(Phelps Media Group) – The second day of the Global Dressage Forum North America (GDFNA) was packed with lectures, demonstrations and interactive panel discussions presented by a “Who’s who” of dressage clinicians, experts, judges, riders and competitors. The GDFNA, held at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center January 28-29, was presented by DressageClinic.com and Wellington Classic Dressage.
Tuesday’s clinicians included Stefan Stammer, Bo Jena, Ingrid Klimke, Dr. Hilary Clayton and Wolfram Wittig. Dressage superstars Anne Gribbons, Kathy Connelly, Betsy Steiner, Leslie Reid, Jan Ebling, Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel, Christoph Hess, Stephen Clarke, Wim Ernes, Gary Rockwell, Lendon Gray and Sue Blinks were featured panelists.
“I’m honored to be part of the first annual GDFNA and to welcome so many top international riders, trainers and panelists,” said Noreen O’Sullivan, Managing Partner of Wellington Classic Dressage.
“This really gives us a unique opportunity to interact and learn from the best,” she continued. “This is a chance for participants to have top experts in the field at their fingertips and available to ask questions. They can see them work with horses and riders and then engage in a panel discussion about their training theories and techniques.”
The program began with Stefan Stammer, a physiotherapist and equine osteopath from Switzerland, who discussed biomechanics. He suggested the audience “think about what happens with movement, with weight, with levers and angles” when considering the horse’s physiology.
A long-line demonstration followed with Bo Jena, one of the foremost experts in the field. Jena focused on relaxation and worked on transitions. “Small half-halts and the quick giving of the reins are very important for the horse-in long-lining too,” he said. “The outside rein is the key.” Panel members Anne Gribbons, Kathy Connelly, Betsy Steiner, Leslie Reid, Jan Ebeling and Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel discussed the demonstrations and praised Jena’s expertise and calm assertiveness.
Ingrid Klimke continued the program and spoke about training the young horse. She emphasized essential attributes for riders: control, strength, quiet hands and elasticity to move in the rhythm of the horse. “If you are flexible, the horse is able to understand your aids,” she explained.
Klimke then rode a 5-year-old Hanoverian stallion she met for the first time that afternoon. After taking up a soft, steady contact, she used changes of rein to make sure the young horse was supple on both sides. She confirmed that his reaction came from her seat first and explained she wants a sensitive horse that answers to her aids and that goal requires a sensitive rider as well. She believes in performing the basics for four to six years as building blocks for upper level work and emphasized using seat, then leg, then hands, when applying aids.
“The horse is the best teacher, but you must really open your heart and feel,” she said.
Dr. Hilary Clayton’s lecture on maintaining soundness in dressage horses focused on damage to suspensory ligaments. “In our dressage horses, suspensory injuries are much more common,” she said. She said that risk factors include conformation, lack of exercise early in life, age, poor shoeing, footing and the type of work.
Then, Noreen O’Sullivan, from Wellington Classic Dressage, and Andreas Stano, organizer of the GDFNA, presented the first GDFNA Lifetime Achievement Award to Olympic Gold Medalist Klaus Balkenhol, who Stano said has dedicated his life to dressage and dressage education. Balkenhol was also the U.S. Olympic team coach.
A video presentation included footage of his protégé, U.S. Olympian Debbie McDonald. “He’s so sincere in how he loves the animals,” she said. “I think, because of him, we were successful.”
United States Dressage Federation President George William praised Balkenhol. “You are a true horseman,” he said. “What you have done for riders is just outstanding and the impact it has had on this country is great.”
Steffen Peters said that Balkenhol is an amazing ambassador for the fairness of the horse. “I feel honored that I get a chance to represent what we all think about you.”
Peters acted as translator for Balkenhol, who said that he and his wife, Judith, call America their second home and that he learned a lot from being involved with the U.S. team. He praised the educational opportunities provided by the GDFNA. “We started this 20 years too late,” he said in German, as translated by Peters.
Finally, Wolfram Wittig discussed the development of the dressage horse. “In the warm-up, the most important thing for me is rhythm,” he said. He continued that it is important to relax the horse, moving forward but not hurried. “Shoulder-in, for me, is one of the most important movements,” he said. Read More