DEC 2022



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DEC 2022
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A Few Words



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Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games. © FEI/Shannon Brinkman

American Olympian Sabine Schut-Kery wowed us with a hands-on exhibition of her astute training skills during her dressage masterclass at EQUITANA Melbourne.

Sabine Schut-Kery and her wonderful stallion Sanceo hit the world stage in a big way at the Tokyo Olympics where they produced their best scores across three amazing tests, and what an impression they made. Finishing third in the Grand Prix Special, they helped secure the USA a team silver medal, before finishing fifth as an individual in the Freestyle.

Sabine was born in Germany and started her riding life at Pony Club from a very young age. She’s had quite an incredible equestrian journey between then and taking home silver at Tokyo; you can read more about her life with horses in the October 2021 issue of Equestrian Life.

No stranger to EQUITANA, Sabine has performed at the German edition since she was a teenager. She is simply a breath of fresh air, and her philosophy when it comes to competition is simplistic and refreshing in a world of dressage fraught with the “who’s who in the zoo”. Sabine absolutely loves horses and training. She has from a small child, and as her life with horses has evolved so has her passion. She is driven by a passion that intrigues her. She is not one to say that the thought of team selection or to win at Grand Prix is her priority, but she believes success comes to you and that you do not need to chase the accolades.

Sabine’s endearing attitude to take each horse for what they have to offer, and not to have unrealistic expectations of them, is of the utmost importance to her. What comes along as recognition for the training comes along as an adjunct. In her mind it’s self-fulfilling. Winning and selection, and all that goes with this, is simply icing on the cake!

Sabine’s well-rounded horsemanship and ability to ride so many breeds puts her in good stead. To have ridden horses at all levels of training and to have produced so many horses to make Grand Prix movements is quite amazing. Her diverse training and experiences growing up, she believes, is the reason her Olympic debut was such a success. She feels lucky and almost empowered to have had such a rounded and fulfilling career thus far.

Sabine is modest, demure and humble. Her absolute love of horses is totally apparent as soon as you see her in close proximity to them. This humility and innate understanding is transferred to all she meets and all she coaches. She is simply a wonderful, empathetic and understanding rider, coach and friend.


The first two horses in together for the first lesson were stallion Vittorio DS (Vitalis x Revelwood Amaretta, by Ampere) ridden by David Shoobridge, and the tall chestnut gelding BZ Qantas by Questing, ridden by Maddi Growcott

With David’s horse in the walk, the first thing Sabine was insistent on was that it was over the back and through to the bridle and that he used his body to move his legs. A walk that is over the back is the most important and the walk is an all-important part of any test; it’s a realisation of the training for relaxation and purity.

Sabine encouraged David to look for natural balance with a longer and lower neck. The longer and lower neck allows the energy from the back end and over the rounded back to the bridle, where the energy can be directed through a lower neck to good use.

It was then about opening up a little more forward in the gaits and allowing the horse to find a forward freedom and a natural balance into a lowered neck, as this wonderful stallion had a tendency to be a little up with the neck and hence a hollow back. This attitude creates a block for the flow of the energy from behind to the bridle.

Sabine was very quick to see the equality of the left and right and check the stallion wasn’t leaning to the inside. If his horse wasn’t listening and was instead leaning into the inside rein, this was an absolute NO! Walk and make the exercise of the turn on the forehand at the walk, ensuring the inside hind leg steps well across and then takes the weight on that engaged leg with slow and weight-bearing steps.

“He needs to push in the tempo, not get faster, but create a better step and without running away from the weight-bearing behind,” she instructs. “Hands down in the transition and on the seat.” Sabine commented that it was so nice to see no spurs and encouraged David to always use the calves, not the spur and heel.

It was onto a longer stride without hurrying. No leaning into the inside rein and leg and to keep the balance and encourage longer strides, not faster. The same principles applied in the canter where she wanted hands DOWN not up, and to keep the stallion very steady in the bridle. David just kept him going forward in the canter, a good decision that meant he stayed uphill and with the same tempo in the stride.

