Dressage Legend Carl Hester Works With New Talent at 2022 NEDA Fall Symposium
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Posted by Lynndee Kemmet
An experience of a lifetime is how many riders described their opportunity to be participants in this year’s Absorbine/New England Dressage Association’s Fall Symposium featuring six-time British Olympian Carl Hester.
This year’s NEDA symposium was held on October 15-16 at the Mount Holyoke College Equestrian Center in South Hadley, Massachusetts. For most of the symposium’s demonstration riders, this was their first opportunity to ride with Hester, who is one of the world’s leading dressage riders and trainers.
The hottest ticket of the year for the Dressage Community in New England, Hester's appeal, humor, insight and talent brought star power to the long sold out event.
Huge Honor For Young Rider
The youngest participant in the symposium was 16-year-old Leah Drew, an FEI-level junior rider from Lincoln, Massachusetts who trains with Jane Karol and Hope Cooper at Bear Spot Farm. “This was my first time riding in any event like this. It’s just a huge honor to get to ride among some of the riders that I admire. I’ve been going to this event since I was like 10 or 11. I’ve always wanted to ride in this event but thought it wouldn’t happen for another decade or two. To be selected at 16 is just amazing.”
It was an honor well deserved said her mother, Rachel Drew. “I could not be more proud. She works so hard and has dedicated herself to this since she was little. This is her passion and she studies it. She learns everything she can about the sport and about the theory. She watches all the videos of the top riders and has really worked very hard to earn this.”
Everything Is About Foundation
“It was a Saturday morning, and I was upstairs when I got the acceptance email and I just screamed like a little girl,” said Courtney Bolender of the moment she received notice that she had been selected as a rider for the symposium. “I celebrated the whole day and then week and then month.” Her partner at the symposium was the six-year-old Hanoverian mare Isolde (Furstenball x Dancing Darkness x De Niro). She said Hester reinforced her belief that “everything is about foundation. That’s also how I live at home. It’s about foundation, basics, straightness, the horse needs to feel confident and proud also. That was my take away from his wonderful teaching.”
Opportunity of a Lifetime
Katie Bachli, an assistant trainer at MMDressaage in Clinton Corners, New York whose partner at the symposium was her own horse, Forever P (For Compliment x De Niro), a four-year-old Hanoverian mare, said riding was Hester was a dream come true. “I applied to ride with Carl in 2017 and ended up being an alternate that year. This year, it was very last minute because we ended up scratching a show that I was going to get my demo video from and so I scrambled and got a video a couple days before the applications were due and I submitted it and had no expectations. Then I made the first cut and was excited but still thought it was a long shot and then got the word that we were selected. I have just loved Carl for as long as I can remember. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Tools to Work With
“I think an opportunity to ride with one of the best trainers in the world was fantastic,” said Mica Mabragaña, who currently trains with and operates a business in North Salem, New York with Spain’s Antonio Diaz Porras. “The moment I knew he was coming I thought what a great opportunity to apply, especially with a horse like Rosso that we have big goals with to have the opinion of a trainer like that and he gives you tools to work on. It wouldn’t be possible any other way. I was beyond excited. I couldn’t believe it.”
Jocelyn Kraenzla, trainer at Rolling Stone Farm in Slatington, Pennsylvania, said that she was home in her apartment with her dogs when she got the notice she had been selected. “I was beyond excited. I called Mo Swanson, the owner of the horse I was riding, right away and we celebrated. This was my first time riding with Carl but hopefully not my last. I am absolutely beyond thrilled. I was so excited to be accepted especially with a horse of this quality.”
Kevin Hadfield, whose Hadfield Horses dressage business is based in Mendon, Massachusetts, was competing at the USDF Region 8 championships when he got notice that he had been selected. “When I got the email, I was by myself and the first thing I did was call my husband and my mom. I was so excited. It was awesome.”
Jordan LaPlaca, who is based at Maverick Hill Dressage in Ledyard, Connecticut, was selected to participate with the seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding Gold Play (Grey Flanell x Sir Donnerhall). He called it a privilege to be selected for the symposium. “What an honor to have someone of Carl’s stature and prestige come to this country and then to be selected to ride with him was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
No less excited was Gold Play’s owner, Nancy Hutson. “I am a big fan of Carl’s and have been for years. It’s just great to have the horse here and have this opportunity. I have a great rider and I have a great horse,” she said.
Mount Holyoke College Homecoming
For Lillian Simons, participation in the symposium was both an educational experience and a homecoming. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2018. “It was great to be back and see everyone,” said Simons, who is now a professional equestrian. “Some of the same coaches are still here so it was great to see them. When I got the email, I was beyond excited. An opportunity like this is really unique. It’s really special to be here and I’m with an amazing group of riders and horses.”
Schoolmaster Old Friend Of Carl's
Young rider McKayla Hohmann had never ridden with Carl Hester before but her partner at the symposium, the 21-year-old KWPN gelding Numberto (Negro x Jasmijn x Ahorn) was no stranger to Hester. The horse was in training with him in Europe when it was a young horse and Hester noted the great benefit for young riders like Hohmann to have a school master like Numberto.
“He is now 21, the same age as his rider,” Hester said of Numberto. “He was a very awesome young horse.” He commented that even at this age the horse still looked wonderful and was “still as opinionated as ever.”v
Hohmann, who trains with Liz Austin, who has herself trained with Hester, said she applied for the clinic at the last minute after first feeling that she had little chance with so many riders applying. “Then I decided that I’m going to try. And then when I got the email, it was pretty amazing.”
