Five Questions with Olympic Gold Medalist Chris Kappler

Chris Kappler brings over four decades of experience in the sport, competing successfully at the highest levels. In 2004, Kappler earned Olympic team gold and individual silver for show jumping in Athens, Greece. The year prior, Kappler earned team gold and individual silver at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic and was named Equestrian of the Year by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) that same year. Not only does Kappler have years of experience in the saddle, but he is also a founder and board member of the North American Riders Group (NARG). He currently serves as a member of the USEF Board of Directors and has been a member of numerous USEF committees, including the Eligible Athletes committee. Kappler has served as the USEF athlete representative to the United States Olympic Committee and he was a United States Team Selector for the 2015 Pan American games as well as for the 2016 Olympic Games. His focus now is training horses and riders at his farm in Pittstown, NJ where he instills the importance of classical training and horsemanship. In November, Kappler will be at Rutledge Farm in historic Middleburg, Virginia hosting a three-day clinic.

Chris Kappler and Via Veneto
Why did you make the decision to stop riding competitively and focus on teaching and clinics?

“I had reached a point in my competitive life where riding and showing every day was no longer the number one focus. I’d ridden and shown horses for a long time, and for me, I’m also interested in many aspects of the business. Working with George [Morris] all those years I think did build a desire and interest to help and pass along information to future generations. I’ve also enjoyed being able to go give clinics in different parts of the United States and the world. It’s great to get out and meet different people and see different parts of the show world and show life all around the U.S. and how to help keep getting everyone together. I think it’s really important. In addition to clinics, I have a great interest in breeding. I also started the North Americans Riders Group and I did governance for a long time. I think that we did a lot to really help expand the FEI. Riding was such a great part of my life and really helped develop myself so much and I just got to a point where I wanted to be able to accomplish a few other things in the sport.”

What do you enjoy most about teaching a clinic?

“I enjoy meeting people, often I don’t even know the people, who are putting on the clinics and riding in them. Just getting out to their part of the world and understanding what their shows are like, what their economics are like, and what their focus on competition is. I enjoy hearing their stories and their perception of what’s going on with the US Equestrian Federation, what’s going on with the U.S. team, how they can get there and accomplish those things. I think just being out in those parts and trying to help connect the world, I really enjoy doing that.”

What do you think the more important things to focus on are?

“I think that number one is obviously to instill the importance of basics and fundamentals, rehearsing those, and reviewing those because they’re so important. And also how to solidify those and how you’re solidifying those through different exercises. We often start with flatwork and we often do a fair amount of flatwork. We then introduce that in with the jumping and how they correspond with each other. Then I finish with course type work with gymnastic work, and that leads to coursework so that people can understand over three days how day one can connect with day three to solidify your basics, make yourself a better rider, and problem solve to be able to convert that into a good performance.”

Talk about the importance of clinics – with so many riders focused on showing, how do they find the right balance?

“I have a pretty good following of people that do my clinics and I think they really enjoy coming to them. I don’t think that I specialize in jumpers or hunters, equitation, etc. I think that I just try to teach good solid riding to use at any of our sports. People really enjoy that because they’re learning about their horse and how they can solve problems and working with their horse to make them and their horse a better combination. That can be for all sorts of purposes, whether it’s just safer and better out in the hunt field to tackling a horse that you’re maybe having trouble with, whether it’s bucking or maybe a stop or even a liverpool. All of these things you’ll learn different approaches throughout the clinic and then just fine-tune performance. Just the little things like releases, your leg, upper body, eyes, all these things that you just may need a reminder on or just a different perspective on.”

Chris Kappler and VDL Oranta
George Morris has been one of your biggest mentors, what is the most important lesson that you learned from him?

“I would say some of the most important things that I’ve learned from George are that the horse is the greatest teacher and that all of us have to keep continuing to learn from the horse. I think he also stressed the importance of the management and the care of the horses so that’s really important to me, always continuing the fundamentals, the basics. The slow way is always the fast way in the end. I was able to have the good fortune to work under him for almost 25 years.”

To learn more about Chris Kappler, visit chriskappler.com

To learn more about how to ride in or audit Chris Kappler’s Rutledge Farm Session in November, visit rutledgefarm.com/clinics

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