When the opportunity to train with Aussie icon Brett Parbery lined up with the Easter long weekend, I knew I wanted to be there. I’ve been a long-time fan of Brett Parbery, having watched him on horses such as Victory Salute and Aber Halo 29. Brett lives and trains in New South Wales Australia, but regularly competes in Europe. Last year he was one of six Australian’s competing for a place on the Australian Olympic Dressage Team, this is no small feat for someone based in Australia.
On Good Friday, my co-pilot Steve and I embarked on the 12 hour drive from Mackay to the Sunshine Coast and arrived at ‘Riverlyn’ which would be Nonie’s home for the next week at about 7pm that night. With my first lesson scheduled for Saturday afternoon, Mum had kindly arranged for Nonie to have a massage (which just so happens to be one of her favourite things), to help relieve the strain of the previous days lengthy journey.
My coach Dani hosted the clinic at her beautiful property on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. You enter the stunning property via a solid wooden gate edged by a sparsely wooded area. The pure white sand arena overlooks a gentle valley and one of the properties two dams.
When the horse and rider combination prior to me finished their lesson and Brett looked down at his list and called my name, I have to admit I nearly fan girled out. Nearly! But what struck me almost immediately about Brett was his relaxed and down to earth manner. We got stuck straight in with Brett asking, “What would you like to work on today?” I explained that we had recently started work on the flying changes, but that I also felt that Nonie would benefit from increased mobility through her shoulders. To me, it was the lack of mobility that had been contributing to some difficulty in the lateral movements especially the canter half pass. It was at this point that Brett asked me the question I dread, “What aids do you use to move the shoulders?” Now I am not sure why, but at this point my mind went almost entirely blank and I stuttered out some answer about how I use the outside rein and leg to guard the shoulders. Brett went on to explain that our hands and shoulders control the horses shoulders, while our legs control he quarters – of course this was not new to me. A coach, Linda Van Den Bosch, who happens to be a very successful western trainer and rider, that I have worked closely with previously has drilled this into me.
Given that I was well warmed up Brett had us go straight into canter and we began to look at straightness in the canter. The exercise was simple, I visualised a box around Nonie and myself, and my job was to ensure that Nonie stayed straight within this box and bring her back into it if she strayed outside the box, but to leave her alone once she was inside it. Almost instantly I felt Nonie soften and compress, the canter was easier to sit but still felt active. We then took this feeling down the long side and asked for some gentle shoulder fore, and our line fell apart. Brett reminded me that it was my responsibility to keep her barrel on the line with my leg – we are still working on this one.
The next step was to begin using half halts to collect the canter, while the overall use of my position in the half halt was similar to what my coach Dani had taught me, Brett had me think about the half halt starting from between my shoulder blades and lightening my seat. I was surprised and delighted when I felt Nonie’s frame and stride compact and her back lift up underneath my seat.
Over the course of the two lessons we had a look at the flying changes, whilst I have felt these become much easier to ride as I allow myself to relax mentally, they are not there yet. Brett gave me some home work for these. The first and most important thing was to ensure that at all times Nonie stays on my line, at my rhythm and tempo, no exceptions. If she alters from either of these I need to ‘abort’ the change and bring her back to my line/rhythm/tempo. He also highlighted that the flying changes are just a simple change without the walk transition and that our aid for the flying change should have the same amount of pressure/lightness as that for a walk canter. It sounds obvious now that it is written down, but at the time the simplicity of this statement felt like a revolution.
Brett showed me a few different exercises to improve the preparation for the changes, including riding a line from the long side across to the centreline and taking her across to the new flexion all the while focusing on maintaining my canter. I instantly saw how helpful this exercise would be in improving the changes.
While Nonie and I have ridden in Dani’s arena a number of times, this particular weekend Nonie found something greatly offensive in the bottom corner. On day one we largely ignored this, however when she continued to spook and run away from it on the second day, Brett brought us back to the walk asking if Nonie often spooked. Brett explained, that there are two aspects to a spook, speed and line and if we can control those two things we can control the spook. When Nonie began to speed up and come away from the long side of the arena in her spook we brought her back to walk and then made her halt in front of the spot that she found particularly offensive. After doing this a few times I began to feel Nonie relax and we were then able to ride straight past the spot without issue.
The thing that really stood out to me from these lessons was the importance of simplicity. As the saying goes, “Any darn fool can make something complex, it takes a genius to make something simple”. He explained to me how all of the higher level movements, even piaffe is simply a combination of lower level aids applied in a new sequence. I learnt so much during these lessons, it was worth every kilometre of the drive and I cannot wait until Brett comes back up to Queensland.
Unit next time, happy riding. xo