Please take a moment and welcome newest Velvet Rider guest blogger, Madelyn Bricken! We are thrilled to have her join our team and know you will enjoy her future posts. Be sure to check out her bio here. Below is her first post about a recent clinic with Volker Brommann. –Jennifer
Clinic Time with Volker Brommann
In the beginning of this August, I had the privilege of taking two splendid lessons with California based FEI Dressage Rider/Trainer, Volker Brommann. I would be lying if I said the training sessions were anything less than wonderful! What struck me the most was Volker’s ability to bring out confidence in the horse/rider combinations. His eye for detail was incredibly impressive – he doesn’t miss anything! Which is a good thing. Coming into this clinic, I had a list formulating in my mind of exercises I wanted to work on. For starters, I wanted to improve Leah’s activity in her right hind leg, as well as the flying changes and medium/extended trot.
Leah has the tendency to be a little sluggish with her right hind, and it was something Volker noticed right away. He had me work through a series of clear and forward warm-up exercises before moving into the canter work. Here, Volker instructed me to transition into a 20 Meter Circle at the working canter and each time we passed over the centerline, I was to collect Leah into a very collected canter while still maintaining activity behind. About 5 strides in this very collected canter, I encouraged Leah (with my seat) to move forward into the working canter. We repeated this exercise in both training sessions.
Now, the next movement Volker had us do was one I hadn’t ridden in forever. Literally, forever, as in I don’t even remember the last time I exhibited this movement. Maybe it was during an Equitation Class long ago…? Anyway, turn on the forehand was reintroduced to me as an excellent way to get Leah responding with her hindquarters. What’s a turn on the forehand? I know some of you are probably asking this question. My definition of a “turn on the forehand” is when we ask the horse to stand still in the front and almost “pivot” around their shoulders with their haunches. Make sense? While this exercise helped Leah immensely, it might not be your steed’s cup of tea, and that is okay! After all, every horse is different.
With the turn on the forehand newly added to our training arsenal, we progressed to schooling the flying changes. I quickly realized that Leah knows how to do flying changes. She does not need my over-thinking self to get in her way. Which was exactly my problem. I was doing exactly that – over-thinking the way the changes should be ridden. I was so focused on getting the change that I forgot to just sit back, relax, and ride. After a few bobbles, I was finally able to get some beautiful lead changes in my sessions on both days. Volker stressed that while mistakes are allowed to happen, the rider must recognize them. The mistakes I was making through the changes were not a problem, as he pointed out, but rather more of a matter of being quicker in my own way of giving the aids.
The second day of training with Volker was equally rewarding for me. With our main focus of working hindquarter-engaging exercises, Volker decided we would school the canter pirouette tour in the Prix St. Georges test. The pirouettes are still a work in progress, but Volker taught me how each pirouette should be ridden in order to obtain a higher score from a judge. He pointed out that corners and the short side of the arena were my friends. I had to use these opportunities to collect yet build energy in the hind end so Leah could successfully, and gracefully, make the half-pirouette turn.
We finished our intense training session with the extended trot work. Volker had me collect Leah into the passage for just a few strides, and then push forward into a medium trot, and back into the passage. This exercise helped Leah maintain balance on her hind end while becoming expressive through her shoulders. A few strides of passage is a wonderful exercise for my horse – wake up, right hind leg!
Volker’s way of conveying his message to the rider is incredibly easy to understand. There are a few tidbits that I made sure to write down and keep handy for when I needed to refer back to them:
- Lightness in the bridle is an ahhhh-mazing feeling. There’s nothing better than a horse with super self-carriage. However, Volker stressed that lightness must not be confused with throwing away the feel of the mouth. He used the following analogy to make his point clearer: “It can feel like a feather in your hand, but don’t drop the feather.”
- As dedicated riders, it is our job to set the standard of our ride, right away. We should ride with clear and forward intentions. For example, an energized warm-up routine is a good indicator of an energized training session.
- Half halts, half halts, half halts! Probably the most important training tool in the history of training tools. However, Volker encouraged me to half halt more from my seat and core muscles rather than a hand motion. He also showed me that massaging my reins was another way to get Leah to soften in her jaw.
- Ride the hind leg forward. We love impulsion… and so do the dressage judges!
- Lastly, us riders need to ask our horses one important question: “Can you do all of these exercises with a straight neck?” I know I have been guilty, over the years, of holding too strongly on one rein, thus, making the neck and body of the horse crooked. We all have to strive to ride perfectly straight… not an easy task! But it is one that comes with finesse, time, and patience.
I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to ride with Volker Brommann. The hard work that Leah and I put into the ring was truly worth every bead of sweat when Volker spoke on what a “cool,” “great,” and “talented” horse she was (and is). We can’t wait to ride with him again, hopefully very soon!
I look forward to sharing more adventures with you all next time.
Horsey Hugs and Horsey Smooches!