We were lucky to welcome Steffen Peters back to Copper Light this past Saturday for a half day of lessons and once again find ourselves full of renewed zest for the sport and training. Below, please enjoy a few of my takeaways from the morning and visit our instagram highlight for some video. Cheers to fabulous trainers who elevate and inspire us all!

Next to the farm we welcome Janet Foy on March 9th. Fingers crossed that we’ll impress her with our dedicated schooling while she was away! As always, we would love for you to join us to audit the lessons, all rider spots are filled. If you would like to be alerted about clinics upcoming at Copper Light, please shoot us a message to ride@copperlightfarm.com or call Lindsey for details. You can also find a list of upcoming events here.


Steffen was noticeably inspired to start the day, chatting about theory as we walked through the barn to the morning’s first lesson. When a top coach is jazzed up about training, you certainly take notice. Did he listen to an awesome podcast on the drive up? Did he have a super week of training? I may never know. But much to my delight, he continued to talk about his approach to training and marvel that horses can learn things so quickly as the day went on.

During our first visit with Steffen, the very obvious resounding theme of the day was raising our standards. And while he certainly continued to remind us of that on Saturday, our second visit was filled with reveling in the fact that our horses can learn all these things we’re asking them to do, and subsequently using the ‘training moments’ and clear explanations so that they learn to offer the movements on their own.

He introduced us to his approach on training moments during our first clinic and really expanded on it with each rider this time. When one of our riders was working on collected canter toward pirouette, her horse took two steps behind in trot which she quickly corrected. Steffen encouraged that rather than the rider quickly covering the mistake, she could use the mistake to help train the right response. He said, “there you missed a training moment. Even that little trot step is the perfect time to say lets go a moment forward. When I collect you, the last thing you should think about is a trot step.” He encouraged our riders in collected work to go forward three or four strides if their horses broke gaits, got heavy in the bridle or got sticky. In doing so the horses will learn that we still want forward. Eventually after enough times of this cycle repeating, he will learn that collection never means a shift in gait and will ‘offer the movement’ himself. If the horse picks up the wrong lead, just go forward, change back and carry on. He told us not to make a big deal over mistakes, don’t tell them they’re wrong, just show them what could be better. To one rider who was working on keeping her horse going while collected (maybe this is the actual theme of our day?!), he said, “I test this degree of collection with very little leg. I don’t say don’t break don’t break don’t break. If he breaks, I’ll take care of it.” This is the training moment. Are you with me? Letting the horse break from canter to trot and then scooping him back into the canter is. the. training. moment. Simple, yet somehow revolutionary.

“The building block for collection is energy.”

He reminded us that struggling through the movements is sort of missing the point. If you are just struggling to half pass with your horse coming up in the contact and bracing his neck, why not stop and circle to adjust the elasticity and suppleness and then attempt the half pass again? This is training, not showing, after all. He told us with consistent high expectations, “they should learn to offer the movement. We have to educate them that they are so cooperative that they offer the movement. And then again we can hide the aids a bit more. So many horses move huge but the rider is really really working, I’m sorry but that’s not what my vision is of dressage. Same idea, when you struggle through the movement, don’t just continue with the half pass. Try to make a difference.”

To support the concept of the horse learning to offer the movement, he presented us with the idea of habit forming. Repeatedly he told us that he performs certain things (such as walk halt, squaring up in the halt) regularly every single day and that eventually it will become a habit. Some things he is a stickler about. With each rider he stressed that he works on halting square every single time. To one rider he said, “I do this every single time with my horses, I’m not exaggerating, ten twelve fifteen halts. Because then it becomes a habit for them to square up. Before you know it, you do it two hundred times, and they get it! It’s not a huge step forward, it’s closing them up. That’s fascinating how horses can learn and how those little things can make a huge difference. The ability of a horse to learn is fascinating. We just have to tap into that ability. The quicker you can correct a horse to be square, if you correct this immediately the quicker they learn.”

I was struck by how often he told us about how much he practiced particular things. Repeatedly he said, “I can’t tell you how many times I practice this at home.” As in my last clinic recap, it’s hard to say that on paper without it sounding like he or I are speaking of drilling. That’s not it at all. It’s never drill, all just consistency which leads to good habits. He was particularly generous in the expectation level while training the square halts. When a horse reacted and moved the indicated leg, he declared it good enough and the pair moved on. Whereas in most everything else we worked on, perfection was the only answer. In the halts, the right idea was the answer. One of our pairs worked on this in the beginning of their ride, moving each leg independently into square as they halted, and then mid-ride while working on something else, Steffen threw a random halt at them and the horse instantly squared himself. VOILA! It turns out, practice really does make perfect.

He taught us again not to hold our horses in anything; don’t hold them in the gait, in the frame, in the tempo. Show them what we want and then teach them how to learn to offer it themselves. He reminded us to “make a difference” with the aid, get the reaction you’re seeking and not hold the horse. Short quick aids. He told one rider try not to ride rhythmical aids, that he wakes them up with an aid and then the leg is there to support. He motivated all the riders to find the place the horse used his body and topline best and encourage the horse to hold himself there.

