Clinic Report - BHS Day - Anja Beran

Philippa and I went all the way to Bishop Burton to see the German classical rider Anja Beran and in doing so found a great Thai restaurant! But that wasn't the only good thing that made our trip worth while. Anja gave a 40 minute introduction which was somewhat scathing about modern competitive dressage but absolutely true. She talked about the great "masters" and the origins of Classical Riding and said that people nowadays have lost the ability to train the gymnastics. They only train to win the competitions. Ideas like "rollkur" have developed because real horsemanship skills have been lost. She cited several examples of incorrect gymnastics;

  • "Camel" walks
  • Back problems
  • Incorrect trot - big front leg movement with nothing behind
  • Canter not true 3-time
  • Passage where the horse "stands" on one diagonal that then goes back to the same spot.
  • Non existent piaffes

She retrains many dressage horses and is absolutely against any kind of auxiliary rein or gadget. She said that the horse either switches off or goes mad. Instead trainers must analyse how to balance and straighten the horse. This is very difficult to do well but they must look for it every day. This is her primary aim every time she rides and she is pleased even if she gets just a few seconds. There is no point in trotting around out of balance and crooked. Asking for big paces too early merely stiffens the back and most problems come from an incorrectly trained back, one which does not "carry".

She shocked the audience by claiming to teach piaffe and passage before any extensions and introduces piaffe at quite an early age, (5 or 6 years) Just a few steps to teach the horse to flex the major joints in his hind quarters. Finally, she stressed the importance of a good seat!

The rest of the day was a bit of a let down in that there were no Iberian horses or riders who had some experience of this work (even though several had applied to be guinea pigs) and so the riders and the horses were unable to show any real improvements. What they demonstrated admirably was everything that Anja had said was wrong in modern dressage! The riders all seemed obsessed with "getting the head down" and seemed incapable of giving forwards or riding the horse on the bit from the seat and legs. Those that had done some piaffe had trained it incorrectly by working backwards (with lots of pulling) from the passage and when asked to step with the hindlegs from halt or walk, the horses were completely incapable and all 3 horses went to rear. Why does a horse rear? Only when the rider asks for energy from the legs and blocks it with the hands! (Incidentally, a levade is NOTHING like a rear). The Grand Prix horse had completely incorrect muscling - hollow - and the rider of the medium horse seemed to think it was all a bit of a joke and seemed completely uncooperative. Interestingly, this horse had consistently been scoring in the seventies at medium level but Anja pointed out that the horse had no back end and simply dragged itself along on its forehand. In fact she really went to town on this horse and its the rider even though the rider had recently been awarded his BHS Fellowship! Anja seemed to think that he had no back or seat, his legs were all over the place and so were his hands. Some advert for the BHS!

Most of the exercises and school figures were old hat to anyone who had trained with a Portuguese trainer (Filippa) - lots of lateral work, true flexion and counter flexion; leg yield/shoulder in on small circles etc. etc. She slowed things down to enable the horse to step with flexibility. "Slow walk, like a cat"! The bigger more expressive steps only come later when the horse has learnt to carry his back and step with his hind legs. I guess it was all very alien to the modern way of pounding around pulling the head in!

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