I took so many notes during this trip. Every day was a race to write something down fast enough that I didn't miss the next thing that came out of Imke and Tineke's instructions. As soon as I was finished riding, I would sit in the library and write down everything that I could remember. Some of these notes will eventually become training articles, but I picked out some of the big ones to share with you today. I hope you enjoy these pearls of wisdom...
The outside rein is everything…
Learn to “play” with your horse during the tough rides…
Don’t over do the half halts…
Some mistakes don’t matter…
Smaller bits to focus on….
Happy riding everyone! Enjoy the journey and appreciate the small stuff...
My time here at the Academy Bartels is coming to a close. It has been an awesome trip full of wonderful experiences and training opportunities. I have really enjoyed my time with Floratio, but he has worked very hard lately, so he is receiving a well deserved weekend in the pasture. He was quite a partner to learn with. He is talented and powerful, but his above average intelligence made him a bit of a puzzle to be solved. He could read my mind very easily and knew when I was riding 100% and when I was riding 95%. It was really interesting figuring out how to work with his intelligence to get more out of him. Every rider has their perfect match of a horse. Some riders have not found this yet, but I most definitely have. I pair up well with sensitive, cautious horses and this was not Floratio. He is bold and strong. I could not make him do anything, I had to be smarter than him, I had to use good timing and focus on exactly when and where I would be most successful. This was a fun riddle to work out.
Floratio gave me a very special feeling, which was a testament to the training he has received in this program. I will never forget the big moments I had with him or the sultry looks he was known for giving in the barn. I will never forget you Floratio…
My dance partner today is the elegant Eduard. If Floratio was Rock Hudson, Eduard would be Cary Grant. He has a soft, soothing sweetness to him. He stood perfectly still while bring tacked up and began our ride fully focused. He gave me the feeling that he was just as invested in this session as I was and that is a fun feeling to have. Todays lesson was with Columbian dressage rider Rodrigo Laserna. Rodrigo has been working at the Bartels stable for several years now and his speciality is piaffe and passage. He is a master at inhand work and has a really sharp eye. I met him during my first time at the Academy Bartels and was excited to ride with him this morning.
Our focus with Eduard was straightness. True… absolute… straightness. Eduard is a very supple and flexible horse, so if you are not careful, pieces will fall out of alignment. He is also very adjustable, almost too adjustable. He can collect so much and his naturally obedient temperament made him very responsive to the leg and although each one of these attributes are positives one, harnessing all of these in one package took some organization.
Rodrigo’s coaching was very systematic. I warmed up by developing consistent control of the rhythm in both trot and canter. I did this by focusing on specific tempos throughout the arena. It can be easy to place the importance of adjustability above consistency, but although one may be more important during certain moments of training, they are equally as important overall. It was quite easy to gain adjustability with Eduard, but when I shifted my focus towards developing consistency, I found something to work on.
The thing about consistency is that it impacts several different aspects of our horses way of going. It works longitudinally (back to front and front to back), laterally (side to side, both inline and diagonally) and in terms of energy. Eduard is quite consistent in regards to energy. He is not afraid to put in a full days work, so maintaining a consistent level of energy was not difficult, as long as I was asking consistently, he was working consistently. The majority of our goals were retaining certain body positions to help improve his overall straightness and balance. It was really satisfying to feel his already Lamborghini like feeling develop into something even better.
Once we established this, we began testing the control by riding long lines on inside tracks and adding some lateral movements and flying changes. It was a really fun, gratifying ride that ended with a hack around the beautiful galloping track.
Eduard has a lovely soul and it was an honor to work with such an honest and giving animal.
This week was a Training Week at the Academy Bartels, so riders from all over Europe bring their horses to train with Imke. I had the pleasure of spending time getting to know so many wonderful people that I would probably never have had the opportunity to meet. There were two ladies from France, a Dutch couple who brought their very special Icelandic Horses and two friends that bought their horses from nearby Eindhoven. This was a great group of horse people! We spent a lot of fun evenings dining in nearby towns until late hours and they all taught me Dutch words, which I surprised Imke with during a few lessons. They were a wonderful part of my visit and I just wanted to thank Els, Hans, Pien, Sandra, Dasha, Mohammed, Anette and Giulia for the good times we spent together.
Now that I am back home, it is such a great feeling to look back on all of the great moments, lessons and experiences that I had on this trip. I left with so much motivation and am really excited for the opportunity to pass this along in the future. I would also like to thank Imke Schellekens-Bartels, Tineke and Joep Bartels, Rodrigo Laserna and Annet Broeckx for all of that they have given to me. To say that I appreciate what you have done for me just doesn’t seem like enough...
Till next time...
Today, we are back to our normal schedule. I am really looking forward to riding with Imke this afternoon. On the mornings schedule, all of the riders have a session with the Bartels physical trainer, Bouke van Spreeuwel. Fitness is a very important element of being a successful rider. If we are not fit enough to ride our horses well, then what we are asking for can become unfair. We need the strength to keep our own balance and to keep up with the movements, reactions and developments we are asking of our horses. If you are having trouble riding your horses current trot, asking for a better one is unfair. If your reins are an important part of your own balance, then asking your horse to become lighter in the bridle is unfair. If your leg migrates around a bit during your ride, asking your horse to take your leg aids seriously is unfair. We should have goals of improving our own bodies, just as we have goals of developing our horses. This is not something that happens overnight. We all have to start somewhere and this mornings focus was on balance.
We warmed up by stretching out, slowly gaining flexibility in our hips, shoulders, back and chest. Next we moved into some yoga poses that help to challenge our balance and compare our bodies left to right. The table pose or Dandayamana Bharmanasana (I had to check the spelling on that one!) was especially revealing. I love yoga and have been in this pose more times than I can count, sometimes successfully and other times not, but there is something about doing it in the mindset of how my lack of balance would be effecting my horse during training that really clarified its importance. We started on all fours then slowly slid one leg back at a time, being sure to not drop or twist in our hips. Once this was flowing nicely, we began to lift the opposite arm to varying levels, beginning at just above the ground and gradually building to eye level. Bouke watched that we all kept our core engaged and our backs long and flat. It is amazing how we all knew a way to twist just enough to get that arm up, but when we were corrected, even the slightest amount made the balance much more of a challenge. The final step of this pose was slowly alternating between lifting the left arm and right leg, then right arm and left leg, being mindful to not lose your core steadiness. We all joked that we were already sweating and had not even begun the actual exercises yet!
