In 1961, Bernie Traurig’s future looked bright. The teenager from Syosset, N.Y., had won the ASPCA Maclay Finals and the AHSA Medal Finals aboard Troublemaker, but no one yet knew if he’d go on in the sport. His father had college in mind for his son, while all Traurig could think about was horses.
It took a Thoroughbred named Gimlet to cement Traurig’s path and propel him to success in the hunters before he even turned 18.
After his achievements with Troublemaker, also a Thoroughbred, Traurig knew he needed to find his next horse. Under the guidance of Capt. Vladimir S. Littauer, he headed to the racetrack to look for a hunter prospect.
“The norm for us [was] to find suitable types off the racetrack that could be converted to show hunters and jumpers and equitation horses,” said Traurig. “Learning to school a Thoroughbred off the track was a very valuable tool for us.”
Traurig went to Frank Chapot, who sold him Gimlet, a gelding who had ended his racing career less than a month prior, for $1,600.
“We had a chance to try [Gimlet] and know what his character was like and his temperament. Frank had even jumped a few jumps with him, so we knew he had good form,” Traurig said.
Littauer helped Traurig, then 16, work his way through a very specific training program, one that not only taught Gimlet how to be a show horse, but also gave Traurig a valuable education in the Forward Riding System.
“It was the perfect horse to learn this system with,” said Traurig. “I went through the whole complete schooling system and learned it hands on with Gimlet.”
Gimlet lived on Traurig’s parents’ property in Syosset with two other horses. “We had our own little place, a backyard situation. I took care of him myself, of all my horses myself. I knew him well, and we had a bond,” said Traurig. “He was very sweet, very quiet, very agreeable.
“Littauer would come there once every two weeks. It was one lesson, then, ‘I’ll see you in two weeks, but here’s your homework. This is what you’re going to work on.’ It was a progressive, simple schooling system for the horse to understand and for the rider to do. I learned it hands on, not just having someone standing there every day telling you what to do,” Traurig continued.
After 18 months, the young pair ventured into the show rings of Long Island for the first year green and the junior hunter divisions. Traurig remembers Gimlet for how easy he was to show, not betraying his relatively recent departure from racing.
“The show was the outcome of the training process. Growing up back then, it was all about the training and the effort you put in there, and the horse show was just the outcome of that preparation,” he explained. They were third in The Long Island High Score Awards Association in their 1962 standings for the green working hunter division.
But when Traurig began training with the U.S. Equestrian Team, he sold his horses to focus on eventing at the Gladstone, N.J., headquarters. He admits he doesn’t recall what happened to Gimlet after he was sold.
“The nice thing was I sold him for a little profit, so that was a success, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “I can’t remember who I sold him to; it’s been too long. But he was a good horse for the next person too [in the hunter divisions].”
Traurig would go on to achieve major wins in every discipline, earning multiple national working hunter titles, competing in eight World Cup Show Jumping Finals and the 1982 World Championships (Ireland) and also participating at the highest levels of dressage and eventing.
“I wanted to be a professional, and my dad wanted me to go to college,” Traurig recalled. But a meeting of the minds between Traurig’s father, Littauer and Bert de Némethy resulted in an agreement for Traurig to train with the team in lieu of university.
“It was a wonderful education for me,” Traurig said.
Sharing that education has now become his passion. He lives in San Marcos, Calif., and runs EquestrianCoach.com, a virtual teaching service that offers online coaching and clinics. The site is based loosely on what Littauer taught Traurig through their time training Gimlet.
“We have people who are so happy to have visual guidance who don’t have a lot of access to a trainer. It’s wonderful for those people,” he said. And although Gimlet was an easy horse to train, Traurig hopes to help people training ex-race horses that are more difficult as well
“There’s a lot of availability of Thoroughbred horses, and people are getting more and more into that. To sustain that, we have to show people how to train those horses,” he said.