Ton De Ridder, Australia’s Team Advisor, Works with USA-Based Aussie Riders

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Ton de Ridder watching Ilse Schwarz riding Cadenza, her homebred Contango gelding. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ton de Ridder watching Ilse Schwarz riding Cadenza, her homebred Contango gelding. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 21, 2013–Ton de Ridder brought his coaching methods to Australia’s Grand Prix riders based in the world’s winter equestrian capital and made it clear he doesn’t see himself any more as a teacher of riding but “a trainer as part of the entertainment team.”

Entertainment is a big part of horse sports in this tiny sliver of South Florida that draws thousands of top dressage, jumper and hunter horses–thousands more polo ponies, too, to the same community–from around the world for 12 weeks of competition with close to a total of $9 million in prize money.

Ton admits that his first visit to Wellington to work with Ilse Schwarz and Kelly Layne, two Australian Grand Prix riders who have made Wellington their home with their American husbands, was an eyeopener he plans to experience again. The visit was courtesy of Equestrian Australia, the national federation, that paid the round trip air fare for Ton, Dutch-born but who has spent most of his life in Germany, to check out Australians in America. Like Australia, riders are spread around the vast continent of North America, such as Emma Weinert in Southern California, 2,600 miles (4,185km) from Wellington.

Even so, Ton was busy.

Three horses from Ilse, two of her own that she has trained from youngsters–the homebred Cadenza, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Contango and an Australian Thoroughbred mare she brought with her from Down Under; Sauvignon, an 11-year-old mare by Sandro Hit from a De Niro mare that she bought as an unridden three-year-old, and Don Joseph, a seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Don Kennedy out of a Santander mare owned by an American couple and that Ilse rode to huge success in U.S. young horse competitions. Cadenza is confirmed at Grand Prix, Sauvignon schooling the Grand Prix and DJ schooling FEI.

Ton de Ridder signaling his approval of a movement by Ilse Schwarz and Cadenza. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ton de Ridder signaling his approval of a movement by Ilse Schwarz and Cadenza. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Two horses from Kelly–Von Primaire, an 11-year-old KWPN gelding by Don Primaire that she owns with Beatriz Torbay, a Florida-based Venezuelan and began competing at Grand Prix this year with success at World Cup events in the U.S. Northeast, and Udon P, a 12-year-old Dutch gelding owned by WhistleJacket Farm that was established at Grand Prix and she started riding this year.

Nicholas Fyffe, another Aussie who arrived in Wellington from his Canadian summer base a few days before Ton’s clinic did not participate as Nicholas said he wasn’t ready but the coach clearly wasn’t happy. But several other riders in Wellington participated.

In the four years since Ton became advisor, he said, Australian riders have developed a lot though he doesn’t take the credit. He cited the German-based combinations of Lyndal Oatley on Sandro Boy and Brianne Burgess on La Scala who have turned in scores above 70 per cent at Grand Prix while Hayley Beresford on Jaybee Alabaster has notched 69-plus percent.

Riders in Australia that he named as prospects for an Australian team at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France next summer included Mary Hanna, who won the Pacific League World Cup Final on the American-trained Sancette, Heath and Rozzie Ryan, Sheridyn Ashwood, Marie Tomkinson, Chantal Wigan, Caroline Wagner and Tor van den Berge. Several have attained scores of better than 68 per cent.

Is that good enough when several teams have at least one combination awarded 80 per cent?

“It’s not the countries who get 80 per cent,” he said. “There are a few combinations at a special level, with unbelievably good horses. who are amazing and at the 80 per cent level.”

And he believes that with changes in scoring for the Grand Prix with double points for piaffe some very good riding on well educated horses may be sacrificed because “everything will get a little too eccentric, too much… we make everything shorter and quicker, more possibility for TV.”

Other changes in the sport can be seen at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, the world’s premier outdoor show, and the German Masters at Stuttgart where the audiences have become emotionally involved and voice their opinions when they disagree with results.

“I think we can have much more audience participation in our stadiums where spectators can show emotion,” he said. “Take for example soccer–when they don’t agree with the referee 30,000 to 100,000 can give their opinion. We need this in our sport. Kids should not have to sit in silence.”

To make his point, “I don’t see myself any more as a riding teacher. I feel myself as a trainer as a part of this entertainment team. I think this is a good thing. It’s also important for sponsors and horse owners to have facilities to eat and drink and enjoy the competition. There needs to be entertainment for people to stay more than an hour at a show.”

Ton has spent most of his 57 years living in Germany. He has provided extensive team and indvidual training–for Belgium at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany amd with Jan Peters coach of highly successful Netherlands junior and young rider teams. Individuals have included Switzerlad’s Marcela Krinke-Susmelj, enjoying perhaps her most successful year; Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer Salat, Poland’s Beatte Stremler and the Olympic septugenarian Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan.

For some people, he admits, “it is difficult to take the Germanic approach,” that can become more touchy after teaching 10 people a day and not having much time for discussions with parents, owners and sponsors.

In July he visited four cities in Australia coaching about 70 combinations of whom, he said he was told by the dressage director, 90 per cent were happy.

“It is a job people have to trust you,” he said.

In Wellington, the first day “was a bit of a welcome shock to the system,” Ilse Schwarz said. “I had my behind royally kicked which it certainly needed after a long hot summer of riding on my own. Ton was focused on making the horses quick to the aids and I mean REALLY quick and responsive as much to the forwards aid as the collecting aid, and he wasn’t accepting of a half-hearted response and there were certainly no excuses.

“I loved that he was tough on the rider whilst being fair to the horse. The horse had to work but not at the expense of too much curb or spur.

“Ton really trained for the competition arena, as if we were going to go down the centerline tomorrow and not give away a single mark through lack of accuracy or expression. He was demanding and relentless in achieving what he wanted and seemed never to tire or give up and simply say that will do. Apparently those words are not in his vocabulary.”

Kelly Layne riding with on de Ridder while her husband, Steve, is nearby to pick up training tips. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Kelly Layne riding with Ton de Ridder while her husband, Steve, is nearby to pick up training tips. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Kelly Layne put it this way: “Ton is everything his reputation suggests and more–passionate, demanding and motivated. He knows how to get the most out of each horse/rider to collect the points. Ton focuses on  precision, accuracy and, foremost, good riding. Australian dressage is very fortunate to have him as their Technical Advisor.”

Ton admits the job of team coach is “very difficult,” his probably more so than in most nations. Several countries have the vastness of Australia but none perhaps where the relatively small total number of Grand Prix riders is spread over three continents.

A belief by the Australian federation that judging is different between Down Under, Europe and the United States led to a decision to hold the selection trials for the 2014 WEG team in Europe. (That belief is not borne out by the experience of the 20 American combinations that went to Europe this year and scored at least the same and frequently higher than at home.)

“Not everybody was happy with the decision,” he said. “I think in every country this is the same. You have to make a choice. Not everybody is happy. You can get a lot of pressure and politics.”

Nevertheless, he cites the Australian training camp in London as working out “really good” where the European-based cousins Lyndal and Kristy Oatley and Australia’s veteran Mary Hanna grew together and looked after each other, developing a real team spirit despite the swirling controvery over the selectors not including Hayley Beresford, based in Germany.

What he can do for Australian dressage is “be very helpful with ideas.

“I have quite good connection to a lot of organizers and have brought a lot of people into several competitions. I have done this job in a few other countries.”