My carreer didn't take the usual way of learning a professional riding job ...
It was not possible for me. I always wanted to do it – riding all day, whatever horses I could get. But my way was to attend high school and go to university. And I did that all. Besides I rode absolutely everything I could get or was allowed to. There were not many occasions during my school time, but during my university time in Salzburg I hab 1 to 3 horses a day to ride. Whenever someone didn´t have enough time for his horse or didn´t like or dare to ride it, I was ready for riding at any time. So I learned riding by just doing it, by watching others, who seemed to know how it should be done and by catching every possible lesson I could get. And so I found out, that the best way to have a good contact to the bit and get a cooperative attitude from the horse is, if they are loose and work over the back. So I tried to work it out with every horse I sat on. This principle seemd a quite good invention – I found out later on. Not just comfortable for both of us – it was right as well compared to the training scale, as I found out later. People liked to ride the horses after I schooled them. So the next step was logical, that I tought them how to handle the problems they have. And this seemed to work without thinking any further.
I made my carreer as a student of psychology and marketing at the universities in Salzburg and Linz. You have to learn a profession to earn money to buy and keep horses. Logical, isn´t it? I finished with a diploma in psychology and worked for 8 years as market researcher. I planned, organized and calculated market surveys for big companies. That means, I went to Vienna in the morning, presented the results of a survey for the CEO´s of big companies, went back to Salzburg to prepare the next one for the next day, went back to any other town to present, worked till late night hours to be prepared in time. In that time, I bought my first own horse: Rubicon – a wonderful Oldenburg gelding by Rubinstein. But I worked till 9 in the evening, turned down the lights in the office, went to the yard, turned on the lights in the indoor again, rode my horse till 11, turned down the lights again and fought my way back, sometimes through snowstorms, to go to vienna with the train at 6 in the morning. On Friday I went to a competition – on Sunday I came home dirty and tired with lots of dirty stuff and there was never anything in the fridge or cleanded up. And after sometimes I had the impression: this will not work out right! If you want to ride, you can´t go on like that! It is a fight at two fronts. You can´t be good in any of the jobs.
In a job break when I had to decide if I go on with marketing, it happened that people asked me for riding lessons, for help with their horses. And it worked out easily. They were quite successful in regional shows and I could really help them with their horses. It was in fact, what I had done for years: helping people with their horses. So I just let things go, made a trainer education in the north of Germany and became a self employed dressage trainer, a basic trainer for competitive beginners. I spent some time in England and in Belgium, to work in dressage stables, but not for long. My appeal is teaching. As teaching and riding is not the same! It is not for sure, that a good rider is a good teacher. As in any other sports: training and performing is not the same. There are more good riders, than good trainers, who can explain things the way students understand and are able to carry out. So I found out, that I might be a bit special about teaching. Training the horse and understanding problems in schooling them are a part as well, but to explain the solution to humans is another difficult aspect. So I started training “average” riders, children on Ponies, Haflingers usw. And after some years three of them made it to the Austrian dressage Championships for Juniors or children, one competed international Juniors Tour. Many ribbons, lots of fun on the shows and … a lot of hard work for the students and for me. I organized absolutely everything for the athletes – but it worked out right.
The fact that I learned a lot about psychology and learned to analyse human behaviour in my academical career, might be an aspect, that made teaching more easy for me. But I am convinced that it is necessary that the student sits on his horse and tries to solve problems with his own hands and feet – watching me riding from the corner could not bring a lot of progress. Some might think, that this is an exhausting way of getting near ribbons, well… if you want that ribbon – you have to work hard.
From my point of view: it is not easy to live from being a self employed dressage trainer…
but: the world belongs to the lion-hearted!
With my own horse Companero, an Andalusian horse, I rode till Intermediate I. Wie were placed in Prix St. Georg. With Ducado I competed successfully till Medium advanced level. We´ll see what to come…
I had to learn a proper business before I decided to take the adventure of being a trainer. And I could tell you it is not always easy to live as a self employed dressage trainer.
