Carl Hester Masterclass Recap

If you were lucky enough to attend the Carl Hester Masterclass at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala this weekend, then you’re lucky enough.

What an absolutely fantastic day of training. Carl’s sensible and relaxed yet demanding approach to each horse and rider pair made for very educational rides.

In addition to the under saddle portion of the clinic, I was quick enough to snag tickets for the “private audience” that followed the riding.  We were treated to a private conversation with Carl led by the insightful Betsy Juliano. Carl’s candor struck me most, and it was so generous of him to share his life experiences with us. To that end, I’m excited to share my notes (mostly in the form of direct quotes) from the clinic but I’m not sharing anything that he spoke about during that fireside chat-esque gathering. It was too special and too kind. So thank you again, Carl & Betsy for that memorable evening. 

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the Masterclass:


From the very first ride to the last, we saw him dig into improving the rhythm within the gaits before working on anything else. He reminded us that in the training pyramid, rhythm is the foundation and that “bending and one-sidedness is something that you will work on all the way through their career.” So it’s not just my six year old gelding?! Phew. 

It might come as no surprise that he worked on a lot of transitions, particularly with the young horses. Do more transitions than you think you need to. He noted that, “trot to canter is a pushing stride and canter to trot is to get the horse to swing. Every horse has a swing speed, where is is naturally in his own balance.”  He said that we are always looking for flexibility without tension. 

“If you just remember one thing; stretch, collect, bend, straighten.”

There was one rider wanted some help developing expression, something so relatable to most of us, to which Carl instructed, “You need to teach her to canter more on the spot. You need her to wait more. You must ride forward in canter-walk, the horse should land and step forward. Always think inside hind leg between the front legs.”

“Good collection makes good extension. Have to have the horse pushing to your hand. Put the life in and then you take it forward. A top dressage horse has to push.”


I’ve heard/read several times before that hacking is a big element in their program and he reiterated that point several times. He told us that in his experience the horses go best with two days of work, one day hacking, two days of work, one day hacking and then an off day. 

I found it interesting that the hacking wasn’t just for loosening joints and muscles or letting the horses see something besides the sandbox. He said, “We hack so that they learn to use their necks. The head and the neck has to move. You have to use your arms and your upper body to push the head and neck away.” Even leisurely strolls can help develop a star.


You don’t want crazy and you don’t want a police horse.

Reactions are what helps train the horse to Grand Prix.

Generally you always have to do the opposite of what you’ve got. If you’ve got a horse with huge paces you have to make them small, if you have a horse with small paces you have to make them big.


We had a fair amount of discussion about rider position, particularly the hands. Now mind you, these were all gorgeous riders, but it was so helpful to have details that the every-man (hi!) can work on. We don’t all have that Charlotte Dujardin seat after all. 

He wants our hands in front of the saddle, closed on the reins (no flappy opening hands everybody!), elastic elbows, with thumbs upward and carried. There was a bit of work regarding giving the hand, and it was in many situations for many different reasons. Spooky baby horse that you don’t want to let go of? Needs to learn to not rely on the hand. Grand Prix horse that looks a little heavy but actually is in self carriage? Let go with the hand.  I loved that he told us several times, “the horse has to always feel like the door is being opened. Don’t push and pull at the same time.”

It was a little relegating to me when he said, “remember when I said I needed to see your hand move? When he’s loose in your hand then you can influence his hind legs.” LIGHTBULB. Everything comes from the hind, if the horse is in self carriage and through his body, we can affect the hind end. And alternatively, “if he gets too light it is your job to move the bit into the corners of the mouth until you feel the contact.”

He didn’t forget our lower body either. “Good riders have a good pelvis and can absorb the movement. Good riders follow the movement. You’re not supposed to just sit still.” He never wanted anyone to push with their seat, but to follow the motion quietly through a flexible pelvis. He differentiated between a working seat and a relaxed seat by saying, “a working seat is engaged, the relaxed seat is the horse is already taking me.”

No aid is meant to be applied and left on. “Your leg has to breathe.” As I’ve heard other great trainers explain as well, busy aids will make the horse tune them out. Carl took it a step further and told us, ‘if your leg is just on the horse doesn’t have a chance to come back the other way.”


