Category Archives: Interviews

Lars Petersen On The Importance Of A Good Team

Danish-born rider Lars Petersen is an accomplished equestrian. He’s competed at the World Equestrian Games, the World Cup Finals, the Continental Championships, and the Olympics, and dominated the sport of dressage for decades. The Horse of Course is part of Lars’s team, acting as a sponsor, saddle fitter, and clothier.

The Horse of Course’s Stephanie Peck chatted with Lars about the importance of a good team, his goals for the year, and how he keeps Mariett in tip-top shape.

Lars Petersen aboard Mariett.

Lars Petersen aboard Mariett.

SP: I heard you recently became an American citizen- congratulations! Are you excited to ride for America in the future?
LP: Yes, I am. I must say, I’ve been here for- I’m going on my sixteenth year now, and I really like it here.

SP: That’s good to hear! As someone that’s lived and competed and trained in both America and Europe, what kind of differences do you see in training systems, competitions, and the horse culture?
LP: Competition wise, the competition is of course harder in Europe than it is here. They have more good shows. I mean, many, many shows like WEF every weekend, which we don’t have so many of over here. We have the new facility in Tyron, which hopefully- well, I have seen it- will be just spectacular. So hopefully there will be some more shows. And training-wise…I mean, people can train the way they want to train, I always say. I do it the way I have always done it. I still go to Blue Hors ten times a year to train and I haven’t changed that system. There’s a lot of systems over here.

SP: So you just do what works for you.
LP: Yeah.

SP: And it has been working- you’ve been at the top of the sport for two, three decades. How did you get started in dressage?
LP: From my dad. He got me into it, and he rode himself, both dressage and jumping. I used to jump horses a lot.

SP: And you made the switch to only dressage?
LP: Yeah, I was always better at dressage. I enjoy jumping a lot but yeah, it’s dressage now.

SP: Your horse Mariett is eighteen. How do you keep a horse like her on top and getting better as she ages?
LP: Well, that’s very difficult. And it doesn’t work with all horses. But my dad always said, “Learn from people whose horses get old.” And I guess as I get older- well, as you get older, you learn a lot of horsemanship. It’s having a good blacksmith and a good veterinarian. What you do in the ring every day is the most important. I’ve been fortunate; a lot of my horses got old. It’s the whole team- farrier, vet, rider, groom, saddler.

SP: You ride in Sommer saddles. How do you like them?
LP: [Laughs] They are great!  I have been riding in them a long time. I rode in them when I was in Europe. I saw The Horse of Course carried them and have been coming to you guys ever since. Beth and Marty are great. [ed.- Beth is the CEO/founder of THoC; her husband Marty is THoC’s saddler.]

SP: Can you tell me about some of the other horses you’re working with and bringing up?
LP: I have a horse, from Altersgait Farm, he’s now turned eight. He’s a Quaterback. My good friend in Denmark bred him and I bought him and sold him to them [Altersgait Farm] but then they got a little too much horse! So now I have him, and he’s gone Prix St. Georges already as a seven year old. He’s very talented, so he’ll be fun over the couple of years to finish up.

SP: What do you look for in a dressage prospect? Are there certain breeds or bloodlines that you like, or is it more about a horse’s conformation?
LP: Yes, there are some bloodlines I like, but it’s also about conformation. You know, an uphill build horse. Good hind legs.

SP: What kind of bloodlines do you like?
LP: You know what? All my horses are from all different kind of bloodlines. I think if you have one with a good heart and good gaits…A dressage horse is made. You can train, you can do a lot. It’s not like a jumper- if they just don’t have the talent to jump, you don’t go very far. Of course, I like something Danish. [laughs] I never used to like Dutch horses, and especially not Jazz, but now I have two Jazzes in my barn that I love! One is a seven year old mare, I think she is the best young horse I’ve ever had, so easy and very talented. But I don’t think I have a specific bloodline.

SP: So what are some of your goals for 2016, for this season?
LP: For this season? Well, Denmark is not qualified for the Olympics, so they have to go through world rankings. So I’m just trying to keep showing, keep Mariett up on the world ranking list, and that goes then to the Federation and the Federation decides who the team is. So, yeah, after that, we go from there!

