Shelly Francis’ Training Techniques Yield Successes for the USA

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Monday, October 5, 2015

Shelly Francis competes for the USA Dressage Team Photo: Shannon Brinkman

Shelly Francis’s distinctive approach to training Patricia Stempel’s 12-year-old gelding Doktor (Diamond Hit x Gurena) and 11-year-old gelding Danilo (De Niro x Annabelle) led Shelly and these athletic horses to northern Germany for three most difficult European competitions in Aachen, Rotterdam (NED) and Hagen this past May through July.

During her European circuit, Shelly’s high performance training techniques were noticed and acknowledged by several European contemporaries, Shelly shared, “It inspires me when my European colleagues give me a compliment on the way I’ve trained the horses. Admiration and respect from those riders and trainers are as rewarding as high placement because it supports that I’m training these horses well in my systematic manner. “

Explaining her technique, Shelly described, “I train through my gut feelings and the mutual understanding that comes through my conversations with the horses. While they quickly grasp physically, I also want a mental connection and it takes a lot of time to truly get them in tune with me. But, that way, I’m able to tell if they need a little more slack for their confidence or can handle a little more pressure in the big arena.”

While in Europe, Shelly trained with German team coach Monica Theodorescu who welcomed the stabling of Doktor and Danilo at her late parent’s professional dressage stable just ten minutes outside Warendorf. “The Theodorescu facility has lovely large arenas. The outdoor and new indoor arenas are absolutely wonderful. There are also great fields to hack out the horses to keep them fresh. I found it to be very quiet, very peaceful and very productive for training purposes.”Shelly Francis competes Patricia Stempel's Danilo in Rotterdam for the US Dressage Team Photo: Shannon Brinkman

At the facility, Shelly focused on fine-tuning competition preparation, “Monica would give me pointers, which were very helpful. If she saw something that I could improve with either of the horses, she’d point it out. When I was alone for 3 to 4 days while she was away coaching at big competitions, which I’m used to being anyway, I was able to work on the needed changes.  It really gave me the time to absorb and make the necessary improvements.”

With Appreciation

Shelly is appreciative of all the opportunities and support she has received, “First, I’m so very grateful to the owner of these amazing horses, Patricia Stempel. I’d also like to give thanks to the USEF and USET for the grants, their amazing support and for helping me get into the European horse shows. And, a thank you to Monica Theodorescu.”

She continued, “And a special thanks to Robert Dover for getting the funds together to help all the riders compete in Europe. It was essential and advantageous for me to get my horses there and to give them that mileage. Whether they were superstars or still learning to be superstars, it was enormously productive for their training and their futures. I couldn’t have done it without that help, and for the help in Aachen. It made for a super show for us.” 

Doktor’s Scores and Ranking

At the beginning of their European tour, she competed Doktor in the May 30-31 CDI 5* in Aachen and received 70.600% in the Grand Prix and 75.350% in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Following that with the June 18-21 CDIO 5* in Rotterdam, the pair were given 68.66% in its Grand Prix and 70.078% in the Grand Prix Special, receiving a Team Bronze in the CDIO. They ended their circuit with the July 9-11 Hagen CDIO 5*, receiving 69.460% in the Grand Prix and 69.980% in the Grand Prix Special.Shelly Francis rides Patricia Stempel's Doktor to high scores in Aachen Photo: Shannon Brinkman

With the freestyle music chosen by Marlene Whitaker which the judges loved, Shelly still thought it odd that Doktor’s performances in Rotterdam and Hagen were not up to scratch, “For some reason, he started to get nervous in Rotterdam, even in the stable. It was just like his first year in the big arena, so I had to quickly restore his confidence as much as possible. And, in Hagen, we had some unfortunate mistakes that we rarely ever make. It was just one of those things that unexpectedly happens. His freestyle does need to be a bit steadier, but he’s wonderful.”