A really interesting and very valid comment was that you don’t want expression coming from tension (legs flailing everywhere with crazy energy and half out of control). Positive tension is important, but it must be relaxed and a supple state of mind. The horse is already a great athlete by nature and all that needs to happen is to stay relaxed and take that excessive energy out of him. Sabine made everyone aware that a way to see if the horse is relaxing is to listen to your horse’s breathing. It is a tell-tale sign as to its state of relaxation, wellbeing and confidence.

“Make the transition to trot as good as you can. Think of the balance and then the confidence will come. After canter do a few rounds of trot but do not make the downward transition a break! The downward transition is simply a balance and a readiness for the next exercise.”

It was a great lesson and you could see a clear difference in the movement at the end, when the horse was more confident in a rounder, lower frame and swinging over the back.

Maddi was told that with her horse it was important to walk for the first 20 minutes of a session to make sure that mentally and physically he can start to gain self-confidence and look around without tension. There is a need to keep a little degree of adrenaline and consider all the things. Working with an animal, you have to be aware of the factors at hand at this stage. It is important to choose a good tempo for your horse and that tempo depends on the horse and all the factors with it at the time of training. The tempo will vary from horse to horse and day to day depending on the forward, not forward, spooky, hot, dull etc., and every horse is different; there is no set tempo or rule that applies to every horse.

Be supple with the inside rein so they can carry and move; give as much as you take. Sideways is good and remember that ‘inside leg to the outside rein’ is a principle that is day-to-day with every session and horse. Maddie’s horse was tense and a little worried about the environment and it is tempting to hold the rein when the horse worries – but if you hold all the time then it’s a bit panicky, yet a giving and yielding hand gives more confidence and helps diffuse the anxiety. He needed a bit more impulsion, so close and open the leg quicker for more impulsion and open/close leg quicker to come more to the rider’s aid.

On the circle, Maddi was encouraged to slow down while maintaining the same forward tempo and not allowing the horse to drop behind the leg and think backwards or stop, as during this transition to a more collected stride it is vitally important to think that at any moment, a forward stride can be possible.

Leg-yield in canter is a vital exercise to make sure the horse is up off the inside shoulder, so he can become freer to be expressive in a balanced and easy way. Always without compromise, ride both directions on every movement and twice on the stiffer side. Slow down the pace by sitting deeper, not into the hand, and use shoulder-in to work behind the saddle. Always pat on the neck with the inside hand for relief and that neutral feeling and hands down.

This horse needs to come a little more in balance to gain confidence to travel better, and that’s also through a lower neck at this stage so as the energy from behind can flow over the back to the hand, allowing the back to form that bridge.

In the canter, Maddi was encouraged to use her leg nearer to the horse’s elbow and bend in the corners with her heel well under him. Never long and strung out, but with lower neck and a more collected frame, as this horse tends to get too open and strung out and this does not help to transfer the energy back over the hind end. Quicker steps and not bracing the neck, and then over the back. Many, many transitions are all important to keep attention, balance and engagement, and so is good, elastic contact that is not ever leaning.

Two fabulous horses to demonstrate so clearly and what a treat. As always, Sabine was so enthusiastic and complimentary for the riders to allow us to see the reality of training.

“Forward and round go


Dante Quando OLD and Charlie Welsh were into the arena for a lesson of their own; what an amazing experience for this combination. Dante Quando OLD won at the Bundeschampionate (the German national championships for young horses) before being imported to Australia for Charlie to ride. The presentation was certainly it and a bit, with the attention to every matching detail something to behold!

Sabine was straight on to Charlie’s hand position, noting that it was so important to have a direct contact with the bit, rein, hand, wrist, and forearm to the elbow in a straight line. This was simply the way it must be and was instilled into Sabine from a very early age.

The horse was presented in a double bridle and the emphasis was to make sure that the snaffle is the guiding rein and to never get the curb rein too tight, as it blocks the flow from the back to the front. Sabine explains that the problem lies in the fact that you need to get the horse more around the leg to break up the stiffness, and what’s in your hand is only a reflection of what’s behind the saddle. If it’s tight and stiff, then so will be the contact. Leg-yield was the first exercise, as back-to-front riding loosens the ribs and helps to supple the entire horse. The leg-yield gives the chance to see equal sides of suppleness and the leg-yield exercise, in all its forms, is important from the beginning to Grand Prix!

