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A Look Back at the Carl Hester Masterclass - Melbourne 2016


Photo by Bob Langrish Photography It is not often enough that trainers such as Carl Hester visit our shores. When they do, it would be remiss of a trainer and/or Judge to miss the opportunity to watch, learn and absorb as much as possible. It was of course typical Melbourne weather (aka FREEZING) and it was great to catch up with so many friends. Carl Hester is quite simply a master trainer, and one who loves horses. Below are some notes I took of the Masterclass.

On Dressage and the Requirements of the Dressage Horse:

* The aim of dressage is to enhance the natural gaits

* If the ambition is Grand Prix, the canter is the most important gait. It must have a 3 beat rhythm and be active by nature. And then, has the horse got the desire and will to work?

* The most difficult thing about dressage is doing it well

* A horse can be tense… this doesn’t mean it won’t make a good Grand Prix horse. Tension isn’t always a bad thing. Positive tension is necessary. However, negative tension disrupts the paces

* Sharp/alert horses learn quicker

* Hot horses need leg ON but not spurs

* Horses learn more on the 2nd day, so on 3rd day – hack out

* When looking at an unbroken horse – look for great hindleg activity/engagement.

* No long backs – but remember a great work ethic can overcome mechanics

* A good horse has to want to go on its own

* As a rule, you can; Tell a gelding, ask a mare, discuss with a stallion

* Riders have to be consequential with a mare; they can’t be dominant On Training Young Horses:

* After the paces and the transitions, what are we working most on? Self-carriage and uphill balance

* Don’t ride corners steep on young horses – they aren’t strong enough

* Self – carriage – young horses need to learn to carry their own head and neck On Warming Up

* They don’t need to be impressive in the warm up

* Always start every session with the basics – rhythm, contact/stretching, transitions, straightness

* There needs to be physical and mental relaxation to stretch and this has to happen to create suspension and impulsion.

* Don’t wear them out before the test The Walk:

* The walk doesn’t have to be huge. It only has to be trainable for Grand Prix

* With tense walks – “not a rising walk” needs to spend more time with legs on the ground

* To make a walk bigger – push the head and neck more forward to make his body longer

* Walk pirouette tip – Take the outside front over the inside front. Take both hands to the inside The Trot:

* The trot is where the rider has the most influence

* Suspension changes a trot out of all recognition The Canter:

* The canter makes the trot better

* If the horse canters better in medium canter, so the riders job is to catch THAT canter

* Train different speeds in canter to better the engagement and relaxation On Straightness:

* Riding STRAIGHT is the most difficult thing to do and attention is needed on it EVERY training session. The saddle goes to the side when the horse is crooked. In canter, ride the inside hindleg between the hind legs

* Straightness needs focus every training session On Spooking:

* Some horses are scaredy cats. This shouldn’t be punished, but worked through

* When a horse spooks – it holds itself. The best thing to do is shoulder in. Get their body moving again. “Horses always spook on the same side.” On the Half–Halt:

* Should be achieved within a stride and LET GO (Uberstrachen)

* The rider’s core strength is where you have to hold the horse – NOT in the rein Rider Position:

* No double chins! We have one chin…. Look in front of horse

* Thumbs UP Some General Training Tips:

* As trainers, we should be led by what the judges want to see and are rewarding. (This puts a great deal of responsibility in the hands of our judges)

* When training corrections – think repetition NOT punishment

* Whatever you decide to do – repeat it until it is taught

* Corners become very important. Everything happens out of a corner

* Always do the opposite to what the horse wants to do… if he wants to roll over the bit, put them up…. If they want to hollow, ride them low and over back

* The neck at the end of the session always gives a good impression of how they have worked in the session

* When you ride – think about what’s happening behind the saddle

* Flexion is done with the fingers and pushing into the outside rein

* If they tend to come “over the bridle” as an evasion, bring hands together and ride the last plait higher. (Vince’s ride the last 4 plaits up from the wither) “Let the underneath of the neck come longer.”

* Riders need good temperaments too. Training lies in repetition – not telling the horse off

* “Over the back” means the bridge (ie: the back) has dropped. It hasn’t stayed up in the middle

* Refer to 2 bones: 1. Over his neck to the poll 2. The bridge and the hindleg

* The “bow” in front of the saddle has to arch

* Ultimately, the horse should be“Out on the bit, but soft in the hand”

* “Your feeling and my eye need to match up” On Training at Medium/Advanced Level:

* If all is going well at this stage, the rider should be thinking half steps, tempi changes and big pirouettes

* Lots of canter - walk – canter. But very fussy with soft landings and every step of walk the same. A trained rider prepares and makes these transitions like breathing. When you do it – do it right. The horse can sleep for the next 23 hours

* Canter pirouette canter – I need to be able to walk beside the horse in canter. That’s how small his steps have to be – but not slower

* The half-pass shows the judge and trainer the suppleness in the work

* The working pirouette should be done in a working canter. Avoid exercises that make the horse think the movement is difficult

* Try travers – shoulder in – travers – with no tension in between

* A ‘bobbing’ canter means a lack of thoroughness and impulsion

* At this stage, Canter – walk – canter transitions need work every training session

* Don’t stay too long in smaller canter steps

* Use walk breaks to reward Flying Changes:

* If late, make the hindleg quicker/sharper – you want them to anticipate. It is good if they want to do it. We want the horse to ask – let me do it On Training at Small Tour Level:

* Trot work at this level is the same as medium/advanced

* The canter work is where this level shows the training or lack thereof

* Know that the curb is for refinement only – NOT holding the horse on the bit

* When you school your horse – always give and retake

* Are you holding your horse on the bit? Always ask Do you have self-carriage? The reins MUST be “bouncy”

* Find the quality of the gait on the circle and then prepare for the movement

* Change gears within the movement to improve the gait and develop strength

* Bring the horse back with a forward hand – this is where the rider needs core strength On Training at Big Tour Level:

* Lazy horses don’t make excellent Grand Prix horses

* It takes 7 years to get to Grand Prix and 7 years to make it better

* The best quality work comes through relaxation (not laziness) and understanding – not tension and force

* Good Grand Prix test pirouette on CL exercise – on CL, and prepare for the pirouette but don’t do it. Ride bigger steps, the change and smaller steps for the pirouette again

* Piaffe – they can piaffe when you ask but not when they are tense. It’s an obedience thing

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