Really lovely to catch up with our Summer Championship sponsor: Ange Bean of Straight Forward Dressage. Her credentials include USEF ‘r’ dressage judge, ARIA Level 3 certified in Dressage and Stable Management, USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medal, and USDF Bronze and Silver Freestyle bars. She also is the founding trainer for Straight Forward Trainer Talks, a web-based, clear, supportive discussion on the highs and lows of dressage horse training. Definitely check it out at: https://www.facebook.com/Straight-Forward-Dressage-116464098390294
The beauty of modern technology means we can not only compete from our own home, but also benefit from the expertise of coaches (and judges!) worldwide. Four of our Summer Champions will be availing of Ange's coaching talent very soon and we're excited to hear the results. Armed with your detailed feedback from our judges, our winning combinations can have a focused session on their targets with Ange, regardless of where they are in the world. As we always say: it's all about your progress. Fresh challenges and the tool kit to tackle them.
Delighted to catch up with Ange to discuss her dressage background and find out her top tips and coaching principles.
How did you first discover dressage?
I grew up riding – my grandparents bred Appaloosas. I was a wild child. My grandpa figured he wouldn’t be able to keep me off a horse, so he locked up the saddles but left the bridle out. His theory was if I fell off, I’d get back on, but if I fell off and got a foot caught in the stirrup, I would get seriously hurt. This was fine with me, as those big, western saddles weighed more than I did. I could be found most summer days dashing around bareback with long red braids trailing in my wake.
When I wasn’t riding, my nose was often in a book. I loved Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lippiza. The story of Hans teaching his cart horse to piaffe has always stuck with me. When I was 10, the Dancing White Stallion tour came around, I talked my non-horse mom into taking me. I was hooked.
When I told my grandpa I wanted to ride English, he asked me why I wanted to ride horses on a “hemorrhoid pad,” his term for the much flatter, and back then, less comfortable saddles.
Is there a horse (past or present) that sticks in your memory as being formative for you as a rider?
Statesman’s Eclipse, a Morgan stallion owned by Ensign’s Grace Farm, will always hold a very special place in my heart. He was the first horse I developed to FEI on my own. Now retired, he came to me at 10 years old after a career in combined driving. The first time I rode him we just clicked. He had a fantastic work ethic and a gorgeous tail. He used to come galloping to me when I went to catch him, coming to a screeching halt just in time. He was obedient enough to ride with a halter and lead rope, even when the mares were nearby. He helped me finish my bronze medal and then went on to earned 3 of my silver medal scores with him.
What is your philosophy of coaching?
I have two favorite ideas that I use in my coaching. First is a quote commonly attributed to Einstein (although experts generally debunk this): “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The second is the 1% rule – if you improve a skill 1% every day, over the course of a year, thanks to exponential growth, you will be 37% better by the end of the year.
Using these ideas, I’m always looking for ways to help my students find a training path that makes progress for them, then stay on that path long enough for the 1% improvement to accumulate.
What is your favourite schooling exercise for warming up?
In warm up, my goal is two-fold 1) help the horse become relaxed and adjustable in their bodies 2) tune up my horse’s reactions to my aids.
To that end, my favorite first exercise is to go from free walk to medium walk without changing the tempo of the footfalls. Most horses slow down as the rider gathers the reins. Once a horse can let me shorten the reins without slowing, I know he’s in front of my leg. When he can follow the bit down when I lengthen the reins, I know he is connected from back to front.
Once that works, if the horse and environment are safe enough, I like to go to some bend changes in the stretchy gaits, again keeping the tempo under my control, to confirm that the same things that worked in the walk will work in trot and canter.
After that, I usually go to small changes of circle size, from 20m to 18m and back to 20m, without a bend change. This is a great exercise to help the horse keep the outside shoulder on the same bending line as the feet, which then helps keep the body of the horse upright instead of the dreaded “motorcycle turn.”
Once the horse begins to feel pretty even in both reins, I move on from the circle size changes to small transitions within the gait, again asking the horse to stay in the same tempo. I like to do this going around the arena and counting strides between the letters. If the letters are evenly spaced and I can add a stride between one letter and take it out before the next letter without a tempo change, my horse is clearly adjustable and ready for whatever work I want to do that day.
Online Dressage International are thrilled to have Ange on board as their Summer Championships sponsor and very much looking forward to hearing how our four award winners get on in their lessons.
Give Ange a follow on social media at: https://www.facebook.com/Straight-Forward-Dressage
And if you fancy a bit of Freestyle of Music to brighten your day, have a watch of Ange here: https://youtu.be/Kw_rhhTAfg0