One of the many reasons to move to Wellington was the abundance of better quality training that is readily accessible in this area. When we found out that Catherine Haddad- Staller was moving in across the street for season there was a lot of excitement and anticipation about her being so close by. Nobody really knew what to expect. I was lucky enough to have the first encounter with her.
I was hacking Welmingh around the 2 mile loop that runs through White Fences. Catherine came riding up and I gained a new appreciation for how men must feel when they have to talk to a beautiful woman. A little star struck as she greeted me all I could think was “Dont say anything stupid, Dont say anything stupid,” she had asked me a few questions about hacking the area then offered to ride back to the stable with me. We had a nice social chit chat about her ponies and her plans and much to my surprise she was quite pleasant. And I dont think I said anything stupid! Phew. Encounter number one over!
Catherine has become welcome participant of the social circle that is White Fences, between horse shows and parties we have all enjoyed her presence. Now on to the more serious stuff.
She held an open training session last Friday, which I thoroughly enjoyed. She is very concise and eloquently spoken. In a land where dressage has become a lot of kicking and pulling there was an refreshing lightness to her riding. Some of the key take away ideas from her session are as follows.
Safety first! This was a non negotiable in everything she did, regardless of putting spurs on or mounting there was always a key emphasis on safe riding!
Spook training, when she brought out the young horses she would introduce a stimulus, then walk them towards it and the stimulus would go away. Positive reinforcement for good behavior. Simple and understandable in the eyes of a horse and builds confidence without creating tension.
My favorite piece was responsiveness to the leg. I have spent many years with trainers telling me to kick my horse. When I started riding down here with Susan Jaccoma I refused to do so. I said it doesnt work effectively and we need to find another way around his lightness to the aids. And we did. Catherine also has a great method for this. When training her horses she applies the spur gently. When the horse responds, she releases the spur. Again positively reinforcing the correct response.
She does not use her reins to pull, they merely position the horses head, her leg and seat are the aids of choice to move the horse around. Once the horse is readily responsive to the leg its easy turn them without steering.
She spent a lot of time talking about elevating the front instead of lowering the hind.
And lastly (although I am sure I am missing a point or two) she said to the crowd. I dont care if you dislike my training methods and want to post about them on Chronicle of the Horse, all I ask is that you put your name on it! I love how she called out the couch riders and haters. Well done.
It was a great morning for everyone involved, Catherine is eloquently spoken and has a very clear and concise manner in which she teaches. I am looking forward to soaking up some more of her wisdom in the future!