The Horse of Course is proud to be part of Lars’s team, and we wish him a very successful 2016!

Betsy Steiner Talks Equestrian Fitness

Betsy Steiner and Rainer.

Betsy Steiner and Rainer.

Betsy Steiner is a legend in the dressage community. She’s represented the United States at the World Equestrian Games, spent three decades competing at the top of the sport, and has trained multiple horses to Grand Prix. Betsy’s also a fitness advocate and has developed Equilates, a Pilates-based rider fitness program. Recently, The Horse of Course’s Stephanie Peck talked with Betsy about Equilates.

SP: Can you tell me about Equilates? What is it?
BS: Equilates is a Pilates-based system of fitness training for the rider. It’s sports-specific (for dressage, jumping, any kind of rider) exercises off the horse. It’s unmounted exercises for the most part. We’ve also developed different exercises and used the Pilates-based exercises for mounted exercises as well. In my lessons, I always refer to the different Pilates terms and the exercises that we’ve done in Equilates. So if somebody, for example, learns some of the exercises on the ball, I can say, “Remember how it felt on the ball when you rolled back and forth, how it worked your abs? That’s your canter transition.” So it really helps the rider identify something when they’re not worried about the horse and everything that’s going on: keeping them on the bit, keeping them moving, what is he going to do. It takes them out of that very multi-tasking place into one focused area to think about “this is the movement and these are the body parts you are using.” So it really brings huge body awareness.

SP: I can imagine! It sounds like it would be a really beneficial program for any sort of rider at any level.
BS: Yeah. It also helps me as a trainer. It helps me see. You can keep telling a person, “Sit straight, don’t keep collapsing on one side,” but when you see them off the horse, you can kind of tell in the work that we do if they really have a severe weakness on one side or the other. Or if they really can’t do something- say if they can’t really keep their heels down or whatever it may be. I’m not going to keep telling them to do that because they may try all the time but they’re never going to do it. So what kind of exercise can I do to help them do that simple thing? Or I’ll think, “No, that’s not a possibility. They have restrictions in their body, they can’t do that, so how am I going to teach them better?” So it helps people coaching other people to understand that individual’s body because everybody’s so different.

You can say to a rider, “Drive,” but what does that mean? How do you initiate drive? Where does drive come from? How do you explain it? Like, if we’re here face to face, I can say, “Okay, you engage your abdominal muscles, you push your hips forward,” and you actually do it, say, with an exercise on the floor or sitting on the ball, and just by engaging those muscles you move the ball forward, you’re like, “Ahh!” So you get that. You can do great things on the ball. Just imagine the energy’s behind you and when you pull it in a forward direction, the horse comes forward and onto the bit. So everything we do, it’s not like a pilates class per se, but it all reverts back to your riding.

SP: So it’s very riding-specific.
BS: Very riding-specific.

SP: So how did you come to feel like this needed to be developed? Was there just nothing out there, or were riders doing exercises but not ones that were very beneficial?
BS: Yeah, when I started it, nobody was doing cross-training. Or nobody was talking about doing cross-training. I had always done cross-training with my riding career. That started very early on. I went to Canada and worked at Christilot Boylen’s barn and her mother taught dance and I had to go to the dance studio. When I went, I thought she did a lot of Pilates- it wasn’t called Pilates- but she did a lot of Pilates-based exercises and she explained when you did these, it helped your riding. So from the very beginning, I thought, “Well, that makes a whole lot of sense!” You understood your body and you understood straightness.

I had a very arched back at the time and she said, “That’s not beneficial for your riding, you need to use your back like this,” and because the riding was my complete and total passion, I thought, “I’ll do whatever it takes to be able to do it!” So that’s what sort of planted the seed to bring the fitness training into my riding. Plus, I love working out anyhow. I love different modalities of it.

