Scott Hassler – among many, many things – is an accomplished dressage trainer and rider.
Scott and his wife, Susanne, founded Hassler Dressage with partners John and Leslie Malone.
Based at Riveredge in Chesapeake City, Maryland, Hassler Dressage features facilities for training, education, competition, breeding and showing. Currently, Scott is developing several “very talented horses” for International Grand Prix competition.
You might have seen Scott at the Wellington Global Dressage Festival that took place January through April at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Here, he sheds some light on his history and shares his joy for life and all things equine.
How did you come to Florida? Where else have you lived? I started coming to Florida to compete in 1986. We were based out of Orlando those first years. Then we went a little further south to Rockledge for several years. Maryland has always been my home base and, since 2006, it has been Chesapeake City — a little town on the Chesapeake Bay. We spent two and a half years in Hamburg, Germany, training and competing under Herbert Rehbein.
What do you love about Wellington and Florida? I truly do love Florida! For me, there’s the weather; the horses and horse community; the close proximity of both the city and the ocean; the great restaurants; the night air sitting outside; there’s an airport just 25 minutes away; I could go on and on!
What is your first memory of being around horses? Growing up in Pennsylvania, my family had an active competition and training horse farm so I grew up into horses right from the get-go. My older sister, Patti, says that, before I could walk or talk, she would take me riding with her and hold me in front of her. My first memories are of playing “cowboys and Indians” with my older brother, Chip, on our ponies. My pony, April Showers, was much faster than his pony, Ragamuffin. I was probably four or five years old at that time and remember having those poor ponies running into each other like bumper cars, galloping through the woods and streams with branches flying everywhere. After putting the ponies away my brother and I would come into the house all cut up and Mom would be furious at us for riding the ponies like that!
What is special about a relationship between a human and a horse? When your relationship with a horse truly turns into a bond, it’s an amazing experience. You can read their emotions and expressions, and they definitely know your mood or spirit every moment you’re around them. They really become a best friend, always bringing their consistent same “self ” to the table — that feeling of complete trust, love and honesty is amazing.
What drew you to dressage? What makes the discipline stand out among the others? Until the age of 16, I was only competing in eventing. When I was able to drive, I was asked to ride at The Holstein Breed Association headquarters in Virginia. That opportunity first exposed me to higher-level dressage. I was competing horses for the association in eventing and dressage and when my own eventing horse got injured and couldn’t jump anymore, I was determined to take him as far as he could go in dressage. Through that experience, I really fell in love with dressage. I had always loved the feeling of cross-country riding, the adrenaline in the starting gate, etc., etc., but there was something really special and exciting about dressage. Building an incredible connection with a horse – with the most subtle, finely tuned aids – made up of an incredible 1,400 pounds of power and grace became totally addicting to me. I never went back to competition in eventing, but I still occasionally enjoy jumping with my dressage horses for fun.
What other types of riding activities have you practiced? In addition to growing up competing in eventing, show jumping and dressage, I also went fox hunting with my family. And, I spent a lot of time learning four-in-hand driving and even went on the carriage many times in international competitions during the Marathon. After the age of 20, I solely focused on international dressage training and competition, having made several Grand Prix horses at a young age.
What is your philosophy as a rider? In my teaching and riding, I always strive to develop the horses to their full potential without over-facing them and while maintaining their enjoyment to work and “try” for the rider. My approach is, that the better I know each horses’ mental and physical strengths and weaknesses, I can approach them fairly and as individuals. I like to use their strengths to build their confidence and enjoyment, and gradually improve their weaknesses. In competition, I like to know with each horse which movements I am going go for with confidence, trying for 8’s and 9’s, and which movements where 7 and 7.5 are perfectly fine for that particular horse.
Have you ever questioned your career choice? I have never second-guessed my career choice. I totally love it and feel very blessed to be successful as a coach, competitor, trainer, educator, father, husband, committee member and horse breeder. I have experienced tough times in choosing where to focus all my passion for the sport, and learned you cannot do it all well.
What are some of the moments in your life that you found most enriching? Without a doubt, the most enriching experience in my life was during my childhood. My parents took in children who were in need and, through horses, riding and a loving and caring environment, they sought to help improve the children’s lives. My parents even built a second house to be able to help more children. I witnessed first-hand the impact these incredible horses can have on people. They were the greatest source of healing for these children. As a professional, I really feel honored to have been our United States Equestrian Federation National Young Horse Coach for 10 years.
As a husband, it would be watching my wife place fourth at the Young Horse World Breeding Championships in Germany — she is an international dressage rider. As a father, it would be the years coaching Mia’s and Sara’s soccer teams as young girls, and now being so proud of them as young adults. My daughter, Sara is an apprentice trainer and also rides young-riders dressage. Mia is at the University of Maryland studying media relations.
What is something people may not know about you? What might surprise those closest to me is that if I could not be in the horse business for some reason, would be to own a marina with a great restaurant. WER