Dressage Today Podcast Transcript: Interview with Shannon Dueck

Listen in to co-hosts Stephanie Ruff and Aviva Nebesky sharing stories of their current horses and Aviva answering a listener’s question in her segment "Ask the L."Then Stephanie interviews international Grand Prix competitor Shannon Dueck.

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Listen in to co-hosts Stephanie Ruff and Aviva Nebesky sharing stories of their current horses and Aviva answering a listener’s question in her segment “Ask the L.”

Then Stephanie interviews international Grand Prix competitor Shannon Dueck. Born in Austin, Texas, Shannon grew up outside of Vancouver Canada. Her mother Jacqueline Oldham was an “S” dressage judge in both Canada and the USA and instilled in Shannon a love and knowledge of classical dressage from an early age. She furthered her education with a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science at the University of British Columbia and a Master’s degree in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Texas A&M.


Season 2 Episode 7

[00:00:00] Stephanie Ruff: [00:00:00] Hello, I’m Stephanie Ruff. And I’m Aviva Nebesky. We’re the hosts of the dressage today podcast, where you can find us talking about anything and everything dressage related. Our conversations span the world of dressage from leading riders to local level dressage heroes. We’re talking training advice, showing tips and sharing stories to inspire your own dressage journey. So tune in then tack up.

Welcome everyone to the dressage today podcast. We are so glad you’re back andAviva I’m very excited that you came back too. How are you doing?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:00:41] I’m doing great. This has been a very exciting startup, and I can’t wait for us to keep going.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:00:46] I know me either. We’re happy to say we’ve gotten some good feedback thus far anyway.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:00:53] That’s the thing I’m hearing a lot of positive stuff, too. People really enjoyed the interview with Janet Foy. It was very good of her to spend so [00:01:00] much time

with you.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:01] Yes. So, But equally I’m also excited for today’s episode. Because later we will have an interview with the international Grand Prix, competitor and trainer Shannon Dueck.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:14] Oh, how exciting.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:15] Yes, that’ll be great.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:18] Oh that’s marvelous.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:19] And we have your segment of course “Ask the L” but first we thought since last time we introduced ourselves, I thought that maybe today we could talk a little bit about our horses because everybody wants to hear about horses. And so you can go first Aviva. who do you have in your barn?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:38] I have a very small barn. I have a six stall barn. Three of the horses are my retired competition horses, and then I have one riding horse and then a couple of boarder horses as well. Would, Oh, who would you like to hear about?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:52] Let’s see I think Leo is your horse, right?

Leo is my quote, riding

Leo is a very special boy. I got [00:02:00] Leo from my very dear friend and small “r” dressage judge Phoebe Devoe. He was bred down near you. He was bred in Florida by Juliana Wittenberg at flying lion farm. And I got Leo when he was four and he is by Pablito out of a Westphalian mare. I don’t know the Westphalian line.

So forgive me all of those who have Westphalian horses. I apologize. But he is registered. Name is Pantaleon F LF and he’s probably the prettiest horse I’ve ever seen in my life. I tell people that if he were a human being, his name would be Justin and he’d be the lead singer in a boy band. he’s just pretty, but he’s very tricky.

I think I’ve told your listeners already, or our listeners already that I’m going to be 63 next month. And Leo was supposed to be my last horse and Leo was supposed to be the horse that took me into the FEI ring and there’s one thing we have to say for horses is that they do keep us [00:03:00] humble.

They do.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:00] And they do things their own way and their own time. And we just have to accommodate them. And I have a feeling that Leo and I are never going into the show ring. But we are having lots of fun learning how to do stuff together. He’s schooling pretty much all of the third and fourth level work with the exception of the flying change, which for some reason he has decided is not something that he needs to do.

And at my old age, I’m not willing to ride through some of the bucks that we’ve been experiencing. So we’ve put that on the back burner. So that’s Leo.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:03:37] Yeah, I hear ya. No horses. The horses have a tendency to not follow the schedule we want to set for them.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:44] Not even a little bit, I got him and he was absolutely fabulous and wonderful.

And I took him to his first licensed competition and Phoebe was there and her assistant trainer Claudia was there and [00:04:00] Charlotte who’s got him started on the ground, was there and Juliana was there and I was going to go win high score of the show because he was amazing. And we got to the show grounds and Leo had a major meltdown and literally hand walking him.

He would throw himself on the ground. He was so overstimulated and what’s really scary is that he does that under saddle, too. Yeah, so I’m not quite sure what happened. He’d been to a schooling show and did great, but something about the big show was just a little bit too much for his little pea brain and he doesn’t like other horses.

And so when we go for lessons and there’s another horse in the ring, he has a little meltdown until they leave lessons, but it doesn’t work in at shows cause everybody


Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:48] That’s very true. He just wants to be the center of attention.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:52] I guess that must be that’s that lead singer thing about him.

But he is a lovely horse and he’s super fun to [00:05:00] ride and. He has taught me so much that I think make me a better instructor make me a better trainer and hopefully make me a better judge as well. It has certainly taught me a little bit more patience than I ever thought I wanted. And he continues to work on my patience levels every day.

So tell me about, I know your mare; your beautiful mare. Tell me a little bit about what’s going on

with her.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:25] She’s a little bit similar to that. My, my main horse, I have two, but my main horses, Nadia, she is a 15 year old Arabian Dutch warmblood cross. But in attitude and temperament, she’s all Arabian.

She is also a bit of a prima Donna and she likes to be the center of attention. And like Leo, she gets very stressed out at horse shows because she’s the kind of horse that always has to know what’s going on with everyone, everywhere.A nd so at a show, same thing, overstimulated.

Now she does not throw herself on the ground. I [00:06:00] will say that. That is good. Yes. She just gets very inattentive because she’s trying to pay attention to everything except for


Aviva Nebesky: [00:06:07] Yeah, something exciting might be happening.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:06:10] So showing hers, I haven’t shown her a whole lot. That’s been a bit of a challenge as well.

And but so similarly like you I’ve been, she’s still, I love that mare to death. I have known her since the time she was a baby. She actually was bred by a very good friend of mine, Michelle Morgan in Texas. And I first saw her as a foal by her mother’s side. I was there. I was, I have pictures.

I was there taking, I was there working for Michelle and was out in the field, walking the fields of mares and foals. And, she came, Nadia came right up to me. She was like, hello, how are you? Look at me. I’m beautiful. And she has that. She has that attitude to this day. She’s always wanting people to look at her and pet her and tell her how beautiful she is.

[00:07:00] Yeah, so I was actually smitten with her from that moment on, but it wasn’t until she was about eight that I actually bought her. She was for sale for a long time, but I kept saying no for various reasons. And then finally, nobody ever bought her because she is a little bit hot.

She’s a little sensitive, she’s a little opinionated, but I just loved her. So I finally, it was like, yeah, of course I have to buy her. It was meant to be, I just didn’t get on board as fast as I probably should have, but that’s okay. We’re Oh, we are getting a decent flying change.

Now. I know the last time you saw her, it wasn’t quite as good, but that’s great news, but I finally decided, the only way I’m going to get it is if I try and work on it and it might not be perfect every time. But we still have to practice it.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:07:50] Practice makes


Stephanie Ruff: [00:07:52] Yeah. So I got over my fear of doing it wrong and just was like, okay, let’s just work on it.

And now she has a pretty good change.

[00:08:00] Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:00] I’m so pleased to hear that because she really is a lovely mare and everything in the third level she was doing so well. And that was just a challenge for her.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:08:11] Yes. Now she knows it. Now she gets very hot and now she wants to anticipate it and all those sorts of things.


Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:18] that’s okay. Those are once they understand it, then it’s a little bit easier to control it. And, it’s just that she’s happy to know how to do something.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:08:28] Exactly.

That’s right. So yeah. That’s that I it’s a, it’s an okay problem. Problem to have I’m okay with it. But yeah and then my other horses, a little six year old purebred Arabian, who is very quiet and she’s much quieter than my half Arab.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:46] So funny.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:08:48] And both mares.

And they are both mares.

I love mares. I’m sure we’ll talk about that more.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:52] I think it’s, I think it’s ironic cause I prefer mares too, and I prefer Chestnut mares, and I don’t have a single mare in my barn.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:08:59] You [00:09:00] just need to go find a mare, but that’s what needs to happen. But she’s probably going to be more of a pleasure horse.

She’s not in a hurry to go anywhere. She’s a stop and smell the roses kind of girl. She’s also very pretty and likes to be told that. And she’s very personable. So she’s a good girl. She just is so right now she’s just sorta going out on the trails and learning how to just do your basic things.

But so we’ll see what happens with her, but she’s a good girl. She’s just probably not,dressage is not really her thing though. I can tell,

Aviva Nebesky: [00:09:33] although it does improve absolutely everything else that she might do.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:09:36] You Are very correct in that aspect. So yes.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:09:40] What does she want to do?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:09:42] I think she wants to trail ride.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:09:44] Okay. Many years ago I was interviewed for the Washington post about dressage and why it was perceived as such an elitist sport and what it really is. And we talked about the fact that, dressage is good for [00:10:00] everything, even trail horses, because you need to be able to have a horse that moves off your leg so that you can.

Get around a tree that’s in your way or to open a gate.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:09] That’s exactly right.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:10] And you need horses that are on your aids, they can be straight, or that can be crooked that listen to you when you know, there’s something going on. So don’t write her off yet, as far as the dressage mount.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:24] No, I won’t, but she’s, she’s happy out on the trail and I’m a believer in doing what makes the horse happy and, not forcing them into a discipline that, that they aren’t happy. And so we’ll see what she does. Hopefully as time goes by, we can share some stories and updates of our riding adventures with our horses and because I’m sure there are many people out there that go through the same struggles that we do.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:48] Oh, yeah. I technically I’m considered a professional because I teach, but I consider myself an adult amateur when it comes to riding. When you start, when you were as old as I was, [00:11:00] you just never have the years in the saddle and the years of experience that somebody who started with as a kid does, so I may have really studied dressage, but that doesn’t mean it’s come easily for me. And everything that I’ve gotten has been through sheer unmitigated hard work. And Leo has been the hardest of all.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:11:33] Last month, we premiered our new segment, ask the L where Aviva is giving, going to give some tips and insider advice. And we have already received some great feedback from it. And we have a list of questions that our listeners want to have answered. So in today’s podcast and in future podcasts, Aviva will answer a couple of them.

And if you [00:12:00] don’t hear your question today, please come back again. Cause chances are, you’ll hear it in a future podcast. And of course we always welcome more questions, cause I’m sure there are more out there. So feel free to email me at or feel free to reach out on dressage today’s social media.

So today’s question comes from Katie. And it’s a little bit of a, two-parter sort of, what are your thoughts Aviva about the level that people compete at versus the level they are schooling or are skilled at? In other words, do you show below the level you’re schooling, at the level you’re schooling or reaching and trying a test that you might not be really able to put together yet?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:12:54] That’s such an outstanding question and I get that from a lot of my students [00:13:00] and I’m not going to give a definitive answer. I’m going to answer that by asking the question back to the riders, which is why are you going to the show? And are you going to a schooling show? Will your coach be with you?

Are you going to a licensed competition? So if you’re going to a licensed competition, they’re really expensive. So the chances are, if you’re doing that, you have something to prove and there’s something that you want to accomplish. And you should probably be showing at a level below where you’re schooling because you want to go out and you want to shine.

I had a trainer who used to say to me, if I’m not going to win, I don’t want to go. So that’s the attitude about a license competition. You want to go out and you want to be competitive. You want to do well. You want to be in the ribbons. You want people to say, wow, that horse is awesome. It’s a perfect first-level horse.

It’s a perfect [00:14:00] training level horse, whatever level it is. It’s a perfect horse for that level. I remember sitting with S judge Kem Barbosa, one year scribing for her, and a horse came in and rode a second level test and got a huge score. And at the end of the test Kem turned to me and she said, that was such a joy to judge.

That horse was a perfect second level horse, that horse wasn’t struggling to do any of the movements and that horse wasn’t quite ready to go on to third level. It was just where it needed to be. So I think about that when I think about going out to licensed competition unless you have a lot of money to burn, cause we all know how expensive showing is now.

Unless you have a lot of money to burn. You’re probably better off going out with the intention of winning. On the other hand, if you’re going to a schooling show, the operative board and schooling show is to me is schooling. So if you don’t have a flying change and you go out to show third level, [00:15:00] you’re setting yourself up to fail.

We all know that, right? Cause you got to have a flying change at third level. On the other hand, if you don’t have a flying change, but you think you’ve got everything else at third level, you think you’ve got the half passes. You think you’ve got the level of collection. You think you’ve got the difference between a medium and extended gait, and you just want some feedback from a judge that you respect then for 25 or $30 to go out and ride a third level test, knowing that you’re going to get killed on the flying change movement. Maybe that’s appropriate. Depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re working at something at home and you’re having a difficult time with it, you’re going to have a difficult time in the show ring.

I usually tell my students that whatever you’re doing at home, you’re probably only going to get about 50% of that in the show ring. So if you want to know what the 50% is that you’re going to lose, sometimes it’s not a bad idea to go [00:16:00] out and say your schooling first level, go out and show first level test, what’s going to fall apart.

Is it going to be the thoroughness? Is it going to be the suppleness? Is it going to be your transitions from the working to the lengthened gaits? Is the leg yield going to be the thing that falls apart for you? This is a great way for you to figure out what you’re still really struggling with, that you need to understand better.

And your horse does as well. So my long answer is ask yourself why you’re going to the show. And then pick the level, which is going to best give you those answers, if you’re all about the ribbons. And there is absolutely nothing with that and your schooling second level at home, but you really liked those blue ribbons and you really like those high score awards, go out and show some training level and really shine and feel good about yourself and feel good about your horse and get those ribbons and go home and be excited [00:17:00] about it.

And maybe next time, push yourself a little bit harder and try first-level. So hopefully that answers your question, Katie. And hopefully that answers the question that I know so many other riders have about where do you show?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:17:13] That’s really great insight and advice Aviva. I’ve been known to do a little of all of that, and I have followed exactly that advice when I was showing it at the higher law or, licensed shows and that sort of thing.

Yeah. I was definitely showing. Below where I was schooling. So that, yeah, because you do want to do well, but yes I’ve stretched it and you’ve seen it. I’ve stretched it a little bit doing schooling opportunities because yeah. I wanted the feedback and how to improve on where I’m at. So that’s, that is excellent advice. And the

Aviva Nebesky: [00:17:48] other thing to remember is that most of the judges out there want to see you be successful. And if you go to a schooling show and you’re really [00:18:00] stretching, most judges are not going to say to you, you have no business being at this level. They’re going to say there are certainly some challenges for you at this level.

This is a stretch for you and your horse. Most judges aren’t going to be mean. And if you are able to talk to the judge after the test, and you’re able to say, I know I’m not really ready to be at this level, but I just wanted to get a feel for how the test flowed and where I was good and where I needed work.

The judge is really going to want to support you and help you because we’re also nervous when we go in the show ring and it’s hard to remember that judges were all competitors too, and most judges really do want to see you succeed. So remember that the judge is your ally, not your enemy.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:18:53] That is also important advice.

Thank you.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:18:57] You’re welcome. And I have to remind myself of [00:19:00] that as well. When I go down center line, because the thing about riding is there’s so much ego that’s involved, but everyone has had a bad day. Everyone has a story. My, my very first show ever, my horse didn’t step out of the arena.

My horse was not even in the arena yet and went through the entire chain and took out the arena before the wissle blew. Nice. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had embarrassing moments. And what one judge said to me after a particularly horrific schooling show first-level test was, what, turn the clock back and then move it forward again and just forget that this ever happened and move forward from here because the next time is going to be better.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:19:48] But that is good advice. Yes we look forward to next are in our next podcast having even more great advice from you.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:19:58] Oh, thank you. [00:20:00] Remember, it’s just my advice. Your trainer might not agree, but this is my opinion. And that’s why you’re paying me the big bucks to be here.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:20:06] That’s exactly right.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:20:09] I know. I did see, we got some wonderful questions and I’ve been thinking a little bit about everybody’s questions and I have answers for everyone. So I’m looking forward to our next

Stephanie Ruff: [00:20:18] chapter. Yeah. So next time you’ll have, everyone will have to tune in and see what you talk about next

Aviva Nebesky: [00:20:25] sounds good.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:20:27] So we’re going to take a quick break, but when we return, we will have an interview with international Grand Prix competitor and trainer Shannon Dueck.

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Born in Austin, Texas. Shannon grew up outside of Vancouver, Canada, her mother, Jacqueline Oldham. Was an S judge in both Canada and the U S and instilled in Shannon, a love and knowledge of classical dressage from an early age, she furthered her education with a bachelor’s degree in [00:22:00] animal science at the university of British Columbia and a master’s degree in equine nutrition and exercise physiology from Texas a and M.

After competing through the intermediate level of a venting, Shannon turned her focus exclusively to dressage. She trained her first real dressage star Corona from the beginning. The partnership competed successfully at the grand Prix level for many years and won an individual silver medal at the pan am games in 1999. Shannon has trained many horses and riders through the FEI levels and is currently bringing along several young prospects.

When she can, she travels to England to train with the Olympic gold medalist, Carl Hester, and currently she and her husband lived full time in Wellington, Florida.

First of all, Shannon, thank you so much for joining us today on the dressage today podcast. I just wanted

Shannon Dueck: [00:22:58] I’m very pleased be here. [00:23:00] It’s really fun for me to do this.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:23:03] It’s fun for us as well. It’s always wonderful to talk to so many fantastic people. My first question for you is a simple one. Certainly. How did you get involved in horses and in dressage?

