Axel Steiner Critiques a Young Friesian Sport Horse

Learn what dressage experts would say to improve this horse-and-rider pair.
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Credit: Courtesy, Melissa Bayer Melissa Bayer rides Jisk Like Dad, a 3-year-old Friesian sport horse, in a walk–trot test.

Credit: Courtesy, Melissa Bayer Melissa Bayer rides Jisk Like Dad, a 3-year-old Friesian sport horse, in a walk–trot test.

Our first rider is Melissa Bayer on her Friesian sport horse gelding, Jisk Like Dad. In the still photo taken last year, Jisk Like Dad is 3 years old. The video was taken more recently, after he turned 4. 

When I think of a Friesian, I think black and hair, yet here we have a Friesian sport horse (a Friesian cross) that exhibits neither of these characteristics. Instead, he looks like a long-legged, elegant warmblood except for his feathers and his multicolored tail. 

In our still photo, we see a horse that has only recently been started under saddle. Melissa is pictured showing him in a walk–trot test, and she appears to be doing a wonderful job. She is probably posting therefore, her slight inclination forward is acceptable. Her leg position is fine, with nearly a straight line from shoulder/hip/heel. Her hands may be turned over slightly, with her knuckles up, but the connection that she has with her horse’s mouth is exemplary. His neck position seems very comfortable, he is nicely open through the throatlatch and he is happily in front of the vertical. 

If we look at the placement of his legs, he does show a bit of a “baby” trot. He’s just learning how to carry a rider, so he’s not yet very strong. His left hind has touched down a little before his right fore, which shows me that he hasn’t yet found a clean two-beat rhythm in this gait. Given the young ages of both the horse and rider, they present a lovely picture, and I am sure they did very well in this walk–trot class.

Six months later, in the video, we see a young horse who is starting to develop physically, as shown by the beginning of muscling up over his topline. All three of his gaits are rhythmically correct, especially the free walk, which shows a good lengthening of frame and stride. Melissa mentioned in her notes that Jisk Like Dad was a bit tense during this ride where she was a demo rider for an “educate your eye” clinic. My guess is that there were a bunch of people sitting just behind the camera position, where we can’t see them but the horse certainly could. That can be a lot for a youngster to deal with, which explains his tight neck and Melissa’s occasional use of the outside direct rein to steer him, especially in the canter. The trot was quite steady. My only correction would be on their trot loop. She rode it, as many mistakenly do, as two straight lines with a sharp turn at X rather than as three shallow loops with changes of bend on the quarterlines. Overall, this pair seems to be well on their way. Usually I don’t encourage a young horse/young rider combination, but these two seem to be progressing nicely together. 

Turnout: Melissa and Jisk Like Dad are nicely turned out. Her saddle pad fits her saddle perfectly, and everything that ought to be white is very white. A small detail is that the end of one billet strap has popped out of its keeper.

While many people love feathers, and feathers are a part of the overall Friesian mystique, Jisk Like Dad is bay with white socks and doesn’t look anything like his Friesian papa. Melissa may want to consider whether she wants to keep the feathers on this horse. If she chooses to shave them off, she’ll enhance the elegance of her horse’s long legs and show a cleaner picture. But there’s nothing wrong with keeping them to celebrate his “difference” either.

Axel Steiner critiques your photo and video. He is a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) “O” (now called a 5*) judge, a founding member of the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) and a popular teacher and clinician. He attended the Reitinstitut von Neindorff and the national school in Warendorf. In 1961, he immigrated to Texas, joined the U.S. Air Force and taught dressage while competing on the horses of the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team. In 1968, Steiner received his first judging credentials and his current 5* status (since 1988) is the highest level of international judging. He has officiated at Olympics, World Cup Finals, Pan American Games and many more elite competitions throughout the world. He is a member of the USDF “L” Education Program faculty and a longtime member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Dressage Committee.

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Terri Miller critiques the turnout of each horse and rider. She has photographed and painted the equestrian world for more than 30 years, since her days at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Miller’s photos and paintings often appear in and on the cover of a host of magazines, including Dressage Today, and she has been the official photographer for the most prestigious dressage shows in the country. Miller and Steiner have been married since 2000 and live in California near San Diego.

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