Leading into the Reem Acra World Cup Dressage was a demonstration by Michael and Ferdi Eilberg with the amazing mare Woodlander Farouche. Ferdi was doing the explanation while Michael rode. Farouche is now competing at Prix St Georges but all the work at home is done with progression towards Grand Prix level.
Ferdi explained that Farouche had three exceptional gaits in walk, trot and canter. At the moment they were working towards Grand Prix and that Farouche was learning the concept of all the different movements required for Grand Prix. During the demonstration Ferdi was keen to emphasize that in working towards a higher level and allowing the horse to develop a full level of understanding that everything was done under powered and calmly ‘so the horse has time to learn and understand the aids until it all comes together and then you can ask for more power.’
In discussing collection, Ferdi explained that collecting the gaits developed carrying weight in the hind legs. In Farouche, you can see the range as well of tremendous shoulder freedom. This means that with more weight being taken behind the front legs can have more expression.
Farouche is currently working on half steps on the way to piaffe and passage. Michael worked Farouche in trot mixing up the trot with the collection required for half steps. Ferdi explained that it was difficult for horses with big movement to learn how to collect and need to have time to learn to collect and understand the concept. ‘Horses piaffe and passage naturally but have to learn to do it when asked. Horses have to understand what this and that means. ‘
Farouche was superb in all the atmosphere and both Ferdi and Michael seemed to be really pleased with how she was coping with everything that was going on around her and so many people watching.
The canter was moved around within the gait from collection to being more forwards all the time with the intention to get the horse to sit on the hind legs and then ride forwards again.
Ferdi explained that working with the higher level tempi changes required in the one time changes is a big step for a horse to learn but it is especially hard for the horse to learn how to balance. ‘The changes don’t always work but this is a process of learning’.
‘In the Grand Prix, you will see how quick everything comes up with the movements and horses need a good understanding of all the concepts to do it well. Keep the balance and keep the straightness which are all key aspects of the changes criteria within in a test. ‘
Discussing the changes more in depth Ferdi explained that within the Grand Prix test the requirement is for nine, two time changes. In training you should not ask for this everyday so that the horse does not become too keen to show off. Do a lot of relaxation in between asking for the changes. The basis of everything must be relaxation and a horse must have time to achieve this.
‘In looking at Farouche, this horse is consistent in walk and strides through her body. A suppleness that goes through her body.’
‘In collecting the horses walk steps the relaxation must remain. Walk marks are very important even in Grand Prix the walk has a co-efficient of two. At the end of the test, clarity and consistency of the gaits are marked with a score given by the judge.’
‘The rider must be clear with the aids.’
‘In the learning process you should not worry about getting crossed wires as the horse learns and begins to understand. You help the horse by asking again and allowing the understanding to take place. If you get too demanding the horse will become overpowered and it will mentally block the learning process and you lose the relaxation.’
‘Farouche is a horse who reaches with the front leg and puts the front leg where she reaches. Many horses don’t achieve this.’
‘In summarising having a horse like this in his care, Ferdi said that ‘we are very patient now, developing everything further and further and then when we are happy we will start to add the power.’
To watch Farouche in action is a pleasure. The quality of her work is breathtaking and I can now understand why people rush over to watch every time she performs. We are extremely lucky that a horse of this magnitude has such patient and world class trainers in the Eilberg family and we are very lucky to have been able to watch this British bred, British owned and British produced horse.