I had to attend a university, just learning to ride as a professional was no option for me. I didn’t dare to speak up against my parents good will to make the best education possible for me. I made a good final exam at a natural science high school in Linz and then I went to Salzburg -where I still live – to study psychology and marketing. I have never been one of those “how do you feel doing that?” psychologists, I was a business woman from the beginning, combining psychology and consumer behaviour with lots of statistical calculations. I was convinced I should better earn more money then less to buy dressage horses. Quite a realistic way to see the sport. But in Marketing – work is never over! You get a proposal on your desk at 7 in the evening and it should be out the next morning, so you work it out till 11 and there is no room for anything else. I would have liked that, if I had not had a horse in a stable half an hour away. Waiting for me all day. And this neverending desire to ride, every day, as much as possible. I worked as a project manager for 8 years in marketing. After 8 years I decided that this will not end well. I could bury all my dreams of riding and end up as a successful manager or I change my life to a completely different direction. Lucky me, a big electricity company didn´t continue my contract and I felt free to start something new.
I went for some month to England to work in a dressage stable and of course I didn’t coop very much with the conditions after being a well organized project manager for so many years. I think I was quite annoying – I am sorry for that, but it was a hard way from marketing manager to stable worker. When I came back from my England adventure I was asked for lessons by some dressage riders, mainly juniors. And it worked from the beginning. I mananged all their careers and taught them all technical skills I could and well…. 3 of them made it to the Austrian Junior championships, just riding on average horses for not even €10.000. Some things we might have done right!!! I´m sure many not, their would have been room for improvement, but bringing all my excitement for this dressage sport into the training with the junior riders, brought a lot of success.
Besides the riding I made a post graduate education of a sports psychologist at the university of Innsbruck. I don´t want to offer myself as a sports psychologist, but I need a lot of the knowledge during my daily training sessions with my students. Might be a part of the success. But the greatest part of the success might by caused by my enthusiasm to support riders, who really want to learn to ride and school horses. Clever riding.
I am also teaching at a horse business school in Salzburg. It is near Hallein, in Oberalm. It is an agricultural school with a special part for horse farms.
The students are between 14 and 18 years old. It takes 3 years and it´s final exam is a certificate as na agricultural technician or a horse business technician. In Austria you need this certificate if you take over the lead of your family business farm, concerning any kind of animals, as cows, chicken, sheep, pigs or horses. The students really learn to work in an agricultural environment, as the Winklhof is a certified Bio-Farm with all kind of animals. The horses have an own facility – the Wiesenhof – where in former times a great jumping horses breeding was situated. It is owned by the region of Salzburg now and up for teaching the Winklhof students. I am responsible for teaching riding- in fact dressage as the students should finish at a beginner´s level of the FEI scale. They go through various exams, tested by judges of the Austiran riding association.
After their final exams, they are given the opportunity to finish with a riding instructor certificate, if they are skilled enough. We are 3 riding instructors teaching jumping and dressage and a lot of beginner´s lessons, as most of the students start very unexperienced with riding. Many of them are children of a mountain farmer in the Austrian alps and just know riding on self breed Norikers or Haflingers at home, which were in former times working horses for working in the forest. Some still work in the mountains with horses because it is sometimes to steep to take maschines there. Horses usually find their way and manage to survive. So, many of our students are really used to working hard and at school they learn all skills a farmer or horseman needs. But the horse business part is open for all students, not only farmers.
What do I teach?
I am not sure if I am not some kind of outsider in the world of dressage, cause I am convinced that the rider hast to learn riding first, and if he is capable of, he or she could also ride a really good horse.
The focus of trainers and judges is actually a bit too much on the quality of the horse and the performance of the single exercises, in relation to the quality of the horse. That doesn´t mean that we do not like good horses! But I think that learning is also possible on average horses. The expensive one could maybe cause more fun and you would get higher marks, but it doesn´t replace the process of learning the riders aids, position and seat. So, if you have a superb horse with lots of quality in it´s basic movements – get on it and ride joyfully, feel and learn- if you don´t have a good one… take whatever you get and then get on there and ride joyfully and learn even more.
I am a basic trainer for dressage. The first thing to learn is position and seat, and the coaction of all aids. This can be trained on a Haflinger as well, as on an expensive dressage horse. Maybe the Haflinger will hurt them less in the beginning, but that´s not for sure. If you don’t treat these robust breeds the right way, they will just cross over to the grass having lunch there. It´s just that simple for Haflinger. A and L level dressage might be possible with nearly every horse – it´s just helpful to do it right!
