Wellington, Fla.—Jan. 6
For the final day of the 2014 Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, riders got to put all the skills they’d learned throughout the week to the test—literally. Each rode a test at her own level and then was judged by either FEI four-star judge Janet Foy or FEI five-star judge Linda Zang.
While the judges still found plenty that needed improvement, wanting the riders to strive for 8s, 9s or even 10s instead of being comfortable with 7s, Robert Dover noted the different in each young rider from the beginning of the sessions.
“All actually improved, not only because of the quality of the tests they did today, but because their intention on their horses was different,” said Dover, who coordinated the five-day program with Lendon Gray. “As they went from the beginning of warming up through to the warm-up and then in the arena, their intention and attention to details was completely different than at the beginning of the clinic.”
Leah Marks started the day of tests riding fourth level, test 2, aboard Casin for Foy in the Van Kampen covered ring at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival grounds. When Casin had a moment of frustration, refusing to come back to trot from canter, Marks added in an extra circle before continuing.
“It’s so important you don’t carry your mistakes to the next box,” said Foy. “You double-whammied yourself when he wouldn’t trot there. You not only got a 4 on the transition at A, but I had to give you an error for the circle so you ended up with a 2 there. You would have been better off just coming on the diagonal.”
Foy also discussed the concept of straightness, explaining that the term in English is a little misleading.
“You lose a lot of engagement because he’s crooked,” she said. “You need to think about keeping those hind legs on the right track. I have a German friend, and the first time he was judging in the U.S., he said, ‘I really want to do a good job,’ so he would give me the word in German, and then I’d give him the word in English. So he’d give me one word in German, and I’d give him two sentences. He said, 'Wow, judging in English is hard!'
“That term 'straightness' really means the line of travel—that you’re able to keep either the front legs or hind legs on the line of travel,” Foy added. “There are only two movements in dressage where the front legs are on the line of travel: travers and half-pass. All the other movements, with one exception, the hind legs are on the line of travel, and the horse's shoulders are slightly displaced. For four days everyone has said, 'Shoulder-fore, shoulder-fore, shoulder-fore,' on the straight line. That’s straightness. Hind legs on the line of travel, shoulders slightly displaced. At about Grand Prix, we have some movements where the horse can be totally straight—piaffe, passage, one tempi changes, and a little bit the reinback. The reason those can be totally straight is because both hind legs are carrying equally.”
Another of Foy’s riders, Kalie Beckers, didn’t have the same problem with straightness, but she did have to overcome a less-than-optimal warm-up with her third level mount Bienvenu ZSH.
“You did a great job and handled the little issues,” said Foy. “If I hadn’t seen the warm-up, I would have said he just had a little stiffening in the neck.”
Foy noted that Beckers was sitting crookedly when riding her horse to the right, especially in the lateral work like half-pass, and she had the young rider take away her left stirrup to try and correct the problem.
“He shouldn’t get mad at you in the contact, but he’s telling you, ‘It’s impossible for me to go that way when you’re sitting that way,’ ” said Foy. “You have to feel like you get that right hip lighter. Here’s where your position is so important.”
Unlike Beckers, Bebe Davis enjoyed a lovely warm-up on her FEI Junior horse Rotano, but then lost some of her connection when she went in the ring for her test before Zang.
“He’s a big, impressive horse, but I’d like to see you have him a little rounder in the frame,” said Zang. He’s just a little too open, and the back isn’t with you enough.”
Once Zang started schooling Davis inside the ring after the test, she realized the rider knew where to put the horse the whole time.
“I mean, damn it, ride the horse like this!” said Zang. “Somehow you threw your life away when you came down centerline. If you’re riding for five ‘O’ judges, it has to not make you nervous. If there are hundreds of people watching, it has to not make you nervous.”
Davis was able to do most of her test a second time, and both Davis and Zang agreed it was much improved.
For Allie Cyprus on Madoc Gareth, the phrase of the day for her test was “half-halt.”
“You’ve got to make this horse come more through,” said Zang. “He goes wide behind in medium trot. When you get a bit lighter seat in the saddle and separate half-halt aids, he’ll come more through, and you’ll get better scores. And I already gave you some nice scores.”
With a series that Zang described as, “Ho, supple, give, and then go,” Cyprus got a good feel for a new kind of half-halt that could help her horse’s thoroughness.
“If you don’t have the horse on the outside aids, you can’t get the proper collection,” added Zang.
Other quotes from the day:
“If your horse makes a mistake in the test, don’t punish the horse ever. It’s the easiest way to get a 4, and it makes us judges really cranky at you. We think, ‘If she’ll do that in front of all these people, what does she do to this horse at home?’ You must never train through emotion.” –Janet Foy
“Trainers will tell you that it gets easier once you get to the upper levels, and they’re lying. It gets different.” –Janet Foy
“I try not to use the .5s for 3 and below, or for 8 and above.” –Janet Foy
“You have to have a forward tendency in everything you do.” –Linda Zang
Check out our coverage from a previous session of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic.