Gentle cues of equine ballet Saline Twp. clinic illustrates refined
Thursday, January 11, 2007
BY TRACY DAVIS
Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter
Maji trotted across the long side of the arena, snorting and blowing clouds
of steamy breath.
Astride, Julie Arkison frowned slightly as she concentrated hard on getting
a smooth, rhythmic trot from Maji, bent just so to the inside.
And in the center of the circle the two drew in a covered sand arena stood
one of the rock stars of their chosen equestrian sport - Bereiter Herbert
Seiberl of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
Seiberl, a new rider with the 434-year-old internationally hailed school of
classical dressage, came to the farm in Saline Township to conduct a
four-day dressage clinic that started Wednesday.
Often called the "ballet'' of the equestrian sports world, "dressage'' is
French for "training.'' The discipline has its roots in the cavalry; the
purpose is to develop a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to
perform, and fine-tune horse-rider communication with subtle cues and
instant consistent responses.
"The Spanish Riding School ... is a living museum of knowledge from the past
and enduring to now,'' said Sue Hughes of Plymouth, Midwest regional
director of the 32,000-member U.S. Dressage Federation and a licensed judge
and local dressage instructor. She and Gail Anderson, who is in charge of
membership for the Midwest Dressage Association, say the sport continues to
become more popular, thanks in part to its applicability.
Basic dressage is considered by many equestrians to be a fundamental block
on which to build an equine athlete in any discipline. And the best riders
exhibit the athleticism and honed communication required to execute
sophisticated movements that are awesome enough to draw gasps from a total
Seiberl, who grew up in Lower Austria, one of the country's states, horsed
around with equines growing up, but said he was not a serious rider with a
family history in the school. But he tried dressage and decided the Spanish
Riding School was where he wanted to be.
"It is the best,'' he said simply.
Lipizzan gelding responds to imperceptible guidance
Young Austrian men who wish to ride with the school begin training at 15 or
16, spending months astride on a long line with their teacher before they
are even allowed to pick up the reins. Eventually they are given a young
stallion to bring along; that horse's success is their own, Seiberl said.
According to clinic hosts Arkison and Jorie Sligh, 85 percent of students do
not graduate to become riders. Seiberl joined as an "eleve'' in 1994 and won
the title of bereiter, or rider, in 2005 with the success of his horse
Even on a frigid January Wednesday, Seiberl's clinic drew some 40 auditors
and several local riders who rode for 35 minutes at a time.
Sue Ennis came all the way from Bear Lake, near Traverse City, to watch the
clinic. Perched on hay bales under a warm blanket, she said the opportunity
to watch such a fine rider in action drew her to come.
"I was just inspired to see more good training,'' she said.
A highlight was when Seiberl rode Sligh's Lipizzan gelding, Conversano
Blanco I. The hushed audience watched as the well-schooled horse sighed and
snorted as he trotted along, attentive but ears flopping with the relaxed
contentment of a horse ridden by a rider so skilled his cues were
For Arkison it was a chance to continue what she'd learned in a similar
clinic with one of Seiberl's colleagues who visited western Michigan last
Such quality instructors are not common in Michigan and much of the country,
Despite the discipline it took to get where he is in the horse world,
Seiberl seems like the mellowest of people. He chats easily with riders,
asking about and petting their horses.
His training regime is not whip-cracking and yelling, but gentle reprimands
not to tug so hard on reins or thump so insistently with the heels.
"It's no problem,'' he says repeatedly to riders frustrated over small
mistakes. "This will be good.''
Tracy Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-994-6856.