Shannon Dueck: [00:23:14] I was really lucky. I, my mom first of all, my grandpa had horses in Alberta and I think they did like Saddlebreds and they had those massive show saddles, and he had these beautiful Palomino Saddlebreds and my mom grew up riding on ranches in Alberta, Canada. We’re all Canadian. And then she had to quit riding when she was a young mother who went to university and was a young mother, and then she got back into it as soon as she possibly could. And so I was super lucky that I had a mother who was so horse crazy and she actually bought, brought dressage to Western Canada or was very influential in bringing dressage to Western Canada.

[00:24:00] And she ended up she was an S judge dressage judge for both Canada and the United States. I had great inspiration from her. My dad’s they bought a farm out in Langley, which is outside of Vancouver, which is like the center of horsemanship now for Western Canada. And so I was really lucky to grow up on a little horse farm.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:24:23] So you got involved in dressage then from a young age?

Shannon Dueck: [00:24:27] Yes, and I, my mom, I had really good theory because my mum was so into it. I read all the books and I think, but my theory was much better than my actual ability because I jumped. I loved jumping and I loved eventing. Yes, my theory was good, but putting it into practice was not so good when I was younger.

I was a crazy event rider and I went through pony club. I got my Pony Club A and I, it was, I was [00:25:00] decent at dressage on a good dressage horse, but my event horses and I were not very good.

Yes, I got started, but I did not get good at it so later. And so

Stephanie Ruff: [00:25:15] obviously your mother was a huge influence on you but then as you got more and more into the dressage, did you have other mentors or other people that were a large influence on you?

Shannon Dueck: [00:25:29] Absolutely. And you know how it often is mom had a hard time teaching me and I had a hard time taking instruction from her.

So I was lucky. We were again in Langley, which was while not Wellington, it was a big a big horse place. So I had lessons when I was young. Pam Arthur was a top advanced level event rider that was pretty influential in my younger years in developing my event riding and Dietrich Von [00:26:00] Hoff Garten was also there and he was really a classical dressage trainer.

So those two, when I was younger, were most influential in my development as a rider. And it wasn’t till later that I can say that I really got serious about dressage and I got serious about dressage because my last event, horse, I was serious about representing Canada at the upper levels of eventing.

And I was very brave and had really good horses when I was young. But then I had to go to university and give it up. My last event horse that I got off, the race track when I was in graduate school, he was super, and I got him to preliminary, did everything fast and clear prelim, and then I didn’t have enough guts to go intermediate anymore.

I was taking dressage lessons from a fellow named Bert Rutten from Holland, from the Netherlands and he’s he was in the Olympics when he was a young man. He’s been the national trainer for Holland, a big [00:27:00] influence on the breeding in Holland. Anyways, it’s amazing rider. And he would have been my biggest influence in teaching me really what dressage was about.

And I was lucky and was a working student for him after I sold my last event horse, because I realized he was better than I was going to ever be at the upper levels again in eventing. So I went to Bert and I think I trained with Burt Rutten for about 11 years. And I was at his place without horses and with horses on and off, through all that time.

And one of the things that I will always be grateful to him for, he let me ride his international grand Prix stallion, who was also an amazing breeding stallion, whose name was Clavis Symbol. And he let me be Clavis Symbol was my professor when I was there. And what a professor, he was so that he taught me the [00:28:00] feel. I watched Bert ride.

He taught me what it looked like. And then I could gradually put the two things together. So having the two having that horse as a Grand Prix master was the luckiest and most generous thing that Bert did for me. I was so grateful for that.

I’ve been lucky to be down here in Wellington so I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people. And Robert Dover trained me for quite a while here. Lars Peterson has been influential, but most recently in 2011, I got to go over and train with Carl Hester with my grand Prix Marisha. And since then I can count him as my big trainer Carl.

And what’s funny is that I met Carl at Bert’s when I was working student there and Burt was the trainer of the British team and Carl came over. And so it was really funny that now [00:29:00] he’s my trainer and I feel immensely lucky that I can count him as my trainer and my coach. I don’t get nearly as many lessons as I want to, but I’m working on getting over there next year again, because I have another up and coming Grand Prix horse.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:29:16] Yeah. And that’s another one of those examples of it’s a small world and things come full circle.

Shannon Dueck: [00:29:22] I know.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:29:23] What is it about the horses and the sport that has kept you involved for so long?

Shannon Dueck: [00:29:30] What is it about the horses in the sport? I have to say it’s like any horse, crazy person.

I’m crazy about them. I knew it when I was three that I was, it’s always been in my life and it’s always been a necessary thing in my life. The only time I’ve been without them is when I was in my undergraduate and university. And then my summer jobs were always with horses. So as a child too, they were a place.

Where I could see the barns in [00:30:00] escape and I was, I had the farm at home, so I would get up and do all the stalls and all the horses in the morning before going to school. It’s a great, I really can credit the, my horses, helping me through my teenage years and keeping me, I had to stay relatively sane, with all the stuff that goes on.

As a teenager I had horse shows and I had goals and I had responsibilities that I had to take care of these animals and I couldn’t go how a lot of girls, I think I might’ve been quite naughty, had not had the horses and the responsibility of them, but that would never felt like it was a responsibility because I loved them so much.

And when you’re getting bullied or whatever from other kids or feeling like you’re no good from the teenage angst and then the horses change all that for you. It is still a place of healing for me going out to that barn. And I’ve all, I’ve had my own place again. [00:31:00] So I’m out doing night check every night and it is my it’s absolutely magic every single night that I go out there to be able to have all these horses and they’re all so affectionate.

And they’re so beautiful. And they’re, it’s amazing to have these great beasts, but love you, or I think they do anyway.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:31:25] They love the treats that you bring them.

Shannon Dueck: [00:31:27] That’s for sure. The hugs. But then the other thing is of course the sport dressage is something that, we can keep going until until we die and not know everything.

