The Power of the Knowledgeable Eye, Carla Symader, Top International Rider, Coach, Judge

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage Directory - Monday, January 5, 2015

Carla Symader found Floriano for Melanie Pai, a horse that Steffen Peters made history for the United States Dressage Team Photo: Melanie Pai

For more than 40 years, Carla Symader has worked hard to reach the pinnacle of the sport of dressage through riding, training horses and riders, coaching and judging, not to mention discovering horses like the famous Floriano, ridden by Steffen Peters, to prepare for the International stage.

Symader works to effectively build the strengths and confidences necessary for the horse to compete in the international arena, “Taking horses and riders to the top of the sport is my favorite thing to do. It takes dedicated years for a rider to achieve success. I like being a part of that,” Symader acknowledged.  

As a much sought after coach and judge, riders and their horses both understand her.  With clear, short exercises, the horse and rider follow and grasp the necessary building blocks to compete at the highest levels in the sport of dressage.  As a much sought after trainer, Symader travels to the USA to coach riders in their quest up the levels to the high performance dressage arena.

A German native, Symader competed many horses from 1970 to 2005, training with such luminaries as Erich Philipp (Oberbereiter des Nordrheinwestfälischen Landgestüt), Ralf Isselhorst (former head trainer of the Australian Olympic team), George Theodorescu (participant at Olympic games and father and trainer to Monica Theodorescu, who was a participant in the 1996 Olympic games and current German Team Coach), Ralph Michael Rash (former trainer of the German Riding School in Warendorf), Jean Bemelmans (former head trainer of the Spanish Olympic team) and Ton de Ridder (trainer of his wife Alexandra Simons-de Ridder, 2000 Olympic participant for Germany in Sydney).

Born in Münster, Germany, Symader ascended through the levels in the heart of dressage territory while studying to achieve her Abitur. She completed the University of Münster in 1976 at its School of Medical Documentation in the Department of Pathology. From 1976 to 1982, she went on to study hydrology and ecology before marriage and relocating to begin a full-time business in dressage. Moving an hour south from her home, she established a facility that became one of the strongest centers for riding and training in the sport.

In 1983, after passing the Reitwart Riding Instructor test, Symader advanced to the judging program of the German Equestrian Foundation. She passed the second test in 1996 and the test for Grand Prix judging in 2003, and then judged in Germany and internationally in Luxembourg and Norway. Lynda Alicki riding Donates with Carla Symader standing in front Photo: Melanie Pai

For more than 25 years, Symader has been a member of one of the oldest German riding associations, Deutsche Richtervereinigung and the Deutsche Reiter- und Fahrerverband. She belongs to a very small group of people who trained horses, coached both horses and riders to the Grand Prix level as well as the internationally level, and judged riders at the top of the sport.

With vast intellect, a great biomechanical breakdown for each horse and from riding during her own career, Symader brings a strong reputation to the United States.  She is a down to earth person who cares for the growth of riders on the international stage.

With connections to many top breeders and riders in Europe, Symader connected US dressage superstar Floriano with Melanie Pai of Canaan Ranch. In Texas, Pai herself worked with Floriano when he was a green Grand Prix horse. Wanting a rider of international caliber to bring out the best in Floriano, she invited Steffen Peters to sit on the talented horse and he immediately accepted the ride. As an alternate to the 2004 Olympics, Steffen and Floriano showed strength for the United States dressage team and Floriano became the horse with which Steffen led the team and completed throughout Europe for several years, gaining a top ten ranking on the World Dressage Ranking list. Steffen and Floriano went from green Grand Prix mount in 2004 to world class in just two years. Shortly after the 2005 FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas, Stephen and Laurelyn Browning bought Floriano, who continued to dominate on the international stage for several more years.Carla Symader found Floriano in Europe, a horse that went on to make history in the United States for the US Dressage Team with Steffen Peters Photo: Melanie Pai