Bouke brought out a few large balance balls from the closet for our exercises. We did a circuit of challenges on the balls until we got to the big one. This exercise was one of those that caused some of us to laugh hysterically at how quickly and easily we failed. I was one of those people. We were to sit on a large balance ball, while holding rubber stretching bands that were wrapped around a beam in the gym as reins. Up until this point, things were looking good. Then, we were to bring our feet up onto a thin piece of rigid board that was balancing on top of a foam roller the size of a soup can. As soon as my feet left the security of the gym floor, I started to resemble a baby giraffe attempting to stand for the very first time. It was an eye opening experience to put it mildly. We were told to shift our “reins” from side to side at first to help us gain our initial balance, but as soon as we were stable, we were to begin becoming independent of the rein pressure. We did small tests of looking over our left or right shoulders, asking for bend with our “reins” and closing our eyes. Every single addition challenged us and this was something that I definitely kept in my feeling throughout the following rides. It was a fun challenge that really proved how something very small can impact us in a big way. This should also be kept in mind in regards to our horses. When they lose their balance, we need to have a little more empathy for them in the way that we give our corrections. Struggling with balance is no fun for us or for them.
I changed into my riding clothes and headed towards the barn to get Floratio ready for our next ride. Every time I have Floratio in the cross ties, I get the feeling that I am being seduced. Seduced into what is not clear, but he sure is a charmer. He has a very affectionate and mushy personality and absolutely loved being groomed. It was fun spending this time with him each day. The grooming area of the barn is where all the action is. You get to see one beautiful horse after another being groomed, tacked up, bathed, massaged… its all here, so preparing the very handsome Floratio for my rides in this area was a fun, motivating experience.
Our ride today really focused on developing a quick reaction to my leg aids, like we had done on previous days, but today we expected this same quickness now given within more structure. Whether it was a specific neck position or on a specific line, I was to achieve a quick response there. Not close to that line or in a similar neck position, but on that exact line and in the exact neck position. It required quite a bit of focus mentally and balance physically. It really worked out that we had worked so hard on improving balance earlier this morning. When you want to ride a straight line, you need to possess the ability to maintain your own straightness, regardless of what your horse is struggling with. This is difficult enough when riding center lines or long quarterlines, but riding varying rhythms and balances on these lines takes a bit of magic. Horses lose their balance, even the strong ones, and when they do, they tend to lose it to left or right. This isn’t always super obvious if you are riding on a circle or against the wall, but when you are riding on a straight line on an inside track, this is much easier to diagnose. When working on these lines, if you are not capable of maintaining your own balance, as soon as your horse loses his, you are going to follow and this only aggravates the issue. “Sit down and keep riding” was spoken over and over the sound system all day today and it served as a wonderful reminder to keep working towards the goal of straightness and control, even if my horse was not quite there yet, I would only hinder the process by getting tense or overthinking the stage of that process that he was working though at the moment. We had great responses and some not so beautiful ones, but none of them caused Imke to say, “Tighten your seat and raise your hands.” because this is never the answer! I feel that this is something that unfortunately many riders must learn with experience. You have probably been told this by your instructor, but until you believe it from experience, you don’t give it the importance it deserves. Learn from my experience… sit down and keep riding are words to live by…
Tomorrow, I am riding Eduard and I am excited for the opportunity to practice all that I have been learning on a different horse.
Click here for Training in Holland 3.0 - Part VI
Today, I rode with Tineke. It was a little bit surreal. I have talked with her many times before, watched her ride, watched her coach, but I have never been personally coached by her until today. It feels like yesterday that my mom and I were sitting on the floor of our living room watching a VHS of Tineke riding in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Later, Tineke and her spicy mare Olympic Barbria were one of my favorite partnerships and it was very inspiring watching them earn a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. More recently, Tineke expertly presented the incredible Dutch stallion Jazz in many competitions, including the World Championships in Jerez. I had always loved watching her in competition, but my appreciation for the way that she trains, both horses and riders, truly blossomed when I was able to witness her work in person.
Imke warned me ahead of time that she is tough and I knew that from watching her teach others. She has an incredible eye and sees everything, almost before it even happens, so absolutely nothing is getting past her. Earlier in the day, I had a session on the flex chair with a physical therapist along with some other riders in the barn. The therapist gave everyone a sheet of paper with some of her thoughts on our straightness, flexibility and balance and we were to hand this in to Tineke.
I hopped on Floratio while Tineke read the results of my session. I was well balanced left to right and front to back, but I had a tendency to sit too tall. I was a bit confused by this, because aren’t we always supposed to sit up? Well, it turns out that anything can be done in excess and this was what she wanted me to relax a bit with. For many years , I have tried to elongate my appearance in the saddle. I am not the tallest person and I do my best to disguise my short comings (pun intended). So the therapist’s goal was for me to practice relaxing in my mid section, making this area as soft as possible… an area that I have been trying to firm up for years now. Although, it would be nice if I could just tell Nate, “No, no, my physical therapist told me I have to keep this area soft.” the next time we come to the ab portion of our workout, unfortunately, this is not what she was referring to. Although I was not bracing in my core, I was activating it unnecessarily. Our bodies need to follow our horses back,. This becomes increasingly more difficult, as the movements become more complex and the horses you are riding become more powerful. Floratio can be quite powerful, so I knew this was going to be a challenge.
Tineke called me over to discuss our goal for the day. I had been warming him up in a posting trot and she was already watching. She said that she noticed that I sit tall in the saddle, but as I was thinking, “Why, thank you!” she continued on to say… “Instead of in your legs.” Well that was a rollercoaster of emotion, but I knew exactly what she meant. I stretching up and not down. I know I said this before, but Floratio is very powerful and subconsciously I was trying to stay with him up top, instead of lengthening myself down around him giving him the responsibility of bringing me along. This will be better all around, he will have to work a bit harder and I can relax a bit more.
I was instructed to return to my warm-up, so I picked up a nice forward posting trot and headed down the long side posting with nice length in my legs. I hadn’t even reached the first corner, when over the speaker system I hear Tineke ask, “Fallon, will you stand in your stirrups for me?” I nodded yes and stood for about five or six steps of trot and then returned to posting. “Keep standing.” So, I stood up through the short side and then returned to posting, partially out of confusion about how long she wanted me to stand and partially due to my legs refusing to do much more. “Fallon, why are you cheating?” Oh boy… she wants me to stand until she says otherwise and for about the next ten minutes, this is what I did. My legs felt so long, I was worried that they were close to dragging the arena floor and when I was finally ask to sit the trot, I had no strength left in me to activate anything, so goal achieved.
