Carla Symader passes along her Mentorship

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Monday, December 5, 2016

Carla Symader and Natalie Pai with Fritz San Tino

Longtime German dressage coach Carla Symader brings her esteemed reputation to the United States by imparting several principles, including the point of gravity from the rider’s seat and the rider’s position. Carla developed her expertise through competing many horses between 1970 and 2005 and trained with such luminaries as 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), 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).

Wisdoms learned for over 40 years as a rider, judge and mentor to some of the most skilled riders in the sport, she shares, “Growth takes place for the rider who builds a strong foundation by not skipping steps along the way in the training of their horse. Once a rider has a foundation as a rider and the foundation built in each horse, real growth takes place.”

Carla’s first precedence in coaching and training any rider is giving every horse the trusting knowledge that the door is open to go forward. “The horse has to know he has a place to go, in any circumstance, especially if it’s afraid. That trust is of utmost importance and there’s a way to be positive all the way up the levels.” She acknowledges, “It takes hard work and concentration by the rider to be alert and ready to progress in a forward thinking way, always forward with the horse in front of the rider's legs.”Kevin Kohmann riding Freistaat B

Down to earth and readily approachable, Carla travels to the U.S. from Germany several times a year to coach clinics and she acts as a supportive sounding board for the very talented Pai team (Canaan Ranch), including Melanie and Natalie Pai, the highly skilled coach/rider Kevin Kohmann and King Santacruz, and world-class groom Emilija Anderson.

The Point of Gravity

The rider’s seat is the point of gravity, the point where the horse finds its balance while moving forward. “The positioning of the rider’s body in the seat is paramount in knowing how to coordinate working with the seat,” Carla explained.

She spoke about locating the point of gravity, “In order to sit well, you must sit deep in front of the saddle, upright and pulling your head and neck upward so that your core muscles are ready to balance the horse’s gaits through transitions. When the seat is closed, it means that your elbows stay at your hips, admittedly a difficult habit to form, your hands move toward the mouth and legs are even and not too far back. By sitting up straight and feeling how the horse shifts you, you’ll become aware of the patterns you and your horse have developed.”King Santacruz and Divinity CR

She added, “Even In the bend of the horse, whether a corner or small circle, shoulder-in, travers or half-pass, riders have to be aware that they sit on the correct inside seat bone. The horse will often position a rider to the outside seat bone, especially on its stiffer side. The rider needs to be aware and work the horse off their inside leg in order to keep the inside seat bone in the bend, making sure the horse truly is bending. While a horse may have a small temper tantrum or resist by speeding up or slowing down when shifted into the correct position, the rider still has to hold the horse quietly accountable to that inside seat bone.”

Acknowledging that there are bending lines and straight lines Carla said, "You have to make yourself aware to stay even between both of your seat bones on the straightaways and on the inside seat bone in the bending lines.” 

Judicious Wisdoms

Carla teaches continuous rider brain-to-body connection in understanding the horse’s movement, from straightness to bending. In other words, the rider’s body, especially as far as the rider’s seat and posture is concerned must continually be in sync with a horse’s movements. “It’s crucial to make sure rider position is correct in relation to the changing motion of the horse.”Kevin Kohmann riding Freistaat B

“The goal is to learn how to ride moment-to-moment, what is happening right now. The human brain has to quiet down to a fine point and then pull apart the large mechanical puzzle with that horse at that moment of its fitness and strength. It’s really a special sport because it really teaches a person how to be quiet, how to work well with a horse, and how body control balances big movement. And basically, it’s fun!”

She stresses, “It’s also important to the mindset of the rider to always go back again and again to ensure a step-by-step order to things that builds confidence for the stepping stones ahead."

“When you buy a horse with big gaits, you have to be sure you can manage the big gaits. For instance, developing a ground-covering, clear, and easy off-the-seat canter takes quite a lot of time to develop."

"Any professional rider knows each new horse has to start the thinking anew. A beginning rider buying a new schoolmaster needs to spend quite a lot of time going back to the basics, step-by-step. There builds the necessary confidence needed for both rider and horse, and success in the show ring.” 

More about Carla Symader

Born in Münster, Germany, Carla Symader ascended through the levels in the heart of dressage competition while studying to achieve her Abitur. She established a facility and for more than 25 years Carla has been a member of one of the oldest German riding associations, Deutsche Richtervereinigung and the Deutsche Reiter- und Fahrerverband. Natalie Pai and Fritz San Tino

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 in the top of the sport.

Carla possesses clear analysis and understanding in the biomechanical breakdown for each type of horse, such as those which are hot or sensitive (the “going” type) and the “lazy” ones. 

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Carla Symader at

Natalie Pai and Fritz San Tino

Emilija Anderson, King Santacruz and Fuerstin Tina CR