Scott Hassler and Steffen Peters at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
The 2014 Succeed©/USDF FEI Level Trainer’s Conference led by Steffen Peters and Scott Hassler, yet again proved to be two days of tips that really give the audience a view inside the mind of Steffen Peters, who not only competes as a successful rider in the competition arena at the highest level, but also trains horses from the very beginning. As Steffen worked through a problem either while riding a horse or coaching, he explained moment by moment the decision he makes and why. The tips are clear, concise and simple. The most important advice: 1. be sure your horse’s mind is engaged at all times, 2. pick and keep one neck position during a ride, 3. drive forward off a quick aid within a movement, 4. test the horse and try to simplify the aids through every exercise. Taking place at Mary Anne McPhail’s High Meadow Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida, the conference featured seven different horses and riders from all stages of development and over 200 audience attendees. Here is a glimpse inside the conference.
Steffen Peters riding Mette Larsen's Deklan, an 18 hand 5yr old by Washington Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Riding a Young Horse:
Steffen worked with Deklan, a KWPN five year old, 18 hand, gelding owned and ridden by Mette Larsen from Riverhead, NY.
Steffen said, “The young horses I ride, I want to be sure they understand the clear aid, they are adjustable more connected. If the horse likes to go and run, I will stay steady in the rhythm, not hurried or rushing. When we picked up the canter, he pushed against the bridle, so we try again. I want his neck more down, so he doesn’t think to go against the bridle.
He continued, "What is behind the bit?
This is confusing in this sport. Yes, he’s a little bit behind the vertical, but he’s comfortable with the contact here. I can ask for some inside flexion, but I go right back to the outside rein. I’m not encouraging him to be over-round, but I want him to be so comfortable first, before I want him to think about his hind leg.
Yes, we want to push the horse from behind to the hand, but first he must be comfortable and working within the gait. He must be respectful of the contact; he must be respectful of the aids to encourage his mind.
Steffen's words of advice: "I see so many young horses stretching down to the bit for much too long. The horse comes up with all sorts of habits like twisting at the jaw, when they need a job, to be mentally engaged. I also don’t want the horse too high and deep, but the most important thing is to keep his mind active. At the end of the ride, I let him stretch, but respectful. He cannot be rude about it. I use a little bit long right flexion and left flexion.
Before we can work the hind legs, we must have all these things first: the respect, the roundness, the contact. When we have all that, then we can push the hind legs up."
Heidi Degele riding Don Fredo HD at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Heidi Degele riding Don Fredo HD, a six year old Oldenburg gelding, by Don Fredrico, owned by Greystone Equestrian, LLC.
Horse neck position: “As a rider you have to be in charge of where the neck position must be for that ride. The neck may need to be low to make the horse comfortable or it may need to be high at that moment in his strength, on that day. For each ride, the rider must select a neck position and keep it there. Once the neck position has been selected, the rider can begin to focus on the other things like the movements they are working on.
Advice on engaging the inner hind-leg: "To engage the inner hind leg, I’m not convinced that inside flexion will do it, yes the shoulder-in will help, but I want to be forward and to make sure my horse is comfortable and I’m using the least amount of aids possible. What I don’t want are the haunches swinging out. The shoulder-in must be easy. The horse must carry himself. The horse cannot drift.
Ilse Schwarz riding Don Joseph at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Ilse Schwarz riding Don Joseph, a seven year old, Oldeburg gelding by Don Kennedy, owned by Gaye Scarpa.
Canter Quarter Pirouettes:
"Test, Test, Test - If she feels the quarter pirouette dies, she must forget the pirouette and do an extended canter. The horse must be ready to always move forward from the rider’s leg. Remember collection is a forward movement.
Test the simplicity. If he’s crooked, we fix it.
Straightness: "I don’t think it’s always necessary to ride every horse in shoulder-in or shoulder-fore for straightness. Make it simply. If it can be done more simply, then okay. Ilse is quick with her hand, she knows how to put him on the outside rein, but can fix him quickly between the hands.
Working walk pirouette to canter pirouette: "We want the whip on the outside. It’s important he understands the exercise, then gets stronger. It’s not about making a small pirouette, but him understanding the aids – It’s about the testing. Later he will get stronger."
The walk: "It’s important to work the walk every day. Make good positive habits."
Angela Jackson riding Allure S at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Angela Jackson from Henderson Kentucky rode Allure S, an eight year old KWPN-NA mare, by Rousseau, owned by KC Dunn.
The neck position: "The horse may be deep or behind the bit, but I need to make sure the horse is comfortable and understands me. I want to make sure the horse is rideable. I would like the horse to be a little more responsive in the upward transitions. She has a willingness to work. The mare really tries to figure it out. I love her."
Jessica Jo (JJ) Tate riding Faberge at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Jessica J (JJ) Tate rides Fabrege, a ten year old Westfalen gelding owned by Elizabeth Guerlsco-Wolf.
"It’s important to have that quick forward feeling in everything you do, especially the canter, the canter pirouettes. It’s important to go for the forward within the movements, meaning do the movements a bit bigger and play with the forward aid. Make sure the horse is sensitive to the leg aid.
In the Zig Zag it’s important to have your outside leg not so far back. Try to make your aids less obvious. Polish the details. We don’t ask for too much, the horse must offer it; clear rider position, clear neck position.
If we make it more simple, he will truly be on your aids. That’s what it’s all about."
A rider must simplify the aids: "A race car driver doesn’t have to think about this, this and this. They simplify everything. That’s what we have to do.”
Olivia LaGoy-Weltz riding Rassing's Lonoir at the 2014 USDF Trainer's Conference Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Olivia LaGoy-Weltz from Reston, Virginia rode Rassing's Lonoir, a nine year old gelding by De Noir.
How to improve the walk pirouettes:
Walk pirouette exercise:
"Start in walk pirouette on a circle and then leg yield for a bit only to activate the hind legs. The leg yielding will make the hind legs cross over more than needed in the walk pirouette. We don’t need the hind legs to cross the same, but it activates the stifle and teaches the horse to offer the walk pirouette better.
We must remember that there is a connection between piaffe and a good walk pirouette."
To conclude the USDF Trainer's Conference, yet again, gave a glimpse into training tips and techniques from a person who has pulled the entire puzzle apart on every level to help a horse engage his or her mind to the fullest in its understanding of each exercise.
A special thanks to Steffen Peters, Scott Hassler, Stephan Hienzsch, Kathie Robertson, Mary Anne McPhail and all the sponsors for the continuous effort in educating the US dressage community.