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.
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!
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 https://www.spetersdressage.com