A SENSITIVE HORSE
Dave explains that he, Robbie and grooms Zoe and Emily, spent as much time as possible around Alan in the barn in those early times. “Not to fuss with him,” says Dave, “but to be there to sort of comfort him and gain his confidence. He is a sensitive horse but comes over with bravado. He really is a softie inside and needs to gain security within himself, and all we did was treat him with understanding, and I guess you might say spoiling his ego a little,” he laughs.
“The primary and most important thinking with the entire team was to always take the pressure away when Alan attempted to do anything in the right direction. It wasn’t about being soft… he needed confidence and then positivity and reward, which was given by taking away any pressure, be it mental or through aids. All of us worked together on this principle. In the stables, wash bay, tacking up, leading and riding… it was the same thought no matter who handled the actually gentle giant. Slowly but surely, he changed and I have to say he is now a relaxed and wonderful friendly horse that really takes pleasure in his day-to-day life and training. l knew that if he wasn’t at ease with us on the ground, what chance was there when I was on top?”
Dave soon began regular online sessions with Patrik and Lyndal to help in the training. “Having the indoor arena made him feel more secure. There were good boundaries for him,” says Dave. “In the beginning when it came to the piaffe and passage, all we did was trot and basically come back to a jog; and when he wanted to jog there was no pressure from my seat, leg or rein. We will just do trot to jog, trot to jog, and trot around the arena on diagonal lines and serpentine circles when we felt like it. Slowly he became more confident at short steps. Patrik and Lyndal reiterated that the most important thing was ‘no power’ and to always relieve him of any pressure when he attempted to take short steps. At no stage was Alan pressured into this work every day. His routine was work in the arena, indoors and outdoors, stretching, always in the beginning over the back and long in the frame, helping him to relax when he was collected in all his paces.
“He was then encouraged to remain sharp to my leg. He had all the Grand Prix movements and a talent for piaffe and passage, but he just got his head muddled in regards to this. All we needed to do was to just be persistent the same way whenever we went down that path, and keep the pressure off and encourage him to do it for himself and never feel that he was being pushed into a corner. In fact, Alan was too higher achiever, and it was full on or nothing and he got so excited that he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. We always told him less is more!” laughs Dave.
“With the availability of the beautiful tracks, an outdoor arena and vineyards to walk through, Alan became more and more relaxed – even though I have to admit the first few times I did take my life in my hands in the vineyards! After all, he’s a son of Jazz who is renowned for being an athletic, talented, emotional and expressive horse, and that he absolutely is. He needs understanding and I understand him.
“In the beginning he was not settled in the stable or in the cross ties, his whole life was a little bit upside down. Robbie and the grooms adored Alan and spent many hours just being with him and making him feel special. It was also so fabulous to have Carol and Sandy on our side and of course Lyndal and Patrik helping from Germany. I never felt any pressure from anyone to get things done within a time constraint, and that was so fantastic. It took time but every step has been worthwhile and educational for me.
‘EVERY HORSE CAN DO GRAND PRIX!’
“I did ask Patrik one day, ‘Will he ever make Grand Prix?’ and Patrik’s sharp and quick reply was, ‘Every horse can do Grand Prix!’ It looked like there was no out, and we were just going to push on and take everything day by day and never ever expect Alan to be anything than what he wanted to be. Carol and Sandy loved watching him and loved the journey.
“The passage was no problem for Alan. He had all the energy in the world. It was about making him wait and do a little less,” Dave continues. “Slowly but surely the piaffe and passage had come together, and I decided after 12 months that we were pretty confident about riding through an Inter II test. Robbie and I worked tirelessly with this horse and always kept him in the best possible mindset. He is now totally confident and we love him dearly. I was so sure that we were going to make a great first showing at Inter II… but lo and behold, horses are horses and great levellers, and he certainly made me feel like I knew nothing about dressage after that Inter II! There were mistakes in changes and in the pirouettes… he did piaffe and passage, but again I was a little zealous and little quick to make him react in the piaffe and paid the consequence… I never did that again! I learnt a lot from that test. It brought me down a peg or two, and it was back to training and putting everything together again. Alan certainly was a great leveller.
“From that test on we seemed to just get better each time. We decided to simply take him for the first 12 months at this level so he could become confident and familiar with that test. We weren’t trying to get big scores – we just wanted to get around the test and for the horse to gain confidence in his own capabilities; not feeling he’s been pressured into doing more than he can. It has all paid off and now we’ve done some Grand Prix tests, and we are very excited with his progress. I have learnt so much about riding this wonderfully sensitive and talented horse.