They Need to Love Their Job
And what did McKayla Hohmann take away from her time with Hester? That it’s all about the basics regardless of whether the horse is just starting or is at grand prix. “It’s all down to the same thing – know where their feet are, they have to be rideable and to do everything in such a light manner. You see so many people who act like the horse must do and it must submit and it’s really cool to have someone come along and say it should be a happy horse and it shouldn’t be stressed and they need to love their job and what is asked of them.”
Hohmann said the other great benefit was having so many other good horses and riders to watch over the two-day symposium. “I was able to watch everyone else and learn from Carl’s work with them. It’s invaluable. This is one of the coolest things that I’ve probably ever done. I’m so thankful to NEDA for putting this on and to all the sponsors. It’s such a big production and is really amazing. This would not have been possible without all the sponsors and the people who came to watch and Carl investing his time to be here.”
Slow Down Do Less
Jordan LaPlaca, whose regular trainer is Charlotte Bredahl, said Hester helped him understand that he needs to slow down and do less. “He (Hester) hit the nail on the head. I’m very ambitious and do a little too much naturally. He said that I need to do less and realize the horse has quality and I just need to let it develop slowly and organically and not, in a sense, make it manufactured. Just slow down. It’s the story of my life.”
Focus On Connection
Lillian Simons’ partner at the symposium was Hosanna (Hotline x Shawnee x Shakespeare RSF), a mare co-owned by Simons and Wes Dunham. Her takeaway from the symposium was “the need to really focus on connection and correct contact, straightness. As he said, we ride these horses every day so we kind of get used to things that may need to get worked on but that go by the wayside a bit. He picked up on those things within the first few minutes of us starting and it was great to get those kinds of things noticed and get help fixing them.”
Be Picky About the Elements
Mica Mabragaña’s partner at the symposium was Diamond Rosso, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Diamond Hit and owned by Marjaleena Berger. And what did she learn? “That I need to learn to ride a centerline,” she said laughing. “But really, to be more picky about those elements because eventually the problem won’t be the pirouette but how I come in and come out of it, especially on a day like this when he is more tense with the environment and all the people, I must be able to manage those pieces.“
Be Light and Off My Hand
For Leah Drew, whose symposium partner was Jazz Beat, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Jazz x Sandrina x Sandro Hit), purchased as a five-year-old by Berryfield LLC, Hester taught her that she must focus on basics and also on “really being a stickler about being responsive to my leg, especially in the transitions it’s all about being very light and off my hand. I have a tendency to let him sit in my hand and not be very responsive, especially at big events.”
Seeing the Potential
Kevin Hadfield’s partner was the four-year-old Oldenburg gelding Fine Royal by Feinrich x Rubin Royal and he said that Hester helped assure him that not every good horse has to shine as a youngster. “I think the nice part to hear is that not every young horse has to be a sensation, like perfectly built, perfectly moving and already showing the quality seen in an upper-level horse,” Hadfield said. “A 10 gait as a young horse isn’t needed to translate into a grand prix horse. You can develop many things. It isn’t that you always have to pay for that in a young horse. You can bring it out. Carl sees the potential in the horse and that was my biggest takeaway. I know what I feel when I ride him and the fact that Carl sees what I feel will be a super grand prix horse was important to me.”
Allow The Back to Move
Katie Bachli trains with British Dressage rider Ben Franklin, a Hester student, so she said there was much consistency in what she learned during the symposium. “There were definitely some things noted that I was already aware of, such as in the walk work. I know her tendency, and Carl reiterated it, with the hind legs being a little slow and the shoulder in front needing to be more free. We also needed the work on the canter transitions. I rode with Ben Franklin just the other weekend and did trot-canter transitions as well. She can get a little tight in her back and Carl noted my need to stay light in my seat and allow her back to move and get that looseness in the canter and through her whole body. I was happy that Carl seemed to think that we were on the right track with the work as it is so far.”
Let Go of The Curb
For upper-level riders showing in a double bridle there was a common theme in the symposium. “Let go of the curb. That was a common trend with everybody riding,” said Kraenzle, whose symposium partner was the eight-year-old German Oldenburg mare Shurreal by Sezuan out of Elite mare Rheporter. Also a common theme, Kraenzle said was the need to find more balance. “I think a lot of us want to ride in that bigger, floaty, more lifted trot but really need to be working on the balance, even in the canter. I think we all want to ride our horses a little too big and too forward instead of finding that balance.”
Of the curb bit issue, Hester said that even friends of his who were watching the symposium picked up on that topic. “They were with me Saturday evening said that ‘we’ll remember the curb, drop the curb.’ I said, ‘Oh God, did I say that often?’ and they were like ‘Yes’ and I said, ‘Well there you go then.’”
He said the riders also seemed to have gotten the lesson. “For those people riding in double bridles, they need to get the horse more on the snaffle rein. That created a different look I felt today (Sunday). I went on so much about that yesterday that it was a real pleasure to see the change today.”
Riders Did Their Homework
In general, Hester said that he felt that riders took their lessons from Saturday, studied them, and came back on Sunday with much improvement. “This was an unusual clinic because most are one-day clinics and you don’t usually get the benefit of what I’ve seen over two days here. So, that is rewarding for the riders, but it is also rewarding for me because I saw the benefits this morning of them being able to go away and think about what we did yesterday, look at their video so they could maybe match up with my words something that was important,” he said.
“You don’t do clinics that pull people apart and you don’t do clinics that don’t leave people without homework. You need to leave a good taste in their mouth and a feeling of where to go next, which for me was rewarding to see how they did it themselves before I even had to say anything.”