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Impressions from the Adequan FEI Level Trainers Conference

Written By Leslie Edison

(UDS Barn Owners’ Advisory Board Member)

Recently, Sydni Cook, Winter Farms Head Trainer, and I had the opportunity to attend the Adequan FEI Level Trainers Conference held in Loxahatchee, Florida. This conference provided eight horse/rider pairs the opportunity to ride in front of a panel of four international judges. These judges (Lilo Fore, Linda Zang, Henk Van Bergen, and David Hunt) provided instruction and insight into training techniques intended to bring out the best execution of upper level movements like the canter pirouette, tempi changes, passage, and piaffe. While fully disclosing my limited skillset, I will share my observations and take-aways.

First, the horse/rider pairs covered a broad spectrum of experience and expertise. All trainers in their own right, the riders ranged from current top-tier competitors to older adults to up-and-comers in their twenties. Similarly, the horses represented a wide range of skillsets, exposure, and breed lines. The skittish young horse, the tried-and-true show veteran, the confident athlete, German, Swedish and Dutch warmbloods, a PRE, a German Riding Pony, all took turns in the ring with their respective riders.

Before the panel honed in on specific exercises, they provided each pair with the time needed to work through their individual warm-up routines. Relative areas of “weakness” were identified and discussed, and from that point on, the panel got down to work coaxing out improved performances.

When working on the canter pirouette, the judges couldn’t emphasize enough the word CANTER. Nearly every pair began their work cantering in 8 meter circles. Coming down centerline on right lead, the rider completed a circle to the right at L. The circle had to be perfectly round and arrive back on centerline. A lead change was executed at X, followed by an 8 meter circle to the left at I. If the canter did not stay collected yet rhythmic, then it was not correct. Over the course of several passes, dependent upon each horse’s ability, the circle was compressed. The canter itself, however, was not allowed to lose quality at any point.

The exercises for passage and piaffe, started at the walk. The horses were asked to collect, collect, collect until they made a few half-steps. Once the pairs demonstrated relaxed and consistent half-steps, the trot was introduced. With certain pairs, a judge moved along the side of the horse and gently tapped the hind legs to encourage more pronounced steps. This exercise was kept short and ended as soon as the horses demonstrated understanding.

Tempi changes were also approached with tact. The judges focused most on improving each rider’s position as the way to improve the horse’s performance. Maintaining a straight line, keeping the rider’s position back and connected to the saddle to influence collection and lighten the horse’s front end, allowing the rein connection to give horse’s room to make the change, all came into play.

For more insightful and detailed descriptions of each exercise, I encourage anyone to reach out to Sydni. She will be more than happy to walk you through the various methods used to get to the desired results.

For me, I left the Conference feeling confident that the future of dressage is in good hands. At no time during the rides was a tense horse allowed to stay that way. The judges would step back from the exercise, take the horse back to a very basic gait, rebuild the horse’s confidence, and address any issues of misunderstanding with each rider. If those visible changes were successful, then they would try again. The judges repeated stated that the sport is moving away from the tense, albeit highly dramatic, performances that may have been rewarded in the past. The new direction for all rides will include visible relaxation in horses and riders. And, as we all know, happy horses perform best.

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