W and I are still in New Jersey, still at Gladstone and still trying to get our act together for the WEG in Kentucky in a few weeks. Being reserve horse/rider for the team, all our efforts could be wasted for the WEG, but I have every intention of starting at Devon, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, if we do not get a chance to start in Kentucky. So our training is intense, and W is stepping up to the plate.
I have talked a lot about the development of a young Grand Prix horse this year since that is exactly what W is—10 years old and in his first year of serious competition as a Grand Prix horse even though he started in a few small grand prix last year.
You may recall that I was reluctant to start W at the international level this spring. I thought he could use a few more tests at the national level where carrying the whip is allowed. I even switched him out of his first planned international start at Hagen CDI3* in April to put him in the national Medien Cup Tour, which was a good decision at the time.
When I carry a whip in a test, I don’t use it all the time. However, in the very difficult piaffe/passage transitions, sometimes the lightest touch of the stick will remind my horse to correct his balance with more impulsion or quickness. This means that I can avoid putting too much pressure on him with my leg or spur in a moment where he might need help. I can also avoid overriding the tempo into my transitions. The result is lighter correction with no building of undue tension.
I want to teach my horses to go with full power in the show arena off the lightest possible of aids. I want them to develop the routine of getting into and out of piaffe/passage with maximum power and minimum help. So carrying the whip allows me to take more risks in this direction and make a more effective correction if I need one.
That explained, I did finally jump off the bridge and go international with W last May at Hamburg CDI3*. Since then he has done four international shows and the Selection Trials at Gladstone (four tests) without the whip, and he has improved at every outing.
That doesn’t mean that I train him without the whip. I still pick it up whenever I want to intensify the work we are doing. I rode a test Grand Prix while carrying the whip last week in team training.
My goal was to ride very forward in tempo and open in the frame coming into piaffe from the passage. I wanted to keep his neck the same for the transition and simply sit his hindquarters down and under to change from passage to piaffe. This requires good timing from me and good balance and lots of strength from W.
Most of the transitions went well and according to plan until the final piaffe on the centerline when I had to make a quick and hard correction with the whip. The resulting piaffe was fantastic! So my strategy worked, W LEARNED something in that test, and it was good training to surprise him with the whip after so many runs without it.
In the meantime, I’ve been working hard on the general self-carriage in the canter. W’s pirouettes are improving, and in this test I was particularly pleased with the left one. I had perfect control, good rhythm and little loss of impulsion.
Interestingly, pirouettes seem to be one of the hardest movements to judge as opinions vary greatly on what they should look like. In this test the right pirouette was given a higher mark than the left one.
In any case, have a look at W during a test run and see if you can pick out areas where he has improved and where we still need to do a lot of work. I’m off to go fly fishing.
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Gladstone, N.J.
Training Tip of the Day: How often do you test ride the actual test? One to two videotaped sessions before a show can be very helpful if you analyze the parts you do not like and find ways to make them look better.