Catherine Haddad Staller’s “New” Life in America – Part 1 of 2
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
After two decades living and competing in the heart of dressage, Catherine Haddad Staller feared it would “be very hard” to leave Germany and second guessed her decision until she headed back to the United States to make a new life with her husband.
“I haven’t looked back one single day,” said the 48-year-old rider who relocated from Vechta in Germany to Loxahatchee in South Florida, an equestrian community centered around Wellington, perhaps the most intense concentration of horse shows in the world as home of the Winter Equestrian Festival, a season chock full of dressage shows including two CDI5*s and an international polo circuit.
“I was second guessing my decision just before I left.. A large part of that was I lived in a horse community and I was afraid when I left Germany I would miss that.
“This is very similar. I go to lunch and I see four or five people in britches, there are tack stores…”
But then she’s reminded of the differences–like when riding her horse back from a show a few hundred yards (meters) from the stable she is renting a young guy in a Ford Mustang stopped beside her and asked: “Ma’am, can you tell me the name of that sport you’re doing? I want to look it up on the Internet.” An unlikely occurrence in Vechta, Germany, that is the home of the Oldenburg where horses are more a part of life than MacDonalds is in America.
Catherine very much enjoyed living in Europe–the lifestyle in the top echelon of the sport with world class competitions in Sweden one week, France the next week and then Germany a third week.
“I’m glad I did it,” she said, “it brought a lot to my life. The German lifestyle became a part of me.”
Though Catherine admits she had been thinking of moving from Germany, possibly to Italy, France or southern Germany as a different place to live.
The meeting with Greg Staller, a New Jersey veterinarian, was something she “never anticipated” but it changed her life and their marriage two years ago has led her back to the United States.
As an American–from Michigan–she had returned to the U.S. frequently to compete and give training clinics .
It was during the U.S. championships at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, in 2010 that she met Greg, a highly respected veterinarian based nearby whom she “fell madly in love.” They married in early 2011.
“If he was a horse I’d have bought him without a vet check,” she says, only half jokingly.
“I am still not convinced that moving back to Ameica was the best for my career,” she told dressage-news.com, “but I hope that will be the outcome. What I brought with me from Europe was an instinctive and well ingrained system of riding that has helped me to bring many horses to Grand Prix. It’s a system that works anywhere.”
The string of horses she has successfully developed to Grand Prix have placed her among the elite of the sport in both Europe and the United States.
Among those she has trained for herself to compete was Maximus JSS, reserve for the United States’ team at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany in 2006 and that she competed at the World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2007.
Another top prospect was Cadillac 35, with whom she recorded top placings on both sides of the Atlantic. The Danish Warmblood gelding was euthanized in November, 2011, at the age of 14 from complications following an injury.
And there’s Winyamaro, the horse that has one of the most recognizable forelocks in dressage, on whom she was reserve for the U.S. team for the 2010 WEG in Kentucky and competed at the World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany in 2011. The horse is now 13 and being prepared to go back into the competition arena after a year off with an injury.
Catherine also brought over from Germany two new residents of her stable–Hotmail 2, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding that she bought last April and is competing successfully at national level Intermediaire 2, and Patronus, a 10-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding that was starting Grand Prix when she acquired him in August.
The loss of Cadillac and the injury to Winyamaro brought on what she described as a “long dark winter in Germany.”
“I was in a pretty bad way,” she said. “It was very difficult to find the inspiration to ride. After Winy got hurt I had to shake myself up and find a new horse.”
A new Corgi puppy, Foxy, “kept me going through the winter. I had more fun with the puppy.”
Then she found Hotmail that “got me back to enjoying riding every day, he inspired me to put my right leg over the saddle every day. He turned into much more than I thought he could be.”
Part 2: Catherine Haddad Staller’s Impact on the Future of US Dressage