Time flies when you’re having fun. That’s been true for dressage trainer and rider Christiane Noelting throughout her 26 years in the U.S. Along with many good times during those years, the German native has expanded her students’ knowledge base by incorporating traditions from her homeland that are as effective as they are fresh for American riders.
Held at the Christiane Noelting Dressage Center in the Sacramento area’s Vacaville, the trainer’s Intensive Dressage Clinics were an instant hit when she debuted them in 2008. The four-day sessions go well beyond what can be accomplished in a traditional lesson. Chalk talk, theory, and wide ranging discussions over dinner augment the riding lessons participants receive during the day. “There just isn’t enough time in a 45-minute lesson to discuss very much,” says Christiane of the catalyst for these clinics. “With four days, we can sit down and discuss things, illustrate concepts on the drawing board and take it all apart.” Participants critique their own riding as well as demonstrations by Christiane’s assistant trainers schooling horses of various experience levels.
Out-of-the saddle fitness, usually Pilates, is part of the packages, as are guest speakers. An equine chiropractor and a veterinarian were among recent presenters. And, of course, “We have a grand time, too!” she enthuses. “It’s a full horsey weekend.”
Such intensive educational clinics are commonplace in Germany, but not in the States. The next Intensive Dressage Clinic is June 5-8, followed by sessions in August and September. Christiane also gives more traditional clinics around the country. She is scheduled to return to LionHeart Ranch in the Los Angeles area’s Malibu sometime soon and also clinics regularly at Sheraton Creek Equestrian Center in Gardnerville, NV.
Learning from others is important, too. German FN trainer Roger Seegert visits CNDC regularly, as does master saddler Jochen Schleese.
The Dressage Derbies are another European tradition Christiane has imported. Held three times a year since she built her Center 10 years ago, the Derbies are now three-star rated dressage competitions held in two rings. This year, they will host FEI Young Horse classes and North American Young Riders qualifiers. The social side of these affairs is what sets them apart from most dressage competitions.
“When I started them my thought was how can I get people interested in a fun show,” she relays. “In hanging around a little longer and doing more together.” She started with a home-made Saturday night dinner in a festively decorated dining room, then added a program in which riders who earn 24 points through the season get their name thrown into a lottery drawing for very cool prizes. Schleese Saddlery is the Dressage Derby’s biggest sponsor and one of their fine saddles always highlights the coveted prizes. Typically, 10 riders a season qualify for the lottery and it’s equally in reach to riders competing at any level.
Using frozen semen from stallions in Germany, Christiane has typically bred between two and four babies a year from her three Hanoverian and one Oldenburg mares. Her oldest right now is a 5-year-old by Golden Oak Farm’s Rubino Bellisimo, a California-based Hanoverian. The youngster, Rubina, is doing well at Training Level this year.
Although Christiane has competed and trained students to the highest levels of the sport, she’s never outgrown her love of coaching kids. Her Dressage Center has two horses and two ponies in its school program and she enjoys helping her students progress. Thirteen-year-old Mary Carlquist has been riding with Christiane’s team for four years. At this year’s California Dressage Society Championships, Mary and school pony Freckles were reserve champion in the High Score Pony standings. Amateur students are a big part of Christiane’s resident clientele at the Dressage Center, which is home to an average of 45 horses including the babies and broodmares. The trainer is happy with that headcount. “I don’t like things to get too big to the point where I wouldn’t have time for everybody.”
She doesn’t like to show more than necessary to qualify for the big shows and divisions, but when CDNC students compete, they mean it. Their track record over the years has consistently placed the stable among the top show barns in the state.
Christiane’s own riding is currently focused on Wilco, who she took to the United States Dressage Federation’s Horse Of The Year title for Intermediare 1 last year. Now comes the big jump to Intermediare II and she acknowledges that the piaffe is a challenge. Whether Wilco masters it or not won’t affect her affection for the gelding, however. “He is just a great guy: a wonderful horse,” she notes. “I’m happy that he’s made it this far and that we’ve been successful as a team.”
Students are not the only ones expected to have fun in any facet of Christiane’s program. Trails trim the boundaries of her 80-acre property and meander through adjacent land she’s leasing. “We can walk, trot and canter them for some miles, and there are some days when that is all the horses do.” Free jumping, cavaletti work and jumping under saddle are also part of the routine for most of the horses in Christiane’s program. All of it helps build muscles for dressage, perhaps most importantly, the muscle between their ears. “It gives their brain something different to look at and they really love it,” she explains.
Paying It Forward
Growing up in Germany, Christiane learned from some of the sport’s best: Herbert Rehbein and Juergen Koschel among them. In addition to bronze and silver medals from the German national federation, she also has its Plaque for Special Achievement that reflects her success as a teacher, trainer and competitor before she moved to the States in 1982.
Mentoring tomorrow’s trainers has long been a natural part of Christiane’s work. The Dressage Center has hosted working students from around the world, including those who’ve accomplished quite a lot in their home country. Before joining the staff at CNDC, Kristin Ratajczyk had a three-year apprenticeship with a top trainer in Germany, followed by a few years working on her own as a Bereiter. Part time assistant trainer Christian Hartung came to California with a Class 1 German Riding Medal and competed the Center’s horses very successfully throughout 2006 and 2007. Now in college, he continues to ride, teach and compete.
The dressage scene in the United States and the West Coast in particular has grown exponentially since Christiane came here. Finding show dates for the Dressage Derbies 10 years ago was tough, she recalls, “but now I think it would be almost impossible.” No doubt the trainer’s belief that serious dressage and having a good time are synergistic ideas has helped propel the sport’s growth and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.
For more information on any aspect of Christiane Noelting Dressage Center, visit www.christianenoeltingdressage.com or call 707-454-0565.