January 19, 2009 -- I'm SO happy that Henk van Bergen is doing this symposium for USDF. Henk has been my favorite trainer for many years. My daughter, Jennifer, started riding with him in the early '90s, and we've been hooked by his systematic, easy-going approach which is peppered with a healthy dash of humor.
Saturday is the day when he looks at the riders for the first time. I only get to see Jennifer and Courtney King-Dye ride. Henk told Courtney that he didn't want to change anything about her riding. Like a true horsewoman, she wanted him to challenge her. "I want to learn," she says. She has the makings of REAL greatness. Always wanting to improve. No ego at all. When she was done, she called Lendon Gray immediately to say how wonderful it was. I need to ask her WHAT it was. The sound system wasn't on, so I couldn't hear everything.
Henk has brought his wife, Wilma, along. She is also a very good trainer, and when Henk does clinics at my farm in Connecticut, Wilma often does a full schedule of teaching at the same time as Henk.
I drive Henk and Wilma to and from the hotel which is at least a half hour away, so we get lots of time to talk. Henk is not nervous, but he always hopes he will do a good job at relaying his information. He is without ego or politics. There is no other agenda. You don't feel like he's trying to sell a horse or impress the judges. In fact, he can be quite honest about how he thinks things should be, but at the same time he has such respect for other trainers and judges.
We talk a lot about the economy, and it's interesting to me that the Dutch banks are having problems, too. As Wilma said, they hear about America, but we don't hear as much about what's going on over there. Many European people had savings in the banks in Iceland, and when their economy crashed, that was lost. It's so sad to think of it. Apparently the Rabobank is fine. It was originally (and maybe still) an agricultural bank in Holland, and I didn't realize until I was walking the streets in New York City last year with my son that Rabobank is in the U.S. too. Rabobank sponsors the most talented young riders in Holland. They provide coaching, training, sports psychology and other excellent programs for riders who might have a chance to win medals for Holland in the future. Amazing program.
Back to the symposium: It is held at The McPhail's lovely facility in White Fences, Loxahatchee, Florida. Mary Ann McPhail is a wonderful hostess, as always, and has given so much to the sport, not the least of which is supporting Dr. Hilary Clayton's work at Michigan State University. Her place buzzes with activity, and I nearly run into Ulla Salzgeber.
Ulla says that she used to own Bogner B when he was young. This is the horse that Courtney is riding with amazing skill and artistry. Henk was extremely complimentary. I really wanted to know if Ulla would do an article with me for Dressage Today. She said "yes," but who knows. When the time comes, people like Ulla are very busy.
I tell Henk that I have only one regret. He will do such a good job at this symposium, that he won't be a secret anymore. He's not a really BIG name, but I think he will be. We will need to share him now, I say. Of course, I'm kidding. I'm so pleased that MANY more people (and therefore many horses) will benefit from his attitude. I think the techniques are the same with all top trainers, theoretically, but Henk brings a systematic, kind methodology with it. I'll try my best to convey that in my article in Dressage Today's April 2009 issue.