Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 7, 2021 – Each year the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week marks the opening of the dressage season in Wellington, Florida. Though COVID-19 has created more restrictions, it certainly did little to dampen the excitement for the group of youth riders selected to participate in the four-day educational event. Throughout the week, the 20 riders have the opportunity to school with top trainers which include Robert Dover, George Williams, Christine Traurig, Charlotte Bredahl, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz and Sabine Schut-Kery.
In Schut-Kery’s sessions Thursday afternoon, the Pan American Games gold medalist and Tokyo-Olympic hopeful brought a watchful eye to her three students. FEI Young Rider Allison Nemeth of Flemington, New Jersey, was her first student of the day, riding her 10-year-old Danish Warmblood mare Tiko. The pair qualified and competed in the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions at Lamplight over the summer.
Right off the bat, Schut-Kery addressed the importance of maintaining forward activity while in collection. The mare tended to decrease energy when asked to collect and Schut-Kery explained, “Let’s work on taking her forward. Teach her to be in front of you while you are in collection. Take what you have created and that thrust while taking it into collection. We do not want to shut her down. Keep her active, but you cannot speed up more – you don’t fix it by only going forward. Keep the tempo the same and try to fix the energy in that set tempo. You have to think about preserving that thrust into your collection.”
When the mare had a spooky moment in the corner, Schut-Kery asked Nemeth, “Are you proactive on the short side and with your corners or are you waiting for her to get skittish and then fix it? Add more inner leg to improve suppleness and get her past what she is looking at. Use your inner rein finger to make sure she is paying attention to you.”
The expressive mare would occasionally brace tracking left and would become too up-and-down in her canter. Schut-Kery explained that every horse braces in a different way and had the rider encourage the mare to lift her back and bend around her inner leg from her calf rather than her spur. Though the horse was soft in the bridle, Schut-Kery reminded Nemeth to not be too passive with her aids.
“It is the responsibility of the rider to better position the horse – It has to become a lifestyle,” Schut-Kery said. “In every corner, in every stride, there is an expectation of your aids.”
They moved on to working their canter pirouettes and Schut-Kery complimented their technical correctness, so they focused on improving the quality of the canter to make the pirouettes have a ‘wow’ factor.
They practiced two different exercises: the first being a large working pirouette on the short diagonal and the second was schooling quarter-pirouettes on a square.
“You don’t have to do four quarter-pirouettes in a row in the square,” she said. “I’d rather you do one quarter, then fix the quality of the canter. This exercise is more about the quality rather than quantity of how many quarter pirouettes you can do. Ask for a little shoulder-in to improve the bend around her rib cage. Both the collection and the suppleness have to work in this quarter pirouette exercise and do not forget about the suppleness in her poll by increasing the bend.”
The second rider of the afternoon session was FEI Junior Rider Sydney Lipar of the Woodlands, Texas. The gelding was fresh and throughout the lesson had a tendency to get too strong. From the beginning, Schut-Kery focused on having Lipar ride him into the right balance by improving her presence in the saddle.
“You cannot allow him to run through you. Shorten your reins and tell him there is no question about him having to stay with you.”
She asked Lipar, “Do you feel like you can’t put your leg on him?” and when the answer was “Yes,” she further explained. “When he is off balance, he is manipulating you and putting you into a different position when he gets ahead of you. He uses that against you. To get him in the right balance you must stay correct in your seat even when you feel like you cannot put your leg on.
When they began leg-yielding across the ring at a trot, the horse would get hot and barrel through the rider’s aids, pulling her out of the saddle. “For a moment you have to say to him, “No I have to sit in the saddle. If he gets too strong, finish the leg yield at the walk so he doesn’t get out of the exercise. You have to be more clever than him. Maintain your position. Your seat is how you communicate. When you lose your seat he is taking the conversation away from you.”
Despite the horse’s pulling, Schut-Kery emphasized that there is always time to give. “By giving, you are showing him that you are confident – holding on means you are hovering over him and worried. Think about how they are taking the information in and think past the bad feeling. You are in the driver’s seat so show him you have confidence. I don’t even need to see your give, it can be a relaxing of your body. When he holds onto the rein, try to stay supple. Give now to show him you aren’t participating in pulling. He uses that against you.”
Schut-Kery recommended Lipar envision her favorite rider and try to emulate their position. The difference was immediate and she continued by explaining that she needs to sit deep and find her way into the back of the saddle.
When the pair had difficulties in their canter-trot transitions, Schut-Kery had her put the gelding in a shoulder-in and maintain that positioning through the transition by using her inner leg.
“As the rider, you always have to remember to get clever. Be proactive, quick and skillful with your aids,” Schut-Kery said. “He must learn you are on top of things. The movements are not a big deal to him, it’s keeping him in the right balance that is tricky.”
They wrapped up their lesson by riding a four-loop serpentine maintaining the same canter lead throughout, which significantly improved suppleness.
Schut-Kery’s final lesson on Thursday was FEI Children’s competitor Maren Elise Fouche-Hanson of Colbert, Georgia, and they got to work on establishing better suppleness and improving the effectiveness of her inside leg.
“Inside leg into the corner – you have to make that a lifestyle,” Schut-Kery said.
The mare started her lesson behind the rider’s leg and Schut-Kery explained the need to be proactive with the aids to stay forward.
“When she thinks forward, you encourage it and remind her rather than waiting until she is already behind your leg and you have to nag with your legs. You have to relax your leg because it cannot be a constant pressure.”
They worked on riding a shoulder-in on the diagonal to establish the bend and when the mare would get slow in the shoulder-in, Schut-Kery reminded the rider that she must stay active to maintain the same temp and not allow her horse to decrease energy. She had her ride straight down the longside while positioning the horse’s neck to the inside, keeping her inside leg on to keep her shoulder straight. For this suppling exercise, it was important that the shoulder stayed straight on the track while Fouche-Hanson kept the mare going forward in front of her leg.
“In the moment she gets four beaty or loses the jump in the canter, you must feel that and activate,” Schut-Kery said. “Remind her, ‘when I bend you, you must stay activated behind.’”
They also worked on various counter-canter exercises including 20-meter counter canter circles and picking up the counter-canter following leg yields back and forth from the rail to improve suppleness as well.
The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week continues Friday, Jan. 8 and concludes Sunday, Jan. 10. As the week is closed to spectators this year, live streaming is available for free on USEF Network.