Steffen Peters Defines Contact and Connection at the 2013 USDF Trainers Conference

Steffen Peters on JJ Tates turning six year old mare, Summersby
Steffen Peters on JJ Tates turning six year old mare, Summersby

Steffen Peters and Scott Hassler spent two days focused on sharing knowledge on how to develop the horse better for the competition arena. Peters began the conference with his overall goal in teaching the trainers, “During this conference we are going to discuss basic questions. How much should the horse reach for the contact? Is the horse pulling on the contact? How is the horse connected? How is the horse going into the hand? We need to teach the horses how to carry their frames on their own through the movements. We will always analyze the contact, the connection.”  Peters worked with great combinations as he shared hundreds of little nuances, but always went back to the question of connection and contact. 

When coaching Jessica Jo (JJ) Tate on her horse Summersby by Sir Donnerhall, a five years old turning 6yr old mare, he said, “Is the horse behind the bit in canter? Yes. Would we use this frame in the show ring? No. But for now, the mare is working through her body in the training. It’s good that the horse stretches, but not taking advantage of that.  She needs to work and be truly on the aids. It’s not about making the neck shorter, it’s all about testing the situation.” As Tate continued the horse’s hind leg energy and cadence improved.  Peters continued, “We ask the horse to offer the movement. The rider must be straight forward about that with their spur, but not harsh about it.”  As Tate went on to work on canter to walk transitions peters said, “The horse cannot just fall into the walk and pull the reins. She needs to chew on the bit in the transitions to keep her focus on her hind legs. Repeating what is being asked a few times, helps the horse offer what is being asked.” Once the canter-walk transitions were smooth, Tate went on to work on a flying change and finished with a few trot lengthenings.  As the lesson concluded Peters stated, “The rider feels much more than what we can see. The rider must ask: Is the horse on the outside rein? Does the horse understand how to bend? The rider must prepare the horse by asking themselves how it feels. If the horse doesn’t feel true in the gait, then the rider must go back and get the connection correct first before moving onto a new movement.”  Peters shared clear insights on where today, at the very moment, how the rider must think while training the horse.

Steffen Peters riding Lauren Sprieser's Stratocaster
Steffen Peters riding Lauren Sprieser's Stratocaster

 Next Peters gave the auditors insight while riding Lauren Spieser’s five year old gelding Stratocoaster also by Sir Donnerhall, “I want the horse to stretch, testing both directions, testing the bend, testing the inside leg, seeing the reaction of the horse is good. If I can keep the horse connected with his head held high, I will do that. If not, I will let him stretch if it is easier for him. I just have a few strides to test something out, like a bit of straightness, as this horse needs. I’m interested in bending him on the circle and letting him stay there on his own.  Whenever I ask him to come up in the bridle, I also allow him to go forward. It’s not about keeping the horse in one frame for a long time. It’s about the communication. It’s one of our goals to have the horse accept the contact easily, and carry themselves. He was a little fussy in the bridle. Let’s fix it. I got it done with the leg and made him work better, encouraging him to trot by himself, establishing the rhythm, maintaining cadence through a slight half-pass and then straight.” He continued, “It’s so typical of young horses, when I give him the bit to stretch, he pulls on me, so I don’t give the reins away. He needs to be respectful and reach for the bit, not pull my hands in a quick way. He needs to be taught.” 

Steffen Peters shares more on Marne Martin-Tucker's eight year old mare, Royal Coeur
Steffen Peters shares more on Marne Martin-Tucker's eight year old mare, Royal Coeur

Next Peters shared with the trainers while riding Marne Martin-Tucker’s eight year old mare, Royal Coeur, by Royal Hit, “When a horse doesn’t stay forward on their own, to make the horse a bit more responsive, I may use my whole leg quickly to get a response and get the respect to move on their own. Quickly, I put one whole leg on, then leave it alone. If the horse I am riding is behind the leg, then I need to use my calf so that the cadence isn’t flattening, but active.”  He continued, “I encourage her to reach respectfully down but stay active behind. I test the outside leg to see the reaction. I feel the lack of energy from her that she slows down. So, I use the second track to work on the activity into the connection. I don’t chase the horse into the bit, and I do not release the rein, but work through the cadence to get her better connected and active. I want consistency. I use the second rail to make her straight when I help her, I ask for a slight bend.”  He went on to work on the canter and flying changes saying, “There is an aid for straightening and an aid for the change. She is a bit confused by that. The horse must be able to leg-yield in the tempi changes. The straightness doesn’t come with time to gain strength, as many riders think, the straightness come by leg-yielding straight while making the flying changes.”  Peters advised the auditing trainers, “Often times riders get to the show ring and there are too many things to fix, the connection, the corners, the straightness. It must be made simple.  If you have to take care of too many things, it’s impossible to win. While training at home many of the things can be taken care of by making each problem more simple and addressing it at home. It’s about communication. It’s about addressing each aspect of the test, pulling apart each with your horse, so they understand what is expected of them.“

Scott Hassler, Steffen Peters and Jami Kment in the background
Scott Hassler, Steffen Peters and Jami Kment in the background
Peters shared his thoughts on each horse addressing each problem as he found them with advice on what needs to be done, which aid should correct the issue, either through the rider’s use of leg or if the base of the neck of the horse has fallen too low.  He advised that the rider needs to feel how the horse goes today, at the moment of being ridden on how the horse must feel in the contact and connection.  Even with the young horses, the rider must not always ride the horse long and low because the base of the neck may fall and not allow the horse to go forward in the training needed at that time in the training.  He said, “Contact issues do not go away with strength. We have to address the problem now until it is no longer an issue. I need to keep my standards high with the contact, even with a young horse. You need to ask, what does the horse do with the contact? Pull, fuss, tense, not listen to the leg, not bend through the corner? Ride the horse low at the end of the ride.”  He went on to teach that it’s okay for the horse to reach out in the contact, but not down, as usually the base of the neck falls.  He added, “I am not a fan of a rider holding their hands tight with their hands high and reins so short. You need to be effective by sitting correctly. The contact has to be manageable so you can sit correctly.”
Other advice Peters gave to the trainers, “I cannot stand trainers who say, ‘I don’t care how it feels, it looks great.’ That is incorrect. It is all about how it feels.”

Peters continued with six more riders and their horses in order to share information to the more than 250 participating auditing trainers.  A huge thank you must be given to all the riders, as they and their horses were the canvases for Steffen and Scott to teach the auditing trainers. And of course, the USDF organizers, the sponsors Succeed® and Scott Hassler for his insight in helping everyone have a chance in the USA.

 
All Photos by Betsy LaBelle for Dressage Daily   



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