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Zierow, Germany, Where the Competition Was Held

04-02-2017

Week three and four training with Hubertus Schmidt.

Show prep and first horse show competing at Grand Prix in Germany!

Started week Three schooling in snaffle on Monday. Did lots of loosening work and transitions to get him soft and listening to half halt and on my seat. Working in the snaffle after a day off is a lot of work as Wrigley is generally stronger and less through after a day off but I feel it helps me to really get his body loose, even though it can take more time and at times be more work physically for me.

On Tuesday we schooled in the double and had a great ride. The changes were really super today, the two tempiis round and forward and covering the entire diagonal. One tempiis were well prepared and straight. Hubertus feels I should keep the ones for a solid 7 now and then as he gets more consistent start to build them and ask for more forward changes as the days go on. Even within the line of changes, best to think about getting them started and solid then building so I don’t over ride and make the first flying change jump too much up and not forward and through. Revisited the trot work and again schooled the trot working to get him more over the ground and less cadenced. Hubertus emphasized again that when he gets too much cadence and up and down in his trot it makes it harder for him to cross over and be fluent in the half passes. We finished with the extended trot and Hubertus wanted me to allow him to go more in front so he could swing more through his body.

Wednesday we warmed up indoors then went outside so that we could work on parts of the Grand Prix test in the full size arena. Started with half passes and then schooled the canter zig zag. Hubertus pleased with the forwardness and amount of sideways we got with each counter change. I need to do the first change out of the first half pass earlier so I don’t run out of room by the end. Otherwise quite good. We then schooled the pirouettes. He encouraged me to school them big first each way so that I can make adjustments to them. When you make them small from the beginning there’s no chance to make constructive corrections. Then once satisfied with quality of canter and bend in schooling size, ask for them the size I need for competition.

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Trot work more swinging from the start today. We start on circle first, then to shoulder in then to half pass. I need to be sure I keep his quarters and keep the swing all the way to the end of half pass- wherever I chose to end it, maintain the position to that point. In the left half pass in trot practice finishing and maintaining the bend and position left up to and sometimes through the corner to remind Wrigley to stay with me. Then straighten and ride up and forward to the halt and keep his nose in front of the vertical.

Schooled the extended trot on diagonal for first time today. He again wants me to let him out more and to keep extension all the way to the end letter. We then schooled passage and again he reiterated how important it is that I ride forward in the turns in passage so he stays in front of me, then take that forward feeling into the piaffe. He must feel like he wants to move forward in piaffe, not that he stops in place on his own, no matter how good the piaffe is. Finished with trot extension on diagonal then collected trot up center line to passage and then piaffe at X. I need to keep him thinking not just forward but also a little left so that he stays regular. We had really good work today and Hubertus said the piaffe and passage were both for an 8 today!

I am away for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so the plan is for Hubertus to ride and school Wrigley. I am glad he is having the opportunity to have a few rides on him so he can feel what’s happening and we can discuss it. I think it’s often surprising for trainers to sit on a horse and feel what the rider feels. I’ve also heard say that the better the rider the more they can hide what’s happening!

On Monday I get the chance to discuss in detail the rides Hubertus had with Wrigley. It’s very interesting feedback and I think it helped Hubertus feel how Wrigley is changing and now once he’s through to the left, the work to the right in the trot has actually become a bit more challenging. He’s letting go now better on the left rein on the inside and accepts the right half halt outside, but then when you track to the right and the left rein is now on the outside, he’s trying to push through it and becomes heavy and bearing down when you ask him to balance.

He also commented on how when he schooled the half passes he got a great feeling in the reins and in Wrigley’s body for the first half of the diagonal, but then half way through the half pass Wrigley totally changed and stiffened left. Hubertus had to come back to the walk a few times and school the half pass in walk, to get Wrigley to wait with him and not take over. Once he had a good feeling in the half passes he then went to canter for a bit, then back to trot and then back to test how he is in the trot half pass again. Wrigley started blocking him again in the half pass so he repeated coming back to the walk, suppling him, then going on again, being certain he stayed soft.

When we schooled Monday we took extra time to get Wrigley really soft left in the warm up. By continuing to use the snaffle rein on the left and my inside leg I focus on bending him and then softening as soon as he releases.

