Wunderbar... my life in Germany
Kiwi dressage rider Andrea Bank feels like she’s died and gone to heaven since basing herself and her stallion Doringcourt at the yard of German team trainer Jonny Hilberath. She talks about her experiences in an international dressage yard and shares som
The first time I rode for Jonny I was nervous and it went very badly. There were quite a few other people in the arena watching and I didn’t know what to do, because I knew Jonny’s way of training was completely different. In my mind, all I could think about was him training the German team, so I was freaking out, and Roy was tense because it was a new place...he was diabolical and I was diabolical! It was a disaster, honestly the worst I’d ever ridden and the worst my horse had ever gone, and I really think Jonny was wondering what he had done, agreeing to take us on. It was kind of funny and I actually didn’t care because I decided that from then on it was only going to get better!
When I first went to Jonny’s we had a lot of work to do. We went back to the basics. He basically said there was no language between me and my horse; that he didn’t know what I was doing
and I didn’t know what he was doing. And Jonny was completely right – it was what had been missing the whole time. In New Zealand, I would go into the arena and Roy would just take over. Everybody would say it looked good, but it didn’t feel right and I knew we could do so much better. We didn’t have confidence in each other and so we’d end up against each other the whole time. I was being too controlling, but it wasn’t in the right way. I was beginning to feel that he was really shutting down on me, which was not good, because he’s such a happy horse and loves to be ridden. Jonny explained that it wasn’t my fault but it didn’t have to be like that either. I think I’m a completely different rider now.
When I watched Jonny ride Roy for the first time, I couldn’t believe the change in my horse that happened in front of my eyes. He was just suddenly moving like I’ve never seen him move before, so powerfully. Jonny is able to create so much natural energy without pressure. He really gets the horses wanting to work for you. With Johnny, it’s never the horse’s fault; it’s always the rider’s fault.
There are no special tricks, we just use simple exercises, but we are patient. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed over here about the general way of the horse going is that in New Zealand we tend to want the biggest trot and the biggest passage and we don’t care how we get it; we
just hold and drive and the horses aren’t in self-carriage or through their bodies. Over here, they do the opposite: they just sit so quietly and wait until the horses find their balance and let go in their body.
Jonny is quite classical in his training: your horse has to be in self-carriage. There’s no pulling back. Of course when you’re correcting the horse if you have to be strong with him in that moment that’s absolutely fine, but it has to be a positive correction that the horse understands. Self-carriage means the horse is completely on your seat and in front of the leg, and carrying its own head around. You should be able to put your hands forward and nothing should really change in front.
Building confidence and connection
Jonny teaches the horses to react off his voice. We don’t ride with whips and there are no extra gadgets. The horse has to be tuned in to you as a rider, completely. Jonny uses all these different noises when he rides; it’s actually quite funny. Of course he clicks, but he also has different voice cues, and if the horses are naughty he won’t hit them, but he’ll get really angry at them in his voice.
Jonny also makes the training so much fun for the horses. If he’s training piaffe and the horse does two small steps, he stops and makes a big fuss of that horse. And then you see him do it again and the horse feels so good and confident it does four really good steps.
The collection should happen naturally and not be forced in any way. Roy’s mind was quite backwards going into collection, because it is hard work and we had been working against each other. We actually had to change his mind to think forwards into collection. Probably the biggest thing we had to teach him was to take off from behind with his hind legs first, as he used to grab in front and lock and then not come through properly from behind. He has to carry himself the whole time. I have to refuse to carry him.