Participants were matched with athletes by random draw on June 28, 2020:Dressage Athletes Illustrate the Future of Online Coaching Through the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity

The brainchild of Brittany and Chris, the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity was a way for high performance dressage athletes to give back to their community. The initiative was particularly timely, as many training and competition opportunities had been limited due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I have had many people in my life who have given me their time and been very impactful to me and my career,” explained Chris, who brought home individual bronze and team silver medals from the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games. “I feel it’s important to do the same, and I like to share my knowledge and experience with others when I can.”

Dressage Athletes Illustrate the Future of Online Coaching Through the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity

Chris von Martels, who led the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity initiative alongside Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu, at the workstation from which he coached virtual from his home base in Wellington, FL.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chris von Martels

The newly paired coaches and students suited up with various technologies to facilitate their lessons, including the Ridesum mobile app, SOLOSHOT’s robotic camera, a CEECOACH communications system, Zoom and FaceTime. Several patient friends or family members were recruited to hold video cameras and the lessons began!

The coaches started by asking their students to explain their dressage background and identify their short-term goals to determine what would be most valuable to work on over the course of the month. Some pairs chose to work on strengthening fundamentals, such as contact or aids, while others focused on a specific skill or movement (working towards or improving flying lead changes was a popular topic of choice).

“There are so many takeaways from this month,” said Gabriela, who is working towards the Third Level with her 11-year-old Canadian Sport Horse, LRF Remington Winchester (“Chess”). “What was incredible is that Megan was able to see the missing pieces in our training. We were able to go back to some basics, which really helped us with the more advanced movements we were asking Chess to do. I am really excited, as I think after this month our potential is much greater than I had thought.”

Canadian Olympian Megan provided an equally positive opinion from the coach’s point of view: “I have enjoyed my virtual coaching sessions so very much. The enthusiasm and keenness Gabriela brings to my screen is delightful and I truly have looked forward to our time together each week. I am such a believer in giving back to the community. In times like this especially, I couldn’t be happier to partake in such a wonderful program.”

In addition to technical skill building, the Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity provided insight for the students into the world of high performance training.

Alyssa and Romeo, the 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding with whom she competes at the Second Level, focused on transitions with their coach, Jill. Alyssa was inspired to hear that Jill, who competed at the 2018 Tryon World Equestrian Games, constantly workshops these basic fundamentals herself.

Alyssa ruminated, “It made me realize that even riders [at the major games level] are not always working on the hardest movements possible. Jill also discussed the challenges that her horses have. It was nice to know that even top-notch riders such as Jill still encounter problems and she was open to discussing them.”

Dressage Athletes Illustrate the Future of Online Coaching Through the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity

Alyssa Little of Brooklyn Corner, NS, shows off the set-up she used for her virtual lessons with Jill Irving, featuring her mother as videographer, seated on a swivel chair at X for 360° coverage!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alyssa Little

Through the Jill Irving Youth Equine Mentor Program, Jill is no stranger to giving back and was pleased to participate in this new opportunity. She commented, “I think we are lucky to have virtual coaching in these times. While it wasn’t always a great way to see how the horse was going, the good part was that I had to ask Alyssa whether things were going well and if what I was suggesting was working. This engaged us much faster and we were collaborating, which I feel is a great way to train.”

Belinda also found that increased communication was an unexpected benefit that rose out of the potential frustrations of virtual coaching.

“The challenges are the connection to the Wi-Fi and quality of the video,” said Belinda, who is an EC certified High Performance 1 Dressage Coach. “There were times the screen became blurry or the video paused. I would have to ask Caroline how something felt because I could not see it! The positive is we become more patient, which is good for all of us. We had lots of time to discuss issues and come up with ideas to help.”

Caroline, who rode her 10-year-old Hanoverian mare, Diamond Lil (Friederire x Diamond Hit), noted that challenges presented by poor connectivity were countered by the fact that she and Belinda had four lessons together. The multiple sessions allowed for Caroline to work on homework assigned by Belinda in between lessons and therefore to see a much more advanced progression from week to week.

Dressage Athletes Illustrate the Future of Online Coaching Through the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity

Caroline Mahieux (mounted) of Terrebonne, QC, and Diamond Lil with their helpers for the 2020 Virtual Lessons Development Opportunity: Linda Robert (left) and Stéphanie Bertrand (right).
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Caroline Mahieux

These positive reflections on the Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity are particularly encouraging for Canadians, where the sheer size of our country can sometimes make it difficutl to access quality learning opportunities.

“A huge benefit was being able to have lessons with such a renowned rider without having to travel long distances,” stated Avery, a Training level eventer who rode his 14-year-old Hanoverian mare, Vanity Fair (“Havana”), in his lessons with Chris. “I feel that it can make very high quality learning more accessible.”

While virtual coaching is still a relatively new frontier, the 2020 Virtual Lesson Development Opportunity proved that the possibilities are endless. Indeed, despite the geographic distance and any technological snafus, several of the coach-student pairs decided to continue working together after their four free lessons wrapped.

Katrina, who worked with Brittany on bringing Gerald (Kortik x Arim), Giles Ardiel’s 14-year-old Akhal-Teke stallion, to a small tour debut, said in conclusion, “It was a little different not having a coach right in the ring but, overall, it went really well. I am so thankful to have been a part of this program and a big thank you to Brittany for taking the time to teach me. It has been an excellent experience; the experience opens your eyes to realize you could learn from anyone anywhere in the world.” 

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