When we schooled the half passes today we really focused on the use of the half halt and release being the important part of it. Use the aid quickly in one stride, then release and if necessary to repeat it then do another one a stride or two or three later. Key is that he gets the chance to carry with the reins soft. If there’s no release or the half lasts too long it won’t balance him, and allow him to swing. It just balls him up.

The next three days we focused on different parts of the test, but each day we still schooled the trot and trot half passes as it’s the place where he needs the most work. We began putting small pieces of the test together in the outside arena, stringing maybe two or three movements in a row together to see how things flowed.

Friday is the day we drive to the show. It’s nearly a five hour drive so we leave in the morning so allow the horses to settle and have lunch and time to walk and graze in the afternoon. The show ground are located in a town called Zierow, right on the Baltic coast, in what used to be East Germany. The stalls are in a tent and the competition arena is an indoor with high walls and the spectators and judges sitting above the horses. I am very happy we are going to get the chance to have a full schooling session indoors as it is a bit scary with people so close and right above the horses. There is a competition going on the day we arrive so we need to wait until 7 PM to school indoors. Hubertus drove up separately and waited for us to help us prepare for the test. I was so grateful to have the help schooling that night! Hubertus just emphasized that we take as much time as needed to walk and relax Wrigley in the indoor and then to take time in the warm up doing lots of trot and canter transitions so that Wrigley gets soft and releases his back. I know from past experiences that after trailering for a long distance and being at a new facility, that Wrigley can feel totally different than he does at home. His back stiffens, his trot gets flat and the canter feels hurried. I know that he needs sometimes 15 minutes of trot to canter transitions with a break in the middle to begin to really let go in his body.

Hubertus wanted me to make the plan for what I wanted to do in the schooling today. I chose to do a little collected canter work with half passes but no zig zag. I also just wanted to school the pirouette canter on the center line without the pirouettes just to check on his straightness and to keep him honest and to be sure he’s not thinking about turning on his own. Walk break, then the trot work. Trot was good today, more up and nice hand. Started again on the circle each way to check for bend and swing, then the shoulder in and then the half passes. We finished with the canter up the centerline to the halt then trot to extended trot. Today Wrigley wants to really take over and Hubertus could see why I had been concerned about letting him go too much in the extensions in the days leading up to the show. We changed tactics today and schooled short diagonals to keep him balanced and then short sets of passage to extended trot then back to passage to get him listening and staying with me. When we do the full diagonal in extended trot it’s key that Wrigley takes the half halt at the end before the corner so that I can ride forward on the short side, then half halt again before right corner and then start the steep half pass. Hubertus reminds me again that the left rein makes him wait, the right snaffle keeps flexion and bending and that I need to keep the quarters right up to the end point before B. Just as I approach the track I change flexion, and ride forward to the left half pass, keeping Wrigley’s shoulders to the right with left leg and using the right rein half halts. If he tries to take over I use the curb on the right in a half halt to make him wait. The left snaffle rein keeps him supple and loose on the left so he’s soft and can swing and stay forward in the trot.

From the double half passes we schooled the halt and rein back at C. Be sure to keep him up to the halt- nose in front! Take time and wait before starting rein back. Trot out to extended trot to passage turn to the left. I need to keep a bit of left flexion after the transition back to passage and think about a hint of haunches-in to keep Wrigley from getting hollow to the right. Ride passage forward through the turn and keep right rein close to his neck, and keep forward in piaffe! Very good work today and Wrigley felt relaxed and not anxious about the environment by the end of the schooling.

Show day! A bit of a learning curve showing here. At this show they did not post actual ride times! They give a start time for your class and then if you ask the secretary they can tell you the letter that was chosen that day to determine order of go- based on the horses name. So, for our class it was M, so all the horses with first name M, then N and so on would be in front of Wrigley. We calculated I would be seventh to go. However, you don’t know how much time they are allowing for each horse, so you can imagine it’s really a bit hard to plan. We thought we had planned right, but they were still 15 minutes behind what we estimated to be our time.

The footing was a bit heavy in the outdoor warm up so we did lots of walking and walk breaks so we don’t tire Wrigley. He felt great today and could have gone in with a 20 minute warm up! As it was we had to do lots of walking to take up the time but I was quite pleased with how the warm up was totally in keeping with all the warm ups we did in preparation for the show. When you have a warm up system that works and you stick with it, it takes so much pressure off in the show warm up! No surprises and no feeling of having to hurry because you have a plan and you know how long things take.

