Ellen Bontje has been coming intermittently, well every year, to the Lower Mainland of BC for the last …. oh my… a number of years. At least 5 yrs? Maybe more, so much that we just call her Ellen now.
“Are you going to Ellen next week?” or “How was your Ellen lesson?” And, of course, I have ridden with her a lot over those years. If you don’t know the name, then Google her and you will find her – she has “been there and done all that”.
She is a really cool lady – genuine, warm and comes to teach with great enthusiasm. Her English is excellent, but as you can imagine, when she is yelling at you from the other end of the arena – WALK – HALT and TROT from the top of her lungs all sound the same, so sometimes a little problem solving is required. And she will yell louder if you get it wrong…..
As I was driving home after my lesson, I started thinking of some of the exercises which she commonly comes back to and she uses a lot. Thanks Rochelle Kilberg at Hazelmere Equestrian Centre and Leslie Reid at Top Fox where the clinics are usually held and of course, Ali Buchanan who does A LOT for dressage in BC and organizes Ellen’s clinics.
For the warm-up she is usually big on a lot of trot canter transitions. Then for the lower level horses, this usually evolves into cantering a 20m circle and trot on the centre line into a 10m circle to the other direction, back to the 20m circle and directly into canter again. Good for activating the hind leg into the canter transition and having them softer on the outside rein into canter and 20m circle.
For the more advanced horses, she uses what I call Ellen’s Counter Canter Exercise.
After the horse is warmed up and starting to come more together and engaged, you change rein in canter across the short diagonal and counter canter. On the short side you collect to as much as you can, towards pirouette canter, and then on the long side medium canter, and repeat. I KNEW I would be doing this one, so I prepped it before I had my lesson and thank goodness because it was messy on Tuesday with quarters swinging everywhere as I collected thru the short side. But in my lesson on Wednesday, Vinny knew what I was doing and came back to collect on the short sides nicely.
For horses working on changes she seems to favour doing the changes on up the centre line off a 10m figure 8. This is not strictly 10m circles, but more like ovals that go down the long side a wee bit before turning up centre line towards the wall and the change. Turn to the new direction and repeat. If you need extra 10m circles, no problem.
Then sometimes (if you are unlucky to have some problems with the timing) she will make you count out loud for the timing – 1 2 3 change. I HATE doing that, counting out loud and riding is SO HARD!!! Dietrich used to make us do that too – he did it mostly with the sequence changes 1 2 3 4 Change 2 3 4 Change 234 change etc…. SO HARD!!! But it is so important to get used to counting the strides in the canter, and making it more subconsciously.
In the trot work, she gets almost everyone to adjust the tempo to small trot (almost walk) and then trot off – for the engagement and development of the half halt. And of course, you do this before the corners!!! Then you do this in the shoulder in and travers as well. Tho I didn’t see her use it this time, she is also big on shoulder in to renvers and back to shoulder in.
Off to the half pass in trot, she usually has you do half pass from the corner towards X, 10 m circle to the other direction and then from centre line half pass the same way you came in. For eg. Half Pass Right M to X at X 10m circle LEFT returning to X and Half Pass Right. Of course both ways – another one that is a wee bit challenging and I forgot to work on this one before going on Wednesday. But all worked out nicely! PHEW Here is the trot work from Wednesday.
For the canter pirouettes, after working around her, you go off and do them off the track. This could be from the inside track from true canter turning in for the half pirouette, which we were able to do nicely.
Canter Pirouette Exercise
Or I have had her do it from counter canter. You ride up the quarter line in counter canter and you do your half pirouette towards the wall – helps stop the horse from getting away or too big without using too much rein. However, this is not a good exercise for Vinny – he kind of panics, get stuck, has NO desire to turn towards the wall, so basically we avoid this one.
So after a days break, some easy work today and back to another lesson tomorrow – Friday. Probably the same stuff for the warm-up and then off to more canter pirouette work, and half steps for Vinny. Canter Ps were pretty good yesterday and I had some nice work. Then onto more half steps I bet – the passage will be easy for Vinny, but we are trying to stay away from that because he has to learn to be quicker behind so he doesn’t cheat and float around.