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January, 2015

San Antonio Horseman Earning Prestigious Awards

Michael Vermaas riding Dardanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Champion Andalusian Stallion owned by Walter and Judy Henslee of Rancho Del Lago, McDade, Texas
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Michael Vermaas riding Dardanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Champion Andalusian Stallion owned by Walter and Judy Henslee of Rancho Del Lago, McDade, Texas
Michael riding Dardanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Champion Andalusian Stallion owned by Walter and Judy Henslee of Rancho Del Lago, McDade, Texas
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The International Andalusian-Lusitano Association awarded its 2014 Professional Horseperson of the Year to Michael Vermaas. This award will officially be given to Michael at the association's national show October 13-19th in Ft. Worth.

"It's a nice pat on the back," Michael agreed. His recognition was voted upon by the IALA board of directors which considered in part his show record as well as the trainer's overall reputation.

Based in Texas for the last nine years, Michael operates Skeleton Key Sporthorses along with his right-hand person Krystalynn Young. Skeleton Key's eighteen training horses are housed in one of the many barns at the Retama Equestrian Center in San Antonio. Retama is a large facility that includes a big indoor arena, two outdoor rings and a large training field. The Horse Gazette originally ran an interview with Michael 2007. He had just moved to Texas in 2005 after extensive stints in Europe, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. All along he's been in the horse business doing what he does best--training horses.

Challenges are what he prefers. His training slate contains client horses from different disciplines--jumping, eventing and dressage. Krystalynn handles the younger horses and manages the barn. There are some horses at Skeleton Key that were given up on but Michael has found with persistence and by helping their owners re-build their confidence, he's seen those cases turn around in a very positive manner. He is pleased to be able to now look back and see that he's assisted some students with big wins such as Gigi Booth taking her horse from second level on up to Prix St. Georges and another who has successfully competed at two-star CCI eventing championship.

"And nally won my USDF bronze medal," Michael said, "because I was able to keep a horse long enough to earn all the scores." Many times Michael finds that as he helps horses along the way, they get snapped up by eager clients for the client's own showing needs.

International Andalusian-Lusitano Association awarded its 2014 Professional Horseperson of the Year to Michael Vermaas.  Michael is riding Dordanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Andalusian Stallion owned by Rancho Del Lago.
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International Andalusian-Lusitano Association awarded its 2014 Professional Horseperson of the Year to Michael Vermaas.  Michael is riding Dordanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Andalusian Stallion owned by Rancho Del Lago.
International Andalusian-Lusitano Association awarded its 2014 Professional Horseperson of the Year to Michael Vermaas. Michael is riding Dordanos RDL, 2006 Multi-National Andalusian Stallion owned by Rancho Del Lago.
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Another feather in his cap is that he has been certified as one of only three judges in the US qualified to fully judge a new-to-this-country riding discipline called "working equitation." As Michael described it, the sport contains three parts: dressage testing; ease of handling (similar to a trail test) and a timed event "that is like a trail test on steroids," Michael admitted. "It is a new thing taking off here and both English and Western riders like it. It's based on cow work, actually," he said. Currently there are approximately 8 or 9 "L" judges in this discipline but only the three full judges can assess a formal showing in this country. The working equitation "L" judges can only evaluate schooling shows.

Michael said he had to undergo a weeklong academic training 8am-6pm every day then take a large exam before he could be allowed to judge any real working equitation competitions.

"My main objective is to help people with difficult horses," he admitted. "And to make them rideable. We have in our barn one mare who by the time she got to us she and her owner had been through four trainers already. And four times the owner had been told to sell her [at auction]," he explained. "We were her last chance. She is now wonderful and doing dressage. We also have another horse in our barn that quit jumping 3'6" in Young Riders before it came to us. Now they are doing 4'3". If there is no physical problem, if one can solve the mental part of the horse...that is what I am enjoying. I still like those challenges that are dressage or jump related. But it takes work and dedication," he said. He's still riding eight horses a day and putting in 10-12 hour days. "We haven't had a day off in quite a while," he said, "but I'm not complaining!"

Michael Vermaas with assistant Krystalynn Young with Rancho Del Lago ribbons at the International Andalusian-Lusitano Association Show in Fort Worth.
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Michael Vermaas with assistant Krystalynn Young with Rancho Del Lago ribbons at the International Andalusian-Lusitano Association Show in Fort Worth.
Michael Vermaas with assistant Krystalynn Young with Rancho Del Lago ribbons at the International Andalusian-Lusitano Association Show in Fort Worth.
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"I'm happy with the way things are going in Texas. There are a lot of potentially good riders and horses. Texas tends to be underrated a bit, I think. Yet you still see Texans continually in the top five," he remarked as he thought over the national jumping and dressage rankings. "When I arrived here, the market collapsed, but it's up again."

"I see that the USDF (US Dressage Federation) and USEF (US Equestrian Federation) now have certification programs. This is a step in the right direction. It stops every Tom, Dick and Harry from saying, 'I'm a horse trainer.' The US may find eventually to be truly competitive [internationally] that it will have to adopt a system more like the Dutch, German or Portuguese which are more like a four-year college that is not so theoretically based. For example, you would have to learn on a school master and along the way train up a young horse. Plus you'd have to be a working student and be evaluated along the way as well. Then there would be discussion about how you are progressing. A good example of this is the Warendorff School in Germany. Eventually, hopefully we in the US are headed that way.

Another observation Michael had concerned international competitions. "You want softness and harmony," he said. "You want a team spirit between the rider and horse and cooperation between the two. The clinicians all agree on this. Even the FEI has rules about this but they are not enforced. It's strange and I don't understand it," he said, "but you will see in international competition judges approving strong rein contact, riders leaning backwards with tension. This is unacceptable to me. We want lightness."

"I try to focus on my students and to tell them what is wrong and how to make it right. I want to build up their confidence as they are paying me to tell them how to improve. When you show you don't want to appear like you want to hide in a hole. You want to say, 'here I am!' At the end of the day, showing is merely a continuation of your daily schooling. I don't like seeing trainers rip into their students at any shows. There is no need to be stressed at a show. If you ride like you do at home, the horse won't be stressed and your scores can be pretty good."

To get more information, contact Michael via www.michaelvermaas.com.



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