February 2, 2014 (originally published) - Angela Hecker-Jackson makes a point to be involved in American Bred Young Horses. Competing in the US Young Horse Finals for most of the last 14 years, she successfully accomplished the champion placings on the horses she started. She said, “We have plenty of good horses in this country, but we do not have enough good young horse riders.” Living in Henderson, Kentucky at her Rhein River Farm (about four hours west of Lexington, Kentucky), Jackson met her husband 24 years ago and left behind a strong riding career in Germany. Originally from the Rheinland – Dusseldorf area, she worked her way up in Show Jumping with her family's horses as well as training in a large business with a great mentor and coach. Selected as a top 10 developing rider, Jackson traveled to training sessions at the DOKR (National German Training Facility) in Warendorf. Christoph Hess organized all the training sessions, as the DOKR Program director, and remembers Angela well. She continued to climb the levels to represent her country in several international shows at the Grand Prix Jumping level. She transitioned to represent the USA in dressage and continues to train and compete the young horses she prepared for the Markel/USEF Young Horse Program. We caught up with Angela and Christoph Hess this past weekend ata clinic where she was selected by Christoph Hess to showcase a good soft and effective seat to ask about what it takes to be a good young horse rider in the United States.
Jackson said, “My family owned a small farm in Germany and my grandfather was already involved with horses. We had Work Horses, of course, but also riding horses. My father was a small breeder, so we had to start several youngsters under saddle every year. We taught them proper basic education like walk, trot, canter, before selling them. Most of the horses were sold young. I trained several of our horses, from getting started undersaddle at 3 1/2 years old to winning at 7 years old, their first, 1.45m jumping classes. I was a member of the German Junior and German Young Rider Show Jumping Team and very lucky to have had great teachers like Olympic Gold Medalist and National youth Coach Fritz Ligges, who rode the famous stallion Ramiro. I won a silver medal at the German Championships and won the Equitation Finals with a 9.5. I earned my golden riding award at 22 and I started in CSI's and CSIO representing my Native country of Germany, placing 2nd in the Aachen CSI indoor show jumping 2m (6'6") on a Thoroughbred from the track that I retrained. Plus I worked a full time job and did this as a hobby.”
When Angela met her husband, she was torn between the pursuit of a riding career or the love of her life. She chose her husband, and moved to Kentucky to be with him. Happily married for 24 years, she said, “I met my husband in 1990 while going to school to better my English for my job in Germany. Going back and forth a few times knowing he was the one for me. I married him in 1992 and immigrated to the US, giving it all up with just my two suitcases. I cleaned stalls at different barns, groomed for a show jumper, and helped a few people in the area with their horses. The area where I live is mostly Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and I showed a little Morgan stallion in dressage. I could not afford a horse of my own at the time. (Please know that I am still happily married with no regrets and living the American dream.) It was absolutely worth giving it all up in Germany, but I had to rebuild and restart. Terrie Emilson who was the only person within a 100 Miles of me had Warmbloods and asked me if I would groom for her at a show. She is the reason I started to be really interested in Dressage.
A couple of years ago, Angela went to a clinic with Christoph Hess sponsored by Michael Poulin, whom she was working with. She didn’t think he remembered her after so many years, and looked forward to working on her riding through his coaching. At one point, he stopped and asked her maiden name, as he was sure he had met her before. Then, it all came back, that he knew her as a young, talented jumper rider. He was floored to have found her after so many years. Christoph Hess shared with us, “I’ve known Angela from the very beginning. I noticed her as one of the best Young Riders, German riders in Warendorf, the national training facility, DOKR, where I was director. She was always competitive, not on world class horses, but good horses. She was always fast, and always able to ride difficult horses. If there is something I can say about Angela it would be, ‘You do not always have to start with dressage. It’s good to jump, to do the hunters, go cross country, because she is an example.' When you do these properly, it’s easier to do dressage. I think her secret is that she started in this way. This is the key and makes her very special. Many riders start in dressage, and when it comes to the extended canter, it’s not enough, or when a horse is a little bit tricky, you cannot say, ‘Oh, this horse is too difficult. Oh, where is my double bridle.' She is able to do everything in an easy and simple way. Because she is brave, she has jumped higher than me, in international competition. This, for me, is very special, therefore, I love to work with her. Her understanding is my understanding, and my philosophy. She rides very harmonious, small horses or big horses because she is able to collect a horse. She is competitive; she is trainable. The next step would be to get her back to Europe as a competitive dressage rider.”
When asked what advice she would give riders in North America she said, “Always go back to the basics. If the young horse starts fighting, you have to question yourself, ‘Why are we fighting?’ Do not say, ‘I’m going to force you.’”
