Archive for September, 2011

WorldClass Warm-ups include Long&Low, EVERYDAY

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In recent months of sizzling summer-extreme heat and drought, here near the Confluence- I’ve watched innumerable videos of 2011 Aachen, The European Dressage Championships, and several other European Dressage shows, and have been inspired by such good riders, more as a matter of  ‘who knows, rather than who’s news.’

While the US Young and Developing Dressage Horse Championships and US National Grand Prix and Intermediare Championships were in process the last few weeks, at Wayne and Gladstone, I resorted frequently to usefnetwork.com live stream and a variety of news sources to glean new insight into progress by US competitors toward the ideals of Dressage.  For the tests themselves, internet videos provide excellent vantage points, typically better than being there.  And when I see one test performance clipped, I seek, and often find,  more videos of the same performance, recorded from other vantage points.

What I miss by not actually being there, is that I don’t see the warm-ups preceding the tests, as one can, if situated  cleverly at contest venues.

So over time I have surfed avidly for film clips of warm-ups by riders I admire, and who moments thereafter received high marks from FEI Judges. I have found few, alas, very few.  My current favorites of warm up clips, is Steffen Peters (US) and Ravel at 2009 Aachen, where they won the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix FreeStyle. warming-up  for the Grand Prix Special which is, you may know is THE TEST of shortest duration, requiring the highest degree of collection for sustained  for the longest duration of any of the FEI TESTS.

(A new GPS test, written by the FEI, at the behest of the IOC, and much to the chagrin of the International Dressage Riders Club, for the purpose of entertaining network television viewers of London 2012, will be used from October 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. I just read the new test. Containing all the same movements as the ‘normal’ GPS test, it is even shorter- more compact, and requires more muscular stamina. I think it an unnecessarily difficult means of testing against the ideal. Causing me to wonder, for our horses’ sakes, how to get television production under control. )

A view of Steffen Peters preparing Ravel for their 2009 Aachen Grand Prix Special triumph: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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And here’s what I see…from zero to 1:26 Steffen is loosening and promoting Ravel’s engagement  by posting vigorously, emphatically rising as vertically as possible, canting forward only by the inclination of his head and the visor or his cap. When he touches the saddle, he barely pats it. But he does pat it, to which the horse reacts by opening his thoracic spines upward.  Steffen opens the inside of Ravel by counter flexing and eliciting one stride of counter shoulder fore before riding each corner as a quarter volte. In this posture, for this horse’s degree of development, a quarter volte is three or four strides, rather than two, as in collection. Again counter flexing a stride before beginning a circle, he then ‘drives on,’ forward and down, asking for increased engagement into even contact, including, for the purpose of this exercise, the contact of the rider’s passively tense calf with horse’s latissimus dorsi, through saddle.

Contact with the rider’s hands, held wide apart as the rider’s hips, well below the horse’s withers, and therefore sensed by the horse from the rider’s hips, rather than from the rider’s elbows as when the riders hands but a hand’s width apart and just above the horse’s withers, is through the snaffle rein to the corner of the horse’s mouth and through the curb rein only by the weight of the curb rein and bit felt by the horse at its poll. The “drive on” is effected by the rider’s posting momentum including the projection of his center forward and the flexion of the rider’s calf each time rider rises with the horse’s inside leg. The rider’s hand senses to coming of throughness from behind and gives to permit forward energy flow, effecting repeated ‘half-forwards’  The horse’s posture is horizontal, weight distributed evenly fore and aft. Tail swinging indicates lack of spinal tension. Neck long, open and low, to poll below withers, flopping ears! Facial profile inside the vertical and moving toward the vertical as the exercise proceeds. Corner of horses mouth between point of horse’s shoulder and horse’s elbow.

Steffen executes the exercise as I find it is written in classical literature. This is how it is done. The first 86 seconds of this tape is the answer not only to “what is long and low?” but the current probe “How long and low is TOO long and low?” This tape exemplifies the limits.

