On the first day of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, riders and auditors arrived bright and early, eager to learn. The day officially began with participants busily feeding horses and finishing barn chores to be on time for the 7:00 workout. We worked with trainer Bob Gutowitz. Starting with a series of stretches, the workout consisted of a mix of cardio, strength, and agility. It is very important to stress the physical fitness of the rider because if we are training the horses to be athletes, we must be true athletes as well. After the workout, Robert Dover gave an incredible talk on “The Art of Dressage”. He reviewed with us the groups of aids and how they work to harmoniously create a half halt with in the period of a single breath. The rider uses the driving aids which are the left leg, right leg, and seat to, of course, send the horse forward while using the bending aids of the inside leg, outside leg, and inside rein to create bend. The outside rein, or rein of opposition, counteracts theses two groups of aids to keep the horse in balance. Robert discussed how while doing a half halt, the rider’s inhale is the dictation of the aids, and the exhale is the reward for listening to the rider. The half halt also enables the rider to balance the horse in such a way that tempo, stride length, frame, and rhythm are easily controlled.
Cassie Schmidt shared Day One, "The two clinicians today were Robert Dover and Shelly Francis, my ride was with Robert. At the very beginning of my lesson, Robert discussed with me the importance of having the ability to perform a half halt to create a balanced horse that has the ability to do any movement at any moment. We started the ride by walking on a circle with half halts at four points. The goal was to activate my horse, Valencio, in such a way that his croup lowered, his shoulders raised, and his center of gravity was pushed further back. We then did this same exercise at the trot and canter. Once I had to ability to create subtle half halts, we moved on to the “Rubber Band Exercise”. This exercise is a great exercise to activate the horse and have him listening to the rider. It consists of half of the 20 meter circle being in an extended gait followed by a half halt and then the following centerline has three or four steps of extreme collection followed by another half halt. One idea that really helped me was to think of the aids for the medium and extended gaits while in the collection to keep the activity. By the end of the ride, Valencio was balanced and it was an incredible feeling. Shelly focused on the ability to control the tempo every single stride and used lateral movements to help achieve this.
One exercise I really liked was having the rider bring a horse back from an extension in shoulder in. The rider would start the shoulder in before the end of the extension and end the extension in shoulder in to keep the horse narrow behind and straight in the body. After a lunch break, the clinic participants gathered in the Van Kampen indoor arena to listen to Robert discuss the Art of Dressage further. Robert began with questions and dove even deeper into discussing the ability to use the various aids and the importance of using the voice as a reward while riding. It is important to make sure the horse wants to work for the rider. The participants feed and completed the barn chores to finish the day. It was an incredible first day and we are so fortunate to have the ability to learn from such incredible trainers and have access to such a wonderful facility.
Allison Hopkins shared, "Wellington is filled with amazing equestrian facilities around every corner. The nice warm air and the multitude of shows available are just a few of the reasons so many riders come to Wellington for the winter. On January 2nd, the 3rd annual Robert Dover Horsemanship Clinic began started the day off with fitness training with trainer Bob Gutowit where we begin to engage our core and muscles that need to be developed in order to ride effectively. Then we were honored to have Robert Dover talk to us about the basis of the art of Dressage that is required for all success. He emphasized how going forward is the first requirement of a broken horse. The forward motion is established by the driving aids, which are the seat, left leg, and right leg. In every lesson he addressed the importance of the half halt, which is the calling of the horse to the perfect state of balance and attention. He organized each lesson similarly by using what he called the rubber band exercise where riders would work on a 20 meter circle and at one end of the circle they would extend in order to engage the hind legs and collect more. Next, Robert Dover gave a great Q & A session and then continued informing us on the art of dressage. Then towards the evening, Dr. Mary Beth Gordon, an Equine Nutritionist, talked to us about ways to figure out if a horse is fit or fat, by using measuring tape then examining the amount of fat it has in certain areas of its body. Next we weighed the hay and grain to see how to measure the correct amount for each horse. Then to close the wonderful first day, some of Lendon Gray’s previous students were kind enough to take time to talk to us about their journey as a rider and the work and effort put in to make it all happen. Overall, the main message was that you have show how much you want it (success) in order to achieve it.
All of their stories were very inspiring and we are all grateful for the time and effort Lendon Gray, Robert Dover, Shelly Francis and all of the speakers and sponsors put in to make this first day truly amazing! I know from here it will only get better, and as Robert Dover says, “you are only one half halt away from perfection!”
