Tribute to Walter Zettl
I would like to dedicate this first blog to Walter Zettl, who taught me so much about life and horses. We always say that a mentor is someone who teaches you so much more than just riding. Yes, as riders and trainers, we need to learn the skills to improve horses, but if you don’t learn better life skills, we won’t have any clients to own the horses that we want to train.
One of the best qualities about Walter was that you just felt so comfortable and important in his presence. He always found time to talk to you and ask about your family. Some people may call this class or proper etiquette, but whatever it was exactly, it was part of Walter’s incredible allure. Charm could be another word for it! Everyone who met him, would bask in his sunshine and cheery demeanor. He was like joy in the flesh. Even his voice was just so damn cute! I sometimes just listen to his voicemails to remind me of his immense kindness and caring nature.
And his love for horses. “What a beauty” he would say. “What a lucky girl you are to have such wonderful horses”. “I bet mommy and daddy are proud of you” he would tell me. He always helped me find the best qualities in my horses, with, of course, the upmost patience. Horses, and people for that matter, were so drawn to him because of this immense love of the horse. One of my mission statements is to help improve the lives of horses by educating their riders, and Walter was one of my biggest inspirations for this. He loved horses so much, he dedicated his life to helping people understand them, and he did it in a way that was most palitable. People could hear his coaching because of the incredible positivity in his teachings. He always was able to incorporate the lessons of how horses think and react, sharing the science of riding and the understanding of the horse’s nature. He always brought it back to the utmost simple thing. “Oh the horse thinks you asked for this”, and then helping the rider tune their skills to be more precise. I remember he would gasp in my lessons and say “you could canter 3 horses with that aid my dear!” He always helped the rider find the smallest most minuscule aid to help the horse. “This horse can feel a fly on his side, why are you kicking him so?” He always said it so kind heartedly that one would never take offense. He aligned with the rider as everyone involved only wanted to rider to ride better, including the rider himself! Walter had a special way of motivating the rider to do right by their horse, and always helped the rider to understand.
“Ride him like a baby in front, but a tiger behind!!” One of my favorite sayings! Reminding the rider to never pull or hold on the horse’s mouth, but to respect and care for his mouth and connection. But oh man, light a fire behind - Get those hind legs active and energetic but never holding on in front! All this kindness and classical ideals were never just fluff in the arena. Walter helped people get real results, and truly let go and ride! He would sometimes growl to help inspire the rider to do something and to go really forward, and the minute you truly went, he would always say “Ja! Now he goes!” And then giggle! To be really effective as well as kind was something I always took home from my lessons with him. After my first life changing lessons from him, I told him I would drive a 500 mile radius to ride with him again! Anywhere within that I could drive alone and be fresh to ride! I remember a lady came out in her western saddle, and I was impressed with his grace, patience & open mindedness. Here he was this dressage guru, and a lady not even riding his sport (this was before western dressage!) came for a lesson and his generosity in sharing with her was beautiful. I will never forget the level of respect Walter always showed EVERY SINGLE STUDENT EVERY SINGLE TIME. What class. Every day I will strive to make him proud of the rider I have become, and to treat horses and students with the same kind of respect that I watched him bestow upon his students. I was incredibly lucky that my life’s path cross his and I will be forever grateful for the lessons I have learned from such a master. It’s our duty to pass down these lessons and share with the next generation of riders who will never get to meet him. He will be a true master and they will only read about him in his books, but it is up to us to keep his teachings alive and to carry on his amazing spirit! Yours in Horses ~ J