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Hubert Rohrer

A Big Man whose Emphasis is on a Light and Soft Approach to Riding.

by Kristin Hermann

Horseplay, March 1988


Who is that robust man in the trailer, the one who sits at "C"? He smiles and furrows his brows at the comments his scribe transfers to your dressage test sheet. This man is Hubert Rohrer, who, as an FEI Level dressage and AHSA hunter/jumper judge officiates at approximately thirty shows a year.


At 14 years of age, Austrian born Rohrer was accepted as the youngest trainee in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Within two years, he became Master-Assistant Rider under Alois Podjasky. At 18, Rohrer performed in Walt Disney's "The Miracle of the White Stallions". After an 8-year classical dressage education, he toured the United States with the Spanish Riding School and became a United States resident in 1965.


For two years in the early 60's, Rohrer rode jumpers in Austria. Then, for eight years, he coached the El Salvadoran show-jumping team, which won a gold medal in dressage and a silver medal for jumping at the Central American Games. Presently, Rohrer's experience includes a rigorous schedule of judging and giving clinics throughout the United States, Europe, and Central and South America. This international equestrian has views and techniques for both teaching and judging. Adhering stringently to his classical background, Rohrer follows the teachings of Xenophon. The old masters emphasize lightness and softness with the equine. The horse is encouraged to work with his natural ability - the trainer is not to exploit this. "Dressage training", Rohrer states, "is asking the horse to perform at the rider's command what it was born to do naturally. It is more than strengthening and suppling exercises for the horse; it is the mind developing as well. Horse and rider learn to think as one."


Training for hunters and jumpers is also based on a horses natural ability. "All horses should be started off like a hunter, with a light contact ridden calmly into the rider's hands. Forward, relaxed, and straight are the key words, and straight", Rohrer emphasizes, "does not mean along the wall of the arena. A straight horse strides on two tracks not on three, which is indicative of being crooked in the back. All training desires a horse to be balanced in its body", explains Rohrer, "and for the rider to leave his ego at home."


No Time Tables in Training

Time tables imposed on training horses, usually because of someone's ego, can be extremely detrimental, according to Rohrer. He has never seen a good Grand Prix horse made in less than four years, and the top Grand Prix horses usually take eight to ten years to develop fully.


"You have to be extremely careful how far and how much you ask from a horse", explains Rohrer. "I would have made more horses to the top if I had listened to a quote of Johann Wolfgang non Goethe:'He who cannot control his own body, his mind, and his temper has no right to even consider to control the body, mind, or temper of such an aristocratic being as a horse'.


"If a rider attempts to train a horse too fast", explains Rohrer, "he will lose the animals trust, if not his natural ability. Restraining hands that stifle a horse's forward movement are one of the worst faults a rider can acquire. A horse trained in such a way will rapidly regress rather than progress."


As a dressage judge, Rohrer often finds not enough impulsion from the horses. "Riders do not try for the maximum from their horses. It is as though they forget there is an extended, collected, and medium stride within each gait. Consequently, clear transitions between gaits are lost. If you want to win at the competitions", explains Rohrer, "you have to be willing to take a chance in the test. In other words, a movement such as the lengthening, you either make it or break it, but dont hurry it!"


Rohrer would like to ride more than he does, but with a schedule which has evolved into almost continuous travel for the past two years, he no longer has horses in training at his home farm, and his own opportunities to ride have become very erratic. He may, in the course of a clinic, ride four horses in one day. Then, with the demands of judging, he may not ride at all for four weeks. As a consequence, he has ceased riding competitively altogether. Successful competition on Grand Prix horses requires the rider to apply himself every day and standards cannot be allowed to drop. Rohrer's opinion in this regard echoes that of the legendary pianist, Vladimir Horowitz, who said, "If I don't practice for one day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, the professionals know it. If I don't practice for three days, everybody knows it!"


Rohrer as Clinician

Rohrer is as active a clinician as he is a judge. He prefers repetitive clinics where he meets with riders three to four times a year. "I like to give riders homework and, three months later, return to see positive improvements", explains Rohrer. "Many students find it beneficial to ride with an FEI judge educated at the Spanish Riding School."



Rohrer frequently follows up a judging weekend with two days of clinics. "Riders often refer to their test sheet for instructional advice", Rohrer claims, "but they should not practice any specific movement unless the repetitions are correct. Many times, the problems I see judging are further down in the foundation of training. For example, I cannot help a rider with lengthenings if the horse is not balanced and the approach has not been taught properly. I may have to teach exercises to develop certain abilities and suppleness within the horse to improve the overall lengthening, and basically retrain the movement."


Rohrer comes up against some instructors who feel threatened by his presence as a clinician. "The clinician and instructor should complement one another", Rohrer explains. "However, sometimes due to work with the same riders, the instructor cannot see the forest because of the trees. The clinician arrives with a fresh eye and sees what may have been over-looked."


Rohrer appreciates why riders are not able to learn on the longe line as he did. Rohrer spent approximately 300 hours being longed before taking up the reins. Acquiring a good seat and basic position are vital, Rohrer believes; once these have been mastered, riding becomes mainly a feeling between horse and rider.


One of Rohrers frequently used phrases is: "You ride the horse between your seat, your legs, and (in a whisper), your hands."


During clinics, Rohrer will occasionally mount a student's horse to sort out problems, though he would rather teach the rider. He thinks it can be discouraging for some riders to see somebody getting a job done with "apparent ease". Thus, "They feel hard-pressed to learn", explains Rohrer. "Then again, it is necessary to show what a horse can do at times. Of course, that can backfire, too", Rohrer chuckles. "because the horse might have read a different book."


Sense of Humor

Rohrer's humor is evident in all he does. (For example, he has labeled the Arabian breed as the Opec Warmblood). In a recent clinic at DTS training stables in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania, Rohrer, referring to one student's horse, said, "he is playing plow horse pulling you through the field". Yet, underneath Rohrer's wit is his European seriousness and, of course, classical education.


This six feet, four-inch 210 pound 44 year old Austrian has a unique ability to engage horses with the intonation of his bellowing voice, and stiffen a lackadaisical rider's back by rolling the r's in "b-r-r-r-ace your back".


Rohrer says he is careful with terminology when teaching. "I do not want to say collect the horse too often, because it may give the rider strange ideas. So, he creates an image instead - "Think of the cobra ready to strike; this his how your horse should feel under you in the higher levels."


Rohrer, concerned with mechanical training tactics, does not want to see a horse lengthen every time it crosses the diagonal. And, big on reward, Rohrer does not let a correct reaction from the horse go unnoticed - "He did what you asked for", he states, "so, what about your reward?"


One of Rohrer's oft-repeated training tactics is for the rider to ask the horse for a self-carriage test. Thus, the rider gives with one rein at a time for three to five seconds. The horse should remain on the bit, or seek the assurance of the giving hand by reaching forward with the head and neck, stretching the back. If the horse rushes up with the head and neck, or speeds up, then the self-carriage test has failed. In this case, Rohrer recommends riding a circle which naturally forces the horse to slow its pace without the rider pulling on the reins.


Half-halts, he explains, are the keys towards harnessing the horses rhythmic stride, and these according to Rohrer, are performed at least 10 per minute, and no more than 30, depending on the horses level and degree of balance and/or self-carriage.


If at your next competition Hubert Rohrer is your judge, or a friend has conjured him up for a clinic, be prepared to face the raw truths of your performance; remain light-hearted, and by all means ride your horse from the back to the front. Allow the equine's energy to coil beneath you, because as Hubert Rohrer remarks, "There is nothing more beautiful than a horse whose rider has enhanced its natural ability to perform through correct training."


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