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Training with Amy Woodhead

It was an honour and a pleasure to welcome the super-talented dressage star Amy Woodhead to George’s Ranch last week. Having represented Great Britain at both Pony Team and Young Rider levels, Amy spent two years training in Germany and Holland before joining Carl Hester’s yard, where she has worked for the last three years. Needless to say, we were thrilled to have her on our team, if only for four days, and though Amy’s visit was short and sweet, her expertise will no doubt have a lasting impact on all the riders she met. In an action-packed schedule, Amy conducted a training clinic with four very different horses as well as a number of private lessons. She also found time to write this week’s blog, so without further ado we hand over the reins to Amy…

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Well, what a wonderful and interesting time I’ve had in Cyprus. The weather has been glorious and the riding has really surprised me. Without meaning to sound rude, I wasn’t expecting the standard to be so high given the limitations of living on a small island, but I saw some great riding and serious commitment, with many riders simply needing a little direction to develop the skills they already possess. And the dressage training clinic was the perfect way to illustrate this.
The idea of the clinic was to create awareness of different kinds of training because, from what I have gathered from speaking to people on the island, many riders feel starved of information regarding how to implement a variety of exercises and training methods. Now, I’m completely open to the fact that not everything works for everyone, which is why we chose four very different horses at different stages of development to show the kind of methods that can be used.

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Our first horse of the day was one of Caroline’s horses, Defender. He’s a lovely boy and I think he’s going to be a great schoolmaster for Caroline because although her riding is amazing and she has a good feel for her horses, to go to the level that she wants to go to she needs to learn, and in that regard Defender is very useful because he’s not an easy horse to ride, in fact he’s actually quite tricky. Defender is not built for the job, he’s not bred for the job and he finds the job difficult, but he has a massive heart and he really wants to do the job for Caroline, so we need to think about how we are going to train him, how we are going to help him, and how we are going to develop the right exercises that allow him to help her.
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Our second horse of the day was the Irish cob, Penny. This sweet mare has only been at George’s Ranch for a few months and because she is nine years old she is a little set in her ways. However, Penny is very willing to work and the only problem is she simply doesn’t understand what she is being asked to do. As a result, she’s a nine-year-old that rides like a four-year-old. When it comes to turning, it’s clear she’s not very supple and she’s probably been ridden for much of her life like a typical cob – a get on and go horse. Therefore, in our work with Penny, we have to try and tell her not what she is doing is wrong, but that there is a better way to do it, and in a way that she easily understands.
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The next horse we looked at was Lucky Star, a nine-year-old first class racehorse who recently retired from the track after a career spanning 63 races. This was actually very interesting because it’s a fairly new partnership and it wasn’t the work that was the actual priority, but rather the building up of the horse’s confidence. Lucky is very wired in his brain, very alert, so if anything you need to get his brain to slow down before you can achieve anything. The minute you engage his brain is the minute he starts to listen, and from there everything else will come together. Another factor Lucky had to contend with was the clinic itself. It was a new thing for him. He was in front of a small crowd for the first time since coming off the track, there was noise from the microphone and energy in the air which created a few hairy moments, but we got through it and I think a lot of people could relate to that.
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Our final horse of the day was Butterfly who, to my mind, is Caroline’s international prospect. This is the horse that is going to make her stand out a little more on the international circuit because he’s built for the job, he’s bred for the job and he finds the work easy. He offers more than Defender because it comes naturally to him. While Defender does offer things he doesn’t quite understand how or where to position his body. In contrast, Butterfly’s body is already in the correct position to do the exercise so when he offers something it’s simply a matter of teaching him that what he has just done is an actual movement and then to try and use it. Caroline also needs to learn the aids to get the best out of him and just what exercises work to supple her horse and what is correct. This feeling of ‘what is correct’ is something I also tried to highlight in the lessons I gave to individual riders during the course of my stay.

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These lessons were very interesting for me because they revealed a good standard of riding across the island that simply needs to be steered in the right direction. In some respects, riders have come across as being a little lost as to the way to go forward. Therefore, I felt the best help I could give under these circumstances, was to try and create the feeling in each lesson of what correct riding should feel like. I then broke it down for each rider to give them the tools to recreate that feeling once I’m gone. Of course, I won’t be gone for good and I hope to work with all of these riders again – and many more – on my next visit to George’s Ranch. Until then, happy riding and remember it’s not a race to the finishing line, it’s about getting their safely and correctly!

Amy.

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