Hinnemann and Van Baalen: The trainer's approach

Thu, 11/01/2007 - 00:00
2007 Global Dressage Forum

The last clinic of this year's Global Dressage Forum was also the one that was most anticipated – for all the wrong reasons. Coby van Baalen has been in the cross-fire for weeks because at this year's European Championships in Freudenberg, Germany

, she lunged the pony Power and Paint in a way that bordered on the anatomically impossible. A French photographer happened to witness this and took pictures of the pony, whose neck was fixed so that his nose touched his chest. So the dreaded thing has happened: While it has always been stressed by the Rollkur defenders that it's okay when a professional like Anky van Grunsven does it, but it shouldn't be taught to beginners and youngsters, Hyperflextion has now found its way into pony sports. Or hasn't it?

Before starting her actual clinic with Jo Hinnemann, which was about the progress of training her youngsters from pony dressage to Grand Prix, Coby read a statement addressing the Freudenberg incident. She said that “I have made a mistake” to tighten the reins so short, but fortunately Power and Paint, being a well-trained pony, suffered no difficulties from it. “But I immediately lengthened the reins and explained to Angela [the 15-year old rider] that they were too short and that this could not give good results.”

After this brief opening, Coby proceeded with her own clinic – and she did have many interesting things to say about her approach as a trainer. “Using the principles of the Skala as taught to us by Johan Hinnemann and years of  experience we developed our own system, in which looseness is paramount.” She stressed the necessity of “mental strength and flexibility” in the rider, who during a test should not dwell on mistakes but concentrate on the next exercise. The use of a mental coach can help achieving the necessary focus.

Coby recalled her experiences at the European Championships in 2004, where Power and Paint was still ridden by her niece Marrigje. After her strongest competitor had been awarded 75 per cent, Marrigje got ambitious and said, let's try for 76.

“I told her to be realistic and to concentrate on her strong points, to aim for a seven where it was realistic and for an eight in the movements Power does best. That year, Marrigje won the silver medal. So far, three girls have competed successfully on the same pony. Besides Marrigje there was Mara de Vries, whom we always had to remind that the test arena was no different from the home arena, and Angela, who has an 'I can do this' mentality. So with the three of them, the only difference was the trainer's approach.”

After this, Jo Hinnemann added a few words of his own, postulating a training scale for the rider as well as for the horse. Why their following demonstration tended more toward the lengthy than the interesting – maybe it was because some of the girls who rode in the 
arena – Rachell Fokker on Power and Paint, who showed more elasticism with this smaller rider than he did in Freudenberg, Angela on her new Junior horse, Kim Vugts on Feinsinn NRW, Marrigje van Baalen on Inspekteur and finally Marlies van Baalen on Kigali, the horse that only turned dressage horse after a jumping career at age twelve – were still clearly in the beginning stages of their partnership with their new horses. Maybe it would have been more interesting if they had indeed focussed on the trainer's approach and coached a couple of riders on the same horse – maybe Inspekteur – instead?

Of course the final panel, which included George de Jong, director topsports of the Dutch Federation KNHS which is officially investigating the Freudenberg incident, focussed on the disturbing photos again, and if one thing can be said for Coby, it didn't leave her cold. Approached personally, she repeated that her stable has always been open for anyone 

interested in her methods. “What more can I do?”, said van Baalen, who had tears in her eyes when the British pony chef d'equipe Islay Auty praised her openly for her work with Power and Paint.

At this point, Forum host Joep Bartels finished the discussion. “I find it courageous of Coby that she was willing to face this podium even though she knew that a Federation official would be there. But if it's the horses' welfare that we care about, it is counter-productive if we allow a public execution of Coby here. Of course we didn't come to a satisfying result here. But the fact of the discussion itself was a big step. At the moment, this budding dialogue is all we can expect of the dressage crowd – we're not ready for conclusions yet.”

Back to the 2007 GDF Index