Gerd Zuther and the Triplets.
Epic clinic, or epic band name?
This summer I have had the privilege of helping my friend Caryn start her "triplets." These three 3-year-olds were the result of a very successful embryo transfer of Caryn's Grand Prix Hanoverian imported from Germany, Salope, and international Grand Prix superstar, the Oldenburg (approved Hanoverian) Diamond Hit, who is standing at stud in Germany. Their breeding, build, movement, and temperament all speak to successful careers in dressage. How successful? Well, I am but a humble eventer, who doesn't even know how to ask for any of the upper level movements, but I think in the right hands, there is nothing these fillies can't do. And in a less experienced amateur's hands? I'm pretty sure they'd still be winning national accolades.
The work this summer culminated in last weekend's Gerd Zuther clinic. For those who don't know Gerd, I'm not sure I can adequately describe what an amazing teacher he is! He is certified by the German Equine Federation (FN) as a "Reitlehrer FN” as a riding instructor and trainer for the three Olympic equestrian disciplines – dressage, jumping and eventing – with riding accomplishments that include multiple Grand Prix successes. His primary focus has always been training, with many of his students going on to compete at the Olympic level, including most recently Nina Lingon of Thailand.
awesome horses + awesome trainer = great success
Day 1 saw my horse, Zahra get her little behind handed to her by Gerd. Before the lesson even began, he had me hop off to show me where she lacked muscle in her hind end. When I got back on, he laid out some cavalettis and we spent the next hour working those undeveloped muscles, both with the cavalettis and flatwork gymnastics. She was completely wiped out by the end, but we had a good plan for the winter.
The first of the triplets, Diamond Dureza, was up next. She. Was. Perfect. Walk-trot-canter in a swinging rhythm with a supple back, and we even began introducing some more advanced stuff, like head to the wall leg-yields. She took it all in stride! It was a lovely lesson, on a lovely horse, and I am not sorry to say that this means Caryn will be taking over the ride on her after this! Although she has been such a pleasure to work with, I am excited that Caryn can finally begin to enjoy one of these girls after 4+ years of waiting!
Day 2 began as soon as I arrived at the farm. I came down to audit a bit before my ride, and no sooner than I'd sat down then Gerd called me out of the audience to help with a supremely talented but occasionally naughty 6 year old who refused to relax into his flying lead changes. Horse and rider were getting too frustrated with each other, so Gerd had me hop on. (Cue awkward moment when you realize you've never done a flying lead change outside of a jump saddle, and in jumping style). Going left to right, he'd let out a big buck, and right to left he would try to kick the rider's leg (and sometimes, he succeeded!!). A few bucks and kicks later, we finally got ONE quiet, correct flying lead change, at which point Gerd had me bring him back to the walk to do some half-steps to finish him off. Except, fatal flaw, the eventer had no idea how to ask for half-steps!! So, I just tried to hold him in front and time my leg aids to Gerd's whip, and we managed to get a few!!
Next was my ride on Z. I could feel that she began the day still a bit tired. We focused on suppleing gymnastics for the whole ride, like double shallow loops down the long side, 4 loop serpentines, and riding off the track, lengthening down the long sides, flexing in the corners, but straight and sitting trot on the short sides. The final exercise proved to be too much for her exhausted little body: 3 loop serpentine, change of lead over centerline. She just could not consistently pick up the correct lead, in either direction! When we finally came to the cool-down, she could barely lift her back legs! So, hind end strength will be a huge priority over the winter. Clearly the little 3' jumps are not enough to make her actually engage those muscles!! What was really neat was how much I was able to push on her. Here she is, only 4 years old, but doing the same sorts of exercises my Intermediate horse Sgilti would have been doing when he was in his prime! So even though she struggled a bit, she's still on the accelerated track for greatness.
After my ride, I was completely wiped out. I wasn't entirely sure where I was going to find the energy for two more horses, so I was doing my best to relax and audit, when again Gerd called on me to get on the horse in the lesson! This was a more experienced pair, working on Prix St. Georges movements, but they weren't making it out of the warm-up because the rider was way over-thinking a straightforward walking leg-yield exercise. So I hopped on and did the exercise, and then demonstrated what the rider had been doing (with Gerd's help... I hadn't been able to tell the problem from where I was sitting).
I got two good take-aways from these two quick helping rides-- first of all, Gerd thinks I'm a competant enough rider that he'll make me get on these well trained horses (squee!!), and second, I've never in my life ridden a horse so well connected as those two. Something to aspire to I suppose!
After that was the second triplet, Diamond Caliente. Unfortunately, she can be a bit of a hot tamale on the lounge line occasionally, and today was one of those occasions. Even though I feel that she could have stepped up to any challenge Gerd had given us, he chose to take it a little easier on her and we focused on developing a better connection. This was definitely an area we needed help with, so it was still a great lesson, and she was swinging and soft by the end of the ride.
And finally Triplet #3, Diamond Dolce. Gerd picked up right away that she was (currently) the least balanced, and so we worked in short spurts, doing lots of transitions and walk breaks so that we didn't push her past her fitness level. She (and every baby) needs to enjoy their work before the "real work" can begin. Our work focused on building up her strength and endurance so that she could better carry my weight, and it gave us a good game plan for moving forward.
People kept asking me during the clinic which is my favorite to ride, but the truth is, I like each of them for different reasons. They are all so athletic, they will excel wherever their lives take them. Hopefully I can do my best to keep up with them as their lives progress!