It’s Friday afternoon in Vechta, Germany, and I have just completed a most unusual activity in my daily routine—shoveling snow—which is a distant, more strenuous cousin to sweeping the aisle. All German riding instructors will, at some time or another, use the following quip when handing you a broom: “Learn riding through sweeping.” This is a quip, by the way, not a joke. Germans do not joke about learning riding.
Since I arrived in Germany in 1993, I have shoveled snow exactly four times—all of them in the last month due to the unpredictable effects of global warming. The last time I spoke proper English, “warming” was defined differently.
Since I arrived in Germany in 1993—fresh faced, eager and ready to learn from one of the great dressage masters, Willi Schultheis—I have swept the aisle more than 18,000 times.
Literally, sweeping—when performed with a proper witch’s broom in broad strokes both left and right—not only raises an impenetrable cloud of dust, but also really tones the abdominal muscles. Figuratively, any activity which involves a physical rhythm and intense concentration will help you develop a good mentality for dressage riding. So in the end, the Germans are right. Sweeping does help you learn riding.
(The verb “fegen”—to sweep—can also be converted into slang for the more intense activities of human reproduction. So an ex-pat slowly learning German in bits and pieces can find a bit of humor in the daily sweeping of the aisle. Took me years to figure that one out.)
There is, however, no humor in shoveling snow in Vechta. All sidewalks in this region are made of paving stones. Try to slide a snow shovel over those puppies with a bit of grace and rhythm. Believe me; it will not help your riding in any way, shape or form.
Clearly, shoveling snow is not my only new pursuit.
This is my first attempt at a blog. Having only recently discovered what a blog actually is from my friends on Facebook, I think I’m doing OK. These friends, many of whom know me well, overreacted a bit when I mentioned blogging for The Chronicle of the Horse. I was met with “Yo, back away from the keyboard,” and “ Proceed by disconnecting your power source.”
Let’s just say I am known to be opinionated, and my friends are always trying to look out for my career. I can be dangerous to myself and others with a keyboard. I actually studied International Relations and Diplomacy at Michigan State University in the 1980s but gave up on the diplomatic effort after graduating. I’m just not cut out for it. So now I train dressage horses for a living and generally “.…say it like it is.”
I can’t help it. I’m an Aries. A double Aries, in fact, which has something to do with ascendants or descendants (leave my relatives out of this) and is apparently why the only person to ever analyze my horoscope fainted after hearing my date and time of birth.
In any case, my zodiac sign has contributed significantly to my success in this industry. A typical Aries, I just do not give up. This tenacity has paid off time and again in the face of adversity. Listen to this:
I moved to Germany in 1993 with two horses and a bicycle. I had $3,000 in my bank account and a handful of credit cards. I thought I might stay for two-three months, but eventually I trained with Willi Schultheis for two years before he passed away. Then I started my own business. I bought, sold, bred, traded and trained horses while I worked toward competing at the very top of dressage sport.
In 2004, I was riding a fabulous horse and was offered sponsorship. For the next five years I concentrated on improving my skills and getting a foot in the door in the international scene. In 2006, Maximus JSS was named as reserve horse for the U.S. Dressage Team at the Aachen WEG. And yeah, I was riding him. In 2007, we went to the World Cup in Las Vegas. In 2008, we had no chance for Hong Kong. Two steps forward, one step back.
An Aries turns away from conflict but meets opposition head on. I stayed home in 2008 and developed two more horses at the Grand Prix level. In 2009, Cadillac won eight Grand Prixs amongst numerous international placings, and Winyamaro placed twice and racked up one victory during his debut Grand Prix year.
The only good thing about a step back is it gives you a broader perspective on what lies in front of you. It’s 2010 and look where I am…
…shoveling snow off my paving stones on the rare Friday afternoon spent at home! But a “normal” weekend in 2010 will find me at the vet check of a CDI or CDI-W with one of my three international Grand Prix horses. I’ll be racking up ranking points and putting as much experience on my younger horses as I can. It’s six months and counting until the USEF Selection Trials for the Kentucky WEG at Gladstone, N.J., and I‘d like to be there. A lot can happen in six months.
Thus, the blog! I’m going to try to keep you up-to-date on my journey toward Gladstone, Dear Rita. But this kind of journey can be full of heartbreak, joy, accomplishment and failure. I promise you it will not always be funny. I spend a lot of time on the road—competing at shows, looking at horses, teaching clinics, talking to potential sponsors. So buckle your seat belts and get ready for the ride.
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I will be sayin it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
P.S. I don’t have any friends named “Rita” but this kind of writing is a helluva lot easier when I’m writing to someone, and one of the things I miss from the good ole USA is a Boston accent.
P.P.S. I also miss my family, Michigan despite the snow, U.S. beef, the Fourth of July and baseball.
Training Tip of the Day: If your horse could speak, would he say that he likes your hands?