Cornelissen's Fitness Program: "Train Hard or Die"

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 12:02
Adelinde Cornelissen and Zephyr at the 2012 Global Dressage Forum
Photo © Astrid Appels
2012 Global Dressage Forum

Olympic individual silver medalist Adelinde Cornelissen made her first time appearance at the Global Dressage Forum this year, since her rise to stardom in 2008. The Dutch rider has a style of riding that has been sligthly controversial as her ever high scoring expression and energy come at the cost of a strong bit contact, low self-carriage and hindlegs that are out. However, the brilliant focus and mental strength the 33-year old displays is admirable. This quality is not just innate, Cornelissen works very hard at it, and she came to Hooge Mierde to demonstrate how she generates such resilience under pressure.

Adelinde started her demonstration aboard the 8-year old home bred KWPN gelding Zephyr (by Jazz x Farmer) which she schooled lightly in a snaffle. The bay is a dynamic mover, maybe not yet the strongest behind but with clear potential for the future. "I train horses so they become a happy athlete," Cornelissen said. "This consists of two parts, happy and athlete. Happy doesn't mean feed them sugar and pat them all day and do nothing. You have to challenge them to improve."

Cornelissen said that her training starts with relaxation and speed control. "You have to be in control so you can build up muscles in the right places," she said. "I want an easy gas pedal, an easy brake. I want to have the speed control whenever, wherever and for as long as I want. I don't care about collection and impulsion yet, speed control. It's also a mental training, he needs to focus on me."

Cornelissen than works on flexibility with the lateral movements and demands speed control in those movements as well.  In between she does some stretching. "You also want to have the horse happy." At home Adelinde also hacks, trains them in the woods and goes on the race track, not for flat canter but training sessions outdoor. "It's dull to be in the indoor six days a week. I use the race track, it brings them alive, keeps them good between the ears." All of Adelinde's horses go out in the paddock or field daily, including Parzival.

Adelinde made it as her goal the past year to be completely balanced. "To be more aware of what balance is and how balanced you are on a horse," she stated. She wanted to achieve more physical and mental balance as an athlete and sought the expertise of "Eco coach" Tjalling van den Berg. He is one of Holland's top gymnastics coaches who works at the Heerenveen CIOS Sports centre. "Adelinde had the physique of a recreational athlete. Now she is a professional athlete," said the highly motivated 64-year old Van den Berg. Looking outside the box, Adelinde searched for knowledge to improve herself as a rider and ended up in Heerenveen. Once a week on Wednesday she drives to the north of Holland for a 2-hour training session in addition to three hours of running per week. "I log into the computer, I can follow my heart rate and get a different program" adapted to her needs as she progresses on the fitness plan.

Tjalling worked on Adelinde's body posture and musculature. "People with a goal they stand and walk like a leader," said Van den Berg. "Her entiry body is in shape. She can play with her muscle tension. She can focus on concentrating on every muscle." While Tjalling said this, Adelinde lay on the ground and was able to separately control the relaxation and tension in each arm, leg, her head, her abdomen. Tjalling asked for "hard" and she had to tense the muscle he touched and then asked for relax at a very quick alternating tempo.

Almost the entire Heerenveen team came to the Forum and the audience got closely involved with the demonstration as the spectators were asked to do breathing exercises, speed and focal control and balance tests. Alongside Van den Berg stood Adelinde's mental coach, her rider fitness coach Lammert Haanstra, and a team of experts who helped her with ballet exercises (body posture and grace), concentration exercises (like rope skipping, juggling, boxing) and a dietary plan. "These exercises are also very good for small children which are learning to ride. If you make a mistake on the balance, don't fall but concentrate on landing," said Tjalling.

Adelinde demonstrated a few of the boxing moves. "It gets me in shape," she said. "It helped me so much with my riding. You have to have this focus. Be aware of everything around you. Boxing gets me fanatic. It brings up my rhythm of breathing and I have to make sure I keep my breathing low. Riders breathe too fast and tense up. It disturbs your balance. You can regulate your balance with breathing." The same counts for horses because once they get tired their focus changes as well.  "Do more interval training with your horses too," Adelinde said.

One of Adelinde's most powerful displays was when she juggled three balls while kneeling on a skipping ball. "This is balance, co-ordination and core stability. You have to train hard or die," Tjalling said firmly. Adelinde was commended on her great attitude after she won silver and not gold in London. "It was next stop, next goal for me," she said. Tjalling immediately reciprocated: "don't put your responsibility with other people, like the judges. Have you done your utmost best, have you done everything? If you did so, you never lose!"

Adelinde's biggest accomplishment in her physical and mental development is that she has shown to have no blinkers on related to her personal fitness. The Dutch rider is not afraid to step outside the box and look for expertise in other fields of sport. This attitude of broad thinking is very typical for high performance athletes in The Netherlands and a great set back for other top dressage nations like Germany, Denmark and the U.S.A. which lag behind in that department.

Text and Photos © Astrid Appels

Related Link
Eurodressage On the Scene at the 2012 Global Dressage Forum

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