Image Provided by Wilhelm Genn
Wilhelm and Chantal.
When Wilhelm Genn came to America from Germany to show horses, he knew he had his work cut out for him. He wasn't worried, mind you, but he, "Realized I had to start from scratcha...in Germany, I had a career going, had a sponsor, was already established," explains Wilhelm. "I never really had any doubts, but I wanted to make it back to the level I was in Europe."
Well, it sure seems Wilhelm has accomplished that and more, since his start a‘over here' in the mid 1980's. Wilhelm originally started out with his brother and his sister-in-law in Canada. They did Grand Prix level dressage riding. Wilhelm brought eight horses with him at the time. "I came by myself, with the horses, and went to Palm Beach to show," he explains. That trip turned out to be destiny for Wilhelm, because not only did he begin to establish himself in American Grand Prix Jumping, but he also met his wife in Palm Beach. He and Patricia Ryan (Genn) were married 6-months later. "It was the right one," Wilhelm muses of meeting his wife. Even though Patricia is a hunter rider, the couple quickly turned their talents into a successful equine business, Rheinland Farm, Inc. The farm is located in Lebanon, Ohio, where the couple maintains an average of 30 horses, mostly horses in training. Wilhelm specializes in jumpers, even though they do sell hunter prospectsahe just doesn't show the hunters. Rheinland Farm, Inc. may be far from his roots geographically; but it is right in stride with Wilhelm's riding roots. He grew up in Germany, about two hours from Frankfurt. He started riding jumpers at the tender age of six, but since he kept "falling off," waited to pursue it seriously until he was about ten or eleven years old. Riding was in the family, and Wilhelm had great training from his father, Theo Genn, who specialized in dressage, three-day, showing jumping, and was himself, an International Judge. Wilhelm rose to the top of his field as a junior rider, breaking and training a horse with his father, and going on to the Young Rider's Team with the same horse. Wilhelm attended the National Championships with that Young Rider's Team for three years in a row. He won his first Grand Prix with this German Warmblood, Desiree, when he was 21. Riding stayed in the family, as his oldest brother showed open horses too. Dr. Hermann Josef Genn is now a vet in Germany, keeping the equine career in the family. He and Wilhelm work together, getting horses vet checked from Germany, before shipping them to Wilhelm in Ohio.
"I prefer to look in Germany, since they seem to have the largest selection for good horses," notes Wilhelm.
Importing horses seems to be paying off for Wilhelm. He has brought over such champion horses as: Lennox, Clemantine, and Centerfold. He also imported Happy Z, Ariado, and Hidden Creek's Cristo. Wilhelm shows mainly in the Midwest and South on the Grand Prix circuit. He usually winters in Palm Beach, FL, but this year is showing in Pensacola. Wilhelm currently has about four Grand Prix level jumpers going, all just started as first year horses; so he didn't want to scare the young horses with the big jumps in Palm Beach."One of the four horses should be my next World Cup horse," adds Wilhelm. "I hope that horse can start doing World Cup Qualifiers next fall."
When asked of his most exciting win recently, Wilhelm didn't hesitate to describe his victory over a 42 horse field at the Lamplight Grand Prix in Chicago this past August. Wilhelm showed the 7-year-old horse Happy Z. "I was going medium speed at first, but as I came around the last turn, I saw the clock and realized I had a chance to win! So we made tight turns," says Wilhelm. "You see, the horses always come first to me. The speed is added last. I love bringing up and developing young horses."Wilhelm said that a‘Happy' was so "efficient everywherea...the 4/10ths of a second win was unexpected.
Some of Wilhelm's Successes
Wilhelm was busy at the 2004 Cosequin Winter Equestrian Festival, riding away with several Circuit Championships in the Jumper Division. He took Champion in the Five-Year Division with Chantal, and took Reserve in the Six-Year-Old Division with Happy Z.Wilhelm is also proud of his '04 win at the $30,000 Greenbrier Seven-Year-Old Young Horse Championships-Eastern Finals at the Hampton Classic Show in New York, with Le Argento, an 8-year-old. Wilhelm said of the course at the time, that it was very nice for this age horse, challenging but careful. Wilhelm said of the horse recently, "The horse has placed 9 of the 10 Prix classes we've ridden ina...we've won 2 Welcome Prix." Wilhelm also imported this horse as a 4-year-old. Although Wilhelm sold this horse to Harry and Cary Van Wormer of Vero Beach, FL, he still shows Le Argento. Wilhelm says that the horse's temperament and his athletic ability are what make him so special. At the July 24, 2005 $25,000 Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix, Wilhelm was a busy rider. He placed 2nd with Happy Z; 5th with Le Argento; 7th with Hell Boy; and 10th with Ariado earning money with each horse.
The Wilhelm Process
"I care about, and I think about the horses first and foremost," says Wilhelm. "I would never jeopardize a horse just to win one classa....It's a fun process just bringing young horses." Wilhelm prefers to get horses when they're in the four to six-year-old range.
He relies on his friends in Germany to help find horses for him to look at. When he goes over, he usually can pick the ones he wants fairly easily, because of his contacts. As said before, his brother vet checks the horses and they are brought to the United States. He usually gives the young horses time to settle in, so he can "observe" their behaviors. He watches what they like and don't like; how they behave in the stall and on the cross-ties; and how they react to different aids when he starts riding them. Usually the young horses are broke to walk, trot, and canter, when Wilhelm gets them, so he can begin his training program.
