Young Horses Through the Lev­els with In­grid Klimke

This Grand Prix dres­sage rider and Olympic even­ter dis­cusses her train­ing prin­ci­ples as they ap­ply to horses ris­ing through the lev­els.

Dressage Today - - Front Page - By Cheryl Wyl­lie Photos by AGENTUR daten­re­iter / Lutz Kaiser

G er­man Olympic gold medal­ist In­grid Klimke is fol­low­ing in the fa­mous foot­steps of her late father, dres­sage mas­ter Reiner Klimke. Like her father, she is both an in­ter­na­tional event­ing and dres­sage icon and, as a five-time Olympian, she has cre­ated her own world-renowned legacy. Born in Mün­ster, Ger­many, in 1968, Klimke com­peted in dres­sage, show jump­ing and event­ing as a young­ster. Af­ter years of con­sis­tent train­ing she came to un­der­stand the ne­ces­sity to de­velop an in­ten­sive bond with her horses and to never over­bur­den them. “It is es­sen­tial to build the horse’s con­fi­dence and will­ing­ness to do bet­ter,” she says. While she con­tin­ues to de­velop mod­ern ath­letic dres­sage horses Klimke re­mains true to im­ple­ment­ing a clas­si­cal ap­proach to train­ing.

Among Klimke’s many ac­com­plish­ments is her abil­ity to train young horses. Through the years, she has com­peted many young­sters at one of the world’s largest Young Horse shows—the Bun­de­scham­pi­onate in Waren­dorf, Ger­many. Each year, the Bun­de­scham­pi­onate sees the best young horses in Ger­many com­pete to be one of 21 top-off­spring horses and ponies from Ger­man breed­ing se­lected as na­tional cham­pi­ons in the var­i­ous dis­ci­plines and age groups. In the fol­low­ing in­ter­view, we hear how Klimke works to train her young horses up through the lev­els and pre­pares them for Grand Prix com­pe­ti­tion. DT There is a long but de­fined road from the Bun­de­scham­pi­onate in Waren­dorf, Ger­many, to Grand Prix. Only very few skilled rid­ers and train­ers can train cham­pion young horses and de­velop the same horse into an in­ter­na­tional Grand Prix horse. Why? IK It takes a lot of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to train any horse to Grand Prix. And not every part­ner­ship works out. Not every skilled trainer has the luck to work with a horse who stays sound, but I think we are see­ing more and more horses com­pet­ing at the Grand

Prix level, so there are def­i­nitely more train­ers suc­ceed­ing. Dres­sage has be­come much more pop­u­lar out­side Europe, and in North Amer­ica, es­pe­cially, breed­ers and train­ers are more and more ed­u­cated so they are be­ing re­warded with suc­cess. DT What are some of the train­ing chal­lenges one en­coun­ters af­ter win­ning a 6-year-old FEI Young Horse class and then tran­si­tion­ing to the first dres­sage class for young­sters at M-level (the high­est class 6-year-olds can com­pete in Ger­many)? IK There should be no sud­den change in the rou­tine. The train­ing process con­tin­ues with ex­er­cises to in­crease the strength for self-car­riage and lat­eral sup­ple­ness know­ing that the stan­dard ex­pected by the judges also in­creases with the level of test. The only ad­di­tional re­quire­ment in the M-level test is the rein-back. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the judg­ing of the Young Horse tests and the stan­dard tech­ni­cal tests is that the judges for the Young Horse tests sit to­gether and agree on marks for the gaits and the eval­u­a­tion of the po­ten­tial and train­ing progress of the horses. They are giv­ing an overview of the horse and his or her dres­sage com­pe­ti­tion po­ten­tial with­out giv­ing marks for in­di­vid­ual move­ments, whereas in the M test, as in all tech­ni­cal tests, the judges sit sep­a­rately and each move­ment is marked with col­lec­tive marks at the end. DT Are all well-bred horses, when paired with the right rider and trainer, ca­pa­ble of train­ing for the Bun­de­scham­pi­onate and pro­gress­ing through all of the Ger­man lev­els up to Grand Prix? IK It is im­por­tant to al­low the young horse to show by his tem­per­a­ment and level of ma­tu­rity whether he is ready and able to com­pete in the FEI Young Horse tests. Even in the hands of the best train­ers, some highly tal­ented young horses may need more time to ma­ture phys­i­cally and/or men­tally in or­der to meet the chal­lenges of com­pe­ti­tion. It is true that it can be tempt­ing to push a young horse to meet the re­quire­ments of th­ese lev­els in or­der to show him off. We have to be wise enough to re­ally put the horse’s wel­fare first and be hon­est with our­selves about the readi­ness of each horse in our care. And many tal­ented horses who are not ready for th­ese Young Horse tests still go on to com­pete at the top lev­els. Com­pet­ing at the Bun­de­scham­pi­onate is not a fail-safe way to pre­dict fu­ture suc­cess, just as not com­pet­ing at th­ese events does not pre­clude reach­ing Grand Prix. DT Even in the Olympics we some­times see a lat­eral walk in the col­lected walk. What are some com­mon mis­takes that de­te­ri­o­rate the walk? IK The walk must be rid­den very care­fully. Some horses re­act to the col­lect­ing ex­er­cises by los­ing the per­fect four-beat rhythm. We must make sure when col­lect­ing the walk that we do not

