Who wouldn't want to ride in a clinic with American dressage superstar Debbie McDonald? Eight Young Riders embraced the experience, hanging on her every word.
"Never jeopardize the quality for the movement," said McDonald. "When you feel the quality disintegrating, get out. Go back to getting a better connection, and then you will see that the movement is easy. Without a good connection, the horse will not be able to move up the Training Scale."
McDonald, an Olympic bronze medalist, gave the clinic in Corona, Calif., as part of the 2005 FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) Junior/Young Rider Clinic Series. Her audience included U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 7 riders, their families and auditors who came to Susan Hoffman Peacock's Hidden River Ranch.
The riders, ages 12 to 20, were selected from USDF Region 7 youth under 21 years old with accomplishments at Third Level or higher. Each had two private lessons with McDonald. They also attended theory discussions and audited all training sessions.
Brenna McHugh, Roxanne Strahan, Ariel Stern and Christina Beal share some additional insights they gained from working with Debbie McDonald.
Brenna McHugh: "The good connection that I saw Debbie work on with all of the riders was entirely based on riding from back to front. She used a lot of renvers and shoulder-in work in every gait to get the horses soft and happy in the bridle, while also forcing the riders to avoid using too much inside rein. After a short time working with a quiet and even contact in the bridle, I was able to just hint at renvers with my legs or weight and Kreston would immediately go deeper in the contact and accept the collected connection."...
"For Kreston, it was very obvious that he lost the expressive gaits we had worked on when I asked too much out of a lateral movement. Debbie had us work on setting up for movements such as canter pirouettes without ever doing more than a step of them, forcing me to be really precise in my intentions and aids and forcing Kreston to stay honestly listening to me.
"Debbie also pointed out that I was so worried that he was going to quit working that I was actually chasing him out of the collection," explained 20-year-old Brenna. "Kreston and I are equals, and he constantly reminds me of this. He expects a lot from me just as I expect a lot from him, and we both push each other to the limits that we know so well by now. We both have a huge stubborn streak but approach our work with a sense of humor and joy."
Christina Beal: "Debbie emphasized that the bit should be evenly placed in the horse's mouth, and we should not pull it to one side or another. The even placement insures that the horse is not one-sided. It also helps the rider from relying too much on the inside rein aids. True connection can only come as a result of rhythm, relaxation and in a round, non-stilted frame.
One other thing she repeated was that the movements themselves are easy. It is the connection and the basics that are difficult. If we attend to the primary things such as connection, we will excel in the movements. I totally agree with that," says Christina. "Lancaster and I are new partners, and we are still learning how to dance together without stepping on one another's toes. Each day the dance gets better."
Ariel Stern: "A good connection is made when the rider has a perfect feel of the horse without having to hold him in her hands and seat the whole time. That makes the ride much more graceful and pleasant to watch, not to mention how much more enjoyable it is for the rider. Although my horse, Raffaelo, finds some of the dressage movements very difficult, he tries his best to make me happy," says 14-year-old Ariel.
Roxanne Strahan: "Debbie McDonald emphasized that we needed our horses happy. I love Mister A and I know he really likes me. He is very patient with me and has really taught me a lot. I feel very lucky."
Read the complete article in the October 2005 issue of Dressage Today magazine.