West Palm Beach, Fla.—Jan. 29
If Day 1 was all about simplicity, the afternoon session of Day 2 of the Global Dressage Forum North America was all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and incorporating fresh tools in training.
After a lecture on biomechanics from Stefan Stammer (see tidbits below), the program moved on to in-hand work with Bo Jena. Jena demonstrated working two horses with long lines. One horse was younger and greener, and the other more experienced. With both, he started out doing simple walk, trot, canter work, before moving on to cavalletti.
“Every horse needs to go over cavalletti; it doesn’t matter if it’s an eventing, jumping, dressage or driving horse,” said Jena.
“If a horse has jumping blood in him, he’ll never step on a pole; he’ll canter over all of them or jump the poles. If a horse has dressage blood, he’ll ‘clunk, clunk, clunk’ over the poles,” he joked.
With the more experienced horse, Jena did half steps, sideways work and even a working canter pirouette with the long lines. Jena demonstrated extended trot down the long side of the covered arena at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center, sprinting after the horse.
“If anyone has ever run down one long side, you know how quickly you get out of breath,” said Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel, a member of the expert panel, along with Anne Gribbons, Kathy Connelly, Betsy Steiner, Leslie Reid and Jan Ebeling, for Jena’s demonstration. “You ran, you talked, and we could still understand you. I could see with the first horse, who was kind of nervous about the crowd, you worked a lot with counter-positioning, and I liked that.”
Jumping, Even For Dressage Horses
When Andreas Stano introduced the lively Ingrid Klimke, four-star eventer and Grand Prix dressage rider, he called her, “Our mentor and our superhero,” and most in the crowd seemed to agree with that assessment.
With candor and wit, Klimke told stories about her father, the late Olympic gold medalist Reiner Klimke, about her eventing career, and she talked about balancing her career with her family life.
“I am the only one who had a father who was competing in eventing and dressage, so I grew up with this,” said Ingrid with a laugh after Stanos introduced her as one of the only riders in the world on the top of both sports. “Seeing my father and his friends, there was no specializing. They all did the jumping and the dressage and they evented. In those days, the specialization wasn’t as high as it is now—not with the riders, and not with the horses.”
Ingrid explained how all of her dressage horses do no more than three days of straight dressage work in the school, and often they only do one or two days of it, before doing some variety of cross-training.
“On Tuesdays, the cavalletis are out, and it doesn’t matter if it’s dressage horse or eventing horse, young horse or older horse,” she said. “Once a week, I jump them all, so they all like jumping. Even if the dressage horses don’t have the scope, they like to do something different. I can really work on their back muscles that way. And what all dressage horses like is to go out and do work on the hills. They are not fast enough so they can’t keep up with the eventers—and no one beats Butts Abraxxas [Ingrid’s partner for team gold in eventing with Germany at the London Olympics]—but the next day in the dressage ring, they are ready for work.”
After showing a video of her cross-country round in London, Ingrid mounted a 5-year-old stallion owned by Marydell Farm, Doctor Wendell MF—a horse she’d never sat on before. Ingrid first did some stretching warm-up work, incorporating the cavaletti, and then she went into trot-walk-trot transitions and added in some canter work as well.
Ingrid worked on getting the horse to accept her aids in a timely manner, and to start to learn to carry more weight on his hindquarters.
“You always have to make sure that they’re in front of your leg and driving aids. In everything I do, starting it the warm-up, I want to have a sensitive horse so he’s easily on my aids, thinking of me the whole time. My half-halt must be more interesting than everything outside.”
As a special treat to the spectators and her mount, Ingrid had the ring crew set up a small jump. The stallion had no issues with the little fence, and Ingrid looked perfectly natural jumping in dressage tack.
Next on the roster of demonstrations, and last for the day and the forum, was Germany’s Wolfram Wittig. Wittig spoke less during his teaching demonstrating, but his short sentences carried a lot of weight, both with the rider and the spectators. As the horse, a 9-year-old Hanoverian ridden by Shannon Dueck, warmed up, Wittig offered concise snippets of advice that greatly impacted the overall picture.
“If the collection is higher, the contact is softer,” he said. “It is important, if the horse is going in shoulder-in or half-pass, that the rhythm of the trot should not change.”
Throughout his session, Wittig worked to help the rider he was teaching bring her horse to a better balance. The pair finished by doing very polished work, without ever upsetting the horse.
“It’s important to always have a positive end with the horses,” said Wittig. “If you do this kind of quiet work, it’s impossible that your horse is going to be injured. Ride, 30, 40, 50 minutes, it’s not a problem.”
Wittig also proved very funny, especially when addressing the audience and his expert panel (Christoph Hess, Stephen Clark, Wim Ernes, George Williams, Gary Rockwell, Lendon Gray and Sue Blinks). When asked what advice he would give a rider who wants to be very successful, Wittig responded, “Get up early in the morning and try hard,” with a sly smile.
The day’s program opened with a discussion of biomechanics from Stefan Stammer. Stammer showed slides of a horse’s rib cage in a position of positive tension and then a place negative tension or no tension—demonstrating the lifting throughout the whole core that comes from engagement and suppleness.
“Not every horse needs to go for the Grand Prix, and not every horse needs to go for the Prix St. Georges, but every horse ridden in trot and walk needs the creation of positive tension from the rider,” said Stammer.
Stammer stressed using whatever neck and head position works best for the horse to achieve that positive tension or suppleness.
“It’s not a problem if the neck of the horse is a little higher or lower. It’s not a problem if, in the beginning, the neck or the nose is a little behind the vertical, as long as the ribcage is up in that position,” he said. “The positive tension doesn’t depend most on the position of the neck, but it depends on the position of the rib cage in the shoulders.”
Dr. Hilary Clayton spoke about suspensory injuries in dressage horses, discussing why they’re common, how they develop and how they can be reduced. She cited conformation, lack of exercise as a young horse, age, farrier work, footing and the type of work a horse does as the major risk factors. Dr. Clayton also pointed out that older horses are more susceptible to suspensory problems.
“We always recommended that you avoid too many extensions,” she said. “It does seem the way the dressage horse’s leg is loaded in an extension is perhaps somewhat damaging. I think we have to be conscious of fact that, for older horses, they know the technique, and what we need to do is keep them fit, keep them strong and focus on quality rather than quantity.”
Klaus Balkenhol, Olympic gold medalist for Germany and former coach of the U.S. dressage team, received the first Global Dressage Forum North America Lifetime Achievement Award during a touching ceremony. U.S. Dressage Federation President George Williams and Steffen Peters helped present the award.
“What a lot of people might not know about you is that you’re an amazing ambassador for the fairness to the horse,” said Peters. “True horsemanship, so many people talk about this, and think they’re the same way. You always back it up with actions. I feel the actions speak, and not just words, and I feel honored that I get a chance to represent what we all think about you, and I’m honored to share this wonderful award with you tonight.”