Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023

Trainers: A Meeting Of Minds



Dear Rita,

Sometimes in life all paths converge to take you to a place you always wanted to be. For me, that place was at the helm of a trainer’s educational workshop in Oregon.

Turn the clock back to last spring when I first spoke with Lisa Koch, a director of the Oregon Dressage Society, about her plan to host a clinic for dressage trainers near Portland. Lisa was in search of a trainer who could train trainers and, I surmised, someone who could lead the way in two days of continuing education.


Catherine Haddad Staller demonstrates a concept forTom Murray at the Oregon Dressage Society Trainer’s Clinic. Equine Video Productions/Tory Kelly Photos

As we discussed Lisa’s concept, I quickly agreed to participate, promising her I would return from wherever my travels might take me to attend the event in mid-October. 

As luck would have it, I had embarked on a continuing education quest myself—this time heading west in the good ole USA instead of my usual migration toward Europe in the summer months. I had loaded my two top horses on a plane just a week before and flown west to California for a six-week brush-up on my own training with the world-renowned Johann Hinnemann in La Cresta, California. With the horses settled in, it was an easy flight to Portland from there.

On the flight out, I gave a lot of thought to my own journey as a trainer and to the many riders I have helped along the way. Closest in my thoughts was Michelle Brady, my precious stable manager (“If it has four legs I can take care of it”) and top rider (“If I don’t know it, I can learn to do it”), whom I had left at home in the stable in New Jersey. Michelle hails from La Grande, Oregon, and here I was on a plane headed to her home state while she took care of my business at home on the East Coast. Converging paths are often fraught with irony. I sent her good thoughts and vowed to look after her training with double attention when we meet up again in Florida after Thanksgiving. A rider like me cannot (CANNOT) travel for training and competition without capable hands on the helm at home. 

Training people to train horses is what I do. I had been asked to teach eight trainers on the mounts of their choice over two days and discuss that training with the auditors who were invited to attend. Only trainers were allowed to participate, and 20 to 30 people attended each day. 


We had open and honest discussion amongst trainers at the Oregon Dressage Society Trainer’s Clinic. Here I am  pictured with Heather Oleson.

Rita, I had a blast! I’ve done a lot of clinics in my life, and most of the rewarding ones were filled with trainers. But this time we had trainers discussing training—honestly, openly and with eager minds. This was a group of people who wanted to work together and learn from each other. They asked a boatload of questions, which made sharing my knowledge easy. It was a breath of fresh air blowing in from the Northwest.

Besides good riding and proper basics in general, here are some of the myriad subjects we delved into, both by example and discussion:


1. The logic and grace of positive reward in training horses.

2. Balance and skeletal riding vs. strength and muscular riding.

3. How to change the contact with the horse’s mouth to increase comfort. (Don’t ride the lower jaw, Rita.)

4. Saddle fit. Why comfort for your horse is more important than having a saddle sponsor. (Resistance issues due to ill-fitting or ill-conceived tack.)

5. Why rubber is not conducive to good riding. (Get rid of those rubber reins!)

6. Goals of good training: safety first, happy horses and satisfied clients. (i.e., Protect the horses. Keep the clients who value that.)

7. Straightness, engagement, throughness and their relationship to elasticity.

8. Addressing fear in the student.

9. Building a solid business based on sound, ethical and correct practices. 


10.  Improving piaffe, resistance problems, flying change issues, correct seat, dynamic halts, turning the shoulders in pirouettes…

11. How to teach. Best practices for getting your students to make positive progress. What the trainer should bring to the arena vs. what the student needs to bring to the arena.

12. Understanding Safe Sport and why it is important that we all participate in it. 

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Discussing saddle functionality.

Oh geez, Rita, I could go on, but you might ask: These are the subjects discussed in all your clinics. Why the excitement? The difference in Oregon is that we were all TRAINERS, and everyone participated. No sponsors, owners or students were present. It was easy to be open, honest and inclusive. Suffice to say, this was the most engaged group I have ever worked with, and they inspired me.

Kudos to Lisa Koch for organizing this continuing education session. We need this in our sport!! And many thanks to her organizing cadre—Anna Bigwood, Jill Campbell, Ronda Fitton—for anticipating my every need and keeping me on schedule. You were an organizing DREAM TEAM. And a big shout out to Beka Swan for providing the ODS with a wonderful facility. 

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin it like it is from Murrieta, California.

Training Tip of the Day: Analysis is the key to learning. Ask yourself, “Why…?”

Catherine Haddad Staller lived in Germany for almost 20 years and accumulated more than 120 top-10 placings and wins at Grand Prix during that time. In 2006, she was the team alternate for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, and the following year, she finished seventh at the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas with Maximus JSS. She was reserve for the WEG once again in 2010 and rode in the Leipzig FEI World Cup Final (Germany) in 2011. She returned to the USA in 2012 and runs training facilities in New Jersey and Florida. She’s continued to compete internationally at Grand Prix and has also coached many riders at the FEI levels. An avid breeder, Staller’s foals have taken “best in class” honors at four Hanoverian foal shows in recent years.

Read all of Catherine’s blogs for the Chronicle.





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