Andrew McLean talks about the principles of horse handling

THM asked Dr Andrew McLean what are the ten most important Principles to consider when we are interacting with our horses – here they are.

Manuela McLean, NCAS Level 2 (Dressage Specialist), BSc (Biology), Dip Ed and Dr Andrew McLean, PhD (Equine Cognition & Learning), BSc (Zoology), Dip Ed

Principle 1: Optimally, horses should kept with/next to other horses; fed forage for an average 13 hours a day, kept in large areas if possible, rather than stables.

Horse people should not over estimate equine intelligence i.e. he knows what he did wrong, or use delayed rewards or punishment, or underestimate horse intelligence – you can do what you like to horses because they have no emotions and they can’t suffer.

Principle 2: With negative reinforcement it’s the release of pressure that trains, and so it’s essential to release pressure for the required response. Whenever pressure is removed, you are rewarding the behavior, even when horses invade your space and you retreat. Food rewards, if used, should be immediate on the response or they can follow a secondary reinforcer such as a voice or clicker that must be immediate on the response.  Punishment should be avoided, however if used it must be immediate on the response. And classical conditioning means that aids should be miniaturised to light versions of pressure, and then converted to whatever cues you choose.


                              Quiet legs, quiet hands = self-carriage

Principle 3: Make sure signals for all separate responses and movements are possible for the horse to discriminate.

Principle 4: Build complex responses gradually, in easy steps from the beginning simple one.

Principle 5: Don’t use two different aids at once. Each aid should elicit a particular response. In most cases it will be a limb movement that occurs in a discreet moment in each particular gait. Even in a pirouette, aids should follow the sequence for perfect execution.

Principle 6: Make sure each response has its own unique signal.

Principle 7: Be consistent so that in training you ask for the response in the same way, and place, each time and build habits.

Principle 8: Train the horse to keep going until you tell him otherwise (so you’re not continually nagging him). This is self-carriage. If you let the reins go for a couple of steps, his speed, line and head/neck position should not change.

Quiet legs, quiet hands = self-carriage

Principle 9: Avoid fear responses as much as possible in training, and use slowing signals to disentangle fear from responses – if horse bucks or bolts or shows any fast legs, slow them!

Principle 10: Don’t let the horse get more stressed than necessary to produce a response. Keep arousal levels as low as possible with regard to the response you are training. Some behaviours/responses will arouse more than others.




Saddleworld Horse of the Month – Meet Annapurna

Meet Annapurna, Saddleworld Horse of the Month. First some words from her owner, and breeder, Jane Pittard…

Annapurna was born on Vinery stud at Longwood, where the staff thought her Thoroughbred dam was a warmblood, because she was so quiet to handle, and they knew the filly foal was the first foal by Donnerblitz born here in Australia.


From the start Anna was sweet and friendly, and she is a half-sister to Mio Jupiter and Pluto Mio. When she was weaned we brought her home to Pakenham Upper to be minded by Jupiter. The first day I removed Jupe from their paddock to work him in the arena, she simply popped over the closed gate between us. The garden got a bit of a pounding!

She was easily bored, and once when the plumber was fixing a pipe in her paddock she kept bugging him, and when he kept pushing her off, grabbed his shovel and ran off with it in her mouth. Cheeky yes, but John’s (Pittard) apprentice farrier at the time, Erin, could trim her standing in the paddock without a head collar.

She was handled on the mare and then later broken in by Ross Hedwards who gave her plenty of time, understanding her strong willed personality. When she first arrived at the Tinney’s property, she immediately tried to boss the Alpha mare Panamera. Such was her attitude that the mares had to be boxed and paddocked quite separately.

Like the dam, she shows moments of, shall we say, Thoroughbred excitable spirit, but she is a very willing and ride-able mount across country, and we’re very happy with the harmonious relationship Gemma and Annapurna have developed.

John and I have had a fabulous journey with Pluto, (winning a Bronze Medal at Rio) and it would be a wonderful thrill to see Annapurna going around 3-star with Gemma. It’s in the lap of the Gods!

Here’s Anna’s brother at Rio

And now some words from Anna’s current rider, Gemma Tinney. The pair took out the Young Rider award at last year’s Australian International Three day event for their third placing in the CCI 2*

Gemma and Anna at Adelaide

Nineteen-year-old Gemma Tinney is being taught the serious eventing ropes by her ride, the 13-year-old mare Annapurna

“She came to us around four years ago, six months after Pluto Mio; she’s his half sister. They share the same dam, Call of the Wind.

“Stuart was riding her for two or three years successfully to 3*. He went to Adelaide on her and after that he thought I should try her because perhaps I’d be a good match. So, I took her to a couple of shows and we went really well. I’ve been riding her for about a year and I think I’ve secured the ride now…I hope I have!

“I’m doing 3* now with her having started with 1* then 2*. This year I’m aiming for Adelaide 4* and the Oceania Team at Melbourne in June. Hopefully we’ll keep going up the ranks.

“Anna’s my first 3* horse and she took me around my first one at SIEC at the end of last year and it was great because Dad designed the course and he was there to help me. It was such a lovely course for our first 3* and we went really well.

“She’s just lovely to ride. She’s my absolute favourite…great on the flat, lovely jumper, awesome cross-country, I couldn’t ask for a better horse. I’m so lucky to have her. Anna has a great personality. She loves humans, however she’s not so keen on other horses so she has a whole paddock to herself!”





Finding the Correct Way of Dressage Training with Stefan Wolff

Rebecca Ashton sits in on German professional, Stefan Wolff’s clinic, and finds that good training is… basic.

Rebecca also took the photos…

If you’re expecting to go to a Stefan Wolff clinic and see a lot of fancy movements, you might be disappointed. Stefan is not a trainer who will pull out the fancy things just to make the client happy. A lot of “frames” are dismantled and, yes, you guessed it, basics, basics, basics. Horses are taken right back to “forward and straight”; getting them to seek the bit instead of backing off it, riding more from the seat and legs, getting the horses forward correctly from the aids, and allowing them to flow without restriction, independent in their work, filling out and creating their own frames.

Lesley Ann Taylor had her new stallion, Fermento in the arena. Having just come off a break, rider and trainer were taking it easy on the big chestnut, but that didn’t mean the work didn’t have to be correct. The youngster is a bit of a teenager and would like Mum to help more. The task was to rebalance him a little onto his hindquarters, get him to carry himself and not run through the rein. The key was to get some looseness through his big body. Stefan encouraged:

“Have him more in front of you. It is natural with a horse that strong to think back, back, back, but he still needs to be in front of you. If you fight against his fighting muscle, you’ll lose. Forget about it. Instead focus on the other; focus on the stretching muscle, keeping him through his back and stretching. Not slower. You need to build pre-collection, not collection at this stage. Don’t shorten him up. Once he starts loosening up, it gets better. His strength comes when he pulls down. Feel that every stride ends upward in the hand, not down. There you go.”

Stefan asked for shoulder fore across the diagonal to sensitize the horse and the challenge was to keep the hind legs on a straight track as the shoulders moved from right to left, “Don’t let the hind leg go in the opposite direction of the flexion. Change in bend is a process, not a hop from one side to the other. It should have a massaging affect.”

“You need to keep him busy all the time. You can’t stay in the same thing for 10 strides. You need full-on gymnastics to confront his tight muscles. Variations make the difference. Do uncommon lines as well. For example, lengthen the trot on the diagonal, two thirds of the way across bring him back and circle 10 metres. At this stage, I would never bring this horse back without the bend so he doesn’t hang onto the bridle.”

Gradually it improved and Fermento’s frame gained more stretch, and the stallion carried himself better from behind. There still needed to be a touch better connection with the rein in the new frame. “Giving at the wrong moment can be the wrong aid as well. He needs to find you. He’s opening the neck now, but he needs to find your hand comfortable. Your hand needs to be soft and inviting. There you go. He must not be suspicious.”

Subtle adjustments were also a requirement for the seat. To improve the balance of the horse, Stefan wanted Lesley to allow the horse to adjust under her. “Don’t push him away with your seat. Just make room. Feel the back come through. Lighten the knee and leg a little.” The stallion adjusted accordingly. “The measure of throughness is tempo. Medium tempo is a measure of throughness, the test that they are on the seat and not pushing through or collapsing.”

Lesley was now cantering 20 metre circles and asked for a change in direction. Stefan is always trying to help the horse by finding the easiest lines and the smoothest way, you’ll never see anything stop/start sudden in his training. The youngster got a bit tangled in the change of rein so Stefan offered some advice, “Maybe you should have made the line a bit straighter in between the circles rather than change circle to circle. Find inviting lines for him.” The second try proved successful and it was time for a stretch and a big pat.

next a stallion competing at Advanced level

Davena Conroy was next with her big, black Richmond H stallion, Rubicon 1. The pair have been competing at Advanced, but Stefan too wanted this stallion to rebalance a bit more and be more independent in his position and way of going.

“It shouldn’t be complicated to keep him together in an even tempo. You have too much to do at Advanced/PStG to have 80% of your aids keeping the horse going. You need your attention to be on riding all the different movements and preparing for them.”

“Start with the reins a bit longer. Try and get a consistent bend. When he pushes down, let the half halt be the second step, first try and get him in front of you. Try not to lean forward when you give. Just give your hands forward. Have the feeling the hand is below the poll and give. The hand must stay behind the mouth not above the mouth. Put your hands where you want and use the rest of your aids to push him there and connect him to it.”

“The higher the hand, the more the correct line of lower arm and rein is gone. The bit will twist in the mouth and the joint will point downward and the horse will give in that direction, so if the horse’s head is coming lower, you need to take your hand lower.”

“Don’t look into the horse. Look forward. Good. Now he’s into the outside rein. See now if you can do these adjustments on a smaller scale. Don’t wait and then give him a big half halt.

“Find that your seat is the centre of everything. When he pulls forward and downwards, he pops you off his back. Right. Now he lets you sit. His centre of gravity is under your seat. This is now a natural balance for him. He can stay there for a longer time. Take your time to give, but let it have a lasting effect. Don’t throw the rein away, just have a tendency, have a dynamic hand.”

Whenever the stallion wanted to suck back, Davena had to concentrate on two things; her hands had to have a tendency to give and she had to encourage Rubicon to use his back better. This was developed using tempo changes. Stefan explained, “You have to teach him to use his neck again; use his back. Do tempo differences, especially forward. Sit. Relax more in your lower back. The upper body stays level. Regardless of how much you want your horse to collect, you have to keep the flow. Get him to move more through his body.”

“You can ride five different tempos on this circle. Get busy with them. You ride a very nice change downwards, but not so clear forward. There, that was better. Inside hand forward and lighter. Then the inside leg just pushes straight forward. There you go. When you feel him getting a bit hesitant in the canter, do the tempo changes. You have to keep him reaching forward when he comes back. Let him settle onto the bit when he comes back. You can make small variations in tempo, even in the test, just small so no one can see.”

The same rules applied in the walk when things got a little sticky, the rider needed to make a change and then refine it, “Trot transition. Sharp. Make a variation when he gets stuck. Then get to the point when it’s not a trot transition, just that he moves forward a bit more from a squeeze of the leg.”