My test was very solid and I got some great scores. My trot work and my half passes, in particular, were much improved and really flowed. The extended trots were not as big as they had been in schooling but I was a little bit conservative in how much I asked in the first two. His piaffe got all 8’s and the passage several 7.5’s. The two tempiis were also an 8. There were a couple times in the test where Wrigley tried to pull down and got a bit short in the neck. Hubertus said I need to stay on the snaffle rein and use my back and legs to push him up to the bridle when he does that. Be sure in the entry that I keep him up and forward in the canter right to the halt and don’t collect the canter too much before X.

We finished in fourth place in the Grand Prix in a class of fifteen professionals. There were some really super horses in the class and some top professionals including Pia Laus-Schneider and Marion Wiebusch. The scores were close in the top four group with just one score of 70 % and the next three riders all within 2 percentage points. I felt the scoring was very fair and that these judges really rewarded the good things with good scores and were tough where there were mistakes. From what I saw they weren’t afraid to use the full range of scores.

Saturday we compete in the Grand Prix Special. We finish fourth again but with a high 68 and the scores are even closer! We had a couple of mistakes in the tempiis today, usually they are our highlight. We hadn’t practiced this test at all and the changes come off the opposite diagonals so we had a couple communication errors. But the highlight for me was the 8 we got on the left trot half pass! I think it’s only the second time he’s gotten an 8 on the left half pass in his career (once I think at Prix St George), and for sure the first one in the Grand Prix Special. I am really pleased with the weekend and I feel like I got so much from the experience. It was invaluable having Hubertus there for the warm up and to watch and go over my test when I came out. It was so helpful for him to see what happens in the arena during competition that doesn’t happen much in schooling. We can now make some small changes to the training plan and prepare for the next outing.

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03-20-2017

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After the first full week of training I felt that our work started to solidify. Not to say there weren’t rides that were more challenging than others, but getting familiar with a system and how a trainer wants to work through issues takes time. In the second week of training I felt like I could anticipate better the corrections Hubertus was looking for, and as a consequence of that, get better results.

The second week was a logical next step from where we left off on Friday. Hubertus overall likes my warm up technique but reminds me to keep flexion to the left and a steady outside rein. He wants to be certain that I really work to get Wrigley loose on the left side in the trot warm up when there’s no pressure. If the horse isn’t made to be soft from the beginning it only gets worse as you add more power and pressure for the collected work.

I will make a side note here about watching the warm up of Hubertus and his horses. If you were to walk into the arena when any of his FEI horses were starting their trot warm up you would not think they were top FEI competitors. They trot very normally, long and low without much lift or cadence or much impulsion. He is loosening them for sure, and they are listening to the leg and hand, but nothing is forced at the start. He insists that they all lower the neck and reach for connection in walk, trot and canter. He will take the time to get them loose, then break for walk, then he goes to trot with most of the horses. Here again, the first few rounds sitting are more uphill for sure, but it’s not the “10” trot right away. He will take a few rounds each direction to be sure he has the horse on his seat, swinging, and good in hand. He then he starts with shoulder in, and only once satisfied with the swing and feel of that will he start the half passes. It’s a very methodical progression with every horse, every day. He is building power and expression through relaxation and then later, a positive response to the aids.

We’re staying with the basic trot and canter loosening warm up, then a walk break, then canter work routine we did in week one. I have an easier time with Wrigley starting with the canter work. It helps me get him forward and through and on my seat. We start after warm up again with half passes in canter. From a nice big, jumping, forward collected canter I collect in the corner, ride shoulder fore, then begin half pass. Don’t let the canter half passes be too shallow and long,, keep the angle steep enough or he doesn’t stay collected enough in the canter. In half pass to the left, use the right outside rein to keep him aligned and the quarters from trailing. Keep him square under me, keep half halting to keep him with me and keep the jump in the canter with right leg. If he isn’t soft on the left rein, circle and make him loose, then begin half pass.