In the very next seconds, and onward, Steffen administers exercises he has programmed to ready for the soon to be performed test. And there is vastly more to be learned, not the least of which is the relationship between half-pass and passage, by and for  those who have moved closer to this level of  development. About the rest of the tape I may write later, if only for the crystallization of my own thoughts. I chose to not edit, to not curtail, the tape because I did not want to remove any available context.

But back to long and low, everyday long and low:

What we don’t see in this clip is what preceded the administration of the exercise. Reasonable surmise is that he enjoyed a 10 minute walk ‘trail ride,’ mounted, from stable to the group warm up ring, where among other contestants, he continued to loosen with longitudinal and lateral exercises at trot and canter, awaiting his ten minutes of exclusive use of the private warm-up court penultimate to entrance to the test arena. And may have entered the private court at collected canter, just before the video starts. Such sequential build-up to performance is rarely, if ever afforded at lesser than International Championships venues.  Nonetheless, the first 1:26 of this clip is relevant to the work of all of our horses, at every stage of their progressions. Large circles, with the best possible contact,  long and low, emphasizing maintenance of rhythm and tempo and promoting engagement, is, early on, the lesson itself, for a horse in field school. It is valuable therapy for a horse coming out of rehabilitation. And it is essential preparation for a day’s lesson, or for test performance.

For advancing medium level horses, and further developing advanced horses, this exercise is included not only in warm-up, but also warm-down. As such horses tend to become too strong, it is best to leave the day on a soft, light note, making it easier to resume the next ride with softness and lightness.

Oh, almost forgot! I couldn’t find a clip of Ravel’s 2009 Aachen GPS, but here’s one of his triumph in the Freestyle, preceded, I imagine by a similar, if not identical warm-up.

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Too much, too soon?

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I was interested to read this morning Eurodressage Astrid’s Appel’s lead sentence that the Danes decided to add a Youngster Cup to “spice up” their Danish Warmblood Elite Mare Show at Vilmesborg last weekend, and that it was won by Torveslettens Stamina and Andreas Helgstrand. Astrid goes on:  ” Stamina, who has twice placed in the Final of the World Championships in Verden, performed her best test ever, and scored 10 for trot and capacity. She ended her test with a total score of 9.62.”

‘Capacity’ I mused, ‘trot and capacity.’  Now that’s a term I’ve not previously encountered. Apparently it refers to a conceptual quality , an ideal quality. Impulsion? But not in FEI parlance. Of course, The Danish Warmblood Elite Mare Show is conducted under Danish National, rather than FEI rules, et ma langue Danois n’est pas; I’ll have to clarify “capacity” for myself when I have time to find the test in Danish and navigate the translation software.

So I watched Adreas Helgstrand (rider of world watched Blue Hors Matine of 2006 Aachen fame and 2007 Las Vegas misfortune) press the 6 year old mare “Torveslettens Stamina” through a test requiring  movements of the current USEF Third Level Tests, without rein-back, or canter half-pass, but with collected trot full circles preceding trot half pass,  collected walk and 1/2 pirouettes as in USEF Fourth Level, versus collected trot half circles preceding trot half pass and medium walk and half-turn on the haunches of USEF Third Level.

Yikes! That is a LOT to ask of a 6 year old. And although her youthful exhuberance carries her through the test from halt to halt, with highly animated gaits, Helgstrand is, to my eye, muscling her around. Helgstrand is, I am sure, a very strong man, strong of limbs and core, so his is not light contact. Influences are visible: the young mare is pressed, funnelled, squeezed through the entire test.

But  the first time I watched the clip, before knowing the test, I could see it coming. The first halt told me what to expect.  The mare comes nearly straight down the center line, and halts base narrow in front, then shifts her weight over, onto her right hind and sticks her left hind out to the side, seeking relief, if only for those 6 seconds, from the stress to her fore and hind quarters of the warm-up preceding the test. Hind end stress is again evident in the walk 1/2 pirouettes. 3!  The final halt confirms prognostication.  In the final halt Stamina plants her front feet so close together she may have even stepped on herself- I can’t be sure- and widens her hind legs as far as possible without overstretching a groin muscle. Or did she?

Such a young horse should not be required to perform exactly so…so soon.

Stamina…I hope for you that you can live up to your name.

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