On March 12-13th USDF President and former rider at Tempel Lipizzans, George Williams, returned to the home of one of the largest herds of the endangered Lipizzan breed in the US to present a two-day clinic for local riders and auditors.
Mr Williams brought his knowledge from international competition and training experience to the riders and spectators over the weekend. Repeatedly emphasizing the basics of the training pyramid at all levels and employing seemingly simple exercises performed precisely and correctly, Mr. Williams brought forth the best of classically correct dressage for each of horse and rider teams.
Mr. Williams also assisted the riders and trainers at Tempel Lipizzans with an airs above the ground session at the end of each day. Arguably the auditor’s favorite, the Lipizzans featured in these mini group lessons were just beginning work in the airs and piaffe in hand.
Moving through the levels as the day went on, Mr. Williams offered a comprehensive look at a progressive training regimen that adheres to classically established standards.
Although the sessions with the upper level riders and Lipizzans were highly informative and enjoyable, as a lower level rider I found the sessions with riders from Training through Fourth levels especially informative and beneficial.
Mr. Williams took the time with each of these riders to confirm the correctness of the horse and rider’s position, establish proper contact, and ensure correct straightness and bend.
After a few riders had went I noticed four common themes develop that would continue into the second day’s lessons.
- Using the arena corners for preparation
- Ensuring accurate geometry, especially in circles
- Creating exact transition points with defined changes
- Using the aides correctly and effectively
Use of Corners
With multiple riders Mr. Williams used 8-10 m circles in the corners of the arena as a set up to movements either off the center line or laterally across the long and short diagonals.
As part of this preparation he also had the riders concentrate on how they were riding across the short sides of the arena. Asking for a consistent pace or a definite transition at a specific point.
For example, Mr Williams would ask a rider to perform an 8 meter circle when they reached the corner, looking for bend, accuracy, and suppleness in the horse. When the correct pace, frame, and expression were achieved they could then ride down the center line in preparation for a lateral movement or ride directly across the short side of the arena asking for transitions within the gait with definite starting and stopping points and a distinct difference in the stride.
Accuracy of Circles
Accuracy of any movement, but especially circles, was highly emphasized for all riders.
Mr. Williams had riders pace off a twenty meter circle, first at a walk and then a trot, counting each their horse’s strides between the quarter marks of the circle. The goal of course being the same number of strides on each quarter of the circle.
This exercise was also used to confirm the rider’s trotting while both posting and sitting. Mr. Williams allowed the rider’s who were just beginning to learn the sitting trot to do this on every other quarter of the circle.
After the basic twenty meter circle was established the riders were then asked to add a ten meter circle at each quarter point while maintaining the geometry of the twenty meter circle.
Defined Transition Points
One of the basics that Mr Williams helped several riders improve was the accuracy and placement of transitions.
Employing circles, riders were asked to make transitions either within the gaits or from movement to movements as they crossed the center line.
For horses working at the lower levels often times these transitions were between circles in a figure eight pattern. These figures could be of equal sizes or one being larger than the other, like a snow man.
Other riders were asked to use transition points on the diagonals to improve both their horse’s straightness while changing rein and their positioning for lateral work.
In these exercises reaching specific points in the arena for each exercise was highly emphasized.
In the example below a rider was asked to half pass from F to X, ride a ten meter circle to the left at X, proceed forward from X to I at a medium trot, and then perform another ten meter circle to the right.
Correctness of Aides
Although not as obviously emphasized with the more established riders, Mr Williams was also careful to ensure the correctness and thoroughness of the rider’s aides.
With one of the newer dressage riders he had her work through a twenty meter circle while slowly adding in aides at the beginning of each stride.
Starting with the outside rein aide, which happened to be her left, Mr Williams asked the rider to gently squeeze and release the rein at the beginning step of each walk stride while saying, “Horse, here’s, my, left, hand.”
Then he had her do the same thing with the right rein aide repeating, “Horse, here’s, my, right, hand.”
After that the same phrasing was used for the outside and then the inside leg aides.
Instead of doing just one aide at a time however, the rider was asked to hold the aides steady after each one was completed. So after she had established her inside and outside rein aides she held them in an effective position while she added in her outside leg aide and then her inside leg aide.
From the perspective of a new, adult amateur this clinic could be qualified as nothing but a success. Highly educational and informative, Mr Williams offered the auditors opportunities for questions and was willing to address any training or riding issues that were raised.
I sincerely hope he returns to the area soon because I’d apply to ride in his next clinic in a heart beat.