The quality of a teaching clinic depends on two things - the personality and knowledge of the trainer, and the quality of the horses and riders in the class. On the personality score, there is no topping Anky van Grunsven - she has the most engaging personality, she is warm and funny, and explains lucidly one of the most successful training systems in the world? the one she has developed with her partner, Sjef Janssen.
For all the furore the pair?s deep-and-low outline has aroused from those who really cannot see past the details to the essence, their system is very simple, very logical. It is in part a result of Sjef coming to equestrian sport at a comparatively late age after an involvement in other sports and training philosophies.
Still Anky is always keen to stress that "every horse is different, you have to fit your system to the horse. We have a basic system but every horse needs a different approach."
The first real difference is the ?no leg in the downwards transitions? rule. Right from the start, Anky introduced the concept to her first pair of riders, Kerry Mack riding the imported Swedish horse, Pizzazz and Judy Peel riding Sunbury Lodge Playwright, a five year old son of Donnerheist (this information took quite some time to discover since the information on the horses was largely unavailable at the time.)
"Use your voice, but never leg on the slow down. It was must be very clear because the horse is not quite as clever as us. The young horse just has to recognize the hand and the leg, but never together. Speed control is important, soft easy aideasy on the hand, easy on the bit. The first contact has to be soft, he slows down, he gives, you give a little. When the horse wants to run, we go slow, when he wants to go slow, we go forward. A horse that takes over the speed will pull on the bit."
"It is the same as if you are driving a car with an accelerator and a brake. Leg means forward, why give leg when I want them to go slower? To go forward, give the rein, the hand is soft with a little loop and the leg says go forward."
So how do we teach the horse to stop underneath itself if we are not ?legging? it into the stop? Easy, you keep mixing things up, almost stopping and then going, as Anky keeps saying ?when they want to slow, go forward, when they want to go forward, slow it down?.
"Trot - almost walk - then trot but not always almost walk, sometimes walk, mix it up so the horse keeps thinking forwards and won?t need leg in the transitions." "Even though there is no leg going into the halt, the horse is still forward because he thinks forward. I want to use the least aids possible. Dressage has to look simple; the easier, simpler, lighter it looks, the better it is."
And on the question that obsesses the Anky critics, the position of the horse?s neck? Well it really isn?t such a big deal. "With young horses we don?t want them really deep, and we don?t want them really up. Just in a nice balance. Play with the young horses, give rein to see if they want to stretch their neck. Try for a little loop in the rein, if the rein is tight, then it is hard to get the horse?s neck up again."
"I?m not worried if the horse is behind the vertical as long as it is not always there. It doesn?t matter as long as you play with it. The horses should often be very deep and round to stretch their bodies, but not all the time. They should be supple and loose and we should be able to put them anywhere? everywhere. The competition position can be as dangerous as the lower position, if you use it all the time."
We?d seen some nice trot work, and Anky likewise kept the canter fairly straightforward at the beginning - asking the riders not to ride too many straight lines, ?with the young horses in canter I like to do more circles?, but then we got to the vexed issue of straightness.

