Earlier this year I got the chance to interview Laura Bechtolsheimer at her yard for Swedish magazine HIPPSON. I was really excited when I made my way towards the Bechtolsheimers place in Gloucestershire. Not only is Laura a record-breaking absolutely brilliant rider, she is also a role model when it comes to horsemanship. Just the fact that, at her level, she still finds time to go hunting and eventing is quite something. Keeping your riding varied is so important. And not just with or without spurs, or schooling one day/jumping the other. But actually trying new things with your horse. It’s so rewarding!
Ok, back to Laura!
For the interview I asked Laura to give some training tips on how to prepare youngster for piaff and what collection means to her. Here’s what she said!
HOW TO PREPARE A YOUNGSTER FOR COLLECTION AND PIAFF
“I would say between the age of 4 and 6 I would work mainly on the basic scales of training which should naturally lead to a well balanced and responsive horse.
Between the age of 5 and 7 my horse should either be starting or be a relatively established with lateral work. Beginning with shoulder-in, renver and traverse, and leading on to leg yields and half passes.
If my horse can keep a good rhythm and self-carriage within this work and is supple both ways in trot and canter, both in the neck and in the body, then my horse should be ready to start taking more weight on the hind legs.
Depending on the character and temperament of the horse, I would either ask from on top of the horse, usually out of walk, with my father on the ground using a hand-work whip to help the horse find its rhythm in the half steps. (Sometimes we will use long reins to help a horse understand or we do a bit of both.).
The key is using transitions to help a horse to understand that collection/half steps, does not mean slow down. It actually means the hind legs must work quicker and step under the centre of gravity. Transitions means the rider is forced to let the horse go forwards, this encourages the horse to keep a forwards tendency within collection, (which is vital to riding good transitions later on,) and the forwards transition also encourages the rider to lighten the hands.
The quicker the succession of short walk-trot transitions, the more the horse starts to anticipate and naturally produces half steps whilst staying quick behind and light in front i.e. collection. This allows the horse to build up strength in the correct places and the rider must feel when the right time is to stop and give the horse a break.
Encouragement and rewards must be given to the horse throughout this work if the rider desires the horse to perform this very difficult movement willingly at a more advanced level. Young horses do not have a very long attention span and so short periods of repetition are most advisable, always finishing before a horse is too tired and wants to resist.
NB. If doing hand work from the ground, make the horse aware of the whip in a non-threatening way and give the horse confidence to gain its trust, this work should not be a punishment but an aid to help the horse understand, we are creating power and controlling it. Always stand in a place where you can avoid the hind legs should a horse kick.”
WHAT DOES COLLECTION MEAN TO YOU
“Collection to me means creating impulsion but not letting it out of the front door. The horse transfers more weight onto the hind legs and carries itself, the rider has a light contact in the hands and has the horse balanced on the seat, the rider’s legs tells the horse to keep the forward tendency, half halts show the horse to wait. Collection does not mean slowing down.”
TRAINING EXERCISE – THE BOX
“My father often makes me ride young horses in “the box.” I have to create an imaginary square, usually in canter, in which I can ride corner after corner, rather than going the whole way around the school.
If I ride the two real corners and the short side and then only 15-20m up the long side before I create my imaginary corner again, then as I approach the long side I ride my next imaginary corner and then I am back at the real short side corners again. This allows me to use the turns to sit the horse back on its hind legs again and then allow it out again but before the horse is bowling on again too much, I have a corner again to help me balance the horse. This allows me to increase the collection in canter, whilst naturally training the horse to remain quick and light because of the constant transitions.
The horse builds up strength and understands what I want without it realising that I am really “working” it and it stops the rider from pulling a horse back into collection.”
When we met back in March the Olympics did still feel quite far away. We talked about how the winds are changing in the world of dressage. And what a proof of that this is! An historic Gold medal for the British team! And so well deserved. Being from Sweden i really appreciate the horsemanship that excists in this country. The love for horses and how at all levels horses get to be horses. Britain is finally back where it should be – at the top of the Equestrian world! Long may they reign!