YOGA, PILATES EN ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE, FITNESS WITH FEEL
DRESSAGE STARTS WITH YOU!
When we think of dressage our attention immediately goes towards training the horse. We want for it to move with balance, because we know that is one of the most important ingredients to achieve the desired results.
But how can a horse be well-balanced when 50 kilos of weight is not exactly in the middle or leaning too far forward or back? One hip is higher than the other or the shoulder blades are stuck out?
So, let's be honest...dressage starts with you!
My pupils Hazel Clewley and Liz Bailey, both extremely fit women, convinced me of joining a yoga class because I saw how their balance and position on their horse got very quickly much better from the moment they joined.
HEAVY WHEEL BARROWS AND RUGS
Especially when you're young it is easy to forget about body wear and tear. To underestimate the toll on muscles and joints, especially in the muddy autumn and winter. Wheel barrows are heavily loaded to avoid an extra trip to the muck heap and heavy rugs for in the stable and out in the field are thrown on many times a day.
FITNESS IS IN!
Fitness is in! Everyone knows about spinning, weights are lifted and marathons run. What a difference between some fourty years ago and now. The fitness development to help us grow old happy and healthy has taken such a flight in the last ten years or so.
It is very available and a wonderful development and for many the perfect option to work on weight loss and/or stamina. But when, as a rider, the rest of your day is also fairly physical, you may need to consider other options. You might need to work on suppleness and learn about engaging without tension. And it is not not cool, even when you are still really young, to join a Yoga or Pilates class.
After a relatively long recovery from a back injury from many years ago a friend suggested the Alexander Technique to me. A one-on-one method where you are retaught your body to sit, lift and bend -and all other kinds of banal movements- in a novel and uncomplicated way. We forget as we grow up and it causes endless damage.
What a shame, if had learned that before my injury my position as a rider would have been so much better early on and it would have made my riding so much more effortless and effective!
WHERE ARE MY SEAT BONES?
To be able to ride we think quickly about fitness and strength, but riders are often fit and strong because of their way of life. So, choosing an option of a work-out with a focus on balance and suppleness is probably a better plan.
The Alexander Technique has helped me tremendously to 'find' my seat bones. It has given me a body awareness of which I pick the fruits every single day.
It is called a technique because once you have learned how to use it you just do not forget and it stays with you forever. On days when my back is not very cooperative I can still function fairly normal because of it.
YOGA IS NOT BORING!
Having started yoga this spring has given me a very different view of what it entails. I thought it was a bit too vague for me, possibly a bit boring. How wrong I was!
If ever there is a way to work on your core strength it is yoga, this together with learning to breath from a lower part of your body. The perfect combination for the dressage rider where breathing correctly is so very much part of successful training. Think rhythm and transitions.
FITNESS WITH FEEL HELPS YOU AND YOUR HORSE
The exercise classes and/or techniques I have mentioned not only make you stronger but specifically focus on learning how to be strong without abusing your body. That not only helps you on your horse, but also with pushing your heavy wheel barrows (with a little less muck in it from now on!) or sitting behind a desk.
It is fitness with feel and when you take the time to feel and realize how it improves your own balance, you will be able to feel better what your horse needs to improve its balance.
WE ARE PLENTY TOUGH!
We learn everything about how to warm up our horse before the more difficult exercises and movements. We seldom think about our own warm-up and the negative effects because of it, especially on a cold day, on our horse.
Horse riders are a fairly tough breed. The sport demands a certain toughness. But especially because of that we should not forget to develop that other side of ourselves, learning to feel, and allow time and space for that.
It is not only our body which will benefit but also our horses. They will soon show you their appreciation during their training. And it is just so great when you are able to 'feel' that!
Top picture: Liz with George
Bottom: Hazel with Trundle
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TEAM BLEEKMAN, FROM DEVON TO GELDERLAND AND BEYOND
A VISIT TO TEAM BLEEKMAN
When I walk into the kitchen of the Bleekman family, the first thing my eye catches are the wooden shoes of Edward. Also I still wear them regularly in the yard, although I have learned the hard way they're no good on slippery muddy hills.
It has been a while since my last visit, when Edward helped me patiently with his stories, of the beginnings of the KWPN horse, for my book 'The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker...'.
