Conversations With Equestrians: Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall, Louise Serio

The USHJA Trainers Symposium was held on September 10-11, 2007 at the Oaks Blenheim Facility in San Juan Capistrano, CA. It was a rare opportunity to participate in practical training sessions and round table discussion with three top professionals: Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio.

Geoff Teall works with Lorri Bein Quiett

I was able to spend a little time with these remarkable professionals and get some solid feedback on their thoughts about this Symposium.

Tammy: What did you think of the format of the Trainers Symposium?

Melanie: This is my first time doing this and I was impressed by the format and the turnout. With 3-4 riders as demonstrators, I think the spectators were able to see different situations within a small group. I liked the openness

of the spectators–they asked a lot of good questions and their input was quite valuable.

Louise: I enjoyed doing it a great deal. I thought everything and everyone was very well prepared and well organized.

Tammy: Would you like to see anything different in future TS?

Geoff: I think the concept is great. I personally would like to see a longer session (three days). I would also like to see very specific groups of three. I think it would be a great idea to take the same groups of horses and riders and have them do a session with each professional. This would give the future trainers and coaches an opportunity to see cross training. I think nowadays we are too specialized, meaning that a trainer is either a hunter trainer, an equitation trainer, or a jumper trainer. A good trainer/coach is a good horseman who can do all.

Tammy: What do you think about TS as a pre-requisite for future trainer certification requirements?
Melanie: I think it is a great idea. Becoming better educated in the sport is imperative to the growth and success of show jumping.
Geoff: I agree. The importance of consistency and continuity that is expressed within this setting is extremely educational. The communication between the spectators, demonstrators, and clinicians was great. The information that you get from Training sessions, and Judges’ clinics works like a funnel and if you can continue
feeding good material through that funnel, we will have more educated professionals and riders.
Louise: I think everyone can attend. As a clinician or an auditor there is so much valuable information to learn.

Tammy: Was there a reason you chose the exercises you did?
Melanie: I do the same exercises at home. I believe in consistency both for horse and rider. This will always encourage confidence and trust. I spent years with George Morris and Gordon Wright who always said the same thing: “Keep it simple.”
Louise: I think I surprised people with setting bounces and gymnastic exercises for the hunter groups. All horses and riders can benefit from these types of exercises. I spend a lot of time with my hunters cantering small jumps in a circle. It helps with balance, rhythm, timing, etc. A hunter, just like any other horse, needs to do more than straight lines.

Tammy: Is there an area that you’d like to see Trainers/Coaches and riders improve on?
Geoff: I think one of our biggest downfalls is that we are teaching people to show and not necessarily ride. We show too much! It is the responsibility of the professional to have a plan and decide how much each rider and horse should show. Doing less will promote a happier and more successful horse and rider.
Melanie: I think that there is a lack of true horsemanship. We as a whole don’t realize how important every moment (not just on the horse’s back) truly is. Every little thing helps to develop a connection and a bond
with a horse. My generation grew up with horses–they were our buddies–we did everything with them. I agree with Geoff. I think we put too much emphasis on horse shows and end up missing out on the true enjoyment of the horse.
Louise: I cannot agree more, we should show less! Practice more at home and give our horses a better life.

Natalie Lund, Mickie Sage and Tasha Visokay (l-r) at the USHJA Trainers Symposium

Tammy: Is there anything specific that you think our Trainers and Coaches excel in?
Louise: I think this country has really good teachers. I’ve seen teachers take riders with a medium amount of talent and teach them to be excellent riders. I think the teaching system continues to get better with opportunities like the Trainers Symposium.

Tammy: Any recommendations for current and future Trainers/Coaches?
Melanie: I think we need to focus on producing great riders. This should be our goal. We need to work on our mental game. We need to encourage people and horses to think on their own. It all starts with the mind and if we have a mental edge we will be far more successful.

Thanks again to Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio for taking the time to speak with us. Look for an article on the USHJA Trainers Symposium in the upcoming issue of In Stride.