Things were improving and the basics at a point where Stefan was ready for the combination to try some movements, “Now he swings out with the front leg, the rhythm is even as is the contact. Now ride some movements and try to maintain these basics.

Davena went on to execute shoulder in down the long side. “Getting the horse into the shoulder in is critical for the whole movement. Come again. As you enter the corner, you must already have the correct bend. Remember, don’t get it with the inside rein. Get the same bend, but with the inside leg instead.” This was another important point Stefan made with quite a few riders; use of the diagonal aid. He was strict in not letting riders pull with the inside rein.

“Ride offensively down that long side in shoulder in. This is the coarse idea of how to get into shoulder in. After that you can work on the detail. Always refresh the aid in the movement.”

This developed into half pass work at the trot. “Don’t ride one half pass all the way over. After two half pass strides, ride two steps forward. Then the next time, one step half pass, one step forward. Variations. Outside rein stabilises the shoulder. When it’s not going well, ride him straight, even if it’s just one stride.”

By the end Rubicon was happily purring along with a nice contact and good neck.

another youngster next

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Caroline Hooper had her smart, newly imported Becks Gold II (who we met in the masterclass) and he wanted to go. Again Stefan’s focus was to make the way easy for the horse, “Get him to focus on one thing, not five.” To get the youngster’s attention, Stefan suggested lots of curved lines. “Keep turning. Keep a consistent turn. Don’t wrestle him down, just allow with your hand. Get a proper turn. That means, let him go with your inside hand and use your inside leg and outside rein. You want an even bend through the whole body. Don’t flex the poll more than the bend of the rest of the body. Get him to bend from your inside leg. He shouldn’t go faster. That’s not putting your leg on, that’s kicking. You want to move his shoulder not his mouth. Move the forehand sideways not the head. That’s why you need the outside rein. You can actually turn without the flexion. Let him take the bit forward, not lower.’

“I don’t mind if you’re in counter flexion for a few strides if it puts the forehand in the correct place. Good, he’s looking for your leg now. Let him come to it. He needs to not only know where the contact is in front, but also the backside of the frame. With normal and hot horses, you need contact with the leg, not pushing, just contact. Not just the rein, but the leg as well. The flow was good.”

The youngster started to relax so Stefan introduced the next step, “Do some halt/walk and then trot/halt transitions. Use your body to bring the horse back. Drop your body down to halt, don’t lift it up. Allow the horse to stretch up to the bit.” Ben started snorting: “That’s a good sign. That’s how you decrease stress in the horse. You have to be able to give your hand forward and let the horse move. You don’t have to ride him for five hours on a long rein. Allow young horses to improve their body strength. Let him come up and build a strong arch in his body on his own. In the trot, you can alternate sitting and rising every few strides so he doesn’t get tight.”

Into canter in the corner: “Drive through the turn with the inside leg, then you don’t need the inside hand. Allow your seat to sink into the horse and allow your joints to bend. Keep your knee bent. Use the inside leg further forward and it will bring the forehand out and into the outside rein. You need your inside leg to be placed in front of your outside leg. Have the feeling that he jumps from underneath up into the bridle, rather than down into to the bridle. Pat him on the inside of the neck. Don’t think you have to keep him together to keep him cantering. He has to be independent.”

By the end of the lesson, Caroline had Ben calm, supple and smooth resulting in quite a few “ooos and ahhs” from the gallery.

Next a Stefan fan

Brett Peel can’t get enough of Stefan. Fresh from a five-week stint with him in Germany, Brett brought along four horses. With his own Geordie Boy, the work focused on increasing collection the correct way.Again, it was keeping the horse in balance and allowing him to stretch forward through the neck even as he came back in collection. “If he tightens through the shoulder and withers when you collect up a bit, you need to ride him through again. He cannot contract the muscle at the wither/ base of the neck. When he collects, he still needs to reach forward. He needs to still take you forward as you bring him a little bit back.”

“Push his neck to the rein, but don’t push him out of collection. Even if he struggles a bit, keep the tempo. Even if he canters, don’t give up your aid. Trust the aid and let time work for you.” And there was that timing focus again; reacting at the correct strength in the correct way at the correct time, “I want 5cm more in the neck length, but don’t give too quickly. Don’t over-react. Place an aid and wait to see what happens instead of fiddling around with your hand or your leg.”

The new work meant that Geordie Boy still had a slightly incorrect reaction and Stefan explained further, “He wants to hold the stride in the air a bit longer, but don’t allow that yet. Ride him forward but hold with your seat.” Brett had to alter his position slightly to encourage the gelding to work on his own a little more. “Become slack in your shoulders. Be technically helpful, but not so much physically helpful. That forces the horse to do more. Sometimes they trot big and you try to preserve it, but try not to do that. Let him be responsible for maintaining it.”

Stefan wanted to touch on the stretchy rising trot as it’s a movement he believes isn’t often performed well in the five-year-old test. “It’s in the test for a reason, to see if the horse has been trained under tension or if it has created its own positive tension which can be maintained when the aids are lightened. Don’t drive more, just release with your thigh, bend your knee and let your calf be on him. He shouldn’t jump away from the leg. You should squeeze him and he should go with it, not leave the squeeze behind. To bring him back, hand forward and settle back with your seat.”

And a few words of encouragement for Brett, “ At this stage, keep the work natural and realistic. He’s not a 10-year-old. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Don’t interfere too much. Now he works through his body better, he’s not holding his frame.”

Linda Foster’s Neversfelde Samiro is ready to jump up into the FEI ranks. The focus of her lesson was pirouettes, getting the horse expressive without tension. Stefan talked Linda through the process, “Let him come to your outside leg a bit. Give him more time to load the hind leg. You seem worried for some reason that he will not be fast enough in the hind leg. When you keep hammering the hind leg, you don’t get enough time to get suppleness in the back. Proper pirouette canter is four-beat which means the horse needs more time. Get him in front of the inside rein and more to the bit. Give yourself time to relax more through your spine. Keep your calf closed, but your knee and thigh need to be soft. Don’t let him push your seat to the front leg. Sink your seat in between the forehand and hind end. He needs to receive your seat and your leg needs to receive the horse.”

“If you do that, then your aids aren’t so loaded that you feel like you can’t do anything else. You should only have about 60% of your aids engaged so you have enough options in your aids to react to what might come up or so you can ride out of the pirouette again. Let him live under your good aids.”

“Off the leg is not a technical term. We don’t want him off the aid, we want him on the aid. If they are off the leg, you have no control and they can break out of the canter. He needs to come to your leg, to seek it.”

The walk to canter aid was not to be too forward and running away, just that the horse reacted to the leg. At this level, not all reactions to the aids need to be forward, just create a softness and reaction in the horse’s body. An exercise to help this was cantering from the rein back, “It’s enough if he canters on the spot from the rein back. It’s still a forward reaction. Ride straight into the pirouette canter. Don’t ride forward first, and then have to bring him back. Even when he drops into trot, don’t lose your canter aid. Same pressure with the leg as when you ask for the canter out of the rein back. Keep that aid. Then afterwards, if they are on the leg, you don’t have to push them out, just release.”

The trot at the end proved how effective the work had been for the horse, “Ja! Exactly! The collected work is good enough for 7.5. That’s 75% so don’t think that it isn’t good enough.”

now a horse that finds the arena stressy

Jennifer Morris’s horse found the new surroundings a bit stressful. It’s easy to lose some focus when the tension is up, but Stefan encouraged Jennifer to remain focused on the basics to get the horse back with her. The track was a “scary zone” but Stefan tried to change Jennifer’s thinking when she was trying to stay close to the rail, “Don’t let those minor things disrupt your riding. Again, the diagonal aids. Outside rein/inside leg. The outside rein is important. Keep it and make it steady. Give him time but keep him obedient to the aid, not to the environment. If you want to push a horse toward something, it doesn’t make sense, you want to keep him on your aids. The horse needs to come to you, not to the wall, you just happen to be next to the wall.

“Keep yourself on the track rather than the horse. Give him time, don’t chase him, but keep him on your aid. Don’t collapse your entire aid when the horse does something. Give one aid and make it consistent instead of having five different variations of it. He gets confused. Don’t give your horse the feeling that you’re indecisive. This can be a problem. Some horses can act up to this because they get contrary signals.”

Stefan is always thinking about how the horse’s brain works. He’s spent a lot of time studying horse behaviour and that’s one of the reasons why he’s so good at finding the best way for the animal. He was happy to let the horse consider spooky situations, but it had to keep moving forward. It’s another reason why he was so strict with the diagonal aid with all of the riders, “Ride enough that he won’t turn around, but give him time. That’s how horses work. They stop to look at things. You don’t have to stop, but give him time. Keep moving and be decisive with your seat and leg. Then he won’t come off the line even when you give with the inside rein.”

“The inside leg assures that he is consistently looking for the outside rein. Come on, get him sensitive. If you’re too busy with your inside rein, it takes the focus off the inside leg. Try to get rid of the thinking that everything will fall part if you give the inside rein. The inside rein is important, but that comes later. You have to be more effective with your inside leg and then later on you have more options. Condition him to your inside leg. Get him to recognise it. Work every stride with the inside leg.”

Stefan wanted the horse confident enough to step firmly up to the bridle. Putting the aids in place and leaving them there would give the horse confidence but at the same time, the horse needed to be able to move within the aids. “You press him then wait until he takes the bridle and moves on. There you go, now you have an even contact.”

Jennifer was left with the final thought, “Be consequent, decisive, and don’t make it complicated,” and that’s a great takeaway for all of us. Make it easy for the horse and allow him to do his job without restriction.



An interview with Stefan…

There are a few common problems you see, right through the levels from novice through to the top, things such as open mouths, tongues up and lateral walks and canters. Can you touch on these a bit?

Mouth issues, I mean it depends what it is, but if you look at tongue being up, it’s a sign of a muscle contraction, the tongue is a muscle and it’s contracted so it’s short. The tongue is basically connected to the muscles going through the poll and attaching to the under neck. So usually when the tongue is consistently up, it runs through the entire horse; through the neck and to the back of the horse. You can really see that entire chain of the body being tight.

The tongue up is really only the symptom. So you have to start suppling the entire horse starting from behind. Not ride for hours on the long rein, you also need to make sure the horse lengthens only as much as it stretches and not more than that. Then, pick it up again, put it into a bend and ride walk/trot, trot/canter transitions; consistent variations so the horse starts suppling through. But you have to start from the back, the back starts to supple from the bend and the variations of the neck carriage, and the neck will start to supple also, right though to the tongue. Also, if the back gets softer, it lets the hind leg come under more. So you start seeing the back move and you start seeing a better over track, which can be a problem even in the working trot. A lot of horses don’t do that. You see the neck starting to drop and usually it’s the last thing, the tongue goes down and the mouth closes. But it is a process.

Lateral walk and canter can be a problem, because it’s usually developed over a long time. Let’s start with the lateral canter, it pretty much means that the diagonal support phase is interrupted and you have the outside front leg landing too early or the inside hind leg landing too late which really means that horse avoids taking weight in the inside hind leg. and the support comes first on the outside front leg.

