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Between Rounds With Scott Hassler From The Chronicle

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  • Between Rounds With Scott Hassler From The Chronicle

    As a service to our online equine community, the Chronicle is pleased to offer our weekly Between Rounds columns for free on the COTH Forums.

    We Need Systems—Not Just Showcases—For Our Young Horses
    October 10, 2008 Issue

    Our columnist believes our national championship should be at least as important as the world championship for young dressage horses.

    We have two major championships for our young horses. One is the prestigious FEI World Breeding Championships For Young Dressage Horses, which is held every year at a rotating site. For the past several years it has been in Verden, Germany, and will be there until 2011. Our second championships are the Markel/ USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championship, which has been held in Lexington, Ky., for the past four years.

    Riders from the United States have been able to take up to two 5-year-old horses and two 6-year-old horses to the World Breeding Championships, which the World Breeding Federation governs. Over the years, U.S. riders have not had the success in these classes that one would wish for, however, I think these riders have certainly made an impact.

    We have had good combinations going over there; we have had American-bred horses representing our country there. We have had professional riders on good horses, but it is a game that is very difficult to win. You are looking at the hierarchy of the German and Dutch as well as other breeding programs; this is a special showcase. I really believe in the future we will have success there—there is no question about this.

    Right now the World Breeding Championship for Young Horses carries quite a bit of prestige; however, the other young horse championship is our national championship. I would like to think that perhaps this championship in many ways may be even more important.

    Why? So that our country can build its base and see the progression of the horses’ development through the age groups.

    At the national championship, the 4-year-old division was added three years ago so that we now have 4-, 5-, and 6–year-old divisions; this was a beneficial change. And, for the past two years, we have added the developing horse division. You can now see 4-year-olds through 9-year-olds in sport; I think it is extremely educational and also fun.

    There’s great value in a head-to-head national championship, with riders from all over the country interacting. This should be our aim: to build up our base and to train the horses correctly. We are not just showcasing horses with “fabulous gaits and a look of presence,” but we are training horses on the scale where we can take them into the sport up to Grand Prix.

    We need to build depth in our country; this should be our main objective, not just going to a world championship and showcasing those quality horses. They are exceptional horses; don’t get me wrong. But more important, I believe, is that we are building a system which shows the horses’ development from age group to age group.

    It is wonderful and unique to have 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds as well as the developing horse program combined. In other countries they are separated, but I think this format is educational.

    If I were a breeder or rider hoping to participate in the championships, I would want to take a look and see it for myself. If I’m a breeder what are my advantages? First, I see the quality of the horses to use as a measuring stick to see how I’m doing. Secondly, if I don’t have a rider in mind for my horses I get to meet some of the riders and get a feel for the type of rider I want for my horse. I can also see if my goals are realistic for my horse and compare my breeding results. For a breeder it’s extremely beneficial to go and watch the championships, then use it as a check on your goals.

    As a rider, it’s invaluable to see the event and the caliber of horses and how they match up to what I have in my barn. Am I bringing my horse correctly through the progression; is my riding beneficial for my horse’s development; what are the judges looking for; what do they want to see from each age group?

    A rider should become familiar with all of these points. If I’m a developing horse rider I need to get a feel and understanding for the young horse classes into Prix St. Georges. These championships are a link; the young horse classes bring young horse riders and professional Grand Prix riders together for an understanding and appreciation for each group—young horse or professional—which is beneficial and necessary for all to see the natural progression.

    I certainly hope that our national championship becomes much more prestigious than just a means to get to the world championship. My hope is that we are building up our own strength and our own systems so that we can be proud of the horses we are building for our future.

    Scott Hassler

    Scott Hassler, the National Young Horse Dressage Coach, resides in Chesapeake City, Md., and has trained many horses to Grand Prix. The U.S. Dressage Federation Sport Horse Committee chairman since 2001, he helped establish the sport/breeding record-keeping system now active in the USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2005.
    Kat Netzler
    Chronicle Editorial Staff

  • #2
    Thank-you for posting this. I do have as on-line subscription, but never seem to use it.


    • #3
      Have to say that I agree with Scott on this 100%! Having been to Kentucky and - much to my surprise - owning the winning 4-year old last year, it was very educational as well as fun attending this venue.

      I agree that this is a very good opportunity for US breeders in all the aspects Scott mentioned. Go there and see for yourself... meet lots of talented horses and riders. I certainly did and will most likely be back.

