Monday, June 18, 2012

You think there will always be time enough

Last night, with absolutely no warning, my long-time friend and dressage trainer Wolfgang May collapsed and died from undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. His wife, Suzanne, is in complete shock, as are all of us who knew and admired him. He was a force of nature. How can he be gone?

I first met Wolf and Sue in 1995, when they became regular clinicians at my barn in Nebraska. They visited every eight weeks for a weekend of lessons, including a Saturday-night theory session. I was a total newbie to dressage at the time--how lucky was I to stumble into a situation where I got to work with a classically-trained German bereiter right from the start? And to be able to keep working with him every eight weeks for ten years?

Wolfgang was equally pro-horse and pro-rider. He wanted everyone to succeed and gave his full attention and effort to every student who was willing to try. He was kind with small children, with newbie riders afraid to canter, with crazy horses. He always had sugar cubes in his pockets. He'd hop on any horse and accomplish amazing things in a matter of minutes. And boy, did you know it when Wolf gave your horse a tune-up. Suddenly there was a "turbo" button where none existed before. The feeling was bliss.

He taught all his students to be highly competent at lungeing--a skill that is sadly neglected by many trainers. He worked many horses in hand, almost always accomplishing half steps in the very first session. Horses just trusted him--and respected him.

When you first started working with him, his lessons seemed kind of crazy. It was all transitions, transitions, transitions. "Walk, shoulder in, walk, haunches in, walk, now trot, across the diagonal, x leg yield, when you reach the wall canter, now trot at A, now halt! Reinback! Trot!" It was very difficult, but so exhilarating when the horse started to sit down, to listen. He's always say, upper level tests are nothing but transitions, and it's in the transitions you find out if your horse is through.

Other sayings: "From nothing comes nothing!" "You've got to get to the point where you can drive!" "If you don't like what you're getting, change what you're doing!" So much wisdom. I still hear it in my head when I ride, to this day.

He was my one true riding master. I know I will never again be lucky enough to work with anyone as talented. He was too young to go. I thought I still had time to visit, to hang out, maybe even to ride with him again. I kept in touch, but I could have done better. I am very sad.

Good bye, Wolfgang. Thank you so much.


Net said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. He sounds like an amazing man.

Jana said...

So sorry for your loss, Courtney. I remember hearing so much about him from you over the years.