Thursday, November 12, 2015

Clinic Report: Jeremy Steinberg (The long and detailed version)

One of the benefits of boarding at a huge dressage barn, is the constant influx of trainers and clinicians to audit. You guys know I am a huge fan of auditing, especially since my budget rarely allows for me to spring for a riding slot!
Another benefit of boarding here? This gorgeous view...
Jeremy Steinberg, the one-time USEF National Dressage Youth Coach, stopped by the farm for a few days, and his clinic filled up with riders from First to FEI level. While I didn't get to sit and watch all weekend, I was able to sit in for a few lessons, and grab some great insight into Steinberg's teaching style and philosophy. I certainly wouldn't mind riding with him some day!
As all my photos from the day are terrible, I shall illustrate some concepts with photos of Pig and me. You're welcome.

Overall Observations
Throughout the clinic, Steinberg lectured about his methods. He is a strong believer that the "looseness of the lower back and hind leg activity sets the shape of the horse." This meant he was insistent that the riders kept their horses moving actively behind.

He also prefers riding horses as far "up" as they can for their training level. He made sure to explain that not every horse can be ridden "up", and that warming up lower can be a great thing for accessing the backs on most horses.

Steinberg stressed, as you go up the levels, a horse must lift its frame and really lift and extend its shoulder, requiring a higher frame. When the horse is ridden with its neck too low, the angle of the shoulder is pushed back and down. Describing the horse's energy as jabbing down into the ground, Steinberg asked "why would you want to ride with the parking brake down?"
See how the shoulder can only rotate up so far here? As you ask the horse to engage more, you have to bring him up to give his front end more room.
He suggested riding most horses up for a portion of each ride, just to get them used to the idea. This made me think of how a runner might add a sprint to the end of a long exhausting run, to train the body how to move quickly even when tired. Muscles can't learn to work differently unless they are used that way. It makes sense that if you ride a horse low all the time, you cannot ride them more up on a whim. It must be practiced and worked on.

While Steinberg explained the nuances of this idea with each rider and horse combo, he did say that the lower back is the key to good dressage. He said he tries to ride each horse in the frame their temperament, conformation, and relaxation requires.

Lesson Specifics
The first rider I saw was on a short-backed younger warmblood gelding. This horse has training issues that are similar to Guinness, namely reluctance to take weight behind and a tight back. I took a lot away from this lesson.

During the warmup, Steinberg suggested this type of horse (short back/reasonably long neck) could benefit from being ridden lower to start. He suggested the rider keep the horse low, until the back was relaxed and really swinging. He said when he rides long and low he likes to be able to really drive the horse forward, not feel like he has to constantly say "whoa, slow down." That means keeping the horse engaged behind and listening to your seat. "If you ride them down, you have to get that hind leg faster," he reminded.

While the horse looked good in the beginning, Steinberg pointed out that the short back of the horse was misleading. While the horse looked like he was accepting a lot of weight behind, he actually wasn't.
The king of looking like he is stepping under, but actually is being tense and blocked.
"The canter to trot transition is very telling as to the relaxation and use of the back," said Steinberg. "Not enough people school the canter/trot after 2nd level, which is silly." His point was well taken, as the horse's initial response to the downward transition was to tighten his back and shorten his step behind.

Steinberg encouraged the rider to drive the horse into the downward transition. The rider was not allowed to take her legs off, as the moment she did the horse stopped stepping under. Instead, she had to rely on her seat to get the transition. If the horse ran through her aids (this happened a lot, especially at first), she was to put him into a severe lateral movement to get him to trot.

As she was working on a 20 meter circle, the later movement looked like she was trying to do a leg yield on the circle. The horses's head was to the center of the circle, and the haunches out. While the lateral movement disengaged the back legs and disrupted the canter rhythm (leading to a trot transition), the horse stayed engaged with his hind legs and up through his back.

Almost immediately after warming up, Steinberg had the rider play with bringing the horse's frame up. He asked the rider to lift the poll and get the horse quicker behind, but not allow the horse to get faster. The horse showed some tension when asked to come higher, and Steinberg said this is normal, and you have to teach the horse to work through the tension and blockages in the higher frame.

"There's a huge hiding place when the horse is super round [but isn't actually working]. They feel good, but brace when you bring them up. You gotta deal with that brace. They have to become comfortable up there." He suggested riders teeter the balance between the neck up and down to find where the point was between the horse being comfortable and being tense. He suggested riders then work that point to encourage the horse to stay loose while being ridden more up.

To get through the tension, Steinberg insisted horses must be ridden forward. However, he reminded the audience that this requires a horse to be comfortable taking contact and going forward into the hand. This means you can't start riding the horse up until they understand contact and are properly warmed up and moving into it. (This is especially applicable for Pig, who will back out of contact if not properly warmed up and put into it.) 

