certain air of enthusiasm to want to share your life’s work. All the trainers demonstrated such quality. How refreshing!
Patrick Print was the first to begin the day by discussing the training of a Preliminary/Novice level horse and rider. Alexandra Carrington and her 7 year old Friesian Falco were the guinea pigs. As you might appreciate, it can be a little daunting for a horse and rider to appear in front of such a big crowd, not forgetting the five international trainers! However, Falco being a little unsettled to begin with tied in beautifully with the ideals of Patrick, as he discussed the importance of riding the horse calm, forward and straight, a mantra of classical riding.
He advised Alexandra to ride the horse on a line, ‘the rider has to give him direction’. To help Falco settle, they began by working on a square, focusing on the line and keeping the hands allowing but centred. Patrick confirmed that ‘basic training can only begin when the horse is calm, forward, straight’. Through simple exercises and focussing on giving the horse a line, Falco began to relax and work through his body more eagerly.
Then came the Elementary lesson with Uwe Spenlen a previous FEI**** judge who abhors the aggressive methods of training as seen so frequently in the dressage world. Here, we see him work with the rather handsome Ballymurphy and his rider Becki Moon. Their aim was to begin preparing for collection, as a Shire x Irish Draught, with big powerful shoulders, you can see how this may be rather challenging for the pair. Uwe discussed the importance of inside flexion. “The inside rein belongs to him, keep him happy in the mouth. Outside rein belongs to you.” They worked on a large circle as Uwe encouraged the rider to give more with the inside rein so Ballymurphy could begin to relax his neck to offer this inside bend. The more Becki allowed through the hands, the more the horse began to soften and lighten, the strides became more expressive.
Once the inside bend was more consistent, the pair worked on transitions through walk, trot and canter as Uwe advised her to “change your position for what you want, sit for the trot [from the canter], then sit for canter again. Don’t push, don’t pull.” To help the rider to feel she could influence the horse more through her seat and less from her hands, Uwe asked her to lengthen the reins to the almost the buckle. The rider listened, beginning to work more through her seat, the horse became even more ‘open’ through his frame, more relaxed and much more responsive to his rider. Uwe spoke to the audience about the now swinging back of the horse “the back needs to be relaxed to swing! The mouth should be closed, if open, there is pressure in the mouth - the hand is too strong!”
Rebecca Brennand and Albero LXXX were warmed up and ready for their Medium/Advanced horse demonstration with Sylvia Loch. Already collected, Sylvia asked for a little more time in the stretch, pleased that Albero followed the contact forward as she observed his movement and straightness. Sylvia stressed the importance of frequent rest breaks throughout the demonstration and how the horse should be allowed to come slowly together after a break. She then began to observe the horses lateral suppleness through shoulder-in and other lateral movements (this is all dependent on the horse’s level of training).
Rebecca was asked to ride a 10 metre circle to aid the preparation of the exercise to help to organise and collect the horse beforehand. Sylvia advised that this was important for any exercise, whether an extension or lateral work. The audience were given glimpses of training towards the first steps of piaffe to which Albero was then rewarded for and asked to move forward before preparing again for a few more steps. Then came the flying changes and the importance of the rider’s position to aid the change. The rider has to make it clear to the horse, any exaggeration of position will lead to an imbalance which will affect the overall balance of the horse and the cleanliness of the change. Sure enough, when the aids became more subtle, the changes became more expressive.
It was now Colonel Christian Carde’s turn to take the microphone, firstly apologising for his attire (though still dressed rather smartly) he captivated the whole audience with his humour and genuine love for the horse. He began to discuss the training of the PSG/GP horse and rider combination Becky Chamberlain and her 15 yr old Hanoverian, George. Christian explained that all horses have problems with collection. As the rider/trainer, we have to improve the collection to be able to achieve the highest and most difficult of the collected movements. “What is lacking in the horse to improve collection? Activity!” Christian explains that there are 3 main elements of collection: straightness, balance and lightness.
He then turns to Becky to ask for more activity of the walk, George responds by striding out a little longer. Christian confirms that to create activity, the steps should become higher, not faster. “Activity without lightness is useless. Lightness without activity is useless. Activity and lightness together will take you to heaven”. Initially, George was resisting collecting his steps. Circles were ridden to help develop the horse, transitions from walk to halt were also ridden to help feel the horse’s balance. This, combined with the activity of the steps that were gradually asked for without resistance, enabled the withers to become elevated, the hindquarters to engage, resulting in the relaxation of the jaw. To develop collection, collection must be gathered, then the horse must be allowed to stretch. “The more you collect the horse, the more you stretch the horse”. Throughout the demonstration, Christian repeatedly connected with the audience instilling the importance of “Activity! Balance! Lightness!”.
Through the hustle and bustle that lunch time brings, the Portuguese Master Nuno Cavaco re- instilled a sense of calmness as he began demonstrating working the horse in hand with Lusitano stallion Xairel. The audience became absorbed in the quietness and subtleties of Nuno’s way of working with the stallion.
