A master at work
Watching German trainer Andreas Mueller in action at
his recent auckland- masterclass was an education in itself, writes Helen
Firth. Pictures: Trish Dunell.
Dressage riders Louisa Hill and Resa van der Ven spearheaded
the Andreas Mueller masterclass, held at Ti Papa, and intend to bring
him out several times a year to further the progress of dressage in this
country. They hope to form a training group, and continue running these
clinics and seminars, making them affordable for as many people as possible.
“New Zealand’s isolation from Germany is one of the biggest problems we
face,” explained Louisa. “Andreas has been brought up in the German system
we know to be so successful. He speaks excellent English and has a great
way of communicating and creating a fantastic environment for learning.
His effectiveness as a rider means he can get on and show us how it should
be done, and this allows him that special insight you get from sitting
in the saddle.
“I think Andreas is a very realistic trainer: the perfect horse has not
yet been created. Each horse has its own problems, so this is not a master
class where everything is perfect; instead he points out the problems
these horses have and what needs to be worked on.”
German-born Andreas has visited before, and is a big fan of New Zealand,
with a genuine desire to help our horses and riders improve. Originally
from a show jumping and eventing background, Andreas specialised in dressage
16 years ago. He holds the highest examination in Germany and has produced
more than 25 Prix St Georges and Grand Prix horses from scratch.
The young horses
The first section covered the training of the young horse, and was demonstrated
by three combinations: Fortuitous (four-year-old gelding, by Faulkland,
out of a Walt Disney mare, bred by Northern Stud in Australia), owned
and ridden by Andrea Bank; Dream Gift MH (four-year-old mare by Dream
Boy, out of Grand Gift, bred by Matthews Hanoverians), owned and ridden
by Sheena Ross; Fabalou (seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding, bred in Germany),
owned and ridden by Nicky Pope.
Each of the young horses was quite different in type and temperament.
While Andreas did indeed focus on each horse’s problems, the following
excerpts of his clinic are in no way meant to be critical of either the
horses or riders, who bravely did their best in front of a big audience.
As Andreas said, “nobody likes problems, but I think if you don’t have
problems, dressage riding is very boring!”
The biggest challenge for Andrea Bank was her gelding’s sensitivity in
the mouth. While Andreas complimented Andrea on her nice seat position
and good way of warming up, he wanted her to stretch her horse’s neck
more and push the horse to the rein, to bring his neck up and his nose
“The horse is a little overbent and very sensitive in the mouth. It is
not too easy for riders to handle that, because you have to be very sensitive
with your hands, too,” he observed.
In the canter work, Fortuitous changed of his own accord when crossing
the diagonal; Andreas told Andrea to give him a pat: “It’s good if they
do a flying change, because you want to be able to do them later.”
When riding Fortuitous himself, Andreas demonstrated how he would solve
the problem with the connection, by using half-halts. He pushed the horse
up to the rein with his legs, and while he kept a ‘close contact’ with
the horse’s mouth, his hands maintained a forward feeling all the time.
“It’s a very difficult thing: you have to stay in contact, but your hands
have to go forward,” he explained.
Despite Andreas’ extreme height, it was wonderful to watch him ride each
horse with feel and sensitivity, rather than overpowering them with physical
strength – and with his long legs, that domination would probably be fairly
easy to achieve! The overwhelming impression was one of total softness
in Andreas’ arms and hands, which was reflected in the horses’ relaxed
way of going when he rode them.
As an older four-year-old, Sheena Ross’s Dream Gift MH was able to demonstrate
a very nice neck position in the canter, which prompted Andreas to have
her start working on the counter-canter. I’m sure some young horse owners
watching must have been rather envious as the mare effortlessly managed
a balanced counter-canter in either direction. “Start with just one corner
in counter-canter and don’t get deep into the corner. Make it easy for
the young horse,” Andreas instructed.
While Andreas wanted to see Sheena’s horse in a deep frame initially,
he then had her move to sitting trot and work on bringing the neck up,
achieving more of a connection. If the horse overbends in the half-halt,
this is a sign the rider hasn’t used enough leg in the leg-to-hand ratio,
said Andreas. “Whether it’s a young horse or an old horse, you have to
use your legs first and then your reins.”
