If you have been interested in top young warmblood dressage horses, you know the name of Germany's Dr. Ulf M?ller. He was at a young-horse clinic at Shari Glickman's GoodNess Ridge Farm last weekend in Maryland, and I went over to make his acquaintance and hopefully get him to commit to doing an article or two for us in the future.
Just in case you don't know, for many years Dr. M?ller rode young horses at the venerable Hanoverian auction in Verden, Germany. He trained the creme de la cr?me and won championships at the biggest shows in Germany. Needless to say, he has a huge reputation. He recently decided to work for Performance Sales International (PSI) where he is the manager under the owner, Ulrich Kasselmann. PSI is having an auction at the beginning of December and I picked up a DVD of the horses to be sold there. OMG, these are amazing horses - the Victoria Secret models of the horse world. I think you can see them on YouTube as well.
Back to the clinic: I saw lovely horses there, as well, ridden by J.T. Burnley, Brendan Curtis, Nancy Lewis-Stanton and Inga Janke. At lunch, Dr. M?ller looked at me very seriously and said that often riders wait too long to develop their horses. "You have to ask the horse," he said. "The horse won't just give it to you if you don't ask." You can use the 3-, 4- and 5-year-old dressage tests as a guide to what your young horse needs to know at these ages. For example, a 5-year-old should be doing flying changes. He said that the way horses are being bred these days makes them capable of doing all these skills.
During the clinic, here are a few more tips I gathered:
? Don't overreact when a young horse makes a mistake. When a horse broke from canter to trot, for example, he quickly told the rider, "No problem, no problem." Keeping the training relaxed and fair seemed a priority.
? Watch your hands at canter and don't pull. If the horse gets too fast, use your voice soothingly.
? Always stretch the horse at the end of your ride.
? Often you have to go with what the horse is offering and not what you want to do.
? Each horse is different. Is he unable or unwilling? You have to make decisions immediately. If you make more right decisions than wrong ones, the horse gains confidence.
? To be quicker doesn't mean going faster.
? Don't lean backward with your upper body during down transitions. You might want to lean a bit forward instead to stop pushing the horse and stay in balance with him. Also, leaning back puts more pressure on the bit. The goal is always to get the back up and keep it there through the transition.
? If you do something right, say thank you to the horse and take him back to the barn. He will remember this positive experience. Always bring the horse back to the stable after a positive experience, not a negative one. When things are going well, no need to ask for more.