By Clara Richard
The South Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (SCDCTA) puts on an annual dressage clinic for our junior members with an out of state FEI trainer. It’s a three-day affair at the SC Equine Park in Camden, SC, and is free of charge to our junior members. Each participant receives two lessons, stabling, meals, educational lectures, fun swag, and friendships with memories to last a lifetime!
To participate, SCDCTA youth members must submit a written application, parts of which are published in the clinic’s program, and log 8 nonconsecutive volunteer hours at a USDF or USEA show or event. The juniors are also required to write thank-you notes to any person or business that sponsors any aspect of the clinic. The clinic is made possible by the juniors’ fundraising efforts throughout the year, which include a bake sale, lemonade stand, raffle baskets at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships and selling customizable vests. In 2019, we were fortunate to have Pan American Team member Endel Ots as our clinician. Below is a write-up by SCDCTA Junior Representative Clara Richards (16) of her lesson experience with Ots:
This past June, the SCDCTA Juniors had the incredible opportunity to host Endel Ots for our Annual Junior Clinic. We’ve had other clinicians in the past from all over the Southeast, but Endel did a fantastic job of accommodating all the riders and their abilities. One of the coolest parts of the clinic was the range of abilities of all the riders, and I found that I was able to learn so much as a result. Endel’s instruction was consistently exactly what the riders needed.
I personally was able to bring two horses, Fernhill Prada (Polly) and Fernhill Mr. Cool. They both are similar rides in that they tend to curl up instead of reaching towards the contact, but their similarities end there. They are both in very different places in their training; Polly is established schooling Second Level, whereas Mr. Cool- primarily an eventer- is coming back from an injury. For Mr. Cool, Endel let us go at our own pace, which I appreciated. He didn’t push us to do anything, but instead he encouraged me to get Mr. Cool going to the bit and pushing into the contact instead of curling away from the bit. I’m used to trying to avoid conflict with Mr. Cool- not picking a fight- so it was a more confrontational style of riding than I was used to. How truthful the contact was could be tested in the quality of the transitions, so Endel had me do a lot of trot-canter transitions making sure that they were moving horizontally enough instead of vertically.
My second lesson was just as educational as the first. After I warmed Polly up for my lesson, Endel made me stop. He then had me not even think about getting her round in my warm-up because she naturally wants to come behind the bit. At first when he asked me to make the change, I hesitated. Getting Polly on the bit is something I do automatically, and it almost stressed me out to not have her round. I immediately felt the difference though when we stepped to canter; Polly was carrying herself and stepping under herself so much better. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and she still couldn’t quite carry herself in the canter going to the left, but I could tell that the quality of her gaits was so much better overall. It was amazing how much of a difference one small change made.
After warming up, something that Endel helped me with at length was my canter-walk, walk-canter transitions. For the upward transition, something that he reiterated that I found so helpful was that each transition didn’t have to be perfect. I was taking too much time trying to create the perfect walk and the perfect bend in each transition. Instead, I needed to get her off my aids and be effective in my ask to be able to ask for a perfect transition in the test, not the training. For the downward transition, he had me compact her canter as small as I could. He called it ‘pirouette canter’, essentially meaning that it felt that it was bouncing under you. He had me collect Polly and then let her go forward for a few strides, making her sit and carry herself in preparation for a walk transition but not actually walking. Then, if her canter was good, he’d let her do the transition. During the collection, he didn’t want her to be round; he wanted her to be above the bit and pushing into the contact. It didn’t feel great for me as a rider who’s so used to focusing on harmony and not picking a fight, but the difference in her trot and canter were amazing after one ride. It was such a rewarding lesson, even if it felt chaotic and unorganized on my part at times. It definitely prioritized the bigger picture instead of perfection in small batches, which was a reoccurring theme with Endel.
Endel changed a few things in my riding that definitely made me a little uncomfortable. I was so grateful for his comments and his help though, and he made a huge impact on my mindset that I go into every ride with. We were lucky enough to have such a phenomenal clinician this year, and I’m confident that I was not the only rider who had a ‘lightbulb’ moment over her two lessons. We’re all very appreciative of the opportunity that we’ve been given with the clinic and fantastic organization from the SCDCTA!