All podcasts

#5 Sabine Schut-Kery - The Rising US Dressage Star

In this podcast episode, we are talking to Sabine Schut-Kery, the newly crowned Olympic Team Silver Medallist with the US Team. In addition to her incredible performances at the Olympic Games and other competitions, she is also known for her horse-friendly training, prioritizing quality over quantity.

Sabine tells us about her career, how she came that far and also gives advice on how you can come so far too. She also gives us an insight into the world of dressage professionals and talks about what she has planned for the future.

Podcast Transcript

This transcript was created by an AI and has not been proofread.

This transcript was created by AI and has not been proofread

[SPEAKER 2]Hi everyone, this is the Equestrian Experience from wehorse the Online Riding Academy. My name is Christian Kroeber, I’m the host of this podcast and in today’s episode we have one of the rising dressage stars of the past 12 months. It is Sabine Schut-Kery, newly crowned dressage team silver medalist of the Tokyo Olympics with the US team. We talk about the magic of the dressage sport, how she got where she is right now, and what the future may hold for her and for her star horse Sanseo. So let’s go. Welcome to the show, Sabine Schut-Kery.

[SPEAKER 1]Thank you so much for having me.

[SPEAKER 2]Yes, Sabine, you are one of the dressage stars at the moment, silver medalist with the US team at the Tokyo Olympics. We will talk about that. But first of all, also about the dressage sport as a whole and what actually fascinates you around dressage and why you do what you do. In your own words, what is for you the beauty of the sport? Why are you a professional dressage rider?

[SPEAKER 1]Well, first of all, there is that pure love for horses that I had since I was a child. And animals in general. I love dogs, cats, anything. I want to have them all. But it developed. I mean, the direction went to dressage, I think, because it’s so fascinating. I love learning. discovering new things and I think dressage is perfect for that because it doesn’t matter if you can ride one horse you have the next challenge with another horse and there is yes the technical aspect of training a horse for dressage But what fascinates me even more is to train the horse with their own personality and bring out the personality in your performance and have the horse, I always say, you know, speak up for themselves. And yeah, it’s hard to explain, but really bring out the soul of the horse when they perform. And that is really fun. And I love working with stallions. And yeah, each horse’s personality include that in the performance. That’s how I would describe it. And that’s what fascinates me. Yeah.

[SPEAKER 2]And you don’t have the typical dressage career. You actually started also in the Frisian world. In Europe, you’re not originally from the United States. And you do not have this picture-perfect dressage vita where you have basically checked off all the different steps along the line. You are actually someone that has a broader view on things.

[SPEAKER 1]Yes, I was very very lucky looking back as I get older I you realize much more, and I’m looking back. It’s interesting I never competed further than L dressage in Germany.

[SPEAKER 2]Which is we have an international audience maybe you can explain what Eldrissage means?

[SPEAKER 1]Eldrissage is a second level so just counter canter right before flying lead change is in the test and half passes so just shoulder in counter canter the medium pastes and collected pastes. And I was very lucky to grow, that I grew up in a pony club barn and the other half, Günter Fröhlich from Germany was leasing the other half and his mission was to promote Frisians and Andalusians for dressage and just import them to Germany. So I feel incredibly lucky that through him, because we were promoting the horses through fairs in Germany, such as Aquitana and different fairs, also in Verona, Italy. we needed something also to be entertaining to the audience. So we taught the horses to lay down, to sit on command, to rear. We learned how to ride side saddle. And when I say we, it was a group of girls. It was really fun that traveled with Gunther and was his tour, which later on developed into the horse musical called Zauberwald. So, but I think all of us were always really, really interested in correct classical dressage. So I remember, you know, doing all these tricks, but we always wanted to do it very correct. And we also competed on the side of horses. So I think that was really good. So that’s my background. And looking back, it’s, really amazing. I was very fascinated with that. But I think now as a that I went more on the competitive route. Looking back, I think writing exhibitions has really helped me personally as a writer in terms of that I developed or was able or had the opportunity to develop a lot of feel or help with my feel for the horse, I should say. Because in exhibitions, you don’t have to write from letter to letter. You have to… Yeah, you have to show certain movements, but you have a little bit more free spirit.

[SPEAKER 2]It’s not so strict.

