Gail personally trains her horses
quite systematically. "Dressage", explains Gail, "is a series of rational gymnastic exercises for the horse, in order for
it to carry itself with better balance, and to be calm and attentive to the rider."
As trainer, Gail makes sure the
horse carries itself from day one. The young horse is stretched into the bit, balanced on large circles, and ridden well forward.
When the muscles develop, the balance is improved, and the self-carriage enhanced, the circles are made smaller, but the activity
of the hind leg is never slackened. When the basics of forward riding with activity and rhythm are established, she progresses
to lateral work and lengthening the gaits with many transitions within one gait. "When the horse is lengthened into a longer
frame, the rhythm is not changed", she explains. "One must be careful with lateral work, not to stifle the forward movement
and to maintain the rhythm. The shoulder-in", states Gail, "is the gateway to collection."
At home on her farm, Los
Alamos Dressage Center/Princeton Arabians, in Freehold, New Jersey, a sign hangs in the riding arena: "The secret of riding
is: learn to use the outside rein. "
"This is another way or reminding
riders to balance their horses and ensure self-carriage", comments Gail.
Hoff-Carmona Gives a Clinic
Demonstrating at an Arabian clinic,
Gail exhibited the progressions of training a horse on her stallion, Serr Maariner. "FEI levels require a full bridle for
Grand Prix, but I want you to see that it is not the bridle that holds up the head, but the horses engagement", explains Gail.
For this reason, all of Gails demonstration was performed with a thick snaffle bit.
With the basics clearly written
and illustrated, and an abrupt halt from the hand, as compared with an engaged halt from the leg, demonstrated on her Grand
Prix stallion, she progressed to movements beyond Second Level, such as half-pirouettes at a walk, full canter pirouettes,
and the flying change.
"I seldom train without a whip",
Gail explained, "because I want to be sure that the activity of the hindquarters is ever present. A tap of the whip will help
to remind the horse that it must keep its hind legs up under the body.
"To train a flying change is usually
not too difficult", Gail went on. "Timing is most important; therefore, learning how to count for tempi-changes is the hardest
While mounted and counting the
strides aloud, she began with a single flying change across the diagonal, then tempi-changes every third and second stride.
With the one-stride changes, she lost count, and Serr Maariner lost rhythm. "I
told you knowing how to count for the flying change is important", she laughed.
Gail demonstrated next how to
engage the horse from a collected trot into passage, then worked herself and Serr Maariner onto the center line. At X, they
piaffed until the collection became more engaged, and Serr Maariner stood there in a levade.
"This movement, levade, is not
required in competition dressage", Gail explained, "but it is preserved at the Spanish Riding School, and shows more collection
than even the highest Grand Prix movement, which is piaffe."
Gail taught the basics of dressage
to all riders at the clinic, whether it was their first time in a dressage saddle or they were Second Level riders. Her main
teaching priority was that riders keep their horses in front of the leg. Even a supposed Second Level rider was brought back
to the basics of riding forward, as Gail saw that the horse was not taking up the contact by passing true impulsion from the
hindquarters over the back and out the forequarters.
Gail considers horses ridden with
overflexed necks and hollow backs as cruelty to animals and demonstrated the difference so that all spectators could clearly
see the changing movement and attitude of the horse. She also found herself discussing head sets, a popular misuse of dressage,
and reminded all that this type of riding ruins a horse's gaits and is not correct training.
Another problem with dressage
in this country that Gail sees is that horses are not well balanced, and are often heavy on the hand, or behind the vertical.
If the horse is overflexed, the bascule is made over the withers rather than over the sacro-lumbar joint in the pelvic region.
In other words, the bridge of muscles which transfers the energy through the horse is broken, and impulsion cannot pass through.
By her attitude, Gail expressed
a sincere wish for all equestrians to pursue classical dressage as she encouraged all persons she instructed. Her humor erased
any inhibitions and her tactics were easily assimilated.