Ton De Ridder Clinic
14/15/16 October 2009
Hidden Valley Equestrian Centre
by Dr Kerry Mack
I was privileged to be invited by the Federal EA to participate in the recent National Squad clinic with Ton De Ridder. It was indeed a privilege and a pleasure to work with this charming and knowledgeable man. He has a formidable record as a trainer of riders and horses. Those of us who were lucky enough to attend the Sydney Olympic Games will always remember the truly beautiful performance of Chacomo and Ton’s wife Alexandra. For many of us this was the combination of the event. They presented a picture of harmony and softness and grace. Just preceding the controversy that lead to discussions about the dressage horse as a happy athlete, Chacomo embodied this idea. Picture - Ton De Ridder and Australian Selector Susie Hoevenaars.
Ton also trains the Japanese rider who was the oldest Olympian at the Beijing games who also similarly impressed with his performance.
So I was eager to participate. High performance manager Brett Mace, the selectors and Deb McNicol very sensibly set this up as a closed clinic. Riders only, no judges or other spectators. The goals of the clinic was to create a space where riders could work with Ton with sense of collaboration, for a mutual getting to know something of each others strengths and possibly weaknesses. In a closed clinic it is possible to say “I have a problem with this…” or “can you help with that.” You can push a horse a little and work out of your comfort zone to really improve the work. When the judges and selectors and even other spectators are3 watching the pressure is on to show only what is good already.
Ton was keen that riders take a risk. “Ask for more, …take a risk…” . And if a mistake occurred, some resistance or loss of balance or rhythm it was “no problem”. With me he helped get way more expression in the lateral work by first getting him more round and through, then doing the medium trot then shoulder in. Then shoulder in half of the long side and medium trot straight-ahead, and then medium trot along the long side and make the shoulder in out of medium trot. Then half pass with the same energy. Wow! That felt special. But to get there we took some risks. And when the shoulder in fell into canter Ton was there with a reassuring “no Problem”. This is the type of work we need to do to bring the scores into the 70% and higher. We would have felt uncomfortable tackling this with an audience that we felt could have been judging us.
Later in the test ride Ton was there with the same encouragement, “ride medium “ he said in the half pass.’ “More..More..Keep going..Don’t stop.. Medium right to the end…. Keep going. Now the transition.”
This was another theme of the clinic. Accuracy, riding to the markers and doing clear transitions. There are now marks for the transitions in most of the tests.
Right from the first moments of the first lesson Ton was right on to us to always train using movements from the tests so the horse has the right habits. “Why do the canter transition in the corner when in the test it is at A?’ Good question. “Why are you doing extended walk there? Where is it in the test? “. “Yes, so always ride extended walk on a diagonal line”.
Ton asked us a lot of questions. About what we did and also about why we thought he asked us to do things a certain way. This is a great teaching technique and really kept us thinking about what we were doing and why, so we left the clinic understanding why we were doing things. Ton was onto us all the time. He was demanding and insistent that effort was put in. He is one of those teachers who can yell at you with a smiling face, insetting you find a way to do it better, but without intimidating or berating. We had the feeling he really genuinely wanted us to improve that he liked working with us.
He also had the experience of the horse in mind. Nothing was forced. Exercises progressively became more difficult. “The horse should be confident in the work, don’t make him afraid by asking for something too hard.” When it was correct he would say “Good. Enough. Spaghetti”. We all heard this frequently. Note not "Goode enough” . You kept going until it was good. Then stopped. But you were not to grind around repeating and repeating until the horse was sour and bored. Spaghetti? Ton explained “I like to eat spaghetti. But if I ate it all the time every day I wouldn’t like it any more. It is the same with the horse. He should like the work. He is more likely to like it if there is variety.
I think we all left the 3 day clinic eager to work on the things he had shown us, keen to work on the problems and the difficult things that we had been able to diligently and authentically explore with him.
I know that because it was a closed clinic I was able to really work on a problem that I have been having and now feel excited that he has shown me the way forward with this. I can hardly wait to keep practicing the exercises. My horse and I both feel more confident about our difficulty.
We all enjoyed working with such a talented and knowledgeable coach and are excited at the prospect of him returning, if EA can arrange it. I am very grateful that the organizers had the foresight to arrange the clinic in this way. If the visit turns out to be the success that I believe it will be , and if it results in further visits there will be opportunities for others to share in what Ton brings to us. Meanwhile I hope this article helps people understand what happened and why.
I will write some more on the specific exercises for another article on Cyberhorse, so watch this space.
Pic: Copyright Berni Saunders, Cyberhorse.