tighten the neck and the back. There must be plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to let the horse stretch on a loose rein to main­tain the re­lax­ation over the back. Of course, some horses are prone to be­ing lat­eral and with th­ese horses, we can uti­lize ex­er­cises like shoul­der-in and walking cav­al­letti to help re­turn the foot­falls to their cor­rect se­quence. But for a truly con­firmed lat­eral walk, we can­not ex­pect the judges to ig­nore it. DT For horses who have a very big over­stride, how do you ad­dress the de­vel­op­ment of col­lected walk and avoid the propen­sity for a lat­eral walk? IK A very big walk can in­deed present prob­lems but not al­ways. Th­ese types of horses should not be asked for too much col­lec­tion too soon. If we lose the cor­rect rhythm in the gait, we have lost every­thing we strive for, which is to im­prove the horse’s self-car­riage, sup­ple­ness and har­mony with the rider. This is an­other ex­am­ple of a time when walk cav­al­letti can be of help since to ne­go­ti­ate the cav­al­letti, the horse must step in the cor­rect rhythm. DT How would you cor­rect a horse who is tense in col­lected walk and lacks through­ness? IK It is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the ori­gin of the ten­sion. If it is coming from the horse sens­ing what he should do next, then the trainer must be more un­pre­dictable: Only col­lect for a few mo­ments at a time and im­me­di­ately move on to a free walk or try some lat­eral work. Some­times a longer walk at the be­gin­ning can re­sult in a re­laxed horse and, again, it is al­ways good to have the cav­al­letti handy. Def­i­nitely avoid push­ing too hard and risk­ing a bad train­ing day that you and your horse will re­mem­ber. DT Coming from the FEI Young Horse classes, where the horses are en­cour­aged to move with large and ex­pres­sive gaits, how do you be­gin train­ing the same horse in trot not only to take shorter strides but quicker strides with­out block­ing and mak­ing him tense? IK Yes, it is true that the ex­pres­sive move­ment can some­times come at a cost. There are times when we see the neck short and tight and the horses lose the sup­ple­ness over the back. As with all good train­ing, the goal is to help the horse reach his ath­letic po­ten­tial while pre­serv­ing his health and men­tal well-be­ing. If I am go­ing to ride such a tense horse, I must first re­view or per­haps al­low him to stretch cor­rectly over the back to the con­tact. If this is dif­fi­cult at first, then it is the only ex­er­cise for the day. We may also want to re­dis­cover the work­ing trot, so that when we col­lect, we are only short­en­ing the strides and in­creas­ing the ca­dence but not the ten­sion. DT How do you trans­late this work into pi­affe and pas­sage tran­si­tions? IK We want the horse to be quick off the aids but not to lose his nat­u­ral rhythm and tempo. This level of col­lec­tion de­mands that the horse be strong enough to trans­fer more weight to the hindquar­ters. In or­der for this to hap­pen, the horse has to al­low the rider to en­gage the hind legs while main­tain­ing the poll po­si­tion, and to do that, the horse must al­ready be very light to the seat, leg and hand. The tran­si­tions take prac­tice. This is the mo­ment when coming into pi­affe, the horse can make a mis­take and walk if the half halt is not well un­der­stood. The tran­si­tion for­ward to pas­sage is the time when a loss of en­gage­ment re­sults in some col­lected trot steps. Ten­sion can creep in when the horse an­tic­i­pates this de­gree of col­lec­tion, and train­ers must be sen­si­tive to the abil­ity of the horse to re­main con­fi­dent and re­laxed in his work. Bet­ter to take a few good steps as the horse is learn­ing than over­face the horse. And al­ways be ready with lots of praise and treats.

