Two-time German Olympic Team Gold Medallist and two-time individual Bronze Medallist Klaus Balkenhol, gave a brief seminar to a large crowd that filled the seating during the Wellington Dressage Show Frebruary 3. Balkenhol is currently the Technical Advisor to the USET Dressage Committee and U.S. Dressage Coach through the next Olympic quadrennial.
The demonstration riders were Michelle Gibson and World of Dreams; Oded Shimoni and Glenstern; and George Williams and Rocher. Volker Brommann translated. The seminar was given in conjunction with a presentation by two representatives from Herm Sprenger GmbH -- Heinz Baumann, Managing Director, and Brigitte Schulte, Export Manager. Balkenhol talked about the different types of mouths and bits with each horse and mentioned the research the company had conducted regarding bits.
Muscles Need to "Breathe"
Michelle Gibson demonstrated a long-strided walk as Balkenhol talked about choosing a young horse such as the eight-year-old World of Dreams, looking for correct conformation and three good gaits. He noted that through Sprenger research it had been discovered that Thoroughbreds have a lower smaller jaw.
World of Dreams' dam's sire is a Thoroughbred, so depending on jaw size, the rider must choose the correct bridle. "To have natural movement, the horse must be comfortable at all times," said Balkenhol, adding he had checked the tack and it fit well. At the trot, Balkenhol pointed out how World of Dreams constantly bends his joints to produce an elastic trot, allowing his rider to sit comfortably in shoulder-in and half-pass. In extended trot he kept the same rhythm, showing that he was secure on Gibson's aids and in her hands.
At the walk break, World of Dreams stretched forward and down, showing that the work had been correct. Balkenhol stressed the rest periods because they give the muscles a chance to breathe. "If muscles don't get the rest and work all the time, they don't have oxygen and will get tired, then the horse no longer wants to try for the rider."
They completed their trot work by demonstrating passage, then piaffe on the diagonal. In canter, Gibson showed lengthenings, then changes every three and every two strides. They took one more walk break, then finished with a flamboyant extended trot down centerline.
"Even if the exercises are hard, keep smiling"
With Oded Shimoni and Glenstern, a seasoned Grand Prix horse, Balkenhol pointed out certain elements of the tack, such as the double pads used to keep the horse comfortable. During the trot work, he mentioned that the right tools, even sharp tools such as the whip and spurs are fine as long as the rider knows how to use them.
"The horse is never our slave," said Balkenhol. "Rather we serve the needs of the horse. Working with a horse should be filled with joy. Even if the exercises are hard, keep smiling." Shimoni demonstrated passage, then took a walk break. They continued with canter and demonstrated flying changes. In the first line of ones, Glenstern sped up in anticipation and didn’t accept the aids out of the corner.
Balkenhol said, "It doesn’t matter. Take your time, no stress. In everything we do, we need to know what the result will be. If it doesn’t work, change or prepare better the next time. The horse has to understand the rider and the rider has to understand the horse." Shimoni then demonstrated pirouettes, and exited in extended trot.