USA Young Horse Program – Part 1 of 3 – Scott Hassler Signs Up for Three More Years

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Scott Hassler in his most frequent location--beside awarmup or training arena on both sides of the Atlantic. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Scott Hassler, the driving force of America’s young horse program for the past decade, has signed a new three-year-contract to continue building what he believes is the future of dressage in the United States.

Scott, aged 44, who with his wife, Suzanne, are completing a new facility in Chesapeake City, Maryland, that they plan to bring to reality ideas and experience from decades in the sport, said he was not yet ready to give up the young horse program. Plus, they have two teenage daughters, Mia and Sara,.

“I really thought this was the last year of my current term,” Scott told dressage-news.com. “I have a lot going on at our new place and a lot of ideas in my mind about what I’d like to do that takes a lot of time–and there’s only so much time to do things well.

“My passion for this program, though, is still very very strong. I’ve got to go with my heart so I did sign another three-year contract that is now through 2015.

“i don’t feel any different than when I got into it. I’m still burning strong. I love it, I love relating to the riders, I love seeing the horses.

“I think I’ve found a niche I really love. It’s fun to do it, really fun. I never feel like it’s a day of work.”

The feeling is reciprocated by riders, trainers, organizers and officials. The talk each year is how dedicated he is to the riders, not only at the championsops, but criss-crossing the coutry looking for young horses with talented riders who frequently don’t have money to travel or acess to top-notch training that he may be able to lend a helping hand.

The young horse program that Scott has steered from an uncertain future to it’a present level of top U.S.-bred and foreign horses aged four, five and six years old and developing horses aged seven to nine years from across the nation competing at a single championship now has achieved one of its major goals of starting to fill the pipeline for future Olympic and world championship horses.

The success is coming at a time when the gap between the top European equestrian powers–Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and now Great Britain–and the United States is widening. And the cost of buying horses capable of competing at the highest levels has escalated into the stratosphere–not just the reported €9.5 million (US$13.7 million) for Totilas, but millions for any top tier competition mount.

“You can’t buy depth,” Scott said. “You have to make depth.”

And that means buying young horses and taking the time to properly train and develop them, a primary goal of the young horse program.

The results are increasngly evident–Weltino’s Magic, a success as a young horse with Shannon Peters, is now heading into the Pan American Games selection trials with Steffen Peters, and Cabana Boy, trained and competed by Christopher Hickey to national titles in the five and six-year-old and developing horse divisions, was being prepared for this year’s Pan American Games trials before a catastrophic injury ended his life.

Not just Americans–the Sandro Hit mare, Sauvignon, was competed by Florida-based Australian Ilse Schwarz in the U.S. six-year-old championships three years ago and is now heading to the Big Tour. Only Americans can compete in the developing horse division.

“The first thing that comes to mind in 2011 is an outstanding change in the quality of both the horses and the riders,” Scott said, “not to take anything away from the past years. It is a constant progression of development and education and learning.

“This year really showcased the high quality of horses and riders. I think this is a fun program. It’s also critical if this country is going to build depth.

“I have so much passion about this program. I’m proud of this country. I love young horses. I love watching the horses develop over time.

“To me it is a total addiction.

“When I see a year like this–not to take away from new names–but the commitment of big name trainers involved. This year there has been a huge change. A lot of big trainers, a lot of big name coaches.”

Lars Petersen, who trains Caroline Roffman. Oded Shimoni. Kathy Connelly. Heather Mason. Among several.

Cabana Boy ridden by Chris Hickey to 2009 Developing Horse Champion. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Chris Hickey, the chief trainer at Hilltop Farm in Colora, Maryland, among the elite breeding operations in the country, agrees, although he did not have a horse in this year’s championships.

Not to take anything away from past years–Iron Spring Farm in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and Hilltop entered high quality young horses in the early years of the program–but he described the quality of horses and riders now as “fabulous.”

He echoed Scott that the presence of top trainers and riders who have trained horses to the FEI levels is helping propel the development of the young horse program.

“Now it’s not just about the ‘young horse’,” he said. “Look who is standing at the warmup arena. FEI trainers.

“That is huge.”

Next – Part 2 – “It needs to be fun”