I’ve been working hard on my halt halt and leg timing as I approach half steps with my young horse so I found it very timely that he discussed half halts in some way with most of the riders. He encouraged separating the aids. Some direct quotes because it’s best explained through his words; 

When you do a half halt bring your hips through your hand 

Wait until the horse rests in the hand and finds balance 

When you give a half halt, I need to see the rein go loose immediately after

 When you make a half halt, he still needs to think forward 

Think forward in the half halt. The minute the horse comes back , you go forward. The minute he goes forward, you come back. So the horse gets more energetic.


We had a couple of really interesting and helpful examples of horse positioning through certain movements. 

One pair wanted clarification of the angle in shoulder in. He told us that his outside toe and eyes will face the letter on the short side he’s traveling toward (a or c). 

In travers into their bend the horse should look straight into the corner. And in general, you have to see the letter that you’re traveling toward through the horse’s ears.

When you ride walk pirouette it has to come from shoulder in. You have to be able to half pass in walk. Half pass out of it so you keep teaching the horse to keep their hip in.

He talked a bit about self carriage throughout the day. Saying, “Lots of people think about over the back but I also think about the underneath of the neck so it has to come up and carry the head.” Reflecting on that image, can’t you just picture beautiful Nip Tuck and En Vogue’s perfectly arching without strain necks? “If there’s wrinkles in front of the saddle then there’s a retraction in the neck. Those wrinkles need to be ironed out.” What an image!

As with most professionals, he liked the canter for evaluation of the horse’s quality but told us that he gets a lot of information from the walk. “For other people, watching the walking is usually the most boring, but for me it’s the most interesting because I can see his natural movement; Where is the horse going to take my hand?”


He highlighted the importance of straightness in changes. If teaching Iofnteaching tempis) or working on straightness in general it was best to use the wall. In terms of rider positioning, he told us, “The horse does the flying not the rider. Flying changes come from your leg and your seat down. Keep your body straight and it’s just from your lower leg…The most important thing of the changes is the horse must follow you.”

With a horse that was rushing the ones he told us, “It’s a very good problem to have a horse that’s in front of you thinking forward.” Forward and energetic is something to work with as opposed to behind the leg. 

And one of my favorite lines was about committing to the request. “Be positive. Don’t do those little tickly little lady aids.”  We all know what he means and this sound bite will live rent free in my head for all time. 


We all (audience and rider alike) had a slow time grasping the concept that we should know how many strides our horse takes in twenty meters. NOT a twenty meter circle, but twenty actual meters. The horse in the ring did it in eight (so we learned) and so it was four strides across to the centerline, meaning that’s where the flying change should occur. This is a sport of precision after all!

The horse has to react forward but you have to open the door to be fair to the horse.

When you train them you have to stick to the same thing. 

It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it perfectly it matters that you keep attempting. 


And my most favorite thing he said all day;

‘They’re dreams aren’t they? All the young horses are dreams. 
Always have the hope that your horse can make Grand Prix. You’ve got to have that belief that they’re going to do it. Not all of them will have the super star edge but you have to believe in them.”

Clinic Auditing

With our second visit from Steffen Peters (and third visit from Janet Foy!) upcoming, we’ve received a lot of questions about auditing at Copper Light. We will always welcome auditors to the farm unless our trainer requests a closed day so come on out and join the fun! I believe strongly in soaking up every drop of education, so we’ll continue to welcome auditors for no fee as much as we can. Having access to top riders and trainers is an absolute privilege and we’d love to share it with enthusiastic riders!

With all of our recent inquiries from riders new to the farm, I thought we’d put some helpful information together to make your first visit as much fun as possible. Visiting a new place can be a little intimidating, but we’re a friendly bunch and would love to meet you. As always if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call, email or direct message on our social media.

What is a dressage clinic?

When we host a trainer for a dressage clinic, we are inviting a well known expert to the farm that we don’t get to train with regularly. It can be a great supplement to regular coaching from your local trainer and lend some new perspective. Rather than teaching one lesson, clinicians see and train six to ten riders a day in 45 minute to hour long sessions. Clinic lessons are generally open to auditors – that’s you! – to watch and learn while the rider is taught on his or her horse. Some clinics are single days and up to three days. Occasionally a clinician specializes in one are such as in hand training of piaffe or is a top level judge that we can “ride a test” for and receive feedback before a show. Clinics offer an fantastic opportunity for riders to experience a higher level or see new approaches.

