Before classes could even begin for the fall semester at Albion College, instruction was already under way Aug. 20-21 at the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center. At the head of the class was three-time Olympic dressage rider Steffen Peters, who conducted the weekend-long symposium to share his training methods with the assembled crowd.
Representing a range of ages and experience levels, nearly 150 auditors from four states converged in Albion with pens and notebooks in hand, ready to learn from the talented 46 year-old horseman, whose three bronze medals at the 2010 World Equestrian Games were the first individual medals for an American dressage rider since 1932.
Peters did not disappoint them. With straightforward and clear instruction, he guided six horse and rider combinations through the tenets of his training system while providing informative (and occasionally humorous) commentary to the audience.
Simple, logical, and intentional are the fundamentals that Peters stresses, points which he emphasized over and over while working with the horse and rider pairs who were selected to demonstrate his techniques. He wanted to make sure that each rider gave cues to the horse in the most straightforward and fair manner so that the horse understood exactly what was being asked of it and could begin to anticipate the riders' wishes. Consistency in those cues and repetition over time is the root of horse training, according to Peters.
Occasionally, in order to show his methods to the audience rather than tell, Peters climbed into the saddle himself and demonstrated his meaning. As horses responded to his requests with improved and enthusiastic performances, the appreciative audience murmured and applauded.
"To have a rider of his caliber come to Albion and teach for a weekend is special," said Held Equestrian Center director George Halkett. "He's an active competitor himself and next year is an Olympic year so he's busy preparing, but he was willing to take the time to come here and help to educate everyone in the audience as well as the riders."
A native of Germany, Peters became a United States citizen in 1992 and has represented the United States at every Olympic Games since 1996. But it wasn't until he found his current equine partner, Ravel, and began to break previous American competition records that he became an equestrian celebrity and demand for his instruction increased to its current high level.
"Steffen Peters is probably the biggest name in American dressage right now," said equestrian recruitment coordinator Randi Heathman '03, who also rode her own horse in the symposium." Once you watch him ride and teach, it's easy to see why he's so successful; he really does have a simple and logical system to what he's doing and it clearly works."
Auditor response to the symposium was likewise positive and, when surveyed at the end of the weekend, nearly all said that they would happily return to Albion for another such educational weekend in the future.
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