There are riding instructors and then there are teachers. Ask Cesar Parra's young riders and they'll tell you that Parra isn't just their riding instructor. He's their teacher – a teacher of riding, horsemanship, business and life.
"A lot of trainers take in their students and give them riding lessons. But Cesar not only gives us all this time in the ring, but outside of the ring as well. He teaches us about business and horse care and how to treat your clients," said young rider Julie McKean, 20. "That's all very important information. And I see that as one of the most rewarding aspects of training with Cesar. I'm not just learning how to ride, I'm learning every aspect of this business."
"In my lessons, it's not just about horses, but it includes so much about life lessons. Things are transferred to dealing with other people and the horse business, or any business, and about how to treat people and how to look at life. You learn so much, not just about the horses but about how it relates to your life outside of horses," said Elizabeth Steel, 18, from Austin, Texas.
Both McKean and Steel qualified for this year's North American Junior/Young Rider Championships and Steel is spending the summer training with Parra to prepare. She said she's "had such an awesome time at Cesar's barn (Piaffe-Performance Dressage in Whitehouse Station, NJ) that I'd like to stay."
That seems to be the reaction of most young riders who spend time training with Parra. Krista Schrager, a 17-year-old from New York's Long Island, is spending her summer months training with Parra at his New Jersey farm and is already dreading having to leave to finish her senior year of high school. "Cesar is such an optimistic person. It's a serious environment here and you can see that everyone is being pushed to their best, yet, it's very fun. With Cesar, you learn a lot about how to look at things in an optimistic way and with a can-do attitude." Schrager has already decided to attend a college near Parra's farm so she can train with him while in college.
McKean said she was first attracted to the idea of training with Parra when she saw him ride. "I really liked the way he rode and I liked the way his horses went." And once she actually took a clinic with him, she was hooked saying she liked the fact that Parra's training approach considered the individuality of each horse. "Every horse has an individual plan. It's very personalized."
That's an observation with which Kevin Kohmann, 20, concurs. In fact, he said, Parra is extremely open-minded in all facets of training. "When you work with Cesar, you also work with a lot of different trainers who come to the farm and that means we see many different training styles. Cesar has trained with many great trainers and doesn't believe that there is one way and only one way. He believes that different things work on different horses."
Kohmann is a German citizen and he knew of Parra because he had written about him for German magazines. He met Parra in Aachen and Parra invited Kohmann to train with him in the U.S. Kohmann arrived 18 months ago unable to speak a word of English. Now, he's fluent. "I just learned it by hanging out here in the barn and Cesar has helped me a lot." He also arrived in America having only competed at about Third Level. "Working with Cesar, I've been able to meet and train with people I had thought were untouchable for me, such as Klaus Balkenhol and Dr. Volker Moritz. And here, I have had all these nice horses to ride and have now shown up to Intermediaire II."
As much as his students appreciate him for his skill as a teacher, they also admire Parra as a person. "He's one of the best men I've ever met," McKean said. "He's very resilient and is able to bounce back from anything and that's something I hope I can follow and learn to do."
What 15-year-old Dominique Cassavetis likes most about her teacher is that while lessons with Parra can be serious and hard, for the most part, they're fun. "I also feel very comfortable with Cesar. I feel like I can ask him any question about anything."
What also draws many young riders to Parra is his reputation for giving them unique opportunities. He's quick to pass along to them quality horses for riding and showing, provides them with good clients to work with and even lets them join him on trips to check out horses.
Regardless of how busy he is, Kohmann said Parra always seems to have time for his students. "When I have problems, whatever they are, he always helps me. I came here when I had just turned 18 and can actually say that Cesar is like a father to me."
Photo: Cesar Parra, Krista Schrager, Elisabeth Steel. Jessica Miller, Katie Riley
The respect and affection seems to flow both ways as Parra seems just as happy with his young riders as they are with him. He beams with pride when he speaks of them, saying simply that his students are "a wonderful group of young people and very talented riders."
- Cesar Parra's Website - piaffe-performance.com
- HorsesDaily.com Rider/Trainer Profile - Cesar Parra