A Lesson with Robert Dover

This weekend was amazing. Robert Dover did a clinic at Wyngate Equestrian Center, and I got to audit on Saturday, and take a lesson on Sunday! It was such a great opportunity to see one of the riders I admire most in action, and to see him transform horses and riders during a single lesson.  He is funny, smart, well spoken, and very passionate about what he does. He took the time to explain correct work, dressage theory, and the aids. He is also very kind, to both rider and horse. In every lesson he was saying “Good horse. Did you tell him he was good?” encouraging each rider to remember to praise their horse for a job well done.

To briefly summarize the exercises that he had everyone work on, you would wonder what makes him so much better than someone else, and why people would pay what they do to ride with him. In my lesson we worked on a 20 m circle, and spiral in, leg yield out. Many lessons covered big trot, little trot. For the advanced horses, a favorite of his was a canter serpentine with no change of lead (seemed surprisingly difficult, horses preferred to change leads). On the surface, these are the same exercises that most of us are doing at home on our own or in lessons with whatever trainer we train with. But the difference was the perfection he wanted the exercises done with. There was no “good enough” and he was very demanding about the gait quality and throughness of the horse throughout the exercises. I’ve ridden in clinics where I’ve really been worked hard and I leave thinking “that was great and I learned a lot, but I’d quit if I had to do that daily” but I left Robert Dover’s clinic wishing I could train with him daily.  To be held to that standard of perfection in every ride would surely develop a horse and rider to be the best they were capable of, and it appeared that every horse and rider were capable of meeting that standard though sometimes he did have to make significant changes to the way the rider was doing a movement or to the horse’s response to the aids to help them achieve the perfect movement.

Thinking back over my lesson, what’s interesting to me is not so much what I remember, but how I remember.  I think the work I did this summer really made this lesson possible. First, having a good balanced position (which he approved of! yes!!) made me able to quickly adapt when things didn’t go how I was anticipating. I got almost no warm up time and he surprised me by right away requesting I work only in a sitting trot, which I have not done much of on Remy.  But really, I think what worked for me in the lesson was being able to connect feelings with what he wanted me to do.

I have learned that I’m not an auditory learner. I hear maybe the first three sentences, but past that I start to hear “blah-blah-blah” and I struggle to stay focused, then my recall is very poor. If I am more actively engaged in a conversation versus listening to a lecture, it’s much better. Even better is for me to either see or feel what it is I’m learning, and for me seeing and feeling work very well together so if I see something, I can feel it, or if I feel something, I can visualize it. Either way, I have a very good recall. So now as I think back over the ride, I can remember at the beginning getting a bit of a lecture about sitting the trot. I mostly remember that he thought my horse was plenty strong to sit on and then mostly blah blah blah. I am SO glad the lesson is recorded so I can go back and listen and take notes on what he was saying, because I am sure there are more hidden gems in there.  I seem to learn more from watching myself take a lesson than from the actual taking of the lesson, and I haven’t watched the video yet so I will be really curious to see how many “Oh yeah, that was important!” moments there are.

But what I most remember from the lesson, was he had me “use my leg like I wanted a lengthening”, which was a wonderful image for me because if he had said simply “use my leg” I would have squeezed my leg but not accomplished the result he was looking for, but by adding the lengthening part, I used my whole body like I was going to push my horse forward, over his back into a longer, loftier stride.  Whether or not he knew it, he spoke very well to my learning style there, which really set me up for success.  Then he had me close my outside hand on the rein and prevent my horse for going forward into the lengthening. Again, if you read that you will notice that he didn’t just say “now squeeze the outside rein” or I would have done simply that and again the result wouldn’t have been what he wanted.  Then the best part. He said, “Blah blah blah something about a half halt.  Do you feel that?” And when he asked if I felt that, I immediately changed my focus from trying to follow his words to feeling Remy under me and suddenly, yes, I felt how round and engaged and powerful and yet perfectly soft and connected in my hands my horse felt and it was wonderful. I would have totally missed the brilliance of the moment if he hadn’t directed my attention there. In that moment of awareness, I connected the pieces and came to a whole new understanding about half halts. Now this whole bit maybe took about a minute or two in real life to happen, but because he was able to help me create this feeling in my horse and then help me tap into what I felt, this memory is so vivid in my mind that he probably forever changed the way I ride half halts and how much I expect from my horse when I half halt and what I even consider a successful half halt. The picture might be worth a thousand words, but the feeling is worth a thousand pictures.  I’d never remember that many words, but I’ll never forget that feeling.

I’ll type up the rest of my notes later, but I wanted to share this while it was fresh in my mind. Now I’m off to the barn to try to recreate that feeling again and again!!

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2 thoughts on “A Lesson with Robert Dover

  1. Pingback: Channeling Robert Dover (or trying to, at least) « Collecting Thoroughbreds

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