He started again. One impulse from his Kreuz, and Traviata began to piaffe on the spot as if she had never stopped. I learned.
Schultheis tapped her into passage again, turned left, turned left again; rode 15 steps of piaffe on the centerline and then executed a perfect turn toward us. He halted. My mare stood there quietly and happily chewing on the bit, shedding foam, as if touched by God himself. I learned.
Juergen started to stand up. Schultheis pointed the whip at him and said: “SIT DOWN.” He pointed the whip at me and said: “COME HERE.” I did. He somehow got himself off my horse and handed me the reins. He said: “RIDE LIKE THAT.”
Schultheis had a comical dialect from Berlin that was hard for me to understand. When he wanted to be clear, he just spoke louder, even in English. “RIDE LIKE THAT.”
I got on. I did what he did. I adjusted my stirrups. In a rare moment of cheekiness (I was always very serious in Schultheis’ school), I looked him in the eye, and I blew my nose in my glove. His eyes crinkled. I took the reins in Fillis and paid attention to the contact. I made the whip sing. I dropped my pelvis in the saddle with a thump, tapped Traviata with my spurs near the girth, and she piaffed like the Master was still sitting on her. I made my first transition to passage out of piaffe, picked up the canter, turned down the centerline, sat like Schultheis, pretended I was Schultheis, and rode a pirouette to one-tempis to a pirouette. I halted.
Willi Schultheis nodded and said: “Good. Put her away.” I learned.
Every day for two weeks after that remarkable episode—which is forever etched in my memory as clear as if it had happened this morning—Schultheis rode my horse. He let me warm her up and then he sat on her for increasingly longer intervals until he was up to about 20 minutes near the last ride. I got to ride her every day after he educated her.
At the end of those two weeks I could ride an entire Grand Prix on my 8-year-old horse who had arrived in Germany the year before as a second level trainee. And it was easy.
And I learned, Rita. I learned so much from those two weeks that I am not even sure I have finished learning from them today. Bits and pieces arrive back in the saddle with me when I need them. On those days when I ask myself: What would Schultheis do? I find myself back in his body, sitting heavier, using my weight and the strength in my back, pushing my elbows forward, letting go of the reins, asking ultimate engagement and throughness from the finest whip and spur aids.
Sadly, the end of those two weeks was the end of an era. My horse was the last horse that Willi Schultheis ever rode—Traviata, my little black, half-bred mare who was a cross between the German Hanoverian, Aktuell, and an American Thoroughbred mare from the Northern Dancer line. Imagine that, Rita. The irony just struck me for the first time.
I sold Traviata a few months later and moved on to bigger and better horses. But I never moved on to bigger and better riding. I am still trying to achieve the level of excellence I witnessed in that arena in Warendorf so many years ago.
Willi Schultheis was a genius, and I am forever grateful that he touched my life.
I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
Training Tip of the Day: Good riding never changes with the times. See it. Copy it. Learn from it.