But Team Bleekman is a work in progress and they have had a great year, so it was certainly time for another visit.
After the international event in Boekelo in Holland I wrote a blog for Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag' and here, for the 'Bleekman groupies', is the translation.
A SMALL PIECE OF GELDERLAND IN DEVON
Whorridge Farm became Whorridge Stud after Edward and Clissy started life together and what began with some four or five stallions, among whom Grannex, Mayhill and Karandasj, has gradually become a stud where the rolling fields are filled with some fantastic young stock, from carefully selected parents.
It always added something extra when in the past dropping my broodmares off with Edward. Talking our own language with the charming dialect of Gelderland floating through it. As much as I feel at home in Cornwall, a part of my heart stayed where I was born and bred.
But of course the main reason was those wonderful stallions. For my halfbreds Mark Todd's Mayhill, who he had competed internationally, was particularly interesting. This was nearly thirty years ago and there were not that many proven stallions around at that time. Also, to know my mares were in the safe and experienced hands of Edward made the choice extremely easy.
A YOUNG ENTERPRIZE
You felt it at the time, when you were there; this was a young enterprize run by two people who knew what they wanted and now, some thirty years later, Clissy has come back with her oldest daughter, Alfie, from the Boekelo event in the Netherlands, just in time to prepare for Aldon.
There are the three of them, three daughters, Althea (Alfie), Janou (Nui) and Katie, who all are naturals on the back of a horse.
Alfie had been to Boekelo three times before with mixed results, so she is pleased as punch to have had a great ride, a proper confidence giver. The only nine year-old mare Dasj had one refusal x-country and a pole down show-jumping and that is quite an achievement for a horse so young and inexperienced. Not a surprise therefore that Alfie is more than ready for and looking forward to next season.
HOME BRED AND PRODUCED
Of course Edward gives me a smug grin when I congratulate him with this great achievement -Dasj being one of their homebreds-, at the same time pointing at the wall where there is a smart picture of Bintang II, also bred by Edward. Bintang, together with his rider Laura Renwick, is proving himself to be a top quality show-jumper with a great future still ahead of him. Both Bintang and Dasj have the same granny -probably not a coincidence, knowing Edward- who is by Grannex, whose name keeps on turning up during my visit.
Grannex stood at Whorridge stud for several years and there is still sperm available, as is also still from Mayhill and Karandasj. Edward tells me Grannex is particularly useful in the mare lines.
Karandasj came from the Venderbosch family (jointly owned with well known equine veterinarian Jan Greve), which yet again proves the importance of their close connection. This is where Edward learned to be an expert at handling stallions from the great character, Freriks, possibly one of the greatest stallion handlers Holland has ever known.
When Alfie joins us at the table and I ask her about the decision to ride for the Netherlands, she is very quick to stop her dad, who only just managed to say, 'not my decision...'. She wants to make very clear that it was her idea and her decision to use the fact that she has a Dutch passport as well as an English one.
She explains that, as a young rider, she had a very lovely and brave horse, which unfortunately was not super fast. With the enormous amount of young riders available in England on expensive and often ready-made horses, she wouldn't have stood a chance to ever qualify for a team, which is what she so desperately wanted. So it was an easy decision: Holland did want them and at the Venderbosch family there was always a bed and a stable.
JOHAN VENDERBOSCH IS LIKE A DAD
Go back fourty years or so, when Edward and his uncle would drive into the now internationally famous stud 'De Radstake', owned by Johan Venderbosch, on many a Sunday afternoon, which soon became Edward's second home.
Not only his second home but also where he learned every trick of the trade. 'Johan was like a father for Edward, still is', Clissy says.
At that very moment grandson Bjinse Venderbosch walks into the kitchen. He came back with them from the European Young Riders Eventing Championships at Millstreet in Ireland having competed there for the Dutch Junior team. Nui, together with Granntevka Prince (Hah, there's Grannex again!), got a grand bronze in the Young Riders Section. Bjinse stayed on with the Bleekman family for the rest of the competition season. Obviously the love between the two families goes both ways.
I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE
Alfie continues, 'I am not the only one and so don't feel vulnerable because of it. There are so many foreign riders based here in England. The availability of good courses is so great and relatively easy to get to. Can't compare it to anywhere else, really.'
