Twelve youth riders from FEI Pony riders to developing Grand Prix riders worked with Courtney Dye, Debbie McDonald, Scott Hassler, JJ Tate, and Lendon Gray this last week (July 31 to August 4), at Hassler Dressage at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, Maryland. The EDAP program is a week packed with great lessons to prepare riders for a career in the high performance, that includes: 7 AM Workout Sessions, Media Training, Equine Therapy Center tour at Fair Hill, a lecture “Replacing the Nutrients Used Up During Exercise: How and Why” by Don Kapper, a tour Select Breeders Services, a workshop on Conformation by Scott Hassler, a workshop on Riding Theory by JJ Tate, and lots of riding with the great coaches.
Courtney Dye said, "The goal of the EDAP week is to help our youth, find the special ones, and give any young rider, who shows the desire, talent, and work ethic, some fabulous learning opportunities, they may not be able to afford otherwise. We don’t want to only educate their riding, but to help them become knowledgeable overall horse people. “
Here’s what the participants shared about their week:
Seventeen-Year-Old Rosemary Simoes (Rosie) traveled with her mom, Julie Julian, and their horse Proteus (Don Schufro x Pari Lord) a 9-year-old Danish Warmblood and full brother to Paragon, from Barrington Hills, Illinois to take part in the EDAP program. Rosie an FEI Young Rider said, “After starting our morning with stable chores and a core workout, lessons began. Promptly at 8 o’clock, riders were in the arena beginning their lessons. To be more productive, lessons are in the morning with two instructors, who teach 6 lessons. Because I was riding with JJ Tate today, I focused my morning on watching her teaching style. Not only is she very encouraging for the rider, but she is also excellent at addressing issues by gymnastically exercising the horse. For example, she wanted to improve one horse’s self-carriage and to help with properly aligning his body. She had the rider work on the quarter line with transitions canter to walk and trot to walk, riding a shoulder fore at the moment of the transition to ensure that the horse was coming through with the inside hind leg.
During my lesson, we worked on loosing and encouraging my horse, Proteus, to use his SI joints and back. Being such a big horse (standing at 18h), he has always tried to protect his back as much as possible, and also tends to hold tension there. By working with haunches in, along with spiraling in an out of a 20m circle, and other exercises, he was much looser and had improved swing and movement than at the beginning of the lesson. My favorite exercise we worked on was to improve the quality of his trot: half passing from the centerline to the rail and riding renvers around the corner allowed him to gain more swing in the trot and improved impulsion.
After lunch, we drove to Fairhill Training Center. Not only is this home to the winner of the Kentucky Derby and many other racehorses, but it is also an elite facility with many wonderful tools to keep horses sound and help them recover from injuries. One of the many pieces of equipment at the facility was their Aqua Pacer, which is essentially a water treadmill used to strengthen horses recovering from injuries, or horses in training.
Alongside that was the ice bath machine, vibration therapy stall, and liquid oxygen therapy chamber. All of these tools are instrumental in the recovery of horses; however the most unusual apparatus for me was the oxygen therapy, which is used to help horses with severe cuts, wounds, infections, or to help horses recover after a hard race. The pure liquid oxygen is released into the chamber under pressure, and absorbs 10-12 times quicker than the oxygen we breath normally, helping fuel cells to recover faster. After touring the stables, we had the opportunity to visit the racetracks where their horses are exercised daily. We, then headed back to barn for a tour of Hassler Dressage at Riveredge. The entire farm is filled with beautiful details, and set up perfectly. It is amazing to observe this caliber of an operation to be able to take some knowledge home to improve the barn at home, and potential barns in the future.”
Alexa Derr, FEI YR, 18 yrs old, from Reinholds, Pennsylvania with her horse Livingston, shared, “As I look back on my first day of training at the Courtney King Dye horse Mastership clinic, I can't help but think, "Wow, I am so blessed to be a part of such an educational program."
