US Dressage Coach Klaus Balkenhol, A Key That Unlocked The Door For The Americans

After the Americans won the Team Silver and Debbie McDonald and Lisa Wilcox came in second and fourth respectively in the Grand Prix Special, US Dressage Team Coach Klaus Balkenhol was asked if he expected such great success at the World Equestrian Games. His answer was that he knows the dressage scene very well, and that the Americans that have ridden in Germany before the WEG have all won with 72 to 75% scores, and he confirmed, "I was expecting the riders would have the nerve to do it at the World Equestrian Games."

Though Balkenhol has been called a "Miracle Worker," he smiled and said, "I only work with water."

Balkenhol answered questions in German through interpreters – journalist Birgitt Popp and then Lisa Wilcox (who demonstrated her fluency in German!) – but he did answer several times in English without translation. He said that his philosophy in training is to train for invisible aids on the show grounds, which was easy for him to do because the American riders are very sensitive with their horses. "They are easy to work with and I enjoy it. The horses are good and the riders have gained a lot of experience." Balkenhol noted that one of the bright spots of being at the WEG with the American team was that the members are good companions and they are all good friends. "Everybody helps everybody," he said, which is helpful in organizing a team. "All of them always do the best that they can."

But coaching the Americans is not a favor he is doing for friends – "This is my job," said Balkenhol, who is employed through a contract with the USET. Part of his job is to bring the European style to the American team, he said, and also to show the riders how to ride the movements and how they are scored in Europe. "I have not been a 'wonder', " he said. "I rode all the horses and found out what to do. The riders realized my advice and expectations. I am not solely responsible for their success. There are the riders, the grooms, and the owners. It is the riders and horses that succeed." He also credited 'co-coach' Ernst Hoyos, who is Lisa Wilcox's home trainer. Hoyos is originally from Austria, and a former rider at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, who now lives in Germany and has a farm with Wilcox.

After the Grand Prix Special, Klaus commented that he had not yet seen the judge's score sheets for McDonald and Wilcox, but that he was sure that he would see some scores of 9 and 10. He noted that the opinion of the judges had to be very different for the results to have turned out the way they did. He added that he was disappointed that one judge gave 40 points less to Wilcox than another judge. "You really have to put the best judges here," he said, but he would go no further when asked if that meant that the judges at the WEG were not the best. "I do not want to make that comment as team coach, but I suggest they do their best."

When Balkenhol returns to his home in Germany and the American riders all go back to their various homes in the States, he said that all he could do to help them was, "hope that all the riders will remember what I have told them."

Balkenhol is in a unique situation in that he is not only the American coach, but he is also the coach for Nadine Capellmann of Germany. Balkenhol said that the Germans and Americans work together to make this arrangement possible, especially for Nadine (his student of 10 years) and Debbie McDonald (his student for five years). "The riders are never left alone," he said. "Debbie and Nadine and the American team understand each other quite well and I hope there is no conflict." Balkenhol is also coaching one of the Danish team members, Natalie Zu Sayn Wittgenst, daughter of the King and Queen of Denmark.

Lisa Wilcox commented, "Good trainers are hard to find. We have to share them. If Klaus has to leave, Ernst fills in."

"Everybody works together," Balkenhol added. "We have the same goal. All the riders want to come out the best they can." Though Balkenhol said that all the riders are his favorites and every individual is special, he added that Nadine Capellmann is his favorite because they have been together for so long that she is like a daughter to him.

Balkenhol is very much in favor of the U.S. riders continuing to compete in European shows. "It helped and played a big role. Look at how they rode at the World Equestrian Games – wow!" he smiled.

Balkenhol also mentioned that he hoped the USA Equestrian and USET would come together as soon as possible. He noted that the expenses incurred in the current situation are funds that young riders depend on. "The sooner they get that together, the better," he said.

America and other nations are still considered in their developing stages of dressage, according to Balkenhol. He wants more riders to come to Europe more often so that the judges can see them and "not be afraid to give them points. It's the most important thing. It doesn't help if the system is right but the judges don't see them," he said. It is important for American judges to come to Europe also he added. He noted that at shows he attended in Florida and California the European judges scored the riders higher than the American judges. "They need to get out of the country, get a better eye and perspective."

But above all Balkenhol said, as owners and riders, we need to work with the horse. "The horse is not a tool."