Conscious Riding with Steffen Peters at the 2009 Global Dressage Forum

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The keynote speaker of the 2009 Global Dressage Forum was American champion Steffen Peters. The sympathetic German-born American became the centre of attention when he finished fourth at the 2008 Olympic Games, won the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas and beat the world’s best riders at the 2009 CDIO Aachen aboard Akiko Yamazaki’s Dutch warmblood gelding Ravel (by Contango). Peters was invited to the 2009   Forum to present his training methods. Educated by Johann Hinnemann, Peters has remained loyal to the classical principles and stressed that suppleness and an honest and light contact with the bit are essential to train a dressage horse correctly.

As an introduction Peters showed a video tape of his growing partnership with Ravel. When the stallion arrived from The Netherlands in the U.S.A. he was obnoxious, unfocused and had several training issues including sticking out his tongue. Ravel was gelded upon arrival to calm down and in order to fix the tongue problem Peters rode the dark bay in a rubber snaffle for two months. Doing so he restored the trust between horse and rider and established an honest connection with the horse’s mouth.

Four advanced horses came into the arena which Steffen trained from the ground. Dutch Junior Rider Sanne van Grotel and her 15-year old KWPN bred Melvin (by Flemmingh) worked on tempo transitions and half-halts to get the bay gelding lighter in the contact. Remy Bastings and his Hanoverian Riverdance (by Wolkentanz II) was a bit slow behind and Peters asked the rider to engage the horse’s brain more in order to get him quicker. The horse struggled with the pirouettes but Steffen reassured the rider that “every mistake your horse makes is a training opportunity. Your horse shouldn’t lose his confidence.” Afterwards Peters rode a gigantic 9-year old black Jazz offspring called Toots. The black has enormous movements but Peters wanted to see if he was also able to collect them properly. “It is easy for us to get fooled with his big cadence,” he said. “I would compromise on expression but not on connection and controlled energy.”  Toots proved to be incredibly rideable and was a pleasure to watch. At the end of the session, Peters mounted Imke Schellekens’ Ferero (by Ferro). The horse has a mediocre walk and Steffens tried to improve the walk by riding many halt-walk transitions to get a clear 4-beat rhythm.

On the second day of the Forum Steffen Peters returned to the platform to demonstrate how he trains   young horses. The first horse to enter was a 5-year old Jazz x Rubinstein mare with fancy movements but ridden downhill. He told the rider to analyze the contact with the bit at any time. “Don’t let your horse go quite that deep and risk not being able to pick her up.” The second horse to enter was a very normal 4-year old Orlando x Jazz offspring which spit out the bit and played with it instead of accepting a gentle contact. Peters especially worked on the rider’s position of the hands to fix the problem. The third youngster was the 2009 Pavo Cup winner TC Athene (by United x Jazz). The chestnut is born out of a full sister to Adelinde Cornelissen’s Parzival and it is a mirror image of the gold medalist. Jessica Buying was nervously riding this incredible mover and was constantly putting him in a too tight and too deep neck position. It was amazing to see how professionally Steffen Peters tackled this rollkur issue. “There needs to be a reason for him to be so deep right now. He should have a closed, adjustable frame, but make sure he doesn’t get stuck in it.” Finally Steffen mounted a 3-year old Ravel x Gouverneur mare which was saddle broken four months ago. The mare had quite opinion and was not really willing to accept the bit. She regularly evaded the contact by throwing her head in the air but Steffen stayed calm and said he was “looking for basic acceptance of the aids. I don’t make a big deal out of her resistance but I do address it.” Peters asked for respect for the bit and compromised expression for it. “The tempo itself shouldn’t be evasion.”