'I may not speak the Dutch language, but I feel as Dutch as I do English and our life style, with our second home with the Venderbosch family in Holland and all the international events we go to, I have friends all over the world.' (Oh dear, Mrs. May, shot through my head at that moment, what are you doing!)
Both girls (Alfie and Nui, Katie wasn't home) do indeed have a very direct 'Dutchness' about them, although, their mother's genes could have helped that along a bit, too. I can imagine that at that lovely big kitchen table there will be the occasionally heated discussion.
However, democracy certainly reigns in the Bleekman household, with room for everyone's opinion. Nui and Alfie get help from different trainers. Nui has chosen to train with Mark Todd and dressage rider Anna Ross, whereas Alfie visits Lucinda Green and Ferdie Eilberg. Together they do share show-jump trainer Allen Fazakerley when he is coming their way.
BOEKELO: TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE...
For Clissy every year at Boekelo is a 'trip down memory lane'. It was the great Dutch trainer Roeli Bril who got Edward on Clissy's lorry some thirty years ago, Clissy being a regular there. Edward had to be on a flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles for a horse transport where he worked in the racehorse world in the States at the time.
Well... and then this horrible gale arrived and kept them a bit longer at Boekelo because the ferry didn't run...
Clissy puts a huge bag with pictures on the kitchen table.
UNBELIEVABLE, MARK TODD THEN AS WELL!
Loads of pictures, loads of great and also very funny moments. A very young Mark Todd who, during one of the first events at Boekelo went straight through a little bridge of railroad sleepers, with horse and all! The time was stopped, the bridge rebuilt and Mark continued. It was early days for the Dutch to be involved in the sport of eventing and the quality of course building has improved since then!
That was somewhere during the eighties. Now, a full generation later, there Mark was, this time in the same section as daughter Alfie who is becoming as much a regular as her mother.
When, during my visit, Alfie led the small but ever so brave Dasj out of her stable for the picture, I could not help but think of Mark Todd's very special Charisma, who once stole everyone's heart. 'Yes, Mark certainly has a soft spot for her', Alfie says.
EDWARD HOLDING THE FORT
And Edward, he stayed behind holding the fort. There are to many valuable steeds roaming the fields for all to up sticks. Seven mares in foal; 22 competition horses of which half of them home bred. Plenty of youngsters, among which two stallions which Edward particularly likes. But he is a Gelderland man, born and bred, so he is sparse with his his words.
A SMALL HORSE FACTORY
All in all this is a small but extremely efficient functioning horse factory where all involved are fully committed and no unnecessary luxuries permitted. Every penny goes to where those pennies are most needed. Which are the dreams and goals of and Edward, and Clissy, and their three enthousiastic daughters. Because you can feel that in their kitchen with a cup of coffee in front of you, the desire to move forward and think big by young and old.
Like Alfie said, ‘we do not have the money to buy expensive horses, so we have to breed and make them ourselves.’ Well, they certainly have the best mum and dad for that!
A HAPPY DRIVE BACK HOME
I left the Bleekman household and Whorridge Stud with a happy feeling. It was a wild ride back. When I left home the clouds were yellow and the sun an eerie orange. In six hours back and forth with hurricane Ophelia breathing in my neck. But, I have heard the wooden shoes clump through the yard and the familiar Achterhoek dialect from my beloved Gelderland. Back to Cornwall, home away from home...
You can order my book 'The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker..' on Amazon for only £7.50
It tells the story how the Gelderland horse helped to make the KWPN horse internationally famous. Interspersed with the great anecdotes from Johan Venderbosch, founder of Stud De Radstake and Henk Nijhof of Team Nijhof among others. They were once farmers, coal merchants and bakers, hence the title.
Top picture: Team Bleekman, from left to right: Clissy, Edward, Dasj, Alfie, Nui
Middle: One of the Mayhill offspring I bred with her mum Bodrigan, the mare Claire Daniels show-jumped so very successfully into Grade A. The best foal I ever bred, but unfortunately died of a colic.
Bottom: Mark Todd on Mayhill taken from my 1996 Whorridge Stud catalogue
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.