Michigan's Catherine Haddad: First Alternate for the U.S. Dressage Team for the World Equestrian Games, Makes a Visit Home

By Jan Macafee

Talk about so near and yet so far! Catherine, formally of mid Michigan, was a heartbeat away from one of her ambitions, to represent America in international competition. (The WEG were held in August). Making the team is a complicated enterprise, and it was not to be, in spite of her excellent scores accrued in the past show season on the Danish horse Maximus JSS. Catherine has been living and learning in Germany for 14 years, competing, training horses and teaching riders. She took the disappointment in stride and is wisely just very pleased to have done so well, to be breathing the rarified air of the highest echelons of competitive dressage. She is now rated in the top 50 in the world.

And she brought that expertise and experience for everyone to see in a clinic (part of a month-long series in various states) Sept. 12 and 13th in Milan. She had a full schedule both days and the event attracted both professionals and amateur riders, many of whom had ridden with her in the past and couldn’t wait to do so again.

There’s a reason for that enthusiasm. Catherine is one smart cookie (she graduated with honors in International Relations from MSU), and brings an intellectual component to her gimlet-eyed observations of a given horse’s performance. Articulate, upbeat and with a wicked wit, she is simply fun to be around, along with being a born teacher. Her skill was obvious with the marked improvement shown by all the horses. To everyone’s delight, she rode some of them, and one could see the effects of all the hard work with instructors like the late Willi Schultheis and one of his students, Rudolph Zeilinger.

Here is a necessarily abbreviated list of some of Catherine’s ideas......

By Jan Macafee

An abbreviated list of some of Catherine’s ideas:

  • Talking about the difference between training here and in Germany: there is a big concentration on fitness there, building strength. Horses are trained 6 days a week, absolutely without fail.
  • An extremely systematic approach is adopted. Everything is done in the same order, every day. When new things are added, they become part of the system which gives riders a chance to observe weak points with a day to day comparison.
  • Use the things the horse is already good it, to teach it something new. For instance, if the horse is competent in passage, use it to develop a more extravagant trot.
  • Ride for the great feeling, not just to win. In the face of indifference from a judge, find pleasure in what you know to be a good ride.
  • It is often the quality of pirouettes that separates competitors in big German shows. Those scores are doubled and scores are won or lost in the canter in general. When there may be as many as 60 riders in an international competition, details matter.
  • To achieve a correct pirouette, pick the stages apart. Canter on a straight line, collect, pretend you’re going to do a pirouette then don’t. Go straight ahead and ask for a few strides of canter-on-the spot and establish an inside bend, then straight. Start on a quite big circle in shoulder fore, straight again, then back to a smaller circle. Make this part of a system that is clear and simple for the horse.
  • On an experienced horse, let the double bridle take care of resistance rather than struggling with a snaffle. Often you do nothing, just sit there and let the horse adjust. The double is thought of as a ladies’ tool.
  • To put a horse together, lengthen your arms and shorten the reins without pulling then ride them from behind. Don’t fiddle, getting into he plays/you play.. Match your hands. Make them equal and keep them quiet.
  • Teaching the horse changes: do it until it is no longer a novelty for either of you. So he cross canters? Doesn’t matter. Don’t stop. A bit of scooting never hurt anyone. If he resists, stay calm, don’t fight, just ask again and keep going.

Stay tuned to Dressagedaily.com as Catherine Haddad is about to become the newest member of our Who's Who community.

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