Peace of Mind Dressage — Guiding dressage journeys

PVDA’s Christoph Hess Dressage Gymnastics Symposium

by Jaclyn Sicoli

Peace of Mind Dressage Owner and President

Originally published on Fri Nov 1 2013, in PVDA Newsletter.

PVDA's 2014 Fall Symposium welcomed Christoph Hess from Germany. Christoph brought to Maryland "top class" exercises, philosophies, and principles for horse training which along with Christoph's high spirit, delighted audience members, riders, trainers, and horses (we hope) alike.

Twelve different and diverse horse and rider combinations participated spanned the training scale from young horses to schooling Grand Prix.  Christoph was thrilled to see the schedule was arranged to present the levels in ascending order and spent significant time and attention explaining the fundamental building blocks which line the ground floor of any training system.  Though his methods were self-categorized as classical dressage, Christoph was adamant that the correct foundation of training for all horses should be the same, with the same goal: to make each horse happy through their body and interested in the work.

The weekend was full of Christoph’s encouraging suggestions, jokes, and support for the horse.  The audience was asked to participate in observing the sights and sounds, and engaged in analysis and solutions.  Everyone was made to feel like an expert and a colleague.  While the knowledge imparted could fill books upon books, a few common strategies are summarized here.

A Balanced Rider makes a Balanced Horse

Christoph discussed the use of the rider’s weight to influence the horse throughout many of the lessons.  He described a positive rider position as being intuitive to the movement of the horse, allowing the horse to move forward.  Christoph also instructed several riders to employ a light or half seat during trot and canter work especially at the beginning and end of each ride.  Sitting forward and out of the saddle allowed the horses to move more freely and to lengthen their strides without interference from the rider’s weight.  This position was recommended on young horses as Christoph advised the rider of a young horse should sit like a visitor on his back.  Christoph acknowledged several riders with particularly balanced seats explaining that the correct balance of both horse and rider is one that allows the horse to move swinging through their body in correct rhythm in each gait.

Half-halt Yourself

Christoph instructed many riders to swing into the downward transitions with their seat, in sitting position, and while looping the reins.  Each horse and rider was given the opportunity to practice this exercise in preparation for more collected work and to maintain their horse’s impulsion.  At first, it proved be a difficult task with some horses continuing to trot forward on the circle instead of walk.  Christoph advised the riders to be patient for the transitions and to encourage their horse’s activity without using pressure on the reins.  After a few attempts, the horses responded to the rider’s swinging seat and came into the downward transitions willingly.  Christoph described the necessary physical changes in the rider’s body language to communicate a half-halt and encourage the downward transition: “belly button and toes up”!  Trainer Ginny Class offered a phrase, “half-halt yourself” which Christoph appreciated. 

Using Lateral Work to Improve Downward Transitions

Pressure from the rider’s inside leg was a very common tool used to improve the downward transitions.  Whether a particular horse was sensitive or lazy, riding a few steps of lateral positioning helped to maintain the horse’s activity and soften their top-line, leading to balanced and flowing transitions.  Depending on the horse’s level of training, Christoph recommended the riders use leg-yield, shoulder-fore or shoulder-in.  As Marne Martin Tucker worked Quarterflash through several transitions from trot to walk shoulder-in, the horse’s shoulders grew taller and he came into better self-carriage.  Quarterflash, having a natural tendency to carry uphill, and three gorgeous gaits, was further improved by this exercise.  Brittany Kuntz was instructed to use the same exercise for her gelding Heat Inndex but for a different reason.  Brittany was able to calm her horse, who was at first sensitive to the new environment and reluctant to transition downward.  By yielding Heat Inndex from Brittany’s inside leg, the horse became more relaxed and willing to swing with his back into the transitions.

Lunchtime Demo

Event trainer Tik Maynard presented “An Introduction to Horsemanship” during the lunch hour on both Saturday and Sunday.  Tik worked with Electron, a 4 year old gelding who he started under saddle several months earlier and rode in the symposium as well.  The demonstration included work on a line, at liberty, and on a pedestal.  With the perfect music to match Tik and Electron showed how a trusting relationship between horse and rider yields harmony and fun in and out of the saddle. 

PVDA Events and the Education Committee

Our committee was proud to bring you this event and dedicated to expanding PVDA’s educational offerings going forward.  Planning for 2014 has already begun.  Our events will include our annual Tea is For Training, a USDF Adult Clinic with Hilda Gurney on April 12th-13th, and a fall symposium.  PVDA’s Education Committee includes members Stacy Gallagher, Camilla Cornwell, Meghan Truppner, Christina Dale, Moea Goron Liccione, and Jaclyn Sicoli.  Your involvement, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  Just send us an email.

Thank you to our host facility and many volunteers.

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