Quietly, Nuno asked Xairel his understanding of lateral movements in hand, before asking for a few steps of piaffe. Xairel responded, showing understanding, Nuno advised he needed more time to get the responses that he needed from the stallion before he could progress him further with the piaffe. With the lightest of hand contact, the stallion remained relaxed, and happily responded to Nuno’s requests. Nuno stressed that “contact is your communication to the horse. Consider the contact”.
Then came Contessa Riding Centre’s second Lusitano stallion Riacho being ridden by Zak Layton. Zak rode beautifully, Riacho is a sensitive stallion and needed a sensitive quiet rider, Zak did just this beginning lateral movements in walk to establish communication.
Nuno then guided the partnership into piaffe, the horse responded, the audience gasped! Then, the passage. Nuno advised him to slow down, keep the energy and ride the horse forward. The advanced horse has the understanding of the movements, and Nuno stressed that “you have to ride the horse to produce the results”, it is not to be expected. Riacho was rewarded with breaks throughout the session. Zak’s understanding and feel of the movements were formed. It was rather moving watching Nuno, Zak and Riacho. You could feel the connection of horse, rider and trainer and a sense of being completely absorbed in the moment.
Patrick then discussed transitions with Lucy Haycock and her event horse Biggles. The horse was naturally a little on the forehand which helped to demonstrate clearly how transitions can improve the general balance of the horse, as well as helping him to work through his whole body. Biggles became more fluent as his balanced improved through the transitions but also appeared to lighten in the hand, moving softly through his whole body.
Uwe, with the help of three riders, Nerys Leer, Sarah-Jayne Bowers and Chrysi Warner with their horses demonstrated several exercises to develop throughness and straightness. As a group, they worked on leg yielding from the track to the centre line, and leg yielding back to the track. Uwe stressed that the horse must move forwards, and sideways, for the movement to be effective in producing suppleness.
Transitions were also ridden, re confirming Patrick’s advice that transitions help the connection through the horse’s whole body, which, in turn, will produce a horse that is calm, forward and straight. It was refreshing to have a top FEI judge focused on establishing the horses with 3 correct gaits, not looking to produce flashy, ‘crowd pleasing’ movements - this crowd definitely approved of the purity of the gait over flashiness!
The audience were then delighted by the presence of Sylvia’s Lusitano Stallion Prazer. No one can dispute the love this horse has for his rider, so proud and eager to show everyone how special he is! Prazer treated the audience to his speciality, the levade, before commencing with the demonstration.
With the reins of the double bridle all in one hand and the microphone in the other, Sylvia demonstrated the importance of the seat and the weight aids whilst working Prazer through the movements. Her aids were invisible, Prazer’s focus was on her. This is the epitome of Classical Riding and the partnership is truly inspirational. Prazer is a wonderful schoolmaster, teaching anyone who is willing to listen, the more you get right, the more you are rewarded for it!
Vicky Slack, who normally rides at Novice level, was shown the importance of alignment to help prepare Prazer for balanced turns. This led to some lovely collected trot to medium trot strides, being careful to preserve Prazer’s balance throughout.
Sylvia asked if I would briefly ride Prazer too. I've already been taught on him but he felt especially fantastic and very aware of the special occasion! We were able to demonstrate some lovely steps of passage, a feeling I will never forget of roundness and effortless power! Thank you Prazer! Thank you Sylvia!
The last demonstration of the day was to be with Christian discussing contact and lightness. Louise Robson, riding the ex Thoroughbred racehorse Quadrille, (property of HM the Queen), were to capture the hearts of the audience! Following on from the previous discussion of collection, Christian advised that with this horse, his reaction to ‘sit’ was to push the croup up. To help Quadrille, Louise needs to create space under his tummy and get his shoulders out of the way, allowing the hind legs to come through. Christian asked Louise to ride walk pirouettes into canter pirouettes to help improve the canter pirouettes.
These were followed instantly by a long rein. Christian stressed the importance of balancing the focus of moments of hard work with moments of relaxation. Rein back was also used, asking only for a few good steps to maintain the balance and harmony with the horse. Quadrille really began to improve throughout the demonstration, still needing a little more time, but you could clearly see how the work had helped him to free up his shoulders so lightness could be achieved.
The day was an outright, unforgettable success! It was so invigorating to have everyone, the trainers, the riders and the audience, all wanting to achieve the same aim. A partnership with their horse without force. The key words throughout the day were refreshingly the same. Balance. Calm. Forward. Straight. Activity. Patience. Understanding. Love. The trainers worked positively and quietly with the horses, correcting the rider promptly when needed and ensuring the horse was rewarded often. The empathy and compassion these trainers have for the horse was clearly visible in their tone of voice and their manner of working.
Interestingly, each trainer had their individual approach to working but the message flowed seamlessly from one trainer to the next. Each school, English, German, French and Portuguese, all with the same ideals, introduced different elements to the classical principles of training horses which for me, enhanced the principles further. A horse should delight in being ridden, this was clear throughout the day. Each horse grew in beauty and expression of movement. While some may have begun the work a little anxious, with the right approach each horse in turn quietly relaxed and worked beautifully under the trainer’s guidance and the listening rider. This was truly beautiful to see and I for one am inspired! CW