Working as a team with Melanie Pai of Canaan Ranch, Symader developed the acumen to make find horses that win at the very top levels in the sport of dressage. She not only found Floriano, the USEF 2006 Horse of the Year Honoree, but she also trained several horses to Grand Prix, one being Dunhill Pur.  She’s trained several riders to Grand Prix as well as the German National Championships including Stephanie Hundebeck, Nadine Wagner, Nadja Kirchen, and Alexandra Große Wittlaer. She coached Nadine Schlonsok to an amazing 9th place finish at the North American Junior Young Rider Championships. Symader also helped several American riders at her own facility in Trier, Germany, including Anita Hunter, Lory Barrett, Jenna Stern and Lynda Alicki.

As a top international rider, coach, and judge for Germany, Symader comes often to the US to coach many riders up the levels into international competition. Pai praised, “She has the innate ability to zero in on exactly how to solve a problem. She can clearly share exactly what the rider needs to do to build strength and confidence in the horse.”Carla Symader coaches top riders in the United States Photo: Carla Symader

Pai continued acknowledgement, “Because of her background of building a business for many years, training horses to the international level, as well as teaching riders to the international level time and time again, she has so much knowledge. She can ride, teach and judge. It’s hard to find a person with all three of those qualities.”

Nancy Leverenz of Tuscon, Arizona shared, “The thing that impresses me most about Carla is her ability to adjust the lesson to the ability of the horse and rider as a pair. She creates new exercises that allow the rider to help the horse perform to its maximum. You can see instant difference in the movement of the horse.” She continued, “I have learned to ride using my seat, but not in an aggressive manor. I keep my butt in the saddle, but not pound on the horses back. She is so positive that she makes each problem solving session fun.”

“She is genuinely happy when a rider is happy with what they have accomplished, even if it is just baby steps.  She remembers every rider and what they did in their previous lesson even if it was a year ago.”

Carla made it possible for Leverenz to have her current upper level horse, Luke. He was trained by Carla in Germany and competed by Nadine Schlonsok in the FEI North American Junior/Young Rider tour. Luke went on the be in the 2009 Adequan/USDF Year End Standings, Jr/Young Rider Award, and competed Prix St George with Nadine Schlonsok receiving 9th place at NAJYRC. Nancy proclaimed “Luke is special, not just because he is enormous and gorgeous, but because he has been trained by Carla.”

Symader knows the sport. The current USA Team horse, Ikaros, ridden by David Blake and owned by Pai, placed high in many US Team events in Europe last year, a horse also spotted by Symader and bought and imported by Canaan Ranch. In 2013, Blake and Ikaros earned a coveted a spot on the USA Team European Tour with many winnings in the top ten at CDIs in the United States. They competed at the enormous international shows, Hickstead CDI in Great Britain and Lingen CDI, Germany for the United States.

Setting out to find her next international horse for the Olympics, World Cup, or World Equestrian Games, Pai again turns to Carla. As a strong team, they find the best rider for the horse that will handle the high pressure the international qualifying series requires. The strategy obviously works.Carla Symader coaches Nancy Leverenz of Tuscon, Arizona in a clinic Photo: Nancy Leverenz

Working in clinics with Carla in Arizona since 2005, Ellie Stine Masek shared, “Carla helped me train and develop the Friesian, Hortensious DW, to Grand Prix. We went on to earn the USDF Gold Medal.”  Currently competing successfully at Prix St. George with her horse Rope's Ricochet, Ellie continues to work with Symader and has done so since starting the horse under saddle. She added, “Many of my students here in Tucson and also in Las Cruces, New Mexico enjoy riding in the clinics with Carla. I believe that her teaching style compliments mine and she helps to inspire my students to excel.”

Symader strives to develop the sport of dressage through her teaching and judging in the United States. 

For more information: Email Carla Symader at

Carla Symader works extensively to find the right horse for many top American riders while helping to oversee their progress Photo: Melanie Pai

Lynda Alicki riding Donates with Carla Symader standing in front Photo: Melanie Pai