Morten Thomsen teaching Ingrid Klimke at a seminar in Handorf, Germany, April 13, 2012.

Have you ever taken a lesson with an Olympian? What did you learn? As part of our London 2012 coverage, we are excited to launch a new series: “Lesson with an Olympian”, where HJU readers and bloggers share their experience training with London 2012 riders or past-Olympians. 

Whether it was at a recent clinic or at pony club 20 years ago, we would love to hear about your Lesson with an Olympian! Send your article with a photo to [email protected].

From HJU blogger Eiren Crawford:

I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of Olympic riders contributing to my dressage education. One of my first clinics was riding with Canadian Olympic team rider Leslie Reid, who politely but bluntly told me I was not good/fast enough (in my reactions) to successfully ride the schoolmaster I was bumbling around on. It was my first eye opener to the MUCH higher expectations Olympic riders have.

Since then, in my pursuit to be good enough, I have been very fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had.  Even better than just taking a few lessons or clinics, I have worked for Danish Olympian Lars Petersen, German Olympian Ingrid Klimke, and currently another Danish Olympian, Morten Thomsen.

I came to Germany to work for Ingrid as she was preparing for the 2008 Olympics, and I thought that would be all that was ever thought of or focused on. However, Ingrid has a very busy business and was developing and competing all of her horses, from the youngsters to Abraxxis, her 2008 gold medal eventing partner. Of course the Games were the biggest goal and many training camps and lessons from the team coaches were on the schedule.  My six month gig with Ingrid ended up stretching to almost one and a half years, and it was incredible to see someone work so hard with so much focus throughout that time. Even after the Games, it was still about improving every horse, every day.

As an instructor, she expected the same high standard and commitment from me as a rider that she put in herself. While kind and encouraging in her instruction, she would make me do something over again until I got it right, whether it was a walk-pirouette, a proper half-halt, or a good canter through a cavaletti exercise (and the DQ here had some trouble with that!). When it was correct, we stopped, no drilling to make it better again.

My current job with in Denmark is in some ways less intense, as Morten seems pretty much “over it” with his own competitive ambitions. He takes his satisfaction from developing (a lot of his own homebred) youngsters into horses that can do a Grand Prix, as well as coaching international top riders. But don’t be fooled! While the goals may be different between the two trainers, the FOCUS is the same.

If I had to make one generalization, based on my experience, about learning from Olympians, it would be that the focus these people have is something incredible.

Every single ride has a purpose, every single movement has a reason. While they all enjoy and love the horses, as a rule they don’t just fluff around up there, and they don’t let me, as a student, do it either. If you are in the arena to train, you train; otherwise specifically decide go out for a hack or to have an easy/fun/lunging day.

If you are training you decide what you will work on, you work on it until it is right/improved, and then you decide what to do next and work on that. You also learn what the standard is, and that’s a whole lot higher than you think. None of the Olympians I’ve worked with train for 6’s or 7’s, nor do they train to have the best 3rd level horse in town. They all chase the elusive 10, and they ride each stride with the end goal (Grand Prix) in mind.

Luckily, they are fair as instructors, recognizing that as we are learning, my horse or I may not have the skills yet to perform something for a 7, much less a 10. However, they are committed to helping me get closer to my own big goals every single time they watch me and open their mouth to instruct me. They will be honest, even when it’s hard to hear, push me when it’s right, and can also see when maybe I need a walk break to get my head back together before carrying on. Best of all, they have been so supportive, available to give advice to my own goals, taking time to help me navigate through, what is often still for me, the unknown.