      Thanks for a great article, Scott!
      Siegi Belz
      2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
      Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


      • #4
        While I agree with and support the concept of the importance of our Young Horse Championsips, I found this narrative to be very poorly written and at times difficult to follow. The over use of punctuation and sentence paragraphs detracted from the points made.

        The important of the YHC isn't disputed by most breeders, trainers, owners and riders that want to showcase young talent. As a breeder I believe the YHC and the FEI Breeding Championships for Young Horses are on par with the High Performace Teams that compete in various disciplines. The horses qualifying at these Young Horse events should have the same financial support that stands behind horses selected to compete in performance.

        We have a large country and very often we end up with finalists being those who have access to qualifiers within a reasonable travel distance or individuals who have to make large investments of money and travel time to attend and focus totally on competing at qualifiers. With respect to the FEI Championships it becomes prohibitively expensive for MOST competitors to afford to get their qualified horse to Europe. The financial support provided through the USEF is completely inadequate. So it begs the question if we are losing quality horses for these competitions due to the excessive costs and no support system. Someone should come forward and publish the actual costs to send a horse to Europe if it qualifies and how little financial support is offered by the USEF.

        I heard from several people who were at Kentucky this year that the USEF provided just about nothing in support for or at this event. They seemed to have left EVERYTING up to the Show Secretary. If indeed, this is our "Showcase" for Young Horse Talent for horses ranging in age from 4 to 9 as Mr. Hassler states, the USEF & USDF should be spending some resources (human and cash) on making these events more than just a horse show. Consider that both of these two organizations are located in Kentucky and planning events to bolster the pagentry of the Young Horse competition wasn't hampered by logistics.

        Mr. Hassler's previous treatise on the importance of people attending the FEI Breeding Championships or Bundeschampionat in Europe stated it was necessary to understand the level of those competitions. The USEF/USDF should offer financial assistance to top Young Horse riders and/or trainers to attend these events. Sending 2 or 3 people every year will provide them with first hand knowledge that they can use in their training programs and also pass on to other riders and trainers. We cannot build the foundation of breeders/riders/trainers with the necessary knowledge to expand and improve our Young Horse programs if we keep sending the same people from the USEF and/or USDF to watch these events yearly. Growing the professional knowledge base can only come from assisting more people understand the system.

        Why aren't the rides at the FEI Finals or the Young Horse Championships videotaped or televised? We can watch the Bundeschampionat competitions LIVE on our computers but we can't even get the scores for these Young Horse competitions (or most of our HORSE SHOWS) for weeks and often months! It's about time the many layers of personel at the USEF/USDF realize that our systems and tracking and information bases have to be on par with our counterparts in Europe. Right now our U.S. systems are in the stone age. It's inexcusable that we are often relying on cell phone conversations between people at the shows and subsequent posts on Bulletin Boards such as the COTH for show results or feed back.

        It should not be surprising that many of our high quality Young Horses are by-passing these National programs due to cost, logistics and lack of a structured Young Horse program in this country. Very often the judging at these qualifying competitions is consistently INCONSISTENT. I'm sure riders/trainers/owners want solid feedback at these competitions, not personal insults and often conflicting feedback depending on who is judging day to day or show to show.

        I would also suggest that the now DEFUNCT Federation of North American Sporthorse Registries could have and SHOULD HAVE played a pivotal role in providing financial assistance to the Young Horse programs, as well as being an advocate for those who are breeding the horses in this country. They could have been the voice for thousands to the USEF & USDF. As it stands now breeders are ignored and never considered to be one of the most important components of the program.
        Summit Sporthorses Ltd. Inc.
        "Breeding Competition Partners & Lifelong Friends"


        • #5
          As someone who taught college English for six years and who's taught high school English for over four years, I'd like to say that Mr. Hassler's grammar is just fine. His points are very clearly expressed.

          As a Hanoverian breeder, I applaud his ideas and thank him for his ongoing dedication to the development of young horses in this country.
          Kendra -- Runningwater Warmbloods
          Home of EM Raleska (Rascalino/ Warkant) and Donatella M (Furstenball/ Jazz Time)
          'Like' us on Facebook


          • #6
            So exactly how has the Young Horse situation grown in this country? Very very slowly and grossly behind our competitors over the pond. We are still lacking sufficient young horse trainers who not only understand the program but have also brought young horses up to compete with scores that will not only qualify them to to go to the Championships but also be competitive. I leave out the horses purchased in Europe for the competitions because they obviously exhibit the level of training that is required for the FEI competition. I also fear that too many top Young Horses by-pass our National competitions due to the cost of traveling great distances to have judging that can vary significantly from one venue to another. And inadequate financial support to send young horses to Europe if they do qualify is inexcusable.