We started working some of the lessons outdoors this week and kept the same warm up routine. Take as much time as needed to get him loose. With a brisk, windy day, it might take more time to get him where he needs to be in the warm up. Remember in the canter warm up to keep the canter open and like a big working canter. Don’t let him come up too much and don’t close him too much at the start. After the canter half passes we focused on trot work on this day. I should focus on making small adjustments in the trot. Ride the trot a little forward and back and be careful that he doesn’t come up too much in front. Keep the swing in the trot and keep his strides covering ground. I find it a delicate balance to keep him feeling up enough where he’s good in the contact, without Hubertus commenting that he’s getting too up in front. Today we do the first extensions on the long side. Hubertus wants me to keep him rounder and keep inside flexion. When Wrigley gets strong at the end of the extension, half halt, flex him and make him go through in the corner. Don’t stop him, try and get him to take the half halt in the corner, then ride forward a bit on short side, then repeat extension.

Today in our first ride in the outdoor my flying changes were the best yet. The work we did earlier in the week has helped. I was more focused on the balance and straightness coming into the changes, especially on the approach to the one tempiis. Today the two tempiis were really straight and through and covered the entire diagonal. Hubertus said they were a solid 8. In the one’s I focused on the bringing him back like we had done earlier, and getting him really straight out of the corner, then starting the ones. No mistakes today and nice straight one tempiis. Hubertus said a solid 7 and for a 7.5-8 he needs to be cover more ground.

For the passage work Hubertus wants me to start from a good collected trot. I take the time to get him swinging and through and good in hand on the circle, then ask for the passage. It’s important that Wrigley stays good in hand and swinging when asked for the passage. He has very good talent for it, but I need him to stay consistently through and in front of me. Hubertus doesn’t want me to use the whip when I feel Wrigley is behind the leg, rather give him a firm kick with both legs, then sit quiet. The whip can make him uneven or jumping up too much with the hind legs. I’m working very hard to keep hands low and not help him too much in front. He has to stay under me and round enough in front but not short in the neck.

Once the passage is feeling good in hand a regular we practice the turn off the long side to prepare for the piaffe. He wants me to think of the turn like a quarter volte, not a square corner. It’s important that he stays forward thinking and doesn’t lose the rhythm. As I approach the piaffe I need to think forward and turn the shoulder slightly so he doesn’t get stuck with the left hind leg.

Saturday is the last day of the week for lessons. We worked on the same program as Friday only added pirouettes and didn’t school the flying w today. Wrigley’s right pirouette continues to be very good and he keeps good jump and uphill balance and allows me to control the turning stride by stride. To the left, I need to keep the left rein working on the inside to keep him soft and the right rein connection on the outside to keep him deep. Then the trick is to keep the canter jumping and not allowing him to shorten and over collect. We school the pirouette keep is a bit larger and really focusing on the quality of the canter strides behind.

Today the passage felt really good. He was lighter and more in front of me and stayed really regular. Remember to not work too hard in the passage. Make a correction with the leg to influence him then allow him to carry while I sit quietly with legs down. In extensions, Hubertus doesn’t want me to add too much cadence at the start of the extension. In all the trot work he wants me to think about keeping Wrigley more over the ground and softer. Keep working to get the strides longer and not so much up and down, and focus on making everything more fluent.

03-12-2017

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WEEK ONE Training with Hubertus Schmidt Blog entry

It’s a lovely mid- March day in North Westphalia Germany. It’s a Sunday and the horses all get a day of rest. It’s a bit chilly and breezy today, but the Germans love their bikes and their walks with their walking sticks and as I hand walk my horses they are all on their toes with all the activity. I walk the horses down the small side street and around the fields that are adjacent to Fleyenhof, Hubertus Schmidt’s stable. There are over 50 horses stabled here in three different stables, including breeding stallions, green youngsters and all the way up to Hubertus’s top International Grand Prix mounts.

I’ve been here in Germany for two weeks now. The first week was just getting the horses settled in and back to work without any formal training sessions. I am really glad to have had the time to get settled, organized, and let Wrigley rest a couple of days after the long trip from Massachusetts.