At seven, Nicky Pope’s stunning German-bred Fabalou was the Novice Reserve
Champion at Horse of the Year Show, and is currently working at Medium
to Advanced level. Andreas acknowledged that the gelding is a beautiful
horse, but with his neck carriage, he does have the problem that his poll
is not always the highest point. With a horse like this, said Andreas,
the rider has to stretch the neck a lot, so the nose goes forward – this
is the preparation to bring the head up later.
When Andreas rode Fabalou himself, he did initially try to bring the neck
down to relax him, but he found this didn’t work, possibly because the
horse was a little spooky in the new arena. Instead, he shortened the
reins to bring the neck up and come in contact with the horse: “But it
is very hard to do, because you have to be very quiet with your hands
and make sure that you can use your legs all the time.”
If the horse is looking at something – in this case the audience – Andreas
explained you should flex it in the opposite direction.
Young horse rules
• With young horses, the first thing you have to do is find a good rhythm.
Rhythm is the base of everything, because if you don’t have a good rhythm,
you can’t connect the horse
• Don’t think you have to do everything in one day – take your time
• The horse dictates the speed at which training can progress. The horse
will tell you, but you have to listen
• When you give a half-halt, always use your legs first, before the
• Changing the neck position frequently makes the muscles strong; this
applies throughout the horse’s career
• If you have a big problem in your training, go back to basics. If,
for example, your flying changes aren’t working, don’t ask for the changes
over and over again, because they will only get worse. Instead figure
out what is going wrong – perhaps you have lost your outside rein or
Q & A with Andreas Mueller
How often should I work my horse and for how long?
I think it is best to work horses every day. The day off is only for riders!
But how much work you do each day depends on the horse. Some horses need
one hour or one and a half hours, most do not need longer. Other horses
only need 20 minutes’ work. It’s good for professionals if the horse only
needs 20 minutes, but I think most Grand Prix horses need 45 minutes or
an hour because they have to be strong. But you mustn’t do dressage every
day – go out to the forest or whatever, and make it fun for your horse.
When should I start riding my young horse?
Again, it depends on the horse. Normally we break horses in at three years,
but you can’t ride the horse every day at that age. I don’t think you
can start with dressage work until the horse is between four and five
years; before that you can put a saddle on, go to the forest, do those
types of things.
My trainer tells me to keep my hands still.
Is it okay to move my hands or not?
Yes. You don’t have to hold the rein or your hand still all the time,
although some teachers do tell you that. If you want to round your horse
up, you can hold your hands wherever you want – your goal is to get the
horse to relax and stretch his neck.
But you have to be able to change the head position, and that’s the problem
most of the time. When I connect a horse, I bring the head up, and bring
the hands together and keep the hands still.
So, when you are in the competition position, make sure you have your
hands in the right position, and very soft and quiet. But beforehand,
when you are warming up, you can do what you want with your hands to bring
the head down and relax the horse.
What is the ideal contact?
This is one of my favourite things, this quiet and forward contact to
the mouth – but I don’t think my English is good enough to explain. Perhaps
Lou can tell us?
Louisa: It’s a work in progress! It has been Andreas’ mission while he’s
been here, to get us all working forward with our hands. And I think it
is a really difficult thing to connect the horse, but always have the
tendency that your hands are going forward. Sometimes, when you connect
the horse, you can be a bit firmer with your contact, but you must always
have the feeling afterwards that you can go forward, without dropping
How deep should my horse be in the warming
If you train horses, you have to do the same thing all the time. The big
discussion at the moment in Europe – I think you have probably heard about
it – concerns Anky van Grunsven. I round the horses too, but she rounds
them more than me; she brings the horse’s nose nearly between the front
legs. It’s a special style of riding and it works, because she is an Olympic
and World Champion. And that shows that if you train horses, you have
to find a way, and you have to stick with that way. I prefer a more classical
way, I think. I like to see the horses very relaxed and not too pressured,
especially in the warming up.
For the full story on A Master at work, which includes The
Advanced horses and Andreas’ training thoughts, check out this months
issue – in store now!