INTERVIEW: Christophe Theallet, Coach & Trainer

With thirty years of experience and success, Christophe Theallet coaches and trains dressage riders and horses to Grand Prix and FEI levels. He graduated from France’s prestigious ENE National Riding School in Saumur, France, and has been a French Equestrian Team member. He has trained and ridden with numerous top trainers including Rudolph Zeilinger, Patrick Le Rolland, Christilot Boylen, and Steffen Peters.

He served as coach to a green Kasey Perry for four years, in which time Perry progressed from Third Level to Grand Prix, and then competed for and attained a spot on the 2016 Olympic Dressage Team. He’s coached Karin Persson—a professional international FEI dressage rider, originally from Stockholm, Sweden—on her own horse Giuliano B; at Lamplight 2016, they were Reserve Champions for 5 year olds.

More recently, Theallet trained and coached International Grand Prix dressage rider Jennifer Schrader Williams and her horse HS Wrevolution to his first start and win at GP in 2017. He’s also coached Schrader Williams and her horse Millione who took 3rd Place in Grand Prix at Lamplight in 2018. And Theallet is trainer and coach to Michelle Bondy, who rides for Sonnenberg Farms. Bondy rode Sonnenberg’s Kain, owned by Sonnenberg Farms, to a Championship in the 4-year-olds division at Lamplight 2019. Sonnenberg’s Kain was2019 National Champion at Markel/USEF Young Horse 4 year old and 2019 USEF Horse of The Year/ Champion 4 year old. Theallet gives clinics all over the USA, about 5 every month. This winter, Theallet is going to Florida to coach students at the Equestrian Festivals.

How would you define a great horse?

Theallet: A “great” horse is not easy to find. It is not only about the gaits. The most important things are a good mind, trainability, and rideability, and the horse has to be quick, hot, but still do the work with no tension. This is a big part of the trainability.

When you see horses at top level doing a Grand Prix test, if it is done correctly, you will see the combination of power, relaxation, elegance and throughness coming together to execute the most difficult movements in harmony.

When should a horse be advanced to the next level?

Theallet: I used to have my friend Patrick Le Rolland telling me, “Your horse will let you know when he is ready to go to the next level.” (Note: the world-renowned French horseman and Cadre Noir member, Patrick Le Rolland was a squire of the Cadre Noir de Saumur from 1964 to 1980 and coach of the French dressage team from 1981 to 1985. In this capacity, he notably worked with Margit Otto Crepin and Dominique d’Esmé.)

He is one of the rare riders in the world to have obtained the score of 10 out of 10 in the position in international dressage competition2.

For that you have to be attentive, that your horse can perform the movements you are working on with ease, not struggling, and that you slowly can ride with more discrete use of aides.

During your training, you always have to remember than the progress is not the result of the movements, but much more, the quality in which the movements have been made.

What is the most important thing when schooling a young horse?

Theallet: Keep it simple and fun. Make sure your horse is calm, confident, attentive to your aides and always ridden from the back to the front going to the bit.

Expose your young dressage horse to different things—trails in the woods, jumping little jumps, cavalletti—and take him different places.

If you do that, he will become more secure both mentally and physically, ready to do his work.

How do you begin your training session for horses / riders?

Theallet: A lot of walking, first on a loose rein and then slowly picking up the reins, being sure that my walk is regular and in front of my legs. And then I start to move them lateral, matching the lateral exercise to the level of the horse.

After that, I start the trot work, long and deep, and again being sure that my horse is stretching to the bit, swinging over the back in a nice rhythmical and regular trot, and doing exercises like leg yielding.

Then I do the canter-trot transitions on both sides.

After that, I normally give the horse a break on a loose rein at the walk.

Depending on the level of the horse, after the break, I start to put them more together in a competition frame with transitions within each gait.

Also I start to do movements accurate to the level of training.

When the goal of the ride is achieved, I stretch the horse at the trot and then loose reins, give them praise and a nice hack, if possible.

How would you define a successful day of training the rider and horse?

Theallet: A successful day in a training session is for the trainer to find the missing link into the training and find the right exercise and have the student being able to ride it, understand it together with her/his horse.

What makes a good trainer? A great rider?

Theallet: A trainer has to be a horsemen and always think of the welfare of the horse. Have knowledge of the animal psychology, anatomy, muscle mass, gaits of the horses; he or she has to be patient, and be calm and methodical in the training.

Have the ability to recognize the physical ability of each horse. Not every horse will be a Grand Prix Horse!

Know the basic principles of dressage, respect them, go from the simple to the complicated in a methodical way.

Ask little, reward often!

A great rider is someone who always is going back to the basics and is not afraid to take a step back if things are not working correctly.

Again, always having the welfare of the horse as a priority. Never stop learning, and be open to positive criticism in order to be the best you can be—competing against yourself not against others. Knowing that you can only be as good as your horse!

Any advice for the up-and-coming dressage rider?

Be patient, ride with a plan in mind, pay attention to the basics, and always put the welfare of the horse first. Don’t forget to have fun and that you can only be as good as your horse. Also I think it is important for people to  realize the importance of finding the right trainer; stick to her or her, make a plan together, and don’t be a “trainer hopper.”

by Janice Hussein MBA/ MBS

FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE

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