I rode with Debbie McDonald this morning. I came into the lesson feeling confident in my abilities and knew exactly where I was in my training. I need to take my riding from "looking pretty and creating a subtle picture" to being "highly effective and achieving a higher standard of cadence." Debbie really worked on those quick rebalancing half halts from the start, which got Livingston light off of my aids. While Livingston still wanted to get low in the poll, I kept choking up too much on my curb rein (a vicious circle habit we got into during the warm up). Within a few minutes he was carrying himself and not looking for me to hold his hand every stride. We worked on my leg aids being quicker, which immediately increased the activity of his hind end and once the balance was there the cadence came beautifully. One of the simple, but completely new concepts Debbie taught me, was that you can know how much a horse is tilting its head by how level the tips of their ears are. Like I said, a very simple concept and seemingly should be common sense but I had never thought of that before. Needless to say, there was no longer a head tilt in any of my lateral work because gosh darn it I was NOT going to let liv's ears be lop sided. The lesson with Debbie can certainly be summed up in one word "Amazing." Debbie was a phenomenal coach by the way she explained everything and got the job done so gracefully.
Final Day, Alexa Derr shared, “Boy has time flown. I cannot say how thankful I am to have had the opportunity to ride in this horse mastership clinic. The expectations, we as riders had to rise to this week, was demanding, but it kicked me in the butt and relit my fire. Livingston and I got put back on track after some very trying rides at the North American Championships two weeks ago.
My last lesson of the program was with Lendon. There wasn't one particular movement I felt I still needed to "perfect" so Lendon worked with me on my seat and Livingston's reactions to half halts. One thing I need to really pay close attention to is that the weight of my seat cannot change every stride. Livingston is very big (17.1h big bodies type big) so it is super easy for him to pull little me out of the saddle and tip right onto his forehand. Once I dropped my weight in the saddle he didn't pull as much and I had more power coming from my back as well.
We also schooled Livingston's reactions to the half halt. I as the rider need to be firmer in what I want him to do. There can no longer be a discussion about when we are going to stop. He needs to stop (with his poll up and not tightening his throat latch) when I say so ... Not 10 strides later. And it is okay if things get a little dicey the first few times as long as I give my reins and praise him when I get the reaction I am looking for. Once we spent some time going from a working trot to calm walk and working canter to calm walk with liv's poll up and chin not to his chest we rode centerlines with a halt at X. I only had 3 strides to prepare and execute the halt and do it well... No pressure... The first time through was a bit abrupt but then things went smoother.
I have lots of homework to keep me busy now that I am home and I am sure Livingston will just be so happy that I will be refusing to take no as an answer. No questions asked, our fires have been lit, and if we stay on this path we will be ready to give it all we have at the next show.”
Nicole Gallant, Second Level, sixteen year old from Midland, MI with her horse Parrus, a 10 yr old Dutch Warmblood cross from Canada shared, “To be cliche, today just felt like a whirlwind of information. It was my first time cleaning straw stalls, so that was definitely a new experience for me. The fitness training gave me one or two exercises that I hadn't done before in my own workouts. My lesson with Debbie was definitely the highlight of the day for me. We ended up working on exactly what I wanted to work on, but in a completely different way than I had imagined. I felt like Debbie was able to identify the real root cause of our difficulty in finding a better balance which was a real lack of consistent submission. In Debbie's words, he needed to become more polite and accepting of my aids. This acceptance of the aids (specifically not becoming stiff and pulling in the connection) comes not from messaging fingers, but rather from quiet hands and a solid core and position. When I sit down and think about the concepts from the lesson, I feel like I knew all of what we worked on in theory, but being able to actually put it into effect and feel the difference it made in the balance and ride-ability of my horse helped to solidify and remind me of the importance of the theory. The Fair Hill therapy center was fascinating. I thought that most of the rehab would be more like what we think of as physical therapy but that of course was not the case. The techniques they use to promote the healing process made a lot of sense, but I would have never thought to use them. The healing seemed to be all about circulation. If oxygen rich blood could get to the site, the the cells would start to rebuild. It was nice to finish the day learning a little more about the amazing facility that we're staying at with a tour of Riveredge. I'm excited to learn more about their breeding operation tomorrow.”
12 year old, Kristin Counterman, showing 2nd level said, “My lesson with JJ Tate was very helpful today. I found that in the trot half-pass, that if I softened on the rein opposite the way I was bending him, that it would really free his shoulders and allow him to have more sideways in the movement. In the flying changes, I had to try and remember to have one stride of a more forward canter before I ask for the change. I felt that that really helped me get clean changes. When we worked on collecting and lengthening the trot and canter, my thinking about the movement of my seat really helped-smaller, quicker "circles"; with my seat in the collected work, and longer, deeper "circles" in the more forward work. I thought that doing those transitions within the gait really helped improve the quality of the gait. I also had so much fun doing passage.”