            Here's where the Federation could show some leadership. They raise money - even with a Stallion Auction or other type of Auction and create a "fund" to assist sending horses to compete who may have owners that might not be able to afford it otherwise. They could also provide travel stipends to riders or owners or trainers working with young horses who have shown potential but perhaps haven't had the top qualifying scores to attend at FEI championships. This would be for individuals who have NOT been to these events. The cost of a plane ticket and hotel room is a small investment to broaden the knowledge base of people in our young horse community.
            Last edited by ise@ssl; Oct. 16, 2008, 09:12 AM.
            Summit Sporthorses Ltd. Inc.
            "Breeding Competition Partners & Lifelong Friends"


            • #7
              The program is maturing and it will take us some time to catch-up. I’ve seen the overall quality of horses at the National Championships get much better in the three years that I have participated. They have added the developing horse division which will follow the horses after the YHC. Scott has taken the time to offer the YDHTS so more trainers can develop their skills and network with their peers. I don’t know how we solve the problem of distance.

              I agree that we need more consistency in our scoring and training of the judges on giving comments so trainers, owners and breeders don’t choose to opt out because of the public floggings. I also think that if USEF made this a high profile program like the high performance divisions we would see more interest and funding. Another item that is lacking, the riders that do participate in the World Championships should receive their USEF Shield.


              • #8
                Ilona - all those things you mention would be nice to have..... BUT, where do you think the money for all that stuff is going to come from? Lots of people would complain if the membership rates went up to finance all those nice to have things.

                Fact is that we live in a HUGE country and distances are a problem. There will always be hardships in equestrian sports, whether you live in the US or any other country. To expect the governing body to fund everything is not reasonable. Maybe the local GMOs could have fund raisers if they want some of their promising young horse riders to go?
                Siegi Belz
                2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
                Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


                • #9
                  Depends on whether you look at a glass half empty or half full.

                  Most of our Registries and the Federation are 501(c) non-profits. Anyone can make a charitable contribution to the Registry or Federation and designate that it be used to help a Young Horse Fund.

                  Because I feel the USEF/USDF are organizations that have way too many people and no accountability for the money they take in - that doesn't seem like a viable place to set up a "Fund" - but each and every Registry can and any money donated - by law - could only be used for this type of program.

                  When I suggested to the ISR/OLDNA to start a "Star Breeder Program" - I also agreed to donate the sterling silver stars for the awards. It's a tax deductible donation for me. And I feel it's a super way to give credit and recognition to the most important part of a breed registry - the BREEDERS.

                  Why don't the various sporthorse registries involved with the Federation urge the Federation to do the same thing - set up a "Fund" to assist Young Horses that qualify by providing money to help with expenses to go to Europe or for those that have to travel large distances to compete at the championships. Afterall - isn't this the reason that most registries EXIST...to produce high quality performance horses??

                  And good heavens- we can't be the only people with mileage we can't use. Why not have people donate mileage to send a qualified rider or trainer or owner to one of the big events in Europe?
                  Summit Sporthorses Ltd. Inc.
                  "Breeding Competition Partners & Lifelong Friends"


                  • #10

                    Thank you for your input on the Hassler article. Unlike many, you are not simply criticizing, you are offering specific solutions.

                    If we look at the leadership of the registries operating in this country over the past 20 years it’s hard not to notice that the track record is abysmal. Our leaders squandered an opportunity to build on the enthusiasm and dedication of American breeders. Over that past 20 years, with wise guidance and a bit of forethought, we could have created a strong united American fraternity of breeders, all the while recognizing the nuanced differences of the American Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Oldenburg breeders in this country.

                    Instead, our leaders allowed (and in some instances encourage) American breeders to fight among themselves, which only serves to weaken the perception of the value of our American-bred Warmbloods (with the end result that people go abroad to purchase the very bloodlines and breeding combinations they could purchase here in the USA). After over 20 years of access to the world’s top bloodlines, we have yet to produce our version of Sandro Hit, Donnerhall, Contender… (or a credible version thereof). Or, if we did produce him, we have no way to recognize him (or his breeders). For examople, most West Coast breeders simply can't afford to get to Kentucky.

