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2020 Major Anders Lindgren Instructor Grant Recipient: Heidi Hauri-Gill

Photo taken by Bob Gill

Wow! That is all I can say. I had some very clear goals going into this winter. A year earlier I had ridden my horse Willioso SSF in our first Grand Prix, and although it was a great start, we had some serious work to do. I had also come off a season that shook my confidence as a trainer, and a rider. I had ridden with Kathy Connelly in clinic format in the past and knew she was a very safe person to train with. We had a meeting before we decided to work together this closely. I wanted this training season to guide me to ride a better Grand Prix test. To do that I had to improve my understanding and education in a few areas: balance, straightness, and collection for this high level. When I watched my test the problems, I saw were all related to those factors. I sent Kathy the video of our test and crossed my fingers. We had a phone call to discuss the video. She simply said that what she saw is we need to improve our balance. I asked about the movements, she said that everything we needed was in the balance, and as soon as we found that we would find the things we were missing. She said it would not be all that hard, and not to worry, as soon as we are together, we would work it out.

I have a riding academy and teach 50+ students a week, I also have some school horses. Leaving for the entire winter season was a huge chance to take, but with Covid, and the issues that came along with that, it was a great time. I packed myself and my horse up and made the best effort of organizing everything else so the business, horses, students, and farm would be safe, and off we went.

First Month:

My first day of training with Kathy was exciting but also a bit nerve-wracking. Of course, I wanted to make a good impression. We worked on a few important positional changes first off. As a professional, I was disappointed with myself that we had to do that, but I made it a bit of a game. Of course, there are things to improve! When Kathy would tell me what I was missing in my position, I tried to make sure she would not have the opportunity to tell me again. I worked hard to make those changes so we could move on.

As we all know, developing a new trainer/student relationship can be a bit daunting. We had to learn a little about each other. I had to learn about what she expected from me including her vocabulary, expectations, and how she wanted me to prepare my horse for the schooling session. She had to learn how much she could push me and Willi, where our training holes were, and help us fill those in. Within about a week she wasn’t mentioning my position as much, and by the end of the second week, I had a pretty good understanding of her vocabulary and how she wanted me to warm up. She worked hard to help us find the exact setup that would help Willi relax and get to work. It was cool to watch her read us and then develop the plan.

By the end of the first month, we were well on our way to significant changes in our straightness and balance automatically improving our collection. Willi became more supple and lighter than I had been able to achieve on my own. We were finally at a place where we could start doing more movements. Something that Kathy said to me that really resonated was “Everything you need for all movements is found in the walk.”  She showed me more ways to make positive transitions that helped secure a better balance and self-carriage. We worked in the walk a lot in our warmups and then the work was so much easier. Every time we had a problem, we came back to the walk, we had to get it in the walk first. It worked like a charm. It made it easy to remember if you do not have it in the walk, how can you have it in the trot or canter.

Second Month:

We really started to address the issues for the changes and the half pass. Willi always had super lateral work, but there were some very small underlying issues that kept showing up. I would often see the comment “needs more left bend” in a test. He is typically a little stiffer to the right, so I had a hard time understanding that comment. What I learned while working with Kathy is that in the half pass left, I really did not have him working from the inside (left) leg to the outside (right) rein. He was more falling through the ribs to the left but so subtly that I couldn’t feel it or see it. I needed to ride him better from the inside leg to the outside rein.

One of my funny ah-ha moments was when we were doing a trot half pass and it wasn’t going well. Kathy said “Heidi, halt,” I thought “halt?!” We halted and immediately fell to the side. It was practically hilarious, but it wasn’t because clearly, we shouldn’t be falling apart, or down, in the half pass. I felt like that was a brilliant measure of “Hello Heidi, your horse is not balanced, and you are not supporting his needs well.” The next time we half passed to the left I rode with my left leg keeping him better balanced to the outside rein so that when Kathy said halt, we did, and it was square and not tipping over. So clear! Lesson learned.

