Medfield, Mass. – Conrad Schumacher brought his tips for success to Cutler Farm Oct. 17-18 when he presented his "Prepare to Win" program. The event featured not only demonstration rides but question and answer sessions and lectures. A catered reception and dinner was held on Saturday evening in the comfortable lounge overlooking the indoor arena of the farm, which is owned by Donna Cameron and serves as the training base for Bill Warren and Bill McMullin. Schumacher, who grew up on his family's farm in Neuhof, Germany, has been a leading international rider, trainer and coach for decades. The focus of his system, he says, is on making riders better, which in turn then improves the horses. "If I can make the rider better, I can make the horse better," Schumacher said during his symposium."A dressage horse must be ridden. A good dressage horse does nothing if you just sit there." Throughout the demonstration rides, Schumacher emphasized the need to address the big picture, not the details. For example, when he asked the audience for opinions of a ride and some commented on the need for more collection before a movement his response was, focus on the bigger picture. The horse, he said, must be in the correct frame and degree of collection for whatever level of the test, whether a First Level frame or Grand Prix. "If we have that correct, then all the other things you mentioned – the details – will correct themselves," Schumacher said.
One important element in his system for improving riders, was the development of the mental fitness of riders. And while there are any number of people who are excellent mental coaches, Schumacher said he has learned that riders need a different kind of mental training for several reasons. One is that riding involves a partnership with another living creature. "We can't use the horse's body to win medals the way other athletes use their own body. In our sport, the human being wants to win a medal. The horse wants to stay in the comfort zone." The mental training of a rider must take place on a moving animal and in a situation in which things are constantly changing. "We need to make decisions on a horse, not on a couch," Schumacher said.
Another difference between competitive riders and other athletes is that success in competitive riding requires decades of commitment. Most riders have 20 years or more of riding experience under their belts before they hit something like the Olympics. And that means they need to stay focused day after day for years. Because horses react to the mood of the rider, it means that no matter what happens in a rider's life over the years, he or she must approach that horse with the same mood every day of every year during the course of their partnership. "The giving of the aids changes when we are moody so we need to be in the same mood each day we ride," he said.
Schumacher will be in the U.S. for much of October taking his symposium message from coast to coast before heading home to Germany. But, once the Florida circuit gets into full swing, he said he'll be heading there to do a bit of teaching and coaching as he takes a break from the German winter. "It's a lot of time traveling, but I enjoy it," he said.
Photo: Conrad Schumacher, Bill Warren, Bill McMullin, Donna Cameron and mounted on the horse is Lainey Johnson