You usually have several problems – a lack of self carriage, a lack of activity and a lack of straightness. In my experience, those three things come together. Also, a lot of times you have the lateral canter only on one rein and interestingly enough, a lot of times toward the stiff side. If you would turn back the wheel to think about what you did as a rider, you probably wanted to collect and collect while the horse was always strong on that inside rein. Sometimes you just pick the horse up instead of half halting properly. What happens? The horse gets evasive and braces on the stiff side against the inside hand and that can immediately tighten the back and cause a lateral canter over time, so the stride gets shorter not collected.

At the end of it, you need to straighten your horse, especially to the stiff side, make sure your inside hand, as much as you can, is giving so that the inside leg pair can reach through again.

But don’t think to string out and ride forward, light seat and let go – that usually brings the horse more on the forehand because it is already off balance. Think self carriage, poll in front of you and quick behind.

Biggest mistakes or time wasters you notice people doing…

That’s a bit too general. It’s so various. But what you really see a lot is that the diagonal aid is not performed properly. Bending the horse, I feel sometimes is not fully understood or rider may not pay enough attention to it. The fact is that if you bend a horse, it should relieve the entire inside body half and not actually put pressure on it. Horses should have freedom in that inside shoulder to move through the corner and not be restricted.

For those training a lot on their own, do you have any suggestions?

Train on Youtube?!! I think that is always a high risk. You need to understand that it is huge risk when you train a lot by yourself. It can be a problem. The biggest problem is that we start reflecting on the horse only and not on ourselves, and the effect we have on the horses, which should really be the idea of riding. Every other athlete focuses on himself because there’s no other chance, but we always have the option and risk of just focusing on our partner. When you are a dancer, it might be a little bit the same but even then, they focus on themselves and watch each other.

These days everyone has access to educational films and you can watch shows that are thousands of miles away and yes, these things do help. At the same time, it’s always one thing to see it, and theoretically understand it, and another to put it together. I do think that the person on the ground can never be exchanged for that. I think it’s so beneficial to have that good, basic training. Find someone that you like and you trust and even if it’s not a formal training, someone on the ground can help, someone who can watch and regularly be your eyes.

find more Stefan – see below

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Mark Phillips – a thinking coach

Story – Christopher Hector/Photos – Roslyn Neave and archives

I must say that I was not sure what to expect from the Mark Phillips clinic at Equitana. The poor guy has been dogged through his life by his nickname, ‘Foggy’, given to him by his former brother-in-law.

Mark Phillips won Badminton four times – here he is on Columbus who won in 1974

Mark was in fact my first-ever equestrian magazine assignment when he was the guest star at the Melbourne Three Day Event back in the late 70’s. At the time he had obviously been schooled to carefully think through his answers before giving them, especially as all the straight press wanted to talk about was his marriage to Princess Anne, and he had the disconcerting habit of taking some time before delivering his reply. They were good enough replies, and at the time I didn’t know enough about the sport to get more out of the interview.

Eventing’s Royal couple – Mark and Anne

A few decades down the track, there was Mark lining up for another interview. I told him, very sincerely, that I thought it was a wonderful clinic…

Mark chuckled: “I’m the wrong person to ask…”

No, it was very subtle, lots of new ideas – like the one where the rider puts his hands on the horse’s neck to gallop, is that a temporary measure to get their backsides out of the saddle, or a permanent position?

“It can be both. You can get into that balance where you can relax and have a holiday, as well as the horse.”

Mark demonstrates the way to get over the horse, with Chris Height on Caballo Castano

You must always ride in balance, shorten the stride by increasing the balance, not with hand that decreases the engine…”

“Ride more like William Fox-Pitt, stand taller with longer reins.”

You wouldn’t have a problem with the rider balancing on his hands forever…

“No. The most important part is getting the hip over the knee, so that the knee works backwards and forwards, like the jockeys do. With the hip over the knee, the knee can go forward and come back, as opposed to your bottom going up and down, because every time your bottom comes down, the weight tends to come against the horse. It is exactly the same position as the jockeys, but we find it harder to get into that position because we ride longer, the jockeys are very short and get up above the wither because the knee is up there.”

“Get your hip above your knee, so the knee can work into the horse, and the horse carries the weight easier and faster. Hands on the wither and reins longer.”

Do you think our event riders are riding too long?

“The mechanics are, the shorter you ride the stronger you are, relative to the horse. When you ride, you are pivoting over your knee. The longer you ride, the longer the distance from the elbow to the knee, and the more leverage the horse has to pull you out of balance. That’s why the jockeys, who weigh nothing, can balance the horse at 30/35 mph because the forearm and the thigh are in the same position, at the same angle, so the horse has no leverage and can’t pull the jockey out of position.”

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So I think you are saying that some of our riders could ride shorter and be more effective…

“Generalisations are dangerous, but yes: a) because you are stronger relative to the horse if you ride a bit shorter, and b) if you have a fall, there comes a point where you need to leave the horse, and when you leave, you need to go as far, and as quickly as you can – if the horse is not going to stand up, you need to be out of there. If you are riding shorter, that is obviously easier than when you are riding longer.”

I was interested that in your dressage work you were stressing that dressage was the key to what was going to happen in your cross country round and jumping – yet you must have grown up in the era when it was commonly believed that TOO MUCH dressage RUINED your cross country…

“As a kid I hunted, went to Pony Club and had fun, and liked galloping and jumping. That was all I enjoyed doing. But when I was eighteen, I did my first Burghley and I was 39th out of 40 in the dressage. Tenth or twelfth after the cross country, and fourth after the showjumping. But I went away from that event saying to myself, if I want to be any good at this sport, I’ve got to learn how to ride a twenty metre circle. I had to go and learn how to do dressage.”

Mark stresses to Amanda Ross with Koko Popping Candy the importance of good dressage, more on dressage follows…

“In those days if you walked, trotted and cantered, and had a non-aggression pact with your horse and changed gear in the right places, on the letters, you were competitive. But now that’s not enough. The horse has to actually walk, trot and canter, and do the flying changes – and real trot, not just getting from A to B, a trot with expression. The canter has to be relaxed and uphill, it’s real dressage, it’s not like it used to be. In those early days, we were able to get to the top much quicker because we didn’t have to have the same skill sets as the modern riders have.”

“These days the qualification process is much harder in the interests of safety or risk management, it takes much longer to qualify your way to the top. To be a top rider these days, you also have to be skillful in all three disciplines.”

Every now and then in this debate, the trogladytes will drag out Jack le Goff who allegedly said, I trained my horse to Prix St Georges and ruined it for cross country, I think Michi Jung might have put that theory to rest…

“Jack le Goff, god bless him, was a good friend of mine, but that is bullshit. Some people say, too much dressage takes away the free spirit and free thinking of the horse – well that is BAD dressage. Bad dressage does do that – if you are working the whole process with your hands, that’s bad dressage and the horse is only thinking backwards to you. The horse has to be thinking forward, drawing to the bit, in balance along the line of the rein – and if you ride like that, I can’t see that anything is taken away from the character and the thinking of the horse.”

I thought that was very interesting your exercise of getting the riders to get out of the saddle to do their downwards transitions, that had a dramatic effect…

“Muscle memory is a bitch. We get into the habit of using our hands for everything – alarm clock, light, tea, coffee, everything we do, we do with our hands. So we have to train the brain that actually the hands are only there to guide (the horse), and to balance forwards, and everything else happens through the core. Thinking about the core and your balance is not the quick fix, but at the end of the day, you are going to get a lot more out of your horse, and a lot more quality.”

I’d like to raise a topic you addressed in your Horse & Hound column – and that is, all over the world, with the possible exception of Germany, there is no new generation of eventing riders coming to the fore… Our last real international new face was Christopher Burton and he’s now in his 30s, in the US you are re-cycling Australians, and in the UK, it is the same old same old… We see it a lot in Australia, there are lots of two-star riders, lots more at one-star, but the ones coming through to three-star are few and far between… You were pointing to the same thing in Britain?

“It’s a complicated subject. Every country has cycles. We had our cycle when we had William and Pippa and Tina and Zara and whoever. That was a cycle and when those people are going really well, they tend to be the focus, and the direction, and that doesn’t promote a natural progression for the young – it’s like the door at the top is closed. I think the Germans are approaching that place now. Michi Jung is still looking great, but Ingrid is getting older, and that group, the Dibowskis and the Ostholts, are all getting older, and the question is, what’s coming next? The girl they had in Rio, Julia Krajewski is clearly not in the same league. You look at the Brits, the girls we had there were clearly not in that league YET. But that British window of opportunity is going to stay open, I don’t know if William is going to go on, and Pippa and Tina are not getting any younger, so there are going to be more opportunities for the Kitty Kings and the like. The next generation will come through, but I also worry that there are now so many programs for the elite up-and-coming riders and I hate that word, elite because it makes people think I’m an elite rider and therefore I am good enough – actually, you are just starting!”

“When you get into one of those programs, that’s not the time to sit back on your haunches and say, Hello, I’ve Arrived. That’s the time when you should examine every single thing you do in terms of your weight, your fitness, your training programs, your veterinary program, the whole thing, because this is your opportunity to develop your skills and benefit from that program. It’s not telling you that you have arrived, but I’m not sure the young riders always get the message.”

“A couple of years ago I was doing a clinic in New Zealand for the FEI of ‘elite riders’. I said to the NZ Horse Society afterwards, you’ve got to change the name of this program because these people all thought they were Mark Todd or Blyth Tait, and they couldn’t do simple two-star exercises. And they didn’t actually think it was funny when I told them – although it was perfectly obvious that they couldn’t do them. They may be the best of what you’ve got coming on, but they are not elite riders. You have to think of a different word to produce a work ethic… You see it over and again, these up-and-coming riders make a mistake and they don’t often say, I stuffed up, it’s my fault. It was the footing, it was the horse, it was the crowd, but it was never them. I don’t believe in luck, I think you make your own luck.”

“I’ve been with the Americans for 20 years, and people often ask – what do you do? Well I try to keep them honest. What do you mean you try to keep them honest? They say, I got unlucky I had a rail down, or I got unlucky I had a glance off – no, you didn’t get unlucky, you rode a crappy turn, which is why you had the rail down or the glance off. That’s not bad luck, that’s bad riding.”

“We had it a bit this year at Burghley, we had two or three, including Andrew Hoy, fell at the Trout Hatchery. Pippa Funnell said, I was an idiot, I came round the corner, I was too fast, too flat going in, and the horse fell. It was my fault. All the others went, oh the water is too deep, the bottom’s too this, dah di dah di dah. None of them were taking the personal responsibility for the horse ending on the floor. It was a big log and it had a little gap in front of it where the ground dropped away, so it was really difficult to get to the base and if you weren’t in a good balance, you got launched out into the middle, then bingo!”

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“They never blame themselves and that’s one of the problems we have in the modern sport, one of the problems that comes out of the funding and the help that people get from these development programs, is that riders think they are better than they are.”

If you get the chance to design the track at the WEG what can we look out for?

