Amateur American FEI rider Karin Offield has fulfilled a lifelong dream by training extensively in Europe. Offield traveled to Holland and Germany for four months of intensive training. While in Europe, she trained at three different stables to learn a variety of techniques, including with Olympic coach Jean Bemelmans at Gut Auric outside of Dusseldorf, Germany.
“Even though I train every day at home, this type of submersion into dressage is a real luxury,” Offield stated. “It was like going back to college. To be around so many top horses and riders forces one to think and ride at a higher level.” Although Offield is a four-time USDF Regional FEI Champion, her lessons continue to emphasize the importance of perfecting the basics to make the upper level movements approach the highest possible quality.
“I am learning to work always on improving rhythm, whether it is in collected canter or piaffe, as well as suppleness and contact,” Offield said. “When you focus on the basics, the movements take care of themselves. I am now able to ride my horses in their snaffle bridles. It was difficult for me to do that before training in Europe.”
Offield not only rode, but also took every opportunity to absorb quality training and riding. She recalled, “Many mornings I would watch the horses in work. At Gut Auric, our second home for the horses this summer, we worked our horses alongside the Spanish Olympic team. Watching them prepare for the Olympics was fascinating. I will never forget what I learned.“
In addition to the 2004 Olympic medals, Bemelmans has coached the Spanish team to the silver medal the 2002 World Championships and the 2003 European Championships. He is also the trainer of many international grand prix riders and is the winner of 50 international grand prix himself.
Offield’s European training program began with Leunus and Erica van Lieren at Hexagon Stables in Holland where she had purchased the Grand Prix stallion Hexagon’s Louisville. “It was an amazing place to ride. The camaraderie, work ethic and Leunus’s method of teaching was instrumental in my progress. In addition, it was a fantastic opportunity to work with the man who trained Louisville,” Offield said. “It is a rare opportunity to get an ‘instruction book’ with the purchase of a new horse. When I ride Louisville I can visualize how he was ridden in the past and use that picture to help me teach him something new.”
While in Germany Karin was also able to train with FEI ‘O’ judge Dr. Volker Moritz. “I believe in Dr. Moritz’s philosophy of lightness and harmony in the arena and he really helped me with my horses. I am grateful for his attention.”
In addition to riding and training, Offield traveled to many of the top European shows, including CHIO Rotterdam, where Hexagon Stables had co-sponsored the Grand Prix Freestyle. Other shows on Offield’s itinerary were the International Reiterfestival in Hagen, CHIO Aachen, CDI Lingen and the Olympics. “This was really the trip to remember,” Offield recalled. “I learned the type of submission and mastery with horses that is possible. The trip changed my life forever.”
Offield rounded out her training in Europe with a month in Kaarst with Claudia Haller, whom she met through Bernard Ix. “Bernard helped me purchase my wonderful schoolmaster, Olympic veteran Tiamo Trocadero and he helped select Claudia as a trainer. Bernard is very intuitive with people and horses and working with Claudia was perfect. I hadn’t worked with a woman since when I rode with Patty Heuckeroth with my hunters and jumpers. Claudia and I really worked hard and she taught me the German system of riding from the beginning. We didn’t have a lot of time to work it all out, but I learned so much. We had a great time! “
At the end of her stay in Europe, Offield was introduced to Ferdi Weischenberg from Sattel Nach Mass, a custom saddle-maker, whose philosophy is based on the balance of the horse and rider. Perfect riding should create the impression that two living beings have become a complete, inseparable unit. “Every day that I ride in my new saddles, I think about what Ferdi said, ‘You start with a good saddle, then you can ride your horse,’” Karin said. “I am proud to ride in his saddles.”
Offield has trained in the United States for seven years with Michael Etherly. They have shown throughout the United States from Offield’s famous El Rojo Grande Stables in Sedona, Arizona, which became Brek N Ridge Farm in 2002 when Offield moved to the Midwest.
This four month European trip was the result of several shorter European excursions that Offield and Etherly have made over the last seven years as they scouted for horses. Offield and Etherly previously trained in Europe at the Riding Institute in Karlsruhe with Egon Von Neindorf and the International Academy for Equestrian Studies in Warrendorf.
This winter Offield and Brek N Ridge Farm will be wintering in Wellington, Florida. They will be stabled at Monarch Farms across the street from the showground. Brek N Ridge Farm will offer clinics and for the first time will accept one or two horses for training on the winter circuit. In the spring Brek N Ridge will travel to California to work with Olympian Steffen Peters.
Who's Who: Michael Etherly