British Olympian Carl Hester is on an educational tour in North America. After a two-day session at Pineland Farm in Maine, U.S.A, Carl travelled to the the Caledon Equestrian Centre for a masterclass in Canada on 21 - 22 October 2017. Kim King reports on the event and what she has taken home from the clinic.
Carl Hester Masterclass Clinic
The clinic started with four year olds. Andrea Bresee and the beautiful Ismeaux displayed a very nice round of stretching with a lovely swing and regularity. This horse was one of my favourites and he was presented very nicely by Andrea. Carl began by stating the basis of all his work is stretching the horse. Several other themes emerged with the young horses such as riding with a longer contact and working both sides. Carl insisted that you must have a plan for your warm up. His own system with the young horses includes a lot of stretching the horse to the bit while keeping the hind legs coming to generate the arching openness in the spine from the front to the back. There was a clear message that you need to teach your horse to stretch properly and it's not just throwing the reins away and going as fast as you can. He was clear to keep the balance in check and to teach the horse to reach for the contact. With young horses he was mindful of safety with the longer reins as well. There was a young mare by Sagnol presented by Erin MacQuarrie The mare was very overwhelmed with the environment, Eiren is a brave and relaxed rider who did a great job under the circumstances. Carl reminded everyone to keep expectations reasonable for young horses when exposing them to new or stressful situations. Iron Butterfly eventually relaxed and made good progress in stretching and moving forward into the contact. Carl said he would be very focused on achieving continued progress with relaxation and stretching with as long a rein as is safe as a routine for this mare to build her confidence. He stated that the rider must find the " swing speed" for the horse which is the pace at which they can lengthen the neck and swing thought the back while remaining in reasonable balance. Some horses will swing better in the back in trot and some will swing better in the canter. We were able to see examples of each with both of these young horses.
As Carl moved the young horses through various exercises he discussed what he looks for when he shops for a horse. We have all heard this before and he confirmed it by stating he looks for the good walk and the good canter. He shops in the age range of horses 2 1/2 years of age and while temperament is still a risk at this stage he feels he can see what he needs to physically. Carl prefers to watch young horse prospects move freely not under saddle. He is astonishingly frugal and stated he shops for horses under ten thousand pounds and that he builds the value into the horse through training. Some other points he made on purchasing a dressage horse: the really good young horses who have the big fancy paces are not often grand prix prospects. The young horse classes are not his goal, riding the grand prix is his goal and he shops accordingly.
Carl took the time to answer some questions via twitter inbetween riders. One of the questions was "what type of person does it take to become a top rider? " Carl answered the first most important quality was to be able to take input and constructive criticism and not take it personally, but to use this information to improve. He used his relationship with Charlotte for a basis to explain that this.
He shared several of his own horse management strategies and displayed a strong belief in keeping young horses out and moving. His program is varied with hacking, road work, field work for three days a week for all of the horses not just the young ones. Several times he mentioned having a plan for your work out, and he shared that his horses warm up for 20 minutes trot and canter stretching usually out in the field. They are them brought into the arena for him to sit on and he trains for around 25 minutes. The horses are finished with a stretching session again and then cooled out walking outdoors. He alternates his harder working days with easy days. He also makes use of a water treadmill in his program.
We moved onto watching Maya Markowski on a 5-year old and then Cecile von Martels on Captain my Captain. I was impressed with the frame and the movement of Von Martel's 6-year old chestnut stallion. There were some great take aways from both of these rides too many to mention but a few were: use one aid; you should always aim to be lighter and to do do less and the horse should do more; your heels should connect to the hind legs; the lazier the horse the looser the leg should be, the hotter the horse the snugger the leg should be. I learned some great exercises for keep the horse loose and relaxed in the back during the short canter.
On day two Tina Irwin rode a mare, Simsalabim. This is a special horse which is just beginning its dressage career. The front and hind leg was incredible on this sensitive black mare.
The third level horses were presented by Jacqui Brooks with Emmet and dressage royalty young Kahla Ishoy on Sakima. While they were both able to demonstrate the third level movements, these horses were very different and so we were able to see the various issues at hand as they worked the third level movements.