So it’s a remarkable thing that I can get on these horses. And it’s almost a new thing that I can learn every day, even if it’s a minuscule thing that I can learn from them and learn about my riding and learn about training. So it’s never, although I really thought when I was a teenager eventing that it was a really boring. [00:32:00] It’s not at all.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:32:03] We just all have to get there in our lives. We have to mature enough to appreciate it in a

Shannon Dueck: [00:32:08] way small things. Sometimes they’re huge what you learn, huge groundbreaking things that you can learn in your feel. And. Now that rarely happens with me, but still are small things that you go, Oh no, that’s even a little bit better.

And when I did that, that helped that horse and, individual horses have different needs, so I’m still learning and I love it.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:32:35] And so you’ve mentioned a few of the horses, but yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about the horses in your life that have influenced you the most and what they were like and how they helped you in your, through your life?

Oh when I was younger, my, my first really good event horse, her name was happily and we got her for $500 and my [00:33:00] parents said that if I wanted to have happily, then I had to sell the piano. That wasn’t a very hard decision, right? And happily was an amazing horse. She was the full sister to one of the Canadian show jumping team members and just so athletic and so brave this mare, but she had a terrible trailer accident and the owners had thought that they were going to have to put her down because she had torn her hind legs up so badly.

So she was so scarred over her hind legs. The owners had decided they were going to keep her and heal her up. And then that’s why we got her for such an amazing deal. And that mare never took a lame step and got me to intermediate with never a fault. That I think I fell off once in a water jump, but that mare never ever thought about stopping or she was so athletic and she was so brave that she made me brave.

I had no idea to be fearful [00:34:00] underneath you now, our dressage was appalling. But it didn’t matter in those days. In those days we could go from last to second or third or even first, sometimes in a big class by being so fast and clear across country. Nowadays everybody’s so good at everything. I don’t think you can do that so often.

In those days we could be really appalling that dressage and still do okay. So she was probably my best event horse that I had. And the second one I got off the race track. He was off the quarter horse track in Texas when I was doing my grad work. Didn’t look like a quarter horse at all. He was 16.3 and looked like a thoroughbred.

And so he obviously didn’t do well on the quarter horse racetrack. So I got him and he’s the one that opened the door to dressage for me, because he’s the one who, again, was so brave cross country. And I learned that I could no longer do intermediate. I walked the first intermediate course and went the double, but double corners was so big.

And [00:35:00] I said, I’m going to start riding him badly. So he and I sold him as an event horse and I enable it enabled me to buy by first three-year-old from Bert Rutten. It was a three-year-old named case and case changed my life in dressage. So good thing I was still brave in those days, because case was wild as a youngster.

But he got case and I went all the way through to the international grand Prix. We got one Pan-Am silver individual did the world cup, did the world championships. And the European championships showed all over Europe. He was an amazing horse. Wow. So that John, I have to mention Johnny the quarter horse because he enabled me to get case, okay.

This was a case, was that case was the game changer for me. Since then I’ve had a number of horses that I brought along to Grand Prix, and I really wish now I knew what I know now about developing a grand Prix horse when I had case, because I [00:36:00] think about how good he was. And that was despite me learning on him, how to do that and how I think the horse was better than he showed because I was still, so I still didn’t really know what I was doing. I remember being on him at the grand Prix level and all of a sudden having a light bulb about what the shoulder in actually does for a horse, instead of it just being a movement, you start to feel it that’s what it does, collection and suppleness wise.

And so things like that he could have been, I think the horse could have easily been in the seventies, in the Grand Prix if I had known, but, and we got into 70 international, but not routinely. I think he would been he was a top horse at the time. He could be even better nowadays, if I had known what, I don’t know, Asia was my next, really good international horse.

And she was a mare that I bought as a sales horse doing [00:37:00] second level as a six year old. And she had a nice trot. So I bought her as a sales horse. She wasn’t expensive. And then after riding her for six months, I said what happens if I just close you up and ask you to do a couple things like piaffe?

And she just, her hind leg mechanics were so good. She just went, Oh, like this? And I had another horse that was almost Grand Prix at the time that didn’t find it as easy. He had the ones and the passage and the piaffe was not as easythe pirouttes were not as easy. And I said I think I’ll sell him. And he Asia, because she was just like, yeah, like this, I can do that.

So she was fantastic. She’s the one that I took over to Carl in 2011. And we went, we showed her all over Europe and here I had a great time. And now I’ve got a couple of new young ones that I’ve brought a number of horses up to the Grand Prix for other people. I always think it’s a good thing. I’ve got one of my [00:38:00] own right now, and he’s just breaking into the grand Prix.

I love having my own horses because then I can at least one that I’m riding for myself, then I can decide if I’m going to sell them or if I really want to just keep investing and keeping them. And I love them. I have Wesley who’s as you wish. And I just adore the horse and then luckily, amazingly I have Aisha’s baby.

Asia had one foal and by Fransicus who Ingrid Klimke rides and angel is now six years old this year. And I own one leg along with three other wonderful ladies who are really thrilled to watch her develop. And she’s got the same hind leg as Aisha such talents. You said as a four year old, I said what happens when you do this?

And she went, Oh, can I do this? It’s is that called piaffe? Okay. So yeah, those are the horses that I would say are the most influential. Okay.

So then, you talked about, obviously you’re bringing some young ones along. What sort of traits do you look [00:39:00] for in a dressage prospect?

Shannon Dueck: [00:39:01] Most, okay.

I wrote this down, obviously there’s more than this, but these would be the things that I would look at first and foremost. Four good legs and feet. They have to stay sound so you don’t start with something that’s crooked. Then I think along with that, the uphill, the natural tendency to be uphill can make, if you’re looking for a Grand Prix horse, Having the uphill tendency is a really good thing.

It makes things easier for the horse and uphill is not just croup to Withers, but a lot of it is the neck placement that the neck comes out high in the chest. And instead of down low, if it comes out high in the chest, it’s easier to get the shoulder sling and the withers to come up and over the horse’s neck.

