Del Mar, California – Feb. 3, 2018 – Dressage enthusiasts in Del Mar as well as live stream viewers, were in for a treat Saturday evening during the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival’s masterclass with Olympian Helen Langehanenberg. Langehanenberg is currently ninth on the FEI World Individual Dressage Ranking list with Leatherdale Farms’ Hanoverian stallion Damsey FRH.
During the masterclass, Langehanenberg trained four horse and rider combinations, working up the levels. Throughout the four lessons, Langehanenberg emphasized the importance of stretching, maintaining a forward tendency, encouraging swing from the hind end and keeping the training playful.
Marie Medosi & Frantz
The first rider of the evening, Marie Medosi, was aboard a talented 4-year-old who was overstimulated and tense from the intimidating ‘under the lights’ environment.
“It’s not about getting a bigger trot, we need to first focus on the relaxation,” Langehanenberg said. “Try to keep him occupied but give him time. Bend him, flex him, take and give. Take your time and wait. Try to turn him a bit quicker than the way he wants to turn, you always need to be one step quicker than he is. Before he slows down, you have made him go again.”
When the horse was spooking and trying to leave the arena, Langehanenberg encouraged the rider to go forward in any direction.
“When the horse spooks, it’s important to get control and then the next step is going forward,” she continued. “Once the horse relaxes, allow a stretch.”
Langehanenberg then invited another horse into the ring to help give the young horse more confidence and they worked through the tension with patience and transitions.
“We have to bring him down from his fear,” she said. “It’s important that we give him a good experience and end with a good feeling. You want the horse to trust you so never end a ride where they are fearful and have a bad feeling.”
Ehren Volk & Follow that Dream
The recurring theme during the second pair’s lesson was the importance of improving the activity from the hind-legs to encourage swing over the back and into the bit.
“Use your body language to help her understand proper collection by jumping forward and not decreasing the activity,” she continued. “Do not expect her to do it all on her own, you have to guide her.”
As they moved into their canter work focusing on flying changes and half passes, Langehanenberg emphasized the importance of preparation and encouraging a 3-beat canter with a jump.
“Create the body position now in the walk that you would like in the canter,” she said. “Ok, you have the preparation, he closed himself and then you take the moment to bring that into the canter work. Now add more jump. It’s not about the tempo but you want him jumping off the ground. Think of cantering on the spot without him slowing down — in the collection still think going forward. Feel where the limit is and then see if you can increase the limit [for the activity in the canter].”
In addition to her explanation that collection begins from the hind leg, she also spoke on how as trainers you cannot seek perfectionism at all times.
“Risk a mistake! This is training,” Langehanenberg explained. “You were not born a Grand Prix rider and the horse wasn’t born a Grand Prix horse. Mistakes will happen. Your job is to improve their natural gaits. Everyone wants to be perfect but you can’t be perfect every day. Don’t be shy. ”
Dawn White O’Connor and El Torro
Moving up in the Prix St. Georges level was Dawn White O’Connor and El Torro, and they began their session by Langehanenberg speaking on her warm-up strategy. “In the warm-up feel that he wants to stretch, but it is up to you with how much stretch you allow,” she said. “If he is a little tense, only thinking about shoulder-in is enough. Encourage him to be active and swinging, but not behind your aids. Play with the trot to see if he is listening to you. Allow him to be forward and don’t make him sit so much in the warm-up. Keep it easy in the warm-up!”
Once the pair was sufficiently warmed-up, Langehanenberg had them work on one of her favorite exercises — the renver, as she said it helps with collection, flexion and prepares for the half pass and pirouettes.
“Renver in counter canter down the long side,” she explained to White O’Connor. “For sure we want him to sit on the hind leg but we also want to make it easy for him to jump forward and not just stuck back there. Think of pirouette canter in the renver for a few strides and then continue forward for a few strides. Bring the hind leg forward.”
Another exercise she had them complete was a half-pass for three to five strides then ride a shoulder-in for a few strides before returning to the half-pass. She explained it was good preparation for the canter zigzag movement in the large tour tests and it will encourage the horse to wait for your aids while staying straight. She also recommended thinking of the half-pass when schooling as a haunches-in. If you press the horse too far sideways, you risk losing the forward and the swing of the gait.
“When you ride him, play with him like it’s a game,” Langehanenberg said. “In the show, we have to be able to make changes in the next second. We have to be able to react and to correct. Keep him listening.
“When we work on the pirouettes, it’s about how you get there,” she explained. “I like schooling them on a circle doing travers and small transitions. It never slows down into the pirouette. Stay on the circle and come into the traver position. Then play with the line. Make the circle smaller and then bigger. You think of collection, bend and flexion. You always have the feeling you can turn with your outside aids but that your inside legs make the horse jump bigger and go out of the circle. Then throw in a walk transition. He needs to be able to change gaits without changing the position of his body.”
Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper
A special lesson with Steffen Peters concluded the evening’s masterclass. Peters rode his new mount, Suppenkasper, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding that was recently purchased for him by Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang. Suppenkasper was previously trained and competed up through Grand Prix in Germany with Langehanenberg, and owned by her husband, so she was emotional to train the new partnership.
“In my opinion, he is one of the best horses in the world,” Langehanenberg said to kick off the lesson. “I trained him up to Grand Prix and he not only has super gaits but his will to work is outstanding. This is really special opportunity for me and let’s see what we can do.”
Langehanenberg and Peters worked through the warm-up where she stressed the importance of riding a normal, small trot in the warm-up, instead of encouraging a huge, expressive trot at the beginning. “Throughout the ride whatever the horse is doing he uses his whole body,” she said. “Once you are warmed up, make sure the swing stays and that whatever transition you do comes from the hind leg.”
They moved into their upper-level work and Langehanenberg emphasized keeping it easy and playful in all of the movements. “The Grand Prix horses know how to do it — they know the movements, so play with them,” she said. “Don’t have them in a perfect show position all the time. Encourage them to lower and stretch. Always feel the forward tendency, but with horses like him, less is more.
“When you school the one tempis maybe only do 3 or 4 ones, then straight for a bit then add a few more. You don’t have to do 15 one tempis in a row,” Langehanenberg explained. “It’s about being able to change the horse — ask for smaller and then bigger. Play with the tempo. In the long half pass, don’t start doing it too steep and let him stretch.
“In the working pirouette, make him stretch downward and even give the reins,” she said. “Make a game out of it and play with the tempo and collection. Stretch him, stretch him, stretch him.”
The pair rode through their passage work in varying lateral positions including shoulder-in, renver, and traver and they also worked on walk-piaffe transitions. “In the passage, you feel the forward trot in there and it needs to come from behind,” she explained. “The steps get smaller but the activity does not slow.”
As they were schooling tempi changes on the diagonal, Peters began a set of 3 tempis, but then stopped midway to check that Suppenkasper was with him.
“Good! Make sure the horse is waiting for your aid for the change while staying in a straight position. Be very precise. He needs to be waiting and really listening,” she said. “He needs to be jumping forward but staying with you during the changes. Always prepare the preparation. In the moment you bring the energy, he shouldn’t bring up his neck, but he should work through his body.”
“In the canter half pass, make sure it’s a straight flying change and make sure the horse is waiting for your aid for the change and staying in a straight position,” she continued. “Be very precise. The horse needs to be waiting and really listening.”
As they were cooling down, Peters spoke on the microphone, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for selling this horse to me. I love him and have learned so much from him. It’s a hell of an education for me and I will always give you credit for training him.”
An emotional Langehanenberg answered, “Thank goodness he came to you because he deserves it!”