Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 10, 2020 – Youth riders took to the Van Kampen Arena early Saturday morning for the third day of The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week. The young riders had the opportunity to receive one on one instruction from Olympic Team Bronze Medalist and USEF Young Horse Coach, Christine Traurig. The dynamic and engaging German native showcased her unique approach to teaching as she marched around the ring to not just share her wealth of knowledge with the young hopefuls but to help each rider problem-solve with personalized hands-on instruction.
From correcting position and balance in the saddle to harnessing cadence in their pirouettes Traurig had the riders focus on creating impulsion, suppleness, and straightness in their horses. Even without riding in the clinic, Traurig’s keen insight proved applicable to not just those who compete in the dressage discipline but provided a greater understanding into the mechanics of a horse’s movement and the strategies to use to create a softer and more alert mount.
Christine Traurig’s Top Ten Takeaways from The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week:
1. Every horse’s warm-up should be different, but all riders should arrive at the same goal: impulsion and mobility in the hind end.
All of Traurig’s riders warmed-up in the ring while she was watching. She did not give them instructions on how to warm-up their individual horses as each had their own unique characteristics and weaknesses that the riders had to work on. One of the riders warmed-up her mount executing should-fore, haunches-in, shoulders-in, extension, and collection all in the posting trot while others opted for the sitting trot. She explained that the warm-up of every ride is crucial. The riders are not warming-up for their own benefit. They are physically preparing their horse for the work to come. But, she noted that the other reason behind the warm-up is to give the rider insight on the quality with which their horse will ride from the leg to the contact
2. Having a connection with your horse is more than just having contact in the mouth.
Traurig repeated one mantra through the entirety of the day: impulsion, straightness, suppleness. All three of these aspects of riding, she stated, come back to the connection each rider has with their horse, and that there are different kinds of connections and different ways in which they can adjust those connections. The first connection Traurig delved into was the connection to the mouth. She was adamant that the young riders have a straight line from their elbow to the horse’s mouth and that they could not only feel the connection but be able to manipulate it by wiggling their fingers. She explained it was like a tap on the shoulder – making sure that the horse was still there and still asking questions. The second connection Traurig discussed was the connection with the seat. Each rider was encouraged to sit deeper, pressing their seat bones into the saddle in order to maneuver their hips and weight to create invisible aids. The final connection Traurig talked about was the rider’s leg and active and inactive positions they were to utilize. She stated that in order to truly connect with the power the riders must always be aware of what position their leg was in and to make sure that each leg was working independently of the other to make their connection clear.
3. Being able to look beautiful while riding requires invisible aids, but before you can ride effortlessly you have to be able to ride effectively.
Traurig asked all of the students to emulate a rider that they looked up to or have seen ride in the highest levels of competition. Immediately all of the students sat up a little straighter and deeper in their saddles attempting their best Laura Graves impressions. While Traurig pointed out that their position indeed looked better, they were still not riding effectively. She stated that before a rider can execute a movement with ease and grace, they had to feel their way through it and get the job done – no matter how it looked. She reminded all of the young riders that though the end goal is to not be able for people to see the aids that they are applying they first have to metaphorically shout at them and make each aid loud and clear. From there they can hone their skills, tone them down, and eventually be undetectable to others.
4. Riding in a correct position does not mean forcing a frame or even staying stagnant in that frame it means being adjustable while riding in a correct position.
Traurig explained that a frame is not actually a frame. A “frame” cannot be stiff. It cannot be stable or stagnant. A “frame” is more of a fluid silhouette to manage. That silhouette has to be flexible, supple and monitored.
5. Understand the mechanics of the movements and perfect how you execute them at a base level.
While one of the students was in the ring warming-up, Traurig saw an opportunity to highlight how many riders fall into habits by not being able to feel or know when they are performing a movement incorrectly. She stated that when riders think of shoulder-in and are warming up with a shoulder-fore they unknowingly ride their horse sideways. She went on to explain that this was not the correct way to achieve a true shoulder-in. What you are actually trying to do is get the inside hide leg to reach up, under, and then in between the two front legs as you ride to the corner. If riders understood the breakdown of the movement and learned what the correct movement felt like they would be able to diagnose some of their own mistakes.
6. You should always break your movements down into parts and work on them that way instead of working the move incorrectly over and over again.
During today’s portion of the clinic, Traurig did not have a single student perform an entire pirouette. Not once. In order to not only preserve the horse’s energy she also explained that she was preserving their attention span and stopping the horse from thinking for the rider. By breaking the movement down into quarter pirouettes and working on establishing a canter appropriate for such a movement the riders each had to focus on the mechanics of the movement.
7. As young riders, you are not only learning how to ride and how to perform the movements with your horse but also to recognize the feeling of when it is done correctly without having to be told it was done correctly.
Traurig stated that recognizing the feeling of a perfectly executed movement went hand in hand with understanding the mechanics of the movement itself. Learning how to ride it is the first step. Riders can watch, read, and listen and be able to say how exactly to perform the movement and what the horse’s body, legs, and head should be doing, but everything changes when they get in the saddle. Instead of looking to see if their aids produced a correct movement as they grow and become more advanced riders they should be able to feel the hind leg reach under and feel the balance of the horse instead of relying on someone to tell them what is happening.
8. Impulsion is more than just power.
Impulsion comes from the rear of the horse. Traurig explained that there are different ways that riders can tap into or engage that power. But, she stated that it is what they do with that power and how they harness it that makes the difference between a good rider and a great rider. By utilizing the half-halts a rider is not taking away from that energy or decreasing the level of power. Instead, they are directing that impulsion into cadence where they have suspension and can direct that energy upward.
9. Always look for a reason to reward your horse.
These horses are in many ways learning with the riders: How they ride, how they ask, their style of riding. Traurig stated, “You want your horse to be asking questions. If they are not they are dead to your aids and not listening.” By rewarding the horse, the rider is acknowledging their mount’s questions and confirming what was correct. “Pat them, scratch them, release that contact and let them know that they did something good,” Traurig stated.
10. You cannot change your riding in just one lesson, or one day, or one week. You have to be smart not to push the envelope too far and you must always keep your horse in your corner.
Traurig wants all riders to be smart and not to push the envelope as quickly in order to achieve a goal. She stated that a rider cannot change today what has to happen in the near future and that it is of utmost importance that the rider keeps their horse and partner happy and on their side. Their attitude has to be with the rider and not against them.
The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week concludes Sunday, Jan. 10. As the venue including the clinic week is closed to spectators this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live streaming is available for free on USEF Network.