So that is pretty important that whole part of the horse’s body, if you are looking at doing more upper-level stuff, the length of the neck is important right now, the, as you might, [00:40:00] as you wish force has a little bit of a short neck naturally which is a bit of a challenge, but we’ll work with that.

And then the angel horse has a little bit of a long neck actually. So we work with that, but it’s something to think about. If you have a good neck, we have to just maintain a good neck as you work them through. If you have a difficult, more difficult neck, you have to work with that as you’re trying to work with classical principles.

Another thing, and I know you’ve heard this from numerous people, three good gaits. A clear walk, a clear good trot, and a clear, good cancer. They do not have to be fantastic. If you’re a good trainer, you can enhance the gaits. Especially the trot. You can really enhance the trot, but you can enhance the canter. You can help the walk.

And, or you can make them worse, but you really can improve the basic gaits. But the canter and the walk are harder. So I’m not going to get a horse that naturally canters four beat downhill, that would probably not be on my prospect list. And [00:41:00] then temperaments is also getting important. I’ve ridden lots of crazy horses in my life and I’m getting older.

So what we really want for temperament, we want them calm, but you still want to have a little bit of blood in there. So they have to have some curiosity. They can’t be dull. And then, a lot of horses, we need them to have a work ethic. We can instill a work ethic with really good training, but it’s nice when they actually want to be out there playing with you in the sandbox, because they have to do a lot of 20 meter circle.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:41:35] Have you seen much of a change in the horses and riders over the years that you’ve been doing this?

Shannon Dueck: [00:41:41] Oh yes, definitely. I think that we all know the horses have got much more modern in type. Not, I see a lot of heavier type horses though, out there now, again the, I think that pendulum is swinging back into normal.

Things got really refined really spider legging [00:42:00] where, the legs are flinging around all over the place. And I think we’ve come back from that to straighter, more controlled movement that is still spectacular. That’s still spectacular. It’s just not quite as wild and flingy. So there’s there.

They really had a pendulum swing to that in the breeding. And now we’re getting into, okay, that was a little too much. Now you’re getting horses that are moving for gaits for nines naturally, and yet they’re still strong enough and straight enough and square enough with good enough feet that they can with good training.

You can preserve that. With horses, they’re a little bit more modern in their temperament too. So they take a slightly more, they’ll take a more sensitive rider. Some of the older colder horses, you really had to be strong with them to train them. And now I think these horses are a little bit more sensitive, so the riders have to be a little bit more [00:43:00] feeling in it, but so that increases a little difficulty in the training, but what makes it easier is that the gaits are so good so that the riders trainers nowadays often don’t have to enhance the gaits much. What their job is more to preserve the gaits while they’re training up to the levels. And I think the riding and training has really improved. It’s really improved. There was, the huge controversy years ago about the beginning of rollcur, and that is less of a thing now. And I think what happened with that is also, it was the beginning of riders really starting to go, Oh, we need these horses more supple. And then it went a little bit down the wrong path. And now the trainers that I know of, all of them that are good, they are training for more suppleness, but without the extremes that we saw.

And so I actually think the overall training of the [00:44:00] horses as an athlete and as a gymnast is better. And a lot of that is that we get to see so many good riders, so many good trainers, so many good horses on the internet and on, on and live down here in Wellington that it transfers through to better training overall.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:44:20] So that’s a good thing.

Shannon Dueck: [00:44:22] It’s a good thing. I really do think that, from what I, yeah, no, we’re better than we were when I was when I was first out on the international dressage, scene.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:44:31] That moves into a little bit. Could you talk to us a little about your own training philosophy?

Shannon Dueck: [00:44:39] I’m sure everybody says, I like to train classically with a modern vent, something like that, but I, so I thought what am I going to saythat’is any different?

And then I went, okay. I actually do have a training philosophy, and it’s not just dressage, but this training philosophy is this is just horsemanship and good training regardless of what you’re [00:45:00] doing. And I love working with babies. I love bringing horses all the way along from the very beginning.

That means that the horses that I’m riding at the grand Prix are really my horses. I, and one of the biggest things that I would say in the train for correct training is that you can do one step at a time and you try really hard while you’re pushing, because if you’re not pushing, you’re not going anywhere, but you try really hard while you’re pushing never to over face the horse and make the task something that is too difficult for them mentally or physically. That is super important. So one step at a time, and then if you can do that, and you can feel the horse understanding what I’m asking at a lower level really understanding that because I’ve been very good about rewarding. I’ve been clear and consequential with my aids and when the horse reacts correctly, I reward then you can start to layer and get more [00:46:00] complicated on top of that.

And then you don’t have the horse having the difficulty mentally or physically like with, as you go up the levels and my horses can go up the levels quite quickly that way, but it’s still really incremental. So what I would say was is that I, we, of course all know this. Basics, always the basics make the more complex things beautiful.

And I do not drill movements. I just don’t drill movements. There is no way that I would do eight half passes in a row . What I have learned is that you make the basic quality good, and then you do one half pass. And you figure out in that one half pass, what are the basic qualities did I lose? And then you work that, and then you might do another half pass, or you might wait until tomorrow to do that again.

So you just don’t drill the movements. That makes horses sour, [00:47:00] and it makes them sore. And we all know this is, a lot of my riders get a little bit, they get a little bit frustrated because they’re like can’t we just do more? I’m like, no, because it’s not quality work if the horse is not correct in the basics.

So we always go back to the basics and then we push the next and then we come back, whatever basics we lost, we’d come back and get it so that you can have the horse correctly. Going from the hind leg, over the back, over the neck, to the bit confidently to the work, as it gets more and more complex. We need really, there’s, there is no book that the horses read.

We as trainers have to respond to the individual horse. And train for the individual horse, whether that horse, needs more suppleness or that horse needs to be stronger at something like he needs time to get stronger. Does this horse needs to beridden rounder? Does [00:48:00] this horse need to be ridden more uphill?

Does this need horse need more work on straightness? Or does this horse need more work on bend? You have to be able to deal with the individual as you go up the levels. And of course the more horses you get on, the more individual horses, difficult, easy, big, small, subtle, strong, whatever, the better you can do this, the better you can respond to the individual horses.