DT How do you de­velop the can­ter in prepa­ra­tion for pirou­ettes? IK In my sta­ble we like to jump. And per­haps you have seen judges’ re­marks about can­ter work. They like to say the can­ter needs more jump. Well, that is one of the things we and the horses love to do. Cav­al­letti work is so help­ful in de­vel­op­ing the horse over the back, and we can change the dis­tance be­tween the ob­sta­cles to en­cour­age some short­en­ing or length­en­ing of the strides. When it comes to pirou­ettes, I be­lieve we all have been taught that you must be able to col­lect the can­ter and go out of col­lec­tion on a straight line be­fore ask­ing for the turn. This is good for many rea­sons. It teaches the horse that maybe we do a pirou­ette and maybe not! DT What ex­er­cises do you use to de­velop the ap­pro­pri­ate col­lected can­ter in prepa­ra­tion for tempi changes? IK We don’t need a spe­cial col­lected can­ter for tempi changes. If the horse is in self-car­riage and able to col­lect, the most im­por­tant things are that the changes are clean, through and are clearly go­ing for­ward over the ground and have good ex­pres­sion (or jump). DT Your cross-train­ing ap­proach not only as­sists in the phys­i­cal sound­ness of your horses but also the men­tal har­mony of horse and rider. Can you ex­plain fur­ther this method­ol­ogy and its ben­e­fits? IK I think we all like to get out of the of­fice, and at our barn, we and the horses def­i­nitely love to hack. If we are tak­ing a very young horse out, there are al­ways sev­eral babysit­ters to show the way and give con­fi­dence to the young one. It is good for a horse to un­der­stand how he has to move on nat­u­ral ground, and the coun­try­side in­cludes hills and water and is safe, but they re­ally have to pay at­ten­tion. We love to take them all out to­gether—the dres­sage horses and even­ters. DT Dif­fer­ent mus­cles are uti­lized for var­i­ous dis­ci­plines. How do you weave this all to­gether when train­ing a young horse to Grand Prix? IK The dif­fer­ences are re­ally not so big. We are all work­ing to­ward mak­ing the horses sup­ple and strong, elas­tic and obe­di­ent. While it is true that the even­ters may have a freer out­line when gal­lop­ing than a dres­sage horse does in ex­ten­sion, I be­lieve that even the dres­sage horses should gal­lop to de­velop their full range of mo­tion. DT What would you con­sider the most im­por­tant dif­fer­ence be­tween a Grand Prix dres­sage horse who has been trained with vari­a­tion and one who has spent his whole life in an arena? IK Some horses seem able to cope with this kind of rou­tine, but stay­ing in the arena can lead to a lot of rep­e­ti­tion of ex­er­cises with­out much vari­a­tion. If we think about the men­tal well-be­ing of the horse, then it is good to re­mem­ber that they are an­i­mals and it is only nor­mal that they are al­lowed to be out in na­ture with the rider as well as [at lib­erty] in the pad­dock. DT By ex­am­ple, you are lead­ing the mod­ern dres­sage world in a more pos­i­tive di­rec­tion. How does this make you feel to be such a great in­flu­ence? IK It is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity. But my father [Reiner Klimke] taught us all to re­spect the horses and learn from each one even as we train them. If I am suc­cess­ful it is be­cause of the train­ing I re­ceived from him and I try every day to imag­ine what would he do with what­ever lit­tle prob­lem comes along. DT What would be your best ad­vice at this time for young, as­pir­ing train­ers? IK Find some­one to work with whose horses are en­joy­ing their train­ing. Be pre­pared to im­prove your rid­ing every time you ride. Take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­ni­ties to au­dit lessons and watch pro­fes­sion­als train­ing. Prac­tice pa­tience with horses and your stu­dents. DT Up un­til now you have been highly suc­cess­ful. And yet, you still have a long ca­reer ahead of you. What, in the end, would you like to leave be­hind as your legacy? IK I would be happy if I have lived up to my father’s ex­pec­ta­tions and car­ried on his legacy of ed­u­cated and com­pas­sion­ate train­ing.

Ger­many’s In­grid Klimke and SAP Es­cada FRH

Here Klimke and SAP Es­cada FRH demon­strate a can­ter with ex­cel­lent jump.

“As with all good train­ing, the goal is to help the horse reach his ath­letic po­ten­tial while pre­serv­ing his health and men­tal well-be­ing,” Klimke em­pha­sizes. Here she is with SAP Geral­dine.

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