Where else can you combine squats, stall-mucking and sports psychology but at the Robert Dover Horsemastership Week. Rosie Simoes, 17, traveled from Barrington Hills, Ill., to Wellington, Fla., to participate in the clinic on Jan. 2-6. She shares her experiences....
6:30 a.m.: Morning Stables
We started our day by doing basic chores in the barn—feeding the horses, cleaning stalls, cleaning and refilling water buckets, and hand walking. The 12 riders and nine auditors worked together to get it all done. To the outsider it may have looked quite odd because we were all in workout clothing! We worked quickly in the barn so that we could be on time for the fitness with Bob Gutowitz at 7.
7 a.m.: Work It!
Unsure of what to expect the first day, all riders and auditors marched into the covered arena promptly at 7 to experience our first workout with Robert Dover’s personal trainer, Bob Gutowitz.
Each day, we worked our muscles just like we work our horses’ muscles. He ran us through basic exercises, such as running in place, high knees and jumping jacks. Then, we moved on to more intense work. Bob had us run lengths across the arena and jump side-to-side over the arena railing… something that was easy at first, but became more difficult the longer you did it!
On other days, we did frog jumps (squat jumps) across the arena, sprints, and jumps over the arena railing. The real killer was having to squat and travel across the ring, keeping low to the ground the entire time in a form of crab walk. There was no doubt we would feel that in our thighs the next day!
Then Bob had us pick a partner, and we did wheel barrows across the arena. Although it was not supposed to be competitive in nature, many of us got competitive, as we raced to finish first.
Lunges, sprints and planks also kept us moving. On the final morning, Bob had us run backwards the full length of the arena. When we reached the end, he was standing slightly before X, and he had us squat jump to him before taking off in a sprint to the other end of the arena. We repeated this four times! Then for our final exercise, Bob had us do lunges across the arena.
At the end of our final workout, Bob talked to us about the importance of stretching at the end of exercising, and he reminded us never to bounce while we stretched our muscles. Bob did a great job the entire week, and we thank him greatly for working with us.
8:15 a.m.-12 p.m.: Lessons
There was a bit of a time crunch for the first riders to get on their horse after the workout, but the friendly environment in the barn made getting riders to the arena run smoothly. Many offered a free hand to help tack up horses, or even just to sweep the aisle. With 12 riders and nine auditors, it was nice to see everyone help and be so supportive of one another.
The 12 riders got split into two groups the first day: One group rode with Tina Konyot while the other group rode with Tuny Page, each for a 45-minute private lesson. Auditors and the riders not riding had the opportunity to watch two different instructors at the same clinic.
From watching, I found one exercise stuck in my head, which Tina used to help a rider who had a difficult time getting a clean flying change. While the horse was cantering, she had the rider turn the horse across the arena slightly past the end letter after coming out of the corner. The rider then was instructed to ride straight for a few strides, and then yield the horse onto the outside rein. Once the horse was honest on the rein, she had the rider ask for the flying change and immediately turn back to the opposing corner to repeat the exercise to the new direction, creating a figure-eight pattern.
Every Step Matters
On Day 2, we rode with Robert Dover and Katherine Bateson-Chandler. Katherine was a great instructor to watch. She stressed the importance of seeing what the horse was like in the warm-up so that you knew how to ride that day. She had one of the riders test the reactions and attentiveness of the horse by giving him a quick kick at the girth to see if he was quick off the leg. She was very effective with not allowing the horse to tighten up. During one ride, she encouraged the rider to post the trot if she felt the horse’s back begin to stiffen. This allowed the horse the opportunity to loosen up and relax before the rider sat again. Repeating this, the horse soon relaxed and gave the rider a better place to sit.
Katherine also had some great exercises to improve the quality of the canter. One of the horses needed to have more jump in the canter, so she had the rider ride a 20-meter circle in a ground-covering canter. From here, Katherine instructed the rider to decrease the size of the circle to about 10 meters while maintaining this larger gait. The horse then began to carry more on the hind legs in order to remain balanced on the smaller circle, creating a higher quality canter.
Like Katherine, Robert also did an amazing job teaching. His energy was great to have in the arena. He wanted the riders to envision the greatest version of themselves while riding, and he challenged us, which brought many riders and horses to their full potential.
He would often say things like, “Imagine that you are riding Valegro—think of the hind legs that horse has!” One exercise that he worked on with many of the riders was the rubber band exercise. With this, the rider has to ride on a 20-meter circle, extending on the arc of the circle and collecting near A. But Robert did not just want an extended trot and a collected trot; he wanted the very best extended trot, and a highly engaged, very collected trot!
Robert also made an excellent point during one of his lessons, which is often forgotten by riders. He reminded us that from the time we get on to the time we get off the horse, we are training. Every step of the ride matters!
On the third day, Jan Ebeling joined Robert in teaching us. I had the opportunity with ride with Jan, and it was clear that he stressed the importance of correct basics. In the warm-up, he likes to see horses working forward in a steady, clear tempo, working transitions from trot to walk and back to trot, to improve the rideablity of the horse from the beginning of the ride.
Jan did an exercise that was very effective with one rider to make the horse quicker off the aids, which again involved riding transitions. At the trot, he had the rider quickly come back to walk for about half a stride and then immediately proceed back into the trot. He explained that working these basic transitions makes it easy to train in the long run. This work in the trot introduces the idea of piaffe so when the time comes to train the piaffe, it's not a big deal for the horse to learn since he is already familiar with the concept.
He explained that sitting the horse down in the canter for a few steps is also an important tool in strengthening and preparing them for learning canter pirouettes down the road. By building the strength with these transitions, the balance of the horse is increased, the frame gets better, and the horse is more on the aids, making everything easier.