[SPEAKER 1]Yes, and I will tell you a little example. I remember my own first Frisian, he did really beautiful passages, beautiful changes, but he always had a hard time in the Piaf and the motivation for the Piaf was also lacking because it wasn’t his best movement. So if we would go in as a group, we would always, we would have four or five Frisians, each would show their strengths. And then also we would, for our personal goals, also write the other movements. Now, if my colleague was doing a beautiful movement and the audience would clap, I thought, okay, I’m gonna use that moment to make my Frisian piaf because he got excited about the clapping. So that’s how I shuffled things around with my horse and kind of like went through the back door instead of saying, oh, when I asked, you have to pee off. No, I found a moment when he had a little bit the excitement of the audience clapping. And the same, you know, in all different varieties, you just learn when is a good moment to do what and read your horse. And just and it’s the same with the laying down, you know, for a stallion, that’s a little bit of a. That’s a challenge. Yes. So you learn a lot of reading the horse’s mind and combining that today. And but I do love the throughness that a competitive force has, meaning on the other hand, How much throughness does your horse have when I can do on Saturday at 2.49 time for five minutes, you know, ride from ladder to ladder. And to combine those two fascinating aspects into one, that’s really what I love and what I’m very, very grateful for looking back, yeah.

[SPEAKER 2]So you have been trained and you’ve learned from those amazing masters in Germany, but how did you eventually end up coming to the States? Because you are now representing the United States on the Olympic level. How come you came to America?

[SPEAKER 1]I always loved traveling but it’s very hard with animals because you have to take care of them you can’t bring them on so but i’m very curious i always my dream was to take a backpack and go around the world um so when my freesians day and um i can’t all retire them because i don’t have a facility that i own so i try to find my horses a good home before when it’s still attractive to somebody so I always say before at 11 or 12, I find them a new home. I loved him so much. I’m like, I want him to go as far as possible. I just don’t want to see him, you know, like with somebody else because he was my baby. So I was, I found a gentleman, Jim Mossbrook and Larry Riggs in Texas that were interested in him and that actually bought him from a video. But then, because he could lay down and sit in the rear, I did want to see and show them, because that’s not very common in Texas, how those buttons work. So I flew over and we just clicked, Jim and I, and he just offered me a job on the spot. And I said, well, I met this young man in Zauberwald, at Günther Fröhlich’s Zauberwald,

[SPEAKER 2]The musical back home in Europe.

[SPEAKER 1]Yes, I met my now husband and at the time my boyfriend and I said, you know, I think he’s a keeper, so I don’t want to leave him behind. He said, bring him along. I mean, he was just such an easygoing man and he there was nothing that stopped him. Like he was always let’s do it, you know. And, you know, six months later, Christian and I moved to the US. We first thought, okay, we’ll do a three year contract, which we never signed. And that’s so, so me. But after a year, we both really loved it and decided we wanted to stay. And then my gym, he was generous enough, he right away got me the citizenship and such. So I mean, it’s still a six year process to get it. But because we started early, we didn’t waste any time.

[SPEAKER 2]So you now have the passport?

[SPEAKER 1]Yes. Yeah.

[SPEAKER 2]So you came as a German writer to Texas, now today you are running your own facility in California in the Bay Area. What happened actually between, because you have been now in the United States for quite some time, but how did it go on after you came basically into the country and started your professional career in Texas?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, so I was working for Jim and Larry. And that was quite easy. And we traveled all over the place. I mean, my first demonstration was in Madison Square Garden. That was just absolutely really, yeah, it was, I mean, just crazy. And they put sand in front of the Rockefeller. And we took our horses there. And they were on the Today Show to advertise for the show in Madison Square Garden.

[SPEAKER 2]That’s a once in a lifetime experience, right?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, I had from Zauberwald, we had a couple Americans and I told them and she’s like, Oh my god, that’s a dream of any American. I’m like, Okay, I’m going doing this. It was kind of funny. I was a big deal. And I’m So that fed a little bit my curiosity and adventurous mind of traveling. So we traveled all over the US and competed in Florida. I actually won the, in 2001, I won the Grand Prix Freestyle with the Frisian in Wellington. That was kind of funny. And so that went on for seven years and then Jim and Larry they didn’t write themselves so it’s kind of like they they wanted to slow down they they went so into it with everything that I think they were like okay we want to slow down a little bit and they said if I wanted to take over the barn and run my own business. But I just, as I said at the beginning, I mean to this day, I love taking lessons and I love learning and I love listening to other writers and trainers from all disciplines. So I decided that my education, you know, there’s not that much going on in Texas because Jan Nevelle, he would always come to Texas and coach me.

[SPEAKER 2]A German coach for all of those listeners that don’t know Jan Nivelle, it’s a dressage coach from Germany.

