First ride with Wili Schultheis

Dale Forbes:

I knew the late Wili Schultheis from about 1989 to when he died in 1995.


(This is a photo of Schultheis taken from the wonderful series Kathleen Haddad wrote for the Chronicle of the Horse.  That is well worth a read.)  Schultheis was a student of Otto Loerke in the forties when he was a young man. He was the Olympic coach for many years and a host of great dressage riders (Klimke and Balkenhol are two) have him in their instructor list.  Rudolf rode for him not just the several years typical, but an astonishing eleven years, from a teenager to young professional

I rode with sometimes and watched Herr Schultheis avidly in the summer of 1990 when I was working for Christine Doan as a groom prior to her successful bid for the Barcelona Olympics–bless her!  But the first ride in front of him was in October of 1989 when Herr Schultheis offered me a ride on a wonderful brown gelding, that Rudolf (who was still riding half days for Schultheis  at the time) was schooling in their indoor.  On the outside track he was surrounded by the race horses of Frau Schultheis who were schooling their morning gallop on the exterior track of the small arena.

(! Four race horses galloping the outer edge of a small arena–think about that next time you complain of a crowded warm up!)

Shultheis curtly called him over, “Rudi!”

Rudolf rode over, making eye contact with his employer and long time teacher, but saying nothing.

In German, Schultheis asked, “Can she ride?”

(I was dressed to ride but so far had no opportunity to do so. I was there traveling with a far-richer woman who was off up north looking at horses at a sales barn.  Too impressed by what I was seeing there in Warendorf, I had opted to stay behind and watch the work, each day humbly asking if I could come back the next morning to “see the ride.”  Schultheis had been very generous.)

Rudolf gravely said, also in German, “Yes, she can ride–she rides a stallion.”

This was true.  A stallion that I had taken to Rudolf in a clinic in Kansas City the summer before.  The green French stallion that bucked and ran and stopped while everybody else rode, tight-lipped in the heat, on their dressage horses, practicing half pass and flying changes–things I longed to do.

Schultheis indicated I should get on, and Rudolf dismounted and quietly helped me adjust the stirrups.  Later that became much more rote–seven holes up, but at the time with shaking hands it was difficult.  I was terrified.

Schultheis asked me to canter, and the delightful brown gelding trooped around with me, the rider too shy to do anything.

“A flying change!” was barked out from the corner–Rudolf translating for Schultheis, whom he stood beside.

A brief thought ran through my mind that I should just stop and get off.  I had  of course done several flying changes in the past–all by mistake.  You are not allowed to do flying changes in the US unless you are perfect, after all.  And I was far from perfect. That I was sure of!

But dismounting would have been shameful, and besides we were going too fast.  So I asked for a change.  And it happened.

After a few moments Schultheis stopped me, Rudolf smiled a little, as Wili announced, “And now, The Piaffe!”

The thought ran through my mind, I don’t know how, I don’t know how!

Then another thought followed it.  I may be an idiot, but I’m here because I have ridden with Rudolf: I am here as his student, and I will not shame him.

So, I imagined what it would be like to know how to ask for piaffe, remembered what it looked like when Rudolf had done piaffe in the last week, as I sat watching. And so I began to do piaffe, Rudolf clucking quietly in the corner and the horse springing to the movement with enough confidence for both of us.

“And now the Passage!” Came the call in English from Schultheis.

And so it went.

That was my one ride in Germany for that first trip with the wealthy friend.  And the smile on Rudolf’s face when I dismounted, and the quiet, “You did well, But don’t stand in front of Schultheis, he hates that.” sealed the deal.

I was going to figure out how to train in Germany.  Not an exactly simple solution, with a training barn of mediocre horses, a husband, and a then three year old child at home in the US.

But it happened.

Here is a tape of Schultheis riding Cindy Ishoy’s Dynasty, (who he trained) in the Equitana exhibition.  The picture at the end of the ride that he salutes is a projection of his teacher Otto Loerke.

I saw this footage for the first time sitting in Shultheis’ library–he had called us in to look at it.  For years I saved a copy, taken on a VHS  camera, set up in front of his TV–it was not easy to transfer material then from the German to American system.   It is easier now.

And here is one of Rudolf Zeilinger riding some thirty years later.