Maintaining Balance: Day Four of Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic

On the fourth day of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Week the horses were feeling great with the cool weather and their break the day before. After our usual (but never boring or easy) fitness in the morning, I had an early lesson with Debbie McDonald, who I was very excited to ride with again after having the opportunity to ride with her at a clinic in September of 2016.

Our lesson focused on Bonnie’s evenness in both reins and maintaining equal push from her hind legs in all of her movements. Debbie stressed that when a horse feels braced and heavy on one rein, it does no good to respond by pulling and simply expecting the horse to eventually give. Instead, ask the hind leg on that side to carry more weight and use lateral movements such as renvers or shoulder-in to put more weight in the opposite rein. She emphasized that, when a correction is needed, instead of always going to our instinctual reaction, we should think about the horse’s mechanics and why they might feel a certain way. Our lesson was very productive and left me with a lot to think about before my final lesson.

Julia Lee Barton and Bonnaroo

After our lessons and lunch we regrouped in the VIP tent for a discussion with Betsy LaBelle on working with the media and press conferences. Betsy had us practice responses we might give the press, remembering to focus mostly on training and our rides, and less on other factors of the competition. She also warned us to be careful on social media – something I think we can’t have too many reminders about. Social media can definitely be used to a rider’s advantage, but can also easily damage a rider or trainer’s reputation.

Our second lecture was with Danielle Cooper, founder of Grand Prix Tutoring. Danielle spoke about balancing school and riding. Danielle herself had to figure out this balance as a young rider on the WEF circuit, and applied these experiences when she created her tutoring service. She emphasized how crucial it is to stay on track educationally in order to reduce stress in the long run.

Our last activity of the day was a field trip to Oded Shimoni’s beautiful farm, where Kevin Kohmann gave us a long lining demonstration. Kevin showed us the basics of long lining and explained the most common methods used. He showed us how body language influences the horse’s responses, and how it is important to ‘keep the door open’ in front so the horse keeps thinking forward in the collected movements. He also stressed how important praise is for the horse, even when the horse is trained. If you keep praising a horse, he noted, it will find more enjoyment in the work and have a greater desire to please you.

In the evening we attended an amazing party hosted by Terri and Devon Kane at Diamante Farms. The Kanes transformed their covered arena into a perfect party venue, complete with a DJ, great food, and dancing. Even Robert Dover showed off his dance moves. I think I can speak for all clinic participants in thanking the Kane’s for their generosity; we all had a wonderful time!

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