So this is why we, we say it takes two lifetimes to get really good at this because you really have to ride a bunch of horses to be able to do. Yeah. So that’s my training philosophy. There you go. It’s not, it’s very. Individualized, I think, but also the whole thing about doing things incrementally and when a horse gets overwhelmed, my, my Wesley, the one that his name’s As You Wish, he was just breaking into the Grand Prix stuff, he really had a hard time with learning how to sit in the pirouettes, and really now he’s [00:49:00] really learning what he has to do in the piaffe. He’s spectacular in going sideways. He’s spectacular his extensions, his passage, his changes. But those things, those were difficult for his body. And I, if I pushed it too hard, he just panicked. Cause he couldn’t figure out how to use his body.

It’s never him saying no, I know. Piss off. Cause I don’t want to, it was no, I don’t know what to, I can’t do that. And now he’s coming nine soon and he’s really getting confident in that stuff. And then he’s going, Oh, I can do that. I can do that. So it’s so interesting what each horse develops differently.

Yeah. And when they start to say no, sometimes it’s because the rider spoils them and there’s no doubt, but some amateurs spoil them. Some of the horse says, I don’t think I want to the first time. And the rider says okay, that’s a different thing. But [00:50:00] when you’ve got a horse that you’re training and all of a sudden, they say, no, I can’t.

Then you have to look at maybe I didn’t do this incrementally enough. Maybe I didn’t explain things well enough. Maybe he’s not strong enough. Maybe he doesn’t have enough suppleness to be able to use his body like that yet, so that you have to break it down a little bit more for them.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:50:19] So do you have any favorite exercises or specific type of work that help, that you go to, even though, as you explained, every horse is an individual, but do you have some common ones that work a lot.

Shannon Dueck: [00:50:34] Yes, no, this and this is common. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter which type of horse that you’re dealing with. I said, they’re all individuals, but this is where almost all my training comes in is in transitions. So you said a favorite exercise. If that is how I do transitions totally depends on the individual, but transitions is where we develop almost all of our horses, ride ability [00:51:00] and strength and confidence, and the ability to really ride the horse from the hind leg to the bit and be able to recycle it in front is riding the transitions. And so what we first do, when they’re young is we have to be clear and separate the hand and leg.

You first have to, they have to be prompt to go from your leg and they have to be prompt from your hand, like that’s just that promptness and that understanding is a precursor to anything good in particular, the go and not that, then you have to have the trainer or the rider be good about not using much leg and using leg when they use leg actually having it mean something.

And having it always mean something instead of just, be there and be a girth on the horse. So that’s super important. Once you have whoa and go, then you start to [00:52:00] work on and you can, once you have whoa and go means you can always do a prompt transition. If you cannot do a prompt transition, then you’re not going to do a good transition.

And on your, and your transitions are not going to work for you, but if you can do prompt, then we always do what I call a developing transition, meaning that you’re trying to develop quality through the transitions. And we can work on the transitions with the horses to develop on the, develop, their suppleness, their strength and better balance.

And that’s developing the horse athlete. All transitions count towards this exercise. And that means, walk halt walk counts if you do them well, and you train the horse, how to step forward, supple promptly over the back and in balance, you’ve just scored, and you’re just training this horse positively. Walk halt walk. That’s between the gaits.

That’s an example of a transition between the gaits, but transitions between collected trot to medium trot, to [00:53:00] collected trot, same idea, transitions within the exercise. So you’re doing a shoulder in and you’re going well, the horse is not quite through enough and I can’t quite balance him well enough.

So then do a trot walk trot within the shoulder in. Do a trot help trot within the shoulder in. It really makes things, that’s a more advanced exercise, but we need to be able to have that kind of communication with the horse. These transitions they really test how rideable your horse is. How they’re letting the aids through their body.

They test the timing and the feel of the riders aids, cause if the rider, the horse could be going, I wish I could do it, but you’re not doing it at the right time. It tests how the rider can feel and apply the aids. They teach the horse to step with their hind legs over the back into the rider’s hands and be able to, like I said, recycling the energy instead of this is how we get more impulsion [00:54:00] and more quality with the gaits instead of just propulsion where the horse just goes forward or, you start to add impulsion even in a downward transition where you can coil up the spring.

Instead of just so the transitions are where it’s at, man. Yeah. There within any exercise we can be working on transitions.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:54:22] Then over time, you’ve been doing this for a while now, so what do you think has made you be so as successful as you’ve been?

Shannon Dueck: [00:54:31] I learned from it, I think what’s made it two things.

I pride myself on being a good horse woman. I learned it’s all about reading the individual horse, being able to deal with the individual horse and manage the individual horse. So I learned from an early age, how important horsemanship and the management isn’t, like I said before, I’m a Pony Club A, and that is not just about riding.

That is so much it is you have to, and you have to do it really well. [00:55:00] Because my mom was an amazing horse woman she had, and she learned from so many of the, she was a dressage person obviously, but she also learned in her younger days from Ray hunt and amazing horsemen in other disciplines.

So she taught me so much about being a horse person. And I would say the other thing that has led me to be successful is that I learned how hard you have to work from a young age. I was lucky to live on a farm, but I was up early in the morning, feeding, mucking out, turning out horses, managing those horses.

Nobody took care of the horses. I did. I do not know one successful rider and not one successful rider who is also not, is not a hard worker. I don’t know, one successful rider, trainer out there that is not also a very [00:56:00] good horse man or horse woman. So there’s, I don’t think there’s such a thing as somebody who’s a really good successful rider who just gets handed the reins to it.

So what I’m saying here is it’s not just about having the finances to be able to do it. That’s for sure. I know that for sure. It’s horsemanship and hard work and then, hopefully a little bit of talent in there. You have to have some talent. There’s no getting around that.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:56:25] And so horses are obviously the vast majority of your life, but is there something else that you enjoy or what’s something that people might not know about you that you’d be willing to share?

