Del Mar, California—Feb. 3
German rider Helen Langehanenberg shared her immense knowledge at the third of four Masterclasses at the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival on Saturday, Feb. 2.
The individual silver medalist at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) aboard Damon Hill NRW, Langehanenberg was especially excited to come to California to be reunited, if only for a few hours, with her former ride, Suppenkasper, now ridden by Steffen Peters for the United States.
But she began the Masterclass from the ground up, working with three other riders. First was Marie Medosi and Frantz EDI, a 4-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Farenheit—Stutbuch 1) owned by Exclusive Dressage Imports.
Frantz was quite nervous in the electric atmosphere of the Del Mar international arena and put in several classic 4-year-old moves, including hopping, spinning and refusing to go forward, and Langehanenberg told Medosi that her job for the session was to get him to focus on her.
“He does not seem to be very happy at the moment. It’s too much atmosphere, but that’s how life is,” she said. “I think it’s better to see real life how it is and try to solve the problem.”
She had Medosi perform lots of transitions and changes of rein, trying to get her to be one step quicker than he was.
Getting Frantz on her side would take time, Langehanenberg said. “You can’t force him. It’s up to us to be patient.”
About halfway through the session Langehanenberg asked for the next rider to come in and give Frantz a lead. He started to settle, and she gradually had Medosi work him further and further away from the other horse.
She encouraged Medosi to use little half halts to get Frantz’s attention, and during her transitions down to walk she had her use some shoulder-in to get his attention.
He started to stretch more as the session went on but still had his eye on the exit.
“It’s difficult in situations like these, but that’s how it is,” said Langehanenberg. “Sometimes it’s not possible to [get the horse’s confidence] now, and we have to accept it. It’s not about the perfect line or the right circle points, but that he’s listening to you, and he starts to trust you. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Moving up the training scale, the next horse in the ring was Follow That Dream, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Presley—Axiom) owned by Lisa Sutila and ridden by Ehren Volk, who’s shown third level. The goal of the session was to work on the flying change.
Langehanenberg said she chooses the gait that’s more comfortable for the horse to start with, and Volk chose trot.
Langehanenberg likes to start with a small trot in warm up so as not to use up a horse’s energy too quickly, but one that still has enough energy from behind.
She asked Volk to work on bending the mare through her body and to use little transitions, thinking of collection.
Langehanenberg wanted to work on activity of the hind leg to prepare for the changes. As they moved into canter she said, “It’s not about the tempo, but to feel she’s really jumping off the ground.”
At one point while working on a few steps of shorter canter, the mare nearly trotted and hollowed. Langehanenberg observed that Volk had used too much rein aid. She wanted active, not backwards. She told Volk to think of cantering on the spot. “Feel where the limit is and try to bring the limit more up. If you go forward, think of closing the frame, that you keep the horse between the aids. If you collect, think of bringing the horse forward, that you don’t slow down in the collection, that the collection starts in the hind leg.”
As Volk began the single changes on the diagonal, Langehanenberg noted the mare was quite ambitious, but even so, she should wait.
“When you do flying changes, let them happen. Work on the basic canter, jumping, jumping,” she said.
Follow That Dream made a few mistakes, breaking to canter or changing before asked, but Langehanenberg encouraged Volk to ride the mistake because it’s training and doesn’t matter.
“By risking the mistake, improve it step by step. Try to improve the quality. You are not born as a Grand Prix rider; the horse was not born as a Grand Prix horse. If something doesn’t work in between, that’s normal,” she said. “Although everybody wants to be perfect, we don’t need to be perfect every day.”
She told Volk to not be shy with her aids. Clearer aids are better for a horse that’s learning.
“Even if the horse is not super confirmed in the movement, help them. Don’t let them guess what you want. It’s better to give a clear aid,” she said.
They finished the session with trot work, where Volk leg yielded the mare from the track making sure she was always over her back and working towards the bit, pushing into the outside rein in the movement.
Dawn White-O’Connor rode El Torro, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Painted Black—Zodette B), owned by James Keenan, and trained to the Prix St. Georges level.
He was extremely active from behind, which manifested in a tight neck in trot in the beginning of the session. Langehanenberg encouraged White-O’Connor to make the trot a little smaller and then a little bigger to make him listen to her and allow him to stretch a bit.
In canter, Langehanenberg said he sat a little too much and tried a little too hard. She had White-O’Connor think of shoulder-in then asked her to do counter canter with renvers on the long side and straightness on the short side.
She asked White-O’Connor to think of a pirouette canter during the renvers for a few steps, which will prepare the gelding for the half pass and pirouette.
“For a short moment, give in the forward tendency, then forward. But don’t let him feel you collect,” she said.
