The Hanoverian Horse wins through quality, as well as character and ride-ability. However, a good horse alone is not enough; it requires appropriate training, management, and a long-term perspective in everything one does with the horse to succeed. In looking for these qualities, we met Kathleen Raine and David Wightman who now also form part of the Hanoverian team. Kathleen and David live for and with their horses. The couple has been the start to many success stories, like the former auction horse Breanna by Brentano II/Weltmeyer, our cover story of the auction in January, Fidelia, a Dutch Warmblood mare by Beethoven, and the Dutch gelding Avontuur by Ultrazon, just to name a few. Kathleen and David see their horses as partners; they grow together with them and develop each horse over time, having been with many of their protégés from the very beginning.
For Kathleen and David, the relationship to their horses is the most important factor to be successful in the show ring. Each horse becomes a real part of life. As such Kathleen’s first success horse, Avontuur, came to her as a three year old and stayed with her for 29 years. One of David’s horses, Partous, recently re-joined the couple’s barn to enjoy his retirement. After David successfully showed him in Grand Prix, Partous had been acquired by a U25 rider to show in the Young Rider’s division. At the end of that job, Kathleen and David took him back under their wings to ensure he gets a joyful time after his career in the sport. These examples point out the deep relationship Kathleen and David build with their horses. At home the couple also keeps some broodmares and foals, and besides their own breeding stock, they take in young horses from abroad to train them from the beginning. For Kathleen, being with the horse over a long period of time is essential to build up the relationship and to know her horse insight out.
It is this knowledge and understanding of the horse that also leads the daily training. No horse is like the other and no day is like the other. Each training has to be adapted to the horse. For her current success horse, the 16-year-old Hanoverian mare Breanna (Brentano II/Weltmeyer), the daily work is all about staying fit and strong. Breanna gets exercised twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The afternoons are mainly long walks, out on the trail if the weather allows it. In the mornings the main goal besides staying fit and strong is to keep Breanna supple and have her using her whole body. That includes some days where Breanna just goes on the lunge to relax and stretch without a rider.
While the strong partnership is the mental foundation of the success of Kathleen and David, keeping the horses supple and having them use their whole body is the technical foundation. To Kathleen, nothing is more important than making sure the horse engages every part of the body and moves through every joint. The horse has to be loose, there may not be any blockages, and the horse itself has to aim for the supple connection to the rider. Only that will bring the horse to a state where there is nothing forced and a basis to build on is laid out.
The way to get there as well as the time to get there will vary substantially between the single horses. As Kathleen told us, Avontuur for example was very fast to move up between the levels. He was a fast learner, and he was strong and eager. “He was quite a handful, sometimes he could be unpredictable, but that never mattered. I knew him so well, we had grown together over so many years. He was just this kind of personality. That made him special, and eventually that brought us to our success at the World Equestrian Games, at the World Cup Finals, and also into the Olympic team.” Fidelia on the other hand, Kathleen’s second success horse whom she had bought as a foal and trained from the very beginning, just took a little longer in everything. She was the opposite of Avontuur, she could almost be a little lazy at times, and really needed to develop the strength. Kathleen gave her the time she needed and that eventually led her to be selected as the reserve on the Olympic team in Sidney. For me, this is what really makes David and Kathleen so special as riders and trainers –they find what the horse needs and tailor the training to every single horse.
Exactly that philosophy also developed the Hanoverian mare Breanna to where she is now. Breanna came to Kathleen and David from the Elite Auction in Verden in 2004 and Kathleen has been successful with her ever since. As a six year old she had already advanced to the best US horse of her age, but that never let Kathleen to become impatient or ask too much from the mare. “Breanna learned everything fast, but I stayed in Inter II with her for quite a while before taking her up to Grand Prix. She just needed the time to develop the expression and confidence she needed for the Grand Prix ring.” To me, this ability to be patient shows how cemented Kathleen is as a person. Patience to her is essential in the training with every horse. “There are always ups and downs, especially when you work a horse from the very beginning. There will always be the times when you question yourself, when you doubt yourself, when you doubt you can bring the horse up there. But that is when you have to be patient. You cannot force it. You have to invest in your horse, you have to care, you have to believe, and you have to keep building the partnership.” And it proved to be the right thing to do. In 2011 the pair finished their first Grand Prix at Dressage Gateway, winning both classes. Since then the two have been consistently successful in the Grand Prix Ring, among others leading the US team to a second place at the Dressage at Hickstead CDIO3* FEI Nations Cup and the team bronze medal at the CDIO5* in Rotterdam 2015. This is what riding should be. Breanna is 16 years old now, she has been in the show ring from early on in her life, and she is still fit and healthy as ever, thanks to the planned and thought through management Kathleen and David provide to her.
Kathleen and David do all that as a team. They watch each other on the horses, they train together, and they really have each other’s back. David being at home and training the young horses allows Kathleen to go to Germany to train with Johann Hinnemann, the trainer who already brought Christine Traurig to various successes, among them the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sidney. David himself is successful up to Grand Prix level as a rider and equally as a trainer, acting as a coach for many young riders, nationally as well as internationally. He has also represented the US twice in the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses.
Kathleen and David live with and for their horses. They both grew up with horses and found their foundation early on in pony club. At this time, Kathleen has been engaged in three day eventing, and only came to dressage when she joined the team of Hilda Gurney as a working student, originally with the purpose to increase her dressage score at the three-day events. It was here that she met her husband David Wightman, who also worked for Hilda at the time. Hilda taught Kathleen how to ride really accurate and gave her a lot of polish for the dressage show ring. The work with Hilda turned Kathleen’s attention fully to dressage, which does not mean she let go of her roots. The eventing background still leads her to bring variety in the training and to have a special focus in keeping the horses fit.
After 5 years with Hilda, Kathleen and David started their own business in California. Here they trained with Dennis Callin, from whom Kathleen learned to improve expression and gaits of the horse. And eventually, just like for Christine Traurig, Johann Hinnemann brought it all together. Both Christine Traurig and Johann Hinnemann are ongoing resources for Kathleen and David to support them in their daily training here in the US as well as in Europe.
Kathleen is planning to compete in Europe with Breanna over this summer. “Breanna feels very good and very fit at the moment. We hope for her to make the top 8, or even top 4 and be part of the US team again.” David may join the two in Europe later this year as he is aiming to qualify for the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses with Silberpfeil, a six-year-old Hanoverian by Silberschmied/Boss. The pair went second in the US Championships for 5-year old horses in 2015, scoring over 80% in their second round. No matter how far they get this year, we are sure we will hear a lot more of them in the future.