Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spruce Meadows Lunch & Learn with Albert Kley

Today I went down to the always beautiful Spruce Meadows for an informative hour & a half lunch and learn with their Riding Master Albert Kley. Not only was it free (super bonus for someone as poor as me) but they fed us delicious chili and everything! Spruce Meadows, you rule.

Albert Kley is the recipient of the German Equestrian Federation Gold Medal for Riding Achievement, and the focus on the Lunch & Learn was the steps of starting a horse that's future sits in the dressage or jumping ring.

To begin, Albert had a rider lunge a horse to exhibit the very first steps of training. All 3 horses they used in the demonstration were around 3 1/2 years old and all from the same sire, For Jump out of For Pleasure, this was interesting as you could physically see the differences in their stages of training which had to do with their dispositions.

Kley spoke about always keeping a light contact on the lunge line, and reminded us that the line is the same as a riders reins, and the whip is the leg of a rider. Thus, a horse should be taught to lunge with both line and whip, and they should respect the whip, but not fear it, as it is the exact same as a leg cue while riding. He also had the horse being lunged in a simple loose ring snaffle, and always lunges in his horses in a bridle.

From the basic lunge, he went into a surcingle with side reins, and after the horse had mastered that step he moved into the double lunge. He emphasized how dangerous the double lunge can be if the rider is inexperienced, and that someone should always be there when double lunging, to a) aid the person with the lines b) use a whip as an additional cue.

He added that lunging in all these different forms is so important because it doesn't put as much stress on a young horse as a rider physically being on them, and that it teaches them the importance and intricacies of movement from the very beginning. It is important to teach and guide the dressage, show-jumping, etc. horse the different styles of movements they will need to know for the future show ring, and if these types of movement are second nature by the time they reach the ring - it is all for the better. 

From lunging, Kley moved on to a rider mounting the horse. At first he had a more experienced rider who has started many young horses just mount while he stood with a lunge line, he repeatedly bumped their mouths and got them to refocus on other elements while the rider mounted and shifted his weight to one side and then to the other. Kley does everything from the left, and doesn't back a horse from the right. Once a horse has accepted this, the rider can fully mount. Obviously in real time this was all happening within minutes of each other to a horse that had already gone through these processes, but Kley emphasized taking the time to do each step, and the patience that one should exhibit while working a horse through this momentous steps in it's early life.

Once a horse has gotten used to a riders weight Kley makes sure his horses are calm and comfortable, signs of this are ears, relaxed neck and he pointed out that one of their legs will usually be cocked, showing they are not ready to flee at any moment. He wants his horses to keep their mind off of the rider getting on. Then, once calm, he moves into the horse being ridden, but being controlled through the lunge line of someone on the ground. At this stage, everything must be done quietly and calmly, the rider must keep contact and due to the use of side reins, the horse already understands this concept, the rider should have a deep seat and legs on. These big 3; hands, seat, leg, CALM a horse, and Kley stated that a rider that doesn't understand this and keeps his seat light and legs off a horse doesn't understand riding... oh burn. 

Once the horse is comfortable at being lunged with a rider on, and the lunger being in control and then is also comfortable with a rider being in control, without the lunge line, the horse may graduate to the big, bad outside world.. aka an arena. Kley has an older horse come and accompany the young horse, the young horse can follow the older horse at a walk and a trot and will feel more comfortable through these stages.

The 3 came in mid November and were worked everyday from their arrival, however, their workouts were sometimes as small as 10 minutes. They are now strong enough to be worked harder and longer like they were today, over an hour each. However, Kley has yet to canter these horses, and once again really tried to impart the patience and time one must take with a horse, especially in the early stages of their lives.

Kley also discussed how show jumping breeding is now changing, and horses with better, calmer minds are being chosen rather than high strung, jumpy, freakshow type horses. These 3, all the same ages, were all very calm, but were still in different phases of their training, only 1 was able to be lunged and ridden in the open alone.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. Ron Southern came out and said that if there was enough interest they may do a couple more series with Albert, such as a focus more on the rider, and then starting a young horse over jumps. I would absolutely love that, even though I don't jump, or practice dressage, there is ALWAYS something to take out of high level trainers, no matter your discipline.


  1. I've always wanted to go to Spruce Meadows. As a kid I think I believed it to be one of the centers of the horse universe (the other center was the state of Montana).

    I always find it interesting to see the different philosophies across disciplines, particularly the way horses are started. Sounds like a very interesting clinic.

    1. I completely agree, my other one (still kind of is) was Fort Worth. As a kid, it was like a dream world just outside of my town, one of my favourite places, for sure.

      It was - I would love to go to a full clinic if he was to ever put one on.

  2. I found your blog off of google when i was reading articles on Albert and i will be following you. Thank you so much for recapping this seminar it seemed like their was a lot of great information that was given (especially for me working with a young horse new to dressage)