Dressage Rider and Trainer, Amanda Brewer, went to Germany for a month to train with 1992 Olympic Dressage Gold medallist, Nicole Uphoff. This is a diary of her experiences.
I am packing my case, 5 weeks is a long time to pack for. My horse's tack is ready and I am beginning to wonder if I am doing the right thing! In the last 10 months I have been privileged to train with Conrad Schumacher twice. The first time I took my little Australian Thoroughbred, ex racehorse, ex 3 day eventer and now Prix St Georges, Beaver, and stayed for four weeks. The second time I also stayed for four weeks taking Beaver plus my new young Irish horse, Dream, who is part owned with my friend Debbie Vine. Both trips were wonderful and I learnt so much. Was this trip going to be as successful?
During one of my stays at Conrad's, I met Nicole Uphoff's rider/groom, who like me, is Australian so we had lots to talk about. Lynn was really impressed with what I had achieved with Beaver at Conrad's where she watched my lessons. We kept in touch and it was through Lynn that I met Nicole. When Lynn needed to go home to Australia for a few weeks I was asked if I would like to bring my young horse Dream to Germany to train for a month and run Nicole's yard whilst she was away. I jumped at the chance but as the time draws close to leaving, I hope I have made the right decision. All my clients have plenty of home work to work on with their horses whilst I am away.
My first shock on arriving is finding out that Lynn's apartment, which I am staying in, is 20km from the yard. I have one of Nicole's sponsored cars to drive which has her name all over it, I have to learn directions and I have to drive on the wrong side of the road! What a start!
The stable complex is amazing. Huge. Two enormous indoor schools, the jumping one 80m × 30m, a full size dressage arena, outside another jumping arena and a full size dressage arena and a small cross country course complete with water complex. The four large barns contain 25 stables. With so many horses and people I'm wondering how I am going to cope as it is so different from English stables. I am very nervous but pull myself together and get on with it. Nicole rents 8 boxes in this complex so I have 8 horses to do including Dream.
Nicole and I get on really well from day one, and as I have my first lesson, Dream lives up to his name. As I suspect, he is now ready (having been seriously abused before I bought him) in mind and body to really work forward, round and deep and be shown the way to a contact. As my lesson is at the end of the day it makes a perfect finish to my first day.
Day two and again no problems. Nicole would like me to watch more. I make sure that I clean bridles, groom, wash off etc. as I go along so that I am not left with a huge amount of work at the end of the day. Nicole asks me to lunge a horse called Brandy who has been with her for about 12 months and whose owner lives in America. He was just about ready to compete at Advanced Medium level by the time I came to leave. Nicole is very complimentary about my lungeing and I am thrilled. I have another super lesson with Dream. Nicole tells me that it gives her so much pleasure to teach me as I understand the work and have really improved already. More importantly she says she has never had her horses looked after so well.
By day three I am lungeing both the young stallions, Mac and Whinney, both by Rubinstein, to help Nicole prepare for the 100 day stallion testing at Warendorf. Although these boys are bred for dressage and will compete in dressage, the stallions in Germany have to do everything for the 100 day test; showjumping, cross country, hacking, galloping on the race track as well as being awarded marks for behaviour. Nicole's fiance Travis takes care of the jumping but he is pleased to have me on the team because of my eventing and show jumping experience, and I find it fun to help him with this part of the training. I also ride them in the afternoon as there is no turn out for the stallions and it is good to get them out of their boxes at least twice a day. Sometimes I free school them in the dressage hall where all the mirrors have covers which come down at the press of a button - very efficient! I have also been put in charge of Mac's lungeing and manners and I have to say that by the time I left both had really improved. There is also a young mare on the yard and all her work is forward, deep and round. She is also just starting to compete in young horse classes. Another horse had come to Nicole from America who was competing at advanced level but was having trouble with piaffe so Nicole told me that she had taken him right back to basics. His owner comes over on a regular basis for training.
Nicole's Grand Prix horse, Rubenstein had sadly been put down before I arrived so the only horse she was competing when I got there was Rubino. He needed a lot of work because he had been allowed to become stiff and too high in the neck. I was pleased with my lungeing of him as Nicole said that he felt better after I had lunged him. He went to a competition whilst I was there, medium level I think, and he won both classes with over 80% which qualified him for the German National Championships which was great.
Nearly every day Nicole trains a regular pupil of hers, a junior rider who is going for the Junior European Championships. As we are a good team and have got the yard in order, I can afford the time to watch the lessons. Today they practice their routine for Wiesbaden which is to Madonna tunes. It is really fantastic, especially the tune for the half passes. I believe she went on to win all three classes at Wiesbaden and was picked to represent Germany at the end of July. I know my juniors are not of this standard but it is wonderful to be here and do all this learning, ready to pass on to my pupils when I get back.
The only other pupil Nicole teaches is her friend Sandra who rides a super Prix St Georges horse and she too comes for lessons a lot whilst I am there. It is really great to watch these lessons and especially helpful to me working Beaver at Prix St Georges/Intermediate level.
I have a couple of really hard lessons with Dream, working on transitions. This is really difficult as he was so spoilt in his mouth when I got him and would not take a contact, throwing his head up. Nicole spent a lot of time with us as these lessons were extremely difficult and at times frustrating. At one point I had to ask to stop as I had "holes" in my legs! No sympathy, just a knowing look came from Nicole. She said she was more than happy to put the effort in as her horses were being so well looked after. She said it was a case of "one hand washing the other". Nicole is away competing for two days and I have been entrusted with the yard. I start early and for two days work very hard on my home work with Dream and the lungeing of the others. I really make the horses move and go forward on the lunge and when Nicole rides them again on her return, she is pleased with how they feel.
The time passes but not a moment goes by without me learning something or thinking to myself "wait until I get back to England and try this with so and so!" On Lynn's return I expect to leave but Nicole asks me to stay as I will have more time to watch and we can continue with Dream's progress. I happily agree to stay a further week but then must return to England to continue teaching. Conrad Schumacher and Ellen Bontje have invited me back to Neuhoff after the Olympics so I need to return to earn enough money for my next trip.
My work with Nicole has been varied and interesting but the one thing that is "driven home" are the basics:
Freely forward - rhythm - contact - swing - straightness