"I like to train individuallya...to adjust the training schedule depending on my evaluation of each horse," Wilhelm explains. "My goal is to get the horses to give me 110% in the way I approach them, so they are confident, that they like what they are doing, that they are working FOR and not against me." He says it may take up to six months for a young horse to adjust and settle inaand this is okay by Wilhelm. "The horse comes first! Whatever is right for the horse."
This is part of what sets Wilhelm aside from many trainers. He was so classically trained, and believes in training his horses that way, that flat work is the key. He does a lot of flatting all of his mounts, dressage backgrounds, to help the horses with their coordination, and to use their whole body while jumping, not to "overjump." With his customers, he's the same way. Whether it's a working student, his own son, or a customer, Wilhelm expects them to ride - flat, flat, flat!
With new customers, he starts by establishing goals. They all need to know what they are working towards. They then establish a plan. "I believe it's same for the riders, a lot of flat work, a lot of dressage, to gain control and flexibility," adds Wilhelm. Wilhelm then will encourage his riders and customers to learn more, to become a better horseman. "I was trained old schoola...flatting can make the jumping better."One of the main issues that Wilhelm stresses (and unfortunately doesn't see all the time at shows) is safety, and becoming a better horse person. "In my book, we should try to ride the best we can, have a good ride with the horse, and then I think we are a winnera...so many riders just come to the shows to win, win, win, and it can be dangerous."
Wilhelm says that the competition is so close out there. A rider may only lose by 1/10th of a seconda...he says that riders shouldn't get discourageda...that trainers should encourage their riders and their horses, to go safely! "I don't think we should teach too much too early, to winawe need to have riders try to avoid accidents waiting to happen." He adds that the odds are against riders to win, and that the emphasis should be on the safe riding, being the best you can be.
"It's a fine line, a sensitive line, to teach a horse person, to ride the best they can, to teach safety, to THEN win, if they can."Apparently, his techniques are rubbing off on others. Not only is Wilhelm a well-respected competitor and trainer, but he has left a lasting impression on one of his former working students, turned pro. Erin Strayer of Cincinnati had only glowing things to say about Wilhelm. Having ridden with, worked for, and eventually ridden for Wilhelm since about 1998, Erin has just left to pursue her own professional career. She met him through her former trainer, as a junior.
"Wilhelm is just a natural. You learn just from being around him. He has such a way with horses, they love him," Erin explains. "He compares the horses to teenagersa...he figures their minds out, believes you have to give them what makes them happy...give them room to excel."
"He is just pretty incredible as a horseman." Erin adds that she thinks Wilhelm is "gifted" at finding young prospects, potential athletes that others might overlook. Not only have his techniques rubbed off on and inspired Erin, but they give her hope that she aspires to be like Wilhelm. She looks forward to running into him at shows.
On A Personal Level
Wilhelm says he's really excited about next year in showing for him. Happy Z is "pretty special, not really for sale," Wilhelm explains. "It would take a pretty special person for me to sell Happy."
But don't worry, Wilhelm has other horses that are for sale. He takes an average of 10-12 horses to shows, and has horses in training at his farm. He and his wife own two Grand Prix horses; they have one in partnership with Bill Ryan called Hell Boy; and they have a hunter horse they acquired in November. Wilhelm goes to the shows during the week and his wife stays home a lot with their three boys. She is able to come to the shows most weekends. The Genn boys have diverse interests, as most children do. Wilhelm Jr., 18, plays football; Theo, 15, rides jumpers; and Ryan, 13, plays basketball and football. "It's nice to have a son to ride with, and we have a few other really good studentsa...a small group of riders, great owners, and great fun!" Wilhelm says his owners are so good that he, "Never has to worry about a decisiona...I do what is best for the horse." He is a busy farm owner, so he also has barn work, chores, customers. He may only get to work 6-8 horses a day, some days.
Wilhelm may love his time in the saddle, but, "I really love the family time!" He likes to wrestle with his boys, which he describes as "great fun!" He also enjoys watching movies, sitting by the fire with his family. "Family time is most important." When asked about the Ohio weather, he said it was pretty close to that of Germany, although a bit more a‘extreme' in the heat of the summer, and dead of the winter. Still perfect for sitting around a fireplace with his family.
Wilhelm isn't all about horses, although you may not notice this since his hobbies also include owning several race horses. He and his wife currently have a nice 2-year-old that is new to racing, that he hopes to have a Keeneland someday. Wilhelm currently has the horses race in Ohio at River Downs, and at Beulah Park. Wilhelm also likes sports cars, and really likes his Porsche. He enjoys chess playing, and "loves" his truck too.
Whether it's listening to Erin's account of Wilhelm, whether it's by talking with other horse professionals, or whether it's from hearing Wilhelm talk about horses on the telephonea...it becomes clear, very quickly, that Wilhelm Genn is no ordinary horseman. He truly loves the animals, puts their needs and talents first, but never gets too excited about pushing for the win at the expense of the horse. He won't do that. He inspires others to ride better, to have a better riding relationship, just by his equine mannerisms. The goal for Wilhelm this upcoming season is to, "Win as many Grand Prix classes as possible next yeara...Ten would be too good to be true." He has imported all the horses he's riding young, and says that's what makes it so special to him. "Between winning Grand Prix classes and possibly starting the World Cup Qualifiers with one horseato turn out to be competitive would be great fun!" "You never knowa...I'm excited. I'm like a little kid on a pony!" Well, Wilhelm may feel like a kid on a pony, but he sure looks like a contender in the field of Grand Prix riders to be reckoned with! His hard work ethic, his zest for life, and his genuine concern for horses makes him a pretty special person, as well.