“At this point in time, I am not the WEG course designer. I design at the venue, Tryon, at the moment. My name has been put forward to be the designer in 2018. I’ve done a lot of work on the track but it is due to be ratified by the FEI this weekend in Tokyo.”

What is the terrain like?

“I actually worked there years ago when it was being developed as part of a golfing community, but it went bust in the financial crash of 2008, 2009. Mark Belissimo and his team, bought it off the bank, and are in the process of turning that golf course into an equestrian park. There aren’t any big hills, but the fairways are not flat. What are we doing now? We are filling in the bunkers. I’ve learnt a lot about the construction of putting greens over the past few weeks, they have eight to ten inches of very fine sand on the top, then at least twenty inches of rock underneath that. In the centre there are all these pipes that suck the moisture down and out. As a result all the greens have had to be taken down about two feet, so we get back down to the dirt again. So there’s a lot of work going on at the moment to produce a gallop track for the cross country.”

And you’ve got enough room?

“The planned track at the moment is 6500 metres.”

Hasn’t the FEI decided that the track has to be dumbed down to three-star to keep it like the Games?

“No one has sent me that memo. I’m a course designer, I can do anything I’m asked to do, but my understanding at the moment is that the WEG will be four in a team and three to count, and two individuals. I’m old and crusty enough to believe that the WEG is the one four-star world championship that we have left in the sport and, unless I am told otherwise, it hopefully won’t be a dressage competition, but I haven’t even been appointed yet…”

Will there be a climate problem? I note that we have moved the WEG on a month to improve the weather, is it going to be hot and sweaty?

“It is in the Carolinas and it does get hot. In America you have to go north to Vermont or Canada, if you want a temperate climate. So will it be hot at the end of September? Yes, but not unbearably hot. It’s not that far north of Atlanta, and although people were worried, Atlanta ended up not being a problem, but it is the same part of the world. Atlanta was in August, Tryon will be in September in the Autumn, and you can get lucky or unlucky. I can’t promise sunny days with a cool breeze, but when I’ve been there it has been like that on some days. Some days are cold, and some are bloody hot, but it won’t be that heat humidity combination that we had in Atlanta or Hong Kong – and they weren’t as bad as we thought they were going to be.”

Do you have a signature? If someone asks, what does a Mark Phillips course look like…

“If you take Burghley, it’s probably my best course because I have license there, we always want Burghley to be Burghley, it’s long, it’s big, it’s technical, but it is real four-star – I hope I have the same license with the World Games. Luhmühlen is a first time four-star, because that is what the requirement was on the continent, as opposed to Burghley which is over 60 years old. You’ve got to build to what the market is, and what the requirement is, and what the standard is…”

Even after the tape was turned off, the ideas kept rolling, as in “With the American team, I’d tell them to stop riding their young horses in the run up to a championship, because young horses can hurt your riding style…”


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Stefan Wolff gives a lecture: Throughness

Story  and Photos – Rebecca Ashton

Really it shouldn’t be so surprising that a visiting trainer gives a lecture, but it is not something that happens all that often. Neither should it be surprising that Stefan Wollf gives a lecture, because his background is a perfect mix of the theoretical and the practical.

As the Bereiter for Klaus Balkenhol, young Stefan got plenty of both. Klaus is a very practical straight forward sort of trainer, but he is also steeped in the German tradition and  the Classical Principles…

After leaving Klaus, Stefan trained in the USA where he competed FEI before returning to take the position of second in command at the prestigious Westfalien Riding School.

Now back running his own competition yard, Stefan is a regular visitor to Australia where he has a well deserved reputation for really teaching not just telling the punters what they want to hear.

Let Rebecca take up the story…


Stefan Wolff always offers a masterclass/lecture whenever he’s in Sydney. It’s a great way for the German trainer to hone in on some of his thoughts on training, making it a great supplement to his clinics, both for participants and spectators….and everyone else for that matter. There’s no ‘bells and whistles’ with Stefan’s approach, just good, correct progressions.

Brett and Geordie Boy

The German trainer’s aim was to clarify a few terms in riding theory. His first focus was on throughness. To help him explain was Brett Peel on Geordie Boy. Stefan began, “Rhythm, suppleness, contact, straightness, impulsion and collection should all be present at some level all the time. In training, horses usually have one or two strengths, for example, rhythm and balance, but they might tighten up. With a horse like that, we would try and find a way to get safe suppleness, and it has to be good enough to stay secure at shows.”

What did he like about the horse in front of him?

“He has a good clear rhythm in the trot. He is fairly supple. How do we decide he is supple? One of the most important points for me, is that the back moves. Right behind the saddle it needs to move. This horse has a very distinctive motion. It swings up and down. Look from behind, the croup is tilting sideways. The leg that is on the ground, that part of the lumbar is higher. From this you can see you’ve done a good job. The tail is overall fairly quiet. Consistent swishing is a sign of tension and discomfort.” Along with that came a warning against flash trots where the back doesn’t move. “You will soon get a horse with a sore back.”

Back to Geordie Boy, “The horse has the intention to stretch. He’s not avoiding the bit. The rider can shorten the rein or lengthen it and the horse is always seeking the bit. There is room for improvement in this horse. When it stretches, there is a small hesitation. In a perfect world this wouldn’t happen.” Stefan continued, “In training, sometimes we see riding on a long rein, the horse is stretching, but there is no contact. If you look at other sports, other athletes, it’s an active stretch. There has to be a point of resistance. Athletes don’t just hang their arms down to stretch them. So, the horse must have contact with the bit.”

Stretching to the bit…

The pair had been working on collection over the past three days, so it was decided the theme would continue. Before they began, Stefan brought up the importance of the diagonal aid: inside leg to outside hand and refraining from riding off the inside rein. He had mentioned this numerous times to all riders throughout the clinic, and it’s an important point worth returning to frequently to keep ourselves honest.

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Then Brett put the young horse together a little more in sitting trot and Stefan remarked, “This is very good. He didn’t just pick up the reins, therefore the back of the horse kept working. The nice thing here is when the rein gets shorter, the horse elevates the front end, and the hind legs are swinging more under. It guarantees that when we put the horse in a shorter frame, the back stays free. We don’t lose the expression. There is confidence. The horse stretches all the way into the hand and gets a better balance.”

The half halt was then examined. Stefan instructed Brett, “Light hand. Don’t collect too much. You just want him to react to the leg and stretch to the hand,” and to the audience, “Collection does not mean to slow down. The half halt is the only way to collect the horse. The rider should not think slow, but instead more swing. The horse gets a little bit shorter, but only because the rider drives more, and that causes the horse to come from behind. This is riding from behind. I think it’s important to think about it and improve the rider’s aid, because it affects the comfort of the horse. This horse here, he doesn’t feel pressure, doesn’t feel tight. Ok, we can talk about improvement in him, but it’s five years old!”

“When you are at the peak of the half halt, the hand has to move forward. If he is pressed into the hand, the horse is tight and the rein will go loose.”

Stefan then asked for a lengthened trot to test the half halt before stretching. “Look, now the work has meant he stretches better. He’s more confident in the stretch. This has been a little bit of a weak spot in this horse, so now you see how it improves.”

Next horse was a four-year-old, read on below

Caroline Hooper and Becks Gold

Caroline Hooper and Becks Gold II were next into the arena. Stefan wanted to get the young four-year-old relaxed, and build on his natural balance. It was more about the rider doing less.

“This is a really nicely, naturally balanced horse. What does that mean? The rider is just trotting around and you always have the impression the horse is happy in his balance, he has equal weight on all four legs, and he doesn’t need to draw the rider forward, or suck back to get his balance. His neck is always in a steady position. He knows where he is. This is very close to ideal.”

Despite this, ‘Ben’ couldn’t withhold his excitement, “The stretch is not always the same. He’s young, he’s excited but I’m not a big friend of tiring horses out. I just think there are better ways to improve the confidence of the horse. So in the next 10 minutes, I want to just lengthen his frame a bit.”

Ben gave a little hop but Stefan was totally unfazed. “Don’t worry about it. Cut him some slack. Don’t get tight. Use the flow of the movement to get the horse confident and steady. Sometimes the horse takes the inside rein, so does the rider, so now we get the rider to use the inside leg more to push the horse toward the outside rein. I’m not talking about leg yielding, that would be too much because you would get a crossing of the hind leg, and you lose some forward movement. The inside rein has got to be able to give. Here it’s not quite safe yet. If he drifts out a little and loses the perfect circle line, so what? He’s a four-year-old. Give more the inside. Be brave. When the rider gives, I want to see the poll move forward, not downward. It’s called forward and downward, because the forward has to come first. Give along the crest, make sure the horse doesn’t lose the balance. Try not to react to every little hiccup. Give him a point of reference.”

Caroline was trying to accommodate the youngster with a softer seat, but this came with a little warning, “Don’t lean forward to relieve the horse’s back. You then move everything forward. Jump riders can do it because the build of the saddle allows it. There is more room behind. You can’t do that in a dressage saddle.”

The main focus to help the horse had to be that all-important diagonal aid. “Keep the inside leg to the outside rein and the inside rein forward. You can now see the poll becomes more stable and he is quieter in the mouth. Now his tension has become less.”

Stefan described in more detail why this was so important also in the canter. “The inside rein needs to be ahead because the inside leg is ahead of the outside in the canter. The inside hind leg jumps in front of the outside hind leg. If the inside leg pair is in front, so is the back, ear, nostril. So the rider should allow that, which is achieved by letting him jump firmer into the outside rein, not the inside. You don’t want the back to stop moving.”

The horse was then ridden forward and back in the canter with Caroline sitting back in the saddle, and giving with the rein.

Stefan knew Caroline was achieving something that can be quite a challenge, “It’s hard to be brave to give to the young horse in a strange environment. Let him go. Let him do it. Now look at the stretch at the end. Very good. Just a lovely horse.”

next on to FEI level

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Linda and Samiro – heading for FEI

Linda Foster’s Neversfelde Samiro is heading up into the FEI ranks and Stefan commended Linda for holding the horse back in Advanced for a bit. “Sometimes we lose things as we move forward, so it’s good to go back and check things like suppleness. Linda decided to hold him back in Advanced for a while and I think it was a super decision.”

Stefan was happy with Samiro’s frame and hindleg activity, but wanted a little more suppleness through his top line. “The horse appears at first concentrated, his tail is quiet, the mouth is quiet and steady. At the same time, there is a little room for improvement in terms of a longer frame, a little bit more salivation in the mouth and jump through a little more with the hind leg. He’s in a nice collected canter, but now I want to use the half halt to improve the frame and allow the rider to give more, which will soften the back and then allow the horse more room to jump through with the hind leg.”

In between the collected canter moments, Linda was asked to give the horse a longer rein. “We want to see what the stretch is like. Not faster. Just see what it is. Just sit in balance. Hand forward, but try not to flick the hand. Longer and longer, until he’s on the vertical or beyond. Let him come into your hand. Sit longer and get a connection with your seat. Now just bring him back into balance. Lighter hand. There you go.”

“Don’t push with your leg aggressively, just to stimulate the horse, to get the back soft and active.