The rest of our lesson was spent working on control within the canter half pass. She expected him to begin the half pass with a sense of seriousness, no considering the response, go now. She was happy with the actual half pass, but he was also a bit slow towards the finish. A full size arena looks pretty narrow, but maintaining the same quality of energy, expression and position from F to E made it feel like a much longer run. Once I reached the end of my half pass, we worked on making him wait. He had to both wait for me to ask for straightness and then also wait for me to tell him what I wanted next. We mixed it up a bit, by occasionally finishing the half pass before actually getting to the wall, sometimes with a flying change and then other times, we continued through the corner in counter canter. Whatever we did though, had to be clear and well balanced.
It was an awesome lesson! Tineke was tough, but in a great way! We did not drill the most difficult movements with him, we just picked a specific exercise and made sure that it was done correctly. I left the arena feeling very motivated and Floratio left the arena needing a good shower. The perfect way to end a session with one of the best in the world.
Today, the horses are enjoying a well deserved day off, so I was thinking about maybe driving to a few tack shops, seeing the countryside, testing my credit cards durability… but, as soon as I walked into the barn, one of the Bartels up and coming young horses was in the cross ties being braided. Hmmmm what have we here? Well, it turns out that the very handsome Handretti had qualified to compete at the Dutch National Championships in the ZZ Light under Lars op’t Hoog and tonight is the Kur! I do love a good tack shopping trip, but this was an experience that I wasn’t going to miss! The competition was being held in Ermelo at the KNHS Center, which was about a two hours drive north, so I recruited a few traveling pals to make it an official road trip.
I made some great friends during this trip, two of which are Mohamed, a dressage rider from the United Arab Emirates currently training at the Bartels with the goal of qualifying for the 2022 Asain Games and Dasha, a young rider from Russia, also training with the Bartels. It was great getting to know both of them while I was in the Netherlands and they also happened to make perfect road trip partners, so we all loaded up and headed towards Ermelo.
The grounds are quite large and there were competition arenas everywhere. I counted eleven dressage rings plus all of the warm-up arenas. There were beautiful horses everywhere I looked! This championship was for medium level, between Second Level and Fourth Level, and it was well organized keeping horses of similar levels together in certain areas. Lars and Handretti were competing in the ZZ Light, which is comparable to Fourth Level Test 1 in the US. We were lucky to have seats right in between the warm-up arena and the arena that the musical freestyles were being held.
There was a wide variety of music and choreography used, so each freestyle was unique and exciting to watch. My particular favorite was a big, elastic chestnut ridden to a dance remix of a current radio hit that just worked. He was big and powerful and the music complimented him perfectly. I liked the ride so much, that I lost a few fries during my applause and I didn’t even care. THAT is how good the ride was….
Lars music was really cool. Haunting and deep and it really brought you in. His ride had really great moment, but unfortunately a few small mistakes prevented them from winning this class. They scored over 71% placing fourth, which is so exciting for such a young horse. It will be interesting to see where he goes in the future.
Once the competition was finished, we headed towards the vendors. Is it even a real horse show if you aren’t tempted to buy something shiny? Well there was no risk of that happening on this day, because there were sniny things everywhere! It was overwhelming. There were so many tents and each tent was chock full of so many beautiful things. I recently lost my favorite chin pad, so that was my first target. I found a big squishy one for only 12€, plus a cool riding shirt, so I got out without doing too much damage to Nate’s retirement fund, which is a win in my book. I also got to meet some of Custom Saddlery’s European reps and check out their demo saddles. You think people are getting a little “loud” with their colors and bling here in the US, well some of the saddles here were way over the top! From the back of the cantle being completely encrusted with diamonds to crocodile print knee blocks and in so many different colors and textures. There were all so beautiful to look at and the craftsmanship was amazing, but nothing beats brown buffalo leather in my humble opinion.
Although, Lars class was finished, there were still other levels still in the midst of their competition. It was interesting to see the layout of vendors and competition arenas here compared to how they are typically set up in the US. This line of vendor tents was only about thirty feet behind the judges boxes of some of the arenas holding championship classes. Can you imagine riding down centerline, while someone is holding up a shiny red jacket to see how it fits directly behind C? I know a few horses and riders who would not be fully concentrated in these conditions, but instead of being in awe of the differences between the way that I am used to showing and what I watched today, I am definitely going to use it as motivation for making sure that all of my horses are well rounded enough to go down centerline with food truck parked near H and not come out needing medical attention. #goals
I cannot decide if I like exploring with Dutch locals or other nonnatives better. I love how much locals know about the food, different parts of the country and traditions, but there is a different feeling when traveling with other people who are also excited over every little dutch thing you find. For example, we were making our way over to look at the final results from the days rides and found a small pancake stand… We all got super excited! Pancakes are pancakes, right? Wrong! These pancakes are tiny little pancakes served with chocolate sauce across from the results booth at a horse show in the Netherlands. Completely different. What did they taste like, you ask? Pancakes, but I didn’t feel like I needed a nap or a shower after these pancakes, like I do at the iHop, I felt motivated to go ride tomorrow and how often can you say that about regular old pancakes?
After investigating the entire show grounds (including taking a stroll though the parking lots to look at pretty horse trailers), exploring every vendors tent and sampling the local snacks, we headed home. We had been on the road for about fifteen minutes, when we passed a tiny little ice cream truck that was parked along the side of the road. We had already passed it, but as soon as we all realized what it was, a U turn quickly followed and we gave that man our business! This is when I knew that I had chosen great traveling buddies. This guy was a hoot! None of us speak Dutch, so as soon as we walked up, I asked if he spoke English and he said in a perfect American accent, “Do you want modern english or…” then he switched over to a British accent, “…old English?” Haha! Not only was he very entertaining, but his homemade ice cream was perfect. I had two scoops of Stracciatella with double whipped cream on top and fought falling asleep the entire ride home. It was the perfect way to end a really great day.
I woke up early the next morning with a mission. As soon as my alarm went off, I turned on the coffee maker, opened the blinds and typed “Floratio” into Google. The words of the great Freddie Mercury filled my brain… “Under pressure”…
I knew I had heard the name before, but I am a big bloodlines nerd, so I was thinking that maybe I had recognized his name from a stallion show or maybe one of his offspring was at an auction I was shopping through. I also thought that maybe he was living in Imke’s stallion barn because the other barns were full or maybe they had brought him up into that barn because I was going to be riding him daily. What had NOT crossed my mind was that he could have been Imke’s own horse. Yes… Imke’s personal horse.