This doesn't change in medium and advanced level, as in the small tour. If you do it right – it might be better, anyway. It´s just about the lessons becoming more difficult – just the lessons… The grade of difficulty just exponentiates the complexity of the coordination of the riders aids.
It also might be a question of the riders´ fitness and strength. A physical fitness is necessary for a good position and seat. Dressage riders sometimes think, that being skinny is enough to be a good rider. But if the muscles are not used to work or simply not there where they are expected to be – it might be impossible to convince a 600 kg dancing partner to cooperate. The horse would maybe be willing to do, what he was asked for… but he simply doesn´t know! Nobody told him. So, a little bit of an athletic attitude towards our sport – and dressage is an Olympic discipline – is essential, even if it ruins the styling and forces us out of our comfort zone.
To no other horse I owe so much as to my Companero.
“Kumpel” is from Andalusia. I found him at a German horse dealer, who imported horses from Spain. It was not really a professional level there, it just was some kind of indoor arena and some kind of riding. I watched his foto in the homepage for 3 month and thought about him. A bay Andalusian horse with white hindlegs, 1.68 m high – quite big for an Andalusian – not really charming. After three month I asked if they still have him – nobody was really interested in him because he was not that kind of fairytale horse people look for if they want a Spanish horse. So I tried him once… And once up there I never wanted to leave. He gave me a wonderful feeling: light steady contact, easy moving and with his ability for passage he made me think of a great future. In fact: Companero had 3 basic gaits for a 6, in walk he did not even score 6 all the time. But Kumpel did not know that! He thought he is a great dressage horse – if I asked him to and fed him well. Feeding is his basic interest. He learned everything easily and after 3 years I rode him St. Georg. It was my first and his first Prix St. George.
He fitted well into my purse and after the disappointment with my wonderful Rubicon, whom I only nursed and rode just little, I didn´t want a german horse. That´s the easy explanation why I ended up with Spanish horses. I wasn´t an admirer of the beauty and the unicorn presence of the Andalusian horses – I just wanted to ride! I wanted a dressage horse with a potential for collection and 4 feet to run.
We made it till Inter I, but we didn´t win a lot. He didn´t have enough potential to earn high marks, but he made things possible. It was not easy at all. He was really a good guy, never spooking, whatever happened around the arena – he did his thing. But I had to ride the trot on the border between passage and transition to medium trot – that was nearly impossible to ride it through a whole test without loosing rhythm now and then. But sometimes I could do it right and we were placed in St. Georg and four times we took part in the regional championships in Salzburg, where we once ended as Vize-Champion because Companero and I made it through the pouring rain and a drowning showground and all the others didn´t compete anymore. But in fact, we couldn´t win against the great dressage horses, sometimes we just made less mistakes.
But Companero was very clever – and a bit lazy. He found out, that he could take it easier during the test and didn´t show his big – passage based – trot anymore. And it was impossible to convince him about the necessity of his engagement in the arena. So I looked for another job for him in which he could bring in all his routine. He competed another year at beginner´s level with a student, a little girl and won many ribbons without ever taking any effort. He did the tests with all his experience and when he came out of the arena, he fell into the handbag of the girls´ mother and found always a banana there. After two more years I retired him and he spends his days in the fields now. He is the safest horse to hack! He brings anybody home again – sometimes very early if he is hungry. And that´s the usual version – hungry. He seems to be really delighted if I visit him – as long as I have carrots. If I have none anymore – he is delighted about other things – things he can eat. It is that simple for him.
Companero is just a little Spanish horse (besides he is 1,68!), not bred to be a dressage horse, not even really beautiful, but we made a long way together, up to Intermediate I, to nearly all Austrian show grounds – just with a big heart.
I think, that many riders would need a horse like Companero even if he is not able to gain 70%...
I didn´t see what he is worth in the time we were competing – but I owe him so much! … and I will give it back in his retirement. `Thanks “Kumpel” – you are the greatest little bullfight horse in the world.`