I think about Mr. Schultheis nearly every day, but it has been a long time since I wrote more stories about my time with him. A reader’s comment on one of the old Schultheis blogs prompted me to tell this story about his cat.
During my time at the Schultheis stable, we had a pack of dogs (two Jack Russells, one Corgi—in this case three is a pack) that wrecked havoc on the place whenever possible. Their unruly numbers were only quelled by the cool stare of one cat: The Chef.
We had two ginger cats in the stable, “The Chef” and “The Other Cat.” Both were unusually large, but the Chef was larger than life. He was one of those cats who could stop a frenzied Jack Russell in his tracks with one stony look. But most of the time he couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the presence of the dogs. He simply rounded a corner to come into their line of vision and (I swear this is true), they all SAT and watched him pass.
You know this cat. He is the athletic version of Garfield who writes his comedy with an ambush of humor. For comic relief, he executes a perfect flying leap from the fence onto the back of an unsuspecting Corgi. He is the feline ninja turtle who fells fat pigeons with one sharpened claw. Every stable has one.
Now Rita, “Chef” in German does not mean cook. It means “the boss.” You call your employer “Chef.” This cat was clearly the boss of the Schultheis stable and had thus earned his name.
The Chef met every rider as he or she entered the stable in the mornings. He policed the dogs, killed the mice and commandeered the tack room as his Operation Headquarters (aka sleeping chamber). Occasionally, he could be found napping on the rump of a horse in the cold of winter.
One hot and humid summer morning in July of 1995, I entered the stable to find our head Bereiter, Magnus Hamilton, in tears. Magnus was from Sweden and had spent many years in Germany training with the nation’s best. He was a likeable guy, a hard worker and quick to laugh. I was shocked to find him clearly overwrought with tears streaming down his face.
“The Chef is dead,” he said to me in a pained voice. I felt badly for Magnus, but I was bewildered at the depth of his emotion over the loss of the stable cat.
“How do you know?” I asked. “Why are you so upset? Did you run over him?”
“NO! I found lying him there…in the rose garden!” The poor guy broke down with this exclamation and had to sit on the stable floor.
“Magnus,” I said, “I will miss him too. But it will be OK. We will get another one.”
“What are you talking about?!?” he cried. “The CHEF is DEAD! He had a heart attack! They just took him away in the ambulance.”
At which point I realized he was talking about Mr. Schultheis, not the damn cat. Needless to say, I sat down next to Magnus on the stable floor. I shared his devastation.
My journey with Mr. Schultheis started with a trespass through his rose garden. Ironically, his next journey also began there.
This is really the final story in the Schultheis Chronicles, Rita, and a very sad one. I did not intend to write it before I finished the many other stories I have to tell from my time at the Schultheis Stables. But sometimes one has to skip to the final chapter to create an appreciation for what comes both before and after.
I wrote this today because as I took a walk in the forest this afternoon I got to thinking about the World Cup next week. I got to thinking that I wish Mr. Schultheis could be there to see it.
Schultheis looms large in my training. He always will. Sometimes I joke that he sits on my left shoulder and yells “Kreuz und loslassen!” in my ear while I am riding. (It’s not really a joke, but I present it like one so that nobody puts me on drugs for hearing voices in my head.)
I counted my blessings this afternoon and thanked all of my teachers, both equine and human, for all of the beautiful things they have taught me. Great horses aside, I have gleaned decades of information from Bodo Hangen, Rudolf Zeilinger and Morten Thomsen. These men have contributed innumerable brush strokes to the painting of knowledge that I call my own.
But when all is said and done, Willi Schultheis taught me how to ride.
Ah Rita, the hour is upon us! W and I will train at home with Morten on Tuesday morning and in the afternoon we all drive to Leipzig for the FEI Reem Acra World Cup Final in Dressage! Vet check is on Wednesday. Grand Prix is on Thursday. The Grand Prix Final is on Saturday. W and I are ready. Keep your fingers crossed, and: Bring it on!
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
Training Tip of the Day: Good riding is good riding. It does not change with the times.