Move the back and move the poll. Right.” Stefan explained that when you look at activity, it’s not enough to just look at the hind leg, we also want the motion and swing in the back. The entire top line needs to be dynamic and flexible.

Working pirouettes were looked at and Stefan wanted them to be a little challenging for the horse to help strengthen his muscles. “Keep riding him. He will come back. Collect more, shoulder fore. Inside hand works like you want to lengthen the rein. Let him lean forward to the inside rein. Don’t hold him back. Sit back and wait, but the hand comes forward. Slower. Just keep your lower calf against him. He needs to seek the bit.”

And to the audience, “That is a process. You can see how the entire horse works and every muscle gets involved. No muscle should get shut out. Every muscle has a job and is not just waiting for the movement to be complete.”


Stefan recapped the session, “You want a supple, quick reaction to the aids, not a tight, quick reaction. We aim to have the muscles working better and into better balance so you need to keep them healthy and comfortable. I think it’s nice that you can see here that both are possible. You can get the horse into a nice expressive trot and then you can stretch it. Not one or the other, both must be possible.”

“It was getting dark and Brett Peel was back with the 14-year-old Trakehner Noble Monarch has been competed to Inter 1 so knows most of the movements. Stefan wanted to touch on counter canter.

more work, in the moonlight, follows 

“The major reason to ride counter canter, which is not necessarily a natural thing for a horse, is to improve and check balance and straightness.” So what does a young horse usually do when first introduced to counter canter? “It comes away from the wall and drops to trot. Why? He loses his balance. The next stage, the horse will try and canter on two tracks, but we’ve made it through the corner!! So, what does a balanced and straight counter canter look like? Shoulder fore…forehand is right in front of the hind end. Naturally horses have a crookedness. The hindlegs are slightly wider than the forelegs and they are stronger on one side than the other. The hollow side is the weaker side. They move the forehand away from the hollow side. They tend to push the shoulder out to the stiff side. So, we can canter off the track to test the straightness of the canter.”

If the horse is crooked, the hind leg will be unable to step up under the horse.

Brett was then asked to show the shoulder fore. Stefan recommends this for the canter and to leave the shoulder in work for the trot as it interferes too much with the hind leg and shortens the stride. Then it was time to test out the counter canter and there was some advice as to how to ride it through the corner, “Make the turn a little more shallow. Think you are preparing a 10 metre circle into the wall. Don’t actually do it! Think it. Don’t passively sit there, hold your breath and be happy when you get through the corner without the horse trotting or changing.”

It was getting a little dark by this stage and Brett found himself riding under a full moon to finish the session with work in half pass. Stefan had some pointers, “Don’t just flex the horse to inside and take the legs across. That doesn’t say the horse is in balance. He needs to stay balanced, straight and in front of you and the back needs to keep working. To improve the balance, go straight and bring the shoulder forward and get it comfortable. Work it. Inside leg and outside rein so he comes away from the inside rein and the inside leg pair is free to move forward and the horse is forward off your seat. If you need to do a small circle, do that.”

When it got a bit sticky, Stefan helped out, “Don’t move the shoulder too far forward or else you won’t get the bend in the body. Go back to shoulder fore and get the hind legs stepping forward to the bridle.” There was also a warning about trying to make the movements too difficult too soon, “Don’t just ride a steep half pass, ask yourself if you CAN ride it. Is the horse balanced enough? Around my inside leg enough?”

The message for the night really came back to one thing, “Get the basics, get the horse better, then plant the basics in the actual movements. It can take some time and patience.”

It’s worth making a special mention not only of Dianne White who organises Stefan’s clinics and lectures, but also to Stefan, and the horses and riders who helped with our understanding despite the testing climatic conditions! To Lesley Ann Taylor who hosted the clinics in her lovely indoor.

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Sven Rothenberger – the ‘forgotten’ man of dressage…

Birgit Popp interviews 25-year-old Sven Rothenberger

1992 has brought some highlights with your marriage to the Dutch dressage rider Gonnelien Gordijn, you graduated as a Bachelor of Science from university and second place in the Volvo Dressage World Cup Final at Gothenburg. But then a disappointment, missing a place in the German Olympic team, and therefore a certain Olympic team gold medal. What new aims do you have?

“Certainly, an Olympic medal would have been the crowning of the year. But my family was more important and in this instance all my wishes are fulfilled. In that respect, 1992 has been a wonderful year. And it also means a lot to me to have passed my final university exams. Professionally my next aim is my post-graduate thesis in tool machinery. As a rider I want to get my young horses to the successes I had with the others, maybe even more. I want to be able to show in competition, all the capabilities, which are in these young horses.”

As I have mentioned it was a big year – marriage, exams, the aim to go to the Olympics, as well as competing on four Grand Prix horses- wasn’t this too much in the lead up to the Olympics?

“Sure this year I had to carry a double burden, but there has been no discussion to postpone my exams to a later date. In my case my sport has to stand back for my profession. As for the four Grand Prix horses, two of them I have had just for a short time and I had to find out which weak points still had to be worked on and how they would behave in the show ring.”

In 1990 as first German Dressage World Cup winner, and in 1991 as first European Kür Champion ever, you have made dressage history. What importance do you attach to the freestyle to music, how do you view the development of Kür riding?

“In contrast to all the moaning of some sides at the beginning, I see a very positive development. This is proven by the fact that in this year’s final, three of the best German combinations took part. The Kür gives the opportunity to approach a much wider public. From the rider the Kür demands more independence by the free choice of the sequence of the movements and of the music.”

                                                   Sven and Ideaal

At the World Cup final not everything turned out as you wanted. Instead of taking ldeaal, with whom you had won the team world championships at Stockholm in 1990, you would have preferred to take your European Kür Champion, Andiamo…

“Yes, after the European Champs at Donaueschingen, I was told by the officials that as the, reigning European Champion, I would receive the wild card for the World Cup final with Andiamo. So I gave him a rest over the indoor season. But at CDIW Berlin at the end of November, the World Cup Committee decided to give the wild card to Hector Rodriguez, who finally had no use for it since his horse was not sound. But, nevertheless, I was told by the committee that it would not be possible to grant the wild card for a second time. With ldeaall I had qualified in the regular way over the European League, but I would have preferred Andiamo.”

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The actual qualifying procedure you do not consider the best. What would be your proposal?

“I am of the opinion that the best should take part in the World Cup Final. Therefore I would take 50% of the participants by their standings on the world rankings and 50% qualified from the leagues. The wild card should be abolished completely. Furthermore, changes in the regulations for the next season and the next final should be agreed on and be published at the final of the year before. Individual treatment for a particular participant at the next final should not be allowed.”


Your prospects for the future are with the Dutch mare Bo, who has already won a team bronze medal with the Dutch at the ‘91 European Championships, and the Dutch chestnut gelding Attention. Could you please tell us more about these horses?

“Bo is a Dutch mare but bred by the Holsteiner stallion Renaldo, and in 1992 she is just ten years old. I am confident that we will master her weak points and her overenthusiasm. She has outstanding basic paces, great talent for piaffe and passage and a great deal of elasticity and presence. Unfortunately she had not undergone a correct basic education by her previous owner. During this year I have won with Bo some FEI Kürs and Grand Prix tests, but because of the greater experience I had chosen Andiamo and ldeaal for the Olympic trials. The ten-year-old Attention I have owned for two years, now. When he arrived at my barn he was still below Prix St Georges level. Since then, I have achieved several victories and placings in Grand Prix tests with him. He is a very solid horse with great basic paces and high talent for the Grand Prix movements. Also to mention is the ten-year-old Westphalian Amadeus, who joined my barn in 1991. But I have performed him so far just once in competition.”


Winning the first ever European Freestyle Championship on Andiamo

What meaning does sport have in your life? What is your motivation? After your entry in business life will you be able to spend so much time in dressage competition?

“The most important thing in my life is my family, next comes my profession, then sport. It is for me a compensation to my profession. Firstly the riding sport should bring fun to me. As a measure of my personal success it is of secondary importance. This I want to find in my profession. Nevertheless, I want to be at the top in the sport of dressage. It is hard to tell why horses and riding became my hobby when I was a child. There must be something irrational behind it. What is important for me is a fair competition. Not a competition just for the sake of winning. I spend about three hours day in the barn. This I will hopefully be able to do also in the future. I have great respect to personalities like Dr Reiner Klimke or Dr Josef Neckermann, who have been able to combine their profession and sport successfully.”

Dr Neckermann, the grand seigneur of dressage sport, who died at the age of 79 last year, has played a great part in your life?

“Yes, a very important role. Along with his student Conrad Schumacher he has been my greatest teacher. Dr Neckermann always tried to pass on to me his immense knowledge and in problematic situations he helped me always with his advice.”

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Together with his three brothers your father has built up a family business in the tool industry to a company with 100 firms worldwide. Can you imagine being totally involved up in your profession like your father?

“Sure, he is one of my greatest heroes. My father has built up the enterprise with great passion. Motivation for his profession he finds – as I do – in the success and in the fun that the business world can provide. Money is certainly a nice motivation, but alone it does not make you happy. It is a nice plus as a consequence of our work and it makes life more pleasant to have it. The demands I will face are different today to those my father had to deal with. But, so far, I cannot foresee the details – it has to turn out in the future. I certainly got my ambition from my father. Like him I love the challenge. I always set my aims higher than I will be able to reach, since I never want to get in the situation that I can say I have achieved everything. You have to set your aims higher, otherwise you do not go self-critically enough through life.”

Sven and his wife Gonnelien

Sven and his wife, Dutch rider, Gonnelien Grodjin

You first have made an apprenticeship as merchant, and then you studied economics and politics. Will you now, as you have passed your exams, enter one of your father’s firms?

“No, not for about the next five years. Instead I will learn my trade in an external company and gain the necessary professional experience, there. Otherwise you will always be just the son of the boss. Next I want to take my doctor’s degree writing my thesis about the German tool machinery.”

What do you consider for the most important qualities of a successful dressage rider?

“Patience, diligence, feeling.”


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Dressage is simple and simply beautiful – Holland works with Germany…

Part one – Working with Johan Hamminga and Jennifer Sekreve at home

Our first training session when we last visited Jen and Johan was with an old friend, San Siro, a horse we’d seen develop from a three-year-old colt to a competition horse gearing up for his first Prix St Georges. In this training session we are working with a new face, the six-year-old Rhodium stallion, Ferrero, (out of an Olivi mare). Jennifer rode him last year at the World Championships in Holland.

Jennifer and Johan are sure that this one will go Grand Prix, but Ferrero was not always easy. “He was hard to break in,” Jen recalls, “After a break I always lunge him and he bucks and bucks. Hopefully he is going to be a good boy today.”

Johan has taken up his spot in the corner of the arena, and the work is underway:

“Make him a little more different in his stride and in the frame. Shorter / longer, otherwise it is too simple. Train, train means change, change – bigger strides, smaller strides, okay and out.”

“Change the neck position, looser topline, bigger strides, ask a little more self-carriage.”

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And with this young stallion we are quickly into the canter work, and already the horse is being asked to use his body in travers in canter:

“And you get a transition that just melts from the canter to the walk.

