"Developing Power Through Relaxation" with Hubertus Schmidt

with Jules Anderson - Watch for Jules Anderson soon to appear as a new member of our HorsesDaily.com Who's Who

2006 USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conference, High Meadow Farm


Jules Anderson's Observations from the second day of Hubertus Schmidt's Clinic 16/01/06: Located at High Meadow Farm, Loxahatchee, FL (owned by Walter & Mary Anne McPhail).

Perhaps the most important theme I extracted from this clinic as a trainer, rider and judge was: Always have the horse really forward and swinging, preferably with cadence and insist on true (read - 'a lot of') inside flexion and bending while maintaining shoulder fore in all gaits. Remember to take the time to for many walk breaks during a training session and then, to borrow Hubertus' often used phrase, "do it"!

The day started with a spectacular six-year old, First Fabio, a Rhinelander gelding, by Fibermark, ridden by Cesar Parra, owned by Horses Unlimited. This young horse was a breathtaking mover with three super gaits though he was very 'high' in the new arena environment, with its many spectators, and it took due time to develop relaxation and looseness. Hubertus described the horse as a world-class mover but through tension was "moving too much" as Fabio was going too high in the air with not enough forward, tending towards a passage-y trot. Hubertus reiterated to the audience the importance of first giving the horse time to relax, while riding him really forward in the working canter and trot with no thought of collection. Clearly, the exuberant Fabio could explode and naturally Cesar was a little careful developing the forward, but Hubertus was insistent, honestly forward, so Cesar bravely rode more forward and gradually Fabio's gaits began to flatten out and the horse started to reach for the rein, becoming more relaxed though many super forward transitions from canter to trot, medium trot, then back to the canter. Some of the concepts from this session were:

  • Hubertus clarified "pull" as when the horse's head "hang's from the withers" and the feeling of the horse reaching for the rein with some weight in the rider's hand. Only then does the rider have the possibility, to maneuver the horse.
  • Shoulder in and half pass are started as the horse turns five year of age and the swing, steepness and collection are developed with every year and these exercises are performed almost every day, even in Hubertus's seasoned Grand Prix horses. Cesar was instructed to ride the first corner of the short side very forward and shallow to keep the forward power in the lateral work. Additionally, he used the whole diagonal line to ride a half pass, again to keep the forward, swing and power.
  • Briefly Hubertus talked about shortening the canter as preparation for the canter pirouettes. He explained he does not ever practice traver at the canter because he feels that the horse by nature travels crooked and he never wants the horse to have this idea as an escape from proper weight bearing on the hind leg through straightness. Keeping this in mind, Hubertus always asked for shortened canter in shoulder fore with good bending and flexion while keeping the horse "loose in the neck". With a young horse, Hubertus explained he generally shortens the horse on a circle or a bending line rather than on a straight line to encourage the horse to take the weight behind.

Linda Alicki was next riding, Windsong, a nine-year old Hanoverian gelding by Weltmeyer, at the Grand Prix level. This was a harmonious and happy combination working towards better freedom and expression of the front legs through more engagement behind and 'swing' in the back, especially in the pirouettes, collected trot and piaffe, passage tour. So here were some of Hubertus's ideas to help this horse who was showing better engagement behind than freedom in front:

  • Until the horse comes free in the shoulder, in the shoulder in, he will not come free in the shoulder, in the half pass. Mostly, "more forward" develops the freedom in the shoulder, so often refresh the gait.
  • Try to develop more freedom and swing in the trot and canter with light touches with the whip to help quicken the rhythm, though never hit hard or without rhythm and work towards total whip control for light, quick touches.
  • Better to go slower, than too fast in a canter pirouette to preserve the quality of the gait, while trying to keep the horse in front of your leg at all times and in shoulder fore.
  • Again, in the piaffe, use the whip on the croup to encourage better sitting and to quicken the rhythm of the hind leg so the front legs can show more range, freedom and height. In the passage Hubertus also encouraged Linda to keep him short stepping and engaged so he learns to develop better balance and show more freedom in his front legs.

