Loxahatchee, Florida – A two-day workshop at High Meadow Farm at White Fences Equestrian Estates brought together two of the world’s leaders in the teaching and training of the French system of riding. The workshop, held February 4-5, featured Colonel Patrick Teisserenc, current écuyer-en-chef of the French National Riding School in Saumur, France, and Bettina Drummond, highly regarded in both the U.S. and Europe as a trainer and teacher of the French classical and Baucheriste system.
The workshop, which focused on providing education to professional riding teachers and trainers, especially those working with average riders and horses, attracted riders and trainers from across North America, with many traveling from as far as the West Coast. “Teachers need support and one purpose here is to help teachers learn to connect to and teach adult amateurs,” said Drummond, who credited Maryal Barnett, a U.S. Dressage Federation Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and workshop attendee, with helping her understand how to improve her work with competitive adult amateur riders.
Throughout the two-day event, Teisserenc and Drummond shared their approaches for developing both horses and riders and their methods for teaching. They did this through demonstrations using horses at various stages of development and from both dressage and jumping backgrounds. Often, Teisserenc and Drummond tag-teamed the demonstrations in order to share their unique approaches for addressing issues in horses or riders and to explain to workshop attendees the “why” behind their methods and techniques. Working together, the two sought to help participants not only understand the meaning behind such concepts as balance, lightness and suppleness but also understand how they might attain balance, lightness and suppleness in horses through use of the aids and various movements and exercises and then help their students to do so.
Both Teisserenc and Drummond emphasized the need to tailor approaches based on the stages of development of horses and on the strengths and weaknesses of both horse and rider. Always, they emphasized, the welfare of the horse must be kept in mind. Forcing a horse will never be the answer. Educating the horse is the key. “You cannot fill a gap in a horse’s training with your strength or skill as a rider,” Drummond said. “You must fill in the gap in the horse’s understanding through training, not through force.”
Where the problem is the weakness of the rider, the rider must then address his or her own weakness. Both Teisserenc and Drummond noted that too many riders are ignoring their own physical gaps, meaning that they don’t do enough to ensure that their own bodies are as capable as possible to assist the horse. As an example of an effort to fill this gap, Teisserenc said that the National Riding School in Saumur has begun to work with experts in human physical development, such as physical trainers who work with dancers. He said such trainers are helping riders understand their natural way of going and then educating them about how they can alter or improve their normal way of movement to have a better effect on the horse.
The workshop format was valuable in providing professional teachers and trainers with guidance on how they can address physical and mental challenges often faced by riders and horses. This included approaches for addressing physical weaknesses in both riders and horses, methods of rehabilitation following a horse or rider injury and ways of helping both riders and horses overcome anxieties and gain confidence. In addition to demonstrations with a variety of horses and riders, the workshop provided ample opportunities for attendees to ask questions and gain suggestions from Teisserenc and Drummond on how best to address particular problems they face as trainers and riding teachers.
Col. Teisserenc, a graduate of France’s prestigious military academy St. Cyr, first joined France’s Cadre Noir in 1988 and has competed in dressage up to the grand prix level. His beliefs and approach to riding and training are rooted in the traditions of European cavalries, from which both the French and German systems evolved. In discussing the French approach, Teisserenc emphasized that it is a system “that is most about lightness.” He said his interest in participating in the Florida workshop was to share with Americans the methods taught at Saumur. Teisserenc spent three years in the U.S. at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas where he served as a liaison between the French and U.S. militaries. His time in the U.S. gave him opportunities to interact with American riders. That experience showed him that “Americans are very open minded. They were interested in understanding the French way of doing things and if you could show them it was effective, then they would accept it,” he said.
Drummond earned her master trainer credentials at the age of 21 under the guidance of the late Portuguese Master Nuno Oliveira. Her formation included coaching by leading trainers at Saumur, such as the late General Durand, a former écuyer-en-chef and commandant of the French National Riding School. In October 2015, she was the only American invited to participate in a colloquia at the school in Saumur that brought together leaders in the training and teaching of the French system of riding, which has been designated as a cultural tradition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In commenting on the French system during the workshop Drummond said it is one that recognizes “what without the pursuit of lightness, since qua non, the language of dressage loses its luster.”
The workshop was part of the educational programs offered by the Association for the Promotion of the Art of Horsemanship in America (www.apaha.us), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities that advance horsemanship as an art form in America. APAHA programs are aimed at giving professional riding teachers and trainers opportunities to advance their own education so that they can better teach their students. This education often includes having access to horses that can help them experience the correct “feel” on horseback. Riders and horses in the APAHA program that have been working with Drummond served as many of the demonstrators during the two-day workshop, which is the first in a series of APAHA workshops aimed at supporting the development of professional trainers and teachers. The next workshop is scheduled for October 2017 and will be held in the Northeast.