Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 2, 2020 – On the first day of the 2020 Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic held at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, youth riders eager to soak up knowledge from some of the country’s leading trainers gathered at the tropical venue in Wellington, Florida. Spread over four days, the clinic welcomed twelve riders of various ages and backgrounds to be taught by former U.S. Dressage Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover, Dressage Youth Coach George Williams and Grand Prix Rider Katherine Bateson-Chandler.
Kicking off the morning rides, Kayla Kadlubek of Fairfax Station, Virginia, rode her gelding ‘William’ with Dover. After watching her warm up, Dover had Kadlubek work through several gymnasticizing exercises to help increase the gelding’s adjustability. He reminded her that transitions are a golden tool in the warm-up that will help him bend his hocks more and stay on her aids. Dover also explained the importance of using half halts to achieve optimal collection which allows the rider to easily transition within the gaits.
“We want to know we have the greatest extension and collection within each gait,” Dover said.
“If you’re in a collected walk, you should feel the ability for the extended trot, the piaffe/passage, extended canter and halt.”
To help more with the pair’s adjustability and ability to collect, Dover had Kadlubek ride from a medium canter on a circle to a collected canter as if she was going to perform a pirouette, then back out to medium. In her half halts, he reminded her to add more leg when she half halted in order to maintain the rhythm while adding more expression and engagement.
“The idea is that he goes rounder into this connection,” Dover said. “If he comes up, you’re not adding enough hind leg. If you’re going to close your rein, you have to drive up to it more. In the beginning you were subtracting. Every half halt is an addition, not a subtraction.”
In the canter work, Dover explained that even as she half halted, her rhythm should remain the same. Having her ride a medium canter on the long side, Dover then asked Kadlubek to ride a counter canter on the short side.
“The rhythm of your collection has to be the rhythm of your extension,” he noted.
Moving on to work on the pirouette work, which Kadlubek explained has been challenging in her training, Dover asked her to ride canter haunches in on small circle around him to set her up well for the first steps of pirouette. He again emphasized the importance of utilizing half halts correctly to collect her horse’s energy and use it appropriately.
“Create energy and collect that energy,” Dover said. “You have to have the energy circulating first, then guide where you want the haunches.”
“Everything you do that isn’t a half halt is called chatter,” he continued. “Make the answer to all issues a half halt.”
When Kadlubek explained that maintaining throughness in her horse has been challenging, Dover explained that it will come more easily when she makes the connection, made better with the use of proper half halts, the priority when she rides.
Next to ride with Dover was Hannah Irons of Queenstown, Maryland, riding her mare Scola Bella. Dover was complimentary of the mare’s abilities when he observed their warm-up, and encouraged Irons to push for even more elasticity with his popular ‘rubber band’ exercise. He also tasked Irons with visualizing the best version of her horse’s gaits, then working to make it happen while maintaining collection.
“You have to see what you want,” Dover said. “See the movie in your mind, then create that. Everything is a half halt away from perfect all the time.”
To help increase collection, Dover had Irons ride from passage to extended trot and back to passage, only allowing four steps of each before transitioning again. Working more on bending and suppleness, he also asked her to ride between shoulder-in and haunches-in on the long side, as well as passage and walk. All the while, he reminded her to really feel the energy she created in her collection through the half halts.
“The half halt should be clear so they’re relaxed but still have positive tension,” he explained. “Think, ‘what opportunity do I feel in this walk? Can I passage?’”
Working on her tempi changes, Dover asked Irons to keep her mare more on the spot, not letting her get ahead of her as she went across the diagonal. If it appeared she was getting out in front of her, Dover told her to collect and stay relaxed. When the mare got tense once in anticipation of the tempis, he reminded her to keep riding forward and give with her inside rein, finding her rhythm again and breathing.
The youngest rider of the morning, 13-year-old Lexie Kment of Palmyra, Nebraska, was the next to ride with Dover. On her off-the-track Thoroughbred named Manatee, on whom she claimed the 2019 USEF Children Dressage National Championship, she has been training the FEI Juniors tests, and explained to Dover that she would like to improve his throughness in all of their work.
To begin, Dover asked Kment to also ride a series of suppling exercises, improving the pair’s collection and the 17-year-old gelding’s engagement. Just as he did for Irons, he enthusiastically explained the impact of visualizing their best gait and really going for it.
“In order to do anything fabulous, you have to see this vision in your mind’s eye,” Dover said.
When working on the passage to extended trot exercise, Dover reminded Kment to add more leg when half halting, asking him to bend his hind legs more and encouraging him to move forward into the bridle.
When Kment explained that she hadn’t yet performed flying changes with Manatee, Dover helped her with the foundation of teaching him the changes through simple changes to each lead first. Using walk to canter transitions each direction and riding three-loop serpentines while maintaining the same lead, Kment was able to feel more confident in her aids when she took the next step of asking Manatee for a flying change.
Dover explained that with more training in collection and properly channeling the horse’s energy, Kment has the capability of taking Manatee with her up more levels, training flying changes and piaffe/passage.
The last to ride with Dover was 14-year-old Annelise Klepper of McCutchenville, Ohio. With Happy Texas Moonlight, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding who she calls ‘Louie,’ she competed in last year’s NAYC for Region 2, where she helped the team earn a silver medal.
Klepper explained that because ‘Louie’ is so large and she is a petite rider, she often has trouble with keeping him collected under her, especially in the extensions. To help with this, Dover asked her to practice half steps to keep the gelding more uphill and collected as she rode from an extended trot to think piaffe to add more collection to the gait. He then asked her to perform passage to walk transitions, reminding her to feel that the piaffe is just a step away.
“The true distance between the extended trot and piaffe is the thought,” Dover said. “Don’t let him pull you down in extended trot. Go into passage if he does. You have to believe in your passage more.
“Learn how much access you have to collection,” he continued. “You’re not supposed to lose your piaffe in your extended trot. You have to believe in access to his best self all the time.”
Moving on to the serpentine exercise in the canter while maintaining the same lead, Dover encouraged Klepper to keep Louie more collected, not allowing him to pull down and out in the connection. To finish their school session, he had the pair return to their transition work between extended trot to collected trot. He reminded Klepper to feel the same connection in each gait, half halting if Louie did not maintain his uphill balance while pushing from his hind legs in the extension.
The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic will continue on Jan. 3 at 9 a.m. at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. For a schedule of rides, please visit https://www.facebook.com/USADressage/