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 more forward.
“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 rein
• 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 leg contact?

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 the horse.

How deep should my horse be in the warming up?
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!