Improving Quality: Day One of Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic

© : Julia Lee Barton and Bonnaroo 

Wellington, Fla.– Dec. 26, 2016 ­­– The Robert Dover Horsemastership Week is a five-day invitation-only clinic which brings 18 of the top junior and young riders from around the country to Wellington, Florida to learn from the best. The clinic was created by Olympian Lendon Gray, as part of the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program. Lendon organizes the clinic and is on site every day attending to details and supporting the riders. Participants receive four private lessons with top trainers, listen to lectures from experts from all areas of the equine industry, and take field trips to places like Alison Brock’s farm in Palm Beach Point.

This is my third year attending the RDHWC. The first year I was a “participating auditor.” As an auditor, you are included in everything except the riding. The second year, I rode a horse lent to me by a generous member of the local dressage community. This year, after winning the 2016 USEF Pony Dressage Championships at Lamplight Equestrian Center, I was invited to ride on my 7-year-old German Riding Pony cross named Bonnaroo or “Bonnie”.

My first lesson at the Robert Dover Horsemastership Week was a wake-up call for me and Bonnie. The definite theme of Day One at RDHMC was increasing the overall quality of everything we do – something young American dressage riders need to do to be competitive in the international ring. This does not necessarily mean fancier horses, but it does mean better riding and most importantly a better understanding of dressage.

The first day began with our daily morning workouts with Mike Barthowlemy. Mike is encouraging and enthusiastic, and mostly focused on stretching and body control today, with some leg work in between. With memories of very sore mornings from past years at the clinic, I am hoping he takes it easy on us a couple of the days this week!

After our workout, we went to our opening lecture with Robert Dover, “The Basic Principles of Dressage.” In this lecture, Robert explained how dressage was created, and why we do things the way we do. This was my fourth time hearing the lecture, and I am amazed at how every time I hear it I learn something new. Robert stresses that if we don’t know why we ride the way we do, that we can’t truly be effective riders and trainers. Of all the equestrian disciplines, dressage relies the most heavily on theory, and Robert starts the clinic off right with a foundational message about the role of theory in our riding.

© : Julia Lee Barton and Bonnaroo 

Following our theory lesson, I had my first of two lessons with Robert. We worked to improve the quality of my pony’s gaits, specifically her trot, which we did with quick transitions from extended trot to collected trot, and then bringing her back even nearly into passage. Bonnie really began using her hind leg and felt very adjustable. Robert was positive and encouraging, but stressed that Bonnie and I, along with the rest of the country, are still far behind the European standard for Ponies. He emphasized that Bonnie is naturally very talented, but we need to set our standards higher and push ourselves farther. And, as he noted earlier, I must have an understanding of what I am doing and why.

Next we had a psychology lecture with Laura King, which was very interesting. She explained how often the biggest roadblock to improving our riding is completely mental, and there are things we can be doing every day to prevent ourselves from limiting our performances. She also talked to us about setting goals to help focus and propel our progress in training. She stressed that goals have to be measureable, or we will never truly feel like we achieved them.

Our last lecture of the day was on bits with Beth Haist. She encouraged us to come to her for consultations with the bits we were currently using to learn more about them and their individual fit. She helped us understand the mechanics of different mouthpieces and cheek pieces. With an understanding of the mechanics, it becomes easier to know when and why to use certain bits.

Later at a pizza party for the riders, Lendon Gray stressed again how critical it is to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, as every ride influences the horse. Lendon also emphasized that we need to be riding against and around those who are better than us all the time. She noted that riders stop improving when we are the “big fish in the little pond.” Like Robert Dover, Lendon Gray is looking beyond our current horizons and telling us there are bigger ponds, higher standards, fierce competition in our futures, and we need to prepare accordingly. I feel so lucky to be included in this program again, and I am looking forward to lessons and lectures tomorrow!

© Sarah Harper: Julia Lee Barton and BonnarooJulia Lee Barton and Bonnaroo claimed the 2016 USEF Pony Rider National Championship 

Julia Lee Barton, 14, of Lawrence, Kansas, claimed the 2016 Pony Rider National Championship aboard Bonnaroo in Wayne, Illinois. In 2015, Barton picked up the top placing in the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final, 13 and Under Division Championship. 

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