Friday, November 23, 2012

Inspired by Training

Besides the day-to-day teaching and training that is my job description here at SFD, my calendar gets filled with lots of other activities. I tend to mentally divide those extra activities into 3 categories: things I do to make me a better trainer, things I do to let other folks know I’m a better trainer, and things I do to make other riders better trainers. In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to do all three, and in that order.

The first event was the Young Dressage Horse Trainer’s Symposium.  This is an annual event in my calendar. Each November Hassler Dressage and Harmony Sporthorses sponsor this amazing event.  In this event, a group of trainers get together with some big-name expert-from-out-of town to discuss the training process of young horses from 3 to 7 years old.  This year we had two expert trainers, Ingo Pape and Oliver Oelrich, who along with Scott Hassler, lead the discussions about the training priorities and challenges at each stage of the young horse’s education.

This event is unique among the clinics I attend in several ways. First, Scott selects a bunch of horses aged 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 years old.  We see them all, one after another, staring with the 3-year-olds.  Getting the opportunity to see the training continuum of a young horse’s education all at once, and see how their mental and physical maturity is carefully considered at each training stage is really unique.

Second, this symposium is typically led by two like-minded trainers, with them alternating teaching of each student.  After each lesson, the other clinician joins the discussion about the effectiveness of the training approach, and where to go next with each horse’s training. Getting to see two different trainer’s approaches back-to-back really stimulates a lot of thoughtful discussion. 

Third, this symposium is big on discussion.  Horse folks tend to be opinionated, and Scott does a great job of keeping all of our discussions on topic in a positive way.  Most of us trainers do the bulk of our training alone, and getting the chance to discuss training with a bunch of like-minded and like-experienced professionals in a positive, supportive setting is really neat.  This symposium has, in a large part, improved and clarified my approach to developing young dressage horses.  As always, I come away from this event inspired to start my winter training.

The Symposium ended on Saturday night, so on I took Secret to be demonstration riders for DVCTA’s L program.  We rode in groups, with Secret and I in the 2nd level group. The rides and discussion were directed by the instructor, Jayne Ayers.  
The L program is the first step to becoming a USEF Dressage judge, and as an L graduate myself, I feel the need to help out as the guinea pig in their educations.  Plus the candidates and auditors get to see me in action, something they don’t necessarily see at a show. Let’s face it, few people watch dressage shows (because if all goes well, the rides are smooth, flowing, and, especially at the lower levels, dull), so I try to take advantage of any non-competitive opportunities that come up to let auditors to see me train.  Since I ride so many non-traditional dressage breeds, the ribbons at the super-competitive shows in this area really don’t tell the whole story anyway. 

The format, in which we warmed up, then stood around and waited for the instructor to need us to demonstrate different movements, made it tough to present horses at their best.  Plus Secret came out of the trailer feeling pretty frisky.  Secret showed her friskiness as she usually does, by showing the L candidates that shortening the Friesian neck in an attempt to collect the trot really isn’t collection. Happily, she redeemed herself in the canter, allowing Ayers to point out that although Secret didn’t have as much innate elasticity as the fancy imported warmblood in our group, she had just as much collection.

Then, last weekend, I got to go back to Standing Ovation Farm outside of State College, PA, to teach.  This is the 5th time I’ve been up that way, and many of the riders are repeat students. I am starting to see some really amazing changes in the horses and the riders, which makes me super excited, especially since most of the riders are young people.  Who says kids can’t do dressage? Of course they can. They have great feel, and they often have the luxury of parental support to focus on their riding.

The trips to State College are additionally fun for me because I get to help Lindsay Armstrong, head trainer at Standing Ovation. As you probably gathered from the start of the blog, training horses with another trusted trainer is really fun.  Lindsay and I worked with two mares last weekend, and discussed what she feels and what I see, and using both her feel and my eye, came up with a training path to hopefully have both mares show ring ready by spring. 

As cheesy as it sounds, getting to do these three things in this short of a time makes me feel nostalgic of how this whole trainer-student-trainer continuum is supposed to work.  I became the student at the symposium, and was able to then become the trainer in the days that followed.  Getting input on my knowledge from students and other trainers broadens my knowledge, and explaining what I have learned clarifies my thought process on what I know, in essence making me a student of my own teaching, which of course inspires my teaching and training. The circle of trainer-student-trainer creates its own inspiration.  Which is exactly how it is supposed to work.

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