There are lots of possible ways to achieve good results. It’s simply a matter of understanding the horse and using the approach that works best for him.
By Teresa Burton. Photo Lena Saugen.
Anton Walliser is a Swiss living in Portugal. He’s an original and an inventive individual who still has his family business in Switzerland, where he invents precision tools.
Now close to 70, Anton is devoting much of his time to his horses. He works daily with 4 young, hot horses. It’s clear to me he passionately loves the work. Having observed him work with horses I would confidently call him a ‘Classical Master’. He has 3 warmblood horses, one at GP level. In addition he has bought his first Lusitano – which we travelled through Portugal to find.
Anton has a fine eye for horses and is extremely precise about what he is looking for. This has resulted in that all horses personally trained by him have reached Grand Prix levels in dressage.
His approach is straightforward and holistic, believing wholeheartedly that in life ‘less is more’. He thinks we must avoid complicating situations and look to ourselves to find solutions. He told me he thinks people have become too obsessed with gadgets and quick fix solutions. “ Life is simpler, horses deserve time and respect as they become a reflection of us. So it is vital we are mindful of how we act”.
Anton, Who did you Originally Train for?
– I began riding at 15 during my military service. Showing a lot of promise I was given the chance to train at the Swiss Federal/National Stud Farm at Avenches with the chief dressage rider and international dressage judge Guinchard. I went on to work with other well-known riders – Henri Chammartin, Georg Wahl and his daughter. Later with Egon von Neindorff. However, my greatest teachers were the 4 schoolmaster horses I rode, all of them at Grand Prix level.
You’ve Taken Several Horses to Grand Prix in Dressage, Tell us about your Training Philosophy.
– Give horses time and space to gain confidence in their work and develop a solid base. My
programme is designed to allow each horse to understand without pressure, all that I ask of them. Everything should be calm, avoiding stress. I do lots of in-hand work especially at the start but I continue with this throughout their training. Their educational work starts with the grooming, I teach them to stand square by a few words they learn. I firmly believe in grooming and handling horses myself. It is, at these times I’ve witnessed many things about them – that can help in my future work.
– My in work-in-hand is a mixture of lungeing with two lines, long lining; getting them to work laterally and moving forward, backing up, and standing square. I think many people work a little on the lunge and long lines before they ride, but few do the amount and variation I do. From the in-hand work I can confidently assess when each horse is ready to ride – getting on is simply another stage for them. They have total confidence and trust in me. The initial lateral work I prefer to teach young horses is the half pass in long lines. It’s easier than the shoulder-in. I feel it frees the shoulders more. It also educates them to understand the ease of the movement and to get the control of the shoulder ready when asked for under saddle. My horses learn all the lateral movements, piaffe and passage in-hand. Since they know this when the moment arrives to do it under saddle they attempt the movement and learn quickly. Naturally, the first results aren’t spectacular but the horse understands without stress. Expression and precision come later. In my early days I did a lot of carriage driving. The results were spectacular: piaffe, passage, transitions, extended trot and a kind of half-pass in the corners when long reining from the buggy! I was so convinced by this experience. It has inspired my work with two lines.
– For many horses at Grand Prix level, the piaffe is one of the most difficult exercises. But compared to 20 years ago, I think more horses are showing a good piaffe, some a superb piaffe. I think it’s due to the progress in breeding coupled with more trainers knowing how to teach it. In my opinion, the best way is to take a very individual approach for each horse. There are lots of possible ways to achieve good results. It’s simply a matter of understanding the horse and using the approach that works best for him.
Achieving Wonderfully Straight and Up Hill Canter Changes.
– In flying changes I’m always mindful of the words of General La Hotte: straighten your horse and go ahead! My preferred exercise is to teach the changes up to every stride on the big circle. It is easier to push the horse forward when asking for the change and to keep him under control, because he never knows the moment I will ask. To make changes really straight and uphill is only possible with a horse when he can canter fully balanced under and into the hand of the rider. I don’t like to see riders swinging so much from one side to the other. I cannot see how a horse can achieve straight changes with the added problem of the rider’s weight shifts. I always ask for the changes through my hips, leaning back slightly. It helps me to free my hips to achieve this and it also allows the horse to be more expressive in front and up hill.
Classical “3 to 1” Rein Hold with Double Reins!
Anton I noticed when you ride with a double bridle you use the classical method of “3 to 1” (NB -The left hand holds three reins, while the right holds only one plus the rider’s whip. The correct placement of reins in the left hand is to hold the left snaffle on the outside of the little finger, the left curb rein between the little finger and the ring finger, the right curb rein between the ring and middle fingers. The right hand holds the right snaffle rein in the traditional position between the right little finger and ring finger. The left hand is held more to the centre of the horse directly over the withers. )for holding the reins. I think this technique is the oldest method of holding double reins – a style used by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and by many of Germany’s most successful professional riders before WWll. Why Are you Using this Method?
– I find it to be a far more effective method in training horses. 20-30 years ago Swiss and German riders were competing their horses this way, nowadays I don’t see anyone using it.
It is much more difficult to learn than the “2 to 2”-method. It takes a lot of practice and patience but the results speak for themselves – horse and rider progress much better. It really helps train your horse to be straight, you have an even contact on the curb, are never able to suddenly jerk the curb. The hands are more together, much quieter and you ride far more with the seat. The horse bends better round your leg. Horses stay lighter and more through. I think it is sad that it’s rarely used now because if mastered, the technique is far better for horse and rider.
We’ve Visited Many Studs Looking at Lusitanos, what Do you Think of the Breed?
We’ve certainly seen a lot of Lusitanos with good characters, good minds, they were intelligent, beautiful and impressive, not to forget the wonderful colours they come in. However we were more focused on Lusitanos for dressage on higher levels. I felt we didn’t see much variety. I think with Sport Lusitanos in mind, the breeders have to be very careful not to loose the typical Lusitano-aspect when trying to achieve better gaits to match the movements of the warmblood horses.
I believe the young Lusitano An-Gola, that I have, is a super example of how breeders should be breeding more sportive types. He has all the qualities of the true Lusitano, he is powerful, elastic and has quality gaits that can be compared to the warmbloods.
He arrived in October of 2014, still relatively un-handled. A bit wild in fact, he was taken straight from his colt herd to be with me. It was the first time I’ve started with such a clean slate. Happily he adapted quickly and thoroughly enjoys working – he always wants to be first. I find him quick, willing and intelligent. Once something is taught he never forgets it.
What Is your Aim Now with your Horses?
I would like to bring each of them to their highest level possible. I buy horses I believe will achieve over 70% in competition. I no longer want to compete. I’m looking for interested riders to buy them for international competitions. My joy is the journey, this gives me real pleasure.
Cuba Libre is ready to be sold. I competed him for the first time recently in PSG and he scored 66%. I was pleased with this result. I know he will be an amazing competition horse and will easily score well into the 70s. I’m excited for his future.