When top dressage rider Guenter Seidel thinks about the 1996 Olympics, he always remembers the amazingly huge crowds. During the people-pleasing musical freestyle competition, every single seat in the gigantic Horse Park was filled. Guenter was a member of the bronze medal-winning United States dressage team, along with teammates Robert Dover, Michelle Gibson and Steffen Peters. He also placed eighth in the individual final, competing against the top riders and horses in the world.
Guenter rode Graf George, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding. George was one of the largest horses in the competition, measuring in at 17hh. Graf George was no stranger to Olympic competition and the bronze medal was the second one he had won. In 1992, the big gray was ridden by another dressage star, Michael Poulin, at the Barcelona Olympics where the United States team placed third. Lots of people noticed how talented George was, including Guenter.
A couple of years later, in 1995, a thrilled Guenter was offered the chance to ride George. George arrived at Guenter's barn in southern California and the duo got to work. Before very long Guenter and George were winning dressage classes all over the country, in 1996 they were selected to ride on the United States team at the Olympics.
In 1995, Guenter was a member of the United States dressage that won team silver at the Pan Americans. In 1996, the German-born star won four major classes: The International Festival of Dressage Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special and the Los Angeles Mid-Winter Dressage Classic Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special.
Guenter enjoys teaching, and is based at a barn in southern California where he helps other dressage riders achieve their goals. He also sells world-class horses that he has trained himself.
Q: Do you remember the first horse you rode?
A: The first ponies I rode were Haflingers. They are a breed of very robust mountain ponies which originated in Austria. They are palomino.
Q: Do you remember your first ribbon?
A: Yes, I won it at a small show in Germany in 1975.
Q: What did you think of Graf George the first time you rode him?
A: That he is an incredible athlete, and very powerful.
Q: What is his personality like?
A: He likes to be playful. But he is very intelligent, and he knows when it's time to compete!
Q: Do you remember your first dressage competition? How did you do?
A: At my first dressage competition, my horse jumped out of the arena and I was eliminated!
Q: Describe the competition that was the most exciting for you.
A: The 1996 Olympics were the most exciting. There were so many spectators. There were athletes from all over the world. There was such team spirit for the competition.
Q: What was it like competing in the Olympics? What was the most fun thing about it?
A: Meeting athletes from all of the other sports was really fun. Competing at the Olympics gives you a very proud feeling because you are riding for your country.
Q: When you train a top-class dressage horse, what sorts of things do you do?
A: You must develop a relationship with that horse. The most important thing is consistent and patient training.
Q: Have you ever been embarrassed at a show?
A: Yes, when I went off course during a Grand Prix test!
Q: Any advice for a young person who wants to be a dressage rider?
A: You must always be fair to your horse. You must also find a good trainer. If you can't have a trainer where you live, take clinic when they are offered. And watch people. You can learn a lot by watching good riding.