"Don't take chances," Steffen said before the rider worked on a new movement. If the horse isn't ready for what you're asking, don't ask—you're setting him up to fail. Don't merely hope that it will go well—prepare and have a plan so that the horse can succeed.
Janet chimed in with many stories about her time in the judge's booth. "I start out every day in a good mood!" she cried, going on to say that it's frustrating to see so many riders go into the arena without a clear plan of action and failing to properly prepare the horse for each movement.
Both clinicians stressed being fair, consistent and positive with each and every horse. "Tell them that you mean business and then leave them alone," Steffen said.
Every aid should have a clear meaning to the horse, the rider should ask for each movement correctly, and correct reactions should be rewarded by quieting the aids. "A bad reaction is 10 times better than no reaction," Steffen said. "Who cares if it's only for two strides as long as it's honest?"
Most importantly, we as riders must always be challenging the horses and raising our expectations each and every day if we want to progress. That includes our own positions; Steffen recommended picking two spots in the arena and checking your position every time you rode by each spot. We can improve the training step by step, asking for a little more each time until the horse learns to offer the movements. "If not now," Steffen asked, "then when?"
Haley Madden is a graduate student in life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, currently researching increasing helmet use in riders. She is lucky enough to ride at Happy Haflingers, a breeder of sporthorse Haflingers and American Sportponies.