USEF National Young Dressage Horse Coach Scott Hassler’s Vision for Young Horses

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Written by kelly-s
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge

DresssageDaily reporter Kelly Sanchez presents this in depth article of the program, its challenges, and strengths.
Get Scott Hassler talking about young horses, and his passion and enthusiasm practically spills out of him. He’ll tell you how young horses are just like school kids, how trainers need a good support system and how, despite its critics, the U.S. young horse program is a success. The USEF National Young Dressage Horse coach has been on hand for the Markel/USEF Central, Western, and Eastern Selection Trials for Young Horses offering support and guidance to the combinations competing in the 5- and 6-year-old classes. “I think the Young Horse Program is in a very healthy place,” says Hassler, who joined the program as coach in 2005. “It’s far from perfect, but I think we can keep tweaking it.

In the first two Selection Trials, we qualified two horses for the FEI World Breeding Championships in Verden [Emily Wagner and Wakeup and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo], which is great. But I get a lot of criticism that these classes are a joke and that we’re never going to see these horses again. My comment back is that’s a pretty harsh statement. I see it as an issue of maturity—the program’s only been around 10 years. But if we’re going to push things and be critical, then please show me the Pan American Games horses that are going Grand Prix on our teams—that’s an even closer step. We are seeing the Young Horses going to the Developing Horses—believe me, I’m looking at those numbers. Success to me is not a score achieved in a 5- and 6-year-old class. Success is that we’re seeing horses go down the pipeline and be successful on our future teams.

“I also get a lot of questions, like ‘Why aren’t we seeing more horses in the program?’” he continues. “For the last couple of years, on the national ranking list for Young Horses, about 150 of them have scored 7.2 or higher, and that doesn’t include all those who tried and didn’t get a 7.2, and I’m guessing that’s between 50 and 100 horses. The program is bigger than it appears. The goal is to bring out these horses and develop them properly. It’s a very good sign that we’re seeing that number of horses. It could always be better—we’ll continue to strive to be better.”

Launched in 2001, the program was designed in part to “encourage the properly structured development of young dressage prospects through the training scale; to identify and recognize outstanding talent and the training of international-caliber horses; and to prepare these horses for future careers at the FEI level and participation on U.S. High Performance teams.”

The program had been existence for several years when Hassler came on board, and there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. He admits that there were bigger numbers of horses competing in the selection trials in those early days, but he points out that the National Young Horse Dressage Championships are now a serious goal for many. “The World Breeding Championships [in Verden] is not the main theme on people’s minds—it’s kind of special and suited to unique combinations,” he says. “I see so many horses in my training sessions that I advise not to do these Young Horse classes—the best route for that horse is to give it more time. Our goal is that we get horses developed properly—that’s the most important thing.”

Guidance Is Key
For Hassler, the key to the program is bringing horses into the show ring. “Last year at the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships, which is also the Developing Horse Championships, 50 percent of the horses on the ranking list were graduates of the Young Horse program.” He envisions a thriving national network of what he calls “trainers/advisors.” As he puts it, “It’s important that we can pass these horses along from guidance to guidance—I don’t want to say trainer to trainer, because we’re really guiders as much as trainers. As an example here, it was such a pleasure to be with Sabine and Christine [Schut-Kery’s coach, Christine Traurig]. It’s about teamwork. Christine’s a fabulous trainer, and she can turn to me and say, ‘What do you think?’ It’s fun—that’s the way it should be.”

In Hassler’s mind, there are three options for owners of young horses: the Markel/USEF Young Horse program; no shows at all; and regular classes. “There’s not one of those three that’s more prestigious than the other,” he emphasizes. “It’s what’s the right choice for the horse.”

Young horses require specialized skill, patience and maturity on the part of their handlers and trainers. “Finding the right balance is critical,” Hassler says. “You see people who are too loving and too forgiving and people who take it too far, who want to control every single step they take. It’s about the middle ground, where there are boundaries but the horses don’t feel restricted, they don’t feel told what to do all the time, they are ridden forward and free, but they can still be playful and enthusiastic. This is an age where they’re going through a lot, and it can be a claustrophobic moment when they’re learning compression and connection and how to bend and use their bodies. If it’s done right early, it’s so much easier later. Horses are like kids in a classroom, and I think the most beautiful teachers are those who can recognize that Timmy over there is pretty shy and needs to be drawn out a little. And Eric over there is pretty aggressive—he cuts in the lunch line, he pushes others around, he’s the ringleader. He needs a little bit of a half halt; he needs more boundaries. That’s what we’re doing with these horses: We’re recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. Young horses need boundaries and clarity, or it can get dangerous. I love trying to read them and guessing what they’re going to do and learning from it—every day is a learning day.”

The Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium
For the past six years, Hassler has organized the Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium, which started when he and his wife, Susanne, were head trainers at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. It’s now hosted every November at the couple’s Hassler Dressage at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, MD. “It’s something we love doing,” he says. “In Europe you know where the good young horse riders are, so we decided to find a few talented trainers around the country to whom we could recommend our breeders send their horses. We thought we’d take three or four riders, and they’d come and ride our horses and we’d work with them for four or five days. We got 340 applicants in year one—we were blown away!”

The training content is a critical piece to the Symposium, but Hassler says there’s more to it than training horses. “It’s about community and camaraderie and knowing that we’re all in this game together. A lot of these trainers are younger trainers, and when you’re in your barn day to day with your group around you, it can be a lonely, frustrating, sometimes isolating place, so it’s great to get to a group where you truly feel you’re not being judged, where you can talk about something you’re facing with a client, how to get through a situation, how to stay positive and focus when it seems like half your barn is going lame. This is an emotional business, there’s no way around it, and I believe that the more balanced the trainers are in their lives, the more it benefits the horses.”

The Challenge of the Young Horse Classes
When it comes to emotions, one of the trickier parts to the Young Horse Classes are the public comments by the judges, which are announced at the conclusion of the test for the rider and spectators to hear. “It’s probably the hardest part of the Young Horse Program,” Hassler notes. “It has upset people enough that they won’t do it again, and that’s unfortunate. The judges, of course, feel that they have a responsibility, and if it’s all sugar-coated, then it’s not meaningful. I think we have judges who are really, really gifted at commenting, and people who are not so gifted at commenting. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just announce the score; on the other hand, people want to hear the comments. It’s a Catch-22. We have to be careful about using the sensitive words, the life-threatening words, like ‘lateral walk,’ and also very, very careful not to come across like the judges are giving a riding lesson—anything related to the rider, like ‘your hands were blocking this’ or somehow suggesting that the rider caused something that was going on, is not appropriate. Some people can say the most negative thing in a positive way, and some people can’t.”

A Judge’s Perspective

Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete
Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete

Natalie Lamping, who judged the Young Horse Selection Trial at Flintridge as well as in Illinois and will travel to Virginia for the third and final trial in June, says she loves the opportunity to officiate at the Young Horse Classes but agrees that the public comments in the Young Horse Classes often strike a nerve with riders. “But you have to be fair to the rider and be really real in your scoring,” she says. “It seems in the sport of dressage that most people have a hard time hearing the truth. We judge what they show us at that moment in time. We all hope for the best. There’s a kind way to say something, and there’s bad luck too—the horse shies, the horse is naughty—but that’s life.”

A Competitor’s Perspective

Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville
Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville

Sherry Van’t Riet competed in the Selection Trial for 6-year-olds with her Oldenburg Sir Deauville, but fell short of the 7.2 score required to qualify for the National Championships (the World Breeding Championships require a minimum score of 8.2) in part when her horse missed their first lead change and leaped into the air. Despite her disappointment, she said she was grateful for the experience. “I’m really open to any suggestions. Any of this information I take to heart, and I appreciate it. It’s like when I go to a clinic: I go to learn. I don’t go to show off. What’s the point of that? How can you learn if you’re only showing the stuff that you do really well? When the judges were telling me about my horse, I was nodding my head. He did what he did!”

Dressage World Cup Finals 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 08:14
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Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 09:56
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Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 12:30
Written By: Mary Phelps
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 22:00
Written By: Mary Phelps
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Monday, April 20, 2015 - 07:19
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Viva Las Vegas! Elvis (Guenter Seidel) and one of his "showgirls" Elizabeth Ball (Photo: © Mary Phelps) If he ever decides to forego dressage, Guenter Seidel might have a career in show business. Dressed as Elvis, the three-time Olympian brought down the house in a “Viva Las Vegas” quadrille featuring his three “showgirls”: Elizabeth Ball, Michelle Reilly and Sarah Christy at the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final Dressage Showcase. California-based fashion and costume designer Melanie Sommer worked for two months to put together the elaborate fire-engine red costumes, which had tall feathered headdresses, bustiers and red sequined boots. The midday showcase kicked off with an Intermediare I Freestyle featuring Sabine Schut-Kery riding Alice Womble-Heitmann’s expressive Hanoveri...
Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 08:11
Written By: Louise Parkes
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Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 17:42
Written By: Astrid Appels - Eurodressage.com
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Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 09:06
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Friday, April 17, 2015 - 11:17
Written By: Kelly Sanchez
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Friday, April 17, 2015 - 08:58
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Eventing

Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 22:56
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Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 19:20
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Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 07:39
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Friday, April 24, 2015 - 21:26
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Friday, April 24, 2015 - 21:18
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Friday, April 24, 2015 - 20:58
Who:
Gov. Steve Beshear
First Lady Jane Beshear
What:
Trophy presentation to Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event winner
When:
Sunday, April 26, 2015, at conclusion of event; approximately 2 p.m. Eastern time
Where:
Kentucky Horse Park
Rolex Arena
4089 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, Kentucky...
Friday, April 24, 2015 - 11:48
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Reining and Western Riding

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 10:27
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Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 11:04
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Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 10:53
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Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 10:25
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Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 10:09
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Friday, April 24, 2015 - 05:10
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Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 22:08
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Driving

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 10:39
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - 23:18
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - 12:48
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Sunday, April 5, 2015 - 08:55
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Saturday, March 28, 2015 - 14:57
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Monday, March 23, 2015 - 07:49
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Monday, March 23, 2015 - 07:40
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Show Jumping

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 09:29
Chicago Equestrian
Oswego, IL – Meet 16-year-old Gia Gulino of Saint John, IN. Gulino trains with Tina Judge-Boyle at Judgement Farm in Oswego, IL and is on track to hit some major championships this year thanks to the Judgement Farm training program.
 
Gulino and her mount Cappello, a seven-year-old Dutch warmblood imported last year, show in both the...
Monday, April 27, 2015 - 09:21
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Ottawa, Ont., April 26, 2015 -- Canadian show jumping riders made a clean sweep of the podium in the $2,250,000 MXN Veracruz Grand Prix during the final day of the CSIO 4* Coapexpan on April 26 in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. Elizabeth Gingras of Edmonton, Alta. earned a decisive win against a starting field of 40 riders from eight different...
Monday, April 27, 2015 - 09:13
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27th April 2015 - Showing entries for this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show, which takes place on 13-17 May, are once again up on the previous year for the third year running. Regarded as the first major event of the summer show season, organisers of the UK’s largest outdoor equestrian event have received a total of 1,863 showing entries - a 4%...
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 14:20
Global Champions Tour
There was more than just a place in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Antwerp at stake in tonight’s final qualifier, as the winner of the BMW sponsored 1.55m class would also drive away with a stunning BMW 4-series cabriolet. At the end of a fiercely fought jump-off, it was Kevin Staut who was handed the key to have his moment of...
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 14:02
HITS E-News
Reserve now for the spring series to get your choice VIP table for eight in the new Legend Club at HITS-on-the-Hudson. The Legend Club offers guests exclusive amenities and privileges, including: A table seating eight in a free span tent at the north end of the Grand Prix Stadium, overlooking the Grand Prix ring and the Grand Prix schooling...
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 13:57
Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
The Devon Horse Show may be 'where champions meet,' but it is also where riders strive to become champions among the best of the best. For junior riders, the R.W. "Ronnie" Mutch Equitation Championship title is one of the most sought after championships presented in the Dixon Oval. The Ronnie Mutch Challenge Trophy is awarded annually to the...
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 13:51
Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
Lexington, KY - Kentucky Horse Shows LLC, is pleased to announce that the prize money awarded in the Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix CSI2* on Saturday, May 9, 2015 has been increased from $75,000 to $85,000. This increase will make it possible for competitors to earn more Longines Rider Ranking points from the class. The starting fee will not...