There are five riders here that work and train for Hubertus until his tutalage. They are all very friendly and helpful and, thankfully, all speak English! The day starts at 7:30 with feeding, riding starts at 8:00 and goes all day until 5:30 or so, with a break from noon to 2 for lunch. The indoor is quite busy, so having the break allows riders with young or fresh horses to work without so much traffic. Observing the rider’s, the first week, without Hubertus there coaching anyone, was insightful. All the riders loosened their horses nicely with walk trot canter transitions and rode with round but open frames, with totally relaxed horses. They all rode forward and once in work, rode their horses uphill with open necks. And no surprise, they all have great seats and lovely positions!

My sessions started this week with Hubertus and I decided to ride Wrigley in the snaffle bridle for the first day. I have found that working one or two days in the snaffle per week helps me keep Wrigley feeling the best in his body and connection. I discussed this with Hubertus and he was completely open to it, as I know the horse so well and he wanted to see what my normal routine was like. It’s been sometime since Hubertus has seen Wrigley so the first few rides was all about him observing him in all his work and then making a plan for the coming weeks as we prepare for our first competition at the end of March.

For the first week or two I’ll give detailed accounts of my training sessions. Then as the weeks go on I will combine rides and make other comments on training and things I’ve observed in watching Hubertus train and from his instructing other riders. So, for now, Day one in the snaffle went something like this: Walk for 5-10 minutes, then loose, round trot with lots of canter trot transitions. Keep the canter forward and ground covering with good jump, but open in the neck and over the back. He’s happy with Wrigley’s frame, the energy in the gaits and the forward jump of the canter. After a short break I start my work in canter. He reminds me to keep shoulder fore out of the corner in the canter, especially to the right. When approaching schooling pirouettes on the circle, keep the shoulder fore, then bring Wrigley’s shoulders around. In half passes in canter keep the forehand leading and be sure the inside front leg stays leading. In the half pass canter to the right be sure to collect in the right corner with the outside rein, then begin half pass and keep canter active and keep Wrigley uphill. In trot work, watch that quarters don’t drift out when using inside leg, especially on left hand. Keep outside rein steady tracking left and work that his left jaw gets softer. Don’t go too deep into corner with this basic work, just work on flexion and connection to outside rein until he comes through.

Day two double bridle. Same warm up as Day one, loosening with transitions walk, trot canter. Started real work again in canter today, asking for more uphill and forward canter. Shoulder fore again out of corner and shoulder fore preceding half passes. Keep him up in canter half passes with outside rein. Zig zag over and back was good, both canters having the same uphill balance and jump. In schooling pirouettes, the one to the right was quite good. To the left I need to keep him rounder in right rein on the approach and keep playing and working on the left flexion, then be soft once he’s in the pirouette. Keep the left pirouette a bit bigger so he doesn’t get short behind. The flying changes were quite good today, uphill, straight and forward. He just reminded me to be sure to keep my eyes on the line. In the trot today the work on the right hand was good. To the left he reminded me again not to go too deep into the corners until Wrigley is more through. Use snaffle rein on inside left rein to get the jaw soft, and curb rein on the right (outside) for half halt. Keep steady outside rein connection. Same applies to half pass to the left, if he braces, use left rein to supple him and right half halt to help him come through. Keep half passes shallow in the start and work them only after the shoulder-in is swinging and the trot has a good rhythm. Then begin half passes and make them steeper only once he has good self-carriage , a good rhythm and the trot is swinging .

Day three. After warm up, started again with canter. Tracking left, get left flexion, keep right rein steady, work on left jaw with snaffle rein to make it softer. Half passes better today, just remember to collect right lead in the corner at the start of half pass keep using half halts, inside leg and outside rein so he doesn’t get long as half pass continures. Zig zag very good today with good changes in between. Two tempiis very good today. In the one time changes try and keep right rein close to him and left rein softer. Bring him back more in the corner to the right before the ones so he’s straight and through before they start. In the trot work we focused on making more fluent corrections so he takes the half halt and stays with me. Focus on keeping him more through and balanced so he doesn’t “run away” after the half halt. Repeat in three strides if needed, but keep insisting that when I give he has to stay in balance and through. Passage quite good today. Keep it cadenced and soft but not too big. .In the piaffe keep him soft on left rein and keep him turning a little to the left to keep him regular and even behind. Transitions in and out piaffe/passage very good today.

