Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 5, 2023 – Day 1 of the annual Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic got going early this morning in the Van Kampen arena. 20 of our country’s top horse and rider combinations under the age of 25 join together at Adequan Global Dressage Festival for 5 days of various lectures, lesson auditing and instruction. This year, the participants are lucky to learn from Kathrine Bateson-Chandler, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, Ali Brock, Shelly Francis and Katie Duerrhammer.
M.K. Connatser was the first ride of the day aboard Linda Grave’s 12-year-old German Riding pony, Sun of Soul, in Ring 3. Connatser is coming off of a successful summer season, with her biggest accomplishment being the blue ribbon ride in the 13 and Under Dressage Seat Equitation class at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. Though Sun of Soul, affectionately known as Sunny, is a newer mount for Connatser, they look forward to competing in the FEI Pony divisions in 2023. Katie Duerrhammer picked apart what is required in FEI Pony tests and capitalised on each individual movement. Before playing with the movements, Duerrhammer made sure that Sunny was responding to Connatser’s aids. She asked for transitions between sitting trot to rising trot in order to get the mare moving forward.
“When she gets sucked back and does not want to be in front of your leg, go rising,” Duerrhammer said. The pair cruised along the 20 x 60 arena perimeter, posting the trot for a handful of strides and then sitting in. In the canter, Duerrhammer had a similar technique. She had Connatser ask for a lengthening in the canter down the long sides in order to get Sunny hotter off her leg aids.
Since Sunny is on the smaller side, Duerrhammer had them ride 8-meter circles instead of 10 or 15. “A 15-meter circle will just feel endless for her [Sunny],” Duerrhammer joked. After working through the bend on an 8-meter circle, the pair went forth to schooling shoulder-in and haunches-in.
At the end of their session, Duerrhammer gave high praise to Connatser on her position and effective way of riding. She laughed while commenting on Sunny’s eagerness to work, despite being a chestnut mare pony.
In Ring 2, Lexie Kment’s lesson with Olivia LaGoy-Weltz doubled as her first outing with a new mount, Stacey Knox’s 13 year old KWPN gelding Fernando V. She found great success in the FEI Junior divisions in 2022, bringing home a team gold medal with Region 4 and a bronze with her freestyle. At only 16, she plans to explore her options between competing this season in the FEI Juniors or FEI Young Riders. Kment made sure to mention how strong Fernando V could be in her hands. LaGoy-Weltz’s solution was to use exercises that will quicken his hind legs and make him lighter in her hands.
“Self carriage starts in how he carries himself behind,” LaGoy-Weltz explained. “Too strong comes from his back and haunches, not his neck and mouth.”
As Duerrhammer had Connatser do, the pair focused heavily on extending the gaits to refresh the energy before asking the horse to collect. Kment spent a good portion of the lesson working on collecting the canter to have the ability to perform a pirouette. With her small build, it was important she positioned herself correctly so her aids were practical.
“There is not a lot of you,” Lagoy-Weltz said with a smile. “Anchor yourself in the saddle while leaving him space to use his back.”
The analogy she used was a marionette. “Pretend you are a puppet on a string, hanging from your head,” LaGoy-Weltz explained. This visual helped Kment sit deep into the saddle without blocking Fernando V’s freedom. She continued on to ride a 15-meter circle in haunches in, slowly yielding inwards until the picture showed a working sized pirouette. After achieving pirouette canter, LaGoy-Weltz made it a point that Kment rewarded him by letting him go forward again.
Leah Drew aboard Berryfield LLC’s gelding, JazzBeat, entered Ring 1 for Kathrine Bateson-Chandler’s third lesson of the day. Drew and JazzBeat secured the number one spot in the 2022 FEI Junior rankings, with scores recorded over 74%. The big-bodied 18hh JazzBeat had naturally large gaits, so Bateson-Chandler began the lesson discussing how he is “very good in the extensions, but needs to be able to compress himself.” Just as the other instructors had their students do, Drew did endless transitions in and out of collection and extended in both trot and canter. “Make a million transitions within the gait,” Bateson-Chandler repeated. She also had the pair ride plenty of circles in various sizes to influence JazzBeat to use his hind end. With his energetic attitude, they also made many downward transitions. Bateson-Chandler reminded Drew to “be forward to a downward transition.” Along with being forward to the down transitions, they worked on being forward to the changes.
“It is the big change you really want to focus on,” Bateson-Chandler commented. “Let the change be bigger than your canter, worry about half-halting to collect once you land.” She also encouraged Drew to ride bravely. “Go for the 10!” she exclaimed.
Bateson-Chandler described the duo as “incredible” in their work together, telling Drew that she could easily receive “straight 10s for the trot work.”
The final rider in Bateson-Chandler’s morning sessions was 12-year-old Maryn Geck aboard Ashley Holzer’s 7-year-old KWPN gelding, Liberty L. As the youngest rider in the clinic who was still getting used to riding the gelding, Bateson-Chandler led Geck through lots of transitions as well and encouraged her to use more leg aids to keep Liberty L moving enthusiastically.
Explaining that although Geck is a petite rider and Liberty L is a strong horse, she can keep her aids effective by sitting deeper in the saddle and making sure he is attentive with lots of changes in pace and direction. Once Bateson-Chandler was pleased with the improved impulsion Geck was creating in the trot, she had her move on to the canter, once again performing transitions through both the walk and trot. Once Geck pushed Liberty L forward along the longside of the arena, Bateson-Chandler had her bring him into a circle around her, while still maintaining the same rhythm and jump from the hind legs.
She then advised Geck to keep Liberty L bending on the circle, but without over bending in his neck by keeping her body square on his back and her hands the same length on the reins. With improved suppleness, the pair went on to work in the leg yields to end their session on a high note.
The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic resumes tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. with the same clinician and rider line-up.