"Fluff the frame," Steinberg encouraged. When the horse lifted, Steinberg wanted him to reach up and forward with his front legs. The rider was encouraged not to lean forward or back during this work, but instead to keep her weight solidly in the saddle to encourage the horse tuck his hind end. To keep her from getting tipped backwards when using her seat strongly, Steinberg encouraged her to bend her knee and bring her lower leg back. This gave her a good counter balance.

By the end of the ride, the horse had lovely moments of tucking under and really lifting his front end. While the picture wasn't perfect (tension was evident in these moments), it was obvious-- through more work and conditioning-- the horse would easily become more comfortable in this new way of moving. Steinberg was clearly pleased with the improvements.
So cool, right? Dressage = ugly before it's pretty
He suggested the rider remember this feeling, and continue to ride the horse with the expectation of this energy and frame. "Ride the future," he said. "You want to ride the horse according to how you want them to feel, not how they used to feel, or how they feel today. Ride their potential, and they will rise to it."

One of the other riders was a junior, riding an older schoolmaster. This horse clearly knew his job, but was going to try every evasion in the book to get out of working. Once Steinberg and the rider called him on his evasions, he sharpened up and really put in the effort! As a plus, the clinician seemed to be in his element, lecturing to the junior about dressage maxims. This made for excellent listening.

One evasion this horse exhibited was a tendency to get very heavy. Steinberg reminded the rider that when we want to say "get off my hand" what we really need to do is "attack the hind legs." He said "the more I get you [the horse] in the rein, the lighter I can get you."

Getting more detailed he explained, a horse will be heavier in one rein than the other for one of two reasons, both having to do with being engaged behind. First the horse could be not stepping up directly with the hind relating to the heavy rein (the opposite hind). For example: horse is heavy on the right, due to note being engaged enough on the left hind. Nag the hind left to get him off your right rein. Or the horse could be not taking the other rein enough, and not stepping up enough with the hind related to that leg. In this example, the horse is heavy on the right, but isn't stepping into the left rein. So you would actually nag the right hind to get the horse more into the left rein. That takes some finesse to feel, and probably a ground person at first.

With a heavy or a young horse, Steinberg suggested teaching it how and when to be lighter. His method was to get the horse where he needs to be (forward and in balance), and release when he gets there. With enough repetition, Steinberg said most horses will figure out how light they can actually be and will "believe you". However, he warned against confusing lightness with being behind or off the bit.

When it came to instructing the rider, Steinberg worked on getting her more aware of her seat's influence on her horse. "Connect the horse to the seat," he said. He wanted the horse to really read the rider's seat, and pay attention. "I want my horses to go when my seat is accelerating. Bend when my seat asks you to."

He continued tweaking the rider's position further, demanding she stay loose. "You have to stay loose, because you the horse to be loose, too." Squeezing the horse forward is ineffective, he explained. "Transitions have to come from a loose and relaxed back." He used the whip as a bit of an encouragement for forward, but was an advocate for not causing the horse to tense up from the aid.

On Stretching the Horse
Steinberg ended every ride by having the riders stretch the horses at the trot. Though he disagreed with the stretchy trot's placement in the Training/First tests, he said it was a very valuable tool. He thinks the tests ask for the stretch too early in the horse's training, before they are consistently forward and on the bit. He thinks this causes horses to get dumped on their forehands in an attempt to get a bigger (though false) stretch.
Ex #1: Horse dumping on forehand...
Instead, Steinberg suggests asking the horse to stretch once they are moving forward off the leg and have relaxed and learned enough to follow the riders seat. Most of the time, he asked the riders to sit this stretchy trot, saying "sit into the stretch trot to teach the horse it can stretch and relax into your sitting." He suggested this would improve the way your horse moved under your sitting in the other work.

Other Misc Thoughts:

