Training with Olympian Lars Petersen

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Evie Oliver riding Shading with Lars Petersen.

This Opportunity Was Made Available Through the Dressage4Kids Christian Kennedy Training Grant

By Mary Livernois

Photos courtesy of Dressage4Kids

During a recent trip to Wellington, Florida, I was lucky enough to catch up with young rider Evie Oliver, the 2022 recipient of the Dressage4Kids Christian Kennedy Training Grant.  The Training Grant has given Evie the opportunity to ride twice weekly with Danish Olympian Lars Petersen during the 2022 winter season. 

When asked how she feels her riding has changed since she started with Lars, Evie says, “for this season I have worked a lot on my harmony with my horses during my riding.  Lars has helped me tremendously with my half-halts coming more from my seat so that I can maintain a better harmony throughout the ride.”

Evie rode her mare, Shading, in the lesson that I audited.  Shading is an 8-year-old Oldenburg mare by Shakespeare and out of Wynneth by Widmark.  Evie gushed about Shading, saying she’s always so impressed by how hard the mare tries for her rider.  Evie says that given that Shading is still young, she can sometimes feel a little uncertain in new situations and that she is working on helping build the mare’s confidence.  Shading definitely likes learning the patterns of the tests and knowing exactly what is required of her before going down the centerline in front of a judge, but Evie believes that competing in the 2021 North American Youth Championships (NAYC) was a huge confidence booster for the mare, and that she seems more settled now.    

Evie Oliver and Shading showing

Evie and Shading started with a lovely, relaxed warm-up, focusing on the rhythm and clarity of the gaits and introducing suppling exercises such as leg-yield in the trot and canter.  Shading can be a little hollow on the right, sometimes throwing Evie’s right seatbone a little out of the saddle, and Lars reminded Evie to be conscientious about the way she sits in the saddle and to not let the mare try to block her. 

Continuing the theme of being aware of your seatbones, when Shading had a little bit of a hiccup during the walk to canter transitions, Lars asked Evie to not overcomplicate the transition and to ride more from her seat.  “Horses have a natural tendency to follow the weight of the rider,” explained Lars.  “Try to think more about using your inside seatbone as part of the aid for the canter depart.”  Sure enough, as soon as Evie incorporated her inside seatbone more, the canter departs became instantly smoother. 

Next Evie asked Lars if they could work on the half-pass zig-zag that is required in Fourth Level Test 2, as she was preparing for a competition the following weekend.  Lars mentioned that the change of bend from one half-pass to the other can cause problems for both the horse and rider.  Riders sometimes have a tendency to think too much about the neck, forgetting that the shoulders also need to move and change direction.  The horse can turn its head to the right, but if its shoulders are still pointing to the left it won’t be able to half-pass right.  To help move the shoulders, Lars suggested the following exercise: start with a half-pass left, then switch to leg-yield left, then start the half-pass right.  This exercise not only helped Evie and Shading smooth out the transition between the two half-passes, but also helped keep the mare’s rhythm and swing over the back.

As they moved into canter work, Lars asked Evie to again think about a leg-yield tendency during the flying changes in order to help with the straightness and the throughness.  “The new inside leg prepares the change,” Lars reiterated.  If Evie was cantering on the left lead, and going across the diagonal from F to H, Lars asked her to first think about a slight leg-yield to the left, off of her right leg (the new inside leg), in order to prepare the change.  That way Shading was able to jump through and straight in the flying change itself, something that is important as the horse and rider start preparing the tempi changes, and that is especially critical for the one-tempi changes so that the horse doesn’t start swinging wildly from side-to-side. 

Evie Oliver and Shading performing a Canter Pirouette

After the improvement in the flying changes, Evie and Shading next moved on to the canter pirouette work.  “For the canter pirouettes, you first need to know that you can come back to the collected canter that you need for the pirouette,” explained Lars.  “Practice those transitions, in and out, in and out, pirouette canter and back to collected canter, and so on.  That will help the horse with its strength and balance, even before you start the pirouette.”  Also critical for the pirouettes is the basic rhythm of the canter.  If the horse struggles a bit, and maybe breaks to the trot or to the walk, think about the clarity of the three beats of the canter.  “Sit in, and with every stride think of a little canter depart so you keep the jump,” instructed Lars.  As Evie did so, the quality of the pirouette canter improved. 

And what do the horses think of the lessons?  Evie says they love them.  “The first time I took the horses to Legacy Farms, they were super calm because it is such a gorgeous place and there is nothing for them to worry about (except for maybe the chickens!).  Lars’ training style is so good for us as well because he pushes me, but he also encourages me to work on figuring things out on my own.”

As they finished the lesson, Evie and Shading looked happy, confident, and relaxed, ready for their upcoming outing at Fourth Level Test 2 at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival National Show.

Genevieve Oliver finished 9th in the Junior Team Test at the 2021 NAYC and was invited to ride in the 2022 Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic Week at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida.  Evie is looking forward to training towards the NAYC Young Riders Division in the short term and towards the U25 Grand Prix in the longer term.

Lars Petersen is a five-time Danish National Champion and has represented Denmark at the Atlanta Olympic Games, at four World Equestrian Games (WEG), and at eight World Cup finals.  It was recently announced that Lars will join Helgstrand as head of Helgstrand USA. 

A special thanks to Anne Baber Wallis, Lars Petersen, Legacy Farms Dressage, Dressage4Kids, and to all those who helped make this grant possible. 

Dressage4Kids, Inc. is a non-profit organization incorporated for the express purpose of providing educational and competitive opportunities for youth riders and the adults who support them.

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