Cassie Schmidt shared, "On the second day of the clinic, participants once again came to the barn bright and early. After completing chores, the workout began. Today everyone felt the effects from yesterday’s workout and most of us were very sore. We did a great deal of running and everyone’s favorite exercise, frog jumps. After the workout, riders and auditors braved the cold and lessons began. Today’s clinicians were Robert Dover and Jan Ebeling. I rode with Jan Ebeling. I had a great ride that used a great deal of various transitions to create balance and collection. We started the ride by doing very subtle transitions in the posting trot while Valencio was stretching. These transitions were only a few strides slightly forward and then I would back off for a few strides. This had him thinking about my aids and would set the groundwork for more defined transitions to come. As the ride progressed we started to more transitions that involved a greater deal of collection in both the trot and canter. We started with the transitions only on the circle but then moved them to a shoulder in. Jan worked with us the ability to do trot and canter transitions while in the shoulder in. The trot and canter transitions by themselves help loosen the horse’s back and in this exercise helped us gain balance and harmony. At first when I would have a downward transition to the trot, Valencio would get a little stuck. Jan told me to make sure that i keep my legs on in the transition and think of going forward into the downward transition so I do not lose any energy.
He said the opposite about doing an upward transition. In an upward transition you should think about collecting right before you do the transition to keep the balance into the gait. We did not drill exercises but worked on transitions in various ways so that when Jan asked me to do a movement, the balance was there in such a way I could easily perform the movement. After a lunch break, riders and auditors gathered in the stabling area for an interesting lecture on saddle fit. Charlie Tota from The Dressage Connection reviewed with us the three points we must consider when fitting a saddle. We must be aware of the length of the saddle, the balance from right to left and forward to back, and the shoulder clearance. Charlie stressed the importance of giving the horse adequate room in the shoulder to allow the horse to complete a stride comfortably. At 2:30 we gathered in the Stillpoint Farm Casino to listen to a talk from Dr. Jenny Susser who is a sports psychologist. She discussed with us the importance of exercising certain “mental muscles” that are weak. We all made a list of two or three emotions we want more control over. My list had focus, patience, and the ability to manage stress. Dr. Susser explained the importance on having a ritual to work on strengthening these “muscles”. It was once again another incredible day full of learning and fun. I cannot wait for tomorrow!
Our second lecture of the day was at Tuny Page’s beautiful Stillpoint Farms again. This one was with Dr. Rick Mitchell, who has been a vet for the US Olympic team, sometimes jumper team and sometimes dressage team, for five years. He talked to us about pre-purchase exams on performance horses. I could write an entire essay on his talk, but I will just give a few points that I found interesting and new. One thing that he said that I had never thought about was doing a pre-purchase exam on a horse that you are leasing rather than buying. He said this can actually be just as important if not more important than doing it on a horse you are going to buy because the findings can be written into the contract so that both parties are fully aware of the situation if something goes wrong. Another interesting thing that he told us was that during an exam, the vet should look at the horse with someone riding it as well as on hard and soft ground in hand. He demonstrated why this was important by showing us a video of a horse that was totally sound on soft and hard ground in hand, but was slightly off going one direction under saddle. We finished up the extremely educational lecture by talking about ways to prevent tendon issues on performance horses. First and foremost, having a good farrier is essential, and t is best to consult with the horse’s vet about how the horse’s feet are looking. Second, good nutrition can lead to healthy and strong tendons. Third, steady work is also vital, meaning consistent work regularly, not riding hard for a few days and then leaving the horse sitting in the stall for a few days. Fourth, horses should be out of the stall several times a day; the way horses’ circulation systems work, they are supposed to be moving around all day, not standing. Horses that go in turnout have shown to have less tendon injuries than ones who don’t. Finally, having a great vet that you trust is absolutely necessary; be proactive and have the vet give you horse checkups one or two times a year just to make sure everything is looking how it should. It was great to meet such a prestigious vet and get some tips for performance horse pre-purchase exams and health tips.
After taking care of the horses for the night, we headed over to the gorgeous Hampton Green Farm for a dinner and party with the riders, auditors, parents, owners… and Robert and Lendon. It was really great to get to be around everyone in a social setting, and the food was incredible! It was so generous for the owners to host this event; we all had a great time and definitely appreciated the relaxation and fun after a great but long and busy day.