I did a lot of weight training. That made my muscles too bulky- I didn’t feel like I was supple enough. I then I went to Tai Chi, which was really nice and that brought in a looseness and also core strength. And then I found Pilates, and that was, gosh, back in 1994 or something. I’d started working with this coach, the personal trainer I was working with at the time, and she started doing Pilates. She came back to the studio and said, “This is what you’re going to love.” And then on the reformers, we started worked on the reformer. [Ed.- Here’s an article on Pilates reformers if you aren’t familiar with them.] And because the reformer moves and has reactions, I thought, “This is the closest thing to simulating being on a horse.” So for me that was huge.

From the different things I’d learned from Tai Chi and in weight training and some yoga training and with the Pilates, I thought, “If you combine all those things…” It doesn’t have to be strictly one thing, because every body is different. So whatever works for a particular body, that’s what you should do. For a while, I was working on strength, and then it was like, “You don’t need strength now, you need suppleness.” So it changes, and sometimes you go to the suppleness, and it’s like “Okay, let’s build our strength again.”

SP: It sounds like it has a lot in common with the way we train our horses.
BS: Exactly! Exactly. That’s nice that you brought that up. To me it was the same thing. With our horses, we do the gymnastic work. From the very first time I started riding horses, I thought of it as being an athletic endeavor in equal. Like, if I expected this from my horse, he expects this from me. I have to be fit, I have to be balanced, I have to understand my body and know where it is. That was a real interesting thing that I’ve always had problems with.

I think probably, then, gosh back in…gosh, that was a long time ago. There was no Pilates studio at all in Wellington. And you’d say “Pilates” and nobody really knew what it was. I was going all the way out to West Palm Beach to find a studio. One of the gals that worked out there, I convinced her- I said, “You have to come out to Wellington” and she said, “Well, I don’t know if there will be enough business,” and I said, “Trust me.”

At that time, I started developing Equilates and that’s when I wrote the book and did all of the comparisons- “when you learn this exercise yourself it really helps you do these movements on the horse.” And I’ve really seen that a lot, even in just using the language. You know when you’re talking to a rider and they’ve been working with you on Equilates and you say, “Feel the difference between your upper and your lower abs” and they can really articulate that and can really feel it. So it’s just developing a language and a body awareness so that when they’re on the horse they’re not balancing on the horse and they really have control. And I think a person really has to understand that to allow the horse self-carriage. That makes a long answer for that, doesn’t it? [laughs]

SP:  It seems like riders in general are starting to approach the sport from a more athletically-minded standpoint than maybe they did in the past. Do you have any advice for riders on where to start?
BS: I think if somebody took a beginner Pilates mat class- Pilates targets so much to the core strength. Then you can do yoga and different things like that. I think for a base, Pilates is really the best. When you get the concept of Pilates and working from your core, then everything you do starts there.

Then you go back to our horses- we want them to balance through their bodies, bring their bellies up, use their back, go forward towards the bit and be able to bring the haunches under. And you think, “Okay, if I’m asking them to do all of that, then I want to be able to create the same position in my body that I’m asking them more.” So you need to be able to engage your abs, bring your seat forward, push in a forward direction, and have them reach into the reins, not balance in the reins. Any beginner rider who comes to me, if the balance is off a little bit, we always go back and talk about body awareness and when they’re on the horse too “Can you feel this? Can you feel when you’re moving and when you’re allowing the horse to move and when you’re forcing movement in the horse because your body is either tight or stiff or holding, not letting them move.”

Pilates also offers a wholeness- you know, like, it’s a little bit ‘mind, body, spirit’. In training a horse, you can never just train the body, you have to train the body and the mind. And sometimes the body goes ahead and the mind has to catch up, so you slow down a little bit there and you give them time to understand and give them confidence. And now he’s confident and everything else, and you say, “Now we can move the body forward again” and I think for humans, my riders, I watch them, and it can be a rider of any age or experience, and you say, “If we just got them a little bit more balanced like this they could understand then how to release their energy and their horse’s energy in a positive way”

In my mind, it just keeps growing in benefits. It’s not just riding now, it’s blending together, it’s melting into the horse. You know how they say, “Become one with the horse.” When you have use of your body and you’re strong enough and can let go enough to let the horse move and you move with him, you can CAN feel like you’re one with him. And to me, that’s the most glorious feeling ever.

To find out more about Equilates or buy your own copy, visit