Improvise For Success: A Recipe For Remote Training

Aug 10, 2020 - 3:22 PM

When my husband interviews veterinary candidates for a position at his clinic, he often asks them if they can cook. That may seem like an odd question for a potential veterinarian, but Greg says that people who can cook have learned to plan, execute and improvise, and that makes them good veterinarians. I believe the same about horse trainers.

The more you cook, the less you rely on recipe books. You learn to substitute and experiment. The basic rules all still apply—heat the cast iron before you cook with it—but with experience and improvisation you improve on the recipes you already know—for instance, lavender gives a softer, milder flavor than rosemary to your osso buco.

If you can improvise, you can be good at your job whether you are a veterinarian, a cook, an electrician or a horse trainer. So yes, time on the job and years of experience—these things count, and they sometimes outweigh talent when it comes to getting results. If you have talent and experience, then you’re cooking with gas.

Which is why I packed up my top two mares, Celine and Frankie, last fall and flew them out to California to train with Johann Hinnemann. People sometimes look at me like I have two heads when I tell them that. “You were on your way to Florida two months later. Why not train with someone there?!”

Because experience has taught me that one lesson with the right instructor is worth 10 from someone else. My own training has always been important to me. I have invested a lot in my education, and it is ongoing. Each new horse brings new challenges—the biggest one being turning that horse into the moving sculpture I want to ride, the living art that I want to put my signature on. Do all my horses “go” in the same way? No, but eventually they all LOOK the same—developed toplines, active hindlegs, soft in the bridle, responsive to weight, seat and thoughts.

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Frankie. Sculpted by Catherine Haddad Staller. Monica Stevenson Photo

My recipe of riding comes from 20 years of training either with Willi Schultheis himself, or people that he trained like Bodo Hangen and Rudolf Zeilinger. Same cast iron, different stoves, same ingredients. After those first two decades, Morten Thomsen came along and opened my eyes to new things. He showed me the stainless-steel skillet. I kept cooking—sometimes with cast iron, sometimes with stainless steel.

And then in 2017, I rode in a clinic with Johann Hinnemann, and I thought, “I’m home. This is my kitchen. This is where I want to create masterpieces.” And we did—together—in just a few lessons. Funny thing, Rita, I don’t even know if Hinnemann knows how much his instruction means to me. We have never really discussed it. He shows up, he helps me change a few things, I pay him, he moves on to the next lesson. I drive home with a smile and mission.

In my first lesson with Hinnemann, I was on the incredible Semper Fidelis, whose story I will tell at another time. Suffice to say that without a doubt she was the greatest horse to ever land on my planet.

Hinnemann changed one thing that day—ONE THING—in how I approached the piaffe with Semper Fidelis. It changed my whole strategy, and it became the key to succeeding where so many other riders had failed. When I looked up Hinnemann in Germany a few months later, the piaffe was our strongest and most relaxed movement. I was so proud. He doesn’t even remember what advice he gave me. But it doesn’t matter. He gave me the ingredients for success, and I improvised. We cooked an awesome osso buco.

Semper Fidelis was a gifted horse. But it took all my years of experience to unlock her talent for the world to see, and it was Hinnemann who guided my approach. Just a few lessons—maybe 10 altogether over a four-month period—but the right words in the right moment mean so much more. Definitely worth the entire trip to Germany that year. The international results speak for themselves.

So yeah, when it came time in the fall of 2019 to heat the frying pan under my new Grand Prix prospects, Celine and Frankie, I called Hinnemann. I got on a plane with my girls and flew to California. That is where Hinnemann was, and dammit, I wasn’t staying home.

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Last fall, Catherine Haddad Staller did some “No Stirrups November” work with Jo Hinnemann in California on Celine, her up-and-coming Grand Prix horse. Mariye Inouye Photo

Unfortunately, Rita, that’s where Hinnemann still IS, and the pandemic lies between us. As important as good training is to me, I wouldn’t ask him to fly across the country right now. (Confession: I DID! Relieved that he said no.) And let’s face it, me getting out to California looks tricky too. So I decided I would finally have to crack the code of remote coaching and figure out a way to get his eyes on my horses again. I had to improvise.

Breaking this code has been an extremely frustrating and expensive process for me because I am not a techy person! (Ask me how to speed up piaffe.) I’ve spent a lot of unnecessary money trying to figure this out. So if I can help even a few riders seeking instruction from their faraway trainers during this pandemic, I’m happy to share the recipe of what works for me.

As a trainer, it pays to get a system up and running for yourself. Right now, I make 30% of my lesson income from remote coaching and receive 100% of my training from the same.

The only ingredient I can’t control in receiving remote coaching is the quality of my Wi-Fi since my internet is provided by a satellite dish (also known as Lucifer). But when I can get a strong signal, I can get Hinnemann’s input on my horses from 3,000 miles away. And even from that distance, the right words come in the right moment.

I’ve tried most of the robots, Rita, and I have nothing against them. But this recipe bypasses the need for one. Kinda like the flourless chocolate cake, this system takes remote coaching to a simpler level while improving on the final product. Here ya’ll go:

Ingredients (see the video below for suggestions and further explanations):

– HDMI compatible video camera with extended battery life
– Computer
– Internet connection with UPLOAD speed of 2Mbps or faster and no lag time
– HDMI cable—camera compatible to large HDMI connection
– USB capture HDMI device
– Audio splitter|
– Audio adapter
– CeeCoaches, one headset

It’s simpler than you think.

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin it like it is from Califon, New Jersey.

Training Tip of the Day: Learn to recognize the difference between shoulder-fore and shoulder-in. Each position affects the performance of the hindlegs in a different manner.

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