Always in this hall, the aim is to balance the horse.

“Now ask him to go deeper with his neck, and now he stretches his top line because the hind legs carry more weight. Now ride him a little more forward or he loses the rhythm and puts the hind legs together – there, now he carries more weight and stays in the rhythm.”

“I find it better to often have short, intensive moments – ten or fifteen minutes – not longer, then a break to allow the muscles to recover. If you want the horse to carry more weight, then you need time for muscle recovery.”

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“We must listen to the horse. Collect a little, and if he becomes stiff in his top line, go out. Now it is good, he carries more weight but he has the same neck and has become shorter behind.”

“You should always feel that you can change the neck position. Is he on the bit? Is he following my hand? In all the neck positions – longer, deeper, shorter, the most important thing is to follow the rider’s hands. Too often horses are ridden mostly shorter, and they don’t want to follow the rider’s hand.”

“In the counter canter, ride small tempi changes so the counter canter develops the same stride length as the normal canter.”

“It is most important to realise that the topline is not one muscle from the ears to the hocks. There are different muscles that you have to train – the neck, the wither, the back, the loins, the croup and the hock. The muscles of the hind legs are connected directly behind the horse’s ears, if the topline muscles are not trained, the hind legs cannot move correctly.”

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This mega-talented six-year-old is already showing a few short steps:

“Use your whip on his croup, just touch him, so that both legs are even. Make him straight and soft on both reins, touch with the whip on the croup. Brave! Out!”

“Now the horse is in a better frame. His nose is on the vertical and he can use his hind legs under his body. Now when you give the reins with this loose topline, he is bigger in the steps, more cadence, more rhythm, more balance. It doesn’t matter that he is a little lower in the neck, the shorter movements will bring the poll up. Start in a lower position and bring up the poll, that is the best way.”

Training the half pass, Johan is firm that sideways comes before bend.

“When he is going sideways straight, make a little bending. First straight and sideways and then bend and bend – now he is lovely and bent into the movement. First he has to want to go sideways, then make the bend. Let him give on the inside rein, make more contact with the outside rein.”

“And now when Jennifer gives the rein, you can see that the muscles are more developed on the top of the neck out of the wither.”

Once again, the work has been oh so logical, gently progressive, once again, the horse leaves the arena with a smile on its face.

Next – Germany meets Holland at a Trainers’ Seminar and Ferrero and Jennifer take part.

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I asked Jennifer, How did the Trainers’ Seminar with Johan and Sven Rothenberger go?

“Ferrero is really special, he really wants to give his best. He’s very sensitive. He needs a lot of work or he gets too sharp and too sensitive. He was great in the Trainers Seminar. On the Friday evening before the Seminar I had to ride in the championships, and it took me like 45 minutes to warm him up for the test and in the test he was quite spooky, the arena had a blue wall, and he saw his own shadow on it, so he was really sharp, too sharp for the test – but we went well enough to make the freestyle, so later on that evening I warmed him up again, another 40 minutes and rode the freestyle. Then he was really good. After that there was a prize giving, so it was three times back and forward from the stables to the arena.”

“In the morning at the seminar, I thought I’d get on him and feel how he is and if he feels okay, just walk a lot, and if he needs work, I’ll give him some work. But he felt great right away. So I walked him a lot, and then we went into the ring. We were in there for 45 minutes, and he was nearly perfect. I was really enjoying the ride. It was quite special because usually there is something that I think, oh I could have done that better, or that was not so good, but he was so good, he was so nice on the two reins, and I could just concentrate on sitting really nice, and every aid I gave, came through – he was so full of power, and relaxed, at the same time. For 45 minutes he was really going and concentrating on me, so nice and sensitive on the aids, it was really special I think.”

The seminar was conducted by Johan and Sven Rothenberger. Sven was enthusiastic about the progress that had been made:

“I was asked by the Dutch Federation whether I would like to make a seminar together with Johan – I said yes, for sure, because I really like the way Johan is working the horses. I think he is a traditional trainer, which is also my line on what riding should look like, and the way training should be. Johan and I had some discussion before the Seminar on what we would like to show, what we thought were the weaknesses in training where perhaps we could help a little bit to put the trainers on the right track.”

“I just wanted to give my feelings about training to them: what means suppleness, what means submission, and especially, what means frame. Frame is a big thing for me. They asked me at the Seminar, how should a horse look when it is coming towards you? I said to them, if you meet someone and they are looking you in the eyes, a little bit proud, nose up, not arrogant, but someone coming to you, giving you their hand, with a very positive attitude. That’s the way a horse should come to you – when he enters the arena, he should say, hello, here I am.”

Had you seen Johan teach before?

“I saw him teaching in Ermelo when he trained the young horses for the World Championships. I like the way he teaches, when he gives lessons, you know that he has read a lot of books. It’s not just his feelings, there is really fundamental knowledge.”

Is this the way forward for Dutch dressage, a return to traditional training?

“Everyone is using the words ‘classical’ and ‘traditional’, and I don’t want to be the one who is telling the Dutch what to do. They are coming out of a very long, successful period of competing and training. I do think that every trainer in every country, has to take care with the frame of the horse – that we get the horse supple in a nice frame. It is really important that we ride the horses from behind towards the hand, not that we pull and kick. First of all try to ride them from your soft leg up to your soft hand, and they carry their head, themselves.”

“Very often you see that the harmony is very far behind and this is something we should work on. I think in Rio you saw that this is the way it should be, and that you get high marks when you do it like that. The times have changed, the judges don’t want any more that it is only piaffe / passage, they want to see a full package of suppleness, with a good submission and a good frame. That’s the solution for the future, that’s what the judges want and I agree 100%.”


The Dutch team did not go so well at Rio – do you need to start all over again?

“In 2015, it was a very successful team, and in 2016, it was not so successful, so of course we have to look to another way. One of the most important things was we lost our coach, Wim Ernes. He was the captain of the ship, and he was steering in the right direction. But when the captain became ill, the ship was not steering on the right course. That was a problem, and another was at this moment we don’t have the really good horses. We might have two or three, but not six or seven at that level with a high potential. In the coming years we have to look for younger horses and we have to train them with younger riders, and train them to a higher level, and make a new team for the big championships.”

In the end, the path of Sjef (Janssen) and Anky (van Grunsven) was not the right path…

“They did a lot of good work of course, but theirs is not the only way, and it is a way of training that is not for every horse, and not for every rider. They did a very good job for dressage in Holland and all over the world, but there are different ways to Rome.”

Your own training is much more in the classical way…

“Yeah… but I am also training in a deeper, rounder neck position, but the way to come there is different. You have also seen that sometimes my horses are behind the vertical – but behind the vertical is not a problem when you can stretch him, and the horse is connected there, and he can follow your hand, then there is no problem. There is no problem when your horse is bending from behind and carrying his weight on his hindlegs THEN you can stretch him a little more and then you can bring the neck into a lower position – but THERE HAS to be a connection.”

“When he is behind the vertical and he has lost the connection, then you have a big problem. Then he has lost the connection in the muscles of the topline, then he loses his hind legs and then you are on the wrong way.”

Are you hopeful that dressage in Holland will find a way?

“Yes, we have good horses, and the Dutch Equestrian Federation have good people to bring the coaches together with the riders and the horses, and make a good path for the future. I think so, I hope so, that things in the future will be much better…”


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Is there an Australian dressage ‘re-evaluation’?

My friend, Kenneth Braddick is running a series of articles on his website where he has invited Australian dressage riders to outline their views on the way selection should go in the future. (If you don’t know Kenneth’s website you should –

First cab off the rank was the European based, Lyndal Oatley. Lyndal makes the very good point that she does ‘not wish to see my fellow riders from home and afar sacrifice so much, and travel so far, for simply a chance to represent our country and return home deflated to rebuild their businesses and families. This is not fair to ask of anyone, just as it’s not viable to ask overseas based riders to return home for the same reasons.’

Certainly the Australian based riders have been at a huge disadvantage since EA adopted a policy of European based selection trials back in 2008 in the run-up to the Beijing Games, and maintained the system for London and Rio. Lots has been said about the cost to the riders of traveling their horses to Europe, but that is just half the story. They arrive, usually at the last minute to save money, without any of the back up support they are used to – frantically trying to find a truck, someone to groom, a farrier, trying to find their way around a very different show scene, without the help of their usual trainer, or the emotional support of family and friends. It always struck me as bizarre that the richest riders, the ones who could afford to base themselves in Europe and ride very expensive horses, assisted by top coaches, got all the advantages, while the poor silly bastards who actually competed on the Australian dressage scene were given the rough end of the deal. Surely it should be the other way around? The riders who make the Australian dressage scene happen should be favored over riders who contribute nothing to our competition and the standard in Australia…

Strange that Lyndal considers it ‘not viable’ for the European based riders to travel to an Australian qualifier – yet it was perfectly ‘viable’ for Australian based riders to travel to Europe for the last three Games.

The other problem with the selection process is that it has not been very successful. The first time it was tried, for the Beijing Games, was far and away the best result. Two of the three team members made it to the Special – Hayley Beresford and Relampago on 65.583, were 18th in the Grand Prix, Kristy Oatley and Quando Quando were 19th on 65.75, while the third member of the team, Heath Ryan was 34th with 62.54.

At London, Lyndal and Sandro Boy were 37th, Kristy and Clive, 42nd, and Mary Hanna and Sancette, 43rd. None into the Special.

Rio was more of the same. Sandro Boy was 36th, Boogie Woogie, 39th, Du Soleil, 42nd and Remmington, 54th. One shudders to think how many thousand dollars a minute those seven tests cost.

So if the European selection trials are producing a pretty dismal result, while at the same time, the absence top riders in what should be a thrilling selection year, is killing our competitions at home – not to mention sending our Aussie riders broke – why are we doing it?

The second of Kenneth’s contributions comes from US based Kelly Layne. Her solution is a three sided competition – three selection events on three continents – Australia, Europe and the United States – with nine selection events to be selected by EA at CDI*** or higher. Competitors must compete in at least two of the three competitions, and if they compete in all three, the lowest score is dropped.

All tests scores in the selection process will have the high and low scores of the Ground Jury discarded. If a competitor’s final average score is within one percent of any other competitor after dropping the high and low scores, Equestrian Australia will defer to the Grand Prix Special score, again dropping the high and low scores to determine the final percentage and determine the highest placed riders. Nominated horses to be swabbed by EA after the GP at each event.

It must be noted that in the run up to Rio, the only American based rider to have a qualifying score was Kelly, and that so far this year, with the big dressage festival in full swing at Wellington, she is still the only rider with a qualifying score. So far in 2017, Kelly Layne and Udon P have started in two CDIs. At the first she scored 65% in the Grand Prix, and 68.6 in the Freestyle. At the second 68.454% in the GP, and 72.935% in the Freestyle; Kim Gentry and Leonardo started three times at two CDIs for Grand Prix scores of 61.06% and 60.4%, and a Special score of 62%. Nicholas Fyffe on Fiero scored 67% in a national Grand Prix.