This time, as soon as I walked into the barn, I stopped the first person that would know more about him and asked, “Is Floratio Imke’s horse?” and it turns out that he IS Imke’s horse and is owned by the Bartels and the owners of Imke’s Beijing Olympic partner Sunrise. Imke competed Floratio small tour in the fall and he is now developing his piaffe and passage. He is one of those horses that really holds your attention, both on the ground and while being ridden. He will really be a knock out in the show ring one day...
At first, I was super blown away that she would allow me to ride him, then I felt quite honored about this whole pairing up, but then I started thinking about the way that I feel when someone is riding my horse. It’s never easy to watch someone ride a horse that you are training. Even if that rider is doing well, they are most likely doing things different than you would be. As that horses trainer, you begin compiling a list of things that you will want to correct during your next ride. Well, I was going to be the one riding him again tomorrow and the day after that… and the day after that… so I wanted to do my absolute best to keep Imke’s list as tiny as possible.
The best way to keep your trainers list small is to do everything that they tell you to do. Sounds easy enough, right? If you just rolled your eyes at the thought of doing everything your trainer tells you, allow me to clarify what I mean. I know that everyone is somewhere on the long journey of learning… every… single… rider is, because we are all learning, every day. When I say do “everything”, I mean pay attention to everything. During a typical lesson, you should hear several different categories of instruction. Some instruction is given as an order, “Keep your hands steady.” Some instruction is given as a notification, “Did you feel his back just come up?”. Some instruction is given as a warning, “If you use the whip like that again, you are going to know exactly how firm the footing is today.” and some instruction is given as advice, “If the trot is not super in the corner, the half-pass coming out of that corner won’t be either.” For some reason, the first three are easy to absorb, because we can all keep our hands down, if your trainer tells you what it feels like when his back is up, memorize that feeling and now you know, and you will remember the whip thing… one way or another. At times, the advice that is casually given during lessons does not enter our brains in the same way, but remember that your trainer would not waste his/her time offering that suggestion if it wasn’t something worth listening to.
When I am coaching, I will occasionally toss a soft suggestion to a rider when I feel that I am already asking a lot of them, but I notice a little something that needs to be mentioned. Maybe this suggestion is not super important now, but I would not have even mentioned it if it wasn’t important in some way. Imke does this a lot. During todays ride, we were working on steep, high quality half-passes in the canter. In the beginning, we really prepared the canter. Quick, honest response to the leg, good neck control and a solid balance. Once this is established, we started moving into the half-pass. Imke has many great suggestions for riding the half-pass, but she will occasionally quietly mention, “Ride your corners.” Now there are two ways that you can respond to that quiet little suggestion. Number one and the most popular is, “Yeah! Corners are important. I love good corners! Corners, corners, corners….” and you keep on riding your corners like you had been for the past thirty minutes. OR… you can really RIDE that next corner and try to see where you can squeeze out that little bit extra your trainer noticed that you needed. These little suggestions are just as important as the big ones, but in a different way. The big ones have to be done and preferably now.
An order - “You need more bend.” Translation: Bend more now.
A suggestion - “Corners are important.” Translation: Your corners probably aren’t absolutely horrible or she would have mentioned it, BUT they are not as good as they could be and if you don’t take advantage of really using the corners to improve what you are currently working on then you are wasting too many opportunities and all of those wasted opportunities will compile one day and start negatively impacting the way that your horse uses himself in other areas of the arena and that will negatively impact his balance, his straightness, the quality of his gaits and the expression of the movements… ok, so the point is that the small suggestions are worth listening to!
Here are some of the little drops of wisdom from Imke…
I can't wait for tomorrows ride....
(W with Imke, Imke’s Words of Wisdom)
Imke’s words of wisdom:
I absolutely loved my time sitting in on so many lessons. Every day, I took the things I heard her say in the morning along with me to the arena that afternoon. Here are just a few wise words that I jotted down.
All of these are paraphrased of course…
*** I really loved this: During a lesson, a rider asked Imke if they could try something and she said no. A few seconds later, she said, “No. You cannot try something, but you can DO it if you want.” I just loved her response. It may seem like its just a word, but it so important! Ride with structure and be confident that you are well prepared for what you are about to ask for.
(Wow, Gabbana and my lesson with Mischa Koot)
Wow: This horse was quite sensitive and had a tendency to be a bit “sticky” under the saddle, so our goal for the ride was getting him to release tension through his back and connect the energy he had in his hind leg all the way up to the bridle. Because he struggled with bringing energy over his back, it was difficult to maintain a steady topline. When a horse has varying amounts of energy being brought into the bridle, it is impossible to maintain one frame. To improve his topline, we needed to develop a consistent amount of activity in the hind leg and this requires consistent respect for the leg aid.
We began on a medium length rein in rising trot paying special attention to maintaining a consistent rhythm. As the rhythm developed, we began riding gradual transitions within the gait from working trot to medium trot and then back to working trot. This horse responded fairly well to the leg, so a transition into bigger trot was not too difficult, but coming back down to working trot, he lost the activity in the hind leg and stiffened his back. I had to ensure that my hands were very steady in their positioning, so he had absolutely nothing to hide from in a downward transition. With a horse that would rather not connect, even small amounts of movement in the contact may be enough to shut down the energy prematurely. As he has success with the gradual transitions, I asked for quicker responses, both up and down, always keeping focus on the activity behind me. His canter was very extravagant in the front leg, so if he wasn’t properly connected, there was a visible difference between the rhythm in his front and back end. As a rider, there was a big difference to me when he was well connected, so it was easy to know when things weren’t going as they should. When he did disconnect, I asked for a bit more canter and if he answered well, we went on working. If he did not answer, I was quick to follow with a correction, which for this horse was a quick low kick and then legs down and relaxed to allow him to take over the carrying. He was a quick study and when he realized that he needed to carry himself consistently, he started feeling fabulous. He was beginning learn pirouettes, so I did an exercise of various sized circles, alternating between a very straight collected canter and more forward canter in travers on the circle. It took a lot of focus to maintain the same amount of activity, whether we were riding in collection or using that activity to cover more ground. I knew how important it was to avoid stiffening my seat as I felt the work become challenging for him, but it was still tempting! Stiffening my seat would only create tension in his back and could undo everything I worked on during the warm-up, so instead of allowing his struggle to affect the softness in my seat, I helped remind him as soon as he lost activity or soften him when he tightened his jaw to help him work his best. When he was working in self-carriage, it was very easy for me to ride well, so any time I felt tempted to change my position, I used that as a sign that he needed to do something better. This is the epitome of being a manager in the saddle and not a labourer and it always works.