And of course our day was filled with reminding ourselves to reach for the highest standards to achieve the training moments that become habits. In everything, Steffen reminded us, “let’s be picky about the smallest thing” and to not give points away for no reason. Take this narrative from part of a session for example;

If we just hope or pray that it gets better, it won’t necessarily make a difference. So when he had a trot step in there, I would have pushed him forward for three to four strides and said hey buddy we were relaxing in walk but you didn’t truly respond into the canter. So no problem that he makes that mistake but I always try to do something about it. I call it a training opportunity.

Let’s be picky about the smallest little thing. The next time he picks up the wrong lead, even then I would go forward. I would just change back to the correct lead. We’re not going to make a big deal about it.

Horse picks up outside lead in walk-canter transition, rider continues forward and does a flying change to correct lead.

Yes! Very good decision. That was training. You follow me? We could just bring him back to walk and get the transition again but then they don’t learn. We should not just get on our horses every day and just repeat the movement, then they don’t learn. This is training.

The level of expectation was again so different from anything I’ve experience before. Not in a frustrated, gosh-we-have-to-do-that-over way. It’s simply, you can do better. You can expect better. And to some he said, “you don’t have to accept that anymore.” Mind. Blown. We know better, so we should do better. It’s as simple as that. Being a stickler for the details every time will make it less confusing to the horse, and more rewarding for us both. He continually spoke about how fascinating it is that our horses can perform the way that they do, which to me seemed like quite a contenting train of thought. There is so much joy in even small successes when training a horse. The first clean flying change (heck the first ugly flying change!), when you have an absolutely beautiful canter depart after putting in the work on your transitions, when a judge rewards your fastidious efforts at square halts, when your horse is revved up for the piaffe and gives you a fantastic feeling. There is so much joy to be had in reward for all of our efforts! Steffen said something that really resonated with us about exhaling from the soul during these moments;

It might sound funny but, I do this in the test, I exhale from my soul. I don’t just exhale. I exhale from my soul.

And I do it in the training so many times. When I do something exciting and I do a halt, all of a sudden the horse does the same thing. You feel that they go ahhhh.

I feel like exhaling from the soul, it might sound a little far fetched for some people, but it’s really what I believe is so important.

They really chill out and understand that yes there is some excitement and pressure, but there is always that time where we take a deep breath.

It was another eye opening day with Steffen. One of those days where you’re not quite sure you absorbed it all so you re-watch the video and re-read your notes over and over. He has this unique tranquility that doesn’t generally coincide with a top level of perfection, that in itself makes the audience hang on every word. Watching him ride is the epitome of this serene consistency that he approaches training with. So fluid, so peaceful, so effective. We were fortunate beyond words to get a glimpse into his training system and I can’t thank him enough for being so generous with his time. Thank you again to our lovely auditors who joined us (and served as pole crew during one ride!), can’t wait to see you all again soon!


