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.