Gabbana: Gabbana was a completely different horse. He was built much more compact and really stepped into the bridle. He did not offer the quick reactions that Wow did, as he was not nearly as sensitive, so that was my first goal. I began with some transitions quickly from walk to trot and then back again. This was improving his reactions, but not as much as I wanted, so I rode some steep leg yields, making sure he responded equally to both legs and over time, this helped quicken his response to my leg aids. When I began riding some lateral work in the trot, it was very important to maintain the positioning of his shoulders in front of the track of his hind leg. During our first few shoulder-in’s, he wanted to step a bit wide behind in order to avoid proper straightness, so when I moved onto half-pass, I focused on keeping his inside hind stepping toward his outside front leg. This prevented him from leading too much with the inside hind, to avoid carrying weight on that leg. It resulted in some nicely balanced half-passes in the collected trot.
It was in the canter that things began to really improve. After a few circles in a nice warm-up canter, I began riding groups of six to eight strides of a more collected canter followed by the same number of strides in medium canter. Once he understood the exercise, we made it more difficult by asking for only four to six strides of collected and medium. This required a very quick response to my leg in both the upward and the downward. I made sure that all of the collected strides with sitting and carrying weight on the hind leg and that all of the medium strides were powerful and ground covering. This really helped him carry himself nicely. During the warm-up, I felt that he preferred to move away from my left leg quicker than my right leg, so it was no surprise that his half-pass to the right was a bit rushy. During half-pass, the outside rein is in charge of both the tempo control and the angle of the half-pass, so the better he responded to the left rein, the more balanced and controlled his right half-pass was. In half-pass to the left, his respect for the left leg helped to create a good positioning around my inner leg, but he needed more activity. I focused on building activity and quickness in the hind leg during the steps leading up to the half-pass. This not only helped start him off in the best way, but it also made it easier for me to correct small loses of activity and maintain a better tempo, longer.
Both of these horses wanted me to change my position when they began to struggle, which is very common. Horses are very smart and they want your body to change for a reason, typically to make something easier for them. The first horse wanted me to stiffen my seat in order to help “push” him along, but this would have alleviated him of the responsibility of carrying himself and maintaining that relaxed connection over his back. The second horse wanted me to help him by using a heavier leg on his “slow” side and staying away from his more sensitive side, but this would have only increased the crookedness. The more balanced, even and relaxed we all ride, the better our horses can work.
This is such a great lesson for all of us!
W with Mischa Koot: The focus of this ride was to up the expectation set for W, so I could spend a little time focusing more on myself. During the warm-up, Mischa told me something that I have heard before and that I really appreciate, you do not need to look so pretty in the saddle, especially on such a difficult horse, you need to be effective. So I spent a few minutes spelling out exactly what I wanted from W for the remainder of the ride.
A) He needed to respond to my leg. Every time. This is a very common topic among dressage articles and clinicians. The trainer yells out “quicker” or “now!”, but the horse is not the only one that needs to improve in regards to this topic. When you decide that you want to make a horse quicker to your aids, the way you use your aids just got a whole lot more important. We cannot just kick the horse every time we think he was too slow. My students will all tell you that I do not want their legs on the horse unless they are asking for something and this is the basic goal for all of us, but before you start making a horse “quicker” to your aids, you must know when, how and where you are applying them at all times. You can only correct a horse for a lack of response, if you are positive that you were clear when you asked and that wasn’t one of ten leg aids you gave over the last twenty meter circle. So even those this was an expectation set for W, it was just as much set for myself.
B) He needed to be patient when I wanted to turn that energy off. This was hard for W. He loved the bridle… leaning on it, pulling on it, charging into it… I remember the first time I asked him to halt (back on the first day), I started with me seat and then a few half halts and by the time I asked for a strong half halt, I was thirty meters past where I actually wanted to halt. So I knew that asking him to respond respectfully light to my rein aids would cause a bit of frustration in him and it did. Now I know that a heavy horse and heavy hands are best friends, so I was not going to get pulled into a “get off my hands!” yelling match with him, it never works. Instead, we rode many transitions. First from trot to walk and then from trot to halt. I was careful to balance rewarding him for responding better (even if it was only a teeny tiny bit better) and asking for it to be better the next time. This requires total focus. Yes he was still no where near where I wanted him in the end, but was this halt at all better than the last one? If it was, I let him stand a moment, softened my hands, gave him a pat and then we went back to the trot. I used my voice a lot too. As I am riding the transition into halt, I can feel if this one is about to be good or not, well that moment is too early to reward physically, but I sure can cheer him on with my voice. Most horses love verbal praise and it really did help motivate him to keep working for me. We have to look at it from their viewpoint at time. To me, I may be two or three more transitions from what exactly I want, but to him, this is the twenty fourth transition, am I going to be doing this all day? Always make it clear to them that they are heading in the right direction.
C) He needed to use his body the same whether he was yielding my left leg or my right leg. This is something that every horse on earth needs. No horse responds exactly the same left and right. W was very good to my left leg, because it sent him right into his favourite right rein. So our focus for this direction was to ensure that he was not pushing energy over his right shoulder when I sent him away from my left leg. When I put my right leg on, all of a sudden, this compact little horse felt as if I were riding a rhino. Not only did he not respond enough, but he pushed back at me! This is the perfect time to remember that this is not personal, I am asking this horse to do something that requires a difficult response for him (either difficult physically, because it makes him use himself better or difficult mentally, because that is his dominant side), either way, I need to be patient and remain even and balanced myself, so I do not add to the problem. The first “win” was getting him to step away from my right leg, but as soon as this began to happen, Mischa reminded me that he needs to take that energy all the way into the left contact, so his energy remains straight and I can begin to put him where I want him, not just tell him where I don’t.
So, as soon as he was ready for more, Mischa wanted me to ask him for a forward transition and as soon as he responded, I was to over emphasise relaxing everything from my lower back to mid-thigh. Not only did this test his honesty, but it really gave him the opportunity to step up and carry both of us on his own. Well, the first few times we did this, he took advantage of my relaxation almost immediately by dropping his back and slowing his hind leg. So we began following the relaxation of my seat with a question for W. This is how the series went: Forward transition, ultra relaxation of my seat, will you bend left? or Forward transition, ultra relaxation of my seat, will you pick up the canter? The question kept W on his toes and eventually even when I did not ask anything special of him, he was waiting for the question and kept his mind in the work.