Day 2, Kristin Counterman continued, “ Today I had a lesson with Debbie McDonald. I read her book, "Riding Through," for the Youth Dressage Festival, so I was really excited to meet her in person. She really helped me work on our problem movements, and by the end of the lesson, I could have written a book about how much I had learned.
In the walk, we started with some leg- yielding, working on slowing the shoulders down and speeding the haunches up to help me in my half-pass later in the lesson. She told me to always keep him busy, never let him go on a straight line for a while, so we would do things like haunches in, shoulder fore, and circles. If he ever started jigging or getting quick, I would bring him to a halt, making sure that he kept his head down, was on the aids, and didn't back up, which he liked to do in the halt because he was uncomfortable with having to keep his neck flexed and pay attention. One of our weaknesses in the walk is the walk pirouettes. To address that I rode a 6 meter circle and put him in haunches in, and at the end of that exercise, I felt like I could just shift my hands and he would go right into a walk pirouette. It was awesome. All throughout the walk work, our main focus was to keep the walk rhythmical, calm, and on the aids.
In the trot work, we also worked a lot on keeping him busy. We did haunches in, shoulder in, and half pass. One of the exercises that I found really helped us was when we did shoulder in down the center line until X and then went into a half pass. Before we worked on the half pass, we worked on leg yielding and some simple figures. Also, if he ever went against my leg in the half pass, I would turn it into a leg yield. I feel like I am getting better at the half pass every day. When we worked on the extended trot, I had to make sure that it was balanced and rhythmical. One of the things I had to work on was making sure to not let him "pull me out of the saddle." He is a very strong horse, so sometimes he will get away from me, and trick me into lengthening my reigns and leaning forward.
Our canter work felt especially good today. We worked on keeping a bouncy, collected canter. If we kept that canter, he was always on the aids, so it really helped with our flying changes. If he ever started getting quick, I would put him in haunches in to help me collect him. We also worked on the canter half pass, and some shoulder fore.
Final Day from Kristin Counterman:
Today I had a lesson with Courtney King. She helped me tremendously with getting Billy off of my leg. When he didn't respond to my leg right away, I would give him stronger and stronger kicks until he listened. It really helped with things like my half pass and flying changes, since those are some of the movements where the horse really needs to be off of your leg.
In the walk we worked on keeping him round, bent, and relaxed. I had to remember to keep a steady inside or outside bend and not just bend for 1 second then let go because that would make his head waggle. Courtney told me to always stay away from the rail so that if he wasn't off of my inside leg I could leg yield him off of my inside leg.
In the trot we worked on shoulder in, haunches in, and trot half pass. In the haunches in I would bring his haunches really far in, if he didn't listen to me when I told him to do that, I kicked, and if he still didn't listen, I brought him back to the walk and strongly told him to move his haunches over. That exercise really helped us in the half pass to the right. Since that half pass is harder for us, I would go on a diagonal line, do a volte, then think of haunches in on the diagonal line, do another volte in the middle of the diagonal, than continue. My half pass had never felt that good before.
In the canter we worked on flying changes, collected canter, shoulder fore, and lengthened canter. For the flying changes we had to get him really sensitive to my leg and my core. To do that we did collecting and lengthening on a twenty meter circle. In the collected canter Courtney told me to nudge him will my calf in rhythm with his stride before the collected canter, and during the collected canter to give him little kicks in rhythm with his stride to keep more energy and quickness of the feet. She said,"Be greedy about the collected canter! Want more collection!" The changes from the left to the right lead were clean and prompt, but the one from the right to left lead was the complete opposite. Since he kept on not listening to my leg in this change, I just asked with a kick first, and guess what. It was clean AND prompt. I was ecstatic. Courtney told me to keep giving him the kick the first time I asked until I was absolutely positive that he would listen with just a brush of my calf. Today was the last day of the clinic, and I think having such an awesome last lesson really topped what has been a great week. I just want to thank everybody again for this fabulous opportunity.
To conclude, Courtney Dye said, “Every person has their own situation and different things that affect their efforts. There’s no formula or specific advice I can give to help all individuals. The best advice I can give is follow your gut. When I initially called Lendon to be a working student when I was seventeen, I’d already tentatively accepted another job in California where I’d get paid and guaranteed a horse to show. Lendon told me I wouldn’t get paid, would work 6-7 days a week and wouldn’t even be assured consistent riding much less showing. The job in California sounded much better in every way, but my gut told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go to Lendon. And boy, was it right.”