Shannon Peters is a U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist, and three-time National Championship competitor. She loves bringing young horses up through the levels, and competes regularly both in Southern California CDIs and other top shows. Shannon is married to Olympic dressage rider Steffen Peters, and together they operate Arroyo Del Mar in San Diego, California. Do you have a question you want Shannon to answer? Send questions to email@example.com.
How do you warm up you and your horse when you first get on?
It really depends on the horse and their particular needs in the warm up, and also what I’m going to be training that day. I work my horses in hand every week, so on those days, they start with a 10-minute lunge walk/trot/canter in the round pen to loosen them and prepare them for the in-hand work. On most work days, I do at least a 15-minute walk warm up around the property. We have varied terrain on our property for a purpose, as to warm up and strengthen the soft tissue and bone system of our horses, and that prepares them nicely both mentally and physically for the day. It’s very important that the horses learn to go on varied terrain, as warm up at competitions is very rarely like your footing at home, and it should not be a shock for the horses to suddenly be on different footing. The walking is always done on a long rein. As for myself, I generally warm up with my feet out of the stirrups to stretch my thigh muscles as well as hip flexors and psoas. Depending on what I feel like, I’ll also sometimes do trunk rotations to warm up my ribcage and middle and upper back.
Do you lunge your horses?
Yes, always before I work them in hand, and always with a purpose for some horses that I feel benefit from it. I don’t believe in “free lunging” per se, as I’ve seen so many horses get hurt over the years doing this. The proper equipment is key, with a properly fitted lunging cavesson, correctly adjusted side reins (not too short!) and either a surcingle or saddle. Also, you should always have a good lunge whip. Proper lunging can help to address one-sidedness in horses, suppleness and self-carriage, and help to loosen and relax a horse before the rider mounts.
How do you choose what kind of bit to use on a particular horse?
We have a great equine dentist that helps us to choose which bits are anatomically correct for each horse, depending on the palate clearance, size of tongue/mouth and anatomy of the jaw, amongst other things. We’ll often try several, and the horses usually have a clear preference to which one they’re most comfortable in. We look for how quietly they accept the bit/contact, how much foam they have, and if they’re relaxed in the jaw and poll.
What are your general tips for using the whip?
Every horse should be introduced to the proper use of the whip. It’s an aid that reinforces the lower leg, and the “go forward” aid for the horse. Of course it can be used to reinforce or explain other aids as well later on, but on a very basic level, a horse should know that it’s the reinforcement of the driving aid from the lower leg. It should always be used with tact. I was taught a very methodical way to use a whip by Karl Mikolka, which teaches a horse what it means. When you close your calf as a forward driving aid, and your horse is slow to or does not respond, the whip is placed on the horse’s hip so they “feel it” first. Then 3 taps of the whip in succession come with the next leg aid. This is a much more meaningful aid to the horse than what you see most often — one big whack, which usually surprises and scares the horse and isn’t very effective. It often results in a knee-jerk reaction from the horse, often a toss of the head, loss of balance or a brief step forward that fizzles out quickly. Horses should never be afraid of the whip. A horse that properly goes in front of the whip, and connects correctly from the rider’s leg, stays nicely within the circle of aids.
Do you use cavaletti?
I do. Most of my horses jump once per week, and do cavalletti as part of their warm up. The couple of horses I have that do not jump do cavalletti at least once per week as part of their gymnastic work. Cavaletti work has so many benefits in strength training and coordination for the horses, as well as mental focus and balance. Doing them on a straight line really helps to balance the horses on either side of their body, and bring them evenly to both reins. Doing them on a circle really can help to strengthen the horses in the bending exercises, and really teaches the horses in a positive way how to truly bend from tail to nose.