A Half Halt Away from Perfect: On the Road to Excellence at the Robert Dover Horsemanship Clinic presented by Dressage4Kids Inc.

Photo by Meg McGuire

Wellington, FL –­ January 4, 2014 ­– Robert Dover’s mantra, “You are always a half halt away from perfect,” is sure to stick in the minds of riders and auditors alike at the Third Annual Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic.

In his morning lecture on day one of the clinic, Dover defined the half halt as the “perfect state of balance and attention.” Dover believes the half halt is the key tool in unlocking four elements: rhythm, tempo, frame and length of stride. When the rider has control over the manipulation of these four components­the consistency of rhythm, the tempo as being faster or slower, the frame as being higher or lower and the length of stride as being longer or shorter­it is then that “we own it all.”

Robert Dover at the Horsemastership Clinic.

Dover sees the half halts as creating and collecting energy in a cyclical, electric­like circuit of back to front aids. In his lessons, Dover consistently manifested this cyclical idea through his use of the circle as a training tool when riders spent a large portion of their time on the 20 meter circle.

Robert Dover shows Bebe Davis what he’s looking for.

In his wrap up lecture on day one, Dover reminded riders that it is not just the horse that must be expected to have perfect balance and attention; riders, too, must be equally committed. He noted that it is the goal of Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids program to create perfectly balanced and educated riders.

Robert Dover, Genay Vaughn, Ayden Uhlir and Devon Wycoff.

As the participants in the clinic work with a new trainer each day, they learn fresh ideas and training techniques. Jamie Pestana, who rode with Dover on Friday and Jan Ebeling today, said she gained valuable insight from both.

“(Jan) uses a lot of exercises to create engagement,” Pestana said. “Robert uses a lot of the circle, and you don’t do exercises until (the horses) are exactly how you want them. Jan uses patterns to create what you want. Especially with my own horse, it’s really important to do both. I really enjoy having the variety and the different perspectives.”

Ebeling said he has been focusing on the fundamentals in his lessons with the clinic participants.

Jamie Pestana in her Jan Ebeling session.

“I think the most important thing that I’m working on and that I know Robert and Debbie and others are working on is really basic stuff­mostly transitions,” he explained. “If I see that the transitions are working and the frame is getting good, then I go on and say, ‘Let’s do a movement.’ But it’s all about basics.”

Genay Vaughn in her Jan Ebeling Clinic Session.

In his sessions, he also frequently asked riders to perform a volte in preparation for a movement.

“The volte always gives the riders a bit more time to think, take a breath, get organized, and then do the movement,” he said.

Ebeling said he was happy to donate his time to support the development of young riders, which he feels is an important cause.

“I think this is a really wonderful program that Lendon and Robert are putting together at a facility like this to give juniors and young riders exposure,” he said. “It gives these riders, some of whom are from remote areas, a really super opportunity to get lessons with top riders and trainers.

Lendon Gray and Jan Ebeling.

“Being in a facility like this does more; it’s not just the lessons,” he continued. “They are together with other talented kids who are hungry and want to learn. I think what I found most impressive was how focused and how motivated everybody was.”

As someone who moved up the ranks to eventually become a U.S. Olympic Team athlete, Ebeling understands the importance of supporting young, gifted riders. He recalls his own determination to improve his riding when he was presented with a similar opportunity.

Leah Marks and Jan Ebeling.

“I remember the very first clinic that I had, when I was 15,” he said. “I was living in Germany and it was a regional trainer. It was a big deal. After the first day, I got kicked out of the clinic because my horse didn’t do flying changes! I was a little bit sad but at the same time I was very motivated because I wanted to be at that clinic. So the next year I was in that clinic, and I was doing flying changes.”

Recognizing the importance of clinics, Ebeling expressed his hope that opportunities such as this might become more widespread.

Bebe Davis in her Jan Ebeling session

“It’s a great thing for us­ riders that have been on teams and have had international experience ­to give back to the young rider, get them motivated and help them,” he said. “What I would like to see in the future are more events held like this one, maybe in other parts of the country. It’s pretty easy for someone to spend a half a day and give back to the young riders.”

“Our future is in the kids, the young riders, and the juniors,” he concluded. “I think there is a lot of talent, and we have to make sure that we cultivate that talent.”

Jan Ebeling teaches Leah Marks.
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