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.”