Well, not really. I mean, I’m still riding Newman, my 15-year-old Trakehner gelding, but after a three-day clinic with “The Master” Karl Mikolka, he feels like a new horse!
For those who may be unfamiliar with Karl Mikolka, briefly, he was born in Vienna, Austria and became an “oberbereiter” or Chief Rider at the Spanish Riding School. Following a stint with the Brazilian team, he finally landed in the United States, eventually accepting a position with Tempel Farms, training and exhibiting their lipizzans. Karl was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame in 2003 and now lives in Massachusetts, from where he continues to disseminate his teaching through clinics, major equestrian publications, and the internet. I am fortunate that my barn is owned by a long-time student of Karl’s, and that one of his certified trainers regularly visits my barn, so we are privileged with a once-a-year clinic with this icon of classical dressage.
It’s hard to describe clinics with Herr Mikolka. Yes, you and your horse work hard (be prepared to sweat!). Yes, there’s a lot of classical dressage theory to take in, usually while you’re riding the canter with both reins in one hand while the other arm performs a windmill exercise. Yes, he is very demanding with high standards. But this hard work, this focus on correct rider position and use of the aids, and this emphasis on round circles, proper corners, and maintaining the line of travel is the key to lightness in front, power from behind, and suppleness throughout the whole body that all riders seek.
It wasn’t just the horses and riders that worked hard – Karl is with every pair every step of the way whether you are riding large, he is lunging you, has you on the long lines, or is working you and your horse in-hand. I was able to experience each of these classical training methods as Karl patiently, consistently, and fairly worked Newman through his stiffness and heaviness issues. I went from hearing “your horse is like a redwood tree” and “your horse is like a bison” to “EXCELLENT trot” and “he has an advanced gait that’s pretty good.” Music to my ears!
Want to try some of his exercises yourself? During a lesson with Karl you will learn the in-depth theory behind each – how it helps you become a better rider and/or helps the horse develop quality in his gaits. But even without the benefit of this full background, the exercises are fun no matter what discipline you ride and you might even learn something about yourself and your horse:
1. Sit 3, post 1, sit 3, post 2, sit 3, post 3, repeat.
2. On a 20m circle at the trot, post 10 times on the main diagonal, then switch and post 9 times on the secondary (wrong) diagonal, then switch back and post 8 times on the main diagonal. Continue this pattern through 3 then increase back to 10.
3. Count the number of trot (and canter) strides all the way around the arena to the left and to the right.
4. Maintain the same number of walk or trot strides on consecutive 20m, 15m, or 10m circles (extra credit: maintain the same number of strides in each of the four quadrants).
5. When walking or trotting over a pole, try to identify which front leg is going over first.
Since the clinic, I’ve been playing with the concepts Karl shared with me, which is resulting in WONDERFUL rides and so I am able to answer “yes!” to the question he asked me many times during my lesson: “Is he light?”