California Riding Magazine • August, 2008

California Riding Interview:
Klaus Schoneich

Celebrated author talks about his new book and returning to the U.S. in September.

by Rebecca Sparenberg

Is your horse resistant to going forward? Does he pin his ears and swish his tail when you ask for a more active trot? Does he consistently pick up the wrong lead, or is he heavier in one rein than the other? Does he repeatedly fall or stumble for no apparent reason? Or worse, do you have a horse that has been declared “unridedable” due to back problems or soreness?

According to German rider and trainer, Klaus Schoneich, and his wife, physical therapist and rider, Gabriele Rachen-Schoneich, 95 percent of all problems in horses’ action and way of going are caused by their inherit crookedness. In their latest book, Straightening the Crooked Horse, the Schoneiches explain their holistic system for straightening horses’ bodies.

In the preface of Straightening the Crooked Horse the Schoneiches write:

“We have written this book especially for riders—be they competitive or pleasure—and for everyone who is passionate about riding. It should serve to provoke thought and discussion, and also answer a few questions. However, it also has another purpose, which is to make everyone who deals with horses aware of his responsibility. Every trainer, rider or horse owner must understand a horse’s needs, and then ensure that it is treated and looked after accordingly.
“Over the years we have worked with many horses. These horses came to us a consequence of incorrect or insufficient basic training, bad riding, wrong veterinary diagnoses, incorrect management, and faulty or incorrect saddlery and equipment. With our system of straightness and training, we have successfully treated the most diverse problems displayed by modern-day riding horses, and returned these horse to their riders cured.”

Last month, Klaus was able to chat with California Riding Magazine’s assistant editor, Rebecca Sparenberg, about his book on crookedness, training issues and returning to the United States for a second clinic at Lionheart Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California this September.

Rebecca: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I greatly enjoyed reading your book and I have quite a few questions for you. How and when did you develop your theory that all horses are naturally crooked?

Klaus: We developed this theory over a long, long time by looking at many different horses. It is very important that we (riders, trainers and horse owners) don’t just look at the problems our horses are having, but ask ourselves why are they having these problems? Gabriele and I are constantly asking ourselves this question. It is widely accepted that in their natural state, horses carry far more weight on their forehand than their hindquarters.

The more horses we worked with, the more we discovered that addressing “heaviness” in the front hand was not enough. This was because horses are naturally crooked as well as heavy on the forehand, the two are directly related.

Rebecca: How are the two related?

Klaus: Have you ever been asked which direction is your horse’s better way?

Rebecca: Yes, I’m asked that regularly.

Klaus: Horses, like humans and all mammals, have a dominant side—they are right or left-handed. And horses literally put their “best foot forward.” When in trouble they put that foot forward to get themselves out of it; this entails putting more weight on that leg and shoulder. The result is that the horse becomes
“naturally” crooked.

Rebecca: The first chapter of your book talks about breeds. You say all horses are naturally crooked, but some breeds to a larger degree. You go on to say that modern breeding programs have compounded the problem by developing stronger, larger, more athletic horses. How so?

Klaus: To keep up with the rising demands of international competition, the modern Warmblood breeder has helped develop horses with bold movement, huge strides and incredibly powerful hindquarters. These “powerful” hind ends have increased the weight on the front ends and thus the crookedness.

A great deal has to do with early training; these “high power” horses need especially skilled training. Unfortunately, we have seen more and more cases, at least in our experience, where they do not seem to receive it. If the modern horse is different from the horses born only 50 years ago, why do we continue to train and ride them the same way? Unlike in man, the horse’s upper body (trunk and forehand) “run away” from its hindquarters. So, if we keep developing pushing power by riding forward, the horse will run away even more with its upper body from its hind end. The back then contracts and eventually the horse can’t cope with the strains and we begin to see major problems.

Rebecca: What is the first step of your system?

Klaus: We always start with a physical exam and by discussing any medical problems. We have to look at everything that can affect the horse—shoeing, how the saddle fits—anything that can prevent the horse from getting the “all clear” to start the straightening process.
Everything starts on the ground. We put a lot of emphasis on lunging. At our facility (Zentrum ARR®) this “corrective” work on the lunge is done by our professional trainers for two to three weeks. After that we have to re-train the rider to ride our system. The rider has to learn what we have done in the round pen and how to translate that work into under saddle work.

Rebecca: What do you find is the biggest difference between teaching your system at your facility in Germany versus in a clinic at Lionheart Ranch in the U.S.?

Klaus: Time. In Germany our program usually takes four weeks. Our clinics at Lionheart Ranch are only two weeks long. However, there are fewer horses to work with at the clinic, so we tend to start addressing problems and seeing results in only two to three days.

Rebecca: I know Lisa Guerin (owner of Lionheart) has greatly enjoyed having you and Gabriele clinic at Lionheart. Are there more clinics planned for the future at Lionheart?

Klaus: We greatly enjoy going to Lionheart, and we have found it to be a great facility to introduce our system to the States. I think the farm itself is a great center to train at and we have a good working relationship with everyone there. It really is a perfect fit for us.

Rebecca: How has your book been received in the United States?

Klaus: We were really surprised! This is our second book and we have received letters from around the world. People write to us and say “this is my horse.” The problems we address in the book are the same hundreds of people are dealing with, they just don’t understand the root of the problem. Straightness training or the array of problems crookedness causes are not new ideas. A lot of universities have done research and they are saying they same thing we do in our book: don’t think of the problem, think of what causes the problem. Ninety percent of the time it has to do with crookedness.

Klaus Schoneich and Gabriele Rachen-Schoneich will be returning to Lionheart Ranch for a two-week clinic, Sept. 15-29. For more information on the clinic visit www.lionheartranch.com, call 818-865-0118 or e-mail lionheartranch@gmail.com. The Schoneiches’ latest book, Straightening the Crooked Horse, is available for sale online at Amazon or direct from the publisher, Trafalgar Square Books at www.horseandriderbooks.com.