Monday, October 5, 2015

Leonie Bramall Clinic - Day One

Training with Leonie 5 years ago in Germany
If you're a regular reader of my blogs (especially the Teen Dressage Dream blog), you will need no introduction to Leonie Bramall. Leonie is the one and only trainer that I have kept through my journey since I was 15, when I first went to Europe to ride and trained with her in 2009. Since then, I have been backwards and forwards to Germany for my essential dose of "Leonie training" whether it be for a weekend, a couple of weeks or 4 months. Leonie and her partner Volker bred and started my two younger horses, Bertina and Chad, who I bought when they were 3 and so have always tried to do them proud with their babies. Leonie also helped me with Seb in 2012 when I was finding him virtually impossible to ride and train, and within 3 months she had me out competing in Germany getting scores in the high 60s%. However, after hitting a few bumps in the road and being sent off track, I haven't been back to Germany to train properly in well over a year.

So you can imagine the apprehension I was feeling when I arranged for Leonie to come over to the UK to do a clinic, where she would also be teaching me on Bertina, Chad and Seb. The amount of respect I have for Leonie is huge, so it really meant a lot to me that she was happy with how the horses were going. Luckily, they have all been going better than ever and I am really happy with how I'm riding and training, so all I could do was hope for the best!
Quite a contrast to be training on a gorgeous Autumn day
at my own yard in England! Pictured here is Shaun Mandy
on his lovely "Poppy"

I needed not to worry, as Leonie was very pleased with all of the horses and understood that Chad and Bertina wouldn't be as far on as they could be because of heading off-course during the past couple of years and not having consistent training. I was particurly chuffed with Seb, as she helped me so much with him and he has been the hardest horse I have ever had to ride, and over the weekend it was a case of "ok that's all great... what do you want to work on?". I never ever thought I'd hear Leonie say those words to me, as we've usually got A LOT of things that need to be fixed!

So the first day of lessons was on Friday evening, just after I had brought her home from the airport. The lessons started off fairly simply, just addressing a few basic issues and principles. All 3 of the horses could have been a bit more forward and looser in their bodies, so from the beginning in the rising trot she had me using my "rise" to urge them forward, and squeeze with my calf while my seat was out of the saddle. Without losing the connection with the rein, the energy created from your legs gets pushed up through your body and flows forward into the rein contact and helps the horse flowing forward without any restriction from your rising trot and prevents an inconsistent rein contact as you move your body up and down.

I found this really helpful with all the horses, and you can even move it into the sitting trot, where you can imagine that your "rise" every second stride the horse takes, just like the rising trot, and automatically your hips thrust them that bit extra forwards along with the squeeze of your leg. If the horse gets really stuck behind you, the worst thing you can do is clamp down and drive more, as it just shuts them down. You need to get away from their body to urge it to open up, so even if you're doing sitting trot you can just rise out of the saddle for one stride only, and give an almighty squeeze with your legs as you rise up, and that surges the horse forwards and through over its back. Then continue sitting and go with the motion, carrying that energy you just created forwards. It is essential that the rein contact remains the same as you do this, however, otherwise you're pushing them into empty space and they can't carry the connection forward.

In the canter, a similar principle can be applied in the way that if they are getting stuck in their back and cantering too much "up-and-down", you can canter like a show jumper and rise up and down in the rhythm of the stride to push them forward and open up. This is especially effective in the warm-up if you can start cantering early on, as often this will improve the trot for particular horses. 

While sitting in the saddle in the canter, if you time your "driving" aid of the seat with the moment the outside shoulder lifts up off the ground, and imagine that you're pushing the legs further forward with each stride, the canter 

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