Walter Zettl’s classical training methods preserved for future generations

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A video series and book featuring the work of Walter Zettl is to be officially archived by the United States Dressage Federation.
A video series and book featuring the work of Walter Zettl is to be officially archived by the United States Dressage Federation.

The teachings of classical dressage master Walter Zettl are being preserved for posterity in an initiative by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and arena footing company Premier Equestrian.

Zettl’s widely successful video series and book that the trainer produced with Premier Equestrian more than a decade ago is officially being archived by the USDF.

Zettl, 88, began his riding career in 1945, and in 1950, at the age of 21, he became the youngest person ever to be awarded the German Federation Gold Riding Medal, for success in upper level dressage and jumping for a single competitive season. In 1952, he was selected to compete for Germany’s dressage team in the Helsinki Summer Olympics, but was ruled to be a professional rider and therefore ineligible.

In 1955, he earned his formal Reitlehrer certification as a riding coach, and began training young champions while continuing to compete himself. He won several awards in the Bavarian Dressage Championships and the Salzburg International Jumping Grand Prix on a horse he rode for the first time. He moved to Canada in 1981, and has been a Canadian citizen since 1987.

Premier Equestrian president Heidi Zorn first met the German-born trainer in the year 2000 at a USDF convention, and said she immediately recognized his true devotion to horses and riders’ well-being.

“I was completely mesmerized by Walter’s gentle, soft-spoken technique that literally transformed the horse before your eyes,” recalled Zorn.

Dressage Master Walter Zettl pictured with Premier Equestrian President Heidi Zorn riding Pink Panther.
Dressage Master Walter Zettl pictured with Premier Equestrian president Heidi Zorn riding Pink Panther.

“Walter became my new mentor from that moment on. I was able to convince him and his wife Heide to come to Salt Lake City, Utah, for a clinic. It was then that I had the inspiration that this man must be documented. He possessed hundreds of years of Classical Dressage knowledge, and if he wasn’t documented, this information could be lost forever. Walter’s main objective was to share his knowledge with as many people as he could, always carrying the message of keeping the well-being of the horse as the first and most important principle. He truly wanted to make the world a better place for horses and humans.”

Zorn and her business partner and husband, Mark Neihart, developed a plan to make Zettl’s wisdom available to all equestrians. Zorn and Neihart, a musician, artist, and video producer, followed Zettl for four years to various destinations across North America as he taught students.

The end result was a five-volume video series called A Matter of Trust. The first volume debuted in 2002, and Volume V was released in 2005. “The videos show various breeds of horses, different levels of riders, and a systematic method of advancing horses through the levels,” Zorn said. “The Matter of Trust series has been a huge success, and has given a wide variety of people and disciplines – even beyond dressage – a chance to embrace Walter’s deep understanding of horse training and classical dressage.”

In the years following the release of Volume I, the video series has generated over $1 million in retail sales and has become an effective way for equestrians everywhere to learn from Zettl.

“I believe that Walter’s work has made the world a better place,” Zorn said. “Knowing that this information will be preserved for many years leaves me with some comfort that horses may always be treated in a kind and humane way. Now Walter’s message of kindness and gentle training techniques that were developed many centuries ago will be preserved, and the horses’ well-being will always be a priority.”

Zettl is also the author of Circle of Trust: Reflections on the Essence of Horses and Horsemanship, and Dressage in Harmony.

USDF is archiving the instructional video series A Matter of Trust, as well as the book Ask Walter.

“We are very fortunate to have an organization like the USDF in our country to preserve and cultivate the art of dressage,” Zorn said. “On behalf of Walter, Mark, and myself, we are forever grateful that the USDF agreed that these teaching shall be preserved.”

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