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  • Writer's pictureSaskia Gerritsen

Notes from a Life Changing Clinic

Beginning of april I traveled to the beautiful Callantsoog in North Holland to participate at the Clinic by Anja Beran. Anja teaches the Art of Classical Dressage and she is an amazing horsewoman. She has dedicated her life to horses and their correct classical training.

And I can honestly say that this clinic has changed my life-in-the-saddle!

We have learned so much, that I have been thinking about this blog post for 2 weeks now... how to start, what to tell, how to bring across all the valuable information I took home with me?

I have decided to give you all my Notes, directly from my Notebook. I hope you find the most important one that will bring you the next level of lightness. Anja is very good at teaching, she really got every rider in the clinic to make big progress over these 2 days. I was very proud of all the riders and their horses, it was so much fun to see them grow.


1. Slow down

Slowing down all the movements was an overall theme and here is why:

  • The horse needs time to bend his joints

  • If you go too fast, the horse will always fall on one of the shoulders

2. Breathe

You and your horse should move in a relaxed way and be able to breathe:

  • Remember to keep breathing and focus on it for relaxation

  • Use less leg and relax your legs to enable your horse to breathe

  • Do less with your arms, start with your fingers and then hands for the rein aids

  • Keep your elbows close to your body so your arms just hang down passively

3. Do LESS

If our goal is to achieve lightness in everything with our horses, we should really do less. After my first lesson at the clinic, I wrote down in my notebook: "do less", somewhere between all the other notes... After my second lesson I wrote:

DO LESS!!!!!

(with even more underlines and bigger letters than I can type here...)

This is really the core of achieving the level of riding where we can consider it an Art. Anja has explained very well how I can become even more stable and effortless in the saddle. My sweet Kai gives immediate feedback so I knew I was on the right track:

  • Relax your big butt muscles and really sit in the saddle (try squeezing and relaxing the muscles while sitting, and then imagine relaxing even more to let your seat bones really sink into the saddle)

  • Find the stability in your diaphragm to let your pelvis move with the horse without influencing the upper body. I kept imagining it like this: if someone would look at me through a window and could not see my horse, they should see me move only in one direction as if I was floating.

  • Let the legs hang. I was trying too much to keep my legs in a certain position. Anja explained that if I let my legs hang where they fall naturally from a relaxed hip joint, this was the perfect place to have them. To give leg aids they should only swing from the hip joint, so the movement is minimal. Never take the knees up, never bend at the knee to move the lower leg back... DO LESS, Let them hang!

  • Put your weight in the direction you want to go. It's one shift and then you stay there, no wiggling left right. Turn your shoulders to influence the forehand and look in the direction where your horse should be looking.

4. Do MORE

Ok, yes dressage is so confusing... ;-)

What I mean is: while you do less, let your horse do more of the good stuff. Even if we know a lot of exercises with our horses, it is tempting to keep practicing one at a time. When we try to focus on shoulder-in for example, we repeat a few times and when it is going OK we try something else. But not with Anja in the arena... you are sent from one lateral movement in the next and switching gears all the time. It is the versatility and variation that brings the horse to balancing and collecting himself.

  • Move the shoulders. If we can not move the shoulders it is often because there is too much weight on them

  • Transition from one lateral movement to another: half-pass to renvers, renvers to travers, travers to shouler-in, to leg yielding... endless possibilities!

  • Combine the lateral movements with circles, and on circles of different sizes

  • Make transitions within a lateral movement (any transition: halt, walk, trot, or canter)

  • How to check if you're doing it well:

If the Back is good, the horse will keep the neck the same

On Saturday evening Anja gave a Theory presentation for all riders and auditors. The theme was about the rider's aids. To perform dressage as an Art is a lifetime of learning to master the Orchestra of aids. I really liked the quote by Nuno Oliveira:

Arouse the horse's curiosity by applying the aids gently

I will keep improving my seat aids, I will keep searching to make all else more quiet. Until maybe one day... my horse will be able to perform all the movements in a conversation so private, nobody else can see my aids.


I am very grateful to have had this opportunity. I am so thankful for the new insights. I absolutely LOVE that my goals and visions for what I want to achieve as a rider have been put on an even higher level. Yes, this means I am wishing and striving to reach something that is further away from where I am now. It seems the longer I am a rider, my ultimate goals keeps moving higher and higher away... But I realize while I am writing to you now that I have come to terms with it!

We need to fully embrace the fact that we will probably live our entire lives wishing to be a better rider...

My final lesson during the Clinic was filmed (yay!) and I plan to put it up on YouTube soon. All members on my Mailing List will receive the link, so if you are curious you should sign up for the Newsletter! :-)

Happy Riding!


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