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah. And he’s an amazing one, amazing coach. And he took on the job to coach the young riders in Spain. So he couldn’t come so much anymore. So I thought, okay, Florida or California. Well, my husband is in the movie business. He’s a stuntman. So he had some jobs out in California and I visited him. And I fell in love. I mean, California is so beautiful. Right now with the drought, not so much, but it’s, and I’m such an outdoor person. I love to hike and be active. And the mountains, I remember a friend visiting me and on the beach, the mountains, we went hiking and afterwards we went in the ocean. I mean, it’s just crazy. So we moved, we then decided also because there is a lot of Olympians in Southern California and that’s where also my now coach Christina Traurig who’s also German and who also rode on the Sydney Olympics.

[SPEAKER 2]It’s the German connection now in California.

[SPEAKER 1]So I figured, okay, you know, it’s good for my husband with work. I love California and he obviously as well. And I can do my, continue my education in dressage. So that’s when we decided to move. And yeah, and slowly we went out of the exhibition business because it doesn’t make that much sense in America unless you have a sponsor because the distances are so far. So if you get hired for a fair to do a demonstration in Ohio or Massachusetts, just traveling there, you lose so much money in travel costs. Yeah. So I kind of slipped automatically into more competitive riding. And I actually really also loved it. I love new challenges and there’s so many things I still want to do. So it was like this moment of, okay, let’s go a little bit that direction. And that’s when more and more I started to compete.

[SPEAKER 2]And in 2018, you hit the limelight at the Pan American Games, where you won team gold with the US team. Was that also, from your perspective, basically a new chapter when you entered the really elite sport?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, that was in 2015. Sorry, in 2015.

[SPEAKER 2]Yeah, you’re completely right.

[SPEAKER 1]That’s okay. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and then again, I get so excited because, and I want to share so much with young riders too, what I learned, just that other step, you know, to look into the international caliber and the difference between riding for a 70% or then, you know, when you’re on a team, I mean, people look at what do we need for, to be on the podium. And so to go into that 80 percent, it’s just fascinating. And it’s not only about the writing anymore. I think, you know, your whole life I always thought, oh, I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough. And certainly that that thought is still in me in a humble way of having respect for animals and having respect for what we do. But what really comes more is the management of a horse like that and also the management of making decisions and the saying hold your horses to peak like you know we we were able to do in Tokyo or also to have a good performance at the Pan Am Games. I think that’s so magical you know because I think I see it I see it a lot where people just get so excited and They win the warm-up, but they don’t have anything for the test or for that championship to manage your horse so it’s peaking. So that amount, that whole different level of learning and knowing is fascinating to me. Fascinating.

[SPEAKER 2]And closely connected to that is your horse Sancio. Is that your once-in-a-lifetime horse in your career? Sancio which is your partner, has been your partner at the Pan American Games but also at the Olympics now in Tokyo?

[SPEAKER 1]Yes, I mean you know that when you get to that level where you get into the 80% for sure it makes it so much more magical. And it makes me realize, I mean, of course he’s special in my eyes, but it’s just, it’s another level of where I feel like he is so, so special. Also, not just in his ability, but really in the partnership with me. I just feel so close to him. Like I said that one time, In Tokyo, it really felt like I was speaking horse language. Like we were really, I don’t know, we were just… In sync. Yes, yeah, yeah. And I hate, I’m one, like you have to force me to watch videos and that’s also something I had to learn. I don’t like watching my videos because I’m such a perfectionist it’s never good enough and I get upset and it’s just a little bit like more negative than a positive so and I ride a lot off of feel but I have been told once in Florida I was funny by I can’t remember the German trainer but very famous and I came out with Sancio and I was I’m a little bit like, well, it wasn’t good enough. I still had to do so many things that I said. So I came out like that. And he just said to me, you do know that you’re judged on what they see, not what you feel. Right. And I’m like, and that just made such a difference in my head that I let a little bit go off that maybe it doesn’t always feel perfect, but sometimes it does look a little, of course the two are connected, but I was too obsessed of that 120% light feeling. And it really helped me. And I will say the first time I could watch my videos was from Tokyo. And I was like, finally satisfied. It’s so weird.

[SPEAKER 2]Is actually Sanseo also special to you because your joint journey started so early because you got him as a very young horse already, right?

[SPEAKER 1]For sure. I know it’s a marriage. I know him just as well as my husband. And I think he, you know, it goes for both of us. It’s such little, even on the ground, I don’t even have to do much. He’s a stallion when he wants to get a little stallion. Stallionish, there’s no, it’s just very subtle little cues that he knows. Oh, I guess not. And things like that. Yeah, it’s, it’s fascinating. And that is also something I really love, like now I start over with three and four year olds, because I love that so much, that connection, and body language that becomes more and more invisible.