As we moved on to more advanced movements, Mischa had this wonderful mental picture she spoke of several times. Think of riding your horse on train tracks. A young, green or lower level horse would be on the tracks and as long as they do not derail, everything is good. Well, a more advanced horse needs to be ridden in between the tracks. This narrows the balance and requires more lateral sensitivity and response. For example, if I wanted W to be positioned away from my inner leg, he was only to shift his energy away from inner leg up to the boundary my outside rein was creating. If he went through my outside rein, we were no longer inside the train tracks. Or if we wanted to begin asking for more bend in his neck, the rest of his body needed to remain aligned in order to stay between the tracks. This really requires a horse to step closer and deeper with the hind leg, putting it more under his centre of gravity and in a better balancing place.
We maintained this concept throughout half-pass and pirouette work. It was very important that he stayed in good alignment on his own, so I could continue playing with ultra relaxation. I was quick to correct when he needed it and with well timed corrections and clear rewards, he really blossomed towards the end of the ride. It was a fun session and I left the arena totally in love with Mischa and her coaching style. I was so excited to riding at a place that put so much emphasis on straightness. I believe that it is so important to have this not only validated, but intensified in my own riding felt very fulfilling.
Click here for Training in Holland - Training Notes Part II...
The next morning, I walked past the outdoor arena and saw Tineke coaching Imke on her fabulous black mare. They were out there alone, early in the morning, so I didn’t want to intrude, but I wanted to watch them work together so badly! I walked over a little closer to the arena and Tineke asked me how I was doing this morning. I stepped close enough to answer, but kept a respectful distance. A few moments later, Tineke asked me if I wanted to sit down, so I sat in one of the chairs a few feet behind her. She was seated in a all directors chair and as soon as she noticed that I was behind her, she stood up, moved her chair to the side and motioned for me to bring my chair up next to her. I am smiling just typing this out. She is so warm and welcoming and I felt so honoured to be welcomed into such a fabulous private training session between two masters.
They had just started, so they were focusing on warming up the mares back with some round stretching and transitions between gaits. I know that being mother and daughter, they have been working together for a long time, but it was so impressive how connected they were to each other. It was like Imke did something as Tineke said it and it was all so harmonious. Of course mistakes happen during training and this mare was still in the developmentally stages, but the way mistakes were handled and corrected was inspirational. Both Tineke and Imke talked about being clear with your aids and making sure that the rider is doing everything possible to make it easy for the horse, they rode this way too. I think one of the biggest things I got out of watching both of them ride was how important it is to be clear about what you want and not to waiver on that goal when things don’t go as expected. I think it is easy to think about not changing your plans when your horse does something naughty, but I think it is so important that we don’t change our plans when they horse doesn’t give you quite what you had asked for. Its in those small moments where our clarity becomes so important. Yes, we need to keep riding when things go wrong, but you also have to when your horse tries a little less than you wanted or when you are getting only 80% of your goal for the day. I think they ore advanced we become as riders, the more we are able to help things along and this isn’t the best way for the horse. Stick to your goal and wait for the horse to come with you.
They went on to school some half-pass and changes with lots of emphasis put on the lines they were riding. During my lessons, Imke often reminded me that even though the changes were good or the pirouette was nice, I had slid off of the line I had originally wanted them on. This is big, because my horse needed to improve in all aspects of his way of going, so even if I rode a good, clean change, but I was eight inches to the right of the line I had started on, it wasn’t the best it could be. Not only did she remind me of this during our lessons, but she did it herself on every horse I watched her ride. It was like learning in two different ways, by watching her and by feeling it myself. It may sound like a simple element, but it requires a lot from both horse and rider and being able to own that line and do your movements, adjustments and corrections there improve the horse in big ways.
This session finished with some piaffe and passage and it was dreamy. Not only was the mare fully prepared through all of the earlier exercises, but she looked like she could have stayed there forever. Although piaffe and passage requires a great deal of strength from every horse, Imke had built this mare up so beautifully that it appeared very easy. Through experience in developing horses through the levels, I am full aware of the hard work that goes into getting a horse to this point and what a pleasure it is to watch the fruits of such a masterful riders hours in the saddle.
Todays date meant that I only had two more rides with Imke, so I really wanted to challenge myself with the goal of improving what was hardest for W. The two things I wanted to achieve were better control in the pirouettes and better control in the tempis. So during todays lesson, after we warmed-up, we began focusing on being able to control the amount he collected and the track he was on. Unfortunately, W thought a pirouette was like a party trick. As soon as I asked him for a little bit more sitting or a little bit more bend, he would drop from a 15 meter circle down to a tiny pirouette. When he was corrected for this, he became a bit frustrated that I would not allow him to show off his fancy moves, so this ride was really dedicated to expecting exactly what I wanted from him, when I wanted it… no more no less. It was the worst that he had acted since I started with him, but the best break through we had made together. By the end of the lesson, we were able to ride competition worthy pirouettes at a specific point with a specific number of strides and alternating between leaving in counter canter and riding a flying change. It was such a fabulous feeling! (see Training Notes)
After my ride, I was asked to do an interview for the Bartels website about my experience. I am the first American to take part in the training at the Academy Bartels. They asked about my life in Japan and my thoughts and opinions on the stables, riding and my own lessons. It was a great time! I am posting a link to the interview here. It is in Dutch, but I will be posting an English translation as soon as possible. After the interview, Imke and I posed for a photo near one of the beautiful pieces of art. I was able to chat a bit about our goals for the last ride. It was really special to have a moment to chat with someone I have admired for so long about what we are going to work on tomorrow. I will remember those moments forever.
That evening, a group of us went to dinner at a cozy little restaurant called Taverne Paulus. I had been there a few evenings back with several lovely ladies from the barn and really enjoyed the food, so I was excited to return. It was fun discussing the differences between the US, Holland and Japan… the way we eat, our customs and of course, the horses. It was such a fun evening and all of the ladies in training were so fun and a pleasure to get to know.
The next morning was my last lesson with Imke. I had such a great ride today and tomorrow was going to be the fifth consecutive ride for W. I was worried that he would be a bit stiff from several really good rides in a row, so first thing in the morning, I gave him a hot bath and took him out for a good long hand walk all over the farm. I let him stop for a few bites of grass so I could watch Tineke ride my favourite little chestnut mare one more time and then we went back to the stable to tack up. W absolutely loved having his body curried. Most horses have their “spot” that they enjoy being scratched, but W seemed to love it all. He lifted his lip and pushed his back into me while I curried his back and hips and if I was anywhere near his front half, he made a big attempt to return the favor. Our ride was scheduled for 9:30am, so I headed over to the arena around ten after to give him a nice long walk. I was really hoping he would feel good on our last ride together… and he did!
