The day started out and remained warm and even sunny in the afternoon so everyone did as requested and bought a chair and the dry weather!
As attendees started to arrive Judy was already teaching her own students who are based with her. They are preparing for competitions up to and including PSG and were quietly working their way through various test movements whilst managing their horses coping with a lot of activity and bustle as people settled in. Judy encouraged the riders to anticipate any spooks, to set up and ride forward. Fiona Brennen is competing at PSG level and now has a youngster so is taking on a more proactive thought process especially in the arena when there is no one to help during the moments that aren’t necessarily planned for.
Once everyone was settled in, Judy rode two of her competition horses, Fitz and Blitz (a pure coincidence in name similarity!). The first one, Fitz, who Judy spotted as a 3 year old and is now 16 years of age, competes at Grand Prix level and has recently returned to serious work following a slight injury. His rehabilitation has been a very slow and careful process with a measured balance of training for fitness which both Judy and Fitz demonstrated beautifully. Judy has just found the added benefits of the aqua treadmill as part of that regime for when they head off to France for an international qualifier competition in July.
Discussions followed on the dressage phase at Badminton this year, and Judy together with Fitz demonstrated some of the weaknesses that could be found in this phase and how to work on improving them – particularly the walk pirouettes.
Her second ride, Blitz, now 8 years of age, is working at advanced medium level and although extremely talented, suffers from nerves at the competitions predominantly becoming distracted with the noise. She envisages that Blitz will also reach Grand Prix level and her focus today concentrated on paying attention to the detail, to not throw away marks on the simple things especially transitions where specific marks at Advanced Medium are to be had, and to not therefore get caught up with the tricks too much.
Discussions ensued in relation to the development of the PSG movements; specifically in relation to the half pass counter change of hand, and again, walk and canter pirouettes, the emphasis being to practise, practise, practise and repeat. When collecting think of bending the hind joints rather than shortening the walk.
The first private lesson of the day was with Carol Bennitt on her own horse that she had had since a 3 yr. old. He is now working at Grand Prix level and is yet to debut in a GP competition. After a short warm up, Carol rode through the entire GP test (another first for Carol who tends to work on parts of the test at home) whilst Judy gave a detailed running commentary from a judges perspective with marks included – whilst also managing to explain why she gave those mark and how to gain more. As well as being extremely informative, it also clearly demonstrated Judy’s close attention to detail, sharp and quickness of eye and complete depth of knowledge. For improvement Judy suggested that Carol keeps the shoulders of the horse “up” through the corners and specifically during the turns onto the centre line to aid with the straightness.
Carol also takes lessons with Carl Hester twice a month and a discussion pursued at this point about variable coaching styles; that coaches are as individual as riders.
Next, Nicole Biggs rode her Intermediate event horse who jumps brilliantly and loves the x/c but doesn’t really get dressage; possibly viewing this phase as a necessity rather than desirability. Her mare can become quite stuffy and needs a lot of encouraging; all aided and improved by the constant repetition of transitions, particularly within the pace – with perhaps more emphasis to the down ward transition to help maintain the hind leg activity. Careful reminders from Judy helped Nicole’s awareness that she can be easily duped into doing much of the work for her horse. However, in contrast, there needs to be a balance when riding forward that the horse doesn’t then become more unbalanced, so that if she comes out of a natural rhythm, the hand brake goes on even more.
Discussions took place about how the extraordinary top dressage horses are less likely to tire so easily when they are competing especially in the circuit, in relation to a horse that isn’t as well designed in their conformation; that they are required to work harder to maintain their level of work and expertise, especially at Grand Prix level; whereas eventers for example, canter more forward as oppose to a dressage horse whose canter is designed for a more uphill motion.
This thought process followed through with the next rider, Ann Bostock whose horse for this session was a 12 year old retired point to pointer. It took a while, but once he had settled into the job in hand, worked beautifully. Ann confirms that Judy is always looking for the positive in any partnership and is as enthusiastic with a TB as with a “proper dressage horse”. She reminds herself to not hurry her horse through the canter transitions allowing him to prepare mentally and then physically before producing his answer. Again by the repetition of correct management of the exercise, her horse visibly relaxed and his confidence clearly grew.
Nicole Biggs then rode her second horse, a now retired Intermediate event horse who currently concentrates on his dressage to Advanced Medium level at 21 years of age. He gave Nicole a lovely ride and quietly worked his way through most of the movements required at this level. His parting shot to the session was 2 perfectly executed flying changes that have been somewhat of a nemesis but came just right on our day. Judy explained that horses who clearly understand their job need to work on the areas that will enhance their weaknesses without taking the strain.
Finally, Jo Ivimey brought her stunning 9 year old dressage horse who is currently working at medium dressage level; with the view of wanting to know if he would make the PSG grade. As with many riders who train for periods independently, Jo relished the advice and help that Judy was able to offer, with particular regard to tweaking the rider position and reinforcing the correct way of going. Judy also worked on the importance of horses that have a tendency to run away or become onward bound, that it is still imperative to keep riding them forwards, and keep the leg on to re-engage the hind quarters.
This training day with Judy Harvey, her guinea pigs, volunteer riders and a selection of super horses, proved to be extremely inspirational and thought provoking, with many ideas taken away and worked upon. Whilst at the same time, similar veins of a training philosophy ran through an assortment horses at different levels and backgrounds, which enabled the observing participant’s a valuable opportunity to look at the similar themes but from a variety of perspectives.
Report by Pippa Hattan; BHSI reg’d