Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Horse Will Not Offer Suppleness

Just about a year ago, I wrote this post about a Steffen Peters clinic. I said I would never forget a remark he made to one of the participating riders, "Tension has nowhere to go in the un-supple horse," and I haven't. I said in the same post that I don't find clinics all that useful. Until yesterday. K and I watched a Peters clinic that offered such bounty, I feel we'll literally be better riders for having seen it.

In effect, Peters presented Part 2 of what I saw last year when he said, "The horse will not offer suppleness." It was a simple sentence, but its deeper meaning reverberated when applied to the second rider appearing in the clinic.

First, because the next scheduled event was canceled and it was Peters' last clinic of the day, he really settled in and went much longer than he did last year. Both riders won for that, but we watchers also won when Peters decided to ride one of the horses himself.

As usual, both riders were lovely and gifted (so I'll say right now that just once I'd like to see Steffen Peters do a clinic with riders who aren't remotely close to FEI Grand Prix, see basic instruction from him instead of the delicate surgical adjustments he provides to high-level riders.)

Of course, the horses were lovely and gifted as well. Both were high and nervous over the terrible wind tossing the banners at one end of the coliseum. The first horse was a nice bay something-or-other well matched to his adept, petite rider. While Peters worked with them, the other rider warmed up her big red Oldenburg (I think), and that horse was very tense, very doubtful. Every now and then he would balk, spook or half-rear. His rider kept him moving as Peters worked with the bay.

After working with the first rider on the timing of aids and letting go of reliance on spurs, Peters coached her through canter pirouettes, reminding her all the way to keep her horse forward and up. (And I'll say here that both horses were often behind the vertical, sometimes neck-achingly behind the vertical, but that didn't draw comments from Peters, which I hope reflects more on my lack of knowledge as an observer than on his skill as a clinician.) The bay's rider was quiet and engaged throughout the session; she remained patient and steady when her horse lost his temper, backed up and reared several times.

The worried Oldenburg had been in warm-up about 40 minutes by the time Peters summoned them right into canter work. This huge horse seemed to contain within himself the very force of nature. He was a lofty horse with tremendous lift. His rider braced against him with locked elbows. Because her body was otherwise so relaxed, the rigidity of her arms was striking. Peters addressed that immediately, albeit indirectly. He was subtle, making choices that seemed to reveal a genuine reluctance to embarrass the rider. (And I was in awe of her, frankly. She was struggling with her tension in front of strangers and a world-famous instructor. I couldn't do it.)

It was interesting the moment Peters decided he wanted to ride the Oldenburg, as if by riding him, he'd be able to separate whose problems were whose. Of course, that's exactly what happened. Peters rode effortlessly and the monster gave him a gigantic, beautiful 15-minute ride, opening up and forward, displaying astonishing lift and range in his gaits. It was actually thrilling, but I wondered if his rider also saw it that way. I hoped she wasn't mangling herself along the lines of why can't I ride him like that, why doesn't he go like that for me, etc., etc., etc.

As soon she was back up on her big red powerhouse, Peters said, "The horse will not offer suppleness, you must ask him for it." I saw this as an example of the art of deflection at its finest. Instead of changing the rider's relationship with her horse, he meant to change the horse's relationship with her. By addressing the horse's tension, he spoke directly to her own. "Why so straight, why so straight?" he asked while she trotted a large circle. "Give him a little time. Trust him to give what you are asking for." Peters shifted the entire focus to the horse. I felt like all eyes were on the Oldenburg then, not his rider, not Peters. The heat was off and we were watching this fine horse gradually move into splendid self-carriage and collection under a rider who was more relaxed and open. In spontaneous delight, the audience offered applause.

By the end of the session, this brave rider had slipped back toward riding with locked elbows, which has probably become a habit by now, but she had felt a different horse beneath her and it was easy to see bright, bright light at the end of the tunnel for her. I will carry all that I saw, learned and felt during this fascinating Steffen Peters clinic right into the coming spring, and I know my horses will be better for it.


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I've always thought that Steffan Peters really cares about the horses he works with. Apparently he is kind to the humans as well. Nice to know.

BTV is still there in his work, but not as callously as with other world class riders - to my eyes at least.

My single big name clinic experience - rode and audited for five days - was absolutely profound. Glad you got so much out of the Peter's clinic.

What a lovely review. Thanks for sharing.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this clinic. I think we all see and learn different things at clinics. For me, there can never be enough of them when the trainers are good.

Annette said...

I've had the opportunity to watch Steffen give lessons to my previous trainer and I've always been impressed. He is about the horse primarily and is always kind. I remember vividly one lesson where the horse was having difficulty and he felt a break was needed - he instructed the rider to take the horse out of the arena and hack for 10 minutes. It really impressed me.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, very envious that you got to watch Steffen:) He's coming my way next month but I don't think I'll make it.
I have mixed feelings about these wonderfull talented riders just sticking with the riders near their level. I guess they see us little guys as a waste of their time but I firmly believe that is why we have such bad riding in the lower levels that eventually moves on up to the top; you have riders that proclaim themselves as trainers when they themselves have only reached second level because the higher level riders will only stick with more advanced. Kind of a vicious circle.

smazourek said...

Wow, I can understand why that was the line you remembered. My gelding and I have problems with circles which is because I have problems with circles. I try too hard and get all stiff and locked up. I'll try to remember that line now too.