Riding bold at Helgstrand Dressage

As most equestrians in Wellington know, Helgstrand Dressage made their Florida debut this season.  I attended their open training day with Andreas Helgstrand and Dr. Ulf Moller. They had their two main  riders show different horses in the barn from Grand Prix to 5 year olds. They demonstrated how they train their horses at each level, and what they expect of each horse at a certain age. They started by showing a confirmed Grand Prix horse. He was 14 years old. Andreas stressed that if a horse already knows all of the Grand Prix movements, you don’t need to school the movements every day. In fact, he likes to do the opposite. He said that you have to “trick” the older schoolmasters. They become so schooled in doing the same movements over and over again that they become too smart and memorize the movements. As riders, we have to change it up for them. He demonstrated riding half canter pirouettes on the centerline instead of full pirouettes, riding only 5 or 6 steps of piaffe into the passage instead of 15.

Then they brought in 2 Prix St. George horses. Andreas put the emphasis on the tempi changes. He told the riders not to be too “shy” when riding the changes and to really go for it.  “Ride for a 10 not a 6.” For the pirouettes, he started both horses on a large working pirouette and then into the small, half pirouette. He stressed that you must have a quick reaction to the leg aid for the pirouettes. They must stay in a quick, collected canter with lots of energy and power.

Next were two 5 year olds. Both were very extravagant and beautiful movers. He looked for big gaits with good tempo. Lots of transitions from collection to bigger gaits. Andreas said this is the best way to teach them to trot “fancy” and for them to become very elastic. He said, “If they are running, slow them down. If they are lazy, kick them forward, its pretty easy really.” Makes it sound so simple!

I started to think about how the riders were presenting the horses and compared it to my own riding. They rode very forward, very bold and mostly with a very upright frame. When they came in the ring they demanded everyone’s attention. When they ask for a movement, they expect a reaction from the horse right away. If the horse made a mistake, it was corrected immediately. Andreas kept saying, “be bold, ride for a 10, go for it, show him off”. I know for myself as a rider, especially as shows, I tend to be a bit too timid. Too “shy”. I worry that if I really go for it I will end up with mistakes and a lower score.

Watching the rides at Helgtrand Dressage made me realize I need to be much bolder as a rider. I feel like confidence is the wrong word, because I don’t mean basic confidence in riding. But possibly more confidence that if I ask my horse to do something, he will do it. Confidence that I will ride down centerline and expect nothing less than a 10. I shouldn’t be satisfied with a 6. Ride for a 10! Why not?

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