Symposium with Ellen Bontje. Part I.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, June 19, 2014 07:57 PM
After giving two clinics in BC and having a few days in the mountains it was time to head to Cochrane for a dressage symposium. This symposium was organized by Alberta Equestrian Federation and featured Dutch Olympic rider Ellen Bontje. She was to work with each rider for 30 minutes before their test and also after test if needed. Karen Ashbee, EC Medium judge, was to judge and comment the tests out loud. Over two days we watched the progress from Training Level to Grand Prix unfold in front of our eyes. This format is very interesting, informative and educational. I wrote several pages of notes which I am using now to write these blogs. First blog is from Training and First Levels notes.
Training Level:
    On flexing and bending (working through the neck):
  • Keep contact on soft side, play the rein on stiff side
  • Stay on the rein on soft side, work with the rein on stiff side both directions!
  • Come through with the flexion, wait for the horse to give in
  • Bending the stiff side, outside holds, inside flexes, inside hand moves back and to the side
  • Be on the mouth at all times. (Means quiet contact not pulling)
  • Flexions at halt and walk up to 90 degrees
  • Serpentine in trot with extra flexion both ways
The work to make riders ride their horses through the neck was the major part of a warm up for every rider from Training Level to Grand Prix. Ellen was very meticulous about making sure the horse gives through the neck and stretches through the topline. The horse is not through if there is stiffness or a blockage in the neck.
One more advice that I liked very much for this rider regarding transitions from canter to trot: "Do not stop the canter, start the trot!"
First Level:
    Test 1, young talented horse:
  • Keep the whip on the soft/hollow side as it makes the hand quieter
  • Do not drive (the horse forward) when back is not there (means stiff, hollow, braced) the horse will be more resistant
  • Ellen wanted the rider to have more bend in the neck in straight leg-yields to work the whole side, to get the horse give in the ribcage. (I prefer to do it on a circle, spiral)
  • Cantering on soft side: work the outside rein/neck - straighten - give in - straighten/counter-flexion - give in (inside rein steady/quiet)
  • For a young horse one big trot step before canter transition is OK to get bigger jump into the canter
  • Self-test: 1-2 steps of forward hand release - uberstrichen. The horse must not change the gait or carriage in trot or canter. Perform the self-test often!
  • Because the horse had very nice, lofty trot Ellen encouraged the rider to lengthen trot stride much more than girl was asking for. The rider was rewarded with beautiful trot - slow tempo, huge steps and a sense of lift. The judge said she would give 8 for such trot!
Exercise to teach young horse walk/canter transitions: Walk 10 m circle, if stiff side inside ask for extra flexion, inside leg until ribcage gives -> transition to canter from outside leg ->ask for bigger canter on big circle (moment of relaxation) -> small circle ->transition to walk near wall from inside rein.
First Level:
    Test 2:
  • One nice leg aid -> no response -> quick spur or whip (I personally very much agree with this. I do not like progressive aids for leg aids.)
  • Outside hand should be a touch lower than inside, near the withers. Ellen was stressing it out lot to better control the outside shoulder
  • Sitting trot ideas for a rider who is perched forward: seat works up/down not back and forth; a sensation of leaning slightly back
  • Do not block the neck with outside rein when stiff side on outside
  • Ellen stood almost in the corner and made a rider go around her into the corner :)
First Level:
    Test 3, young rider on a pony:
  • Hand actions - fingers closed, little movements with the hand
  • For stiff, short necks leg-yield and shoulder-in on a circle to lengthen the neck and invite the horse to stretch over the topline (walk, trot)
  • Ellen walked with the horse working the reins, showing the girl how to flex the horse. To drive the horse Ellen kicked the horse with her own leg without missing a bit. It was great to watch! :)
  • Big emphasis on riding through the neck as I said before. Ellen wants to see necks appear long, stretched out and round, not pulled back into the whithers and cranked at the poll.
Judging - In Training Level Karen was looking for steadiness, accuracy for the shape and size of circles. Transitions expected to have a degree of self-carriage and smoothness. For First Level she wanted clear transitions between lengthenings and working paces, lengthenings expected to be as described in the rules - simply speeding didn't get good points, leg-yields had to have flow and straightness, horses who preserved the trot quality in leg-yields got bigger marks.
Next blog will be about Second and Third Level work.
Happy riding...
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