Anyone who has spent time in this business knows how small the horse world really is. I want to tell you the story about Wisdom, a larger-than-life Hanoverian who has woven a web of friends for me across two countries and the USA. Appearing and reappearing many times, always with remarkable people in tow, Wisdom has introduced me to many people who have become friends and supporters in my life. This has been his gift to me.
I first met Wisdom as a 2-year-old in that same forest in Vechta, Germany, where I met Izotops.
At the time, he was fighting off a nasty case of strangles, and my introduction to his owner, Uschi Hennken, was over a discussion about quarantine and disinfectants to avoid spreading the contagion throughout the stable. Like all real horsewomen with a common mission, Uschi and I became fast friends.
Uschi was one of the first Germans to help me in my career. It was through Uschi that I met Albrecht Ayecke who taught me so much about Hanoverian breeding and the selection of young horses. It was also through Uschi that I gained my first introductions at the Hanoverian Auction and Verband. And it was at her dinner table that I not only experienced the best Grünkohl Germany had to offer, but I also met the breeders, stallion handlers and young horse trainers who would shape my love of Hanoverian horses for this lifetime.
Uschi also gave me my first few professional training jobs after I arrived in Vechta in 1997. One of the horses was Wisdom.
From 2 years old when I first met him, to 6 years old when I sent him to a friend in the U.S., Wisdom probably grew at least six inches, finishing somewhere over 17.3 hands. He was huge, and I’m not just talking about body size: I’m talking about personality. Everything that he did as a young horse was amplified. He was, quite simply put, Conor McGregor trapped in a horse’s body.
As Wisdom matured, he didn’t change all that much! He is still enormous—big boned yet elegant, long-legged and sporting a substantial body with a matching shoulder and hindquarter. In his body and in his temperament, you can clearly see his ancestors. Above all else, he’s an athlete, stamped by tried-and-true Hanoverian blood.
Wisdom’s father was Wanderbursch II (Wanderer—Sheila, Shogun XX), and his mother Gescha was by Giscard (Gutenburg—Melusine, Mozart). The Wanderbursch line was noted for good gaits, grit and longevity in sport. Clever horses and not really for the faint-hearted rider, Wisdom has lived up to the Wanderbursch legacy every day of his life. His Giscard mother gave him a modernity that carries through to today. He is yet another good dressage horse with a tremendous amount of Thoroughbred in both his top and bottom lines.
As a 4-year-old, Wisdom filled my training arena with his exuberance, although I can’t say that focus was his forte. He was gifted and a quick learner, but he was also incorrigibly inquisitive. For the first half of a 20-meter circle I would be thinking, “Olympics,” then for the second half he would drag me off into a different arena to finish some thought that had popped into his head. He was not an insubordinate horse. He was just curious about the world and very difficult to steer.
I’ll never forget the first time that I showed him. It was a materiale class at a very typical small German horse show. The arena had been cut out of a cornfield, the ground had been turned over, the warm-up was in the stubble of the corn, and the competition arena was marked off with a plastic tape for a fence.
I had purchased him from Uschi the year before, but she always came to watch us show. As she arrived that day, she saw us off in the distance, galloping through the fields that surrounded the horse show. When I pulled up to a stop in front of her, she said, “Oh, that was wonderful. You rode him so forward to burn off energy. Great idea. What a stride he has!”
Haha. Wisdom had chosen to gallop around the fields. He was just kind enough to take me along. And Uschi was not joking about his stride. That horse could lope with the scope of Secretariat in the homestretch. I couldn’t stop or turn him; he was just cantering freeform around the field with me, going wherever his eyes took him. I felt lucky when he spotted Uschi and galloped over to greet her. Seriously. This actually happened, Rita. In the end, I just had to laugh.
The second time that I took Wisdom to a show, I brought him to a slightly more civilized setting at a competition with a higher rating and a real dressage arena. Unfortunately, it was right next to a soccer field. And of course, there was a local game. Wisdom looked spectacular in his test but was going around the 20-meter circles in counter flexion because he wanted to watch the soccer. Just when I was steering him past A, a goal was scored (applause!), and he simply stepped out of the arena and trotted toward the pitch. If people were clapping, it had to be worth a look.
In his fifth year, I sold Wisdom to a very good friend and client, Marian Nilsen in Colorado, not because I didn’t want him, but because selling horses has always been my business. He stayed with me for another year in Germany before Marian took him home. His personality never waned, and whenever we talked, there was always another “Wisdom story” to tell. For many years he dominated the dinner conversation whenever we were together.
Occasionally during this time, I flew to Colorado or to California where Marian sometimes wintered to teach a clinic. It was during one such trip that I saw him again. I had not seen Wisdom on my lesson list, and I had almost forgotten that he was there as I wandered through the stable. Imagine my delight when I was ambushed by his whinny from about 50 yards away. I heard his distinctive, hoarse roar. When I Iooked up, he was looking right at me and tossing his head. I hadn’t seen him in six or seven years, but he was not going to let me walk by without acknowledging him.
Eventually, Wisdom was sold as a schoolmaster to a student of Marian’s in Colorado, Kimberly Adams. And this is where the weaving of the web becomes intricate Rita. Unbeknownst to me, Kimberly moved from Colorado to California in 2019. She took Wisdom with her. Coincidentally, I flew to California for a two-month training session with Johann Hinnemann last fall and ended up stabled next door to Kimberly’s trainer in La Cresta. Who do I see as I’m gazing over the paddock fence on my second day there? Wisdom! Kimberly had moved to California to train with Kathleen Raine and David Wightman, and they had arranged stabling for me with their neighbor so that I could train with Jo. I was shocked to find Wisdom there!
Such a small world.
Of course, I contacted Uschi in Germany right away and shared some great photos and video clips of Kimberly and Wisdom training with Kathleen. I also called Albrecht, who, at the age of 88, not only remembered my first successful horse show with Wisdom (which happened to be the first time we completed a test, oh happy day), but he also CORRECTED me on his bloodline. It’s not only the horses in the Hanoverian region that are bred for longevity, Rita. There must be something in the soil.
During that wonderful trip to California last fall, Kimberly and I became good friends. She let me have a ride on Wisdom for old time’s sake. It had actually been almost two decades since I had last sat on his back. That day was the start of yet another great friendship initiated by Wisdom.
Wisdom celebrated his 25th birthday on April 29 this year in the company of human and horsey friends. Kimberly threw him a party. He is aged in horse years but remarkably unchanged from his youth. I’m sure his big birthday celebration was just another day for him—the center of attention, the apple of everyone’s eye, supercharged with energy and ready for whatever adventure he could find.
Wisdom is still doing fourth level dressage each and every day. He is sound, robust and just as full of life as the day I met him.
He is at least the fifth Hanoverian that has passed through my life that is still sound and enjoying his work past the age of 20.
I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Khiimori in Califon, New Jersey.
Training Tip of the Day: You can spend a little more on a well-bred Hanoverian because the tread on the tires is built to last.