Brandy and I audited an afternoon of the Charles de Kunffy clinic at our dressage trainer’s farm this past weekend. Our trainer works pretty regularly with Charles and has a lot of the same teaching philosophies and style. Honestly, my brain was total mush by the end of the 3 hours, that’s about as much dressage as my brain can process at a time. I jotted down notes as Charles talked – mostly things that I thought would be helpful to me, but also just general wisdom as well. Hopefully others can find something useful in here too!
– “You can’t do anything without trust – the horse has to want to work for you.”
– Adjustability, adjustability, adjustability. He said that word about 1000 times, along with suppleness.
– He is not a fan of the dressage training pyramid.
– “Shoulder in strengthens the hocks, haunches in strengthens the stifle, half pass strengthens the hips.”
– “What you can’t accomplish in a 30 minute ride is for tomorrow.” Anything more than 30-45 minutes is mentally taxing, and continuing to work after the horse has given you good work is punishment.
– Lots of walk and stretching breaks for body and mind.
– Constantly change the length of the neck, the tempo, and the length of stride throughout the ride. This creates a supple, adjustable horse.
– For a horse that tends to travel with it’s haunches in when going “straight”, the inside rein is too strong.
– To help improve the connection through the topline, give alternate reins for 4 strides at a time (give left rein 4 strides, then right rein 4 strides, etc). When you give the rein it raises the ligament in the back. This exercise worked really well.
– Inside seatbone down into the canter, outside leg back, keep the toe in, “scuff” the horse with the leg.
– The rider has to advance as much as the horse. The rider should constantly be seeking education.
– “There are 3 evasions of a horse: crookedness, inversion, and speed.”
– “Speed is the enemy of impulsion.”
– To help improve the seat, he suggested riding sometimes with the shoulders behind the vertical to help build abdominal strength and feel how the ab muscles should engage. This strength is what helps create a good vertical position.
– To fix overflexion: slow down 3 strides, drop the contact, double the inside leg drive and then go forward again.
– “The horse is where his tail is, not where his head is.”
– Jigging in the walk is a rider problem caused by unclear aids and rider tension.
– To help learn to drive with the seat, he had one woman alternately rock her shoulders (NOT hands) back – left, right, left right – which put her more into her seat aids. This actually really worked to get the horse forward from the seat and the rider sitting more “in” the horse.
– “By perfecting the rider, we perfect the horse.”
– A rider with a good seat in sitting trot is much lighter for the horse than a rider with a bad seat in rising trot.
– He really hated a toe out leg position because of what it does to the rider’s pelvis. See video below (hopefully you can hear his explanation, but if not you can see what he means).
Overall he was big on position (leg, seat, body, and elbow in particular were very common themes), having a good effective seat, and rewarding the horse through walk and stretch breaks. He wanted to see a leg that draped on the horse’s sides, with the toe behind the knee, seat IN the horse, and an elbow that hung by the rider’s side. He is not a fan of heavy contact and never wants to see a horse behind the vertical.
Whether you are a fan of Classical Dressage or not, I feel like there was a lot to be learned from Charles. He seemed like a true horseman first and foremost, with a lot of compassion for the horse and for rider education. The horses and riders that I saw come into the ring all improved under his tutelage. I really agree with him in that a horse is truly a reflection of how it’s ridden, and we as riders must always ask ourselves what we can do better in order to get better results. I was inspired enough by his philosophy to come home and buy his books “The Ethics and Passions of Dressage” and “Training Strategies for Dressage Riders”. We’ll see what I think about those!