Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 5, 2017 – The mounted sessions of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Clinic kicked off on Thursday in the international ring of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida. Five-time Olympian Anne Kursinski taught the importance of correct flatwork for the 12 riders who earned invitations to the USEF Training Session, which is designed to develop the next generation of U.S. Equestrian Team talent.
The clinic’s participants were divided into two smaller groups for each day. Group 1 was comprised of TJ O’Mara, Brian Moggre, Coco Fath, Taylor St. Jacques, Cooper Dean and Madison Goetzmann. Group 2 included Maya Nayaar, Gracie Marlowe, Emma Marlowe, Caroline Dance, Hailey Robinson and Michael Williamson.
“The dressage is the basis for all my flat work, and it will improve your connection to your horse,” Kursinski said. “The goal of your flat work is to engage the hind legs. I work on this daily — do not drill them to death, but they will get better through repetition.”
The reoccurring theme throughout the day’s lessons was the importance of improving the rider’s feel for correct connection and giving with the aids when necessary.
“My whole body is riding the whole body of the horse,” she explained. “When they are good, be light. When they are nervous, give them confidence — do not beat them up. Sit deep in the saddle when he roots or spooks, but do not get stiff in your arms or body. It is important to stay relaxed and not get ahead of the motion. You want your horse to be light.”
Riders were asked to lengthen and shorten their horse’s stride in trot and canter to keep their horse’s honest to the leg. They used different degrees of pressure depending on the horse’s response to encourage the hind legs to be an active engine.
“Ride your horse from back to front with the feeling of leg to hand,” Kursinski explained. “Feel the connection when the horse is giving and through over their back. I want the horse to be light and quick to my aids.
Kursinski encouraged each rider to reward by giving, especially when the horse is soft and accepts the contact. She also explained that she does not use draw reins on her horses and believes that riders should not rely on them to control the horse’s head.
Anne Kursinski rides Casper in a flatwork demonstration
“When the horse fusses, tickle them to get their hind legs moving by utilizing a little leg yield or shoulder-in feeling. The correction is the leg and you receive in your hand. Make him think about his hind legs by using inside leg to outside rein.
“There is a feeling you learn when they take the bit,” she continued. “When he listens to your seat, relax your arms and give a little; let him listen to your seat. Glance down to see what the horse is doing. As they stretch down, give a little.”
A handful of the riders had more sensitive mounts today, and Kursinski told them to continue using their seat.
“Use your leg to support the rhythm and timing of the trot,” she explained. “Be patient and clear with your aids, and do not be fuzzy with what you want. Reward often and the giving is so important.”
Strive for the best
Instead of placing the blame solely on the horse or oneself if something goes wrong, Kursinski encouraged the riders to take a more constructive approach.
“Top riders should ask themselves, ‘What do I need to do to make it better?’,” Kursinski explained. “Be your best, but don’t be overly critical of yourself or your horse — patience is important. Watch top riders and learn from many different trainers and horses. I’m still learning.”
Kursinski stressed that everything in riding begins with awareness, not only of the rider’s aids, but the many aspects that make a successful horseman.
Taylor St. Jacques
“To be a great rider, you have to do all of it and you have to stay on top of it,” Kursinski said. “It’s so important to understand your horses: when they are not being obedient, it may be a physical thing. An issue may not be revolved around the vet, it may be your riding. Self-awareness is what you can control — diet, going to the gym, taking more riding lessons, working without stirrups.
“Basic equitation position is to be in the right place at the right time on the horse’s back,” she continued. “A sign of a great rider is a happy horse.”
Exercise to try
Kursinski had the riders begin an exercise on a 20 meter circle and leg yield into a 10 meter circle while sitting the trot without stirrups. The goal was to improve the bend and maintain a steady trot rhythm. Once the riders could maintain a proper connection, rhythm and bend, they were then asked to pick up the canter in a slight shoulder-in, and spiral in and out on the circle using their inside leg.
“This is a good exercise to improve straightness and to encourage the horse to use their inside hind leg,” she concluded. “Be aware of the neck over bending — that’s cheating! Don’t pull the head in as that causes the horse to pop it’s shoulder and not use their hind end properly. When I give, they are supposed to stay there and carry themselves.”