The inaugural copycat Global Dressage Forum NA staged a clear format in how to share top competitor knowledge with top judging knowledge. The format taken from the European Global Dressage Forum with a curtain, interview area, and panel discussion was truly a blessing in the purity of the learning.
The dialogue and discussion between the demonstrators and the panelists centered on important issues, the training of the dressage horse for the international competition arena. A beautiful layout for the stage, the opening of the curtain to the arena, and then a closed curtain panel discussion made the viewing format super interesting by showcasing lifelong learned philosophies by top riders and coaches.
The differences in lifelong learned theories by each of the demonstrators was simply amazing. The willingness to first share their childhood influences in a television interview high-back chair area of the stage, then second teaching or demonstrating the horses training behind the opened curtain, and finally the closed curtain questions by the panelists was simply outstanding.
Steffen Peters shared his fathers influence on his own philosophy to work hard, to stay focused and be disciplined. He spoke of his move to America with his horse Oden and how his sister had a help in the horses training. The huge curtain was then opened for Steffen to work with Jami Kment’s horse Zania. He explained his methods and theories for contact and connection, the conversation with the horse, and the need to not let the horse go too low in the frame. Then he answered questions from the panelists, who included Christoph Hess, Stephen Clark, Wim Ernes, Gary Rockwell, Lendon Gray, Sue Blinks, and George Williams. One of the two questions cherished most was from Stephen Clark, who discussed with Steffen whether he would like to go back to the old Grand Prix tests which included two rein backs, walk pirouettes and a medium canter with a flying change in the middle. Steffen spoke about his concern over the medium canter with the flying change saying that the medium canter with a flying change would be too confusing for the horse. The horse would prefer to do the flying changes in collection. He didn't mind the two rein-backs or the walk pirouettes.
The second most amazing question came from Lendon Gray, who asked, when is the right time to punish a horse? What is the difference between a punishment and correction or discussion? Peters replied, “All horses have a certain comfort zone. The punishment is always, to me, something I need to be careful about, because I think a normal human reaction when we get a bit frustrated, we get aggressive. The rider needs to understand when we think about a correction or even punishment, when Jami’s horse was a bit against the bridle, I used the whip for two reasons: to bring the horse back to me from a physical standpoint; I wanted to get the hindlegs, but also clearly using a signal to say, ‘this pushing against the bridle is wrong.’ I want the tension, at that moment.”
He continued, “If the rider has the capability of staying very cool and under control in their emotions, then I think the correction is the right thing. It’s a very big responsibility for us as riders to say to ourselves, ‘listen you are doing too much. This is getting out of hand.’ Let’s face it, I have seen warm-ups where I would like to see the TD stepping in more. And being straightforward about this.” And finally he said, “Especially the young people who are trying to become professionals. The pressure of proving themselves out there in the arena is huge and that pressure can get to us very easily. I’ve found that the most important thing to say at the end of the day when you look in the mirror is, ‘Did I train my horse with the best horsemanship in mind?”
After Steffen Peters, Arthur Kottas candidly shared that he did not let his father know he was training at the Spanish Riding School, but led his father to believe he was studying in a normal school in Vienna. Kottas was the youngest man ever to become Master at the famous Spanish Riding School. In later years when his father discovered how contented he was there, he finally gave Kottas his blessing. He shared a remarkable bit of information in knowing that one of the best horseman in the world didn’t have it so easy at home. Kottas then went on to share a video of his work in hand with four horses he trains in Europe, and then he moved behind the curtain and worked with a couple of horses in the arena with an amazing softness and clarity toward the horse.
Watching his quiet yet strong demeanor in teaching the horse to piaffe so easily in a longing caveson, there is a clear appreciation for the work by the horse. Kotta’s training in clarity and kindness clearly shined through. One can fully understand why he became the top Master at the Spanish Riding School for more than 40 years, retiring from his position to train horses and riders for competition. The horse to him is the most important thing, not the shortcuts to winning competitions. Trust and communication rule in his life. Truly remarkable.
The next day, Bo Jena spoke of his career as the head of the Swedish Stallion Station and Training Center, called Flynge. He long lined a couple horses with beautiful precision. He ran up the long sides with the horses helping them to take the outside rein. He emphasized how important that outside rein must be. He shared how long-lining can help with all sorts of problems, such as canter pirouettes and even flying changes. One could see how Jena truly has spent a lifetime figuring out so many nuances, such as that the horse must leg-yield into the active outside rein because the long-liner does not have legs to move the horse over. Questions by the panel that consisted of Anne Gribbons, Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel, Betsy Steiner, Cathy Connelly, Leslie Reid, and Jan Ebeling, were all in awe of what Bo Jena accomplished out in the arena. Anne Gribbons asked him to elaborate more about the exercise on the flying changes. And others asked about the counter-flexion at the beginning with the horse, and he spoke about how what they saw as counter-flexion was not about counter-flexion but about getting the horse to move into that outside rein. What a remarkable lifetime of knowledge that man has learned and shared.
Ingrid Klimke stole the whole show. Her articulate way of bringing you into her life is truly awesome. She cares so much for every audience member to fully grasp her concepts with all her kind yet forward personality. She spoke of her father, sharing loads of the good memories, but also the bad moments she learned from, all super candid, open and honest. It’s apparent that her joy is in the 3-day eventing, but her foundation lies in the conversation through the dressage training. She is a mastermind in the three disciplines, and loves training the young horses. Without anybody even realizing, she won the day before at the Grand Prix in Munster, Germany on the debut of her horse Dresden Mann at the international level. She flew in for one day to teach us and flew back to Germany the next. Her family’s impact continues to touch lives across the world and to thousands of horses. Her concept of reaching for the bit at the beginning and end of the workout with a shorter session with the neck more up and the hind legs collected, showed through with a fun jump at the end over the X she setup from the cavelleti setup used at the beginning of the young horse’s workout. Her joy is ever present and inspiring.
Other amazing talks were given by Hillary Clayton - Maintaining Soundness for the Dressage Horse, Stefan Stammer – The Biomechanics for the Dressage Horse, and Dr. Juan Samper – Development in Breeding the Dressage Horse.