At this stage Carl wanted to see the riders build power in the paces with a touch of the heel or whip. One exercise he used with Kahla to develop reach and lift in the shoulder in was to go onto the long side shoulder in in medium trot then to let the horse come back a little on its own and then the freedom and reach of the outside shoulder was very apparent. When your mother is Cindy Ishoy and has Carl's ear watch out ! Kahla worked on her medium trot for us on the second day at her mothers request and with Carls assistance she showed us what a proper medium trot should look like. It is not surprising that Kahla was the third level champion with Sakima and I look forward to following this pair on the show scene.
The Prix St. George horses were expertly presented by Vanessa Creech-Tetrauds on Fleur de Lis and on the second day Tom Dvorak on Cyrus. As I watched Vanessa ride around I remembered showing against this pair at the Canadian Interprovincial Championships in Calgary. Both of these riders set the bar high in terms of their ability to take instruction and demonstrate the improvements in their horses. Vanessa's horse displayed a bit of tension and it gave an opportunity to see how Carl would address this. He stated that tension can enhance the paces or make them worse, he suggested to Vanessa to keep the horse moving sideways keep the neck long and hand forward in front of the saddle. Regarding the neck he stated: the horse balances with his neck so let it out and a further example was to look at the shape of the underside of the neck where it joins the head. The ideal is to see a "u" shape not a closed "v" shape. There was a lot of information in these sessions regarding the pirouettes, the small canter, canter half pass and flying changes.
For me this was the meat of the clinic. I am still in pirouette neverland and I learned that the golden rule of riding the pirouette is " Over analysis = paralysis" . One rider that was able to show a big improvement on pirouettes was Karis Van Essen with Camisty J. I learned that this lovely gentle giant with a big stride was bred by Mary Ellen Laidlaw. To improve her centerline pirouettes he had Karis ride left lead canter down the centerline, shoulder in left , collect go straight, change shoulder in right. The pirouettes were added to this after Karis could keep her horse on the line. He then addressed placement of the pirouettes on that line. This was a huge mover and to address the big canter Carl had her think up and down with her seat rather than following the full swing which brought the canter into a better balance for the pirouette. Again the expectation was for lighter aids and more expression from the horse as this level. One suggestion that came up regularly was feel like the heels are down and deep for the changes, and the aid for the change being just the heel. Tom worked on the finer details of developing the jump in the changes with Cyrus and the strategy included a lot of forward and back in canter, and using these reactions interspersed within the changes to create jump and then collect immediately after the change.
An interesting part of the clinic was watching a long time student of Carl, the young rider from the UK Rebecca Edwards. Rebecca has had major success in Europe in the young riders' classes and has been touted as a rider to watch in the future. When you see this lady astride a horse it is poetry in motion. Carls instruction of Rebecca gave some insight into how he actually teaches someone he knows very well. He was not nearly as forgiving and really challenged her and she took his instruction with only a few quips back. One of the most interesting thing he did with her was change the way she held the reins in that she held them in a fist to address contact issues. Each horse was very different in type and presented varying challenges in the training.
One of the most spectacular movers in the clinic was Megan Lane's horse Denver. Wow, just Wow. This horse can move like crazy. Carl was very complimentary while quickly assessing and targeting areas for improving the extravagant mover. At this point I put down my pen to admire and watch every step and take in what might be one of the fanciest horses I have seen.
For the Grand Prix Horses we were treated to a session with Jaimey Irwin on Donegal V Saturday and on Sunday Brittany Fraser rode All In. While Donegal V was impressive he was not as confirmed as Brittany's horse. If you wanted to see an example of a horse with incredible presence for the international ring Brittany Fraser's All In is a prime example. You could hear a pin drop as Carl worked with the pair on their piaffe & passage, transitions in and out. What looked fabulous to my inexperienced eye Carl made even better, more suspension, more sitting, lighter aids, and All In showed us his great work ethic. All In negotiated the subtle changes Brittany made and gave a brilliant performance which highlighted the partnership between these two. Sadly this brought this clinic to a close.
I could have sat and watched for days and days. With many pages of notes in hand I have returned to my home base to with several new exercises to improve my riding and a deeper understanding of how to develop my younger horses.
Text by Kim King - Photos © Karie Elderman
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