The highlight of the 2004 Global Dressage Forum was no doubt the clinic with international dressage rider and trainer Kyra Kyrklund and her student Jan Brink, European silver medallist.
Kyrklund presented her training philosophy, which has at its core the mutual respect and understanding of the horse's basic nature. "The horse has a right to be a horse. We must not try to humanize him in care, management and training," Kyrklund stated. Kyra pointed out that most of the time riders deal with half-talented horses and so the responsibility is on their shoulders to have a toolbox of skills, knowledge and different ways of explaining things to a horse so that it can understand what is required of him.
Kyrklund's session showed real common sense; it was down to business and honest. She said that, "your goals and the horse's capabilities must match." In order for a horse to be happy, it has to be able to be a horse, meaning it has to be well fed, watered and sheltered. It should not be in pain, have plenty of exercise, be mentally relaxed and perform at his competitive level without undue stress.
Kyrklund strongly stressed that the end does not justify the means. The rider has to listen to the horse's capability and its readiness in order to make progress in training. She also discussed the horse's mental zones, which implied concepts of comfort, stretch and panic within the training scale.
When Kyra trained Jan Brink on Briar, she insisted that the rider needs to have control over the length and speed of the stride as well as manage the energy level in the horse's hindquarters. Kyrklund instructed Jan Brink to do collected canter-piaffe transitions demonstrating the same level of energy in the hind legs before, during and after the transition.
Jan Brink brought video tapes to the forum of a young Bjorsells Briar on the steeplechase track, jumping way too high over the fences according to race horse standards. Nevertheless, it showed Briar's potential to become a top dressage horse.
On her own horse Max, Kyrklund demonstrated the necessity of mental and physical relaxation and the development of rhythm, energy and impulsion.
After the Forum, Kyra Kyrklund told Eurodressage the following: "Do horses register happiness? Do they know what happiness is?" Kyra wondered. "I think it is more a question if the horses are comfortable with their rider. They are herd animals that are used to live in the herd with a leader.. If they are comfortable with their leader, they accept and trust him. If not, they will challange him. It is more a question if the horse is satisfied with his rank, not if he is "happy."
In order to have a "happy athlete," Kyra aims at trying to earn the respect of the horse by being a trustworthy leader. "I try to have 'fun' with them too, and I try not to let my ambitions take over the well being of my horses," she explained. "They have to be allowed to be horses too...So we do train outdoors and vary the riding as much as possible. The horses are not allowed to get bored or dull, so I do not "drill" them a lot with the movements."