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April 9, 2007
Report from the Christoph Hess Clinic, April 7-8
The moment I found out that Christoph Hess was coming to Florida, I was on the phone to Jennifer Dillion, the co-organizer of this event, which was sponsored by the North American Dressage Trainers Club and held at The Dressage Center in DeLeon Springs, FL, home of Michael, Sharon, Kate and Gwen Poulin.
A world renown expert in judging, training and evaluating young horses, Christoph Hess is also the Director of the German Olympic Committee, a sought after 'I' judge and commentator of Stallion shows. In short, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to dressage horses.
I met him during the 2004 USDF Young Horse Symposium in Lexington, KY and we stayed in touch over the years, because he wanted to be kept up-to-date on the development of Raison d'Etre, my 9 year old US bred FEI gelding.
The event offered a clinic on Thursday and Friday and the Young Horse Symposium, during which Mr. Hess would discuss the theory behind the training scale, offer video footage and later comment/score FEI 5 and 6 year old tests, ridden by various professionals and top Amateurs.
We arrived at The Dressage Center after about 7 hours trip. Upon arrival, we immediately received help from Kate Poulin-Neff, who helped unload and put the horses into their spacious stalls, ankle deep in fresh shavings. I had never been to The Dressage Center - it is 18 acres, with a huge airy barn, offering 49 stalls, a oversized covered arena, a 20x60 outdoor arena and many small paddocks along the perimeter of the farm. An automatic gate and video cameras assure safety for horses and equipment.
One of the neighbour farms, Equivale Farm, owned and operated by Jean and Denis Thorton offers guest cottages, so I stayed there and bicycled back and forth between the two farms. Equivale Farm specializes in breeding Palomino Warmbloods for Sport and just recently welcomed the first Cremello Warmblood in the US, congrats!
Our first lesson with Christoph was scheduled for Thursday afternoon and I was thrilled to find, that my trainer and coach Anne Gribbons, along with her husband David and their JRT Dasher, were in attendance. Anne and Christoph have been friends for decades and this continuity of training is of great importance to me.
Christoph is a staunch supporter of the classical principle of training dressage horses. His lessons are always based on the training scale and it was a pleasure to observe, how this principle worked on each and every horse. Gaits improved, overall suppleness improved, connections improved - thus the more advanced movements became more effortless, more expressive.
Raison d'Etre was a bit tight during our first lesson which Christoph immediately recognized and he asked me, to ride the horse in a more forward posting trot and later in a 2 point seat at the canter. He also changed my leg position during the passage and piaffe ( a bit more forward) - at the end of the session, the horse was super soft and his passage-piaffe-passage transitions light and effortless.
During my stay at The Dressage Center I met a few horse and rider combinations which for different reasons impressed me. The first one was Kate Poulin-Neff and Brilliant Too - 2006 USET Reserve Champions for Intermediare 1. I had not see these two work and it was something to behold. Light on his feet, always using his entire body during training, this beautiful gelding is eye catching. Bred by the Poulin Family, he is by Sharon's former GP stallion Brilliant, out of a TB mare. In this age of huge FEI horses, Brilliant Too (Junior) stands out by being under 16 hands.
Kate, as well as her sister Gwen have the classical dressage seat, always in balance, with the shoulders, hips and ankles in line with each other. Both Kate's and Gwen's horses are examples, that the proper application of the training scale produces outstanding FEI horses. I just simply enjoyed watching them ride.
The horse which literally blew me away was Donneur, 10 year old Danish gelding by Donnergraf, owned by Caroline Ashton and ridden by Nancy Smith. His gaits are already impressive, but once he starts to piaffe and passage, conversation amongst the spectators just seized. Wow, that's about sums it up ! Donneur is another example, that FEI horses do not have to be 17 + hands to be impressive. Standing around 16 hands, he is a 'normal Sven', as a Swedish friend of Nancy called him. Nancy and Donneur, along with Mrs. Ashton's other FEI horses just returned from a 3 months training camp with Hubertus Schmidt and according to Nancy, they are planning to return. Donauwalzer CSF is a imported 5 year old, darkbay Pfalz stallion by Dollmann. Susanne Hamilton owns and rides this frisky youngster and together they have already received whopping scores in the FEI 5 year old tests - watch for these two during the Selection trials and the Markel Young Horse National Championship.
Another Rheinland Pfalz stallion caught and held Mr. Hess's attention - Rolex, a US bred chestnut stallion by River H - this youngster is close to 18 hands, owned and ridden by Angela Jackson, a former German Grand Prix jumper rider, who is now competing at both dressage and jumping here in the US. Her trainer Michael Poulin is equally convinced, that this is a future FEI dressage horse. Mind you - the stallion also won Awards as a 5 year old jumper. Talk about all around star !
This Symposium brought together a number of riders, some knew each other, others just met. Jennifer Schuck, from Minnesota had been in Florida, training her Lusitanos with Heather Bender, Kim Aikens just returned from Denmark with a super talented FEI gelding to continue working with Michael Poulin, just like her friend Nancy, who brought her two talented Jazz geldings from Michigan to work with Poulin.
All of us joined Linda Pinto for a catered party at her home on Friday night - food was really good and spirits were high.
Saturday morning was rather cool while we listened to a lecture on the training scale and what we, as professionals should aim for in the training of young horses. It was fun to listen to Hess and Poulin, along with the input of many others, such as Susanne Benne from Half Halt Farm, all experts on their fields. We also had the chance to watch footage of the 2006 Young Horse World Championship, with the added bonus, that one of the judges for 2006 (Hess) and one of the judges for 2007 (Poulin) were there, able to give insights into the why and how of the scoring.
The second part of Saturday was held in the in-door. 2 groups of young horses demonstrated walk, trot and canter, with Hess commenting and also giving exercises to help improve certain aspects. This was followed by 2 groups of young horses demonstrating suppleness and contact, again with tips for improvements. Sunday morning offered the conclusion of the discussion about the training scale, as well as video footage of the 6 year olds at the 2006 Young Horse World Championship, followed by example of the FEI 5 and 5 year old tests being ridden in the in-door and judged by the spectators, with guidance from Hess. They were split up into different groups, each judging another aspect of the test - such as walk, trot, canter, submission and overall impression. Kim Aikens and Lisa Smith obviously impressed Mr. Hess with their keen observations and as a demo rider, I would like thank them for their kind words !
All in all, this has been one of the most enjoyable and educational clinics/seminars I have ever attended. It was filled with excellent riders and horses, managed with a gentle hand and lead by a team of knowledgeable clinicians and trainers. It was disappointing, that this opportunity was not utilized by more spectators. I, for one, will be back again next year and I hope, that many of you will join me !
By Elly Schobel (www.thehomestedt.com)
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