Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 3, 2017 – On the second day of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, held in the Van Kampen Covered Arena at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Olympian Robert Dover encouraged his six riders to ride to the best of their ability and to sharpen their horse’s response to their aids.
Sophia Schults and Idolo Americano HGF
Robert Dover’s first lesson of the morning was with Sophia Schults and a 15-year-old PRE gelding, Idolo Americano HGF. The pair started their lesson by working on a 20-meter circle, alternating between developing a medium canter and a collected canter. By going from an extended canter to the collected canter in his famous rubber band exercise, Dover had the pair work on creating jump in the hind legs.
“Don’t just slow the rhythm down, put him on the spot and get him electric underneath,” Dover continued. “Rhythm on the spot is the same rhythm for the extended canter.”
Dover explained that collecting does not mean slowing down. He encouraged the horse and rider to feel the bounce in the rhythm and imagine the feeling of an extended canter in one spot.
After they achieved the desired amount of collection, Dover stressed the importance of keeping the horse straight in the flying changes by making a wall with the legs and reins. He asked Schults to use small aids, so that the horse was able to really listen to them, while keeping him inside the wall she was creating. By creating a wall, she was able to keep the gelding much more straight and create cleaner, clearer changes.
As they continued to work on changes, Dover encouraged the rider to “think of the canter before the change and the straightness before. You need to make the canter quicker and rounder, not so much backwards. You have to wait and stay calm.”
The pair ran through a series of four, three and two tempi changes before Dover challenged them to do the changes on a circle. On the circular line, Dover stressed the importance of using your inner leg and calf to create the wall to keep the horse straight.
“There’s an honesty to doing it on a circle,” Dover explained, “Circles are a barometer for how he’s really on the aids as the lines allow the horse to be off the aids.”
Once Schults and her horse were able to complete a successful circle of two tempi changes, the pair took a break and moved onto trot work, focusing on the piaffe and passage. Here, Dover talked the importance of finding steadiness in the rhythm while containing the energy in the collection.
“It’s not slowing down, it’s engaging the extended trot — make him want to extend,” Dover explained. “I love how you change the rules around. Make it about an adventure of you as a rider and trainer, and the horse learns that these are the rules he works with.”
Ben Ebeling and Behlinger
Ben Ebeling, the second rider of the morning for Dover, was aboard his 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Behlinger. The pair had a successful FEI Junior career and they are now moving up into Prix St. Georges. Throughout the lesson, Dover encouraged Ebeling to keep the gelding sharp and engaged on his aids, especially his seat and leg aids. “Can you control the rhythm, meaning the footfalls? The tempo, meaning how fast or slow over every meter? Can you control the frame of the horse and the length of their stride?” Dover explained. “If you can control those four things, from half-halt to half-halt, you can decide how you are going to go.”
When Behlinger would get heavy in the contact, Dover asked for a medium trot to engage the hocks and then asked for a collected trot, while maintaining the steadiness.
“You need to keep the feeling that he is coming forward honestly from the back to the front,” Dover said. “He has to think forward and then fold into his joints. Anytime you are going along and he is tugging you, bend and engage his hocks a little more and then pet his neck with the inside rein. You need to let go of things a bit and you don’t have to hang onto him.
“You shouldn’t have to clutch on him — make him a bouncy ball for a few strides if he’s making you work too hard,” he continued. “Test to see if he will go without you touching him so much. Sit up, push like you want to go into an extension and half-halt on the outside rein, then leave him alone. In the end, you hardly should be touching him. Sharpen him up!”
Dover also emphasized the importance of the rider’s mentality while training a horse and how he must believe in what he is asking the horse to accomplish. “You’ve got to believe that you can access more things than you think you can and then direct that energy into whatever shape, balance, pace, gait or movement you decide,” Dover said. “Push the edge. It’s not just about fulfilling the test, it’s about being fabulous. He thinks it’s hard, which makes you think it’s hard, and that has made you stay away from certain things. It’s not easy to take certain risks, but the risks you take are so worthwhile.”
Throughout the lesson Dover reminded Ebeling to slow down his thoughts by using the half-halt to organize and think about the shape the horse is in. He explained that once the rhythm was clear, Ebeling could then ask himself how he could influence the horse by increasing ‘electricity’ while maintaining roundness.
Natalie Pai and Unlimited
Natalie Pai rode her 2017 U25 Brentina Cup mount, Unlimited, a 17-year-old KWPN gelding, and Dover continued the theme of sharpening Unlimited’s response to her aids. He explained that Pai needs to use lighter aids and get a quicker response from the gelding.
“Find the sweet spot and uncomplicate your own riding,” Dover said. “He’s not allowed to quit if you just sit still. Don’t push so hard — don’t push at all and don’t think you are ever helping him by driving. Sit quietly and just go. Don’t push, don’t pull, just relax. The worst that could happen is he quits, but let him quit and make that mistake. That is training. Say nice things to him and give him a pat when he is in the sweet spot. Allow great riding to give him the opportunity to succeed or to fail. In the failure, you give him the opportunity to correct and come back with the opportunity to succeed.”
Unlimited is a large, powerful gelding, while Pai has a small frame, so Dover said it is crucial that he gets sharper to her aids. “My goal was for you to ride these half-halts to the place where he’s not feeling pressure from both ends like he is being held back and being driven at the same time,” Dover said. “He needs to be in a place where he is balancing himself with much less pressure from both ends. Think with your fingers — don’t push or pull. Sit there. For a little person on a big horse, you ride super well, but ride to the best of your abilities. He’s got to learn to go well off of your aids.”
