Last week I rode Regalo, a four-year-old Oldenburg gelding, in the USDF Symposium with Scott Hassler. It was an honor to be selected to ride in an educational event held by our U.S. national federation. There was a lot to learn from all the national coaches, and the basics that we know as trainers became obvious again as we watched them teach. After going home and reflecting on my ride, as well as the demonstration rides by many of the other riders, there were five keys to success that stood out to me. Best of all, these fundamentals work for every level of horse and rider
Always Put the Horse First
I’ve been fortunate to ride with Scott Hassler before, and as always, he was very dedicated to the horses. He acts in their best interest as he guides the riders through the lesson. He made no compromises just because we were in front of a large group. Attendees were able to see what is like to train a young horse in an environmental setting that was not particularly easy for the horses. And always, always the horse must come first. As competitive riders, we must remember this every moment of every ride.
Stages, Not Weaknesses
Anyone who has trained young horses will tell you that it’s not easy. Those moments when you have breakthroughs are, of course, amazing. And these breakthroughs make all of the work worthwhile. As horses learn and their balance and strength changes, the trainer’s approach must adjust and adapt. Scott made sure to point out that these changes are stages, not weaknesses. Knowing your horse is in a stage provides infinite reservoirs of patience. The result is a happy, healthy horse.
Do It Now
Riding in front of a crowd of people that can hear your coach tell you what to do really puts you on the spot to get the job done. No matter how much you tell yourself at home to do those things, it is always different having someone in your ear telling you to do it and to do it now! Make the correction now; refine your aid now. Perform the movement, now. This is a good way to ride at all times. Be present and ride, now.
Quality of the Gaits, First
Regalo, the four-year-old by Rosario that I ride for owner Pinky Roberts, is working on transitions to and from the canter. I was reminded to really ride the quality of the canter after the transition. Even if the transition wasn’t perfect, instantly leave that behind, and fix the next thing. This is a mental challenge on any horse, but particularly a young horse. However, this is what helps a horse improve—the quality of the gaits throughout the ride, not just in movements.
How much of the quality of our work as riders/ trainers is determined by us getting out of our comfort zone when riding? I think that probably all of us younger trainers were asked to do something a little bit different than we would have done it at home. However, all of the horses looked great at the end of each ride, because of the higher risks we were taking as riders. We truly worked through some rough spots in front of the audience, and if you can make yourself do something with an instructor teaching you in front of 500 people, you can make yourself do the same thing at home.
It s a matter of mental determination to get the job done, do your best, stay fair to your horse, and take the risks you need to take when truly training a horse.
Lientje Schueler is an assistant trainer to Steffen and Shannon Peters. She has trained and ridden several young horses to success in the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships, as well as trained riders through the levels to Grand Prix. You can visit her website at trainandcompete.com