It might seem strange then to run a selection trial in the USA for one contender. However Kelly’s three-way trial concept has real merit and if at the beginning of 2018 and a WEG selection year, three or four US based riders were producing qualifying scores, then we would have to revisit it.

I would also stipulate that the contenders start in all three tests with no exceptions. Two out of three gives a real chance of nursing a dodgy horse through the selection process.

I also worry about the effect America seems to have on Ground Juries. In both eventing dressage and dressage dressage they hand out wildly generous scores the minute they set foot on American soil. Not true I can hear my mate Kenneth saying, the year you were at Wellington, Steffen Peters got a 70+ score in Florida, and the same score a month later in Europe, so the scoring is the same. Well I didn’t see the test in Europe, but I did see the one in Wellington and it was a pig of a test. Apparently the horse had a foot abscess in the lead up, and in the Florida ‘warm up’, the rider was not able to prepare the horse properly – it certainly looked that way. I assume the horse was fit and well in Europe, and the test was a lot better. That Steffen got the same score at both shows, makes my point entirely.

With three shows on three continents, we are back on the unequal playing field – there is no doubt that show atmosphere can affect the judges’ scoring.

So here is my suggestion, it is not perfect, but I suspect that a perfect system does not exist. For the next WEG in Tryon, 50% of the team comes from selection trials in Australia – two or three contests, appearance at all contests mandatory no matter how wonderful the excuse. 50% of the team comes from selection trials in Europe (sorry Kelly but you’ll have to fly again if you want to take part).

And this is only a literal half way step. We have a well-developed routine for flying horses between Australia and Japan – for the Tokyo Games, 100% of the Australian team for the Tokyo Games to be selected out of selection trials in Australia. And if the Europeans riders consider it ‘ not viable’ to make the journey that Australian riders have made for the last three Games, tough. It would open up new places, and kick start an Australian dressage scene that seems to have stalled, and that might be the best thing that has happened to Australian dressage in 20 years.

Obviously, if such a policy were adopted then there would need to be an intensive upgrade of coaching in Australia. There are trainers who could help improve our standards – but with the stand out exception of Ton de Ridder who is more of a team manager than coach – they are not the ones EA has been using of late.

The problem is, is there really a ‘re-think’? Or does it just exist on the pages of Kenneth’s website? We saw how a ‘full investigation’ of the Rotterdam positive, turned into nothing of the sort, and I have yet to see that EA has recognized the need for a totally new management team, and an entirely different selection structure. My bet is that we will limp into the WEG in Tryon with all the problems of personnel and structure still unresolved – and the result will be more of the same.

– CH

Young Dressage Horse Seminar Warendorf – Part 3

Missed part one?

Read part two…

In the third part of our Warendorf Seminar, the focus shifts to:

Moving on to FEI….

Kathrin Meyer zu Strohen and Kaiserdom

We certainly had some wonderful horses to observe. Back in 2005, Kathrin Meyer zu Strohen, won the Six Year old Dressage Bundeschampionship, riding the Trakehner stallion, Kaiserdom (Van Deyk / Gajus). It’s exciting to see how the combination has been developing.

                  Kaiserdom and Kathrin winning at the Bundedchampionat in 2005

Once again, it is Kathrin’s husband, Hans-Heinrich, on the mike:

“Why so many stallions? My wife likes stallions, but sometimes when you have stallions, you have more problems in schooling… Bend him round the inside leg. We are schooling the body of the stallion.”

In the canter, Kathrin shows a real uberstreichen, not a quick momentary flick, but a sustain release of the rein for four or five strides, and then the horse is back in hand before he decides to do a little tank off:

“That’s not a problem, he’s a stallion, he must be alive in his head.”

Hans-Heinrich approves of his wife’s pirouette: “Super pirouette, the neck under control, good in the hand. PRIMA! In the flying change, he lost a little the speed. Forward again, forward again – train the canter and then you have the movement.”

The horse shows some really nice passage: “He you see what we have in our system. The clear half halt. The clear rhythm. School the body and the head of the horse and then they can learn all the movements. Don’t train the piaffe and the passage too early. First the basics, the rhythm clear, the body under control, then it comes easy, then you just play… that is fabulous piaffe, now he must have a rest. We are lucky, they are breeding such super horses these last few years.”

Into the arena came Uta Gräf, this time riding her Holsteiner, Le Noir, by a son of Landgraf out of a grand-daughter of Cor de la Bryère. This horse has competed successfully at Prix St Georges and Intermediaire I level, despite not being bred, or for that matter, conformed to be a dressage horse. The pair had put on a demonstration on the Sunday at the Bundeschampionate, with Christoph drawing attention to the fact that the rider was getting most of the FEI movements done while riding one handed, but was she getting them done well? It reminded me of one of the classic lines from Joyce Carey’s famous novel, The Horse’s Mouth, where the artist hero Gully Jimson observes it is ‘like farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole. It may be clever but is it worth the trouble.’

Still Christoph loves it: “Phillipe Karl is always criticizing our riders, every day I get an email saying we are on the wrong way with our theory. Uta is a very good example of why this guy is wrong. Look there is no using hands against the bit – she is using hands to feel the happiness of the horse. The hands are important to talk to the horse, to listen to the horse, the hands are a mirror to the soul of the horse.”

And yes, it was a dear dear very cooperative horse, but was it great dressage?

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Obviously in this matter I beg to differ from my friend Christoph, who is of the opinion that: “This for me is not circus, this for me is the classical way of riding. I can watch this kind of riding day or night.”

Samba Hit was a star at the Bundeschampionate, when he was a reserve champion in the Three Year Old stallion class in 2001 (the year before his full-sister, Poetin had won the championship for 3 year old mares and geldings – two years later she was to win both the 6 year old championship and the World Championship) – since then he has progressed steadily through the ranks, brilliantly ridden by Christian Flamm, with the training assistance of Hans-Heinrich Meyer zu Strohen. Now eleven years old, he is on his way to Grand Prix.

Hans-Heinrich says it was not easy: “For some horses, when they are as huge as this, it takes longer to get everything together, to get the activity and the bend. When you are training a stallion, you have no chance to train him 365 days a year, there is a long time when he is breeding and you can just ride him – you can’t train him.”

“It is not easy to get this huge canter more together, the rider must have a top seat.”

For all that it is a lovely big canter and super flying changes. Still Hans-Heinrich is hard to please: “You can see the jump and the straightness are good but we need more balance, we have to train the horse a little bit going forward, so we don’t get it too short. We need to train the changes a little more out of collection, to get more balance and expression.  To get collected canter is hard work for this horse but you will see what is super is that the hindquarters are coming shorter and shorter and more under himself. We must wait a little to get it more under control and more on a place. If we try to force the horse to go smaller, he will lose the balance and the rhythm, and then it is hard for the horse and he gets angry and we lose everything. You can train a horse with activity, but you should not always be pushing.”

next we work with a young rider

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Training the Young Rider…

The next rider into the clinic is from one of those famous German riding families: Fabienne Lütemeier is the daughter of German international representative, Gina Capellman-Lütemeier and her aunt is former World Champion, Nadine Capellmann. Despite that, she rides very stylishly indeed on her De Niro gelding D’Agostino.

This time, Hans-Heinrich, who is the German Young Rider coach, is paying tribute to the qualities of the young rider. “As a trainer, I prefer riders who say we will. You must have a horse AND a rider – if the rider is not strong enough, you lose the competition. At the last European Young Rider Championships, Fabienne was second two times and it was too much for her. I will win the next one. It was very hard, the one who had beaten her was just before her… “oh she has a 77, I must make 78’. She willed this and she did it.”

“Just look to the quarters of the horse, the horse is really stepping under. Don’t forget what we’ve said: walk, trot, canter – not trot, trot, trot.”

The work from the young rider and her horse is wonderful. Forward, athletic, relaxed. The entire Seminar has been a wonderful showcase for a training method that is simple, logical and horse friendly. A wonderful opportunity to look at the way breeding, judging, training – and showing – all combine to produce the horses that we are seeing today: horses of such enormous natural ability and presence.


Dietrich Plewa: The Way from Advanced to Grand Prix level

Another of the key note addresses came from the international judge, and former Grand Prix rider, Dr Dietrich Plewa.

He started out by referring to the ‘classical v non-classical’ debate that rages in the world of dressage, concluding that while there were many roads to Rome, ‘the only way to correctly train is the way that respects the horse’s body and soul.’

“To come to Grand Prix we need an experienced rider and a talented horse. We can look for a horse like Totilas or Parzival, but don’t even too disappointed if you can’t find one. Even a horse with a long back and neck, like Warum Nicht, can come to Grand Prix.”

Dr Plewa started by looking at one of the defining movements of Grand Prix, the Piaffe. “This is the highest collection, it is similar to trot but in the same place with a short moment of suspension.”

The important criteria are:

  1. 1. Beat – it must be  a clear two beat diagonal movement, not slow / hasty. There should be an impression of a swinging movement.
  2. 2. Carrying weight on the hindquarters – the horse must visibly lower its hindquarters.
  3. 3. Cadence
  4. 4. Tendency (slight) to go forward. In 15 steps there can be up to two hoof prints forwards.  Backwards steps cannot be tolerated. In the tests for young Grand Prix horses, from 8 to 10 years, the horse can move up to a metre forwards.
  5. 5. Exactitude – there must be the exact number of steps with the front legs put down in the same spot, not forward or back, not narrow in front and wide behind, or wide in front and narrow behind. The horse does not show piaffe before or after being asked.

In the piaffe, the horse should show supple contact – quite often the horses are stiff at the poll, or are over-bent, or show tension through an open mouth.

Look at Richard Watjen – this is perfect piaffe. Who says German horses can’t piaffe?

Passage – Criteria

  1. 1. Beat: A clear two beat, slower in comparison with collect trot, with a steady tempo.
  2. 2. Elevation
  3. 3. Carrying weight: The horse must give the impression that it is carrying weight and swinging under its body.
  4. 4. Exactitude: Totally balanced and straight, no wide or swinging hindquarters

Transitions from Piaffe to Passage to Piaffe

Criteria: 1. Beat; 2. Fluency; 3. Cadence

Transitions from collected to extended trot, from walk to passage or piaffe, and vice versa. Criteria: 1. Fluency; 2. Rhythm; 3. Keeping impulsion

Flying Changes – Criteria
Ground cover
– a big jump, not late behind; 2. The Speed – constant rhythm of canter; 3. Straightness 4. Uphill Tendency – produces expression; 5. Relaxedness – a relaxed, swinging back. No twisting tail or ears back; 6. Obedience 7. Exactitude

Canter Pirouette – Criteria

  1. 1. Balance – not wide behind; 2. Control – not wide behind; 3. Carrying weight on the hindlegs – uphill tendency, visible bend of the haunches;  4. Flexion / bend; 5. Impulsion; 6. Beat – when the horse is carrying more weight on the hindquarters it is harder to maintain the beat; 7. Size – the smallest circle possible; 8. Exactitude – for a half pirouette, 3 – 4 strides, for a full pirouette, 6 – 8 strides.