Anky and Sunbury Lodge Playwright

"Lot?s of horses do sort of a shoulder-in in canter with the inside hind leg following the outside fore leg. We fix this with a leg yield, put the hindquarters in for two or three strides. Shoulder-in in canter is the worst thing, shoulderin is great to prepare for another movement, but as a standard canter, I don?t like it at all, the inside hind leg has to follow the inside front leg."
Anky was being careful with the two young horses but stressed that it was better to work them properly for a shorter period: "Make the time you sit on the horse short and effective, that is better than sitting on the horse for an hour and worrying about doing too much because the horse is tired."
And when it was time to come back from canter to trot, the message was the same: "Take all the aids away, give the rein, give the leg, say ?whoa?, it?s the easiest thing, canter to trot, do nothing and only use the voice."
"All the aids that are not necessary, we should not give - that only makes you tired and wastes energy."
It was also time for Anky to have a little sit on Judy?s chestnut, and just sitting there was what Anky did at first: "Put the reins in one spot, like they are side reins, until the horse gets soft by himself - then put a nice little loop in the
reins. I don?t really give with my hands - you know those people who put their hands
right up the horse?s neck and say ?look isn?t my horse light!? - I want the horse to say, ?I recognize those hands and come light?. Don?t pull, he has to give in. What?s the matter, there are only three million things to think about, it can?t be that difficult. At home I ride eight horses a day and I would not be able to do that if I had to push and hold the horses all day."
"I want a holding hand, not fighting or pulling. I don?t want to get into a fight with the horses, just let them know."
Mainly Anky wanted to see the rider aiming for the best all the time: "I?d rather see a special horse in special trot making a mistake, rather than a trot that is ?nice?. We should train our horses to be special creatures - not robots. If they are special they have their own egos."
And that really was Anky?s message. Susie Duddy and her lovely Dona Carrera (the imported daughter of Donnerhall) spent a lot of time, reinforcing the ?no leg? into halt message, but also showing how the simple stop went hand in hand with a brilliant trot coming immediately out of halt, and at the end of the day, those flying changes were not so difficult.
Every reaction had to be immediate, although Anky conceded that as always, there were some horses that were more difficult than others. "I have a lovely little stallion at home who is always thinking backwards, and I always have to make him run in normal trot and canter. I make him run all the time at home, then when we get to a competition and I let him go back a bit, he is happy. On the other hand, I have another horse that over-reacts on the leg. I rode him up to Grand Prix without using spurs at home, and for competition, I rode him in my little nephew?s pony spurs. I would try to make that horse a bit lazy to the leg. I would just sit on him in the middle of the arena and put my leg all over him, and pat and talk to him to make him understand that it is not scarey."
"I talk a lot with my horses. I looked at the video of Sydney Olympic Games and you could see me telling all these stories to Bonfire during the test, I don?t know if it was to calm me down, or calm him."
Anky worked brilliantly with Katie Boyes riding her Cleveland bred, Octavius of Neika. Kqte recently showed in the Small Tour at the Australian Dressage Championships, that she is one of the stars of the future. Kate has spent most of her horsey adolescence with Andrew and Manuela McLean, and many of Anky?s teachings are very similar to those of the McLeans?. particularly when it comes to timing.
Andrew McLean is always quick to stress that the response must be immediate, that if
you react one move later, then that is that next move you are training, not the one you meant to train.
Kate sits so well that she was easily able to put into practice Anky?s requests, and ?Tigger? is sufficiently well educated to respond appropriately. Now ?speed control? had become a little more sophisticated than it was with the baby horses, Anky wanted Kate to vary the speed of the one times flying changes!
"In a test, the horse can start to run, or it can go too slow, we have to have speed control. If the horse takes off in the ones, stop and walk. As soon as he starts to run, just canter with no tempi changes. I don?t ever want to punish the horse in the flying change, just correct him."
It was the same in the training of the canter pirouettes, starting with working pirouettes, ten metre circles, but even as the movement became more centred, even as
the circle narrowed down, the rider had to feel that she could - and would - ride out of it immediately.
If Kate?s horse was the perfect subject, sadly the piece de resistance, the final horse which was to show all the ?tricks? was a bit of a disaster. Nicole Treacy?s Coriolanus, took one look at the big indoor arena, and freaked right out. Bravely Anky got on board and tried to at least get the horse on the bit as he went down doing chook impersonations with his head in the air. "At least he is not too deep. People are always complaining about my horses being too deep, he?s not that!" Even one of the best riders in the world can only do so much when a horse refuses to listen. "When a horse gets nervous like this, then without being rude I try to get the horse concentrating on me?"
Well it did finally, sort of, and the crowd roared their applause for a gutsy display.

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