The 2012 season is underway and some of the younger dressage equine stars are showing their might in the competition arena. We caught up with Dr. Cesar Parra at the Gold Coast Opener held at the Jim Brandon Palm Beach Equestrian Center and the seven-year-old Linder, a Westphalian gelding by Laudabilis/Beltain, owned by Michael and Sarah Davis who was two for two in the second level classes held at the Wellington Classic Dressage Spring Challenge. DressageDaily works on a regular basis with the many trainers some of whom we feature in our Who’s Who section. Read Cesar’s informative response to questions on how to ease a young talent into the show arena and learn what makes this effort a successful journey.
Q: When working with a young horse at a busy show, how often do you like to get the horse in the arena to work them on the day of your test?
Getting young horses used to the show environment can take time and patience, especially if you are dealing with the sensitive ones. I start a young horse's career by taking them to shows with me as a companion or if I show, I show them far below the level they are working at home. My whole objective is to build confidence and reduce stress. The change in atmosphere can be stressful enough for them so the tests should be easy for them, not something they have to worry about. When I have a young horse at a show I like it to get out of the stall as often as possible. They become like a pet dog - going everywhere walking in hand or hand grazing as often as possible. Depending on the horse I will sometimes also lunge them for a little bit, just with the idea to let them move, not necessarily to get them tired, and then ride them later.
Q: How long does it normally take warming up before the test?
The length of time for the warm up really depends upon the horse. Many young horses can be quite fresh when you get on but have a limited "gas Tank" for the work. In cases like these you may only have enough horse for a 20-25 minute warm-up and it may be helpful to ride the horse earlier (at least 2 hours before you would have to get on for your class) so that you have them more relaxed and listening. It is important to remember that you warm up to have the horse at its peak for the actual test. Sometimes we tend to over do the warm up and then we have not enough horse left for the class. Or on the contrary, it is so short that the horse is too fresh and doesn't pay enough attention to the rider. The key is knowing your horse and balancing all of the factors.Q: What is your program for relaxation and exercises to build not only the horses confidence but his ability?
I work a lot with the young horses developing them as happy athletes (not just a happy horse, but a happy athletic horse) and working on body suppleness. We do a lot of transitions, both between and within the gaits.This gets their attention and also makes them strong. They come out of the stall several times a day, one time to work and the other times to walk and build a relationship with humans and get used to different scenarios (noises, scenery, etc.) Also, I put the most experienced riders or myself to ride the most inexperienced horses.The riders that know how an upper level dressage horse feels can teach the young dressage horse better. It is far easier to teach them the first time well then to fix later something learned poorly or in the wrong way.
Q: What are some of the challenging issues and how do you handle them?
With young horses you need to be consistent that they start to understand what is going to be their job. Even still, sometimes accidents happen. That is why people should wear helmets and that is why we have to sign releases. Anyone who tells you they have never had an accident with a horse has probably not been doing it long enough. I try to encourage my clients to think of their young horses like teenage children; if you give a teenager a curfew but don't enforce it if they come home late, they will never respect that curfew. When the respect is there then everyone can be happy. It is the same with horses. You have to be fair, demanding and rewarding, and be persistent and consistent with this.