Christoph Hess commented on Hanse’s performance: “Here we see an example of positive harmonious tension, we need positive tension otherwise the horse is not sensitive enough to the driving aids. Not negative tension but positive tension. The horse can lengthen and still maintain the rhythm. See the horse is supple. The mirror to the horse is the mouth and the tail, especially in the walk.  This is a big of an old fashioned Hanoverian but he shows a very high standard of elasticity.”

Hans-Heinrich is commenting on Kathrin’s work: “In piaffe, what is most important is a clear two beat rhythm, later the horse can give a better impression, but first the rhythm.”


“It is a wonderful picture, an open poll, the horse stretched, this is asking in exactly the right way. This is a well relaxed horse, showing positive tension and harmony.”


And still the wonderful horses keep coming. Dietrich Plewaa introduces Christoph Koschel riding the 11 year old Fantomas (Florestan / Pilot). According to Christoph: “I got him in March this year. When we got him he was trained to Prix St Georges, but I went straight to Grand Prix and this is his first Grand Prix season.”

According to Dietrich: “We see we don’t need a double bridle to train this horse. Now Christoph is developing the collected canter we need for the half pass (we should note that the horses had all been warmed up outside before being brought into the arena) but there is no changing of rhythm and the horse keeps the impulsion. You see the horse is bent through its whole body with a good uphill tendency. In the changes of hand, we see a smooth contact all the time, and fluent flying changes. We judges often see in the one times changes, an ambling canter as the horse moves to a two beat rhythm. You don’t often see flying changes so fluent, so straight. This horse very well fulfils the criteria of the Training Scale: rhythm, impulsion, straight, smooth contact – able to collect. That is what we want to see, changes that are fluent, straight and with expression – without being pushed by the rider. I’m sure he could ride this movement with one hand…”

And of course, that is just what Christoph does!

They were certainly beautiful changes, but Fantomas, had an even more astonishing walk…

Dietrich points out that “often in Grand Prix we see horses with a poor walk – but this horse often gets 9s and 10s for walk. Look you could easily give a 10 for this extended walk.”  And guess what? The collected walk is just as clean and defined…

Still the stars keep rolling into the arena. We have Germany’s assistant National Coach, Jonny Hilberath, working with the enormously talented Carola Copellmann on the ten year old Trakehner stallion, Insterburg. The pair starred a few years ago at the Bundeschampionate, but last year, started out in Grand Prix.

Jonny Hilberath is one of the German secret weapons as they prepare to take back the world dressage crown. A Grand Prix rider himself, Jonny is a real horseman, and seems to have the knack of getting the best out of the riders. He is enthusiastic about Carola and her horse:

“I like a lot the natural elasticity and cadence. This horse is well-connected in his body, he must be a pleasure to ride… and this is a very attractive combination, which helps. We see that the horse trots in the same rhythm sideways as he does forward, this is not the rider, this is the horse’s own self carriage.”

Like all the trainers we’ve seen at the Seminar, Jonny is quick to give the horse a breather. “They need breaks so the horse’s body and soul can refresh.

“This horse has a natural dynamic in canter with a very good forearm. This is the ideal canter, not too big.  With Insterburg, he is so naturally collected, we always have to remember to open his frame.”

Carola is riding Insterburg in a series of  short half pass diagonals. Even the coach is impressed: “I would be very happy if I could ride half passes like that in my own test…”

“This horse has just started Grand Prix,” Jonny explains, “he has improved a lot over the past few months. I am very excited about the future for this couple.”

In thanking Carola for her display, Christoph remembers that the idea for this Seminar started three years ago, when we brought a group of Australians on our THM Sporthorse tour to Warendorf: “Thank you Carola, and the Australians, because three years ago, we had Carola and her horse, and we ran a little seminar for the Australians, and it worked so well, we thought, why is it just for Australians? And that is how we are all here now.”

Last rider of the day is Hubertus Schmidt, read on..

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Hubertus Schmidt – Piaffe and Passage

There is a weird sound coming through the speakers, relax it is just Hubertus Schmidt breathing heavily as he warms up the Dutch stallion, Prego, out the back. The 12 year old chestnut has competed Grand Prix, and Hubertus – once he gets him warmed up and used to the arena – is going to talk about piaffe and passage, and demonstrate while he talks.

“I start teaching piaffe when the horse is six years old, because they need to be physically strong. At seven the horse is doing Prix St Georges, and at eight, Grand Prix – that means you have two years to prepare piaffe.  First teach piaffe, then passage. First the horse has to be really sitting and taking the weight – it is easy with a talented horse to collect the trot and go to passage, but it is also easy to get the horse out behind.”

“We start with a swinging trot, collected and supple, moving through the whole body. For a good collected trot it is not just cadence – it is a good swinging. When I look at five year old horses, that’s what I ask – can I make the trot swing through the whole body.”

“In a balanced, collected trot, I ask for some half passes, this is the best way to be sure that the horse takes the outside rein, and is equally on both reins. 90% of uneven steps I piaffe come from the horse being too strong on one rein. For me, it is important that I can give the inside rein.”

“I start piaffe, mostly sitting on the horse although some I start in hand, always from collected walk and just playing, jogging in this walk. There are three really important things in piaffe. One is that the horse has to be always willing to go forward, the second is to play with how high, how low, the horse’s neck is. If you get them up, it is easier to start piaffe, but if you can get them lower, it is easier over their back. The other important thing is that the horse is sensitive to the legs and doesn’t need the whip.”

“In piaffe, always trot out so the horse keeps the forward. Be careful, sometimes they are uneven, shorter in one leg, and 90% of the time that is the result of not steady contact. So I do a turn in piaffe for two reasons, to the stiff side to loosen the inside rein, and also to get the horse to take weight on the inside leg. At home, I seldom do 15 piaffe steps on the spot, I do seven or eight, forward, a few more, forward.”

Time to move on to passage:

“It is easier from a swinging trot to get into passage. I’m happy with this passage, not everybody is Totilas! He is steady on both hands, regular behind – then always forward again. After we have done from trot to passage, the next step is from extended trot to passage. Especially for the young horses, I always like them going forward from the passage.”

read on below

“It is very important to prepare piaffe in the passage. Make the passage more active, then sit quiet for the transition. The rhythm is slower in passage, quicker in piaffe, you must give the horse time to change the rhythm – often riders push too fast in the transitions.”

Hubertus is demonstrating how he prepares the horse for the transition to passage / piaffe  from walk riding through the short side: “I walk very quiet, it is good for the judges to see the relaxed walk, then I wake him up a little in the corner, so he is ready for the passage, then coming to the piaffe, a little tick, tick with the spur, sit quiet and come to piaffe…”

“This is the way we like to see it,” exclaims Christoph Hess – and so say all of us.

It has been a truly exceptional display. I cannot imagine anywhere else in the world that could produce a lineup of speakers, demonstrators, and most of all, horses, like the ones assembled for this first Bundeschampionate Seminar in Warendorf. Christoph Hess is already hard at work planning the next one for two years time – it should be sensational!



Story – Chris Hector          Photos – Roz Neave

Top seller for more than 60 years. Or: Tradition is always up-to-date

There is excitement in the air, and this excitement is reflected on visitors’ faces all over the stands: their eyes follow the auctioneer, the bidders and the horse that is trotting relaxed rounds in the auction ring of the Niedersachsenhalle, not knowing that it is the main actor of a thrilling show. And then: the gavel falls! The horse is sold, the new owners are happy, the audience applauds. Scenes like this one happen almost every month in Verden. Each auction has its own and special dynamic, each auction is different, but the basics are always the same.

Visionary Hans Joachim Köhler launched the Verden auctions more than 60 years ago in 1949 in order to support Hanoverian breeders in selling their horses. And this is still aim and purpose today. And of course a question of offering the perfect horse for riders and breeders.

The formerly developed system is still valid today. There have of course been amendments and improvements, but the basics did not change: The Verden auction site has since then been well-known for its diligent and careful selection of the auction candidates and high requirements when it comes to quality, rideability, character, health and an appropriate training period in Verden before the horses are put up for auction – and this is what has caused its worldwide reputation.

A more than 60 year old tradition for ambitious riders and breeders.

Verden Auctions – contemporary and up-to-date:

The Verden auction year reads as follows: The Verden auction in January is the first sales event of the year, followed by the auctions in March, May and July. Early born foals complement the offer in March, May and July. There is an additional auction for broodmares and foals in August. Highlights in autumn are the Elite auction of riding horses and foals and the Stallion Market in October, followed by the Verden November Auction.

He shaped the Verden auctions for more than 37 years:
Auctioneer Friedrich-Wilhelm Isernhagen sold 25,000 horses.

To sell the horse for the exhibitor at the best price possible – and to perfectly fulfill the wishes of customers from Germany and abroad: These are the tasks of the whole team around Auction Manager Jörg-Wilhelm Wegener. Versatility is the most important property of the Verden auction venue. The old auction system was modified in 2015 to offer a huge range of customers the perfect horse for all different demands. The collections of all six riding horse auctions are complemented by Elite horses, a fact that boosts the interest in the auction collection. All horses of the collection are in the focus of public interest for a couple of weeks.

Customers from all over the world rely on the decade-long successful auction system.

Back then as well as today: A place to meed the partner of your dreams

Customers who travel to Verden before the auction benefit from the fact that there will be a huge number of preselected horses, checked by the vet, available for test riding purposes at one place. The customer advisors of the Verband, but also riders and grooms are important contact persons, and always focused on informing potential customers as detailed as possible information about behaviour, rideability, and most important strengths and weaknesses of the individual horses.

Completely concentrated: The Belgian auctioneer Frederik de Backer and his colleague Bernd Hickert take turns after having sold 25 horses.

                                                    Bernd Hickert

Their rideability, work ethic, ambition and character are the reason for the outstanding successes of many Hanoverian sports horses at national and international competitions, at Olympics, World and European Championships. But they are so much more: they are everyday life companions in home stables, boarding enterprises or small former farms, pleasure partners or the second member of a team.

As they are reliable, intelligent and honest, they are at the same time, a beloved family member or comforter. Properties that are as important as extraordinary quality exhibited in breeding and sports.

But the auction service includes even more: Horses that are going to be sold at an auction can be trained by the auction team before the auction. And customers who have purchased their desired horse during the auction can leave it with the auction premises for further training purposes – including competitions, shows and performance tests. “It is our aim to bring the perfect partners together. There are horses of all levels, disciplines and areas to match the demands of ambitious pleasure time riders up to internationally successful top athletes,” summarizes Jörg-Wilhelm Wegener.

Video: Verden Auction

Verden Auction on March 25

Are you planning to purchase a horse? The collection of the Verden Auction on March 25, features stars of tomorrow and friends for a lifetime. We will be happy to present an exquisite collection of dressage, show jumping, eventing and pleasure horses! The collection includes nearly 90 riding horses, carefully chosen, test ridden and vet checked – for you! The collection will be complemented by brilliant foals with international performance pedigrees. Welcome to the Verden auction! Take your seat in the Niedersachsenhalle, attend the auction training from March 13– 25 and arrange a test riding date with our customer advisors. We will find your perfect match! Please find here further information.