Wellington, Fla. — Jan. 5, 2018 — The George H. Morris Horsemastership Clinic kicked off on Friday with riders taking to the Van Kampen Arena at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival showgrounds in Wellington, Florida. Five-time Olympian Anne Kursinski returned to the twelfth annual 3-day clinic to take the helm as the first clinician of the event. Kursinski placed emphasis on correct and proper flatwork as the foundation for any success in riding and worked with the 12 USEF Training Session invitees to perfect their feel on the flat.
Clinic participants were first divided into two separate groups so that more individualized attention could be paid to each athlete. The first group consisted of Mckayla Langmeier, Alexandra Pielet, Sara McCloskey, Hannah Loly, Samantha Cohen and Delaney Flynn, while the remaining members Alyce Bittar, Caitlyn Connors, Natalie Dean, Kendra Duggleby, Cecily Hayes, and Olivia Woodson made up group two.
Participants began the day by getting a front row seat to Kursinski’s demonstration where she worked her fresh mount through a series of exercises to get his mindset in the correct place on the cold day. The majority of her aids to the horse consisted of lateral work combined with transitional work to encourage the horse to respond to all parts of her body and engage in forward thinking.
“I’m basically having a conversation with the horse and making little requests,” Kursinski explained. “How I use my aids is how I talk to the horses.”
Kursinski put her horse through a series of lateral tests including turns on the forehand, shoulder-ins, and half-passes at the three different gaits of walk, trot and canter to encourage the horse to work between the hand and leg. Riders from group one were then instructed to mount up and return to the arena.
Temperatures were at an extreme low in Wellington and once riders were on it was apparent that the horses were feeling the chill. Kursinski cautioned riders against reprimanding their horses when they acted out and instead encouraged patience by sticking with a consistent plan.
“If you stay focused on your position and what you want then they will eventually come to meet your goal,” she told the riders as she began their session. She put riders through a series of lateral work at the walk, then moved on to shoulder-in at the trot and canter, while also asking them to lengthen and shorten their strides to test the honesty of the horse.
Several of the horses objected to the lateral work at first, but through consistent routine and contact they eventually worked well through all of the movements. Riders in both sections were also made to drop their stirrups for the majority of the instruction so that they would have a more organic feel from their seats while strengthening their cores. Riders from both groups agreed that they felt they had more connected feels and their horses were working more from their hind ends by the end of their rides because of the various lateral exercises they performed.
Getting Inside the Horse’s Head
Much of Kursinski’s clinic advice consisted of getting the riders into the mindsets of their horses. “Being able to influence your horse, talk to your horse and be on the same team as your horse is what the journey is all about,” she told the athletes. She placed emphasis on how top riders are able to connect with their horses on such a level that their aids are almost undetectable. She credited her ability to connect with her horses to the various different top level instructors she has been able to work under and their advice of working with the horse instead of against it.
“Horses can’t think like human beings, but human beings can think like horses,” Kursinski emphasized.
Exercise to try at home:
1. Going around the outside of a square ring, ask the horse to perform a shoulder-in movement down the long side of the ring, and then straighten their body on the short side. Be careful not to over-bend the horse, which will give a fake sense of the shoulder-in movement. This will help the horse respect the space between the leg and hand and carry themselves more uphill.
2. Tie both reins together in a knot at a point that allows for correct contact with the bit. The reins should not have any slack, but should allow for the horse to be given his head a little when he accepts the contact. Riders should place both hands above this knot to get a sense of appropriate rein length. This exercise will also help create a steady and more even connection as the rider will have equal rein length and will be unable to have busy hands.
“It’s my whole body riding the horse’s whole body. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are always making them better or making them worse.”