Five Tips from Dressage Olympian Sabine Schut-Kery

Photo by Alyssa Murphree

By ALYSSA MURPHY

With a training approach dedicated to happy horses and mutually respectful dressage partnerships, Sabine Schut-Kery shared her expertise with riders and auditors at her recent May 2024 clinic held at Dunmovin Farm in West Chester, Pennsylvania presented by Dressage at Devon.

With her decades of elite, international dressage training and competition experience, the Olympic silver medalist’s clinic contained no shortage of helpful tidbits applicable to any rider. Schut-Kery’s presence within the Dressage at Devon community and fan base is well respected. She previously taught the inaugural Masterclass series at the 2022 show.

Over the course of several sessions, Schut-Kery shared her insights and techniques aimed at elevating the skills of riders and horses alike. As clinic participants rode through individual sessions, auditors participated through keen notetaking and absorbed much of what Schut-Kery had to offer in this special clinic. Here we break down five of Sabine’s top tips for a more harmonious partnership with your horse. 

1. “Check on him – is he taking care of himself?”

With a horse-centric approach, Schut-Kery’s lessons had riders not only checking in on themselves and their riding, but especially on how well the horse is able to carry themselves independently through the movements as a result of the rider’s effectiveness of the aids. 

According to Schut-Kery, one thing that you should check-in on in your horse is whether or not he is in self carriage without holding him there. While working with a rider with a younger horse, she noted that “if you’re there he’s going to say thank you for holding me. When he makes a mistake, just educate him in that moment.” 

2. Utilize Positive Reinforcement

In training, balance on both sides is key to developing both straightness and bending. Because most horses and riders are going to struggle with one direction over another it’s important to find ways to help the pair through the tougher side. After practicing movements in the more challenging direction, Schut-Kery instructed one rider to utilize positive reinforcement to instill confidence in the horse.  

“Go back and give them the feeling of the better side”, she advised the rider as they worked through finding true bend on a circle line and the horse became visibly more relaxed afterward in both directions. Allowing the horse to take a break and succeed at a task is one of several ways to utilize positive reinforcement in dressage work.

3. Try to Eliminate Anticipation

In her teaching, Schut-Kery frequently refers to the dressage training scale, emphasizing the importance of rhythm and relaxation at its base. She advises riders to try to eliminate anticipation of the aids, a common challenge when riding through various movements.

“Relaxation doesn’t mean, oh the horse is scared and then it’s relaxed,” said Schut-Kery as she guided a clinic rider through various transitions between and within the gaits. “Relaxation in dressage terms also means they’re ok with the legs coming through, or the reins, and they don’t get anxious from our aids.”

Photo by Alyssa Murphree

4. Energy Comes from the Hind End, and So Does Collection

As riders practiced upper level moved to more advanced questions such as half pass, piaffe, and passage passage, the importance of the energy generated in the horse’s hind end and how to use it became a prominent theme in the clinic. Riders were reminded how to generate and maximize the energy from the hindquarters, as it’s the most influential factor of collection.

“I like to compare them to a bow and arrow, where you’ve collected them and have all that energy” notes Schut-Kery. “If you maintain the rhythm, that means he’s working off the hind leg. It’s the hind legs that have to be gathered under [the horse] in collection.”

5. Ride the Horse You’re On

Riders and auditors at Schut-Kery’s clinic got to observe how horses of varying ages and experience responded to similar exercises across the levels. With one horse a five year old and another in the next session in their teens, Schut-Kery would point out the differences between the two to educate attendees on respecting each horse as an individual and riding through different scenarios for each horse.

“He will always carry that [issue] with him and the rider is always nurturing that a little bit,” states Schut-Kery on riding a horse with some quirks.

“The more you nurture it the less of a problem it will be. But you always have to keep it in mind and know when you have to check in on him and there will be days where you only work on that because there will be horses who revert back to what their issues are.” 

“You have to do the best you can and see how he reacts. That’s where we all have to be good horsemen.”

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Photos by Alyssa Murphree