The next rider was Alison Sader-Larson, riding Legretto, an eight-year old Hanoverian gelding by Wether. An attractive combination Hubertus worked at developing equal acceptance to the bend and flexion in both directions as the horse was quite one sided in his warm up. Hubertus encouraged Alison to ask for suppless to the horse’s stiff direction even if Legretto came a little short in the neck in this process, reiterating the importance equal suppleness.

  • In the canter pirouette the horse must "think forward" so that the hind leg comes well under every stride. When in doubt make the canter pirouette bigger with more lift and ground covering strides until the hind comes further under the horse’s center of gravity. Hubertus rarely rides tight pirouettes and mostly trains working pirouettes and shortened canter in shoulder fore and is careful to never drill these movements as they are strong muscle burning exercises for the horse.
  • This horse became freer in the shoulder in the passage with a higher point of balance in the neck and withers.
  • To establish better activity and regularity in piaffe ask for a mini turn on the haunches to the lazy inside hind leg.
  • To quote Hubertus: "Half passes must be ridden 100% parallel and forward and the flying changes must be 100% straight."

The next rider was Cathy Morelli on BeSe a twelve year old KWPN out of Flemmingh, in their second year competing Grand Prix. A talented horse Hubertus encouraged Cathy to ask for even more cadence in the trot while pushing the horse’s nose to the rein and keeping his neck "loose". This combination did quite a lot of test riding, questioning whether BeSe was really on Cathy's aids, which was interesting in many ways for the spectators.

  • Hubertus never starts half pass until the horse is really trotting with swing and cadence and fluid in the shoulder in. Also zigzag half passes are only asked for when the horse has firstly done regular half passes on long diagonal lines.
  • In the same vein Hubertus always trains the working canter pirouette before asking for the pirouette on the spot. He explained that he often does not perform tight pirouettes at all preferring the horses anticipate the working pirouette instead. The pirouettes were to be performed on exact diagonal lines and Hubertus encouraged Cathy to really look at her line with her eyes up.
  • Accuracy and commitment to a chosen line, especially diagonals, was very important to Hubertus and if the rider allowed horse to deviate off the line, then if a flying change was asked for, it would be on a crooked line and not 100% straight.
  • Never allow the horse to start doing tempi changes by himself while anticipating on a diagonal line, make him wait and when he does, reintroduce them on your terms as a rider, e.g., four ones at the end of the diagonal.
  • Hubertus explained he trains piaffe almost on the spot so the horse learns to become quick and engaged. If the horse is allowed to travel too forward Hubertus felt there was a real tendency to passage in place, not lower the haunches and take weight. He also said he brings both of his legs slightly further back to piaffe then in the passage.

Karen Lipp was our next rider on the elegant Lipton a nine-year old Danish bred horse schooling all the Grand Prix. Hot tips for this combination were:

  • Always ride the biggest trot possible with cadence and swinging right from the get go.
  • Hubertus explained Lipton wanted to move too slowly in the piaffe tending to make passage steps. He asked Karen to turn him slightly in a ¼ turn on the haunches to quicken the stride. Hubertus also tried to tap Lipton gently from the ground to quicken the stride. This approach, he quickly decided, did not work, as the horse got more tense and passage-y.

Todd Flettrich riding a talented yet feisty, twelve-year old Rheinlander, Donner, were the next clinic combination. Donner was rather tense and whinnying for all to hear, in the first half of the session before settling in to some quality Grand Prix work. Suggestions from Hubertus included:

  • Ride all resistance's forward and avoid halting instead ride a circle and encourage the neck to be looser and round until you have the horse's attention. Hubertus also explained that, in his experience, horses are easier to relax in the canter than in the walk or trot.
  • An interesting point Hubertus insisted on, was a clear transition to the collected walk before showing the extended walk.

Oded Shimoni riding Wasmut, an eight-year old Hanoverian by Wether was our next rider and fresh from training with Hubertus in Germany, he rode with good bend and cadence in his half passes and really had the horse in front of he aids. Hubertus did suggest:

  • Never over correct in the halts as it can make the horse nervous.