She continued, “Two things I have to stress:
1. Work on your seat
2. Quiet communication
You want to have quiet communication with your horse. If you can establish that, the ‘tricks’ will come so much easier, because we usually disturb our horse, more than we help them. We are always making our horse do this and making them do that, like flexing left and then right. And making changes to the horse as he goes. It’s like making noises all around him. Make your goal on becoming the rider, not so much on changing the horse.”
“And don’t let a bad habit from a horse go, do it again. It’s important to do those transitions 20 times if necessary, for the horse to understand that quiet communication."
“My husband and I own a small farm in Henderson KY. When I started I bought an injured Warmblood mare named Fleur as a broodmare. She’s had 5 foals and I got them started under saddle at 3 years and sold them. I would invest the money; I starting by building a 8 stall barn, my husband did all the labor, then the outdoor ring, followed by a truck and then the horse trailer. Sadly to say, I sold some of the young horses way to early and way too cheap, but I had a clear vision of what I would need to build a business and I needed the money. I, of course also took in clients horses for training and gave lessons. It’s evolved into having a reputation for starting young horses correctly."
"I have been very involved in the Markel/USEF Young Horse Program from the start and can see how much the entire dressage community has benefited from it. In the years, I did not go to championships, I sold the horses prior, as happened last year with the wonderful talented 4 year old Dutch gelding Easton (Sinatra Song x Allure-the mare I am training now.) Easton was breed by Dr. Dunn, who has a breeding operation in Corydon IN. Easton was 5th on the rank list going into the championships, but was sold a month prior. Scott Hassler has done a tremendous job promoting young horse in the US. I feel that we have plenty of good talented young horses in this country, just not enough young horse riders."
"Too many horses are ridden wrong and/or poorly in there, so important, first two years. They are learning bad behaviors and evasions rather than the first three steps of the training scale. To travel in rhythm with a supple balanced connection in walk, trot, and canter left and right. That alone will keep you busy for the first two years in a horse’s education."
"It has been a few years that I have been to the Florida show season. The owner of the black 17.3h KWPN mare Allure, (Rousseau x Sizarma (By Farrington)), Dr. Dunn would love to see us qualify for Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ. We need to do several CDI's to make her dream a reality. It was a thrill and honor to be picked for the Succeed USDF Trainers Conference with Scott Hassler and Steffen Peters."
"I learned a lot and it was a great way to start the season. I took Allure and showed her in the National show at the new Global Dressage Festival facility the following week and we won the PSG and our I-1 freestyle. I had a few silly mistakes and hope to have that worked out before our first CDI. Dr. Dunn always loved watching the Palm Beach Derby thinking it would be awesome to have one of her horses participate one day. So that will be our first CDI this season. Allure came to me as a 5 year old First level horse. She was reserve Champion at the CDI lamplight 6 year old selection trials for the World Young Horse Championships in Verden Germany and finished in the top ten at the USEF/Markel National Championships. The following year as a 7 year old she also finished in the top ten in the USEF Developing Prix St. George Championships as well as being Horse of the year 4th level and 4th level freestyle champion."
"In 2009 I sadly had to sell my stallion Rolex. It was a tough decision but it allowed me to build my indoor arena which makes my training a lot easier. Not missing rain days and or snow and ice days or even baking in 100 degrees, or having to start very early in the day to avoid the heat. I thank him (Rolex) many of days for that indoor. He was a special horse to me and it was as tough of a decision, as giving everything up in Germany."
"Last year was a little bit of a roller coaster for us. I left for Germany for 3 months, right after the Young Horse Championships, to be a working student at Klaus Balkenhol's. My barn was shut down and all the training horses went home for the winter, or went to other trainers. It was a tough decision, but I wanted to further my education, and felt it was worth the risk. After my returning from Germany, all the horses came back, but I had some issues getting back together with Allure. It took me most of the year to work on becoming partners again and I feel that we are back together now."
"I also ride two very nice stallions for Rock Solid Warmbloods. I am hoping to show Rock Solid now coming 8 years old (Rosenthal x Parabol) or 'Rocky' as I call him. His first Prix St George is in a few weeks at the Global Dressage Festival show. He came to me as a 4 coming 5 year old, so I could prepare him for his stallion test. I will also be coaching my Junior Rider Rebeka Mingari who is coming from Kentucky during spring break to try out for the Junior/Young Rider team. Rebeka has been with me since she was 12 years old and I coached her from Equitation, Training level - last year winning PSG Junior Regional Championships and participating at NAJYRC the last two years."
"And I just got the other Rock Solid Warmbloods 5 year old Oldenburg stallion Hemingway (Hofrath x Weltmeyer.) He is just learning his flying changes and I hope to show him in 3rd level and hopefully 6 year old classes later this year."
Angela represents a way to be a young horse rider. Her inpiring story shares the way one rider makes it over the years. It can be done.