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June 28, 2010

Day 2 With Walter Zettl

Wildflower is a 4-year-old Hanoverian by Welcome S. Photo by Barbra Reis.

After a good night's sleep in my handy dandy trailer with living quarters, I was ready for Day 2 with Walter Zettl.

Lisa G. was first with her horse Willie. Willie is a 17-year-old Anglo Trakehner gelding that Lisa has owned since he was 4 years old. Lisa is involved with natural horsemanship and was drawn to Walter because of his association with the Parellis as well as his vast knowledge of dressage and his philosophy of how horses should be treated. Walter worked with connection to the rein and tempo with Lisa.

Next in order was Heidi W. and Tanner. Tanner is a 9-year-old Trakehner gelding that Heidi has owned for five years. Heidi has ridden with Walter for four years, traveling to his clinics as well as using his books and DVDs to shape her training. Walter focused on suppling exercises in this lesson, using a lot of lateral work as well as transitions to get Tanner's hindquarters engaged.

Ike and I were prepped and ready for our turn with Walter. Today we worked on the relaxation right away at the walk. Ike has a tendency to not seek connection with the bit and put himself into an artificial frame so he doesn't have to take contact with the bit at the walk.

Walter was pleased Ike was stretching down much more than the previous day. As I am starting to see by watching other riders' lessons, Walter seems to have a plan or outline for each rider. He had me working on transitions a lot on this day: walk to trot to walk to trot and also walk to canter to walk to canter. Between these transition exercises I would also supple the horse by doing lateral work on the rail; shoulder-in and travers with a tiny bit of leg yield thrown in for good measure.

It was interesting to feel how Ike started to respond to the exercises by using his hindquarters much more for his upward and downward transitions. After warming up with the canter exercise, Walter started us on a 20 meter circle, having us spiral in and at the same time doing canter/walk transitions. He said this was the start of the canter pirouette. I found it a bit challenging because we needed to stay in a slight shoulder-in while spiraling in, using my inside leg for impulsion and my outside leg and knee to bring Ike's shoulders around to the inside of our circle. We ended our session with this exercise, and Walter seemed very pleased with what we accomplished today.

After Friday's lessons were finished, I was asked if I would ride one of the farm's youngsters, since I deal with novice horses at home.

Sure! How could I turn down an opportunity like that?

The first day of riding her was a "getting to know you" session. Wildflower is a 4-year-old Elite mare by the stallion Welcome S. She is a 16.1hh chestnut with a star, stripe and snip and two hind socks.

I was told she’s been under saddle about four months but has a tendency to throw in a buck when you least expect it. Our first ride went pretty well—obviously I longed her since she hadn't been worked in a week or two.

I worked on relaxation at the walk like Walter has us do at the beginning of each lesson, then put her to work at the trot (oh my gosh is it a beautiful, lofty trot!) and cantered in each direction. She is very soft off of the leg and a joy to ride for a youngster. After my ride I hosed her off, and Leslie, the farm owner, asked if I would mind riding her every day while I was here. Very cool!

Then, when lessons were finished today, Leslie asked if I would mind riding Wildflower for Walter. Mind? You must be kidding? So I tacked up Wildflower and put her on the longe line for a few minutes to acquaint her with all the chairs and tables that weren't in the arena on Friday. She looked around and checked things out but was pretty settled in her environment. 

I got on her, and it was comforting to have Walter's voice in my ears (he has students use a microphone system that fits under our helmets so he can talk in his soft voice instead of shouting across the arena) directing me to use my outside rein to guide her to the rail, along with my inside leg. Since she is so green, the main thing we worked on was forward and schwung at the trot. She has quiet an impressive trot so it was fun to make her work just a bit harder to use her hindquarters and find her balance and tempo.

Walter's main point to me while riding this young horse was that we should always ride and give. He says that we try to force the youngsters' heads down into a frame right away, and that we should allow them to find the tempo that is right for them. That way once they do, they will naturally seek the connection to our hands and come over their backs effortlessly.