Before the European tour, in January 2015, during the third week at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival series in Florida, the pair scored a 72.200% to place third in the Grand Prix and a 75.325% to place second in the Grand Prix Freestyle, a 71.720% in the GP and 74.975% in the GP Freestyle at the February 4-8, 2015 CDI 5* Global Dressage Festival 5, 71.080% in the GP and 70.667% in the GP Special at the February 18-22, 2015 CDI 4* Global Dressage Festival, and 72.120 in the GP and 75.950% in the GP Freestyle at the CDI West Palm Beach Dressage Derby.

Doktor and Shelly are currently in 5th position for the December 9-13, 2015 USEF/Dutta Corp. Festival of Champions in the Grand Prix with qualifying scores of 71.544% in the Grand Prix, 70.373 in the Grand Prix Special and 70.958% in the Grand Prix Freestyle for 2015, which will take place in Wellington, Florida at the Adequan Global Dressage Showgrounds.

Danilo’s Scores and Ranking

Danilo continually scored well in Europe. He received a 70.480% in the June 18-21 Rotterdam CDI 3* Grand Prix and 74.100% in the Grand Prix Freestyle. In the Hagen CDI 4*, he scored 70.300% in the Grand Prix and 73.850% in the Grand Prix Freestyle. With an average of over 72%, Shelly is enormously proud of him, “This summer, he had cleaner tests and he’s becoming more expressive. In fact, he made huge progress this whole year! I have no doubt that 2016 will be his year to bloom even more.”Shelly Francis competes Patricia Stempel's Danilo in Rotterdam for the US Dressage Team Photo: Shannon Brinkman

Danilo’s music is acapella, an unusual choice but perfect for the tall son of the extraordinary De Niro. Shelly explained, “Danilo loves his music. It suits him. There were a tremendous number of people who sought me out after his freestyle just to say how much they really enjoyed it.”

Along with this year’s earlier scores of 68.900% in the Grand Prix and 69.137% in the Grand Prix Special at the February 4-8 CDI 3* Global Dressage Festival, 69.540% in the Grand Prix and 66.804% in the Grand Prix Special at the CDI 4* Global Dressage Festival, and 68.320% in the Grand Prix and 69.539% in the Grand Prix Special at the March 4-8 CDI West Palm Beach Dressage Derby, Danilo is currently in 8th place in ranking for the USEF Festival of Champions Grand Prix with an overall average for the year of 69.508 GP, 68.490 GP Special, and 68.999% GP Freestyle.

Rubinio’s Scores and Rankings

Competing Stempel’s remarkable 9-year-old gelding Rubinio (Roh Magic x Patrizia), the pair have already brought some impressive small tour scores in 2015. At the CDI 4* Global Dressage Festival back in February 19-22, Shelly and Rubinio scored a 68.105% in Prix St George and a 70.632% in Intermediaire 1, a 71.579 PSG and 70.263 I1 in the CDI West Palm Beach Derby held March 5-8, and a notable 71.605 in PSG and Freestyle I1 71.395 at the March 11-15 CDI-W Global Dressage Festival.

They are currently in second position in the overall qualifying scores for the 2015 Festival of Champions with a 71.592 PSG average, 71.014%, I1 average and 71.303% I1 Freestyle average, and also second on the 2015 USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship Ranking List.

Feeling good to be at home again, Shelly is back to more training of champions Doktor, Danilo and Rubinio. It is Shelly’s and Patricia’s goal that these three horses thoroughly understand how to perform even some of the more difficult movements, “It’s important that they’re completely comfortable with some things like the piaffe and passage. That way, they won’t be nervous when it’s expected from them in the big arenas.”

Preparing for the Upcoming Festival Championships

After her successful 2015 summer European tour and with only a few more weeks left, Shelly is calmly gearing up for the 2015 Dutta Corp./USDF Festival of Champions at the December 9-13, 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival with Doktor and Danilo in the Grand Prix and Rubinio in the PSG/Intermediaire 1 competition.

Shelly Francis rides Patricia Stempel's Danilo in the stadium at Aachen Photo: Shannon Brinkman