Jennifer Roth: Classical Training with a Competitive Edge

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Aila Blaikie, Junior Rider and her Thoroughbred, Slim share a sweet moment after their ride. Photo courtesy Tricia Blaikie

By Cheri Isgreen

With generous assistance from a USDF GMO Education Initiative grant and support from the Grand Valley Dressage Society, rural Colorado dressage members had the rare opportunity to train with USEF ’S’ Judge, Jennifer Roth in mid-August 2021.  With over 35 years experience as an ’S’ dressage judge and a classical background in training, Jennifer’s wisdom and expertise brought out the very best in each horse/rider pair.  

Jennifer began her classical dressage background with Charles de Kunffy as her earliest mentor, facilitating her acceptance to the Reitinstitut von Neindorff while she was still in high school.  After training with Egon von Neindorff, Jennifer trained twelve years with Dietrich Von Hopttgarten, respected dressage master and author.  Jennifer trained with the last five Chief Riders of the Spanish Riding School and still maintains a close relationship with Chief Rider Andreas Hausberger.

As a USEF ’S’ judge, Jennifer’s knowledge, experience, and background gave riders and auditors insights and tools to advance up the levels and reach their goals, to speak nothing of her extensive competitive background.  She was long-listed to the US Olympic team and trained with Karin Schluter, German Olympic Silver Medalist; Margit Otto-Cripin, French Olympic Silver Medalist; Hilda Gurney, US Olympic Bronze Medalist; and Melle Von Bruggen, US Olympic Coach. 

Jennifer’s qualifications and thorough understanding of horse and rider biomechanics  provided auditors and riders an invaluable perspective to discover their full athletic potential, using classical techniques, regardless of the horse’s breed or rider’s experience.

The August 14-15, 2021 clinic held in Montrose, CO at Dr Susan Schneider’s beautiful Reitstall am Zederntal, included a wide variety of riders and horses.  Riders ranged from a junior rider to senior adults with Training Level through Grand Prix dressage experience.  Horses also spanned the gamut from young, green horses to school masters.  A variety of breeds were represented including warmbloods (Hanovarian, Oldenburg, and Belgium), rare breeds (Lipizzan and Akhal Teke), Spanish PRE horses, and American breeds (Morgan, Paint, Off-the-track Thoroughbred, and a grade horse).  Twelve horse/rider pairs participated in the clinic, coming to Montrose from as far away as Aspen, Telluride, and Loma.  Over two dozen auditors also attended, ranging from age six to senior adults, with English, western, and therapeutic riding experience, as well as non-equestrian horse lovers.  Some traveled from as far away as Carbondale, CO.

Throughout the weekend, Jennifer’s classical approach focused on rider position and dissipating tension in the horse to produce noticeable improvement for each pair.  For the rider, a classical seat was emphasized with correct shoulder, hip, heel alignment that will not disturb the horse’s balance.  For the horse, dissipating tension and fostering elasticity and suppleness to create a balanced, secure horse, happy in the work, was addressed.  Rather than giving a series of exercises, Jennifer’s teaching style was explaining and coaching to produce excellence in each horse/rider pair.

TIPS FOR THE RIDER:

Carolyn Miller and her PRE, Atalon TA demonstrate the “smile moment.” Photo courtesy of Carolyn Miller
  • Smile, rider must acknowledge the YES moments; have fun
  • With a lazy horse, horse must work more; rider must work less.  This is easier to say than to do.
  • Rider’s shoulders must parallel horse’s shoulders.  Turn core/shoulders when changing direction.  Use inside leg to drive horse out.
  • Bring the inside leg under the inside hip; don’t scissors legs.  Step deep into stirrups.  Lengthen leg and hug your horse.
  • Swing with your hips; don’t work so hard.  Sit tall; don’t rock with your upper body.  Practice relaxed hip swing by placing outside hand on canter.
  • Sit in the middle of the saddle; don’t lean. When you lean, your weight slips to the outside.  Keep your eyes soft to feel the horse.  This connects your seat to the horse.
  • In the circle, inside shoulder comes back and inside hip comes forward.  This puts weight on the inside seat bone with inside leg aligned and outside leg back.  (Practice figure 8s to confirm this position.)
  • Sit supple.  Tight hips interrupt the horse’s rhythm.  In the saddle at halt, make bicycle motions.  Ride trot and canter in 2-point, then alternate sitting with 2-point in trot and canter.  Find and practice unmounted exercises to continue to open and supple hips.
  • For a speedy, tense horse, use positive tension to regulate horse’s speed: grow tall and sit heavy.  To sit heavy, clear your throat which engages your core muscles.  Tilt your pelvis and don’t follow with your seat.  When you have positive tension, you have your core and you can influence your horse.  When you lose your core/lose positive tension, you fall forward.  Use your core to push against your hands.
  • Arms must be mobile to follow the horse.  Arms, especially elbows, must be elastic.  Practice elastic arms in all three gaits; (pay attention to movement of elbows in the trot.  If your hands bounce up and down with the motion of the trot, you are hitting your horse in the mouth.  Take lunge lessons to develop an independent seat.)  In walk and canter, follow with your arms forward and back.  In free walk, lean a bit forward.
  • Talk to your horse with your fingers.  Hands must be low and quiet with even contact.  Keep the weight of the rein steady.

