Did I ever tell you the story of how I met Mr. Schultheis?
Over the years that I trained with Bodo Hangen in Michigan in the 1990s, Willi Schultheis became a hero of mine. Bodo loved to tell stories about him and showed me many photos and videos from his time in training at the Schultheis Stable in Warendorf, Germany. He taught me how to ride in the Schultheis way and in the Schultheis saddle. For me, Schultheis was the ultimate Master of Dressage.
When Bodo fell ill in 1992, we began to speak about my future. I wanted to go to Germany to train with Schultheis, but he had stopped taking new students a few years before. Rumor had it that he wasn’t riding anymore. So Bodo sent me off to another trainer who had worked closely with him and who also lived in the very horsey town of Warendorf.
I packed up my suitcases, tack trunks, horses, bicycle, boots and credit cards, and in the fall of 1993, boarded a cargo plane for Deutschland!
No, I didn’t speak German at the time. My only vocabulary came from reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes”: Achtung! Jawohl, Herr Kommandant! Dummkopf!
But knowing that I would arrive in Warendorf late at night on the next day, I took the precaution of memorizing two practical sentences in badly accented German. Wo sind meine Pferde? (Where are my horses?) And, Wo ist die Champagne? (Where is the champagne?)
Sure enough, I woke up at the hotel the next morning and had to ask directions back to the stable since I couldn’t remember the way. I couldn’t use “Wo sind meine Pferde?” since the people at the hotel were clueless about where to find my trainer’s stable. Fortunately, I knew that the address I was looking for was right next to Willi Schultheis’ place, and everybody in Warendorf knew where to find that. So I followed the pointed finger, and I managed the 3 km very quickly by bicycle.
My training started in earnest. I wasn’t pleased. The method and the system of that trainer were not what I had expected, and after a few days I found myself not able to look my own horses in the eye. I didn’t know what to do.
I must have been born under a lucky star though. Only a few weeks after my arrival in Warendorf, the county fair came to town, and all the townspeople turned out in the evening for the Kirmes. I still understood no German, so when my trainer pulled me over to the bar to meet a funny-looking, bow-legged old man, I gave him a big smile and a handshake and pretended like I understood everything. I did hear “Bodo Hangen” mentioned… A conversation ensued… And then the short, gnome-like old guy looked me square in the eyes with a bit of a smile before waddling off into the crowd.
“Who was that?” I asked. My trainer looked at me like I was daft. “Willi Schultheis.” But he was so short. My hero looked much taller on a horse. “I told him you used to train with Bodo. He wanted to know how he had died.”
I was star struck. Mr. Schultheis lived right next door to where I was training. I had been trying to get a glimpse of him over the fence but had not yet succeeded. I glanced again at the back of my retreating hero…
The next day I jumped the fence between the stables (on my own, not with a horse) and walked through the Schultheis garden toward the stable. Now, I have to explain that after living in Germany for so many years and developing an understanding of the culture, I would NEVER do something so inconceivable again! A stranger simply does not walk on to another person’s property in this country uninvited. And most definitely, one does not jump the fence, walk on the grass and scramble through the rose garden!
Completing my run of outrageous cultural insensitivity, I sauntered into the stable and asked in my ridiculously accented German: “Wo ist Willi?”
The Aryan-looking Bereiter gazed at me skeptically and after a moment replied in perfectly clipped English: “Mr. Schultheis is in the house.”
Eventually, Mr. Schultheis was summoned. He barreled into the stable with a very unfriendly “Who are you?” My hasty and rather embarrassed explanation followed, and he warmed up a bit when I reminded him that I had been a student of Bodo Hangen—all of this translated of course by my new-found Aryan friend. I asked him if I could come watch the training at his stable on the next day. He told me that I could, but only if I came alone.
I’m only getting warmed up, Dear Rita, but I will have to leave the rest of the story for another night. This is one of my rare evenings at home and I’m meeting some friends for tapas and cocktails tonight! So more soon…
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
Training Tip of the Day: Are you as supple as you would like your horse to be?