  • When it comes to loosening the horse, Steinberg said the horse should feel better after every break. "Every day the horse should get more relaxed with the work." He suggested when the relaxation level starts to level off, it is time to add something new to the training, either a new movement or a higher difficulty level. If the horse comes back to work more tense, something has gone wrong in your work, and it is time to reevaluate.
  • The quiet sort of cruising around and fiddling done in these lessons is easy on the horse. There's very little detriment to the bones and ligaments; it's just cardiovascular fitness. You can go for a long time without a break. When you are schooling super collection like pirouettes or piaffe, you have to take a lot more breaks.
  • Steinberg likes to let a new idea "sit in the horse for awhile." He'll introduce something new (shoulder-in, renver, etc.) and give the horse six months to a year to just think on it before he asks for anything more complicated. That means the horse will learn the shoulder-in and not be asked for more engagement, more forward, or another movement until the movement is completely absorbed by the horse. Don't make things harder and more stressful for him.
  • If a movement is too hard for a horse, don't push it or try to improve it. Just keep riding it so he learns to relax in the movement.
  • When it comes to hard work, the horse doesn't learn by immersion. He learns through getting used to it little by little. He doesn't need drilling, just to stay relaxed. 
  • Horses have 2 ways of spooking: hearing and vision. Hearing is the #1 relied on sense for the horse. They can hear much better than they can see. Watch the ears to see what your horse is concentrating on. Sometimes you'll notice they are pricked a bit too far forward, and he is not paying enough attention to you. Try talking a little to get that attention back on you, or try a little wither scratch. Interact often to keep the focus from drifting.
  • If you know your horse is going to spook at something, put a bend in him. Think of it as the opposite of getting tight. Use the bend to get leverage while keeping both he and you loose.
  • When working in hand, don't let the horse overreact to the whip. Take your time and acclimate him to it. In addition, never let him step backwards or in the same spot when you ask him to pick up his legs with the whip. Everything is always forward.
  • Steinberg believes riders overall shut down the flight instinct too much in their horses. The horses are held back too much, which reflects in their performance. The horse starts to withhold their own athleticism, and doubt their own movement under saddle. Pay attention to yourself and your horse. Demand your horse give you the most amount of forward and looseness he's capable of giving.
I even got to see a little of how you put on a piaffe!
Needless to say, even though I didn't ride in this clinic I still got a ton out of it! I hope I get another chance to either audit or ride with him. If you get a chance, he is definitely worth the money to ride with, but stick around and audit all day, too. Just don't forget to take a big notebook!

Any thought in particular stand out to you?

28 comments:

  1. I love his points and I feel like he would really understand Fiction's needs. Sounds like a person I would love to clinic with!

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    1. I bet you and Fiction would get a ton out of riding with him.

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  2. Loved this recap! Now I want to bring the pony to one of his clinics!

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    1. Yes! I know they were talking about him coming back, just not sure when. Start saving the pennies!

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  3. The relaxation is really missing for me. We are getting better but Stinker is a ball of tension and gets very choppy because of it.

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    1. Ugh. Yeah. Trust me. I'm right there with you on this one.

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  4. Sounds like a very worthwhile clinic!! I will have to see if he ever comes around up here.

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    1. He actually comes to a barn super close to me once a year... and was just here. I'll have to catch him next year!

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    2. Oh this is awesome! Yes! For sure check him out next year!

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  5. I loved riding with him! He really has a different way of thinking and teaching. It's not just the typical basics in monotone like a lot of clinicians, he is creative and enthusiastic which makes what he teaches more fun and memorable. He does a good job of explaining the "why" and the "what" instead of just the "how".

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    1. Yes! His lecture really was the best, and he pulled no punches on his opinions, which I liked. "I think the stretch circle in the early tests is misplaced." Tell it how you think, Jeremy! :)

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  6. will you please tell me next time he comes to your barn so i can audit too?!? so bummed i had to miss out this time around

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    1. ABSOLUTELY! Audit all the things, basically. :)

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  7. I rode with him about six years ago and I remember really liking him! Great notes, I like the idea of riding the horse's potential, extremely relevant right now on the baby horse!

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    1. Oh yes! He taught an incredibly spooky friesian, and I won't lie. I thought about you guys a lot!

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  8. These are great! Thank you so much for writing these thoughts down. I am one of those that always needs to ride my horse up up up! It totally changes his way of going. He would much prefer to go on the forehand thank you very much lol.

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    1. Mister Hampersand does like to be too heavy! Which is silly, because he is a VERY FANCY MOFO when he sits on that behind of his.

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  9. What a cool clinic--C is a bit similar to Pig, in that he likes to be tight in his back. Some interesting notes there for sure.

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    1. I think that's a tb thing, honestly. They feed off of our tension, and everyone else's tension, and their initial training had very little in that included "loosening the back". Luckily, being restricted in going forward or being athletic is very rarely their issue. ;)

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  10. This is a great recap, lots of good stuff in here! This really stuck out to me: "There's a huge hiding place when the horse is super round [but isn't actually working]. They feel good, but brace when you bring them up," because it's totally true of Gina! Definitely something to work on!

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    1. Cool! That was absolutely an interesting point. As I've started riding Pig in a lower frame to warm up, it's something I've found I need to be very conscious of.

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  11. So much food for thought, now to go digest and see what I can nick and apply to my girls ☺

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    1. Oh! Let me know what stands out!

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    2. Have bookmarked it so I can return to it when I get a little more serious about arena work again *blush*

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  12. He used to live and train about an hour and a half from me! I've personally never ridden with him, but know several people who have and like him. Glad you got a chance to audit!

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    1. Oh! It would be so cool if he was still there. Good to hear others think so highly of him, too!

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  13. Bookmarking this post for sure! I really liked the points for a horse that's heavy in one rein.

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    1. Yeah, I've always thought you just nag the opposite hind leg. The other options really added some great tools to the box.

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