It has been a week since I audited the Steffen Peters clinic at Traumhof and I still don't know how to describe that weekend. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the top dressage rider in the U.S., whom I had seen winning the Bronze on Ravel at the World Equestrian Games last fall, would be teaching some of the best trainers in the Northwest at my son and daughter-in-law's barn in Washington this May... and playing tennis on the WII with my grandson.
It was a magical experience for the riders and the many auditors, as well as for me. Trainers riding in the clinic came from Canada, Washington and Oregon. Steffen rode many of the horses to get a feel for what was going on and then told the rider what to do to correct that horse's issues. Imagine having your horse ridden by Steffen Peters! Not surprisingly, there was a waiting list a mile long of trainers hoping to get into the clinic. Here is Siggi Wolff watching Steffen ride her horse French Kiss. Siggi, a Washington-based trainer from Germany, posted on facebook that "Frenchie", under Steffen's tutelage, made tremendous progress over the weekend.
Steffen trains people the way he trains horses: tell them at the beginning what is expected of them, keep it simple and make sure they understand, do not tolerate any deviation from what is expected, praise them when they get it right.
His emphasis all weekend was on "rideability". Some people have asked Steffen how he rides with such soft hands. "I do not get on any horse and ride with two fingers," he assured us. "I *train* my horses to be ridden softly." He spent the weekend attempting to teach the riders how to do just that themselves.
It was reassuring to me to see that these high level riders, many of whom have trained numerous horses to FEI levels, have some of the same riding issues that I have ("keep your legs under you... not so far back... heels down"). And some of these highly trained horses still have some of the same issues my training level horse has ("stretching to the hand is okay, looking for the bit is okay, but pushing against the hand is not.") ... or they did on Day One. By Day Two they had made amazing progress... thanks to Steffen's insistence on correct rider position and use of aids. It sounds so much easier that it is.
Self-carriage is the goal, said Steffen. To get there, work in whatever frame that works for that horse's conformation and temperament and mood that day. With a lower level horse who was not accepting the bit and bulling ahead (like my Mr. Smith does), Steffen had the rider keep him low so he couldn't pull the reins away from her. "Is he behind the vertical? Yes. Would the judges like that? No. But if it works to keep him listening, it's okay. He must learn to accept the bit."
Keep it simple was his mantra, so the horse can understand what we're asking. "We don't want to make this into rocket science," he said several times. Then he told about a clinic he held in Australia when he used that phrase. "An auditor stood up and said, 'I am a rocket scientist. And this is ten times more difficult than rocket science.'" We all agreed!
Traumhof, always a beautiful place, was especially sparkling for this exciting weekend thanks to the many hours of work by boarders, trainers, staff and family in the weeks before. Flowers bloomed everywhere.
Ian was in charge of the concession stand and proudly set up the display.
Ian also challenged Steffen to lunch break games on the WII. Steffen, a thoroughly nice guy as well as a superb rider/trainer, took up the challenge and looked to be having as much fun as Ian.
Most exciting of all, Steffen will be back at Traumhof next year for another clinic! As soon as I know the date (it will be posted on the traumhofdressage.com web site), I will plan my goat kiddings and reserve our farm sitter so I am sure not to miss it. Maybe by then, I will have Mr. Smith properly accepting the bit (after all these years), using what I hope I learned at this year's amazing Steffen Peters clinic. Miracles happen. It did one weekend in May at Traumhof.