Thursday, January 23, 2014

FEI Conference Through Different Eyes

I flew home from the FEI-level Trainer’s Conference in Florida last night. On the ride home, as I was thinking about how to organize this blog, I tossed around a few different angles-- how Steffen Peters and Scott Hassler clearly showed all of us the lessons each horses had for us, how the inspiring lessons make me want to come home and train with more clarity, how re-setting my standard this time of year is so crucial in the hard-to-stay-motivated cold, how sitting in front of such clear communicators makes me want be a better teacher, but really, all of this has been covered so beautifully on other blogs, such as:

Then I thought of what made this experience different from last year’s trip south, and I had my angle. This year I shared the inspiration.

This year my assistant trainer, Maddy, joined me on the trip.  I wanted Maddy to come because, although she has watched Scott teach me many, many times, she has not had the opportunity to watch the progression of horses from first level to schooling GP back-to-back like this before. Also, when she watches my lessons with Scott, because I have been working with him for many years, the lessons aren’t filled with as much explanation as when he takes the roll of facilitator.  I wanted to give her a crash course in the training approach I have been trained in.

Additionally, this year again I was able to spend a very brief time watching Catherine Haddad train. Maddy got to see not only good training and riding, but also Catherine’s assistant take the roll of her eyes-on-the-ground, a role I want Maddy to learn to take.  I haven’t had an assistant that was confident enough to take that role in a while, and now that Scott’s barn goes south for the winter, I’m really feeling the lack. 

Monday and Tuesday, we watched and let our cognitive learning absorb Steffen’s effective, quiet seat while he and Scott’s words explained the order of their priorities in each phase of the training. We took pages of notes, and Maddy even stole a little cell phone video to watch Steffen’s canter seat over and over again.
After watching all day, we had dinner with our friends, Lauren and Fiona, who had also came down for the Conference, and discussed what we saw. Fiona has a gift for starting conversation.  I loved watching Maddy start in role of listener, then, as our conversations confirmed her ‘eye’, begin to contribute to our discussions.  We talked about Steffen’s training approach -- how he was willing to use more advanced movements to improve the overall thoroughness of the basics, and how the basics improved the movements themselves.  We talked about his rather short training sets, and how they would work in our colder temperatures. We discussed his amazing ability to get the horse to offer the movements. 

Fiona asked what we were going to do with this knowledge when we got home, and Maddy right away answered that she was going to bring Silly’s talented canter more uphill, and use it to make her “just overall better.” She also said she was eager to go back in the show ring on Venus, who has been helping Maddy find her show-ring skills after being away from the competition ring since high school, and really think about working the show ring to make Venus really shine.  

Needless to say, this all made me quite proud. Educating horses is my passion, but I can only train as well as my teachers have trained me.  As a thank you to all of the wonderful instructors who have not only taught but mentored me, I feel an obligation to do the same to the next round of professionals.  Maddy is not the first young professional I have helped, nor will she be the last, but since I taught her to canter when she was a kid, watching her turn into a confident, skilled horseperson is a particular joy.

P.S. I want to say a special thank-you to all of those at home who made it possible for Maddy and I to both be away, particularly with the Polar Vortex descending in our absence.  Doug, Joyce, and Aneesa, you are all wonderful people and I am truly in your debt. Thank you again.

Now out to apply it all in the balmy 14 degree weather.