Wellington, FL – January 20, 2014 – Steffen Peters and Scott Hassler came together once again as the leading clinicians for the FEI Level Trainers’ Conference, sponsored by Succeed and the United States Dressage Federation. The conference is hosted this year by Mary Anne McPhail’s High Meadow Farm in Loxahatchee, FL.
Peters acted as leading clinician, intermittently riding horses and coaching riders. Hassler provided useful commentary in between rides to sum up Peters’ key points. Interest skyrocketed from last year, with over 300 participants. An influx of rider applications made the selection process competitive.
Peters and Hassler explained that their selection process was targeted at horses ages 610, working on different movements with different challenges, in order to provide an array of focal points for the “critical stages of development and training.”
First of the day was Mette Larsen riding her own Deklan, a 5-year-old KWPN gelding. Larsen joked that the impressive 18-hand Deklan is “quite little.” She said he is “giving, willing, never says no, but just sometimes a little bit powerful.” Larsen was quick to point out that she desires the forward thinking energy Delkan has, but must be able to channel it into something manageable.
After having Larsen demonstrate Deklan’s three basic gaits, Peters got on and used tempo changes within the gaits as an exercise.
“We need to teach him the idea of coming back to us,” Peters explained. “I could tell you to ride half halts all day long, but the question is, ‘Does he understand it?’”
Peters used transitions, especially from walk to canter, to employ Deklan both physically and mentally.
“I want to engage his mind a little bit,” said Peters. “We’re so concerned with engaging the hind end – I want to engage his mind.”
Next to go was Heidi Degele on Don Fredo HD, a 6-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Greystone Equestrian, LLC. During their session, among other things, they used the piaffe as an exercise.
“Let’s make sure we have a really good purpose for all the things that we’re teaching our horses, that it carries and makes sense to the horse,” Hassler commented at the end of the session. “It’s not just because every horse should do piaffe at that stage. This horse responds beautifully for that. So let’s use their highlights to help weaknesses.”
Hassler stressed that there is no formula for calculating when a horse can be or should be capable of doing any particular movement.
“I think this is a major thing we need to research in our horses, not to look at levels,” he said. “Don’t ride your horse by level – ride your horse by the athlete that’s in front of you and say, ‘OK, here’s a highlight. I’m going to use that to develop the weaker things.’”
Third up was Ilse Schwarz riding Don Joseph, a 7-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Gaye Scarpa. Peters had worked with the pair previously. Peters praised Schwarz for the work she put in with the horse.
“I really like what you’ve done with the canter pirouettes,” Peters said as they finished up. “That’s a really nice improvement. I still remember when I saw this a couple years ago. It was tricky. My compliments – everybody can do it on a super talented horse. But the ones that don’t seem as talented, those really show what the rider is all about.”
Hassler was not short on compliments, either.
“When you rode those two halts, you owned it,” he said. “That’s how we should be riding, is to own it. That horse was so present to you, on the money, in the contact, you owned it. Not out of control, out of partnership. That was fabulous. I think we want to strive for that a lot in our riding that we own something. Steffen is working on that constantly with riders.”
Last to go before the lunch break was Noel Williams on Sir Velo, a 7-year-old Westfalen gelding owned by Melissa Mulchahey. Upon entering the arena, Sir Velo struggled temporarily with the lively, bustling atmosphere. Peters promptly got on and worked through his combination of nervousness and forwardness.
“It’s up to me to push him forward,” Peters said. “It should not be up to him. I like him to cooperate, to go forward of course, but I don’t want him to use that forward energy against me. Luck is a beautiful thing, but being in charge is better.”
At the end of the ride, Hassler recapped the morning rides by highlighting the notion of teaching proactively, rather than reactively. He spoke of inspiring the horse with enthusiasm, but cautioned to be wary of confusing enthusiasm and forwardness with speed.
“When you’re riding forward, it’s not fast,” he noted.
Jochen Schleese, founder of Schleese Saddlery, gave an educational lecture after lunch on the science and importance behind a properly fitting saddle, both in equine and human anatomical terms.
Other riders in the clinic included Angela Jackson, J.J. Tate, and Olivia LaGoyWeltz. The education continues Tuesday as all of the riders return for a second session with Hassler and Peters.