F & I Annual Course Dressage with Christoph Hess

Addington Equestrian Centre once again hosted the F and I conference and we arrived with a great sense of excitement and anticipation. We had been privileged to watch Christoph Hess last year and he was superb. Now we were to be in his presence again. He started coaching at 8 am and finished at 17.45 pm. His enthusiasm did not deplete once during the full two days. He is gifted in his ability not only to connect with his rider and their horse but with their support team.  Everyone connected with the horse was involved in a most emphatic and jovial way. This led to relaxation on everyone’s part and of course our friend the HORSE benefitted from this relaxed approach.

On day one Christoph talked with each rider asking about the combination and what they wanted to improve. Then he watched the horses working in, asking for basic paces and simple movements.

Whatever level the horse was working at, Christoph went back to the basics. He preached the Gospel of FORWARDNESS. Each rider worked extremely hard to achieve this concept. The inside leg was king! There were horses working towards Grand Prix level down to two 5 year olds. They all worked on this principle of going forward from the inside leg using different exercises to achieve it. He mainly used leg yield and shoulder in.

The leg had to be used from the CALF not the spur. The horse had to learn this and Christoph would show the rider how to achieve it. At times taking the rider’s leg away from the side and showing how to apply it firmly. He wanted a reaction from the horse to go FORWARD. It worked, even if it took a little time with some horses.  With the more educated horse he used leg yielding and shoulder in to achieve inside leg response and the riding of the corners had to be precise. The corners and lateral work help with flexion, which is necessary and created from inside leg to outside rein.

Once the horse was going forward, RHYTHM was paramount and the correct tempo had to be achieved.  Leg yielding helps to slow down a busy horse.

The rider position was worked on and thus the contact with the rein aids. Many riders were dependant on the inside rein. He use one handed work and had riders doing lateral work one handed and the result was transforming. The horse now with a consistent contact could go forward in balance. In order to keep the suppleness and throughness in the horse, a lot of work was done in light seat and rising trot.

Each horse on the first day improved and was more relaxed and the throat lash area was more open. The riders were pleased with the improvement made with their horses.

On day 2, Christoph continued with the forward work. Each horse came in, as one rider said the quality of work “was like a continuation of how it ended yesterday”.  The quality of work further improved throughout the second session.

The lovely relaxed approach helped each combination to raise their game and work to a better level. The expression “Get a feeling for the feeling” was repeated constantly i.e. feel what is right and remember it to get the correct feel. The rider has to ask three things:

1. Is the horse trained for the movement?

2. Is the horse uphill?

3. Is the horse forward?

In the canter work flying changes were used a lot and improved. In order to do the flying change the canter has to be forward asking for bigger strides. The horse has to sit on the inside leg so using a smaller circle before the flying change helps. Some walk to canter transitions in the preparation work is a useful exercise.

The purpose of Dressage is “to develop the gaits more and more”.

The Piaff and Passage work was helped by the use of flexion. In Piaff the rider must be careful not to drive too much with the aids. Christoph would help with voice aids to encourage the horse…a little whistle or click. In Piaff the horse must be in front of the tongue!

On the last day Pammy Hutton on her lovely Magnum did the GP test for our assessment. It was a joy to watch this combination displaying correct classical riding and training.

It was the icing on the cake and Christoph was very happy.

To quote him “It was top class”.

Christoph you were TOP CLASS.


Much appreciation must go to Jillie Rogers, our charismatic Chairman, Ann Bostock, organiser extraordinaire, and the F and I Committee.

Until next year!

Report by Faith Ponsonby