Scott Hassler on the State of the USA Young Horse Program

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

United States Young Horse Coach Scott Hassler has hectic schedule training and observation schedule over the next few months beginning with Markel/U.S. Equestrian Federation training sessions February 18-19 at Shannondale Farm in Milton, Georgia Feb. 18-19 and at Twinwood Equestrian Center in Simontown, Texas, April 14-15.

In addition to these sessions, Scott will hold be at two events for “observation” purposes–the Palm Beach Dressage Derby in Loxahatchee, Florida, Mar. 3-4 and the Festival of the Horse in San Juan Capistraño, California Mar. 27-28.

For many years, and especially the past decade as the US Young Horse Coach, Scott’s passion and dedication to the program has been inspiring.

In an interview with Kenneth J. Braddick of dressage-news.com, he offered his take on the current status of breeding and young horses in American dressage.

Dessage-news.com: After as much time as you’ve invested in the young horse program, give us your assessment of its current state:

Scoti: I think the young horse program over 10 years has turned into a program that is showcasing its value. How exciting is it to go to the national championships (last year) and have eight of the 15 horses in the small tour–Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire Championship–come out of the program. That’s very exciting. The program has done part of that but it’s also the quality of the training in our country, building up young horses. We’ve created a platform to bring that out now. Our team at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara (in October) included Weltino’s Magic (ridden by Steffen Peters to team and individual gold) and Big Tyme (ridden by Marisa Festerling to team gold and individual bronze) are graduates of the Young Horse championships. I think that was a very strong statement, it’s awesome. It’s fun to see it all working.

DN: Despite the sponsorship and the structure of the program doesn’t the success depend on how people take advantage of it? Was the success in 2011 an indication that it is striking a chord?

Scott: That’s a really good point. The most important thing to me as the national coach of the younghorse porgram is that people feel that this is a fun program and want to be engaged in it. I think that it is working. We are seeing most of the best horses at a young age and we have channeled it in the right direction. I think we’re in for a really exciting transition now–transition meaning that before the young horse program it was thought of as, “Yeah, it’s one of those things like, maybe, I’ll do it… the owners are putting some pressure on me… but it means more travel another championship.”

Now, the recognition of the program is meaningful enough that the riders, the owners, everyone wants to play the game. I think that’s a real big benefit for our country. To bring us together more often to see the quality of our horses in one site is HUGE. It gets the buzz going. At Chicago last year (site of the young horse championships) I thought it really had a buzz. And at the the national championships (in Gladstone, New Jersey). I think we’re in for a good ride.

DN: There’s this feeling about young horses that they look great as young horses and you never hear from them again. Your point is we are now hearing of them outside of the young horse program. Do you think over the next 10 years we will we see them at the Olympics and the World Games?

Marisa Festerling riding Big Tyme after winning individual bronze to add to her team gold medal at the Pan American Games. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Scott: Those are big steps. When I’m looking at the horses I’m looking at I ask myself how is the quality we have for this year and throughout the year what is the quality going to be for that year. I’m also thinking, “You know, this horse might not score so well at the championships because the walk may be a little bit nervous just because of the scoring format, but this horse has the energy, the way it uses its hocks, its knees and the ability to collect, the carriage… is this going to be a grand prix horse?”

I have to say what I saw at the young horse championships in 2011 we’re going to see some of them at grand prix. How good at grand prix? I’m not that big a risk taker. but they look like they have the ability to be a grand prix horse They have the energy and if they have the right riders… Lets keep hoping that our judges, our training is on track to see them become grand prix horses… not fancy horses that move around with fancy gaits and we don’t ever see them again. Thats exactly where we don’t want to be.

We’ve mover away from that. I think the world has moved away from that. Now, when you look at Verden (World Young Dressage Horse Breeding Championships) it’s not just fancy stuff. They want to see transitions, self-carriage. They want to see things that will make a grand prix horse. There is always going to be a lot of controversy, but I think in the end there is a transition moving forward. There were statistics at the world championships that 80 per cent of those horses have gone into Prix St. Georges and higher levels. I think that’s great.

DN: Of course, you see in Europe horses like Damon Hill that were champions at young horse and now are at championship level and may even be in the Olymipcs. Do you think those kinds of results could give an impetus to American breeding? There is, after all, a massive financial commitment. If you want to buy a made horse you’re looking at millions of dollars if you want it to take you to the Olympics. With young horses you can build them up over six or seven years years and possibly end up with a grand prix horse. Its affordable for most people as Carl Hester has shown, so is this something American breeders should be paying attention to?

Scott: Totally. You’re on it. I cannot even describe the amount of interest and the percentage of questions that have come to me in the past two years from grand prix riders–“Do you know any breeders that might want me to take on horses and make them grand prix?” It is so expensive right now to go and buy them. You’ve got to make them. The interest there is to look for American-bred horses. We know they’re here somewhere. We’ve got good blood lines, we’ve got good mares, frozen semen. You have access to the candy store, make your choice, the flavor of the day, banana or chocolate. We have all sorts of stallions in this country. We’re still not on par with Europe but we’re doing better. So, yes, the interest from the higher level riders looking for young horses is high.

DN: What are you hearing from the breeders? Are they excited or have they not caught on yet? i think the trouble with the breeding business is that it is tough, very tough, and unless you can make money like in any other business you ain’t going to survive.

Scott: I don’t hear a whole lot. But I feel for the breeders. I was an am a breeder though on a smaller scale now. I feel for the breeders. I have that passion. I think the breeders still are not recognized enough. We still have a lot of work to do to recognize the breeders. We haven’t really connected that dot yet, from the sport to the breeders. It’s started but has a long way to go yet. I thnk the breeders deserve a lot more recognition and infusion into this whole network. I think that’s going to happen.

DN: Do you think the breeders could be more a part of the youg horse championships, as they are at Verden?

Scott: I sure hope so. I think that’s a really good place to showcase the breed societies, the breeders and the young horses. I hope the young horse championships become also a platform to have some breeder education and things like that so that it makes sense for them to travel there, that there’s something there for them. That’s the work to do.

DN: The bottom line is there were graduates of the young horse program standing on the medals podium at the Pan American Games? Is that exiting?

Scott: It’s a rush. For me, I’ve always had this passion as have many involved–I can’t stress enough the realtionshp between Markel (sponsor of the young horse program), myself and others, the USEF Dressage Committee we’re a great team–there’s a lot of passion behind it. Now to see the years of all our hard work and design to see what everyone has put into it. This is a great ride right now.

It’s what we had hoped it would be.