As soon as I asked for the trot, I could feel that he had lots of positive energy. We warmed-up in a nice round stretch and then we headed over to Imke. She said that all of my hard work has really paid off, because this is the absolute best he has looked. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hear her say this. After those first few tough rides, I was so determined to show great improvement in W and although the last couple of rides had been quite good, today everything came together and the biggest change was in W himself. He felt happy, supple and ready to work. Before my ride, I set my phone in the viewing area, but not one person came through the arena during my ride. This was the only time this had ever happened during my stay and if I could have picked one ride to be captured, it definitely would have been this one. Oh well… the lesson was fun! We did just a few pirouettes brushing up on yesterdays lesson and then moved on to some series of changes on very clean, straight lines. First, we started with changes in no particular order, then moved on to fours, threes and twos. We talked about how he may have the ability to do ones, but good quality changes were difficult for him and we decided to quit on a high note. Moments like this require restraint, but although pressing for more could have been fun, it wasn’t the right thing for W, so we finished there.
I am pretty sure that I stopped every person that we passed on our way back to his stall to tell them just how good he did today. This boasting earned W a few extra pats and even a sugar cube. It was funny how much I really disliked working with him for the first few days and now, I felt kind of sad untacking him for the last time. I cleaned all of his things and then spent the rest of the afternoon watching Imke coach a group of her clients the were leaving for a competition the next day. It was a great experience watching her teach riders preparing for a competition. Although Imke wants clean lines and great use of the arena all of the time, training is a bit different right before a show. I had a pen and paper with me and took so many notes during this time. These lessons were all in English, so I was able to understand every wonderful word (see Training Notes). It turned out to be a beautifully sunny afternoon! Sitting out in the sun in a comfy chair, drinking a cinnamon tea with a handsome King Poodle’s head on my lap watching great riders on their stunning horses was the perfect way to end my stay… or so I thought.
Academy Bartels scheduling manager extraordinaire Annet Broeckx asked if I had any plans for dinner and when I quickly recalled the two slices of Swiss cheese, seven day old grapes and Pringles can in my apartment and gave a hearty no and she told me that she was going to take me out on the town that evening. Annet is lovely, very warm and just a beautiful person, so I was very much looking forward to getting to know her a bit more. Later that evening, Annet picked me up and we were off! She showed me several beautiful places in the area… an old hunt field that used to hold cross country events, a HUGE outdoor statute of a man standing in front of a painting easel right in the middle of a freshly plowed field (it must have been twenty five feet tall!) and many beautiful old Colonial Farm style homes. As she was driving me all over the countryside, she said, “We are in Belgium now.” I had no idea we were so close! We joked that our trip was so extensive that it crossed country lines ;)
Once back in Holland, she took me to a viewing tower that overlooked the beautiful Dutch countryside of Lage Mierde and Lake De Flaes. This tower was way taller than I thought it would be and it looked like a piece of art. It was a giant spiralled staircase made of twisted metal and the biggest tree trunks I have seen in person. I am not the biggest fan of heights, but the excitement of what I was about to see overrode my fears and I was not disappointed when I reached the top. It was raining that evening and a big double rainbow was in the sky. The lake was beautiful and everything around it was lush and green. Such a beautiful place and to think, if Annet hadn’t taken me out this evening, I would never have known this place even existed. After we took some photos, we headed to Den Bockenreyder for dinner. Den Bockenreyder is a hidden gem deep in the woods that was ranked the number one restaurant in the Netherlands in 2016. It looks like several cabins grouped together surrounded by pastures. Annet said that during the Summer months, many people ride their horses through the trails to come eat here. She said at times there can be a hundred horses tied to the hitching posts in the pastures!
Annet said that there are several options for places to sit, so we tried the smallest building first and there was a cozy little table for two right in front of the fireplace just waiting for us! The menu was in Dutch, so Annet helped me decide on a bowl of Asparagus soup to start. It was so delicious and really hit the spot of a rainy night. While our main course was being prepared, the manager brought over a plate of Bitterballen (beef croquettes) and Frikandel (Dutch sausage) for us to sample. I am so glad a tried these tasty little appetizers! Next, I had a big plate of fried eggs served over curly bacon on soft, buttered wheat toast. It came with a small salad of pearl onions, pickles, cherry tomatoes and black olives. It was such a big plate, but too good to leave anything behind. After dinner, Annet and I split a caramel Stroopwafel sundae. I think Stroopwafel is my new favourite cookie. Rian and Anita were sweet enough to give me a bag of them to take home and they did not last very long! Not only is it a tasty little cookie, but it is really fun to say too ;)
After dinner, Annet took me to see her home on the way back to the barn. It is a beautiful place with red and white shutters that Annet painted herself and a lovely garden and yard. It was a delightful way to end a great stay in Holland. Annet, if you are reading this, you are such a pleasure and I can’t wait to go out on another romantic drive through the Dutch countryside with you ;)
The next morning, I woke up early to say farewell to my friend W and to talk a bit with Imke. It was hard to put into words how much I appreciated my time with her, but I did my best and left two feet taller after hearing her opinions on my riding. This experience was fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding and I cannot wait to head back for more. Not only are Imke, Tineke and Mischa beautiful, successful riders, but they are wonderful coaches as well. I look so forward to bringing everything I learned back to my own students and horses. Till then…
Click here to go to Training in Holland - Training Notes Part I
Over the next few days, I spent from early morning until dinner time in the stable. There is always something going on in the barn. Something I was really looking forward to was watching the way that they trained, maintained and cared for these top athletes. The horses moved a lot. Everywhere I looked, I saw a horse being hand walked, playing in the turn-out or going for an early morning walk in the walker. The Academy Bartels has a beautiful galloping track that the horses all really enjoyed! One morning, Imke said that a vet would be at the stable taking a progress report on the horses using the Hydro-Trainer. I was really excited that I would be able to watch these sessions!
I headed over to the Hydro-Trainer room a little before they got started. I wanted to get a look at the machine. I have seen Hydro-Trainers before, but this one was a bit more streamlined. It was essentially a treadmill in a bath tub. It was set up very inviting for horses. The walked up a ramp just like walking into a horse trailer. Once inside, there were adjustable chest and butt bars to accommodate a wide variety of horses. Something I really liked about the set up was that there was a front ramp, so the horses could walk straight out, instead of having to back down the rear ramp.
