Dressage enthusiasts from 11 countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Canada and the United States attended the Dressage Workshop at Cesar Parra’s Performance Farm March 7-8 in Jupiter, Florida. Judges, trainers and riders flocked to the event that was part symposium, part forum. Attendees enjoyed frank interaction with four of the sport’s top authorities—Chairman of FEI Dressage Committee Mariette Withages, FEI O Judge Linda Zang, Olympic Team Gold Medalist Hubertus Schmidt and former Civil Bereiter at the Spanish Riding School Raymond Withages. It was an unmatched opportunity for attendees to get four unique perspectives on the art and sport of dressage, and sometimes it was agreed to disagree. The enthusiastic response from the more than 140 people registered for the event has likely ensured the future Dressage Workshops.
“This has far exceeded my expectations,” said Cesar Parra, one of the event’s organizers. Parra together with Gabriel Armando wanted to create a place for riders, trainers and judges to interact. “The only way that the sport will grow and improve is if we all work together,” Parra explained. To help bring their idea to fruition, Parra and Armando enlisted the financial support from many sponsors, including Horses Unlimited, Verhan Saddlery, Euro American Saddlery and Moss Saddle Soap.
It Must be Fun for the Horse
The first day began with an educational session presented by Schmidt. He explained his system for warm-up, work and cool down and emphasized the importance of keeping the training fun for the horse. “The result of good training is that it must be fun for horse and rider,” he said. Germany’s Tomas Wagner rode Pik L, Michael Shondel worked Wallaby, and Parra rode Galant du Serein to demonstrate Schmidt’s philosophy of always keeping the horse loose and relaxed in all of his work, whether it is working trot or pirouette canter. Throughout the demonstrations Zang and Mariette Withages offered the judges’ perspective. The audience realized how badly the judges want to give high marks, and that they will when the movements are made beautiful and correct. Attendees were treated to riding that the judges rewarded with eights, nines and tens, as well as given hints for turning a score of six into a seven or an eight or higher.
After a wonderful catered lunch, the afternoon session delved into how the old masters might have taught a lesson. Raymond Withages focused on how changes in the rider’s position affected the horse. Talented riders received suggestions on how to improve their position and the audience witnessed changes in the horses right before their eyes. Withages also concentrated on the little details such as proper execution of the riding a corner and again the horses, from five years old to grand prix, were transformed. “Classical is simply the respect for tradition,” Raymond explained. He also emphasized that the FEI rules and the principles taught at the Spanish Riding School are the same. He encouraged riders to pay attention to smallest details and use personal discipline to improve themselves and in turn their horses.
Throughout the session the audience was encouraged to ask questions. Thoughtful insight and relevant questions from World Cup riders, USDF Instructor Certification Examiners and FEI delegates meant that attendees were privy to a wide spectrum of analysis of the sport.
The Development of the Freestyle
Day two was devoted the development of the freestyle. Mariette Withages began with a brief history of riding to music and then explained the rule changes for all FEI tests from the Junior to Grand Prix. Witahges clarified how degree of difficulty was scored and had Tara Stegen demonstrate variations on choreography that could produce higher scores in this category.
With Pierre St. Jacques, Withages explored how to choose suitable music. Both Zang and Withages emphasized that the music must not only suit the paces, but the horse and rider as a pair of dancers. St. Jacques rode Lucky Tiger to several pieces of music at each gait and Withages and Zang gave their perspective as to which pieces suited the pair and which did not. “It is music from your heart,” Withages explained. “If you don’t feel the music, you can’t ride it.”
Jackie Brooks and Gabriel Armando rode complete freestyle tests and then Zang and Withages explained their scoring point by point. Attendees then had the chance to ask for explanations on the scoring. Remarkably, the judges scored the two riders higher than the audience. Withages reminded everyone that judging should reward what is good and not just punish for mistakes.
The workshop finished with a forum in which the audience was invited to ask questions. Topics ranged from the promotion of the sport to the future of a North and South American continental championships.
If you would like to receive information on upcoming workshops and forums, please email Parra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who's Who: Dr. Cesar Parra