In early October, my instructor, Stacy Parvey-Larsson, contacted me with the news that an open spot had come available to ride with FEI O judge Axel Steiner. I jumped at the opportunity and quickly signed up.
The clinic was held at Chrissa F. Hoffmann’s new facility in Ocala, Fla., on Nov. 5-6 and organized by Kelly Gage of Team Engaged. I brought my 3-year-old Holsteiner mare Aerosa, out of my PSG mare Panterra by the stallion Raymeister. I had the unique perspective of bringing a young horse. Most of the other horses at the clinic were upper level horses working with Mr. Steiner to perfect canter pirouettes, walk pirouettes, half-pass work and extended gaits. I was looking forward to getting insight on my young horse’s training from a prominent young horse judge.
I warmed up Aerosa, then entered the arena. I introduced Aerosa to Mr. Steiner, and he had me ride her around for him for a bit to see where she was in her training. He called me back to the middle of the arena and said: “It’s time for her to put her high heels on. Not big heels, little heels. But, it’s time for her to put them on.”
This became the theme of our ride: moving Areosa forward in her training. We started with walk-trot transitions, using these to encourage her to start taking more weight behind. From there we moved on to trot-canter transitions. We worked toward the same feel, getting Aerosa to take more weight behind and carry herself more uphill into the hand. She started to get the idea, becoming more free in the shoulder and expressive with her gaits.
We took a walk break. During the walk, Mr. Steiner talked about the working free walks in a young horse and how you should see the “V” as the back legs step forward. You want to see a clear overstride in the free walk, with hind feet stepping clearly in front of the footprints of the front feet. We then worked on showing Aerosa the turn on the hindquarters, big baby ones. Then it was on to the reinback, which Aerosa was not so sure of, as I had never asked for those before. Mr. Steiner said this is the time to introduce, in baby form, the movements she will be asked to do as she gets older.
I picked her back up and put her into the trot. We proceeded to work on shoulder-fore, the baby’s version of the shoulder-in. I rode leg yields, little easy ones. Mr. Steiner encouraged a couple of the good leg yield steps then stop and ask the horse to go forward. Don’t push for a quantity of leg yield steps and have them be incorrect. Be sure that you do not allow the horse to fall out of the leg yield movement onto a muddled diagonal line. This is not correct training. That was all for my young horse and me for my Saturday ride. Time now to relax, take it all in and prepare for Sunday’s ride.
Sunday morning was a very brisk, cool morning, and my young horse was very up! After taking her out for a couple of walks to settle her, I got her tacked and warmed up for our second ride with Mr. Steiner. I focused on the transitions from the day before as well as the leg yields to get her to settle and start working better from behind into the hand. It was our turn to work with Mr. Steiner. We worked on asking for baby lengthenings in the trot and canter, making sure to show a clear difference between the lengthening gaits and the working gaits. Aerosa likes to go forward, but now it’s time for her to develop a longer stride with a slower tempo, not a short choppy quick stride. He instructed me to be there to support her in the lengthenings. If she loses the balance, bring her back.
The same thing was true in the canter; be there to support her. Aerosa was not about maintaining her balance in the slower canter and broke stride. Mr. Steiner worked with me to be there and support her to increase her confidence.
We finished up the ride with Mr. Steiner suggesting lots of serpentines, circles and changes of direction to build the young horse’s balance and suppleness. Also, he repeated that I should play with baby lengthenings, shoulder-fores, leg yields, turn on haunches, etc. He said this is the time to introduce those items to the young horse, but he also stressed that you must give the young horse time to learn and develop correctly.
I left the clinic with many more items in my toolbox to work on with my young horse. A huge thank you to Chrissa for opening her wonderful facility to all of us to enjoy a wonderful weekend with Axel Steiner and to Kelly for organizing the clinic.
Tracy Schlabach is a USDF Bronze Medalist. She is an instructor/trainer in Tampa Bay, Fla., working with students who range from 8 to 65. She trained and competed her Holsteiner mare, Panterra, to Prix St. Georges. Learn more about Tracy at www.slipperybrook.com.