Clinics at Copper Light Farm

Our farm is very accessible, just a few miles off highway 95 with ample parking. You can find a parking spot in the front trailer lot, the small lot behind the original barn or the large lot in front of the main barn. Then make your way into the main barn which is the big grey barn next to the outdoor arena. You’ll see the covered arena behind the main barn and that’s where we’ll have our lessons, no rain will stop us! As you walk through the main barn, you’ll notice snacks, drinks and coffee in the breezeway in the middle of the barn, please help yourself! For full day clinics (six or more rides), we always include a lunch break. For half day clinics we will have pastries and light faire available. If food is out, it’s for you! Please don’t be shy about grabbing a snack or a drink anytime throughout the day. If you need help finding anything or making a cup of nespresso, just ask the staff!

Life is a bit different during covid and we do require all visitors to maintain social distancing from our visiting trainer, staff and riders. Masks are not required but no one will be offended if you feel more comfortable masked. Our food items are always individually wrapped and tongs are available.

It’s always a good idea to arrive a 10-15 minutes early so you can get a lay of the land, grab a snack or water, use the restroom, or boop a cute horse as you walk by. Fritz says he’ll doing something cute for a face rub.

It’s perfectly acceptable to quietly leave the arena to take a break, just be conscientious of things that might spook a horse or distract a rider; don’t move your chair right as they turn the corner toward you, crinkle up your chip bag as they start a canter pirouette, etc. You don’t have to sit still like a bunny during clinic lessons, but generally this is not the place to chat (even if it’s about the ride), clinics are lovely with friends but socializing during sessions is missing the point. Soak up every word our fantastic coach says and go even further to enhance your experience by taking notes, writing down questions and observations and making notes about affective exercises to try. The simple act of note taking is proven to help learning and retention, bonus! To reap even greater benefits, go over your notes afterward with your trainer or friends that also attended, discussion is often the path to better clarity!

During clinics you’ll see a variety of different level horse and riders, different breeds and types. Some are looking to move up a level and hone details, some are just eager to learn from the best. Everyone is working on something so do be kind and offer encouragement. As a group, riders are generally pretty hard on themselves and external criticism isn’t productive. It takes a lot of courage to ride in front of a crowd and tough trainers, I don’t think you’ll see me under the lights at global any time soon – how do they do it?! We generally have a waiting list for clinic lessons and our boarders will be prioritized but we do welcome outside riders to join! If you’d like to receive clinic announcements please email

Clinic Auditing Dos and Dont’s:


  • Bring a chair, at Copper Light some seating is available but limited.
  • Maintain social distance from the trainer, staff and riders.
  • Take advantage of this learning opportunity and take notes, write down questions and draw out exercises.
  • Help yourself to snacks and beverages (at Copper Light, everywhere is different but we like snacks!).
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early to find a seat and get settled in.
  • Please park in designated parking areas only and not on the grass.
  • Offer your encouragement and support to the riders.
  • Be courteous of your timing when arriving or exiting the arena, opening a folding chair, etc.
  • Let our trainer enjoy his or her lunch break.
  • Ask before taking photo or video.


  • Crowd the personal space of our trainer, riders or staff who we should be socially distant from.
  • Bust out your umbrella ringside. Horses + umbrellas generally don’t mix.
  • Bring your dog. The riders are really invested in their lesson so let’s do our best to not offer any distractions.
  • Park on the grass (which will give the horse hubby a mental breakdown).
  • Feel bad about having a snack. It’s there for you!
  • Chat during sessions. This is time to learn, socializing comes after when we can all discuss what we watched.
  • Ask questions to the trainer unless invited to. Each lesson time is dedicated to the rider. Many clinicians will have Q&A time during a break but it is not appropriate to ask questions during a lesson.
  • Smoke. Our property is strictly no smoking, as are most farms.

We’re ecstatic to welcome Steffen back for a half day this Saturday, February 20th from 8:30-12:30. As this is a half day clinic, we will have light faire available. Enthusiastic auditors are welcome to join us!