Shoulders always need to be first in the leg-yield to stop closed and high steps. It was also pointed out that the neck control is of the utmost importance, being the part of the horse that converts the hind-end energy into useful impulsion.

In the canter work, it was more impulsion and commitment to the jump forward, but not faster, and then not to over-engage so the horse stalls. Forward and round go hand-in-hand, as it’s no use one without the other.

Comments flowed… “Neck down… always work over the back, there needs to be a balance between having the pushing and carrying power with thrust and forward energy available, but not rushing nor running through the bridle. You must have the ability to get the neck lower to contain the roundness and energy and then to get the horse to sit, engage and lift the forehand, not just the poll. Bend around the calf not the spur, corners are an essential element to every movement and you must pay attention to each one!”

A fabulous mental picture was Sabine saying: “It’s like the bow and arrow where you draw the arrow back and you have this inert energy that’s contained and ready for use.”

It was on to some work on the pirouettes and it was a small circle with the travers exercise to get the horse to take the weight on the single standing outside leg. This is essential in the beginning of pirouette work. The horse must push up off the inside leg, and with this horse he tended to get over-engaged and then end up in slow motion with no thrust. Charlie was encouraged to pick him up from the inside leg into the outside rein and to make sure he thought forward and not like a rocking horse. He was encouraged to stay on the snaffle rein and not to over-sit, as this stopped the forward thrust needed in a pirouette – otherwise it simply looks like a trick and has no adjustability.

A very pertinent comment was to the effect that well-bred horses look fancy but must work through the body, especially in the transitions from medium to collected, where Charlie was encouraged to gather the horse up in the transition and show a real difference, without pushing at the hand nor leaning to the inside. This statement and principle are applicable to every horse at every level; it is a basic requirement throughout the training from beginning to end.

Sabine was clear and succinct. She was to the point yet with great empathy and a calm manner that put Charlie at ease, and the difference when the horse relaxed the neck downward was fantastic. Sabine’s eye for every horse and how she imparted her ideas was easy to feel and see. It made a huge difference.


The next was a lesson that saw David was on the five-year-old stallion Sicario (Secret x Falensie, by Rousseau), an impressive, upfronted horse. The other in this lesson was imported stallion Kilimanjaro ridden by Jessica Dertell, the 18-year-old who rode stallion Cennin in the CDI Grand Prix classes, and both the buckskin pony mare Gleniph Tiramisu and KWPN gelding Gladstone MH by Bordeaux in the Young Rider classes. Jessica’s role at EQUITANA didn’t finish with the dressage; packing up after the CDI-W Freestyle at 10pm, she and her team returned the next day with 18 Arabians! You can read more about Jess and her team in the November issue of Equestrian Life.

Kilimanjaro is a very elegant, modern-looking Warmblood with a very expressive front leg and lots of flare. Jess was firstly made aware that the tension was not working in her favour, as it was creating a very snappy front leg and this tension needed to be diffused. The exercise in the trot that was used to help this was shoulder-in to help loosen the body and the neck, and in doing so free the shoulder from so much forward thrusting and to keep the poll up and not allow him to come against the inner leg. Again, Sabine was very insistent about lower hands and not to get the hands high and pull the neck up in the medium trot, and especially into the collection.

When it came to the walk, the stallion was very tense and jogging a lot with the big atmosphere. His neck and back were tight, and Sabine insisted that this tension must be diffused before continuing. A great exercise that she used was a turn on the forehand at the walk, where the horse needed to step the inside hind leg well across the outside hind and slowly take the weight and step again. Then the leg-yield down the wall. He had to come around the rider’s leg, and after some time with this exercise, Kilimanjaro walked really well.

The insistence was again to be on the snaffle rein, not the curb. You don’t want stiff and stabbing steps and it was such a great example of loosening the back to create relaxation and then a forward and down neck, not a down and then forward neck. Anxiety is not a good thing and always should be resolved before continuing.

It was on to the flying changes and Sabine commented that this stallion made great changes, but Jess needed to use a more positive, new inside leg in the changes and not to get the feeling that he was stalling and backward in the change. A few ideas were put to Jess in relation to the canter pirouettes and that was to get him to flex and give in the rib cage. Keep the head on the inside and the neck to the outside and only do 1/4 pirouettes to keep him on the aids and obedient to the inside leg.

