First Ride With Walter Zettl

Jun 28, 2010 - 1:55 AM
Barbra Reis and Artful Ikon. Photo courtesy of Barbra Reis.

The morning started bright and early as the sun peeked through the blinds of my trailer. By the time I walked out to the barn at 7 a.m., the horses had been grained and fed, thanks to John, head groom. I took advantage of the cool morning to walk the property with my camera.

The farm has about 30 head of horses, made up mostly of the horses Leslie and David Bockus have bred. The group of yearlings and 2-year-olds were busy munching on their round bale while many of the other horses were laying down in their pastures.

I took Ike for a walk in the close hayfield, assuming he would enjoy the fresh grass. Nope, he only wanted the clover. So I took him over to the area near my camper where there was a ton of clover, and while he was happily grazing, a Mercedes turned into the driveway. As the window slowly rolled down I realized it was Walter.

“Good morning!” he greeted me with his trademark smile. “Isn’t it gorgeous? Glad you are here!”

Wow, he remembered me from a year and a half ago—NICE! I told him I was very pleased to have been invited to ride with him and that I was excited for the six days I’d be spending with him and the other ladies at the farm. He waved and drove up to the barn. Clinic was going to start in 20 minutes.

I put Ike back in his stall and grabbed my notebook for a mind-blowing day of riding instruction. There were seven rides today, and I was number three.

Walter typically starts his sessions with the horse walking on a long, loose rein. He says we “must pay attention to the walk as it is the most important gait.”

He also says we as riders have a tendency to ride too much with our hands and not enough from the hindquarters. The exercises he had everyone work on consisted of transitions—from walk to trot to walk, trot to canter back to trot, collecting at the trot then extending at the trot and so on. His theory is that when the basics are perfect, the Grand Prix is easy.

Walter also picks out things the rider “says” to the horse with their bodies that interfere with the communication between the team. My “thing” to work on this week is my knees—I need to keep them pushing down more so that my lower leg is quieter. OK, a pretty easy thing to work on, right? NOT!

But it will enable me to get Ike to accept the contact of the bit and push from his hindquarters instead of putting himself into a frame and locking his neck. It looks pretty but he’s not truly “coming through.”

We also worked on shoulder-in, travers and half pass. I really felt like an airhead when Walter asked me to do an exercise that consisted of turning down the quarter line on the right rein, doing a shoulder-in to the left, then a half pass to the left. My brain just couldn’t visualize it until I realized it was a zigzag and that the horse was to be bending from my left leg. OH, that’s what you mean! And I have it on video too (thanks to Ary). We finally got it (I’m sure Walter was muttering under his breath), and then he had us finish with collected trot to extended trot.

I wish the video hadn’t run out because it would have been good to see it but oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Overall, Day 1 with Walter was VERY beneficial. He was using this time to get to know the horses and their riders, and I’m sure pick out what he thinks we need to improve on to complete what he considers the basics of our foundation. As he likes to say “Now we are cooking!”


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