8:30 Mona Blackburn
Daiquiri | Third Level
Painted Black x Donnerhall, 12yo Gelding

9:30 Jackie Kinney
Donaferdi | Grand Prix
Donatelli x Consul, 17yo Gelding

10:30 Anne Book Campione
Zem | Intermediaire 1
Krack C x Goodtimes, 15yo Gelding

11:30 Lindsey Auclair
King Leo | Second Level
Continental Jester x Doc’s Sorrel Top, 17yo Gelding
owned by Margot McConnel

Steffen Peters Clinic | February 6, 2021

We were beyond lucky to host the four-time Olympian, three-time USEF Horseman of the Year and one of my absolute favorite riders to watch in person. We had a fantastic day learning from the best and it’s safe to say that our expectations of ourselves are firmly elevated. We’re all still basking in the glow of the enlightenment . Where do I even begin?

Let’s start with expectations.

If you’re enthusiastic enough to watch a full clinic with any trainer, you’ll generally notice that there is a common message that applies to every ride, no matter the level. With Steffen, it was undoubtedly that our expectations need to be elevated.

When I say that he elevates your expectations of yourself and your horse, I mean it in the truest sense. He was by far the most exacting coach I’ve ever ridden with. He didn’t expect us to be perfect, but he expected us to keep trying until we got it perfect. He said, “if you accept less than perfect, you will continually get less than perfect.”

An almost-perfect transition is not perfect, so try again. There was no bark to this demand, simply the fact that we should all expect more than we were. He was e x a c t i n g.

In the best way possible. He forced us to refine aids, transitions, movements, that we didn’t even realize could be refined to that level. Each rider expressed to me that his standards were eye opening. Our ‘good enough’ has flown right out the window. He mentioned more than once that the horse might break or show confusion multiple times, that is the actual training moment. Don’t be afraid of the mistakes, use them to train. Eventually they will realize, ‘oh ok, she’s going to be a stickler about this’ and rise to the standard we have set. He said, “it’s all in your expectations and your standards, how you expect them to listen to your aids.” For me, it was that I was continually asking for forward whereas I should ask for forward and expect the horse to continue without constantly nagging. For another rider, he reminded her not to carry the horse when he was heavy or long. He said, “I absolutely refuse to push him every stride.” Show him what you expect and tell him to keep it there. Set your intention and have high expectations for the response. When you don’t get the exact right response, try again, don’t accept almost-right.

“It’s all in your expectations and your standards, how you expect them to listen to your aids”

– Steffen Peters

Do you guys realize how much almost-right we all were accepting? I find it hard to explain how inspiring this new standard of expectation feels without it sounding like we want to be drill sergeants who suck the fun out of riding. Because that’s the opposite of what this feels like and what we intend. So here’s the thing… absolutely nailing it is SO MUCH FUN. It’s so fun to feel the difference in the perfect transition compared to the prior not-so-perfect transition. It’s SO fun to feel the difference in the perfect collected canter versus the really hard to maintain collected canter. There’s no ego, there’s no getting mad at the horses when they’re taking an easier way, it’s just the absolute dedication to nailing it. Every time. And being so proud and appreciative to the horse when you do. Hurrah.

We’ve all heard it before that every moment with horses you’re training, but he cemented it as he said to one rider, “every time you pick up the contact you’re training.” Every time, guys. He said, “we should teach our horses every single day. We should train them. Dressage at the end of the day is teaching.” He told us that they are entitled to their opinions, entitled to tell us that the work is hard or that they don’t understand, but they don’t need to argue about it. So we maintain consistent expectations for responses to aids and then the horse has clarity in our consistency.

He also reminded us regularly to ‘make a difference’ with the aids. He repeated to several riders that we should make a difference when we use the spur in particular, don’t just use it to maintain the movement. When one horse needed to move off the right leg and then had a very clear reaction when the right spur was applied well, he said, “make a difference with the right spur, yes! That to me is training!” A clear concise aid was given, and a clear concise answer was received. It was beautiful to see lightbulbs flicker all day.

The same thought about making a difference applied within the gaits as well. To one rider he said, “Never have the feeling that you’re struggling through a movement, make a difference.” Meaning, don’t just say this is hard for us, let’s just get through it. The point of this adventure is not to struggle through.