[SPEAKER 2]And this is also the path to perfection, as you have been just mentioning, that in Tokyo you have been feeling, or you have been able after the Olympics to also watch yourself, because there is this feeling of flow and perfection, and this is something you look for also in a young horse then.

[SPEAKER 1]Yes, yeah. And I think for me, in a young horse, It’s that magical or that cliche word half hard right everybody talks about. But it’s so complex and so different, every situation, every horse, every level. But in a few words to explain, to me, with a four-year-old, a transition from canter to trot is the same transition from pistache to piaf. It’s a downward transition that you want in balance. You are gearing down to a slower gait, but it has to have just even more power, and it has to be in front of the leg and connected to the rein with the desire to go forward as the horse rocks back and shifts down into the lower gait or pace. So to me, the half halt starts there, but on a completely different level. But then, and I think that’s what makes, if I think for my training, I think for my horses, it’s always the same. It’s a concept. It’s not one time at that level, this. And a lot of people, three and four year olds, well, they do ride just for the gates. So I guess they ride just with a lot of power. which I don’t. I train a three or four year old with the vision of Grand Prix and what a half hold is and bending where, you know, when you do a young horse class, they don’t always have to bend. I mean, they certainly have to be in balance to get through the short side, but I’m much more, I mean, that’s how I just do it. And, um, So it’s a concept for the horse which lays down a huge amount of understanding, which equals trust and being reliable. Yeah, those things.

[SPEAKER 2]How do you earn trust? What tips or pieces of advice you have for our listeners? How do you earn trust in your day-to-day work with horses? How do you do that?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, trust is really what I said, that concept, so that the horse understands every time it goes through a corner, it’s the same amount of bend or the same balance. And when the balance is not there, that the rider looks for that same balance. So it’s the consistency and your own your own um control and it’s not control it’s your own what’s the word i’m looking for being consistent and not oh because today i don’t feel so good um i’m being sloppy it’s very you know being being um i can’t find the words being the same all the time in the communication with your horse, no matter what you feel like, it’s that responsibility. And then with the young horses, I think giving the horse trust and also confidence is to to be a little bit in the driver’s seat, but in a kind way. So sometimes for a rider, let’s say the horse spooks at something or gets scared, it’s not always only good if you stop and pet him. Of course, that’s a really nice way, but sometimes you also, because they kind of sometimes get into it in their head, to give a horse trust in you, you have to be, I want to be a mentor to my horse. So when they spook a little bit, I’m also going to say, okay, and we’re going and I want to, my body language is saying to the horse, when you are with me, you do not ever have to vary that you are in a position where you should you should be varied. So I also make sure my horse is always in a good place and I don’t put it in a situation where things go bad. But it takes also a little bit that okay here let’s go without being forceful because there’s certainly also the let’s go where you don’t watch the anxiety level of your horse and that’s where the interior part comes in you get him past that point but you also have to see what did that do to his temperament and to his anxiety level. So then sometimes it’s good if you walk and you let everything calm down and the brain is capable of taking information in again because it’s not blocked by the anxiety. So those are so many little elements that every horse is different at but all those elements I I take in consideration to gain, to promote trust over time.

[SPEAKER 2]And I think it’s a very interesting concept that you have been just explaining and eventually it is keeping the horse to a certain degree in your own safe place.

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah.

[SPEAKER 2]Correct?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, yeah. Because for, yeah, and also I think I want to say, I also like working with them in an intellectual way. For example, you can see still on the video, Sanseo in Tokyo, again, he’s sensitive and he does look at things. So when I went in, he was shrieking from the judges booth and the flowers. But the minute the conversation starts, and by that, I mean, I’m constantly with him. I was teaching that same lesson yesterday to my working student, you won’t see it, but it’s a ring finger here, a ring finger there, it’s a little this, it’s a little that, but it’s a conversation the whole time with space for him to express himself and to bring out his personality in the performance. But that’s what I was saying when he sinks in and he forgets about everything and I have not, I mean knock on wood, He has not spooked in the ring really because I feel like we’re getting into that conversation where I don’t even, that’s why people say, oh, wasn’t it sad in Tokyo? There was no audience. I’m like, honestly, yes, of course it’s great for the sport and for the fans, but I didn’t care because it was me and him or him and I in that conversation that I love so much.

