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Carol Lavell Gifted Fund Grant Recipient: Jessica Foschi (MN)

This past May, I was very fortunate to participate in a week-long training camp with my horse, Calypso, and my long-time trainer, Kellie Hunter, thanks to a generous grant from The Dressage Foundation and the Gifted Memorial Fund for Adult Amateurs.  I am so thankful to TDF, Carol Lavell, and the Gifted Fund for this opportunity.  We had such a wonderful time and grew leaps and bounds over the course of our training sessions.  It has been a truly invaluable experience. 

Our sessions took place at Kellie’s facility, Dragon Heart’s Lair in northern Minnesota, over the course of eight days to allow for a day of rest for Calypso in between sessions.  In addition to daily sessions with Calypso, I was also able to take several lessons on a variety of horses in Kellie’s program, from young horses to medium levels.  We were also able to incorporate two lunge line lessons into our program to work on position, stability, and balance work. 

Not only was I able to take daily lessons throughout this experience, but I was also able to spend some devoted time with my horse as well shadow training sessions and other lessons throughout the day.  On Calypso’s rest day, I was able to do a spa day complete with a full grooming, bath, clipping, and some hand grazing.  Calypso is all mare and LOVES the extra attention so it was special to just spend some unlimited time with her.  We are so fortunate to do what we do and to have the opportunity to ride such incredible horses.  It was really wonderful to spend time just appreciating that, Calypso, and all the joy she has brought to my life. 

Calypso has been nothing short of a horse of a lifetime.  I purchased her as a yearling nine years ago, and together we have been steadily progressing through the levels with Kellie’s help and consistent guidance.  Calypso and I are currently schooling 4th Level/PSG with the hopes of moving into the FEI levels in the upcoming future.  With that in mind, we dubbed our training week “FEI Bootcamp” and got to work on how to refine our aids and schooling sessions.

Our first two lessons with Calypso revolved around quickening her hind legs and responsiveness to the driving seat and leg, as well as developing a more cadenced and elevated trot through that added impulsion from the hindquarters.  To first develop the forward swing through the back in our warm up, we worked on a bit of forward and back feel in both the trot and canter on a 20m circle in each direction.  This was especially helpful in the canter as each time I sent her forward, she responded more promptly and with more power and jump through increasingly subtle aids.  Upon the rebalancing half-halt, she began to step more underneath herself and develop a better lightness of the forehand and greater maneuverability of the shoulders.  As we continued the exercise, I felt the transition within gait become sharper and with more self-carriage, which allowed us to progress in our work with a better balance overall. 

With that idea in mind, we worked on the balance of driving and rebalancing aids to develop more power and thrust while maintaining a soft connection to the bridle.  We focused on the rebalancing aids so that Calypso did not run and lean on the hand when more power behind was added, and only added so much impulsion as I was able to recycle back to me with a forward feel to the contact.  The end result was a more balanced, cadenced trot and more supple canter that she was able to maintain through self-carriage and less work on my part. 

In our following sessions, we worked on incorporating that feel into our lateral work.  First we focused on Calypso’s body alignment through work in the shoulder-fore before moving into the shoulder-in, half pass, renvers, and haunches-in.  In our lateral work, we focused on my ability to control the shoulder throughout the movements, more so with my outside aids so that my inner rein was free to maintain her suppleness throughout the movement.  To check self-carriage, we played with a bit of forward feel on the inner rein for a couple of strides within the movement to check that she didn’t fall onto the forehand or run without the support of that contact.  I found this lessened my reliance on my inner rein and instead increased Calypso’s ability to maintain her flexion and bend throughout her body through self-carriage. Additionally, we focused more on the use of my inner leg to flex her in the ribcage as she worked through the lateral movements which added to her overall flexibility.    

Throughout our sessions, we also spent time schooling the flying changes, first by ensuring a good quality canter, then playing with the forward and back feel from our first sessions.  There, we focused on a quick forward-response from my outer leg on the circle as I asked for more stride while the inside leg maintained a steady position at the girth.  Then transitioning onto a diagonal line to use that motion to ask for the change with an uphill rebalancing aid and a shift in my new outer leg to signal for the change.  Throughout the change work, we worked on building up a bit of an electric response to my driving aids so that she would maintain her impulsion and jump clearly through the change when asked.  We also worked on timing so that the first stride of the change was timed as the new outer shoulder was down to allow Calypso to jump more clearly through her back.  When she became dull to my leg in the change, we returned to the forward and back exercise on the circle to refresh the energy, also using a bit of haunches-in on the circle to accentuate the response to my leg.  Then when she did a change correctly, she was given a big pat and allowed to take a break or move on to easier work as a reward. 

I felt very fortunate to lesson on several of the other horses in Kellie’s program as well, as that different feel proved to be a great benefit to our training overall.  In our lunge line lessons, we focused on riding all three gaits without reliance on the contact, taking away the reins and maintaining core stability with my hands on my hips, to the side, and straight in the air as well as taking away the stirrups for periods of time.  It was also beneficial to ride horses in different levels of training and with different quirks and buttons as it really gives you a different perspective on your own riding.  I had the opportunity to ride a talented young horse who was newly started where we worked on good balance, suppleness of the back, and the start of engagement in all three gaits with lots of rewards and encouragement.  I also had the opportunity to lesson on two medium level horses, where the expectations were increased a bit more as we worked on fine-tuning the quality of the gaits and encouraging the horses to sit more on their hind-ends in their overall way of going.  Each horse was so different, and it was really fun to bring back what I had learned to Calypso.  Not only was that different perspective a big help, but so was the additional saddle-time!  

This was such a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity for this devoted time to work on our training.  I would encourage anyone thinking about applying to do so, as this opportunity allowed us to make significant strides in our training in a short period of time without the pressures of added costs and limited schedules.  I am so looking forward to putting this information to good use as we continue to progress in our training and in our dressage careers.  Many thanks to TDF and the Gifted Memorial Fund - We are forever grateful for your generous support!