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Written By: Jacqueline Jakobson
It is hard to describe a place like Gammertshof in words. There is an aura of excellence, dedication and determination here. When you first walk into the barn you see a wall of plaques stretching about 8 meters long filled with first place finishes dating from the 50’s all the way up to a show we were at last weekend. The office is filled with trophies and medals which make you realize the wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise that you have entered.
There are a few lessons I have learned here already in the short 3 months I have lived in Germany with Christilot Boylen and Udo Lange. Like all lessons learned, some come from doing the right thing, but many come from doing the wrong thing and then growing from that experience. I have found that some of my most memorable and beneficial lessons have come from some of my worst rides and experiences.
One of the most important lessons I have learned is one that took me a few months to realize. In training with the top riders in the world, you realize that they will always be pushing, always wanting more from you and your horse, but you come to a point when you wonder when it will be good enough. After schooling half passes in both trot and canter on a schoolmaster one day over and over again, I began to wonder what I was still doing wrong. After the lesson Herr Lange and I were talking about the ideologies of dressage and the topic of my half passes came up. I asked him what it was that I kept doing wrong, and he calmly explained that I was not doing anything wrong, technically they were good half passes, with proper bend, positioning, forwardness, but they were just that...”good”. He did not want “good” half passes, he wanted excellent half passes. Then a light bulb went on in my head! There is no grey area here; you do the movement wrong and you are quickly corrected; you do the movement correctly but only up to satisfaction, it is still wrong; you do the movement with extreme exactness, impulsion, engagement and expression, only then is it considered to be correct. When you do it “correctly” the feeling of achievement that you get in knowing that your performance was exceptional instead of just “good” is overwhelming.
Another lesson I learned, I base after the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”. I hear this slogan many times in my lessons. Many riders, and I am one of them, are always trying to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect opportunity, but in training those moments are fleeting. One of the horses I have as a project has taught me that I must think and act much quicker than I ever thought possible. I am re-training a horse how to do flying changes after his brain had been fried from his past experiences. After getting the canter to a point which allowed us to reintroduce the changes, we started training them again. After a few times of flying around the arena with a stressed horse and a red-faced rider, we collected ourselves and started again. I thought, “OK, this time lets have the perfect canter, we’ll try some of the typical training figures that help a horse learn the change, and once we are all set up and ready then we will try the change.” After flying around the arena for a second time hearing “Nein, nein, nein!” I realized my strategy was flawed. I was stopped and asked, “Why are you waiting so long to try the change? You must feel the moment when he is ready and JUST DO IT! When you wait too long you miss the moment, you must feel, think and act quickly.” With that in mind, we tried again, and we were much more successful.
I learned that a rider must not only ask for precision, but in training they must keep mentally active. A rider must always be pushing or else the horse will never move forward. I also learned to not be afraid of trying new exercises or ideas I had to help with the changes, and when I felt the right moment, no matter what point it was at, I had to act quickly and ask for the change. Always thinking, always pushing, keeping such acute concentration on you and your horse is so critical in riding and training. Never for a moment can you allow your mind to wander, or wonder what another rider is doing, because if you let yourself slip for one moment you may be losing an invaluable training opportunity!
One of the philosophies that Gammertshof lives by is a philosophy that Herr Lange learned from his teachers. He said that in the arena at the first stable he worked was a sign that read, “Learn to ride by doing.” This is a slogan that Herr Lange and Frau Boylen live by, and it is one of the reasons that I am so extremely lucky to be here. Of course a rider will absorb a large amount of knowledge through observing, but to be able to achieve the excellence that they see, they must also ride and feel for themselves. I have been taught on many different horses from 4 year-olds to schoolmasters. I have been asked to teach horses flying changes and then the same day taught how to do one tempis. I have been shown how to introduce in-hand work to a young horse and then how to train piaffe from the ground with an experienced horse. I am so grateful to have been given these opportunities to learn, first hand, how to ride and train all kinds of different horses by two of the best riders in the world. At the end of one of the best lessons I had, Herr Lange again reminded me of the slogan, but this time he thought it best to tell me the extension that he and his co-riders had made up years ago, “Learn to ride by doing...and sweeping.” That afternoon I was to clean the entire arena, boards, mirrors, windows, cobwebs, etc., and make it immaculate. It is not all glamour here.
I encourage all riders to absorb the wealth of knowledge that these wonderful riders provide to us, by attending clinics as participants or spectators. Furthermore, we must support our sport within Canada so that we can gain as much as we can and build ourselves as a competitive country in Dressage. There are riders and trainers within Canada that have also been trained by these fantastic riders, like John MacPherson and Belinda Trussell. These riders have a wealth of knowledge that is right in our own backyard that must be utilized. As participants of this sport we all must strive to make it better and support its growth and development in any way we can. Lessons learnt should be shared and experiences celebrated. My hope is that all knowledgeable trainers will set aside the time to teach young students these important lessons so that the greatness of this wonderful sport will continue for years to come!
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