How it Happened!

My One to One with Christoph Hess one Monday morning at the coffee bar in the hotel breakfast room. Me in my slippers!

How incredible that both Christoph and Walter Zettl were staying at the same hotel as Courtney and I were. I had the opportunity to chat just a bit with Mr. Zettl the day before.

The Place: Dressage Summit – Feb. 9, 10, 11, 2013. W. Palm Beach, Florida.

The Characters:  Christoph Hess, Head of Instruction and Head of the Personal Members Department at the DOKR, or German National Federation (Walter Zettl, the Parellis, Charles DeKunffy also part of the Summit but not my story here), my daughter Courtney and me and a Grand Prix rider on her International Gran Prix Dutch Warmblood.

Sunday afternoon session: The request–forward moving canter into a forward moving trot with long-ish reins (sort of long as their ‘regular’ rein was so short) and light contact. Seemed a simple enough request from Christoph of the rider/horse combo.

Went like this: Forward moving canter–check! Christoph had to keep imploring her to “Let loose the rein!” When he wanted her to transition into a forward trot, she shortened and pulled back on the reins and drove her seat into his back. “NO, NO!”, he shouts. “Let loose the reins and don’t stop the forward motion. Forward, forward. Forward canter straight into a forward trot.” Well, the work set in.

Each time the rider wanted the trot she wanted to stop the canter or tried to go to the really short, stubby, slow canter to get it. Plus, Christoph didn’t want her to use her reins to make the transition. It was evident to me that she didn’t understand how to do that. After twenty minutes with no success Christoph was trying different suggestions to get the desired result to no avail.

He had her circle smaller and smaller around him at canter while doing shoulder-in.

I should probably mention that all the riders (all training Grand Prix level) in the sessions were scared of their horses spooking and bolting off if the reins were loose. Each presenter spent a considerable amount of time–frequently seconds apart for 8 or 9 times in a row saying some sort of “Let loose the reins!” comment.

Anyway, the horse would start to think about transitioning because the setup was intended to make it difficult for him to continue cantering and in order for the rider to think about getting a forward trot she would drive her seat in again. However, since the horse was cantering, her movement was a canter rhythm.

No Good! We are now 30 minutes past the time allotted for the segment. Christoph is asking the audience, several times, if anyone speaks Dutch because the horse is not understanding his German and German accented English. He also mentioned a few times that he was going to ask Pat Parelli about some options to accomplish this as what he was doing certainly wasn’t working.

About 45 minutes past the time for the segment, they finally gave up and ended the session.

Meanwhile, I was explaining to Courtney, and the ears around me, why what was happening was happening and how to change it. She could see immediately that that was what was going on. Even though this was the first event of this sort she had ever attended, being brought up my daughter, she was able to grasp all of the nuance and such as I pointed out to her both good and bad. We also had a great time comparing it to ballroom dancing as that is what she does for her hobby. Those surrounding us had their ears tilted and whispered, “Oh, yes, I see!” and “She did it again!”

Monday morning: Repeat opening line–My One to One with Christoph Hess at the coffee bar in the hotel breakfast room. Me in my slippers!

We both said ‘hi’. My mind is racing. When in my life will I ever have the opportunity to speak to Christoph Hess again? Should I? Can I get up my nerve? Is there really anything to lose?

I say, “Excuse me. Could I have a few minutes to discuss the later part of the session yesterday?”

In the middle of the breakfast dining room, he launched into an explanation using his middle of the arena voice. He said that the horse was older and internationally trained and didn’t understand. It was a difficult task and… Yes, I’m leaving out a little, but… When I got a chance, I opened with, “The horse was doing what he was told. The RIDER didn’t understand how to effect the change.”

He stopped, stood still, shifted sideways and gave me an intent look – and let me tell him what I thought. I said the rider was riding the canter rhythm and every time she tried to stop the canter to get the trot you wanted her to go forward, so she drove her seat into him. But, as the horse was cantering at the time, she was cantering with her body motion. I then suggested that if she had gone into the rising trot the horse would have trotted as he was trying his best to do as she indicated. And yes, I did the body movements to boot.

While I was in my explanation, I literally SAW it hit him. He was completely still, then his eyebrows went up and his eyes widened. He put his hand on my upper arm, looked right in my eyes and said, “Your observation is fabulous. Your analysis and explanation are incredibly clear and I do believe you are right.”

That’s my moment! That was worth everything. Like the MasterCard commercial–PRICELESS!