PS I take a lot of notes, enjoy! 😉

TRAINING TIDBITS

  • I think you can expect more from that. You were clucking there and you put your leg on and I think I would have expected a trot step. I know he can do a trot transition, what I don’t know is if he can scoot a moment into the trot and truly respect your aid.
  • So no problem that he makes that mistake but I always try to do something about it. I call it a training opportunity.
  • Let’s be picky about the smallest little thing. Next time he picks up the wrong lead, even then I would go forward. And I would just change back to the correct lead. We’re not going to make a big deal about it, you don’t need to worry.
  • Very good decision. That was training. You follow me? We could just bring him back to walk and get the transition again but then they don’t learn. We should not just get on our horses every day and just repeat the movement, then they don’t learn. That’s training.
  • Let’s not give points away. For that same aid for the upper levels, the judges say well you’ve done that walk-canter transition since second level. If that doesn’t work at the PSG of course they’re going to give a four or a five. So let’s not give the points away, let’s have the highest standard about every single movement we do.
  • We know from the walk pirouette he wants to get a little bit lazy and when we try to engage him he tries to get a little behind us. So when we ask for a little travers canter he might slow down. Any time you feel that you go quickly forward back into a little lengthening, and forget about the travers canter and get him nicely in front of the leg again.
  • When you hold the leg too long, he might think about a few half steps, he might think piaffe. Use short quick aids.
  • Never struggle through the movement. When things become a little complicated… let’s find a way to explain to them and get a moment to give.
  • When you lose energy, don’t just fill up the energy that you lost. You fill up more energy. Go for a little lengthening.
  • You were so happy with the canter pirouette that he was resting already in the transition. He can rest afterwards. Sometimes I just give him the rein and let him go immediately and let him go right back to the walk. But that’s because I want to praise him instantly. Give him an instant reward. Horses have a very short attention span. So when we reward them immediately they get it. So once in a while when I teach something really big, I let him walk like you just did. But next time I’m going to be much more careful about collecting them before the walk like I’m going to come down the centerline for the salute.
  • While he’s stretching while he’s relaxing, he can still respect your leg. And then it becomes a habit for him to move nicely actively forward. Horses can march forward like this. Let’s take a quick moment to look at the hip and the stifle in walk. That reach and overstride comes from the hip and the stifle. That range of motion can be very therapeutic for them. That’s why I always believe in an extended walk, to truly get that exercise and stretch from the hips and the stifle.
  • I love my horses. I truly do. But also to a certain extent they’re also my business partner. Because t’s a pretty serious business at the Olympic level. So I love them but love and a good partnership doesn’t work without respect. I don’t think a good marriage works without respect either.
  • I do this every single time with my horses, I’m not exaggerating, ten twelve fifteen halts. Because then it becomes a habit for them to square up. Before you know it, you do it two hundred times, and they get it! It’s not a huge step forward, it’s closing them up. That’s fascinating how horses can learn and how those little things can make a huge difference. The ability of a horse to learn is fascinating. We just have to tap into that ability. The quicker you can correct a horse to be square, if you correct this immediately the quicker they learn.
  • Send him forward to create energy and then collect him and increase the suppleness in the topline and consequently the lighter contact.
  • You don’t need to accept any more when you go to the halt that his first reaction is to brace out of the gait. The second he braces against you in the transition, there is a very low chance that he’s going to square up.
  • I want this to be understood, when we collect them that they don’t go against us. From the poll back to the quarters that the frame becomes shorter. I want him to understand when we ride transitions from medium to collected canter, that he does give in the topline.
  • I like the feeling that they’re so relaxed in walk and they start walking bigger because of my leg aid. They go bigger because of the gentle touch of the calf. I practice every single day that after some exciting movements – we have passage or one tempis -that they show a perfect walk.
  • We don’t want to drive every stride within the rhythm. I try not to use a rhythmical aid. I try to wake them up and then my leg is there. If the calf is not enough, then I come a little bit firmer with my aid.
  • I really believe in this elasticity that we can ask a horse to reach from hip and the stifles
  • I find that in canter any horse (even one with a canter that is challenging), to a certain extent they learn the connection easier than in trot. If you ride a circle with the haunches in and they truly stay active and the hind leg is the center of the pirouette they have to come under just to balance the movement. So instead of pressing the horse strong from behind into the bit where they might come under, to me it’s too strong its too forceful. So why not use a movement such as the canter pirouette to engage the hind legs a bit. Then incorporating those movements into the collected work.
  • Don’t wait too long, go forward. Only natural when we ask them to sit a little bit more that they want to slow down a bit.
  • I’ve seen many horses that have a normal trot and a huge passage.
  • We want to be aware that when they learn it, it takes a tremendous amount of strength. So we do that very very briefly. Slowly build it up and then eventually try to maintain it in a half pass, which will be even ten times harder.
  • When we pick up the reins immediately there should be an answer. You don’t have to accept that any more.
  • There you missed a training moment. Even that little trot step is the perfect to say lets go a moment forward. when I collect you the last thing you should think about is a trot step.
  • And if it’s too hard we go from canter pirouette back to walk pirouette to explain to him what we want.
  • The walk can get bigger if you can ride them gently forward. I cant even tell you how much I practice this at home. The perfect frame for the extended walk, the perfect tempo. So then it becomes a habit. I call it money in the savings account. Then when that works you can take a breather in the test.
  • It might sound funny but, I do this in the test – I exhale from my soul. I don’t just exhale. I exhale from my soul. And I do it in the training so many times. When I do something exciting and I do a halt, all of a sudden the horse does the same thing. You feel that… they go ahhhh. I feel like exhaling from the soul, it might sound a little far fetched for some people, but it’s really what I believe is so important. They really chill out and understand that yes there is some excitement and pressure, but there is always that time where we take a deep breath.
  • It’s only logical that any horse wants to bring the haunches in when we ask them to collect. It’s easier.
  • Never lose the elasticity in the topline. Nothing’s more important. The topline needs to be loose and the contact needs to be comfortable.
  • Never struggle through the movement and just ride it and repeat it. Always try to make a difference and teach him.
  • When you give an inch, they can take an inch. They don’t need to take more than that.
  • The whole idea of bending a horse around the inner leg. I find that so beneficial for canter pirouettes, half passes.
  • They have to, wait have too is too forceful, they should learn to offer the movement. We have to educate them that they are so cooperative that they offer the movement. And then again we can hide the aids a bit more. So many horses move huge but the rider is really really working, I’m sorry but that’s not what my vision is of dressage. Same idea, when you struggle through the movement, don’t just continue with the half pass. Try to make a difference.
  • There’s no champion that falls out of the sky.
  • I test this degree of collection with very little leg. I don’t say don’t break don’t break don’t break. If he breaks, I’ll take care of it.
  • The building block for collection is energy.
  • I never had a horse that I taught the collection in canter that didn’t break to the trot. I never had one. Don’t doubt yourself. Explore a little.
  • Don’t use the whip to send them forward. (!!!!)

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