We also started addressing the tempi changes. Those were more difficult to manage. I have been blessed to work with some super trainers in my life and they have all said the right things to me about changes, but it seems I didn’t actually do them right. That was a bigger issue. Kathy asked what I was doing to make a change, I told her, and she agreed that my theory was right but when she watched she told me that I was not doing those things. I was not doing very much of anything! She told me that I would produce better changes with my horse if he knew they were being asked for. We had a good laugh about that, but the reality is that uncovering that was at first exciting because now I knew that I had to be clearer, but also frustrating because even when I did apply the aids more clearly, my timing was at times an issue, and then there was Willi, not used to getting the aids like that so we sank deeper into tempi change sludge.

The best part about a problem is that you learn many ways to fix it when you work with someone like Kathy. She has an exercise for every problem and many variables from there. She really took this seriously as that was clearly the problem for us now that balance was so much more reliable and uphill. Very honestly, I can say is that we did not yet produce reliable one tempi change, but the part I am happy about is once again I control his changes. I see the path very clearly to the day that we have 15 changes on a line at Global. 

As we were getting stronger and more reliable, Kathy started to talk about showing at I-1. I wasn’t really game for that because I felt like I was taking steps backward. She never demanded anything but as I became more confident in our work the thought of showing felt better. As we got closer to being “ready” for the show I wasn’t going to enter, my thoughts changed. It would be nice to confirm that we were on the right track. It would be nice to get out while in Florida and heck, a few pictures of Willi and I at Global sure would be fun!

As the show came closer, I felt Kathy preparing us. It was so cool to be part of this as I saw her strategies develop for how we could emphasize the best of Willi and continue to develop the weaker sides. It was so fun to feel like she had the reins, and that she would not lead us wrong. It was a treat to this season to be able to let someone else take over and prepare us! The biggest part of the show that Kathy focused on was the warmup. We worked every day to find the perfect way to get Willi ready to go into the arena. It was fun and so educational. As a trainer and a coach, I learned many ways to help my students and horses prepare for shows that made them focus on their performance.

We also worked on some show-ring strategies. In I-1 you have the shoulder in on the centerline which is just so important and yet so difficult. We worked on riding that shoulder in so that it was forward, collected, and most importantly consistent. We did it on the quarter line, on the diagonal, and anywhere else we could until I felt very confident that I owned that shoulder-in. In the end, the part I can say is that I DID feel like I owned it and most of everything else! It was fun to be there and especially fun to be there with Kathy and all the folks that train with her who came with us! We had quite the cheering section.

After that, it was time to start to wind down from the season and the intense training opportunity that I had been granted.  We worked on how to maintain this training without Kathy on the ground. We wrapped up the parts that were unfinished. We talked about the strategies for continuing with the work on the tempi changes. Through Kathy’s assessments, I found myself realizing just how important this season was. Because I had the ability to focus entirely on my work with Kathy thanks to the grant, and I was able to soak up more than what was only in my lessons. I was able to watch lessons and help with long-lining horses. I was able to see her operate her business, taking home not only lessons in how to ride, but how to keep my business on top of my priorities. Not only did I get to learn about the few things I had for goals, and accomplish these goals, but I learned things I had not dreamed of. As a professional rider and trainer in my 50’s it was an incredible opportunity to grow and make serious plans for my future in riding, training, teaching, and running a business. 

I had a few things happen in the month I have been home that I can attribute directly to the time this grant let me spend to pursue my goals. Probably the best thing that my time with Kathy gave me is the confidence to trust myself again. When I have something come up in a session that I need to fix I just go about it. I do not wonder and question myself. I also do not spend a ton of time trying to remember it. Her methods are systematic and classical which is the foundation of my training as well. Having her continuously state the process made it so easy to recall.  It has given me the feeling of freedom to bring in my own knowledge and use that. As an L-grad, I had a busy judging schedule in the spring. I found my confidence to carry over to this part of my training as well. I had the honor to watch so many great riders and horses that I found it easier to pinpoint what I saw in the horse and rider teams and offer more helpful comments.

I cannot thank The Dressage Foundation enough for trusting me with this grant from the Major Lindgren Instructor Fund. When I heard that I had received it I was so excited. I had been lucky enough to ride in clinic format, and instructor symposiums with Major Lindgren several times. I had always LOVED how he got excited when we “got” the message. I can loudly and happily say that I “got the message” this season so thanks to his support this season and that Kathy Connelly was a testament to the grant in working so hard to help me achieve each of my goals.