Winter Training For Horses With Nienke De Wolff


nienke_dewolff_vaultinghorses4Nienke de Wolff trains vaulting horses in the Netherlands. She had so much to tell in our last interview that we contacted her again. Here are many more great tips, ideas and opinions how to help your horses to improve.

Do you do something else than lunging and dressage and of course hacking with the horses?

Well, my horses walk in the walking mill every day for 20-45 minutes and they go out in the field. Beside lunging and dressage, I jump a little with some horses and we have a trotting track at our stable where I train once or twice a week.

So, I think they have a quite a nice life and almost everyday something different to do! With my own horses I go running outside sometimes, for them it’s good to trot on the road sometimes, and it keeps me fit, haha! And besides that, it connects me with the horse, they have to run with me all the time without me pulling them forward!

How do you start into the winter training? Do you have a training schedule for the horses?

I don’t have a set training schedule to start with, mostly I follow my gut. But I have a schedule on my whiteboard were I note what I’ve done with a horse each day (otherwise I forget, whoops!) and I use that to make a plan for a horse. I take care that they don’t do vaulting more than two times a week, that I ride them enough and they have time off! In the winter I take more time to warm up the horse, so that the vaulters train more on the ground and barrel.

But the winter is the time of the year I really focus on improving the horses, for example in dressage. When it is really cold (like freezing), I rather skip vaulting training on the horse, and do some more barrel training. So the horses will get more time to develop themselves, and for the vaulters there is more time for training flexibility/techniques/ working out new freestyles etc.

At the moment vaulting has the image that it can be afforded by most people. Even internationally competing is possible for many. If the horses get better, need more training or get more expensive, do you foresee a change of this image? Might there be a difference between top vaulting and sports for all?

Yes indeed, because we need one horse for 6 vaulters, it seems cheaper than horse riding and I think there is a difference between lower level vaulting and competition level vaulting / top sport. Of course in the basic levels you only need one horse which is very docile, like a riding school horse. Therefore, it is a nice equestrian discipline which doesn’t have to cost much. But if you want to do competitions and vault on a higher level, I think it’s as expensive as dressage and jumping. If you have a squad on a certain level, you can’t rely on just one horse, actually you need a reserve horse which also can be used in training so your competition horse can do just one training the week before a competition. If you are an individual vaulter on a certain level, in my opinion you need your own horse. Your own horse can be managed better, you can build up a better connection etc. But not all people can finance a horse.

In vaulting we almost all stick to the first step ‘riding school’ where we have training on horses which are owned by the club, you have group lessons. There are a few vaulters who buy their own horse to improve. Most vaulters still vault on club horses at really high levels, and of course that’s great, but I think we can grow more as a discipline if it was more normal to have a private horse when you’re vaulting on higher level. It’s much easier to manage the horse, to work out a schedule every week because you don’t have to share your horse.

So in my opinion it would be great if the sport on basic level can be afforded by most people but if you want to vault on higher level maybe it would be better if people want to invest more in horses.

How is the horse situation in small vaulting countries? Is better for them to borrow horses in Europe or to buy trained horses?

Of course it’s possible to train good horses for small vaulting countries. It’s better for them if they have some good horses in their own country so they can grow! If they don’t have the capacity to train up their own horses, it is good to have someone from another country who can help educating the horses or indeed buy a trained horse.

What can a coach / lunger do to keep his horse fit and strong as long as possible?

I prefer to take the horses out one day a week to let them trot and canter with long reins (and full speed) so they stay loose, learn to balance themselves and don’t use the (side-)reins as a fifth leg. Apart from that I prefer training under the saddle 3-4 times a week, to do dressage exercises or maybe some jumping. And what all lungers and riders should do is lunging your horse weekly with nothing but a bridle. That’s the best way to balance your horse, let him walk on his own legs and let him carry his own body.

And during training, don’t canter too long and then walk (with loose reins). Don’t let your horse canter for 10 minutes in a circle. And keep in mind (if I may compare to the jumping sport) a horse which is on a 1.40m level jumping doesn’t jump a 1.40m parkours every day at home. So compare it to vaulting, don’t do your whole (team) freestyle and compulsories in canter every training at home. It won’t improve your horse!

How many horses do you have for sale in your stable? How many do you train at the same time?

Most of the time I have two for sale at my stable, and a few at another stable. It’s hard to find good horses, and I’m very picky! So I try a lot of horses every week, but only few of them will become a vaulting horse.

I don’t always sell the horses fully trained. Most people want a prospect vaulting horse and not a fully trained one. Besides that, every month a horse stays at my stable they become more expensive for me, because it takes a lot of time and money every month. So horses which are not stabled at my stable, I try once, twice or three times or so, and sell them as a prospect. The horse will be kept in good condition at that stable but we don’t do more vaulting. The horses at my stable will be trained for vaulting, and if they aren’t sold quick, they will be pretty advanced at the end 😉

Of course, I’m still growing, and I hope to increase the number of horses at my stable, so there will be more choice for everyone. I already find that (professional) people in vaulting are very very picky… and in Holland we usually say: a good horse doesn’t have a color (I have no clue how you say that in English, but it means you pick a horse by his quality and not how he looks. An ugly horse can be a really good one!) But for vaulters it’s not always like that, and that makes it hard to find a good one.

Many teams – especially from small clubs – can’t afford expensive horses. As a horse trader, can you recommend buying younger, not so skilled horses or older ones (that are perhaps cheaper)?

Of course, a younger horse is cheaper, but you’ll have some extra costs during the time he gets older. If you buy for example a five-year-old prospect because he is cheaper than the 7-year-old, it will cost you around €500 a month, so by the time the horse is 7, he’ll have cost you much more!

And if you want a good horse, they’ll cost money. A foal costs around €4.000 at auction, then you’ll have 3 years at a young stock barn (approx. € 2.000 a year), where they can grow up. By the time the horse is ready to train – about 4 years old –  it has cost more than € 10.000.

The price of the horse mostly depends on five factors: Age, health, level of training under the saddle, pedigree of the horse and exterior.

So, if you have a horse which looks good on all those five factors, it’ll cost more money than when you compromise at one of these factors. Make sure the horse is healthy, but there are certain degrees in health. There are some small deviations which make a horse cheaper, but keep in mind that a vaulting horse is a sports horse and needs to be trained at high level. Pedigree is not so important in the vaulting sport; if they have the right mindset it doesn’t matter so much. Level of training, if you are a good rider you can choose to buy a horse which is not advanced to a certain level and you can train him yourself. And of course the horse needs a good quality of canter.


Adele Feuerstein

I am Adele Feuerstein the founder of the blog. I used to vault & train teams in Germany. Now I am only an observer & love to share my knowledge about international vaulting with you.