Shannon Dueck: [00:56:39] Probably anybody who’s been on Facebook probably already knows this about me, but I love to travel. I’m lucky enough that I’ve been a lot of places with horses around the world, the, when you’re with the horse and I’ve always, whenever I travel around the world with my horse, I am the groom.

I’m the [00:57:00] one who flies with them. I’m the one who grooms them. I’m with them 24 seven. So I don’t really get to see a lot of the rest of the world and traveling in the back of a truck from Holland to Spain as with your horse when they’re chewing and dropping hay and water all over you. That’s how I saw a lot of the world, but I love to travel and now I’m making it very important that we get out, my husband and I, get out and see the world and the interesting places. I want to go to all seven continents before I get too old to be able to be an adventure traveler. I, we love to just go someplace, stay there and walk, wander, drive. We don’t do tours or anything like that.

We just love to see the world. So that’s probably, that’s the other things that I adore.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:57:53] Do you have a favorite place so far that you’ve been?

Shannon Dueck: [00:57:57] That’s a hard one [00:58:00] to say. We’ve been to, we’ve been to every different part of Italy. We’ve been there seven times and just, like I said, we don’t want to travel all over.

We want to go to a place and then figure out we feel a little bit like a local. So Italy’s. I could say that great Britain I love, but there’s other places I’ve been to Africa and it’s amazing. It’s just amazing. So I want, like I said, it’s hard to say what’s my favorite.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:58:25] This past year has been hard for you then.

Shannon Dueck: [00:58:31] Hard. It’s so hard. And this year again, we had plans to go when we had to cancel our trips last year, I have to go to Britain this spring. Cause the good time for me to travel was right after season. I had to just cancel them because of COVID’s not getting better very fast, but now I’m in the midst right now I’m in the midst of planning, a driving trip up the West coast of the United States. And I’m [00:59:00] so excited about that. Just learning about the little places to go and the amazing scenery. So we’re gonna stay in the United States this time. So that’s a good thing. One good thing about COVID right? We get to see more about where I live.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:59:16] Yeah. And there are some, certainly some beautiful places to visit here as well.

Shannon Dueck: [00:59:20] Yeah. Yes. Many. And they get forgotten. So that’s so good. That’s the benefit.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:59:25] What has been the hardest part of this sport for you?

Shannon Dueck: [00:59:29] For me the hardest part of this sport, and I think there’ll be a lot of people that will agree with me. It wasn’t talent in that I had that and it wasn’t hard work. I worked really hard. It was the financial aspects. Choosing to do horses and choosing to do horses at a high level has it’s very expensive as we all know. So coming from not from family money and not from, I’ve always been a little bit envious of people who had amazing [01:00:00] sponsors, but I’m much, I’m 58 now.

I’m good with that. The financial aspect was the hardest thing for me and I was lucky enough. One of the things I did is go back to university and get a master’s degree because I had decided it was too hard to ride as a professional and live and eat at the same time. So I went back and did my graduate work and got work as a university professor actually.

And then I got good enough to make a living as a professional and making a living though is still a different thing than affording to go over to Europe and compete. And all of that, like trying to fly a horse over to Europe is outrageously expensive. So I was lucky to get married to a husband who said, Oh honey, what?

You can just spend all your money on flying your horses over to Europe. And we did without. We didn’t get our [01:01:00] first our first little old abandoned house until we were almost 40 years old, 42. So we did a lot. We did without a lot in order for me to pursue this silly ambition of mine. And then of course now I’m really lucky and really grateful to the sponsors who helped me keep my horses going.

Like I, I have a bunch of very nice. Wonderful. Corporate sponsors like SmartPak and see you at X and high game feeds. I don’t know if I want to mention them all. I don’t know if you want me to mention them all, but they have been, they’re a lifesaver. They enable me to keep my horses. They enable me to keep my horses really well-managed and really well taken care of, and that is not an easy task.

And I know a lot of people will be feeling the same way.

Stephanie Ruff: [01:01:52] Oh yeah. Definitely. Yeah. It’s expensive on any level,

There [01:02:00] are cheaper than the waste to spend, other ways to spend your money that’s for sure.

Shannon Dueck: [01:02:05] Exactly. So I’m really forever grateful to have been brought up on a family farm. It was not fancy, but I had my horses in my backyard. And then then now that I managed to get this done and I’m still doing it.

And we’re not retiring anytime soon. We still have to work hard to make this happen, but it is a labor of love and I wouldn’t change it.

Stephanie Ruff: [01:02:31] Sure. That’s, I think that’s a common thread among horse people.

Shannon Dueck: [01:02:34] Yeah. And I do hope that that knowing that doesn’t stop people, I really hope that so many of these young people will put up with that sacrifice to develop, to go with their ambition and their desire and this amazing life that we have.

Stephanie Ruff: [01:02:54] Yeah.

I do want to thank you for taking some time today to talk with us. It’s been an absolute pleasure [01:03:00] to get to know you a little bit better and hear some of your stories.

Now we know who you’ve got coming along so we can hopefully follow your journey a little bit.

Shannon Dueck: [01:03:11] Thank you. I’m really excited. And I’m super excited about heading over to England again next year with Wesley. He’ll be ready to get pushed by the master. Yeah. Yeah.

Stephanie Ruff: [01:03:20] We’ll have to check back with you and get a progress report.

Shannon Dueck: [01:03:23] Okay. Thank you, Stephanie.

Stephanie Ruff: [01:03:26] Thank you so much. I do appreciate it.

Thanks again to Shannon Dueck for speaking with us today. And thanks also to our episode sponsor, SmartPak visit them at for all your horse and rider needs.

Thanks for listening to the dressage today podcast. If you’ve missed any episodes or to subscribe, go to Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you [01:04:00] get your podcasts. While you’re there, please rate and review the show. Learn more and read in-depth training articles at or you can visit our subscription video site Be sure to give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Happy riding, and we’ll see you at X. The dressage today podcast is a production of the equine podcast network an entity of equine network, LLC.






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