14 Tips from Olympian Laura Graves
In a Dressage for Jumping clinic, Graves focuses on effective riding that applies to riders of all disciplines.
In a Dressage for Jumping clinic Graves focuses on quiet effective riding
Dressage fans are accustomed to the sight of Laura Graves riding her own Dutch Warmblood, Verdades, underneath palm trees at the Global Dressage Festival in Florida or heading down centerline at an international event in Europe. Ordinarily, one wouldn’t expect to find her coaching at a barn full of hunters, jumpers and equitation riders working with shortened stirrups and brown tack in a ring void of dressage letters.
But last August, auditors from all disciplines—hunters to eventers to dressage riders—gathered at Ohana Equestrian Preserve in Aldie, Virginia, to listen to Graves share her wisdom in a Dressage for Jumping clinic hosted by the Washington International Horse Show and sponsored by BarnManager.
Kama Godek LLC’s Team Kama won the clinic as the grand prize of the 2017 Washington International Horse Show Barn Night Video Contest. In the clinic, Graves provided one-on-one flatwork instruction for nine riders of Team Kama, including Piper Tyrrell, Erin Gilmore, Nicole Butchko, Kama Godek, Maya Aryal, Casey Osborn, Stefanie Obenhaupt, Abby Grabowski and Stefan Parker. Based at Ohana Equestrian Preserve, Godek is a Grand Prix show jumper who has competed internationally and runs an international equine sales business.
Although the scenery and style of riding were different from the norm, Graves’ advice was as applicable as ever for every rider, regardless of discipline. Following are insights from the clinic:
1. No matter the discipline, the challenges are the same.
“It’s always interesting to see that whether you’re jumpers or eventers or just dressage people, everyone is always struggling with the same thing: getting horses in front of the leg and straight,” Graves said.
2. zou have to decide how hard you want to work.
This was a phrase that Graves repeated continually throughout the day. She explained that it’s necessary for the rider to set a standard of how the horse should react to the rider’s aids from the beginning. “As for me, I’m lazy,” Graves said in a statement that might have come as a surprise to auditors. “Do as little as possible but as much as necessary.”
With both beginner and advanced riders, Graves asked: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you working?” Ideally, she explained, she likes her horses to be performing optimally when she is exerting minimal effort—preferably at a 1 or 2. “I never feel sorry for someone who is out of breath at the end of their ride,” she said. Throughout the day, she worked with virtually all riders on sharpening their horse’s responses to the aids. “A horse must take your ‘perfect’ aid seriously,” she said. “And any other reaction requires a correction. You need to be honest with yourself if you’re getting the reaction that you want and that you’re getting it on time.”
If a rider asked the horse to go forward and he did not respond immediately with the appropriate amount of effort, Graves told her to immediately surprise the horse with a sharper aid. Once the horse responded appropriately, it was the rider’s job to disappear and be quiet as a reward.
“How hard are you working?” she would ask. “Relax,” she told Erin Gilmore on the chestnut gelding, Sirocco, as they were working in the canter. “Relax so much. Just don’t fall off. Do nothing. If he breaks to trot, then we attack it. Say, I dare you to trot. You’ll find out what happens if you trot.
Give him a couple of chances. Right now, I don’t care how spectacular the canter is. If you’re already working at an 8, there isn’t much room for improvement.”
3. eet more by doing less.
“If I am working at an 8 and my horse is giving me a 5, then my ability to make that horse a 10 doesn’t exist,” Graves said. “If you’re using all of your energy and getting a mediocre performance, you won’t be able to get a better performance. Get more by doing less.”
4. Effectiveness comes first.
“If you’re not an effective rider, I don’t really care how nice you look on a horse,” she said. “Part of what makes someone a beautiful rider is being so effective that they can be quiet. Your horse has to be sharp so that he reacts to an invisible aid.”
5. Sometimes you must look down.
“Everyone spends all their time telling you to look up, but you can’t know what’s going on sometimes unless you look down. Watch your reins. Look down,” she said. This not only applied to riders who let their reins grow in length, but also those who tended to want to overbend the horse in the neck or had horses who tended to be crooked.
6. dind a Way to Say “zes.”
“If you get so caught up in chasing the mistakes, the horses never learn to search for the right answer. You have to find a way to tell them ‘yes,’ instead of always saying ‘no.’”
7. areate an eager partner.
“Make your horse feel like it’s fun to go forward. When we take away the horses’ ability to participate in the conversation, they’re going to stop trying. When I train horses, my goal is to make eager partners. When I walk into my barn, all of my horses want attention. And I don’t feed them a lot of treats. What’s in this for me is that I’m trying to communicate really little details with something that doesn’t speak my language.”
v.S. Olympian kaura eraves (middle) coaches rider Maya Aryal as trainer and erand Prix show jumper iama eodek looks on.
eraves’ focus throughout the clinic wCS GNEOTRCIKNI GėGEěKUGNGSS that allowed riders to be quiet and elegant in the saddle.