Para Dressage

Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 10:24
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
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Friday, January 16, 2015 - 06:20
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015 - 05:46
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
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Monday, January 12, 2015 - 10:29
Robyn Andrews and Fancianna (Photo: SusanJStickle.com) Ottawa, ON. - On the final day of competition at CPEDI3* Global Dressage Festival I presented by Adequan, Robyn Andrews won her test for the second day in a row for Canada. The competition was held at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla., Jan. 9-11, 2015. Andrews of St. Johns, N.L. secured the victory in the Grade Ia Freestyle test riding her 2014 World Equestrian Games mare 14-year-old Fancianna, a Friesian-Andalusian cross, to a score of 67.917%. "I was pleased with Fancy today," said Andrews. "I was a bit tired, but we pulled it off. Many thanks must go to the Global Dressage Festival for putting on a great show. Special thanks to my coach, Amanda Kalvoda; chef d'équipe, Elizabeth Quigg; Pa...
Friday, January 9, 2015 - 06:31
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
U.S. Chef D' Equipe Kai Handt jogs Rubicon 75, ridden by Mary Jordan, owned by Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center (Photo (c) Lindsay Y. McCall) Wellington, FL - Para-Equestrian Dressage athletes from around the North American continent have landed in Wellington, Florida, for the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*. This is the first CPEDI3* event for the 2015 calendar year. Thirteen horse and rider combinations presented their mounts in front of FEI Ground Jury members Mr. Freddy Leyman (BEL), Mr. Kjell Myhre (NOR), and Ms. Kristi Wysocki (USA). Para-Equestrians from Canada and the United States will compete January 9-11, in The Van Kampen covered arena at the Global Dressage Festival. Friday, January 9, is the FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage Team Test, followed by Saturday's FE...
Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 08:52
Kai Handt and Wes Dunham showcase collaborative coaching at the Northeast Symposium in 2013. Rider Sydney Collier aboard her own Wentworth works on gaits. (Photo (C) Lindsay Y. McCall) Wellington, FL - The United States Equestrian Federation, Inc. (USEF), is excited to announce a two-day Para Equestrian Dressage Symposium to be held at Global Dressage, Wellington, Florida, January 12 & 13, 2015, 8 AM-4 PM. Select U.S. High Performance and developing Para- Equestrian Dressage riders and coaches will be attending the symposium. Auditors are welcome to attend for $75. Pre-registering as an auditor is not required. Please contact Laureen Johnson at USEF at lkjohnson@usef.org if you are interested in audit...
Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - 06:00
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
Nora Grassmyer, Mibis, Barbara Grassmyer, and Bob Grassmyer. (Photo: (c) Lindsay Y. McCall) El Dorado Hills, CA - On December 19, 2014, the Dressage Community lost friend, volunteer, and parent Nora Grassmyer after a three year battle with bladder cancer. Nora was heavily involved with the Dressage and Para-Dressage disciplines both internationally and at the national level. She was also a longtime volunteer at the California Dressage shows managed by Connie Davenport. Nora was a driving force behind her daughter and Paralympian Barbara Grassmyer. She was there at every moment for Barbara including when Barbara served as an alternate for the U.S. Paralympic Team in 2000, competing in Sydney, Australia; in 2001 and 2002 when Barbara was the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion;...
Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 07:30
Rebecca Hart and Schroeters Romani rode to the high score of 78.382% during the Polar Express Show at White Fences. Wellington, FL - Rebecca Hart and Schroeters Romani shined Saturday afternoon during the Polar Express show held at the White Fences Equestrian Center in Loxahatchee, Florida. The talented duo rode to the score of 78.382 percent for the FEI Para Team Grade II test during the national show, kick starting their season as they prepare for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in CPEDI3* in January 2015.Hart traveled to Florida in early December to work with Wellington-based international dressage trainer Todd Flettrich out of Cherry Knoll Farm, which is also a partial owner of Romani. Hart and Flettrich have worked consistently on warm-up and preparation with Romani after takin...
Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 18:41
Sydney Collier riding Willi Wesley (Photo: SusanjStickle.com) Lexington, Ky. - The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is pleased to announce Sydney Collier as the 2014 Junior Equestrian of the Year. Seventeen-year-old Collier is a talented Para-Equestrian who competed at the international level in 2014, including the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., she was diagnosed at the age of seven with a rare congenital birth defect called Wyburn-Mason Syndrome. In spite of this challenge, Collier pursued her love of riding and has become a top equestrian athlete. A prime example of courage, sportsmanship, and dedication, Collier will be awarded the Ruth O'Keefe Meredith Memorial Trophy as the 2014 Junior Equestrian of the Year. Having her biggest year to da...
Sunday, November 30, 2014 - 07:53
Trainer Wes Dunham and WEG athletes Sydney Collier's mount Willi Wesley at the 2014 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3* horse inspection . (Photo: Lindsay McCall) Wellington, Florida - November 26, 2014 - Entries are now being accepted at www.equestrianentries.com through December 22, 2014, for the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*. Para-Equestrian Dressage athletes kick-off the show season with their their first international show of the year January 7-11, 2015, in Wellington, FL, in the Van Kampen covered arena. This show will include FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage athletes in Grades Ia, Ib, II, III, and IV. Thursday, January 8, is the Horse inspection at approximately 5:30 PM. Friday, January 9, is the FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage Team Test, followed by Saturday's FEI P...
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