                    Heck, most breeders struggle to find a way to make a profit bringing to market in this county what our buyers want, which is typically a horse with a good pedigree and a solid, correct foundation in training. It costs a typical breeder roughly $20K to bring that product to market (as a three years old with some credible competition record), only to sell it for about $20-$30K if all goes well in the PPE. One mis-step along the way and the breeder is upside down financially.

                    In times like these, with all the negatives that American breeders have to overcome in terms of marketing their products, and with the economy working against us, we have no unified body to look to for leadership. Rather, our leaders have proven one thing: they should not be in leadership positions because they lack the wisdom, focus, judgment and ability to guide us toward being competitive in the world market. It is not one person , nor is it one decision… it is system wide poor leadership.
                    Logres Farm on Facebook


                    • #11
                      Well, this'll be an unpopular post but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway.

                      Regarding the first part of Scott's article, Americans have been importing horses for decades now from a cluster of European countries that have been breeeding for centuries. Americans largely go to Europe for training, Scott included in his younger years. I'm amazed at the enthusiasm for "american bred" horses who are the product of imported dams and imported semen. There aren't enough generations yet, in my opinion, to differentiate between american bred and european bred horses. I'm not knocking american breeders, but lets be realistic! Why wave the flag at this point instead of just accepting the fact that American breeders can make the same good choices as Europeans?

                      Why is there a need for Americans to do so well at a European championship? Just because it is prestigeous to the countries we're trying to impress? American horses have to ship there and compete against horses who might only travel 1-3 hours to get to the show. ????

                      Regarding the second part of the article. Again, lets be realistic. The young horse program showcases superstar horses, some of which might go to Grand Prix. But Scott himself will also admit that many many of these horses have the big gaits to win in the young horse competitions will never have the temperment or maybe soundness to be able to collect enough to get to grand prix. Conversely, there are many successful GP horses who didn't have the big gaits or temperment to do well in the young horse classes. These classes ARE geared towards young elastic horses with big gaits...NOT GP prospects. One only has to attend to see this. In short, I disagree that the young horse classes are a model for what breeders are trying to aim for. The successful GP horse, who is sound, conformationally correct and sane enough to get to GP, is the model US breeders should look to as a measure for their stock. Similarly, young horse riders can also tell you that riding a horse for the young horse classes is not necessarily the way to ride a young horse who is aimed at GP. Like riding a horse for an auction is not necessarily the way a private owner would have the horse ridden for a career aimed at GP. I think it is folly to suggest that young horse riders should want to look to the riders in the young horse competition as the best type of riding for all young horses. let me clarify: CLEARLY, the winning riders are spectacular riders...on spectacular young-horse championship-type horses. But this kind of riding doesn't fly on every horse, even if the horse is truly GP quality, because of the temperment or developmental trajectory of the individual horse. In our hearts, we know this, but articles like Mr. Hasslers appear to me to be more about marketing a program that is becoming quite lucrative for some.

                      I'm not against the young horse classes at all. It definely serves a segment of the dressage population. But I also believe they are a marvel of marketing and a way to increase profits for some. I know good breeders carefully consider bloodlines and soundness, etc. in their breeding programs but I worry about *excitement* of breeding to generations of young phenoms who may never actually perform at GP. How can hardiness, soundness and mental characteristics be evaluated in a 5 year old?

                      Lastly, if Mr. Hassler actually believes that people are using the young horse classes soley as a means to get to World Championships, then truly he is dealing with a very very small, very very elite group of clients. Most (if not all?) horses that go to the World championships are financed by private wealth. Sometimes, they go to the national and world championships specifically to be sold for large sums, not necessarily for "American prestige". And nod to Seigi b., they certainly don't need (or should get) my membership money to finance a trip to Europe or even Kentucky. I would vehemently oppose the use of membership money to finance the marketing of super stallions or sales horses owned by wealthy people.

                      Again, I think the young horse program is valuable for breeders and riders, and I agree that there should be more young horse specialists in the US. But I don't agree with marketing it to create a market for it. It should be what it is for the stage of dressage and breeding that the US currently is at. The constant message that "America should be winning over the Germans and Dutch" does more of a disservice to the US than a service. In my opinion. We will get there.


