Middleburg, VA – Sept. 16, 2019 – The Rutledge Farm Sessions kicked off its second day of dressage training with a full day of education from Olympian and FEI World Cup Finals champion Debbie McDonald. Hosted in Middleburg, Virginia, auditors were treated to eight lessons highlighting work through the levels from 5-year-olds to Grand Prix.
When asked about the opportunity to train with the U.S. Dressage technical advisor, one of the riders, Thorsten Kramer explained, “I’m from Central Virginia which is hard to get someone to come to, but I’m always looking for help [with training]. To have the possibility of Debbie here at this beautiful facility and a perfect set-up — it’s unheard of. It’s a once in a lifetime situation and it’s been incredible. The biggest aspect is that she’s really empathetic to the horse and rider but she’s also demanding enough to ensure the work is real and honest, especially with the connection.”
Check out ten biggest tips on ways to improve your work in the ring from McDonald during her second day training at the Rutledge Farm Sessions:
1. “Don’t work harder, work smarter. He’s conning you into working harder. If you make mistakes just go on and be okay with it. But don’t work harder over it because the horse is going to get frustrated. Don’t let the horse teach you to overreact.”
2. “You must have energy within.” McDonald mentioned this a few times throughout the weekend in a variety of exercises. For example, many riders would lose activity in the walk and she insisted they needed to have the energy underneath them that they could ask for a piaffe or canter transition at any time and get an enthusiastic response.
3. “Don’t ride constantly with your leg and spur aid on. The horse’s reaction to your aids is crucial. One of the biggest things is the horse has to get sensitive to your leg. When you do put your leg on their side, they must go forward. As their rider, you must do the prep work to train him correctly.”
4. “Don’t go on vacation when you take a walk break. Don’t let him be a sightseer and throw away the contact. This is work. He does not get to look around and he needs to keep his focus on you.”
5. “Don’t doubt yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Find it inside of yourself to get the job done. You can do this. Sit down and mean it. ”
6. “You can never settle for crooked. Ever. Try to fix the crookedness by think shoulder-fore and if you realize you are focusing too much on the position of the neck, that’s the moment you are correcting too much with your hands and not enough with your legs.”
7. “Don’t panic if something doesn’t feel OK for a moment or if your horse doesn’t respond correctly, use patience.” When rider’s did not get the correct response from their half-halt they would often turn to pulling on the reins to strengthen their aid. McDonald emphasized the importance to not rely on the reins by stretching their core and pinching knee slightly, and to wait until you are happy with the horses response.
8. “Don’t think backwards into the contact. In order to achieve honest connection, it must be forward thinking. Steadiness in your hands and don’t fight her mouth. Riders often get too comfortable having too much of the horse hanging in their hands.”
9. “Don’t ever think you can’t change something or do something in the middle of a movement.” A rider was working on schooling pirouettes and McDonald encouraged her to continue riding and influencing the horse’s collection, engagement and size of the pirouette while in the full-pirouette. Riders cannot be stuck into thinking once a movement starts they can no longer influence the quality or shape.
10. “Don’t let him take over. You must be ultra picky with the quality of every transition and reaction you receive from him.”