Compliments for a “Re-Rider” Who Returns to Dressage

Axel Steiner shares his opinions.

When I first read Carol’s note to us, I was a little worried about what to say in this column. Normally, we think about this column as a critique. But everything she has done seems to be correct for this level. So that you understand what I mean, let me share some of what she has written to us:

“My name is Carol Riegel, and I am a 47-year-old adult amateur rider … My horse’s name is Rhode Show (a.k.a.,Big Ben), a 17.3-hand Hanoverian who I purchased as a coming 3-year-old …He just turned 8. I had been on hiatus from horses for about 11 years, as I was involved in sleddog racing. For the past 3½ years, we have been working with Jeanne McDonald. Unfortunately, Ben injured himself in the field this winter and has been on stall rest since then, but at the time [the pictures and video were taken] we were working on Second Level movements. Since Ben as been off, I have been taking weekly longe lessons, and I feel that I will now be able to help him much more as my seat has improved, and in my transitions I am much more “uphill thinking” than I was in the video. I have been lucky enough to ride schoolmasters who are teaching me to use my core to get true mediums and to go forward and back within the gaits with just my seat and core and not my hands. I hope that by the time Ben is able to get back to work, I will be able to be a much more effective rider.”

Credit: Courtesy, Carol Riegel Carol Riegel rides Rhode Show (a.k.a., Big Ben), an 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding at First Level.

Instead of critiquing Carol’s photo, let me make this a column of compliments. Here is Carol, a 47-year-old “re-rider” returning to the dressage game after more than a decade, who is taking regular instruction from a reputable instructor. She probably kept herself physically fit during her break from riding. I have ridden in dog sleds myself and I know how much fitness they involve.

Carol is tall and slender, but in order to maintain a good posture with her long upper body, she must be sure to develop and maintain excellent core strength. She has told us that she is concentrating on this in her training. 

There is very little to critique in this photo from her First Level test. In the photo, it appears that she may be holding her outside shoulder a little bit too far back. Remember that the rider’s shoulders should be parallel to the horse’s shoulders.

Her lower leg could be a tad farther back. Otherwise, she has a pleasing position, which is verified by Ben, who is stepping under nicely in this circle to the left. His lips appear to be a little apart in the photo, but everything else about him appears to be comfortable, I’ll verify in the video whether he’s just twitched his lip at this moment. 

Carol’s video is a First Level test from last year, prior to the new change that allows rising trot. I don’t know if this would have been any advantage to her as her seat is quite good, and she is sitting on a mature, steady horse.

Carol needs to keep her hands independent from her body: more softness in the elbow would create a steadier contact between her hands and Ben’s mouth. 

In general, the transitions within the gaits could have been clearer, which would prepare them both for Second Level, where mediums are required and the transitions are a separate score.

Her leg yield to the right was the weakest part of the test, as she lost the parallel nature of the movement, but I can see that she knows the correct mechanics of the movement, as the leg yield left was far better. 

My only other criticism is in the canter where she tends to overuse her spur, potentially annoying Ben and driving him onto the forehand. She should take advantage of her tall upper body and the leverage that it can create, by sitting a little deeper in the saddle and encouraging him to move more forward and upward.

I’m sure it was a successful First Level test: In order to move up, the riding needs to be more effective in engaging the hind legs, so that the horse’s forehand can lighten, thereby freeing the shoulders. This will be important for the lateral work required in Second Level. 

Carol is a great example for those coming back into the sport after a break. She rides a sensible horse, takes lessons from a good instructor and, even during her horse’s layup, continues her riding education with lessons on the longe and schoolmasters whenever she can. I can’t think of a better recipe for success.

Turnout and photography: Carol’s turn out looks sparkling to me. Just watch that his noseband gets tucked into all the keepers, please. 

The photo captured a lovely moment in front of a clean autumn background. There are ways in post-processing to enhance the details in the shadows, and with this backlit image, those techniques would have improved the overall values and colors in the photo.

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. 

Credit: Terri Miller

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.

Credit: Marie Cobb






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