Olympic Hopeful Anna Marek Guest Speaker at STRIDE Meeting
Grand Prix rider Anna Marek was the featured guest speaker at the February 19 STRIDE meeting held at Mimi’s Café in Ocala, FL.
Marek, who has logged in over 150 scores on 50 different horses, has won multiple regional championships each year since 2013 here in Region 3. Training her own horses and the horses of others, Marek recently received an award from the Kundrun Dressage Development Program, a program designed to support American Olympic team prospects.
Marek’s talk focused on bringing young horses thru the levels to Grand Prix.
When selecting juveniles, she focuses on three elements: personality, conformation, and gaits.
Key in assessing a horse’s personality is his ability to learn. Marek looks for what she calls “a volunteer.” In other words, is the horse willing? Is he brave? Is he able to tolerate mental and physical stress? How does he handle fatigue? What about his ability to cope with pressure that comes with showing and travel?
When evaluating conformation, Marek addressed the obvious qualities of correct legs and a balanced horse, but she emphasized a well-built neck. According to Marek, a horse with a short neck can be particularly challenging to ride because the positioning of the neck may appear overly compressed as it moves up the levels, and it becomes a constant concern of the rider. In contrast, the horse with an appropriately long neck is easier to ride “uphill” thru the levels as it seeks to engage its hind end more and more.
Gait analysis requires a focus on the walk and canter. According to Marek, the walk can never be changed. Keep in mind that the walk has double coefficients throughout the levels, and that alone should reinforce the importance of a good walk. A good canter is also of critical importance due to the roll it plays in the half-pass and pirouette.
Marek also discussed benchmarks, exercises and expectations for horses as they move through time.
According to Marek, riding three and four years olds is easiest, especially if you are young and fearless. That’s because the objectives are simple: Ride forward, help the horse find his balance, and help him develop confidence in the rider’s hand so that he knows he will not get bumped in the mouth.
When the horse reaches his fifth year, he should be stronger. His work ethic is more established. He should have more of a connection to the hand, and he should understand that the leg means go! Favorite exercises at this stage include leg yielding and spiraling in because these exercises require the horse to move off the leg and become softer to the hand. Marek stressed that she loves exercises that naturally require the horse to use himself properly.
As the horse enters his sixth year, expectations of collection are increased through the use of shoulder-in and counter canter. Marek warned about the dangers of rushing a horse through flying changes at this time stating that, “if you scare a horse, you have problems.” She emphasized that the horse should be feeling easy, relaxed and straight before the change is asked for. According to Marek, “Horses will tell you their stories through their problems and fears.”
Seven and eight year-old horses spend time confirming lead changes, working on strengthening exercises like more spiral in, and collecting on a straight line. Quarter turns are introduced in preparation for half-pirouettes. Strengthening remains a primary focus as horses are prepared for Prix St. George. Eventually a little piaffe in hand is added, and this becomes piaffe under saddle. Care is taken not create confusion by adding a passage too soon.
A horse in his eighth, ninth and tenth year may begin work on passage. He should understand the half halt well and be quick to the leg. Trot poles may be used to establish “bounce.”
Marek concluded her presentation by answering a number of specific questions put to her by STRIDE audience members.
Members were visibly engrossed in the presentation. Marek included many personal anecdotes about her horses and horses she has trained.
Quality educational opportunities are one of the many perks of being a STRIDE member. Many thanks to Anna Marek and many good wishes for her continued success!