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

NZ Horse & Pony - - Our Month -

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

He­len Firth

Libby Law

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.

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