I was struck that for every pair, he worked with us to find what worked for that horse in particular. He told one rider, ‘we want to find for every horse the most appropriate frame where they say ‘here I can carry myself here I get a little bit lighter’. For my mount in particular, I hadn’t even realized how long he gets from the base of the neck. We are generally well connected in the bridle and seemingly through, but he was consistently wanting to stretch. Steffen told me that the stretch is (of course) a good thing at the right moment, but for this horse it’s where he wants to go constantly but it isn’t best for his body. We worked diligently to find a new balance where he can take weight off his forehand. As Steffen said, the horse as a creature is not designed to carry weight on the forehand. So if we teach them to carry behind, we’ll preserve them and do their bodies a service.

Expectations, it turns out, are everything. When I went from (what for me was a difficult to achieve) collected canter back out to medium, I kept encouraging him forward with my hand rather than keeping the neck up where it needed to be to keep him loaded behind. This very basic but difficult task brought everything full circle for me. Insert lightbulb here. If I’d had higher expectations of our level of forward from the beginning, it would have been lightyears easier to achieve a balanced forward out of the collection.

There is so much that I’m not touching on, but I can confidently say that all of our riders (and hopefully our auditors) all walked away from our day with Steffen with exceptionally raised expectations of ourselves and the clarity of our aids.

We had better do our homework because we’re insanely lucky to have Steffen returning to us for a half day on Saturday, February 20th! Somebody pinch me, I can’t believe our good fortune! We would love to invite friendly, socially distant, eager to learn auditors to join us again. Can’t wait to see you all soon!

Some of my quick notes:

  • Every time you pick up the contact you’re training.
  • To me it’s all about two things; the horse can either accept the bit and respect the bit or they spend the rest of their life working against the bit. They have to accept the leg aid seat aid and just as much they have to accept the rein aid. 
  • You don’t want to use the whip to punish him but you can use the whip a little bit the next time he goes against you when you pick up the rein.
  • Make a difference with the spur, don’t just use it to maintain the movement. 
  • We should teach our horses every single day. We should train them. Dressage at the end of the day is teaching. 
  • Never have the feeling that you’re struggling through a movement, make a difference. 
  • It’s all in your expectations and your standards, how you expect them to listen to your aids.
  • We want to find for every horse the most appropriate frame where they say ‘here I can carry myself here I get a little bit lighter’.
  • You can check in there, did my horse yield to the leg and yield to the rein? At the end of the day they should use their. muscles to carry themselves, not your muscles. Use your strength briefly to make a difference.
  • That needs to sink in, this giving in the top line (Proper connected halt walk transition) 
  • Stay on top of it. He’s entitled to an option about the contact but he doesn’t need to argue about it. 
  • A half halt in the most simplistic way needs to be totally understood and respected – in that order.
  • They have to understand the meaning of the half halt and the result of the half halt.
  • Make a difference with the right spur. Yes, that to me is training! 
  • They learn to offer the movement – if you have to force the rein back it’s always trouble. 
  • When you squeeze into the bridle he needs to respond.
  • When I have a horse that wants to dive a little, I do lots of transitions within the gait.
  • Don’t be too tough on yourself, if you give the right aid he should respond behind.



  hours  minutes  seconds


Steffen Peters returns to Copper Light!

About Steffen:

Memorably, at the Atlanta Olympic games, Steffen won team bronze on the U.S. Olympic team with his horse Udon purchased by his father as a three year old. In 2009, he rode Ravel to win the FEI Rolex World Cup finals, then swept the Grand Prix, the Special and the Freestyle at Aachen – a feat no American had ever done. That same year United States Dressage Federation named Ravel horse of the year. He earned both Individual and Team Bronze at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2010, also on Ravel. Steffen won Team and Individual Gold at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games (on Weltino’s Magic and Legolas 92, respectively).

Most recently, at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI4*, Steffen and Suppenkasper landed at the top of the leaderboard in both the Grand Prix and the Special, which he told Chronicle of the Horse is his favorite test with its “beautiful transitions from extended trot to passage.” For more information about Steffen and his training, please visit