Getting Real Results
The instructors for Day 4 were Courtney King-Dye and Michael Barisone. I really enjoyed riding with Courtney. It was clear that she was engaged in my lesson and excited to teach me, which always makes for a good learning environment. In the trot, we worked on expanding and collecting the gait on a 20-meter circle. She encouraged me to have as invisible aids as possible. We also worked on trot half-passes. To improve the body bend and the engagement of my horse’s inside hind, Courtney had me ride out of the corner in a leg yield toward the rail for a stride before asking for the half-pass. I could feel him have better carriage from this and bring his hind leg forward more, causing him to loosen on the inside rein.
In the canter, we worked on some flying changes. Courtney had me ride the diagonal, and a few strides before the change she had me collect the canter more. I used my new inside leg stronger with a half-halt on my new inside rein when I asked for the change, to produce more jump from the hind leg in the flying change. Riding him in the more collected canter a few strides before allowed him to carry more from behind, raise the base of the neck, and produce a more expressive change.
After watching one of Michael’s lessons, I noticed that he insisted that the horses be quick to respond to the rider’s aids. He was very effective in getting the rider to do this. He insisted that rather than nag the horse, it was better to give one swift kick and then continue work. After a few kicks, the rider in Michael’s lesson was able to use lighter aids, which was nice to see!
Michael also did a good job of challenging riders. During a ride with an FEI horse, he gradually upped the ante with the rider, until she was putting many complex movements together. Michael even had the rider ride the complete Grand Prix half-pass for the first time. How cool!
Putting It All Together For A Judge
On the last day of the clinic, all the riders rode a test with judge and former U.S. Team Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons. Prior to our test however, we had the unique experience of having Robert Dover warm us up. All riders and auditors were welcome to watch and participate in warming up riders for their tests, which gave them insight on schooling at horse shows. We were also able to sit in the judge’s box with Anne and hear how she scores a test. It was very helpful.
Robert did a great job of warming us up. When we started our warm-up, he made sure we had a plan to prepare for our ride. In addition, he used a lot of positive reinforcement while improving the movements we worked on from the test. When it was time to go, he sent us over to ride in front of Anne Gribbons.
Once we finished our test, we got the chance to hear from Anne and the participants who were in the box with her. It was great to get feedback straight from the judge. She then transformed from judge to trainer as she stepped out of the judge’s box and helped us improve the weak areas of our ride.
Anne really helped me feel how I could improve the hardest part of my test; the canter pirouettes. By the end my horse and I were able to do some good quality pirouettes that Anne said she would have scored with 7s.
Learning All Aspects
At the end of each day, the learning didn’t end. We visited local farms, where we discussed footing options, and toured the Diamante Farms quarantine facility, where we learned about CEM testing and were able to see some of the horses at the facility, such as show jumper Nick Skelton’s team gold-medal horse from the 2012 London Olympic Games, Big Star.
A lecture from sports psychologist Dr. Jenny Susser was insightful. Her key points to being successful included: preparation (mental and physical), setting goals (and writing them down!), energy management and visualization.
What I found most interesting was her discussion about energy management. It’s important to spend your energy well and not on dumb things, since energy is finite. This concept is so simple, yet it is something that is often forgotten. To have energy, she explained, we must first eat healthy and get enough sleep. However, those two things alone are not enough.
Jenny stressed that we don’t spend our time worrying about little things, such as a mistake in one ride at a show. She suggested we try to be upset only for a few minutes and then spend our energy on something productive, like improving for next time.
On three of the afternoons, we joined the riders from the George H. Morris Horsemastership Sessions for lectures from Dr. Deb Bennett, who talked about the physical reasons for much of what we do with horses. She talked about straightness, and the importance of collection as coiling the loins, as well as emphasizing how important it is to have the horse calm and focused. Dr. Bennett was very consistent with the top trainers we had ridden with throughout the week; it was great to be able to connect what she was saying to our lessons.
Veterinarian Dr. Rick Mitchell spoke to us about nutrition and preventative medicine, and farrier Dean Pearson gave a presentation on how to recognize problems in the horse’s hoof and how to pull a shoe if necessary.
Mary Phelps also gave a talk on media training and conducted a mock press conference with us.
For our last lecture of the week, Robert Dover spoke to us about competing. One of the biggest points he had was to have a smile on your face… something so simple that is often forgotten.
Robert also talked to us about having confidence when we go into the show ring. He suggested that we show off our best movement on the outside of the ring to not only impress the judge and audience, but also to boost our horses’ confidence by doing a movement they are comfortable with (like an extended trot).
It was comforting to have Robert talk about being nervous. He explained that it was normal, and even he gets nervous when he shows. But it's important to prepare yourself for the show ring, which will make everything go better.
One night, all the riders and auditors came together for a casual dinner, where we got the opportunity to hear from some young professionals in the horse industry. This helped many of us envision our futures. They spoke of the struggles of becoming a successful professional in the business.
Many of us wondered about riding while at college, so hearing from them was very insightful! We were able to hear from Lauren Sprieser, who had gone to college and continued riding, but we also got to hear from riders who had decided that college was not right for them.
We also heard many great stories from Lendon Gray and Robert Dover about their experiences as professionals and riders. We got great insight into how working hard as a working student or a groom can pay off greatly in the end. The horse industry is definitely a difficult one, and it was apparent that commitment is key to success.
One of the great points of the night was to take a business class; it became clear that nearly all of the professionals in the room wished they had. Overall, the night allowed us to get a better idea of how we want to direct our future.
All riders and auditors were very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic. I want to extend a huge thank you to the instructors, barns and sponsors who donated their time and stabling. I also can't thank Lendon Gray and Robert Dover enough for this incredible experience. Of course, thank you to all who made it possible for me to be a participant at the clinic and to everyone who supports my riding.