Mary Ann Grant riding Raphaela, a ten-year old Bavarian mare was the next rider for Hubertus and performed many test moves. Some observations include:

  • Make sure the horse waits for you in the halt before the rein back and if the horse steps back, correct forward and make him wait.
  • Take your eyes to the final destination of the required movement for a true line. This 'looking' is especially important at the beginning of a movement.
  • When a diagonal line is ridden in extended canter the rider should aim to come back in three strides and on the fourth stride ride the flying change to the new lead. This change is to be 100% straight on the diagonal line, the final stride before the final diagonal marker and not through the corner or on the turn.
  • Regarding the quality of the connection, always think, "can I stretch the horse", towards a rounder, looser connection.

Silke Rembacz riding the striking Milleniumm, an eleven-year old KWPN, out of Nimmador was our next rider. Hubertus and Silke quietly worked to develop more activity and impulsion without tension. Some comments from Hubertus:

  • Make sure when you flex and bend to the inside that the horse does not escape through the outside rein and outside leg, otherwise the horse becomes over bent and unbalanced.
  • Alternate sides when schooling canter pirouettes so the horse does not get to tired.
  • If the horse gets tense schooling the flying changes, stop them and work towards relaxation in the canter.

Nancy Pugh Later riding her expressive mare, Alexis-D, a thirteen-year old by Archipel was our next demonstration rider. Hubertus encouraged Nancy to keep her horse on the hind legs at all times allowing for more freedom in the shoulder and expression in all gaits and movements. Some ideas raised were:

  • Freedom of the front legs only comes from a "carrying hind leg". Hubertus really insisted Nancy ride her horse’s neck and shoulder's up high, to allow the mare to come more free in front.
  • Again, Hubertus reiterated the piaffe must not travel, which Nancy really had to insist on, as she had trained a very forward piaffe in her 'hot' and talented mare.
  • The "big collected trot", Hubertus explained is always developed from forward swinging collection developed over weeks of training until the horse becomes strong enough to maintain it all the time. Some of the horses in the clinic did not show this big trot and Hubertus did not insist as he says it can introduce a little tension and the horse may become stronger in the rider's hand as they explore the new point of balance. Hubertus also explained that some horses are unable to trot 'big' and he would have to ride the horse for twenty to thirty minutes to find out if the horse had this range and possibility in their gaits.

The second last rider was the inimitable Michelle Gibson riding the graceful Lex Barker, a nine-year old Hanoverian gelding by Longchamp. Hubertus instructed:

  • More swing in the back was asked for in the collected trot which Hubertus hoped would help the freedom of the passage. Also, he wanted a bigger stride and slower rhythm from Lex in the canter, which really improved the quality of the gait and balance of the canter pirouettes.
  • Hubertus suggested Michelle be very careful using the whip as Lex tended to sit too much in piaffe.

The last rider Jessica Jo Tate, riding her fourteen-year old Swedish warmblood gelding Camboy, by Napoleon. I remember she rode with good ring craft and showed her horse’s gaits off nicely, having a good feel for her horse’s point of balance. However, I did not make notes on this combination, sorry.

Interestingly, Hubertus shared, he tries to never shows a horse more than 10 to 12 times a year to keep them fresh and as stress-free as possible. He also tries to rarely perform the movements of the Grand Prix and only starts to test ride some of the movements for a show, two weeks before, preferring instead to work on the basics. He also stated he really tries to interval train never doing piaffe, passage and pirouettes every day, in fact six to eight weeks of every year he only asks for trot sets from his horses at all levels.

In conclusion, Hubertus cautions trainers, “That not every horse can learn a big trot, and not every horse can learn the Grand Prix”.

It was a privilege to participate in the 2006 USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conference and learn from one of the world's best trainer’s. Hubertus was throughout the clinic; caring, enthusiast, humble, insightful, humorous, honest and generous: a quintessential role model for all trainers!

Jules Anderson, B.A., Dip.Ed.,
USDF Bronze, Silver & Gold Medalist; USEF "r" judge
Equestrian Federation of Australia Level 1 Coach and PSG/Inter. 1 Judge
Trained six horses to compete nationally in at Grand Prix
Qualified for Sydney 2000 Olympics and Long listed for Australia

For more input on the USDF Hubertus Schmidt Clinic for DressageDaily




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