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The Respected Rider and Breeder Discusses Dressage Prospects and Foundation Schooling.

By Kristin Hermann

Horseplay, September 1987

Gail Hoffman-Carmona, PhD, has become well-known on her credentials as rider, judge, clinician, and breeder of straight Egyptian Arabians.


She is the widow of the late Major Hector Carmona who died April 30, 1987. His equestrian accomplishments included serving as dressage coach for the USET Dressage and Three Day Teams; trainer of five Grand Prix horses; a leading authority on the use of long-reins to improve the horse's collection; and a noted judge. In 1965, he started the first school of dressage in the United States, Los Alamos. Over the past years he trained and worked hand-in-hand with his wife, Dr. Gail Hoff-Carmona.


When Dr. Gail Hoff-Carmona completed the training of her first Grand Prix Arabian stallion, Serr Maariner, she said, "This was my dream, to train an Arabian to Grand Prix, and since my husband has taught me dressage, I have accomplished this desire."


Serr Maariner was the first Arabian to win the USDF Gold Medal in all-breed competition for high accomplishments through Grand Prix. He was three times the International Arabian Horse Association's National Champion in dressage and twice Reserve Champion. Serr Maariner has been the Insilco Horse of the Year in all-breed competition and six times the USDF's Horse of the Year as the only Arabian to win this title at FEI levels.


Dr. Hoff-Carmona has been dedicated to Arabians as a breeder for 25 years, especially the straight Egyptian Arabians. She believes Arabians are the most intelligent breed and that some are suited for dressage. "I like the movement, especially of the old Egyptian Arabs of the original Kuhaylan strain. These are what I refer to as the warmbloods of the Egyptian breed, because they have substance, good dispositions, and are masculine compared to other Arab types.


"My Arabian stallion, Serr Maariner, is typical of the original Kuhaylan strain of Egyptian breeding. He never says no, and does not spook, a quality which many people think is common to these sensitive horses. Although Arabians of other bloodlines often do see ghosts", she added.


The Swedish Warmblood


With the surge of European warmblood horses into America, Gail espoused Swedish warmblood horses, but only she says, because their gaits are as light as her straight Egyptian Arabians. "Their gaits contain a lightness and suspension with elevation, extension, and then a float in the trot", she explained. "If one researches the bloodlines of warmbloods, he will see that all contain Arabian blood, which was infused to help lighten them and sustain the beautiful floating trot for which the Arabian is famous.


"My next project", says Gail, "is to train my Swedish warmblood stallion, Baltic Sun. He was the Champion Young Horse at Devon in 1986", she added.


Selecting the Dressage Horse


If asked what type of horse she would advise purchasing for dressage, Gail says she would consider how a horse moves, its conformation and disposition, rather than what breed it is.


"It is not the breed of a horse that makes the prospect either good or bad, she stated, since only one out of a hundred horses within a breed would probably have all the qualities of movement, conformation, and disposition it takes to become a successful Grand Prix dressage horse."


Gail insists that each rider and horse must be matched to one another individually. "Many warmbloods are too heavy for the average American woman to ride", cautions Gail, "as an Arabian may be too small for many men." Participating in the future of American dressage horses, Gail is breeding some of her Straight Egyptian Arabians with Swedish warmbloods, in addition to breeding both breeds within their own breeding group. She believes that almost any horse can be trained up to Second Level, but anything beyond that takes a talented equine.

Dr. Gail Hoff-Carmona on Serr Maariner
First Arabian to win a USDF Gold Medal in all-breed competition

Training Techniques


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 part."


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.



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