In the excitement of a Summer Olympics year, I wanted to share my insight and experience after spending quite a bit of time in Etteln, Germany with German Olympic Rider Hubertus Schmidt. I think Hubertus is one of the nicest, hardest-working and most genuine role models that I have ever met. He is incredibly talented at riding and training horses. And his calm, happy personality helps him achieve the most with many horses. I think his training is a strong reflection of his work ethic and entire personality and it has definitely influenced my own training methods.
All of the horses at Fleyenhof, Hubertus’ family riding school where his training barn is based, are taken care of by the small staff of working students, berieters and Hubertus’ show horse groom, who is also the barn manager. I wish everyone who has a professional interest in horses could spend time working here. The hours are long, the jobs are endless - there are up to 60 horses at a time that need to be ridden, turned out, fed, groomed, and stalls cleaned - and hours of operation do not exist. But the staff is amazing and very happy. Always cheerful, helping one another out, and working together very positively. The key element of this hardworking yet enjoyable atmosphere is Hubertus Schmidt. He greets everyone with a smile every morning. He never complains about riding into the evening and night, and he is always the first to start and the last to finish the farm work of harvesting and stacking the hay, oats, and straw for the barn.
I have seen Hubertus drive the bus home from a long week CDI where he competed on three horses. Arriving after 9:00 PM, he will jump on the tractor to finish cutting a field. He never complains, never appears tired, always smiles, and is usually making a joke. Combine an infectiously happy personality with world class riding and training skills and you have a work atmosphere that motivates people beyond normal capabilities while they enjoy daily life. This is the atmosphere in which Hubertus trains his horses.
Hubertus and the entire staff are very hands-on with all of the horses. Because the horses are groomed by the riders and just a few other people, their normal body conditions are well known, and it is easy to spot an abnormality quickly. Additionally, the staff enjoys interacting with all of the horses. The riders have pet names for the horses they ride, they joke together about the horses’ personalities, and everyone gets lots of pats and treats. Hubertus himself spends a lot of time with his competition and riding horses. He pats them, brings them grass, hand walks them, and hacks them. He often will ride on Sunday, which is everyone’s day off, so he will groom and bathe the horses himself so he can ride.
The care, attention, and interaction between the horses and the riders - Hubertus setting the prime example - plays a very important role in the training and riding of the horses at Fleyenhof. The horses are always being asked to learn and work hard. But there is a clear system that is used for each horse in training that makes it easy for the horse to know and understand his job and what is being asked from him. The horses in training at Fleyenhof are under pressure, but they are not stressed. They are pushed for their maximum effort, but never more, and always, always rewarded. The horses are happy. They get to go out in the paddock or in the field, they have hacks, they enjoy being horses, and they work hard when it is time to work. Again you can see the clear reflection of Hubertus’ personality in the training aspect.
The clarity of the training program is simple. Everything forms a clear path for the horses to follow and understand from the moment they are babies. The babies first learn how to go forward from the leg, and then how to turn and stop on the outside rein. Then they learn to go through the outside rein and follow it so they are able to let go on the inside rein and create bending. The basics, very simple.
Hubertus starts his warm up every day with every horse by first going over the basics to make sure that the horse is properly warmed up through his body and to establish the guidelines for the rest of the ride.
1) Forward from the leg
2) Inside leg to outside rein connection
3) Get the horse pulling low and down into the outside rein
4) Bending from the inside leg forward through the inside rein
5) Moving uphill and swinging in the back.
Once these main objectives are satisfied, he moves on with the lateral work and collected work. But if the horse is stuck somewhere or having a hard time in something that day, Hubertus will stay in the warm-up frame and only work on the walk, trot, and canter gaits until he is happy enough that the horse is moving uphill and swinging. He will not move on to movements until he is satisfied with the basic gait.
This is true for every horse. The basic gaits and balance must be in place before they can start with half-passes or flying changes, even leg yields and counter-canter. The horse must be able to hold his rhythm and balance on the aids so the rider does not compromise the training of the movements and teach the horse a bad habit. Such a clear way of thinking makes it easy for the rider to only use proper aids for the horse to learn faster and eliminate stress. It also means that the expectations for the riders are high. But keeping such a clear method to everyday riding and training keeps the horses clear in their own heads, and is very fair because they know what is expected and always want to give more.
The last enlightening thing I notice is that Hubertus is always pleased when the horses are trying hard and doing their best in work. This does not always mean that what they are doing is perfect. It means that if the horse is thinking, trying, and improving, then Hubertus praises and pats him big and gives him sugar. The horse is always rewarded for improvement, not perfection. I think it is important to have normal expectations for each horse individually. The horses have individual capabilities as do humans, and some are stronger and some weaker. Sometimes the horse must be rewarded for doing “better” and “good enough” for that day, and you make a plan forward for the next day on how to reach a new level. As riders and trainers, we must be mindful that they will not all piaffe and passage like Valegro, and that’s okay too, as long as we continue to make progress correctly and create happy horses and happy horse and rider relationships along the way.
I have spent five summers at Fleyenhof with Hubertus Schmidt. I am impressed and motivated by his positive attitude and relentless work ethic. He truly loves the horses and loves what he does. I think it is important for us all to keep those basic ideas in mind. Hubertus has produced hundreds of Grand Prix horses, he has ridden in the Olympics, WEG, World Cup, and the European Championships for Germany, but he always begins each day and ride with the basics. One person does not produce more horses to Grand Prix than anyone else without a system.”
Meet Devon Kane, USDF Gold Medalist and Grand Prix Trainer:
Devon Kane’s superb work ethic, friendly personality and love for dressage have helped her become an extremely successful international competitor and Head Trainer of Diamante Farms in Wellington, Florida.
She was a junior-level rider when her parents, Dick and Terri Kane, bought Diamante Farms in 2002. In 2007, Devon gave the world a glimpse of what to expect from her in the future by becoming a NAJYRC Individual Gold Medalist and Team Bronze Medalist. Devon has been
unstoppable in the show ring ever since.
Devon has spent well over a decade training with top Olympian professionals including United States Olympic Bronze Medalists Michelle Gibson and Debbie McDonald, and Olympic Gold Medalist Hubertus Schmidt of Germany. She started her own horse Destiny as a four-year-old, and after almost seven years of hard work is now competing and winning with him at Grand Prix level. Devon rides up to 12 horses a day at Diamante Farms, pouring her talent into her mounts so that they can follow in Destiny’s hoof prints.
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