[SPEAKER 2]So where does this conversation or this journey eventually lead you guys to? What are your aspirations? Where do you think the journey will lead you to?

[SPEAKER 1]Well, I kind of started out with something I never, you know, It’s not, you never thought, but you kind of don’t dare to dream of. And that’s a little bit the German in me, because I see the American culture is way different.

[SPEAKER 2]The prudent German.

[SPEAKER 1]Yes. So I’m almost like I truly my heart still is in competing in Aachen. So that’s a big, a big, the world’s largest horse show. Yes, it’s a dream of mine. I am from that area. Krefeld is, what, 30 minutes from there. I did exhibitions in Aachen. It would be wonderful. And then, yeah, I definitely would love just more. I didn’t get to do the European tour so much this year because of COVID. So I really would love to do that. And I would love to ride a championship in Europe. the World Equestrian Games, hopefully. That’s what I… I think, yeah, the European, because that’s where Dressage… It’s so amazing how much is going on in Europe. And to write with the best of the best, that would be really exciting. And, yeah, I saw that in Tokyo and it was very fascinating and very educational. It’s fun.

[SPEAKER 2]To compete with these stars, right?

[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, and to watch them warm up and to learn watching them. In Tokyo, I couldn’t watch everybody because I love getting in the zone, but I got inspiration in the Grand Prix from Catherine Dufour. I watched her test and it just reminded me, stay take your time for each movement, you know, take your time and prepare. And that short side she wrote so accurate and so step-by-step it looked like. It really put that mindset into my head and that picture, I should say, the picture in my head. And then in the special, I loved watching Carl Hester. And, you know, it’s the same, like, I know his horse I believe can be a little spooky and I just could see these you know, subtle aids and this like mastery. I mean, he was the mentor and the leader of the horse. And that’s what, at least that’s what it looked like to me. And he guided this horse to bring out the best of that horse. And that’s, to me, so fascinating. Also, I’m, you know, that is much more impressive to me than some horse that’s legs are flying around for a nine, I that I’m just more fascinated in the training aspect. And of course, beautiful performance. Absolutely. So yeah, it was. So that’s my goal and my dream to see more of that. I’m hungry for that. I love it.

[SPEAKER 2]Has your life actually changed now after the Olympics? I mean, you are now one of these stars. You are a silver medalist at the Olympics with the team placed fifth in the individual. You are among the best now. Has your life changed a lot now? Do you do things differently? Are there newspapers and podcasts calling you up every day? How did your life change or is it just a daily routine you’re back in now?

[SPEAKER 1]No, it was, it was very, I’m a little bit. Yeah, it’s been what two months, and it’s still. I’m very grateful for all of this I always say that’s a first world problem right. Yeah, so it’s absolutely not a complaint, but I’m a little bit worried. I’m getting to the time where I need to say I want to go back to my normal life of focusing more. But there’s also a lot of opportunities coming my way now that I do want to take. And yes, so it’s been really, really, really busy. I my goal was to do a little vacation after Tokyo with my husband. And I mean, I For the last four weeks I didn’t even have a day off but again it was good things, it was. It was great things where you can pass on also to other people what you learned and share your experience. And it’s a moment for me also to have a voice. And that’s, I think, very beautiful. And I’m grateful for that because it gives me a voice of what I’m trying to do with the horses and how I train and hopefully inspire some people. And so, yes, life is a little bit different. And then again, to say, but I do need to go back to really focus on my horses. Yes, I do ride and I really try to shut off, put the phone aside when I ride. But there’s still a lot going on in my mind that I need to start shutting off and go back as we get closer to the winter, because January through March, I want to go to Florida, Wellington. Yes, Wellington to try to make it on the short list for World Equestrian Games. So slowly I need to go back. Wonderful.

[SPEAKER 2]And I think Sabine, you are an inspiration for all of those that are striving for the stars. And it is possible, as you said, from an exhibition rider up to the Olympic level, and that also with so much dignity and passion. I think that’s a real inspiration for many, many people. It was great having you on the show and we will follow closely how Sanseo and you will evolve over the next years to come. Super happy having you and thank you Sabine.

[SPEAKER 1]Thank you so much. Thank you very much for having me.

[SPEAKER 2]Thanks for listening to the Equestrian Experience podcast. For more information, follow us on Instagram or visit our online courses on Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts. If you are an Android user, check us out on Spotify or, frankly, wherever you listen to podcasts. If you liked our show, please recommend us to a friend. Thanks for listening from wehorse, the online riding academy, and tune in next time for the Equestrian Experience.

View all

More episodes for you