TIPS FOR A HAPPY, SUPPLE, CONNECTED HORSE

  • In all work, create a happy, secure horse.  Look for YES moments and communicate positives with your horse.
  • Talk to your horse with your fingertips.  To supple, use fingertips like you are kneading bread.  In the walk, lengthen and release at the base of the horse’s neck.  Ask for flexion inside and outside, then release.  Look for friendly, elastic contact. 
  • If horse leans on your hand, don’t pull.  Develop longitudinal balance.   First halt by growing tall with leg on and back.  Get haunches involved.  Create energy- go forward in 10M circle.  Push hands forward with legs on; receive energy with seat and quiet hands.  Lift rib cage and breathe.  Swing with horse.
  • Use shallow serpentines on the quarter-line and center-line to supple horse in warm up.  Be elastic on the outside rein to allow the horse to bend in balance.
  • When the horse resists, make it uncomfortable.  Always give when he gives.  When the head comes up, “squeeze a sponge” with your rein.  Immediately release when he drops.  Never pull the horse’s head down.
  • Use the spiral to increase the horse’s bend in all gaits.  This puts the horse on the outside rein.  In the spiral, put weight into the inside stirrup to help create the bend.  Be sure to regulate speed so he doesn’t escape or lose balance.  In the spiral, talk to the horse with fingertips.  For advanced horses, spiral in canter, then do haunches-in on circle.  Remember to be elastic in the outside rein so the horse can bend in balance.
  • When the horse is tense, ride with less speed; more balance.  Activate the hind end.  When the horse rushes, use a half halt with outside rein to slow the shoulder.  Touch with the inside leg.  This allows the haunches to catch up.  Never pull on the rein- this will make him slow behind.  In walk and canter, follow the horse’s head and neck.  When he stretches down, drive with your leg.  Feel what is happening behind the saddle.
  • Be elastic in the outside rein.  This allows the horse to bend in balance.

LEG YIELD FOR RELAXATION:

  • Feel weight of outside rein when making leg yield.  Beware that horse doesn’t shorten his neck in leg yield.  Leg yield on center line or quarter line.
  • Leg yield out of a circle at trot and canter to supple horse. 
  • Leg yield twice through the circle.  At the wall at B, make a 15M half circle.  Half halt on quarter line.  Leg yield to the wall at E.  Make another 15M half circle.  Half halt and leg yield to B. 
  • Head to wall leg yield to create active, swinging horse.  If horse runs through the bridle in the leg yield, make a turn on the forehand with head to the wall.
  • If horse loses hind legs in leg yield, make the line longer, shallower.
  • If horse is stiff in the back, leg yield in canter.

MORE CANTER SUPPLING EXERCISES:

  • Canter spiral
  • Walk/canter transitions on the circle.  For advanced horses, make circle 10M.
  • Canter figure 8 through simple change.
  • Haunches-in canter circle

EXERCISES TO ACTIVATE LAZY HORSE

  • When the horse is lazy, drive/activate with inside leg on bending line.  Reinforce with whip. 
  • In leg yield, touch with whip to activate hind end. 
  • In the down transition, horse must carry more weight.  Use the whip before and during the down transition so horse will take more weight.
  • Canter down long side.  At each letter, activate hind end with 10M circles.  Coil the spring so horse will jump in the canter. 

