Dressage Young Horse Insights with Carl Hester and Brittany Murphy's Ride "Flirt"

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Posted by Holly Jacobson


Brittany Murphy and Flirt

Brittany Murphy and Flirt handle Hester and the crowds well on the first day. ©Mary Phelps

First up to ride at the NEDA Fall Symposium was Brittany Murphy riding four-year-old Flirt, who said her jaw hit the ground when she learned she had been selected to ride. “I told my boyfriend, it’s like you meeting Bruce Springsteen and hanging out with him. It’s that big a deal!”

Although daunting to bring a young horse to this setting, Brittany has shown Flirt, a Rheinlander gelding by Furst Piccolo, imported and owned by Grand Prix rider and trainer Cindi Wylie and Shooting Stars Dressage, LLC at the 2017 Markel/USDF Young Horse Championships and the 2016 NEDA Fall Festival, where he was three-year old and overall colt/gelding champion.

Carl Hester at the sold out NEDA Fall Symposium

Carl Hester at the sold out NEDA Fall Symposium ©Mary Phelps

“Once he had his saddle on, he knew his job,” she said, calling him her little red Corvette. A former event rider, Brittany takes Flirt hacking for cross training. “We go for a relaxing gallop, he’s versatile, and I think that’s why he was so good here.”

For this symposium, Carl elected not to watch the horses and riders prior, but see them fresh as the audience does to talk about what he looks for. “My system is everybody’s system, it’s incorporated from many different instructors, you pick and develop what works.”

Carl also remarked how symposiums are a great educational opportunity for young horses, as relaxation is the bottom of training scale. Rather than at a show or in a test, you can pause and try things and end on good note. The close proximity of spectators to the boards certainly created an atmosphere.

“Temperament is very high on the list of qualities, I want to see. Today, you need good paces, but you can change the trot, it’s walk and canter that need to be more perfect.”

Brittany Murphy and Flirt

Brittany Murphy and Flirt ©Mary Phelps 2017

With young horses, it’s safety first, but Carl loves to see long reins and stretching horses. “On contact (not hanging, think ‘massage’ the bit) with a long rein, you want lightness, self-carriage starts here. In the stretching, they find balance.” He also cautioned to feel even reins as a lot of young horses will carry themselves rounded right. Using quiet aids, long lines, big circles, and not going deep in the corners they need to learn to turn from outside.

From his trainer’s perspective, Carl likes a 15 minute warmup for a young horse to really stretch, use the topline, make it soft, with transitions, bending, straightening.

Brittany worked Flirt on trot-canter transitions on the 20 meter circle. “Don’t be obsessive with keeping a young horse on the bit, if they go above, they are just figuring out their balance.” He asked Brittany for a light seat, almost jump position in the upward transition and then sit the first canter step. “Do not have the horse lift you as he lifts himself or he will drop his back.”

Brittany Murphy and Flirt

Brittany Murphy and Flirt ©Mary Phelps 2017

Canter-trot transitions meant hands forward into trot. Lots of transitions, how many? “Hundreds, you will do hundreds,” Carl warned repeatedly throughout the day.

Transitions and circles help find balance and the right ‘swing speed’ on each horse. A longer trot step without falling on the forehand. A longer horse may be made a bit rounder so it’s not flat, where a shorter-strided, chunky horse to lengthen the frame out.

Carl’s tip to keep or develop the correct, ground reaching walk rhythm is not with leg but use the arms in a rowing fashion, pushing the head out so the hind leg has room to reach underneath.

He also recommends hacking, zigzagging across hills up and down, to get horses mobile and improve the walk, plus build strength. “We wait for a young horse to grow uphill,” but assessing Flirt, Carl remarked on with lots of canter in the Grand Prix, how well his hind leg reached underneath for future collection, plus the lovely attitude.

Brittany Murphy and Flirt

Brittany Murphy and Flirt 

“This four-year-old is six-years-old in his head. If he was a Christmas gift, we all would be very happy.” He invited gentle applause to acclimate the horse, and Flirt calmly soaked up the positive experience.

Carl deftly outlined how the rider must be in self-carriage as well. “Sitting on a horse is really standing, the core carries the back, the right hand is married to left.”

“Carl is so positive and gracious and funny. I was chuckling to myself, about his corrections, thumbs on top, don’t arch your back, the same things I hear from my trainer Cyndi,” said Brittany. “All the masters, from Christoph Hess, Debbie MacDonald, Conrad Schmacher, Carl, whether classical or competitive, it’s the same mantra, but a good clinician can convey that knowledge to a pro and amateur alike and Carl has that in spades. This was a fantastic kick in the ass that just makes me want to improve so much and keep riding.”

Another point Brittany appreciated as a young assistant trainer was Carl’s candidness that horse professionals don’t make money riding horses, even top Olympic riders. “You can move money,” said Carl to the knowing crowd who laughed, “but your career riding horses won’t make you money or a living.” Teaching, judging, clinics, other side careers support riding.

Brittany Murphy and Flirt
Brittany Murphy and Flirt

Other points he made about young horses were the one horse owner who is tempted to push, when the horse’s normal development will go up and down, “Sometimes it’s not always the horse being difficult, maybe they’re just tired mentally or muscle sore and they need a break.” He also stressed instilling confidence in young horses. “You can’t punish them for spooking, it needs to be a positive experience, breathe, have fun.”

Carl’s event rider background incorporates the lifestyle of turn out as essential, especially for young horses. “They come in tired, with no demons to manage for their 20 minute sessions. Otherwise, you have a hot, tense horse that you tend to ride too hard.” The common horse sense combined with excellent training and a good eye make the best horseman in Carl’s estimation. “To keep it sound, keep it moving, it’s simple advice.”