Planning and preparation for a show or even for the complete show season is challenging. Especially our riders at the Hannoveraner Verband repeatedly have to prepare for shows with very different horses. We accompanied Enrico Süßenbach during the preparation of his stallion Cadanos (by Catoki/Lordanos, breeder: Christina Martens). The stallion is quite well known in Verden as he has been on our terrain for multiple occasions: Starting with the foal auction, then on the stallion licensing, and lastly for the Elite Auction in 2013 where he was acquired by a Chinese investor who entrusted Enrico with the training and education of the stallion; a decision he should not regret!
To start at the beginning: The first thing Enrico had to consider before attempting any show was the stallion’s level of proficiency. Enrico rode him during the auction and before the auction Cadanos had already been successful in some young horse classes. Those have served as first indicators, but to Enrico it is not more than that: "I look at what the horse has done before, but in the end, the level I can start in also depends on how well I have formed a team with my horse. Each horse is different, and with some I may be able to directly continue in the level they have started with their former rider, while on others I have to take a step back to a lower level until we harmonize and trust each other."
Cadanos became one of Enrico’s protégés during the Elite-Auction in September 2013. They took all winter to get familiar with each other and find together as a team. Still, for the first show Enrico chose a small class to see how the stallion behaves in the different environment. "Especially when I take a horse to a show for the first time, I am very conscious on how the horse reacts. Do I get through with my aids? Does the horse react the same way as it does at home, or is it distracted or nervous?" As Enrico explained to us, on the first shows, he takes some extra time in the warm up and focuses on flat work. He ensures that all aids, leg, weight and hand are accepted and reacted upon before he approaches the first small jumps. "There is no need to start working over fences before the horse 'with me'," he explains."If I start jumping to early, especially with a young horse, I risk that the horse does not pay attention, makes mistakes because of that, and becomes insecure. That is something I need to avoid by any means."
For Cadanos it turned out showing is not big deal. He was confident and curious, interested in his environment, but not overly distracted. "I am very lucky with him, with a stallion that can sometimes be more difficult because they easily get distracted," so Enrico. "For Cadanos, after this first show we immediately decided to try and qualify him for the German Young Horse Nationals, the Bundeschampionat." On the question whether that decision is always made so early on in the season Enrico comments: "No, it is perfect if we know so early, because we can plan the whole season and suit it perfectly to the horse regarding which qualifiers to ride, which weekends to take off, and plan everything out to have the horse perfectly fit for the Bundeschampionat as the highlight of the season. Of course even then, it is young horses and things can happen, so I need to plan alternatives if a horse does not qualify immediately or, especially with a young horse, if the horse comes into a phase where it grows or changes teeth or just isn’t in a good mood and I might decide to not go to a show that I had originally planned. Still, to be able to start planning so early on as we did with Cadanos is the best case."
On the question how his ideal season plan looks like Enrico has to laugh: "There is no such thing as a standard season plan, or even a template. If I have a horse that is a bit spooky I need to ride many low level classes until the horse gets more secure and more confident. If a horse is getting overly excited on a show, I might take it to a show a couple of weeks in a row without even starting in a class, just to work in the warm up arena and let that become a standard work environment for the horse. On the other side, if I have a horse that gets tired easily, I will ride less shows and focus on the important ones. If the horse is secure enough in the ring, I might even prefer to only ride one important class and skip the other days in order to not take strength away where not needed." For all horses at the Hannoveraner Verband, the season plan is made by the rider and the trainer together. " With Thomas Schönig we have a great trainer for the jumping horses who has a lot of experience. I value his opinion. With his knowledge he is very good in seeing early on where the journey with a particular horse can go. "Thomas and Enrico decide together what the goal for the season should be. Knowing where they want to be at the end of the year lets them plan how to best get there, from a showing as well as from a training perspective.
"For horse and rider it is important to demand something, to encourage them to stretch and develop, but without overburdening either one. They have to be challenged, but they have to be able to live up to it and accomplish the challenge. That builds confidence. Young horses and young riders are very similar. Failure leads to self-doubts, and while a rider may at times need that to learn and grow as a person, I do not want a young horse to ever fail. I need to be very careful of what is achievable to build strength and confidence. The way the first years in the show ring are experienced will shape the horse for the rest of its life," explains trainer Thomas Schönig.
Just as important as the planning of the shows and the riding of the show itself is the training and the plan of the weeks leading up to the show. Cadanos is now seven years old and has spent the last three years under Enrico’s wings. During that time the two have established their perfect preparation leading up to a show. "I do not ride a lot of classes on a show with Cadanos. He does not need that. He is very confident and does not need to see the ring multiple times. Therefore, if I know I have to go to a show, let’s say on a Saturday, I start our routine the Sunday before. Sunday and Monday I would spend doing flat work. Lots of half holds, tempi changes, leg yielding and work on flexion and bending to have him supple, flexible and quick on my aids. On Tuesday I would do some small jumps, gymnastics. Wednesday some more flat work and Thursday jumping again. Not necessarily a whole course, but some lines and excerpts of a course. Depending on the weather and the stallion’s mood, Friday would be light work, just long and deep or if the weather allows I just hack him. Each of those days he will go out to walk a second time and spend some time on the paddock. That is important. He needs to feel good. A horse that does not feel good will not perform. And then Saturday we go to the show. No matter how that goes, the day after the show is a day of light work, some jogging or a day on the lunge." In Enrico’s opinion, there is no value in doing hard work the next day, even if the show did not go well." Especially with a stallion that can happen sometimes. They get all worked up about a mare and just do not listen to you anymore. But I won’t correct that the next day. In fact, in most cases, taking a step back and overthinking my approach makes more sense. Usually if something did not work out I am better off changing the work before the show. Maybe the last shows have been very good and I have not been as thorough with my flat work before this show? Maybe I did not take enough time in the warm-up? Maybe I was too ambitious and need to gain more experience in lower classes or on smaller shows? "This attitude is something trainer Thomas Schönig values in Enrico. ”As a rider, you can never only be a rider. To your horse you are a manager, a trainer, a leader, a friend. You can be the best rider from a technical perspective. You will never truly be a good rider if you miss out on any of the other skills. Enrico takes the time to get to know his horses. That is what makes him successful."
And successful they are. As a five-year-old and as a six-year-old Enrico qualified Cadanos for the Bundeschampionat. Above that they also made it to the World Championships for Young Jumping Horses in Lanaken, Belgium, last year. This year, with Cadanos now being seven, they already secured their first victories in 1.40m classes. Taking the time to connect and build the partnership clearly pays off.