Training in Germany

Guten Morgen. Last time I updated my SmartPak blog I was still in Belgium – well a whole lot has happened since then! Ayscha was still not a happy camper with the pressure of competing at Aachen building up, so Robert and I decided that going to such a huge venue was not in her best interest. This decision was a huge disappointment, to say the least. I have dreamed of competing at Aachen for years, and to be so close to living this dream, and then deciding against it really had me down for a bit. I am over the disappointment now, and this update should explain why I am totally thrilled with the direction this European experience has taken in the last 2 weeks.

It always seems that when one door closes, another one opens. You just have to keep your eyes open for the new door. Well, when we decided not to show in Aachen, I thought I should probably take advantage of being in Europe. The most expensive part of training in Europe is the airfare for the horse – and we had already paid for this part. There are a number of really top trainers over here, and I was lucky enough to be invited to train with Wolfram Wittig (he trains none other than Isabel Werth, among other top trainers and riders). I also think very highly of Hubertus Schmidt, but he is very busy this year competing his own horses and trying to make it on to the German Team for WEG.

Anyhow, as the rest of the Canadian Team was readying for Aachen, I was making arrangements to take my girl to Germany for 2 more months of training and competing. Before this change of plans I was to fly home on the 20th of July and stay in Boston until WEG, now I am staying in a little town in the middle of Germany until the end of September, and I will either fly Ayscha back to Florida or on to Kentucky if we make the WEG team.

So – let me tell you a little about the facility and the training. Wolfram and his wife Brigitte are both very accomplished Grand Prix trainers and riders. They have trained dozens of horses from their first days under saddle to Grand Prix, and are two of the most respected trainers in Germany and in the world. Their facility is lovely – the indoor is just huge (the better to go forward in) and the footing is perfection. The stalls are big, airy and all the horses can see all the others, so they are all content in their stalls. Ayscha lay down and rested on her very first night, which is a first for her. Interestingly, the outdoor ring is 20 meters by 56 meters – slightly short of the length of a regulation arena. This is on purpose – the idea is that if we can do the Grand Prix (or any level) test in a slightly short arena, and then we have the luxury of extra room to prepare and execute the movements when we actually get into the competition arena. I think that this is a brilliant idea, and is considering cutting off the end of my arena at home by a few meters!

I had the feeling that Ayscha was too much constrained and collected in her daily work and was losing the joy of moving. Dressage training, especially as you go up the levels, has to be a careful blend of forward and collection, and Robert and I were working hard to get her stronger in the collection. Under Wolfram’s eye we have backed off the collection and she is once again so happy to be forward and moving without constraint! I don’t have to use hardly any leg, her gaits are huge again, and my half-halts are really going back to front again. I was worried that when I asked for collection again I might lose all that brilliance, but no – yesterday we ran through the Grand Prix test and it was easier than ever! I just relaxed a little and let her come more under me, and she actually found the collection easier because I did not have to push her for it – her hind legs were self-motivated. What a wow moment it was when I felt that. It helps to have such a super talented horse, but in theory this should work with all dressage training.

The other thing Wolfram has said continually, and it is exactly what I think too is “let her be a young Grand Prix horse – let the pirouettes be a little big, and let the piaffe travel a little still – next year you can compete to win the class – this year compete to train your horse to be a confident GP horse”.

So, in summary, I am really, really happy to be in this training environment, and I would not be here without the opportunity that the Canadian European Tour afforded me. Thanks Dressage Canada, and Thank you Equine Canada! I am right now flying to Boston to teach for a week – I need to make some much needed money, and help my very supportive students. I expect they will be surprised by how forward I want them! ☺

Born in Austin, Texas, Shannon grew up outside of Vancouver, Canada. Her mother Jacqueline Oldham is a "S" judge in dressage in both Canada and the USA. Shannon was lucky enough to grow up with horses in her backyard, and evented up to the Intermediate level as a teenager, as well as show jumped and worked on the Thoroughbred racetrack, all this despite having a dressage enthusiast for a mother. She went through the Pony Club levels, to attain her "A" status at 18 years of age, and also got her Canadian Coaching Level2 status. After completing a Bachelors degree in Animal Science at the University of British Columbia and a Masters degree in Equine Nutrition and Physiology at Texas A & M University, Shannon went on to be faculty at Lakeland College and Olds College in Alberta, Canada, and then moved to Massachusetts with her husband Lorne to take up a faculty position at Johnson & Wales University. In 1994, Shannon spent many months in Holland as a working student for Bert Rutten- this was when she decided to get serious about dressage. She rode in her first international competition in 1995 in California, and was long-listed for the Canadian equestrian Team in 1996 with Madison. In 1995 she bought her first real star, Korona, as a 3 year old from Bert Rutten. Shannon trained Korona from the beginning. This partnership was very successful: beginning with an Individual Silver Medal at the Pan AM Games in 1997, they never looked back. Korona and Shannon represented Canada successfully at the Grand Prix level for many years. In 2002 at the World Championships in Spain they were the top Canadians, finishing 23rd in the Grand Prix and 25th in the Grand Prix Special. After winning the Canadian league World Cup Final in 2002, they represented Canada at the World Cup Final in Sweden in 2003. In 2003 they also were a part of the Canadian Team at the Open European Championships in England, which secured an Olympic berth for the Canadians for the following years Olympic Games. In 2004 they had a very successful training and competition tour at top International competitions in Holland, Germany, and Austria, but did not represent Canada at the Olympics- Korona was ill during the first of the Canadian Olympic Selection Trails.

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