Langehanenberg said young horses need lots of bending and movement sideways when learning the half pass, and to start with leg yielding so they understand the crossing. She said to be happy with less crossing as they learn, but put it together like a puzzle using travers to give the horse an easier feeling.
“Although it’s not the position we want the horse to be in the end, it helps the horse to cross easier without feeling pressed into that direction,” she said.
White O’Connor also rode a few steps of half pass, then a few steps of shoulder in, then half pass again, which Langehanenberg said is good for teaching the canter half pass zig-zag in the Intermediaire and Grand Prix tests.
“We say in Germany it’s doing it like stairs,” she said.
They finished the sessions by spiraling down into a few steps of canter pirouette then asking for a walk transition.
“He’s super ambitious, and he’s sitting so much you have to try to make him not sit as much,” she said.
Langehanenberg noted that many horses find the transition from pirouette to walk difficult but working on it at home will teach the rider to react and correct any difficulties that come up with it in competition, so that they’ll be able to change the horse’s body position within the movement.
As Peters rode Suppenkasper, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Spielberg—Upanoeska, Krack C) owned by Four Winds Farm, into the ring, Langehanenberg lit up.
“It’s honestly a little bit emotional for me, but luckily I met him before, so I do not cry now!” she said. “From my opinion, he’s one of the best horses in the world. It’s an honor for me.”
She trained “Mopsie” to Grand Prix and noted that he tries hard all the time, so she was constantly telling him to tone it down and tried to make things fun for him.
“He has not only the super gaits, but his will to work is outstanding. Sometimes you only have to think, and that’s enough, he’s doing it,” she said. “In the end that’s the best feeling a rider could get because we want to ride with aids that are not seen, and if you have a partner like him who tries every day [to do] his very best, to do it super and to make it perfect for the rider, and you can ride with those aids, that’s the feeling you want.”
Peters started in trot, and Langehanenberg noted that Mopsie is naturally very through.
“Whatever he’s doing, he’s using his whole body. He’s always from the hind leg, over the back, towards the bit,” she said.
She had Peters play with the tempo of his trot, going from big to small and back.
She asked Peters to give frequently and allow the gelding to stretch his neck within the movements.
They spent the session working through the Grand Prix movements but not as if preparing for a competition. In trot half pass, she asked Peters to work on shallow lines and continue to ask for stretch, allowing him to play and making it easy.
“Everyone who has seen this horse knows he can cross from K to P with no problem in half pass,” she said. “Tell him half is enough. Especially with horses like him, less is more.”
In the passage work, Peters used travers and renvers and played with the tempo, but only the idea of them, so he didn’t cross too much.
He also went from walk to passage by picking up the reins.
“I never had a horse that learned piaffe so easily,” said Langehanenberg, who estimated it took Mopsie two days to learn. “He’s so huge and has this huge movement, but it’s so easy for him to make himself small in the pirouettes [too.]”
Because Mopsie sits so much in the pirouettes, Langehanenberg wanted Peters to stretch him then too.
“It’s not about the Grand Prix pirouette. It doesn’t need to be small right now. Let him stretch during the pirouette. Take the pressure off. Because he’s so ambitious to work, always relax him and make a game out of it,” she said. “The Grand Prix horses know how to do it. They know the centerline and diagonals, so play with them, so they’re not always in this perfect show position. That’s my way, but as I said, many ways lead to Rome.”
The same went for the canter half passes, which she said don’t need to be practiced exactly as they are in the tests. What’s more important is the preparation. Is this horse waiting and active and in shoulder in?
“Prepare the preparation. If you can’t go towards the movement, you can’t do the movement,” she said.
At the end of the session, Peters thanked Langehanenberg for the opportunity to buy Mopsie.
“I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for selling me this horse” he said. “I promise you that I’ll take extremely good care of him,, and I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned from him just in the last few months. It’s been a hell of an education for me. It’s been a lot of fun. I have always given you credit, and I will never take credit for his training.”
“It’s not the first time you make me cry, but in a positive way,” she said. “I thank heaven this horse came to you because he deserved it.”
Words Of Wisdom From Helen Langehanenberg
– “Whatever you do, do it from behind.”
– “I love ambitious horses, but nevertheless, she should wait.”
– “Although everybody wants to be perfect, we don’t need to be perfect every day.”
– “Choose your points, maybe two points to work on, and then end it. Let the horse go back into the stable or the field with the feeling, ‘OK, we could have done more. He was still motivated to do more.’ Better they come out the next day and say, ‘OK, what are we doing today?’”
– “He’s always so ambitious to work—make a game out of it.”
Watch the whole Masterclass on Facebook.