Catherine Haddad-Staller A Year After Returning Home
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Coming home after 20 years in Germany has required major adjustments for Catherine Haddad-Staller in the past year that forced her to face up to life in dressage in America that was not like the top echelon of the sport in Europe in which she was deeply embedded for more than a decade.
Just months after her return to be with her veterinarian husband and a back injury that prevented her riding for several months, Catherine “hit a wall,” as she described it, “I’ve lost my edge… how do I get it back?”
Catherine, who was reserve for the United States teams at both the 2006 and 2010 World Equestrian Games on different horses, “kicked myself in the butt” and told herself to “stop whining and get on with it.”
By the end of summer and that “come to Jesus session,” she was back in the show ring with her Mane Stream Hotmail at Dressage at Devon on Philadelphia’s Main Line that draws among the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds of any American dressage competition. After two CDIs in Florida last winter when she was injured and withdrew or retired, Catherine and the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Michellino x Havel) produced a second place finish in the Grand Prix Special after eighth in the Grand Prix at the Devon World Cup event.
At the same time, she sold to international high fashion model Olivia Hallman her Winyamaro with the forelock not to be forgotten, a transaction that gave her the financial security to continue full time involvement at international level in the sport at the age of 49.
And it invigorated her approach of making the most of a training, teaching and competition environment that she has created to incorporate what she learned and lived in Europe with life in the United States.
Catherine returned to the U.S. a year ago and about 20 months after marrying Greg Staller who has a thriving veterinary practice in Califon, New Jersey. She spent the first winter in Florida, one of the most intensive competition circuits in the world.
From her base in Vechta, Germany she built a record of 135 starts on five different horses at pretty much every top show throughout Europe and a handful in the United States, including 2007 and 2011 World Cup Finals. The first big impact internationally was with Maximus JSS in 2007 and by the time of their last CDI in 2010 had started 38 times, finishing in the top 10 on 23 occasions.
Cadillac was her mount in 57 CDI starts, notching five victories on both sides of the Atlantic from 2007 before the Danish Warmblood gelding was euthanized after complications from an injury in November, 2011 at the age of 14.
Catherine returned to the U.S. with Winyamaro, Hotmail and a younger horse. Since the sale of Winyamaro, Hotmail has become her prime Grand Prix horse. She has also thrown herself into active participation on several U.S. Equestrian Federation committees that devise and help implement programs and policies.
“My job description has changed tremendously since I came back,” she told dressage-news.com.
“In Europe, I mostly trained and showed. My teaching was limited to one or two clinics a month in both Europe and the USA.
“Since returning to the USA, mostly what I do is train a lot of people at home and travel a lot to teach. Showing has been really limited.
“What I find lacking in the country for someone who wants to develop a horse to international level are intermediate level schooling shows with good judges and good footing. Those types of horse shows are very available in Germany throughout the year. There are always schooling show where you could test the gears without having the limelight focused on you. When you started in international competition with developing Grand Prix they were ready to go when they went down the centerline for the first time.
“What I have so far seen in the Northeast (United States) I have to go to a CDI to gain that experience with my horses.
“Florida is different. It feels more like where I lived in Germany. Florida is a good place to go, with a very good season where you can put a lot of show miles on your horse and develop the horse for the show ring.”
Teaching also has been an eyeopener.
She goes into a lot of areas where the basic level of riding needs a lot more attention.
“I’m not seeing really good basics,” she said. “I’m getting an awful lot of people who want to learn and their enthusiasm is fantastic. The conclusion I’ve come to is we need a stronger core of riders who can teach basics to our riders.
“Great horse flesh abounds in this country. So I’m very encouraged by a wide base of quality horses and a growing number of people who want to be involved in the sport .
“There are a few places in the country where I’m comfortable going to teach because the stables are run by people I’ve taught and they have solidified riders so I can step in and challenge them to raise their level of achievement.”
In mid-summer Catherine “hit a wall,” is how she described it, after recovering from a pretty serious back injury and not riding for four months.
“I’ve lost my edge, how do I get it back,” she asked herself, then woke up one morning, kicked herself in the butt and told herself, “you know how to ride in Califon in New Jersey or Vechta, Germany you had better get yourself together.”
So she ended up competing Hotmail at Dressage at Devon in September.
“A state of mind is very important to maintaining a cutting edge,” she said. “I have had 20 years of experience in Germany, been there done it. lived it, breathed it for 20 years. I brought it home with me and I’m going to use it.”
Her goal as an American and married to an American is to develop a horse than can be among the top in the world.
“Steffen Peters got close with Ravel and I want to exceed that.”
Hotmail is being trained for international Grand Prix and though she cannot predict how good he’s going to become, she said she has “never had a more athletic horse.”
“I haven’t set any tremendous goals for him yet,” Catherine said. “I’ll spend the winter testing hm at CDIs in Florida.”
Meantime, she has recreated what her husband called “my German training environment in Califon” where she has moved into Pinnacle Farms owned by Mary Beth Hamorski and Jeff Salatiello,” that provides facilities and an atmosphere conducive to intensive focused training.
And she’s looking forward to a new era in high performance coaching in the United States led by Robert Dover, the six-time Olympian who was appointed earlier this year as Technical Advisor/Chef d’Equipe.
“I feel like U.S. dressage has a new infusion of inspiration and leadership,” she said. “I’m very excited about the future and want to be a part of it.”