Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 6, 2023 – Yesterday’s horse and rider combinations reunited bright and early this morning for Day 2 of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic. Riders are scheduled to get instruction under the same clinician all days of the event, allowing for trainers to build on the lesson from the previous session.
Ella Fruchterman and her own 12-year-old Danish Warmblood, Holts Le’Mans, started off Ali Brock’s morning in Ring 3. The pair was awarded triple gold at the 2022 North American Youth Championships and overall champion of the FEI Junior division at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions over the summer. Though they are aiming towards the FEI Young Riders, Brock’s lesson focused mainly on Fruchterman’s body awareness and basic feel of the gelding under her. She noticed every finger and often commented on the placement of Fruchterman’s thumbs in relation to the reins. Brock was adamant about perfecting Frutcherman’s arm position to a place that she can use them separate from the rest of her body. They also worked on keeping her hands following Holt Le’Mans. Brock wanted Fruchterman to give him the chance to be soft. She added by acting out a conversation between Fruchterman and Holts Le’Mans; “You be soft and I’ll be soft.”
“We need to give the horse space,” Brock said. She also spoke on her personal training methods. “I ride thinking nine pounds of my core, seat, and leg to one pound in my hand,” she explained while demonstrating a half-halt on the ground. Fruchterman continued on to do trot to halt transitions. While fine tuning the half-halt, Brock made it clear that, “If your half-halt is not working, go to a full halt.” While Fruchterman expressed her concern for his strength in her hands, Brock replied, “When he is strong, that to me is something you fix from your legs and seat, not your hands.” She went on to have Fruchterman ride with her knuckles touching in order to over exaggerate the feeling of evenness in the reins. They ended the session by schooling canter pirouettes, where Brock used a similar over exaggeration technique, but this time with both of Fruchtermans hands placed to the outside. By doing this, it encouraged Holts Le’Mans to move his outside shoulder around the pirouette line. Brock had nothing but good ending remarks for the young rider, expressing excitement to add on to today’s skills in their lesson tomorrow.
Callie O’Connell made her appearance in Ring 3 aboard Eaton Unitechno, a 13-year-old KWPN owned by Ruling Courtes LLC and Betsy Dangel. O’Connell was awarded the ride on the Grand Prix gelding in March of last year and went on to have a successful last season in the Under 25 Grand Prix, including competing at Festival of Champions. As she prepares to step into her first senior Grand Prix season, Ali Brock assisted mainly in the tempi changes. Brock was there to teach, yet made it clear she understood O’Connell has her own ways she is used to riding. “I know he is well schooled and you have your program,” Brock says, “I am not here to destroy that, I am here to build on it.” She encouraged O’Connell to ride based on her own personal feel, not necessarily what she was being instructed to do. For example, when beginning the tempi changes, Brock stated, “If he is not set up right, do not do the change.”
They began with three changes on the diagonal with no count. After O’Connell succeeded, they moved on to three four tempis, then five four tempis, ultimately building up to ones. Brock stressed the importance of, “What do you feel?” especially in the one tempis. She reinforced the idea that if O’Connell could only get five ones and it began to feel disorganized, she must “abort the mission.” If she went for five and it feels good, keep asking. “I do not care about the count or amount,” Brock explained, “I care about the quality of training.”
While Eaton Unitechno skipped across the diagonal, Brock looked to the audience and asked if anyone had bailing twine. An auditor provided and Brock called O’Connell to the center. She tied the stirrup to the billets with the goal of quieting O’Connells leg aid. Now that she was unable to swing her leg as far back, Eaton Unitechno kept his body straighter in the changes. Brock shared that at one point, she had four Grand Prix horses in her barn, all of which required a different button to be pushed for the one tempi changes. Eaton Unitechno happened to be one that needs smaller aids. They ended the session with piaffe and passage, working on differentiating long passage steps and short passage steps.
Over in Ring 2, Madison Sumner was getting useful tips from Shelly Francis while riding her own KWPN/Fresian, Briar. The patriotic pair became a team roughly two years ago, and since then have shown everything from first level to FEI Intermediare 1. They made their debut in the FEI Junior ring last year and plan to do a repeat this season. Francis had them start by schooling the walk pirouette. Sumner began on a circle in haunches in, eventually moving to half pirouettes back and forth across the arena. Francis empathized the importance of, “Always look[ing] where you want to go,” specifically in the walk turns.
Once in canter, Francis had the pair ride straight down the quarter lines, asking for Briar to go forward four strides and then collect four strides. “It takes three or four [strides] to go forward,” Francis said, “And it takes three or four to collect enough to halt or walk.” She also had Sumner think of preparing to halt but changing her mind to create a more effective half-halt. They then moved on to the canter half-pass lines featured in the FEI Junior Team test, where Briar tended to slow the rhythm in his canter. Francis approached this by telling Sumner to, “Ride his actual canter, do not just steer on the lines.”
To conclude, Sumner and Briar soared down the long sides, practicing collection before asking for extension. Just as Brock did, Francis made it a point to tell her riders she was looking forward to their sessions tomorrow to key in on what was worked on today. Francis gave Briar a pat and smiled as she said, “He deserves an extra apple today!”
Francis then was greeted by 14-year-old Korey Denny and her own 15-year-old gelding San Dante, who she has had the ride on for only one month. She hopes to make the jump from FEI Childrens to FEI Juniors this season. They started with the exact exercise Sumner did, working on the quality in the walk pirouettes. When San Dante appeared overwhelmed, Francis changed the subject and let the combination do a circle of trot before asking for the collected walk again. This session focused primarily on encouraging the gelding to reach to the contact without becoming blocked by the reins. Francis had her give the inside rein for a stride and then the outside rein in the next to avoid too strong of a contact. “Feel him in the outside rein,” Francis explained, “Don’t hold him. You want him to go slightly longer, not stronger.”
Along with the reins, Francis put a spotlight on the importance of her leg and aids. Denny and San Dante spent a good portion of the lesson lengthening the trot and then taking it back to working trot. “You need to tell him and let him,” Francis insisted in relation to asking for a bigger stride while allowing his frame to extend. “The longer your leg stays on, the bigger he should go,” Francis said while making it clear that the gelding should constantly be responding to Denny’s aid, not just reach a point that he ignores her. “Not big, still aids — small bump aids” she added.
Saturday, Jan. 7, at 8:00 a.m., the riders will gather for the last day of lessons in preparation for the mock show taking place Sunday.