“Maximus Retires” seems like a funny title, as if he made the choice to do so when in fact, I am the one who made the choice for him. Maximus would never choose retirement if he was in charge of his own life. He is too much of a warrior for that!
I bought Maximus (who was then named “Junker”) from Daniel Ramseier in Zurich, Switzerland, at the beginning of 2003. He was delivered to my stable on my birthday in March, but our magnificent partnership was not a waltz through the rose garden from the very beginning. We got off to a rocky start.
Maximus is a true “Warrior of the Light” for those of you who read Paulo Coelho. He is a powerful, enormous horse, light on his feet, fearless in battle, introspective in the quiet moments of the day and caring for those closest to him. Sensitive to my state of mind, always ready to give 100 percent, self-sacrificing to a fault… the list is long. I always said that if Maximus were a man, I would marry him. (Ironically, I decided to retire him after I met the man that I married!)
But in the beginning, before I grew up, got to know Maximus and became the rider I am today, he had much to teach me. Maximus took one long look at me from the back of his box on that first day, snorted, raised his head to tower over me and blew me this message through his nose: “Don’t try to dominate me, Little Girl. You will fail. Be polite, learn compassion, listen to me, let me teach you, and I will set you free. I have come here to guide you to greatness, but you must learn to ride from your heart.”
Now Rita, you probably think I am smoking something organic to wax so poetic about my horse, but I have to tell you, Maximus is an excellent communicator, and he made this message very clear to me. Fortunately, I had been studying Buddhism for several years before he came into my life, so I was prepared to hear this message, and I allowed this great teacher to guide me on my path.
Maximus was trained to Prix St. Georges level when I bought him and had already gotten some impressive scores in the small tour with Ramseier. Piaffe was “started,” and the one-tempis and pirouettes looked doable but still precarious. I knew when I tried this horse that the piaffe could be our undoing in the show ring, so I hoped that one of the world’s best trainers—Rudolf Zeilinger—could help me make a Grand Prix horse out of him.
Maximus and I stayed in training with Rudolf for five years thanks to the generous support of Janet Schneider and her children, Susan, Rob and Rick Schneider. At the end of 2003, Janet purchased Maximus from me, and the JSS Trust supported my efforts to become a top international rider with full financial backing for many years after that. Thus, “Junker” became “Maximus JSS.”
Without the support of this generous family, I would never have become an international competitor. Even after Janet passed away in 2005, her children continued to support my efforts through 2009. I thank them to this day.
Now back to that rocky start. After I bought Maximus, I started hearing stories from other people who had ridden, trained and tried him before he came to me. The list of attempts was long, and words like “buck, rear and terrorist” were frequently used. I found these buttons myself, particularly in piaffe where the tiniest amount of pressure resulted in an impressive display of high school maneuvers that were awe inspiring in their strength and longevity. Simply put, Rita, he reared like a nasty bugger and could stay nearly vertical on his hind legs long enough to take pictures of the distant horizon.
Fortunately for me, Herr Zeilinger, with his long body and quiet strength, is the King of Leverage, and he was able to fix this little problem in under 10 seconds when I asked him to get on Maximus the first time. Maximus reared, Rudi leaned back, kept his contact and squeezed him forward with leg and pressure from his back. Maximus landed in piaffe, got a pat on the neck, and never looked back. It was done.
Maximus is an exceptionally intelligent and trainable horse, but his trust could never be violated. If you showed him an acceptable solution without punishment, he always accepted the correction. He taught me to be exceedingly fair. In all the years that I rode with Zeilinger, Rudolf got on Maximus perhaps 10 times. After the first time, it was only to improve throughness in a movement or to help me improve the piaffe. I did the rest of the work and learned much from it.
I learned so much in those years, Rita! Maximus was patient with me and ALWAYS ready to give everything in the work. I cannot describe the incredible bond and level of communication we developed in those years.
Between 2003 and 2008, I drove an hour from Vechta to Emsburen every morning to train, arriving at Zeilinger’s by 6:30 a.m. Maximus had a stall facing the entrance to the stable, and when he heard my car in the morning, he left his breakfast and stuck his head out the window to watch me walk to the front door. By the time I got my tack laid out and headed to his stall with a halter and a hoof pick in hand, he was standing at his stall door with his left front foot already in the air.
Stiff by nature, we have both always needed a long time to warm up, but by the time our bodies were loose and our breathing was elevated, we entered a world of synchronized thought and expression. I am sure that I will never have another horse like Maximus in my entire life. He opened doors for me. He showed me the way.
I don’t have to list all his accomplishments here, but perhaps I should mention a few. Numerous wins in the small tour, more than 50 top 10 placings in international Grand Prix, Reserve Horse for the U.S. Dressage Team at the WEG in 2006, 7th in the FEI Rolex World Cup Finals at Las Vegas in 2007 with one of the most difficult freestyles ever presented at that level.
Maximus never missed a one-tempi in competition in his ENTIRE career, even when we performed a SERPENTINE of 25-27 one-tempis in every Grand Prix freestyle! He gave me confidence and taught me excellence and professionalism in the show ring.
I will never forget the moment in Las Vegas at the World Cup Final in 2007 when I raised my hand to start the Gladiator music. I did so with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart in that sold out, pulsating arena. I was proud to show my country how this partnership could perform with grace and with total submission—to each other and to the greater goal of excellence in riding.
Maximus continued to guide me in training and at horse shows even after younger horses like Cadillac and Winyamaro started to overshadow his accomplishments with their youth, talent and vitality. I think his best test was in Munich in 2009 in the Grand Prix Special.
I didn’t have an opportunity to show Maximus in 2010 as I was too busy chasing points with Winyamaro while trying to turn him into a real Grand Prix horse and make the U.S. Team last summer. When I returned to Germany last fall, I was already thinking about retiring Maximus from competition, and at the beginning of this year I decided to do so.
I still ride my Warrior of the Light every morning. We share a banana while walking before the work, we spend a lot of time warming up, and then we just do a few circles in passage and remind the rest of my riders that they will NEVER do one-tempis like we do!
Maximus is fit, happy and sound. He loves our work together even as it becomes more playful than demanding, and I am eternally grateful to the Schneider Family for leaving him with me at the end of his career.
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
Training Tip of the Day: Do you train your horse or do you let him train you?