Day four: All canter work felt better today. The focus on the left half halt to collect him in the right corner before half pass right is working beautifully. For the zig zag off the left turn be sure to get the left jaw soft in corner before zig zag. Zig zag quite good today. The two tempiis also good, the one tempiis we schooled on the quarter line for first set. Then focused on collecting and getting left should out of the way before changes and they were lovely. He suggested riding first three changes normal then push him more forward and uphill once he’s settled.

Best thoroughness in trot for quite some time! Really worked to supple the left side. Over bending for a stride or two on left circle, then softening and he should stay soft and connected on a steady right rein. Keep left leg at girth, control the quarters and drifting to the right with right leg and right rein connection. As soon as he’s good reward him with a soft hand. Keep the trot swinging, make a half halt with leg and keep right rein and left flexion, then quietly go on again. Allow after each half halt, then do another if he doesn’t stay in self carriage. Don’t hold him up or allow him to lean. I was rewarded by lovely half passes and a happy horse with a balanced and swinging trot.

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Day five: Long walk warm op today, then loosening trot and canter. We schooled the canter pirouettes and the work to the right was quite good. Still working on left pirouette staying a bit rounder on approach by keeping him deeper in right rein. Then when starting the pirouette think small in size, then after two strides make it bigger so he stays forward and through. In the trot work Wrigley felt a bit tired so he didn’t have the carriage of day four but it was good practice to work on the same issues when things aren’t feeling easy! After really working on the thoroughness both directions and making sure we could change left and right and do shoulder in both ways in a good balance we schooled some steeper half passes. He reminded me to school the end of the left half pass by keeping the left flexion into the corner. Then straighten and approach the halt at C. This keep the left side soft into the halt so he’s prepared for the 5 step rein back in the Grand Prix.

Day Six: Hack out on trails by stable and down the small side street. I schooled Wrigley lightly on my won in the outdoor arena focusing just on the balance and connection in the trot. Lovely! A super first week with lots of great feedback.

02-20-2017

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Photo by: Andrea Waxler

It’s mid February 2017 and the snow banks are piled high around the stable. Most years at this time would find me in Florida with clients and horses, training, showing and enjoying the sun and warmth. Friends ask me if I miss Florida and I reply “Not at all” and here’s why. Through a grant from The Dressage Foundation’s Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize I have the opportunity to travel to Germany to train with Hubertus Schmdit. I will leave in February with Wrigley and two other horses, to train and compete for the and winter and spring.

I was awarded The Dressage Foundation’s Carol Lavell Gifted Advanced Dressage Prize, a 25K grant specifically designed for top upper level FEI horse and rider combinations to get training and exposure in Europe. I was awarded the grant with Wrigley, a dutch warmblood gelding that I have trained and competed with since his purchase as a green 6 year old in 2009. Wrigley blossomed into a wonderful horse and has been competing at top US competitions since 2011 where he was third at the US Developing horse PSG Championships in Illinois. In 2012 he was Region 8 Intermediare II Champion, and ranked 2nd in US for Young Horse’s at Grand Prix. In 2010 Wrigley and I competed at the USEF National Grand Prix Championships and finished seventh in the U.S. In 2011 we competed at the U.S. Selection Trials for the World Equestrian Games at Gladstone, NJ and finished 12th in the country. From 2011 to 2016 we were on the USEF Long list and trained in Elite training sessions with top US coaches. In 2016 we were 3rd in the country at the USDF National Grand Prix Championships.

The Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage prize will fund the trip to Germany to train with Hubertus Schmidt, German Champion and Olympic team gold medalist. I will be concentrating the training with Wrigley but will have two other young horses with me as well. A 6 year old Christo Ball and an 8 year old, Diamon. Having three horses at levels from First through Grand Prix will allow me to glean training tips at a range of levels. I have been fortunate to train with Hubertus in past years. First with my former Grand Prix mount Juli Sherif at a Symposium hosted by NEDA and then subsequently in clinics in Florida where Hubertus would come to train riders in the winter. I’ve always admired Hubertus’s relaxed, straightforward, correct training. His focus on building power and expression in the horse through relaxation.

Over the coming months I will share my training experience through this blog. Our sport allows us to continuously learn and grow and each horse at each level is another layer of experience and knowledge. Having the opportunity to train consistently with Hubertus and have the opportunity to watch daily training, competition warm ups and top European shows is something I’ve always yearned to do. My hope is to share what I learn so that others may gain from my experience.