Scott Hassler Sees Young Horse Program as a Route to Rebuilding USA Dressage

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Scott Hassler in coaching mode at the U.S. Young Horse Chamionships. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WAYNE, Illinois, Aug. 30–The young horse program in the United States has developed to a point that Scott Hassler, who has overseen it for the past seven of its 11-year lifespan, is proud that graduates are featuring in national finals and international championships that are vital to America’s high performance goals.

Geography and a much smaller breeding base than the European powerhouses inhibits deveopment but “what horses we have to work are getting good instruction and we are taking those horses to the top levels in our country.”

“The big picture that is pleasing for me,” he told dressage-news.com at the U.S. Young and Developing Horse Championships here, “is that the horses coming through our program are going to the top level in our country. To me that’s the aim.”

In the past two years, Scott said, a large percentage of graduates are winning at high levels, and he cited the Pan American Games in 2011 where Weltino’s Magic that competed in these championships as young horse was ridden by Steffen Peters to win both team and individual gold medals.

“What do we lack?” he asked.

“Pariticipation could always be better. Simply said, we don’t have depth of quality horses like they do in Europe where in good years there are as many as 40,000 to 50,000 foals while here we may have 4,000 foals.

“Our riders are doing very, very well. We need more horses, more good horses.  We have everything Europe has but in smaller numbers.

“We can’t get too hard on ourselves. We have to be realistic. We have to focus on selection of horses, education and high standards. Not to say we don’t have them now, but we have to keep raising the bar.”

The young and developing horse programs have grown significantly in recent years.

Horses four, five and six years old compete in young horse championships in the U.S. and five and six-year-olds can also qualify for the world championships in Verden, Germany. Developing horse compete at two levels–small tour and, new this year, at Grand Prix.

Wakeup ridden by Emily Wagner. The American-bred horse competed at the world championships as a five-year-old, won the U.S. title as a six-year-old in 2011 and was back again as a seven-year-old in the developing horse championship. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“My perspective on it is that again the size of our country really hurts us. There are a lot of pockets in the United States where it works well.”

For example, he said, in the mid-Atlantic region top trainers and riders know what’s going on in their area because they see horses at shows, in lessons and talking with their peers–“but what’s going on in Kentucky or Florida or California? Many of us have no idea unless we travel there.

“The Internet doesn’t really help. You get a plane ticket, go look at a horse and it could be a wild goose chase so you’ve wasted a day or two away from your business.”

Increased focus and “greatly improved” training of young horses around the world highlighted by several top performers at this year’s Olympics–all three gold medal team horses for Great Britain, for example, were trained and competed from youngsters by their riders–could have a positive impact in America.

“These Olympic young horses were the standard setters,” he said. “Breeders are always looking for the proof of pudding. The transition at the Festival of Champions (U.S. National Championships) in the last couple of years is showing this.”

Another positive could be that developing young horses could lead to a return of horsemanship and good training.

In recent years, he said, “the sport has gone so high on promotion and on marketing and the shortcuts come back and bite you.”

“To start with good young horses and train them properly would be a good thing–not all the shortcuts and quick tricks to get ’em sold.”

Scott was asked about judging at the championships which was criticized by some trainers for providing riding lessons on occasion.

He wuld not comment specifically on this event, but said that judging is “a critical piece that makes everything work–the amount of money, time, emotion and commitment from so many angles such as the breeders, riders, trainers and owners.

“The show ring at a championship is not the place to educate people, not when you are showcasing your horse.

“What fun is there in that. No one will want to come back. We want to engage people.”

“The sensitivities can really take people out of this program. We don’t have the depth. We need them all in the sport. They are the future.”