Enter: The Year Of The Horse

Jan 7, 2014 - 2:09 AM
Catherine Haddad Staller on Maximus JSS. Photo by Ruechel.

Dear Rita,

If you happen to follow the Chinese zodiac, you already know that we are about to enter the Year of the Horse 2014 at the end of January. All I can say is, “Hasta La Vista, Baby!” to the Year of the Snake 2013! That was a tough year for me, Rita, full of incredible highs and devastating lows. Quite frankly, I prefer the middle way.

Now I happen to think that every year is the Year of the Horse, but I am very excited about the beginning of this one.

I am surrounded by people who care about the same things I do. I have intense, passionate and dedicated students. I train with people every day—both students and teachers—who inspire me to come up with more and better ways to train horses.

I have horses in my life that not only want to join me on the journey toward competitive success, but they are truly propelling me along the way.

Rita, I know how lucky and how happy I am to have and recognize this time in my life because I have seen and lived through much worse times. I also know that things will change because transience is the intrinsic nature of all things. Thus, wisely, I am breathing deeply and memorizing this feeling, knowing that I may have to draw on these fortuitous days to get me through less than wonderful times in the future.

Do you ever play the high/low game? Sitting around the dinner table at the end of a day, you ask your guests what their “high” of the day/month/year was. And you ask them what their “low” was as well. Answers are often surprising and very revealing!

My highs looked like this in 2013:

-Mane Stream Hotmail morphed into a real Grand Prix horse even though I was only able to train him seven months out of the year due to my own personal injuries. He earned over 70 percent in his first CDI outing even though he felt totally unprepared for that level of competition last fall. He is ready now.

-I bought Montrachet in Denmark and brought him home to the USA. This horse has changed my life. I can also say that I have changed his. I have waited my whole life for a horse like this, and sometimes I ask myself if he was somehow created from the force of my dreams….

-I sold Winyamaro to a super rider whom I love to teach AND who can do him justice, AND his sale made my life a lot easier from a financial perspective. Learn from this, young and aspiring trainers/riders, learn.

-I found a lovely stable for my summer headquarters in Califon, N.J., only two miles from our home! Pinnacle Farm is a wonderful place—full of light and space and good atmosphere. I fell in love with Califon last summer—the town, our home, the new stable. Alles gute!

My lows looked like this:

-Gizmo, my beloved and sorely missed corgi, died on Jan. 1, 2013. I’ll be damned if I don’t miss that dog still and think of him every day.

-Shortly after Gizmo’s death, I ruptured a disc in my back and spent many months recovering from that. The pain and frustration were debilitating, but fortunately, now forgotten.

-At the same time I injured my back, Maximus JSS struggled heroically for many weeks with a mortal bout of founder and had to be euthanized. My Maximus. Although as a Buddhist I spend a lot of time preparing for death and trying to accept the transience of life, the pure agony of watching such a noble and generous horse die such a horrible and painful death is still a raw lump in my throat. One year later, I still cannot begin to write about it. He was a Warrior of the Light.

-Gizmo’s and Maximus’ passing felt like the end of an era, connected to the end of my two decades spent in Europe. It was a difficult time. I literally forced myself to move on from many things.

-Then I tore the meniscus in my knee and spent some time recuperating from that—small thing compared to the disc but irritating after so many other months of delay. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and said to myself, “Pull yourself together or retire.” I pulled myself together.

Highs and lows aside, Rita, 2013 was a busy and productive year. Because I couldn’t ride for a few months, I taught a lot. In fact, my teaching and clinic schedule became so full that I finally had to start saying no to new clients. Right now, my greatest inspiration comes from the riders who have stepped up to the plate and raised the bar on their riding in recent months. I am surrounding myself with people who can keep me sharp, and it has made me a better rider and teacher than ever before.

Last year I also ruminated for many hours/days/months about the state of competitive dressage in America until I finally got off my duff and decided to do something about it. I hope you will begin noticing some changes soon. I sit on many committees both nationally and internationally, and all of what we discuss is confidential, but I can tell you that our sport is growing, and the future looks bright!

To give you an idea how I am focusing my efforts in the moment, I currently hold the following posts:

International Dressage Riders Club, Executive Board
USEF International Disciplines Council, Dressage Representative
USEF Eligible Athlete Committee, Vice Chairwoman
USEF Active Athlete Committee, Dressage Representative
USEF High Performance Committee, Athlete Representative
USEF Vet Committee, Dressage Athlete Representative
USEF Dressage Committee, Athlete Representative
USEF CDI Task Force
USEF Rules Sub Committee

Time devoted to these committees takes me away from the keyboard, but what y’all need to know is that I am working hard for this sport. If you have an idea about something that needs to be changed or created, do not hesitate to speak up! It’s the Year of the Horse. What better time to advance the sport of dressage!?

As you can surmise, my time is fairly limited these days. So I especially need some help in one specific area. We dressage riders need to form an organization (like the jumpers and eventers have already done) that evaluates horse shows. Organizers need feedback if we want to improve our shows. We need footing, stabling, judging, concessions, prize list and venue feedback. It should come from active competitors at the shows, and be collated and published online for everyone to see. I’m telling you, Rita, it will change the face of our sport locally, regionally and nationally.

Who can take on this task?? It is the one thing I wanted to accomplish in 2013 that I did not have time for, but it needs to be done. I am over-committee-d, Rita. (Hey, new word!) Are there a few dressage riders out there who will take on the task? It involves setting up a website, garnering members, creating a questionnaire that covers all areas of shows for ratings and then publishing the results. Who will pick up this torch?

I can tell you this. 2014 is going to be a blockbuster year for dressage. Wait and see! And if you seek some training inspiration, come to Team Haddad Staller’s Open Training Day on January 30 in White Fences, Loxahatchee, Fla. Info on Facebook!

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Wellington, Fla.

Training Tip of the Day: Ride with your skeleton, not with your muscles. Leverage rules.




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