For several years the French Equestrian Federation (FFE) organizes an annual meeting for dressage trainers to exchange ideas for the improvement of the disciplines. This year's edition took place at the national equestrian centre in Lamotte-Beuvron on 22 - 23 March 2017 and had "contact" as central topic of discussion.
Emmanuelle Schramm, Technical Director for Dressage and organized of this two-day seminar, is convinced of the importance of this annual meeting.
"It's a special moment to exchange important ideas between the technical staff of the federation and the trainers. For Jan (Bemelmans) and I, the trainers, their competence, their dedication are key for the evolution of dressage in France. It creates a moment where can bring across a clear message of each person's training objectives. We also try to open and enrich ourselves with different and sometimes innovative ideas, by involving specialists who are enthusiastic in areas related to performance and training. It is always a very interesting seminar."
The first day begun with a briefing and an overview of the activities of the FFE as well as an update on French Dressage. Afterwards a training session took place with French dressage team trainer Jan Bemelmans. Five riders were there with their horses to illustrate the ideas of the French selectors.
Bemelmans also organized a very special session with carriage drivers Benjamin Aillaud (FRA) and Felix Brasseur (BEL) about the topic "contact." After a theoretical introduction about driving, each of the participating trainers was given the opportunity to drive the horse in a carriage and experience the concept of "contact" with carriage horses.
"It was very interesting and the feeling is extraordinary," said trainer Maxime Collard. "Aillaud's horses are very well trained and have a fabulous contact. I realize that on the horse we do way too much to achieve simple things in the end. It was really interesting and crossing the disciplines was very educational. The contact, the relaxation of the horse and the lightness of contact were very interesting."
Bemelmans rung in on the topic. "Contact is so much responsible for the way we ride horses. I've been talking with the riders about it for four years, but this shows them tem what I meant directly. In driving, one only has contact with the mouth of the horses. It would be perfect if riders could recreate a similar contact. We need to do this on a regular basis to really open up the thinking process of riders and trainers."
Odile van Doorn, the vice president of the FFE and former international Grand Prix riders said that "this seminar is a very good initiative of the federation. We all need to be on the same communication level and it's good to meet each other here. This meetings allow for all of us to go in the same direction. People come back year after year and they mutually enrich each other with their experiences. I would love to involve more trainers in this seminar, dressage coaches regardless of their practical level, club instructors as well as trainers for beginners."
French carriage driver Benjamin Aillaud was enthusiastic about the project. "It was my objective to give trainers and riders a different notion of contact, a different approach and a different sensation. In driving we don't have the lateral aids, no legs, no body weight and no extra reins. How can we drive the shoulders of the horse and the horse itself with such precision. We work on contact to guide the horse in all lightness. To us contact is the only way to communicate with the horse. The precision of our actions allows us to guide the horses in a team. You need that same contact in all disciplines, show jumping, dressage, reining."
Photos © FFE