The first horse for the morning was the Bartels young stallion Don Presidente. I had seen him before in the stable, but up close he was such handsome boy! It was quite obvious that he knew the routine and was super comfortable in the Hydro-Trainer. I noticed that it was very quiet as he walked up the ramp and found his place. I had assumed that there would be some rattling, but there really wasn’t. Once he was in place and the chest and butt bars were secured, a groom sealed the front and back doors, while someone stayed up with his head. The vet had a file for each horse with a customized training program. She said that the program was different for every horse, because every horse was in the trainer for a different reason. The Hydro-Trainer can be used to treat injuries, bring a horse back to work after a period of rest, strengthen weaknesses and even help to regulate the way a horse uses his body. The vet was very careful to watch that horses used themselves in a very even way. Straightness in the body was her number one concern. Their necks must maintain a straight forward positioning, so that they swing evenly over the back and step with the same depth in both hind legs.
The treadmill was started first and the speed was brought up to approximately 60% of a good quality medium walk. The walk looked a tiny bit slow to me at first, but she said that it would be just right once the water was added. Next, the water is slowly introduced. It was really interesting to see how just a small amount of water required much more effort for the horse to maintain the tempo. I asked how she decides on how to deep to fill the water and she said that this is also determined by the reason the horse is being worked in the Hydro-Trainer. She filled the trainer to just below Don Presidente’s knees and told me that he had been built up to this depth over time. When they are using the trainer to treat or to bring back from a lower leg injury, she wants the water just slightly above the point of injury. When using the trainer to gain strength and improve flexibility over the back, she slowly builds the horse up to working in knee deep water. Thats as deep as she prefers to go in the Hydro-Trainer. I asked why and she said that much deeper and horses can’t bring their legs up out of the water any more, so they tend to drag them along below the waters surface. This is counter-productive in working towards improving flexibility over the back and a great reason to stick to knee deep water.
During his session, the vet altered Don Presidente’s tempo by slowing the treadmill to ask for higher, shorter steps and then increasing the tempo to require more drive from the hind leg. There is a bridge next to the Hydro-Trainer, so the vet and grooms can reach the horses shoulders, back and hips to help influence a slow hind leg or crooked shoulder. These sessions were not about just walking in water, they had a very specific purpose for each horse. It was really interesting to watch!
The next morning, I had a session scheduled with Dutch Physical Therapist Saskia Heijkants on the Flex Chair. The Flex Chair was originally developed to treat lower back injuries and to help people regain strength post surgery. Later, Ms Heijkants and other co-workers developed a training program around the chair to help diagnose crookedness in a riders seat and to help develop even use of the thighs, hips and pelvis. The seat is used in conjunction with a computer program that uses sensors to show how even a riders seat is being used. It senses discrepancies both up and down (like a lifted or dropped seat bone in the saddle), left and right (a hip that is locked in one direction or lacks same movement as the other hip) and forward and backward (a chair seat vs a “propped up” seat). I was intimidated before I even sat down! This program is perfect and as riders, we are always at risk of thinking that something is one way, but it really isn’t. Horses are masters of pushing our seat were they want it to be and riders are usually most comfortable in a position that fits somewhere within our horses preferences, so sitting on this chair is like a lie detector test for your seat!
At first, I was asked to just sit on the seat as I would in a saddle. I was given time to find in a position that felt comfortable and well balanced to me as a rider. Ms Heijkants stated that we don’t need to put much effort into the way we sit, because your muscle memory will put you were you typical sit when you ride. It was true, after only a few small adjustments, I found “home” and felt just like I normally do during a typical ride. My mind was in overdrive, as I could not see the computer screen yet and did not know if I truly as balanced as I thought I was. I am a pretty confident rider, but after a few seconds seated on this program, I started thinking, “Maybe my left seat bone is a little too far forward…”, “Am I twisting my hips?”, “Are my breeches pulling or is my right thigh heavier against the seat than the left?”….all the while, I was trying to listen closely to what she was saying and as soon as I heard her say that it was very important to allow your body to relax into its typical position in order for the program to accurately read your balance, it snapped me back into reality. I took a deep breathe and she asked if I was ready to see my sensor picture. There are several different programs on the computer, but the first one looked like a bullseye. There was a small yellow ball that moved around the bullseye following the weight of your seat. If a rider sits heavier on their right seat bone, the ball would be somewhere over on the left of the bullseye or if you sat too far forward, the ball would be pushed down towards the lower portion of the bullseye. Now this little ball can go absolutely anywhere on the screen, so it is capable of reading the smallest of weight shifts. I was absolutely thrilled to see that my ball was within the very smallest ring of the bullseye! Sweet relief! She was very complimentary of my balance and posture, but of course no one is perfect. As she took me through various exercises mimicking walk, trot, canter and half-pass, she found that my right hip was not as fluid as my left hip. I was able to maintain a balanced amount of weight and even positioning with both hips, but when I rode a half-pass to the left, my hip dropped smooth and gradually, but when I rode a half-pass to the right, my hip dropped with less finesse. So I left my session with a plan to focus on using both hips with lots of finesse…
The timing for this appointment was perfect, because that afternoon I had a lesson with Mischa Koot. Mischa trains at the Academy Bartels and I have always heard great things about her as both a rider and coach, so I was very excited when I found out that I would be able to schedule a lesson with her, especially following my session in the Flex Chair. Mischa focuses a lot on riders position and the effectiveness of your aids, so I felt really good about working on my Flex Chair results with her.
At the beginning on my lesson, I told her what I wanted to focus on in regards to my hips and she asked a bit about W and how our earlier rides had gone. I told her that he could be a bit difficult and that we had been focusing on getting him to carry himself and be a bit more rideable. In the back of my ride, I was concerned that I would not be able to fully focus on bettering myself as long as I was riding a difficult horse. I discussed my concerns with Mischa and she was very understanding. Our plan was to set a firm line of expectation for W to ensure that he was working good enough that I could direct some energy towards my own riding. It was a very familiar goal to me, one that I have set for my own students on many occasions. I had been doing this to a small degree during the first few rides, but it was time to up the expectations on W. This lesson was so much fun! (see Training Notes) Hard work, mentally and physically, but the rewards were great. Mischa is very motivating and has a way of keeping a rider focused on the task at hand, while shifting from one movement to the other. She was a real pleasure to learn from and I hope I get the opportunity to do so again!
Later that evening, all of the grooms, riders, stable management and the Bartel family met in the stables beautiful library room for a cozy dinner together. It was nice to meet everyone and talk horses while eating an absolutely delicious dinner cooked by Annet Broeckx. Not only is Annet a lovely person, but she is a very talented chef as well. It was a great evening…
Click here to go to Training in Holland - Part III