TRANSITIONS:

  • Be a stickler for prompt transitions.  If horse tries to overpower you or moves haunches during the down transition, keep wrists upright and straight.  Use your core to hold your position when horse resists.  Clean halt is imperative.
  • In the down transition, use your body weight.  Sit in upright position, then bring your hips toward your hands- never take your hands to your hips.  Sit heavy, engage core, and stop following with your seat.  Grow tall, tilt pelvis- never lean forward.
  • Wait for the right moment for transitions.  Be sure the horse is straight before you ask.
  • Shorten the stride for the down transition.

TIPS FROM JENNIFER:

            ON LEARNING:

  • When you or your horse is learning, don’t expect perfection.  That’s how learning works.
  • When your horse is learning, it’s ok to put your hands wide and low.  This is training wheels for the horse.
  • When you go rising, sit the first couple of strides.

            ON RIDING:

  • Basics first.
  • The corners are your friends.  Use them.
  • Be aware of stride length.  Connect with legs and adjust with fingertips.
  • Make sure you can walk correctly with contact before you allow free walk.
  • Ride proactively.  Anticipate.  Adjust before you need to correct.  Ride four strides ahead.
  • When you lean to the inside, your weight slips to the outside.
  • Create energy with leg; receive activity with seat
(auditor comment)  At left:  author, Cheri Isgreen and Maestoso Fadra, rescued just two months earlier  from the Lipizzan Rescue Foundation.  The pair demonstrates how a very tense, defensive horse can trust and stretch into the contact.  Photo courtesy Sheryl Barto

KUDOS FOR JENNIFER

The Jennifer Roth clinic was well received by both riders and auditors.  Below is a sampling of comments.

  • Every horse was transformed. 
  • Jennifer was superb at guiding riders/horses to show improvement for their level.
  • Worked through each level with movements appropriate for each level and gave participants tools to improve each element.
  • Appreciated Jennifer’s style of teaching.  Would love the opportunity to ride with her the next time.
  • I loved how Jennifer came over to auditors to give further explanation when there was a break between riders.
  • Jennifer clearly demonstrated knowledge of the training levels and worked well with me at my level.  Day 2 built nicely on what we worked on in Day 1.
  • There were times I did not understand a direction or term.  I felt comfortable in asking for clarification which Jennifer did very well.
  • Jennifer had command of her subject matter; she covered the whole practice.
  • Jennifer explained and demonstrated clearly. 
  • Jennifer’s depth of knowledge is her strong suit.
  • Depth of knowledge was evident.
  • Jennifer is an excellent communicator.
  • There was plenty of interaction and opportunity for questions.
  • Jennifer was open and welcoming.
  • Instructor and rider talked through the process.
  • Jennifer was open to questions and further explanation.
  • With instructors guidance, riders/horses showed appropriate improvement for their skill and training level- this area deserves a 10!
  • The degree of quality the riders achieved with their horses far exceeded average improvement. 
  • Jennifer covered basic errors to higher levels.
  • I experienced improvement from Day 1 to Day 2.  My horse responded well to the work that was asked of him.  I felt that he was able to do the exercises, and the increased level of work was something he was ready for.
  • As a last minute fill-in for only 1 day, I am grateful for this opportunity.
  • Lovely clinic- the depth of knowledge was very special!  Thank you so much.  Very well organized.
  • Jennifer Roth is a talented instructor.  I would love to see her come back!!
  • A ‘5’ rating does not convey how good she was.  Breadth, depth of knowledge, clarity, positivity, honesty, down-to-earthiness— all of these qualities were off-the-charts!  Super instructor!
  • Would love to take more lessons with Jennifer.
  • Great venue.  Great feedback from a judge’s perspective and training also.
  • This clinic was an unparalleled opportunity to learn from one of the best trainers today.  It was a bonus that she is also an ’S’ judge.  This clinic was an invaluable learning experience.  Thank you.
  • This was our first experience.  We learned a tremendous amount and things were very well organized. 
  • Jennifer Roth has a quiet and gentle manner with her approach.  What I found valuable was getting her perspective as a judge. We worked on second level test movements and maximizing our effort. I adore my little rescue Pepe. Biggest takeaway comment from her is that I need to continue to find ways to ‘inspire’ my horse. The venue was lovely, thanks to Susan Schneider for hosting this clinic. 
Krista Nobilo and her grade horse Pepe take what they learned at the Jennifer Roth clinic into the show arena.  Photo courtesy Carrie Washburn
(auditor comment)  Jennifer demonstrating the horse stepping into contact.  Photo courtesy Carolyn Miller

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