This up-and-coming Grand Prix horse proved he’s got what it takes to win in Germany.
Catherine Haddad knew she had a fantastic athlete in Cadillac, but getting the stars to align for him at a show has been a work in progress.
Haddad’s patience finally paid off at the Leipzig CDI in Germany when she went home with the Grand Prix Special win (69.95%), Jan. 16-18. This marked the first time a U.S. citizen has won a Grand Prix test in a European CDI since Lisa Wilcox and Relevant in 2003.
Last year was a difficult one for Haddad. She herniated a disc in her back and had to put her horses on hold while she recovered. She blamed her frequent commute from her home in Vechta, Germany, to trainer Rudolf Zeilinger’s farm for the injury.
“I was driving back and forth to Zeilinger’s for four years, and the disc blew out on the right side. It’s the one
that taxi drivers blow out,” said Haddad with a laugh.
A U.S. citizen, Haddad has lived in Germany for the past 16 years. “I really like being in the heart of this dressage world. This is where dressage moves and shakes,” she said.
Haddad took six weeks off in the spring and then returned to light riding, but in August the injury started to bother her again. She said she’s had painful sciatica ever since. She actually had surgery scheduled for Dec. 29 after the Mechelen FEI World Cup qualifier in Belgium when the pain started to subside.
“All of a sudden it started going away,” she said. “Riding is what makes me feel the best. If I ride for a couple hours I feel good for a while afterwards.”
The relaxed schedule of 2008 ended up working out well for Cadillac. The 12-year-old Danish-bred gelding (Solos Carex—Miss Ragtimes Minuett) is a sensitive and timid horse, and Haddad has worked hard to teach him to relax in the show ring.
“I’ve been showing him for two years at Grand Prix but very carefully and always trying to gain his confidence,” said Haddad. “He’s a horse that was afraid of his own shadow. I’ve learned how to manage his fear now, and that really showed up in Leipzig. He was totally with me and totally relaxed in the test.”
Haddad has had to greatly reduce her driving because of her injury, so she’s stopped riding with Zeilinger and has been working with Morten Thomsen at her farm.
Cadillac placed second in the Grand Prix for the Special behind Germany’s Susanne Lebek with Potomac (70.59%), but he led the Special despite a navigational error in the pirouettes. Haddad did eight one-tempis instead of seven down the centerline and ended up doing the left pirouette twice. “There I was in the middle of the left pirouette, and I started thinking, ‘Didn’t I just do this?’ ” she said.
But error-filled tests have been the rule rather than the exception lately as the Grand Prix riders struggle to remember the new Fédération Equestre Internationale tests. Germany’s Heike Kemmer won the Grand Prix for the freestyle with Royal Rubin (68.89%) over fellow German Isabell Werth and First Class (68.38%) when Werth slipped into an old routine and started doing the canter zigzag instead of a line of two-tempis. The pair traded places in the freestyle.
“I specifically went to Münster last weekend to watch the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special because I wanted to memorize the test in my head,” said Haddad. “Of the 10 I saw in Münster, three went off course in the Grand Prix and one in the Special.”
Mistake aside, Haddad was extremely pleased with Cadillac’s Special. “He showed real relaxation in his frame and self carriage,” she said. “He was confident and balanced in the test. I’ve done a lot of freestyles with Cadillac, and I felt like it was time to ride the Special. I had my walk to piaffe transition right at my fingertips, and that was my best transition.”
Haddad is aiming Cadillac and her veteran Grand Prix horse Maximus for the Rolex FEI World Cup Final this spring in Las Vegas, Nev. She can qualify in the Western European League, but the U.S. Equestrian Federation would have to request a wild card for her from the FEI in order for her to go.
However, her long-term goal is to represent the United States at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
“I’m most excited about Cadillac’s future,” said Haddad. “He has incredible talent. I’ve put years into cracking the mystery of how to ride this horse. I almost could not communicate with him for the first years I had him. He was always scared of his environment and was always overreacting with sensitivity and energy. That’s the best show I’ve had with him so far, and it’s just the beginning.”