                      • #12
                        To understand the Young Horse Program you need to understand the levels. Here in the USA four year olds do a reverse version of First Level Test One. The FEI five year old test has a bit of counter canter and one turn on the haunches which puts it at Second Level Test One or thereabout. The six year old test comes in around Third Level Test Three.
                        Most top trainers and judges know that these tests have very little to do with screening for top grand prix prospects but rather they create a market for horses who have a big trot and who may be problematic with regards to the ability to collect in the long run. Third level is a long way from Prix St. Georges, which is classically considered half way to Grand Prix.
                        Very erudite post Kaluna.
                        "Where knowledge ends violence begins." B. Ljundquist


                        • #13
                          I agree with several of your points Kaluna and not again. But I would point out - I'm not looking for funding to be provided to individuals/horses that HAVE the financial ability to head to Europe if selected.

                          What I want to see is a REAL training program for young horses - similar to what exists in Europe. AND - that includes REAL training programs for riders and trainers - identical to the Bereiter and Meister programs. I feel these "clinics" - while probably interesting and beneficial in some minor ways DO NOT fill the void we have now.

                          If the current tests (which I believe are FEI created) are in effect "flawed" - then why aren't our "reps" at the USEF/USDF taking these matters to the FEI?

                          We've spent decades now crawling up the hill to produce quality young horses comparable to those in Europe only to find that adequate and qualified trainers for these horses are few and far between and in some areas of the country non-existent. Tragically - ANYONE - can hang out the "Trainer" shingle or print business cards indicating this title - with NO requirement to back it up.

                          College and University Equine Studies programs could fill this void and actually TRAIN/TEACH students the process of starting young horses correctly but they DON'T. I'm really not sure what they are teaching the - other than the fact that they expect a high level managerial positon when they graduate! Compare them to their counterparts over the pond - there is no comparison. Not with respect to managing the horses, training the horses, riding and certainly not a "hands on" approach to doing work around the stable. I also don't see them learning how to evaluate horses for various disciplines.

                          While Mr. Hassler wants everyone to spend money to fly to Europe and attend all their shows to "see" how the horses are ridden and evaluated - I don't really see how that's possible. AND - very often we can see these competitions LIVE ON THE INTERNET. We can't seem to see shows here in the USA or even find out the results for months - but that's another black hole for discussion. Mr. Hassler also seems to completely ignore the fact that the MAJORITY of sporthorse breeders in the USA are NOT large farms with a staff of people who can cover for the owner or breeder or trainer going overseas. They are small businesses (similar to the thousands of small breeing farms in Germany, HOlland, etc.) who are pretty much "jacks and jills of all trades" who put in long days - everyday - doing just about everything required to make the business work. So making expensive sojourns to Europe requires a lot of planning and sacrifice. Just getting to large shows in the USA with their own horses is an immense financial expense and I'm sure it's priority over traveling overseas to be a spectator.

                          It's no surprise that we see more and more Europeans heading here - not just to be competitive riders but to fill the void in our sporthorse training. And bravo to them.

                          One final note on the Young Horse Championships - I'm not sure we know how many really good A/A horse/rider combinations just take a pass on this due to the inconsistent judging, reality that they won't be able to get to Europe even if they qualify and the ridiculous (and often prohibitively expensive) logistics of competiting at the qualifiers and finals. There appears to be no cohesiveness. We have a Head Coach - but most of the people who do qualify for Europe have their own people they work with already.
                          Summit Sporthorses Ltd. Inc.
                          "Breeding Competition Partners & Lifelong Friends"


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by not again View Post
                            Most top trainers and judges know that these tests have very little to do with screening for top grand prix prospects but rather they create a market for horses who have a big trot and who may be problematic with regards to the ability to collect in the long run.
                            I don't believe that is the intent of young horse tests. IMO, dressage has become more about control and a pattern than what was intended - to ride the athleticism and encourage the horse to show his brilliance and moves that he does when free. It should not be about trotting "sideways", but moving sideways with looseness and freedom.

                            I believe the young horse tests are to try to make riders stop thinking about a transition here, and a bend there, and ride the horse, not the test. They are all about gaits & freedom in movement, because that is what dressage IS.

                            I have seen short strided QH movers get 8s on gaits because they were ridden correctly. What we see more of though is those 9 movers ridden poorly to get 7 scores. That is now what it seems the name of the game is. Buy a nice enough mover so when the rider ruins the gaits, there is still enough left to get decent scores.
                            Last edited by Fairview Horse Center; Oct. 25, 2008, 10:34 AM.