The so called “green” season, meaning the outdoor season is starting in Europe. Over the past couple of month, most horses and riders have been training indoors due to the cold and rainy German winters. Now as the sun comes out and the first shafts of sunlight are warming the minds, riders are encouraged to also get back outside to hold their training sessions in the outdoor arenas. Many of them also with the background to train for the start of the upcoming outdoor show season.
To provide a head start to the show season, the Hannoveraner Verband held a jumping clinic with permanent trainer Thomas Schönig on the weekend of the 15th to 17th of April. With Thomas Schönig the Hannoveraner Verband has a trainer at disposal that, with his infinite treasure trove of experiences, can provide valuable tips for all age and education classes.
The Hannoveraner Verband in Verden, known worldwide as the home of the Hanoverian Horse and the venue of the Verden Auction, also hosts one of the most modern and largest training centers in Europe. The facilities of the Hannoveraner Verband provide, among others, outdoor jumping and dressage arenas, multiple indoor arenas, a lunging arena and a cross-country track as well as spacious stables and seminar and meeting rooms for clinic participants. The Hannoveraner Verband was able to recruit top trainers and will provide clinics covering different topics throughout the year.
During his active time as a rider Thomas Schönig qualified more than 30 horses for the German National Young Horse Championships, the German Bundeschampionate in show jumping and in dressage and during his time as an auction rider in Verden he presented more than 1,600 different horses. His biggest success as a rider was the victory in the Danish Show Jumping Derby in 1986 with the stallion Calypso III.
His experience enables Thomas to understand and relate to the different horses, making him irreplaceable as trainer and coach at the Hannoveraner Verband. His show jumping clinics are popular with clients in and outside of Germany.
Three days have been scheduled for the clinic. “Especially the first day is important for me to get a feel for the riders and horses and develop a first impression to see where each of the pairs is standing” so trainer Thomas Schönig. “From here I develop an individual training concept for each one of the participants to respond to each individual needs.” The first day covered mostly gymnastics, in-and-outs and some single lines.
The goal of the clinic was clearly defined! At the beginning of each outdoor season the horses have to get acclimated to the new environment, to the increasing color and the noise, which is more prominent outside than in the indoor places that have served for training in over the winter. Now there are a lot of banners, flags, sunshades, dogs, etc. that tend to take the concentration of the horse away from the rider. That is what the horses have to be prepared for to be able to concentrate on their tasks during the actual show. As such, the training area was prepared like an outdoor show ground with all the noise and color and the sunshades moving in the light spring breeze. That was the immediate first challenge for the participants and Thomas used it for his introductory exercise.
Instead of getting hung up on the environment, the focus is to increase the horse’s attention to the rider. “My first exercise is following the quote of Show Jumping Master Ludger Beerbaum who formulated the principle: Speeding up and slowing down has to work first!” The participants were asked to get into canter and accelerate the strides every 3 to 4 strides, and take the horses back after another 3 to 4 strides with explicit and immediate transitions. Important in that is that the collection has to be lead by the seat, through sitting back deeply in the horse. Thereby the horse increases taking weight on the hind leg and starts to carry itself, thus becoming increasingly independent of the rider’s hand. That in turn improves looseness and suppleness.
During the indoor season in winter the jumping training is held solely inside with limited space available. The outdoor season in the summer offers larger arenas that also require a higher basic speed. Generally distances indoors are build for 3 to 6 strides while outdoors 7 or 8 strides are the norm. Course designers have way more freedom and possibilities outside. Distances between the fences are the topic here. To enable the rider to bring the horse to the fence on the correct distance he or she has to be able to control every stride. According to Thomas Schönig the understanding and the meaning of the stride length is elementary and inevitable. That is why he puts focus on teaching his students a feel for their horse’s strides. He does that with the help of a gymnastic line that starts with a single 1.6 feet fence, followed by 6 cavalettis on a distance varying between 10.5 and 11.5 feet. That demands a feel for the rhythm from horse and rider. The rider notices that the horse can be influenced and the stride lengthened and shortened through minimal aids, without using the reins, weight or legs too extensively. Through this exercise the rider learns to focus on a quiet seat and to maintain and leverage the rhythm to find the right distance.
The third day was used to create a real-life situation. A course as found on a show was built. Depending on the level of horse and rider the course was modified. The warm-up took place in a separate warm-up area. Thomas Schönig already provided valuable tips during the warm-up. “Start with longer reins and encourage the horse to stretch down towards the bit so it lifts up its back. Take your time in the warm-up to ensure the horse’s muscle have enough time to loosen up. It does not matter if you want to ride a 1 meter or a 1.5 meter course, you need to warm-up your partner, loosen up and stretch the muscles” is the message Thomas provides to his students.
The course has to be solved independently by the participants. They should implement their learnings from the previous days in show-like circumstances. After every round the trip gets analyzed. What worked well? Where have been difficulties? Where is further focus needed? – have been guiding questions here. In a second round the answers and options to solve prior problems increased confidence. Now the participants can look forward to the upcoming show season. Encouraged, strengthened, motivated and well prepared.
Lastly, Thomas suggested his protégés to take two or three shows at the beginning of the year as training rounds without the goal to win. He recommended providing time to the horse to acclimatize to the show situation. Only when all the noise and crazy that is going on around the ring is not a big deal anymore and the horse is fully concentrated on the rider is it able to be fully dedicated to the task.