August 2015 - Horse People: The “Anke Effect”
Written by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 04 August 2015 20:23
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European import Anke Herbert makes her mark on dressage in the Bay Area.

by Kim F. Miller

Dressage test scores have been breaking new barriers for some time. First there was Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas breaking the 90% threshold at the 2009 European Championships. Last December, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro shattered that with a 93.975% at the Olympia show in London.

Anke and Fandango schooling in Woodside.

The trend is not limited to international stars and venues. Scores have been rising at all levels of the sport in the States, and not because judges have become more generous. Most attribute the trend to increasing access for all to top quality coaches and trainers and Anke Herbert is one of them.

She may not be a national name, but the Bay Area mobile trainer is well known to those in the know. Multi-Olympian Guenter Seidel and top owner and sport supporter Akiko Yamazaki are among those who’ve encouraged the career of this European import who added a USDF gold medal to her impressive resume his year.

Anke moved here eight years ago when her husband, an engineer, was relocated from Germany to the Peninsula, where he worked on the Devils Slide tunnel bypass project on Highway 1.

A native of Belgium, Anke grew up on horseback in her parents’ riding school. At 18, she moved to Germany for an apprenticeship that would prepare her to earn a Bereiter FN license (and later her Pferdewirtschaftsmeister) from the German Riding Federation. The rigorous exam for that tests abilities in jumping and dressage and in riding, training and teaching others to ride and train.

Her first mentor was Lutz Merkel, a West German show jumping star of the 70s and 80s. He was a neighbor of another famous equestrian family: the Theodorescus, including renowned trainers George and Inge, whose accomplished daughter Monica is now coach of the German dressage team. Anke focused on dressage during her time working for Inge Theodorescu. Later positions included 13 years working with young horses for a breeding farm in Germany, and positions in Switzerland and Italy.

With that impressive education and experience, Anke moved to California with her husband, her then just-broke Bavarian Warmblood, Fandango, and one connection to the dressage scene in the very-big United States of America.  She had been coming to a stable in Chicago, where she visited intermittently to give private coaching that turned into periodic clinics.

For her first two years here, she was not able to ride or coach professionally while awaiting a work permit. When she could, she found that her client base began to build in a way similar to how equine endeavors evolve in Europe: one connection at a time and made mostly by people seeing her in action, then telling their friends.

“When you give a clinic somewhere, people who ride with you sometimes change barns, then you wind up giving a clinic at that barn,” she explains. “That’s the way things have worked for me my whole life. People start talking about you and one thing leads to another.”   

Teacher & Student

Amateur rider Nan Meek was Anke’s first student in California and is still with her. “Anke trains according to the classical principles, but what sets her apart is her knowledge of how to apply them,” Nan says. “She can push you to do your best without pushing you over the edge, and she seems to know a million ways to explain the same principle. As a result, she inspires trust in her riders and in their horses.

“Anke also inspires improvement,” Nan continues. “It’s clear to see the effect her training has on her longtime students and their horses. Over time, the horses develop correct muscling and improve their gaits, while the riders develop better seats and improve their connection with their horses. We call it the ‘Anke effect’ but only halfway in jest; there’s a serious level of confidence that comes with consistent improvement over time. It’s no surprise that her students love her and look forward to every lesson.”

“Dressage,” of course, is the French word for “to train” and, like most of its adherents, Anke considers herself as much a student as a teacher. “I would never train with someone who doesn’t take lessons themselves,” she says. “I take lessons from Guenter Seidel, and he takes lessons from (longtime USET team coach and German master) Klaus Balkenhol.”

In her time here, she’s seen a distinct increase in the number of riders who embrace that concept. “When I came here, there was sometimes a sense that some people felt they knew everything already. But as I’ve met more people, I see more of them making a priority of educating themselves.” And that, she feels, is the reason behind ever better performances. “There is a much better quality of riding and in the level of the horses at shows,” she reflects. “Scores have gone up almost 10 percent. When I got here, people were happy if they got a 65%, and now it’s almost as if we’re not happy with a 70%.”

Access to the world’s top coaches has been a huge help in raising the level of the sport. One recent example is the visit of Spanish Riding School’s first chief rider Andreas Hausberger, who made his annual visit to the Bay Area in early July.  Anke was thrilled to be among eight professionals to work with him for three days at the Stonepine Equestrian Estate in Carmel.

Calling All Kids

Anke lives in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay, but the majority of her students live “over the hill” in horse-dense Woodside and surrounding neighborhoods. Her students ride conventional dressage Warmbloods, as well as Arabians, Thoroughbreds and even a Quarter Horse. “”It’s about educating the horse for the best and people should try to give every horse that chance to have a good dressage foundation,” she says. She has students with high-level competitive accomplishments and aspirations and those who don’t show but want to progress. She’s particularly excited to have a few jumper and hunter riders who work with her because they, too, see the benefits of dressage.

There are a few things Anke misses about the equestrian world in Europe. The first is the fact that families of relatively normal economic means have affordable access to riding. That’s not generally the case in the States, and it’s something Anke hopes to do something about in the future. “Occasionally I see a young rider out hacking and I can see that they are naturally talented, and I think, ‘Wow! That would be a good one!’ But, especially here in California, you have to have a lot of money to get into the sport and I’m trying to figure out what I could do to feed more kids into the sport.”

She admires the Just For Kids dressage shows Christiane Noelting is staging at her Dressage Center in Vacaville (the most recent was July 10-11), as well as the national Junior and Young Rider opportunities led by Lendon Gray and Robert Dover.

In her own riding, Anke is thoroughly enjoying each new milestone with her 12-year-old Fandango. “When I bought him, I wasn’t thinking of Grand Prix,” she explains. “In Germany, that level is very exclusive and most people don’t think of it.” It was Guenter who encouraged her to raise her sights with him.” I thought he would be a nice Prix St. Georges or Intermediare I horse. So everything more he gives me now is like a present.”

Akiko Yamazaki, who owns Steffen Peters top horses and is a huge sport supporter, was another to give Anke a big confidence boost. “Akiko gave me the opportunity to experience the Grand Prix test and to earn my (USDF) gold medal by letting me ride her experienced Grand Prix horse De La Noche.” Anke was also entrusted with helping bring along Esperanza, a daughter of Steffen’s Olympic star, Ravel, who will likely eventually be a mount for Akiko’s daughters.

Anke and Fandango have enjoyed consistent successes at Intermediare II throughout this year. Whatever else may come in the show ring will be icing on the cake of an equestrian life enriched every day by both giving and receiving new dressage knowledge.