The difference in the end was remarkable, with the walk not stabbing but fluent and the canter became looser and more uphill with better fluency.

David’s horse Sicario tended also to be a little high with the neck, and so he was encouraged to flatten and lengthen the neck without falling in and bracing himself. It’s all about helping them in the balance so they can stretch forwards and downwards. David was reminded to keep his hands down lower towards the wither. Sabine saw a great ground-covering canter but with the neck a little longer and not being held. David was encouraged to take a two-point position from time to time in the canter, in particular on the left rein, as the horse tended to brace that way. The light forward seat takes the weight off the back and encourages the horse to lift that bridge, and reach and carry. From the two-point position as David sat in the saddle, the left leg was needed to create that feeling of bend and balance, and to stop top-loading the inside shoulder.

In the walk the horse was a little hurried and Sabine was all encouraging to slow it right down so that he waited to be ridden forward. He became quite nervous in the halts, so she continued to ride a lot of stretching sideways leg-yields to give him something positive to do and to help loosen and relax him.

These two demonstration horses were excellent examples of positive energy being converted into balance and confidence. This balance gave Sicario confidence and as a consequence he was able to relax and work over the back and show better elastic paces. It was so obvious and good to see.


The final horse in the masterclass was Flowervale Sancierra by Sandro Hit and ridden by Kaitlyn McGill. This brown mare was really well trained at Small Tour and starting the Grand Prix work. It was evident that the mare was a little tight at the beginning and Sabine, as to now be expected, started with leg-yielding in the walk and the trot and was very clear to use the snaffle rein and leave the curb rein looser. These leg-yielding movements were obvious in their effect and helped the stretching and looser outline and steps. In the walk the mare was a little unsteady in the contact, and Sabine again used the lateral work to help and tried to encourage a steady contact, especially in the collected walk.

Her description regarding bend and flexion was again to keep the head to the inside and the neck to the outside. She also explained that the flexion needed to be concave on the inside, but to create this the outside of the horse needed to be convex and stretch longer. So as much as there is always an outside rein, it has to be an allowing one.

It was on to the canter and the work on the pirouettes, and again the problem with sitting too much and stalling was evident. Sabine explained that pirouettes are not a trick and must be adjustable and fluent – not a separate movement, but an extension of the collection. She worked on more commitment to the canter in the very collected work and then again asked for transitions forward and back, keeping a better and more adjustable canter.

She stopped the over-sitting and then made small and big pirouettes within the 360 degrees. Sabine also had a great way of explaining the turning in the pirouette: think of it as a clock, and that the first step goes to 10-past, then 20-past, then half-past and so on, as it makes the rider set up more on the spot so the first step is clear. Refresh the canter often to discourage the over-sitting. Again, the work was always done on both sides.

Onto the changes, and very nice straight two-tempis, as were the ones, and a round of appreciation from the crowd. Sabine told Kaitlyn to think of the end of the diagonal as a magnet drawing you to it. Great idea!

Back to the trot and Sabine reiterated that the trot was never to slow down the tempo, and that the passage and the trot difference must show clarity. The passage steps were great, and her comment was to always make sure it was forward-thinking and stay committed to the push so the energy can be recycled upwards.

With the piaffe steps from the walk, it was explained that it again is not a trick but an extension of the ultimate collection, and to remember: “Piaffe is simply trot on the spot”. With this horse it was also important to not let her stop the forward thoughts and not to get it always in place, otherwise she over-sits and then the transition out is not so easy!

Sabine was well overtime and her enthusiasm for seeing happy horses and riders thinking clearly was inspiring. She is a really amazing horsewoman who has a real gift of imparting knowledge about training to Grand Prix. Her exercises were simplistic and easy to understand, and the horses’ improvement was easily seen.

How lucky were all at EQUITANA to see such a masterclass and to easily see the simplicity of good training. Thanks EQUITANA for sourcing such a great rider and coach. Australians were very lucky to have such an opportunity and then to see her ride on the Freestyle night simply showed that she really practises what she preaches. An awesome display. EQ


Carl Hester, Master of the MasterclassEquestrian Life, December 2022


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