WEEK ONE Training with Hubertus Schmidt Blog entry
It’s a lovely mid- March day in North Westphalia Germany. It’s a Sunday and the horses all get a day of rest. It’s a bit chilly and breezy today, but the Germans love their bikes and their walks with their walking sticks and as I hand walk my horses they are all on their toes with all the activity. I walk the horses down the small side street and around the fields that are adjacent to Fleyenhof, Hubertus Schmidt’s stable. There are over 50 horses stabled here in three different stables, including breeding stallions, green youngsters and all the way up to Hubertus’s top International Grand Prix mounts.
I’ve been here in Germany for two weeks now. The first week was just getting the horses settled in and back to work without any formal training sessions. I am really glad to have had the time to get settled, organized, and let Wrigley rest a couple of days after the long trip from Massachusetts.
There are five riders here that work and train for Hubertus until his tutalage. They are all very friendly and helpful and, thankfully, all speak English! The day starts at 7:30 with feeding, riding starts at 8:00 and goes all day until 5:30 or so, with a break from noon to 2 for lunch. The indoor is quite busy, so having the break allows riders with young or fresh horses to work without so much traffic. Observing the rider’s, the first week, without Hubertus there coaching anyone, was insightful. All the riders loosened their horses nicely with walk trot canter transitions and rode with round but open frames, with totally relaxed horses. They all rode forward and once in work, rode their horses uphill with open necks. And no surprise, they all have great seats and lovely positions!
My sessions started this week with Hubertus and I decided to ride Wrigley in the snaffle bridle for the first day. I have found that working one or two days in the snaffle per week helps me keep Wrigley feeling the best in his body and connection. I discussed this with Hubertus and he was completely open to it, as I know the horse so well and he wanted to see what my normal routine was like. It’s been sometime since Hubertus has seen Wrigley so the first few rides was all about him observing him in all his work and then making a plan for the coming weeks as we prepare for our first competition at the end of March.
For the first week or two I’ll give detailed accounts of my training sessions. Then as the weeks go on I will combine rides and make other comments on training and things I’ve observed in watching Hubertus train and from his instructing other riders. So, for now, Day one in the snaffle went something like this: Walk for 5-10 minutes, then loose, round trot with lots of canter trot transitions. Keep the canter forward and ground covering with good jump, but open in the neck and over the back. He’s happy with Wrigley’s frame, the energy in the gaits and the forward jump of the canter. After a short break I start my work in canter. He reminds me to keep shoulder fore out of the corner in the canter, especially to the right. When approaching schooling pirouettes on the circle, keep the shoulder fore, then bring Wrigley’s shoulders around. In half passes in canter keep the forehand leading and be sure the inside front leg stays leading. In the half pass canter to the right be sure to collect in the right corner with the outside rein, then begin half pass and keep canter active and keep Wrigley uphill. In trot work, watch that quarters don’t drift out when using inside leg, especially on left hand. Keep outside rein steady tracking left and work that his left jaw gets softer. Don’t go too deep into corner with this basic work, just work on flexion and connection to outside rein until he comes through.
Day two double bridle. Same warm up as Day one, loosening with transitions walk, trot canter. Started real work again in canter today, asking for more uphill and forward canter. Shoulder fore again out of corner and shoulder fore preceding half passes. Keep him up in canter half passes with outside rein. Zig zag over and back was good, both canters having the same uphill balance and jump. In schooling pirouettes, the one to the right was quite good. To the left I need to keep him rounder in right rein on the approach and keep playing and working on the left flexion, then be soft once he’s in the pirouette. Keep the left pirouette a bit bigger so he doesn’t get short behind. The flying changes were quite good today, uphill, straight and forward. He just reminded me to be sure to keep my eyes on the line. In the trot today the work on the right hand was good. To the left he reminded me again not to go too deep into the corners until Wrigley is more through. Use snaffle rein on inside left rein to get the jaw soft, and curb rein on the right (outside) for half halt. Keep steady outside rein connection. Same applies to half pass to the left, if he braces, use left rein to supple him and right half halt to help him come through. Keep half passes shallow in the start and work them only after the shoulder-in is swinging and the trot has a good rhythm. Then begin half passes and make them steeper only once he has good self-carriage , a good rhythm and the trot is swinging .
Day three. After warm up, started again with canter. Tracking left, get left flexion, keep right rein steady, work on left jaw with snaffle rein to make it softer. Half passes better today, just remember to collect right lead in the corner at the start of half pass keep using half halts, inside leg and outside rein so he doesn’t get long as half pass continures. Zig zag very good today with good changes in between. Two tempiis very good today. In the one time changes try and keep right rein close to him and left rein softer. Bring him back more in the corner to the right before the ones so he’s straight and through before they start. In the trot work we focused on making more fluent corrections so he takes the half halt and stays with me. Focus on keeping him more through and balanced so he doesn’t “run away” after the half halt. Repeat in three strides if needed, but keep insisting that when I give he has to stay in balance and through. Passage quite good today. Keep it cadenced and soft but not too big. .In the piaffe keep him soft on left rein and keep him turning a little to the left to keep him regular and even behind. Transitions in and out piaffe/passage very good today.
Day four: All canter work felt better today. The focus on the left half halt to collect him in the right corner before half pass right is working beautifully. For the zig zag off the left turn be sure to get the left jaw soft in corner before zig zag. Zig zag quite good today. The two tempiis also good, the one tempiis we schooled on the quarter line for first set. Then focused on collecting and getting left should out of the way before changes and they were lovely. He suggested riding first three changes normal then push him more forward and uphill once he’s settled.
Best thoroughness in trot for quite some time! Really worked to supple the left side. Over bending for a stride or two on left circle, then softening and he should stay soft and connected on a steady right rein. Keep left leg at girth, control the quarters and drifting to the right with right leg and right rein connection. As soon as he’s good reward him with a soft hand. Keep the trot swinging, make a half halt with leg and keep right rein and left flexion, then quietly go on again. Allow after each half halt, then do another if he doesn’t stay in self carriage. Don’t hold him up or allow him to lean. I was rewarded by lovely half passes and a happy horse with a balanced and swinging trot.
Day five: Long walk warm op today, then loosening trot and canter. We schooled the canter pirouettes and the work to the right was quite good. Still working on left pirouette staying a bit rounder on approach by keeping him deeper in right rein. Then when starting the pirouette think small in size, then after two strides make it bigger so he stays forward and through. In the trot work Wrigley felt a bit tired so he didn’t have the carriage of day four but it was good practice to work on the same issues when things aren’t feeling easy! After really working on the thoroughness both directions and making sure we could change left and right and do shoulder in both ways in a good balance we schooled some steeper half passes. He reminded me to school the end of the left half pass by keeping the left flexion into the corner. Then straighten and approach the halt at C. This keep the left side soft into the halt so he’s prepared for the 5 step rein back in the Grand Prix.
Day Six: Hack out on trails by stable and down the small side street. I schooled Wrigley lightly on my won in the outdoor arena focusing just on the balance and connection in the trot. Lovely! A super first week with lots of great feedback.