Nicole Nowak her twin sister Kristen were invited to participate in this years Courtney King Dye Horsemastership Clinic along with 15 other participants. Traveling from across the United States to the beautiful training facility of Hassler Dressage at Riveredge Farm, Chesapeake City, The clinic presented by Dressage4Kids was a week long, and consisted of a morning fitness routine, lessons from many top riders and coaches, and daily lectures about all things horses.
The clinic began the first day with all the participants in the barn at 6:00 for the morning stable chores. At 7:00, a yoga instructor directed our fitness workout. Yoga helped to stretch out and loosen our muscles and improve our posture. Lessons promptly began at 8:00 with coaches Courtney King Dye and Scott Hassler giving the instruction.
Courtney stressed the bend in the half pass. She had many of the riders ride patterns of alternating half pass and shoulder in as well as haunches in to get ahold of the hind legs to better the horse’s bend. For my lesson, we worked on the canter pirouettes, as I tend to over prepare for the movement, which causes my horse to lose rhythm. To fix this, Scott had me ride two turns of a canter pirouette, then go straight to haunches in for a few strides still in pirouette canter, and then turn two strides again. This greatly improved the activity and flow in each pirouette.
After all the lessons were completed, Courtney gave a lecture based on questions each rider asked. She gave useful tips on how to help stiff horses. She said it is important to constantly mix exercises up with stiff horses to keep them loose and supple.
Susanne Hassler gave an insightful talk on posture. She mentioned that if you struggle with a certain movement, such as shoulder in, then first make sure your posture is okay, if your posture is okay, then think about your horse’s posture. Susanne then went on to describe different exercises we as riders can do to strengthen our core and improve our poster. For example, yoga, pilates, and pure barre classes all help to develop the core and boost flexibly.
After each day of lectures all participants went back to the stables to finish up the barn chores for the night.
After morning chores on Wednesday, everyone was off to complete a morning workout session taught by a military instructor. After the workout, the lessons began with Courtney and Scott teaching again. They focused on the same themes from the previous day.
Scott gave an enthusiastic lecture on what it takes to be a good coach. Some of the qualities he described in a good coach are listening skills, ability to inspire and build confidence in their student, knowledge to know how to develop exercises to build on weaknesses, and understanding of their student’s skill set.
He then gave us a tour of the beautiful Riveredge barn, the location of Hassler Dressage. It was amazing to hear about the thought process of each detail that went into building this incredible facility.
Lendon Gray gave a great lecture about working students. Some advice she gave was to always make sure you get the details of the job position in writing. Ask about how many hours you will work each day, how much riding time you will get, and if you can bring your own horse. The day finished up back in the stables with the nightly barn chores.
Thursday began with Yoga session and then moved smoothly into lessons all taught by one of the United States Youth Coaches, Charlotte Bredahl, who is also an FEI Dressage Judge. Before starting the first lesson, Charlotte gave a brief talk on the common mistakes she saw at this years North American Junior and Young Rider Championship in Kentucky. She said she repeatedly saw lack of transitions after medium and extended trot and canter, poor walk and canter pirouettes, and lack of bend in lateral movements.
These were the major themes of the lessons she taught. To help the bend in the canter half pass, she had many riders ride leg yield to canter half pass. To improve the canter pirouettes she had riders make a square, and at each corner to make a quarter pirouette turn.
When the last lesson was finished, Charlotte gave a lecture on visualizing your dressage test. She told us to imagine everything we are going to do to prepare our horses for the next movement and to think about each half halt we will give. This is a great way to prepare for horse shows and can even ease up some nerves the night before a competition. When 5:00 came around, it was time to head back to the barn and take care of our horses.
It was back to a military themed workout on Friday morning, followed by a field trip to the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center. Here, we got a tour off the facility and were shown the different therapy machines they use to rehab horses. We were shown a hyperbaric oxygen therapy machine that is used to help heal bone infections, laminitis, and wound healing. We also got to try out the floor vibrator that they use to help decreases bone density, loosen the horse, and help with colic. After the tour of the therapy machines, we headed down to the facility’s racetrack to watch two young horses be broken into the start gates.
Next, we had a lecture on body scoring and evaluating the fitness of our horses. In this lecture, we learned that protein is the main supplement that will help to improve a horse’s topline. You can increase your horse’s protein level by adding more forage into your horses diet, such as a grass diet balancer, or alfalfa cubes. I greatly enjoyed this lecture because it was very informative on how to feed your horses so that they can preform at their very best.
Lessons then began with the instruction from Lendon Gray and Grand Prix rider Allison Brock. Lendon focused her lessons on the rider’s positions. It was amazing to see how much improvement small adjustments on your position such as keeping your head from tilting or keeping your shoulders back had on the horses movement and ability to preform different lateral movements.
In my lesson with Lendon, we worked on loosening my arms and then went on to do some canter pirouette, half steps, and the beginnings of passage. Just by loosening my arms, my horse became lighter and more supple, which greatly improved the overall feeling and rhythm of the movements we preformed. Allison worked with each rider on areas they felt needed improvement. She had a great way of getting to the root of the problem and giving helpful tips to help strengthen our weaknesses. Although everyone had different areas to develop, Allison repeatedly told the riders to do less and that our horses should respond to the slightest aid.
Saturday, the last day of the clinic, started with morning chores, and then moved into yoga and lessons taught again by Lendon and Allison. After the lessons were over it was time to pack up and head home.
In writing this article, I am reflecting on this remarkable opportunity and all the information I learned. I feel very grateful I got to be a part of this amazing learning experience. Thank you to everyone who helped organize and run this clinic.
Thank you to the sponsors who donated books, shirts, and saddle pads. Thank you to the Hassler’s for letting us use your facility. Thank you to all the coaches, and of course, thank you to Lendon Gray who does an endless amount for the youth of dressage.
I feel forever grateful that I got to be apart of this wonderful week.
Nicole Nowak, an incoming sophomore at Brown University, is a bronze and silver medalist who trains under the instruction of Bill Warren and Bill McMullin. She attended the CKD Horsemastership Clinic with her twin sister, Kristen. She currently competes her 17.1h Bavarian Warmblood, named Deinhardt in the FEI Young Rider Tests as well as Prix St. George.
Nicole has had Deinhardt for three years and together they have participated in many of Lendon Grays’s EDAP clinics, clinics with Conrad Shumacher and George Williams, and many dressage shows and championships in both fourth level and the FEI Junior division. Last year,
Nicole and Deinhardt qualified to compete in Kentucky at the North American Junior Young Rider Dressage Championship, where they represented Region 8 in the FEI Junior division. In 2012, she competed in the FEI pony division where she qualified for the Festival of Champions and placed 4th nationally. Nicole hopes to qualify for USDF National Cjampionshis in November, and the North American Young Rider Championships in 2016 as well as someday represent the United States in competition.
Thirteen riders: Matt Baillargeon, Nicole and Kristen Nowak, Allyssia Bryant, Claire Coman, Katja Creswick, Alexa Derr, Caroline Garren, Hannah Irons, Allison Nemeth, Kristen Nowak, Rosie Simoes, and Emily Smith and four auditors; Caroline Cadorette, Emma Count, Katherine Esterline, and Bug Karls.