Jan Brons on Dressage and Physical Fitness

Oct 6, 2020 | Equestrian, Gym

Jan Brons is as no nonsense with himself as he is with his clients. After all, Dressage is a sport of exactness and precision — sometimes described as ballet on horseback. 

Jan was born and trained in The Netherlands, a county world renowned for its horsemanship. He graduated from the Dutch Equestrian Center and is now based here in Wellington. He has garnered a laundry list of awards and prizes, including the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize and his USDF bronze, silver, and gold medals. Jan has been training horses and riders in the United States since 2001.

How did you become interested in Dressage?

As a kid growing up in Europe, you cannot do any jumping unless you’ve trained at the very basic level and achieved certain scores. Dressage was required to get to the level of jumping. I enjoyed it and decided to stay with it.

What physical demands does Dressage make on the rider?

It really forces you to control what your body is doing on top of this moving horse. There is a lot of balance involved because the horse is moving in lots of different directions so you have to follow it. It requires control over your core.

Does the physical fitness of a rider affect the horse’s ability to perform?

Absolutely because if you can’t control your own body on top of the horse, you won’t be able to control the horse. You have to have a certain amount of toning and strength to move on top of the horse otherwise you are basically in the horse’s way. You want to give the illusion that it’s effortless. It has to look like the horse is doing it by itself and you’re just a passenger. So if you have no strength, it gets in your way. 

During the parts of the competition that the horse needs help, you’re not available because you’re worn out. It’s not just the performance. There is a warm up before you go into the arena, which means you’ve been on the horse for 45 minutes total at least and if you’re not fit enough to go to the finish, it’s a problem. 

What do you say to a rider when you can see that their lack of fitness is affecting the horse’s ability to perform?

By the time they ask me to help them train they already know where I’m coming from and what my expectations are. If something isn’t right I don’t want to hear them complain about it. I have all adults and they have to be responsible for their own actions on top of the horse. My job is to help them make things clear to the horse. I don’t want to waste my time with people who aren’t willing to put in any effort.

What have you learned about off-horse physical training over the years?

It’s a big mental game as far as I’m concerned. If you’re doing something that has a lot of repetitions, it really becomes a mental game to push one more time until you are there. It correlates with competition because when you’re competing you have to do one more thing and one more thing and one more thing until you’re done.

What is the most important thing a rider needs to do to stay in shape?

People have their strengths and weaknesses, so you have to work with that a little bit. It’s not one area unless a person is really weak in a certain area. You have to have cardio. You have to have control of what body part does what. You don’t need the bulk because that might get in the way. You have to be fit enough to hang in with the heat here in Florida. It depends on the person, but most of the time it is an overall fitness that we’re looking for.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

It’s going to be a very interesting year because they’ve moved the Olympics. It will be interesting to see which horses rise to the top and which don’t. This one year delay might have taken some horses out of the competition because of age. Or horses that were younger might have needed an extra year to really mature and they will be ready to compete.

To learn more about Jan, you can read “How to Assess Progress in Your Dressage Training” and watch him in action on the horse during a Dressage Clinic.

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