“The job is to stay with simplicity until they become even better,” Dover concluded to Pai. “Your job is to learn how to be the best you can be while making him be the best he can be — show off great training.”
Rebekah Mingari and Allure S
Rebekah Mingari rode Allure S, an 11-year-old KWPN mare she rode to the AGCO/USEF Young Rider National Championship in 2017. Dover had the pair focus on maintaining a steady connection, while improving the expression and the mare’s readiness to do anything when asked.
“In the half-halt, your job is to wake up the parts that are asleep — wake up all the aids,” Dover said. “In order to know how much access you have to the various degrees of collection and extension, the only way you find out is by doing them. Where can you go in both collection and extension? And when you bring the horse back, how much can the horse articulate its hind legs and front legs? How do you know you’re in a collected walk? Knowing that you feel the opportunity for anything else.”
Dover had Mingari ride the rubber band exercise in both the trot and canter. In two points of a circle, the rider asked the horse to collect and at another point to extend.
“This rubber-band exercise is a true barometer of whether or not a horse is truly on the aids,” Dover said. “The first thought is that she goes to extension and the second thought is that you trap it. Give a bit in front and push her from behind, then bend her hind legs more and expand her gait. You need her to be aware so that you can whisper your aids and she’s hearing them. You need to feel the collected trot or canter from the first stride as well as feel the extended trot or canter in the first stride. She has to be in front of the aid.”
Dover also explained that the rider needs to have clear intentions and make what she is asking for happen without disrupting the positive tension.
“Drive with that much intention and disallow the extension to happen in order to fold her up if that is what you intend,” Dover said. “You have to feel it to know you can do it, so don’t be afraid. Be fearless.”
Aleyna Dunn and Donegal GGF
Robert’s fifth ride of the day was with Aleyna Dunn and her borrowed horse, Donegal GGF.
Aleyna first came into the ring and explained to Robert that her horse seemed nervous and tense today. Dover sent Dunn straight to work, performing shoulder-in and haunches-in on a circle to keep the horse’s mind on his rider and away from whatever was distracting him. Whenever the gelding would run, Dover encouraged Dunn to capture the energy and work on moving the horse from a collected trot to an extended trot.
“Keep the trot,” Dover said as the horse spooked sideways. “Don’t slow down. Don’t let him fall out. Push forward and keep that same shape up.”
He encouraged Dunn to push for the trot she wanted. “Push up, hands low. Push up with your leg again, like you’re going to push to a passage.”
As the lesson went on, the horse began to calm down and regain focus, though he would occasionally spook. Dover encouraged Dunn to have strong vision so she could imagine what she wanted to do and make it happen. Any time the horse would break his extended trot into the canter, Dover encouraged her to be strong in her intentions, so the horse would have no choice other than to make her vision reality.
Once the pair had the collection and extension on a circle under control, they began to work on extending the trot across the diagonal. When the pair first started across the diagonal, Dover explained that there was not enough preparation for a true extension.
“The extension should already be in the short side,” he continued. “So you just say ‘Alright, go ahead’ and you just sit there.”
He elaborated to say that the collected trot is just a condensed extended trot, so by the time you get to the diagonal, you just let go a little and the horse flows right into his extension.
“Already know what you have in your collection and then you shouldn’t have to push for it,” he explained. “Inside of every step of collection, the grandest extension should be alive, and inside the extension, the passage should be there. If we don’t have those, we don’t have true collection.”
Kayla Kadlubek and Freewill
Dover’s final ride of the day was with Kayla Kadlubek and Freewill, a 14-year-old gelding. Like the horse before him, Freewill was a little tense and flighty at the beginning of the lesson. They started out with lots of bending on a 20-meter circle, with shoulder-in to haunches-in and transitions within the trot. They also used a shoulder-in to volte exercise to keep the gelding focused on the rider.
“If you think he’s going to get nervous, bend him right. Just get calm and go right back to work,” Dover advised as Freewill spooked. “Give him confidence. He’s looking for confidence from you. Both of you have to be confident in each other.”
With this pair, Dover talked about the importance of working half-halt to half-halt to maintain control over the ownership of the horse’s rhythm of gaits, the tempo over the ground, the frame of the horse’s neck and the length of the horse’s stride, especially with the explosiveness of the ride today.
“He’s round and you’re talking,” Dover told Kadlubek. “Make him go round from your seat and leg. Round and connected. The key is never higher [in the neck], unless you say. Keep him round with small aids.”
He encouraged Kadlubek to continue to wrap her legs around the gelding even as he spooked forward.
“Hug him with your whole body and say ‘You’re okay, stay with me,’” Dover encouraged. “Hug him into slowness, hug him into believing you and hug him into coming through for you. If you feel him start to flip up, hug him more to where he starts to come through for you. With a hot horse, keep yourself around him.”
As the ride progressed, Dover stressed the importance of sticking to your vision, even when the horse starts to tense up.
“It’s not up to him to decide,” Dover said. “You need to have a clear vision. Take his mind away from the thing he’s about to shy at. He’s not going to shy at it because you’re going to take his brain to your brain and make him think of what you’re thinking.”
“Think ahead. Know what you need to do to keep his brain on you,” Dover continued. “With your eyeball, see what’s ahead of you and see what you’re going to do about it.”
“You’ve got to have a dance in your mind,” Dover explained, “Even when he wells up, have your dance so in your mind that he can’t well up past it. Don’t be the rider that says, ‘You’re getting nervous, okay I’ll go away,’ Say ‘Hey buddy, you’re my dancing partner, we gotta dance together.’”