is the key to everything,” Carol Schmickrath said recently about her
and her husband Rich’s chosen sport—dressage. The couple should
know. They’ve committed themselves to life-long learning and have something
to show for it-besides the toned bodies of twenty year olds! But the path
has not been easy to their 180-acre operation, Brookstone Farm in Georgetown,
TX, filled with Dutch Warmblood breeding stock and a stable of many capable
riding students and a long list of top FEI horses.
One day in 1977, they threw their hearts over the fence and into the dressage arena. They’d just finished watching their first Franz Rochowansky dressage clinic and decided they’d actually ride the next time he was in Midland. Nicknamed “Rocky” by his students, Rochowansky had been the lead rider of the Spanish Riding School, with 25 years of training horses in Austria under his belt. From then on it was pure petal to the metal for Carol and Rich.
Prior to that day, Carol grew up on a ranch riding horses in Danevang, TX, in Wharton County. She pestered her father about learning to jump. He’d always say “no.” When she entered microbiology grad school at the Medical Center in Denver, CO, she sought out a jumping teacher named Liz Wolf, a “little German lady,” Carol said.. Her new teacher taught her how to jump all right but also kept on mentioning the word “dressage.” None of this impressed Carol much until her teacher took her to a dressage show in 1973. There Carol saw second level dressage and “was smitten,” she said.
“If you see it and you’re hooked immediately, then it’s for you,” Carol said. She enjoyed the precision, control and communication between rider and horse as it reinforced what she’d always liked seeing back home in reining and cutting events. The next week she begged her riding teacher to teach her more about dressage.
In grad school she met her future husband, Richard, who was studying pathology. They moved to San Diego where Rich accepted his first position as a doctor. And Carol bought her first horse. Ironically, though Rich hadn’t grown up riding, she couldn’t keep Rich off her own horse because “he was riding it all the time.” Now in a dressage rich environment they became like “sponges,” soaking up everything. They lived near La Jolla Farms, attended many seminars and clinics, and saw Hilda Guerney do a demo on her bronze-medaled (‘76) Olympian horse, Keen. (Guerney was coached originally by Rochowansky himself.) Teachers like Lilo Fore came to the farm. “It was blind fate,” Carol said. By the time they left California they towed along six horses-two Lipizzans, three Thoroughbreds and one Lipizzan-Thoroughbred cross named “Surfer Joe” that Rich had started.
Their destination in ‘77 was Midland, where they would stay for twelve years so Rich could work as a partner with Carol’s aunt. Again the timing was fortuitous. Within the first week they connected with the blossoming dressage community, got to see Rocky teach for the first time, and met Barbara Boyd (now of Austin) and Marcie Stimmel (now in California), both dressage aficionados with upper level and judging credentials of their own. But, Carol said, everyone was just trying to figure what to do. Rochowansky, a true master of the art, stood center ring, intense and red-faced as he taught, trying desperately to impart his valuable and long-lived knowledge to his new crop of American riders. He visited Midland three or four times a year, flying over from Europe. (Note: about two years ago, in his eighties, Rochowansky passed away but he taught until the very end.) Carol and Rich helped foster the learning environment by building their own indoor arena so they could allow Rocky and others to teach protected from the unending sun. Barbara Boyd organized clinics tirelessly. The group also regularly hired Walter Zettl of Canada.
“Even with as much help as we had,” Carol explained, “it was not there. We were showing a lot but we knew we needed more. You’ve got to have the whole picture from beginning to end. You have to see the steps, the training and the whole program. You need help every day and good coaching,” she said. They upped the ante and pursued a new path-apprenticing under Olympian Michael Poulin who they’d met in ‘84. Twice a year, they’d travel to his Maine facility. Rich would “sub” at a hospital in Maine for these two-week stints to defray the costs. Unexpectedly, the Maine hospital called Rich and offered him a full time position as the current pathologist was leaving. Rich agreed.
“It was insane,” Carol explained. “We had just bought our breeding and future training facility in Georgetown, TX, and then this opportunity came along. We had one month to disassemble our Midland home and split it into two-one half of it went to Georgetown, TX, and the other half to Maine.” By then, Rocky and J. Ashton (“Jeff”) Moore had helped them select their foundation horses—many excellent Dutch warmblood breeding stock. (Moore and his partner Liz Searle of California are responsible for laying much of the ground floor for dressage in this country and starting the NAWPN which registers U. S. Dutch warmbloods and is one of the nation’s best registry’s, Carol said.) Carol and Rich hired Jeanette Curtis as their Texas barn manager in ‘89 and took off for Maine, intending to stay only two years. The two stretched to six.
In Maine, they saw top horses and riders developed at Poulin’s such as Graf George who Poulin rode in the ‘92 Olympics held in Barcelona. Riders that came out of that barn were Lendon Grey, Carol Lavell, Mary Howard, and Michelle Gibson (who was 18 years old then and went on to help win a team bronze in ‘96). The Schmichraths were hands-on involved with Poulin as one of their own horses made the ‘92 Olympic cut-Bombadier-who served as an alternate horse in Barcelona and was whisked to Europe with the team.
“When you see it done right, all gets better. The competition gets better. It sharpens your eye watching and being around it everyday. Everybody gets better,” Carol said. She and Rich became capable of training and riding at the level some of us merely hope for-the realm in which the level of communication between rider and horse becomes so subtle it’s “like telepathy. The rider can give the slightest movement or even just think it and the horse knows what to do,” Carol said. “That’s why some of us get hooked on this dressage stuff.”
Nine years ago, Rich retired from medicine so they could return to Texas and pass on their knowledge. They still are coached by Michelle Gibson to keep their own riding skills sharp. Gibson teaches mostly in Florida and Georgia and rides under Zeilinger. She also had regular coaching by Willy Schulteis before he retired. One place that hosts Michelle when she works with Rich is Diamante Farms in Wellington, FL. Diamante is owned by Texans Dick and Terri Kane of Boerne. And Wellington is a hot bed of U.S. dressage and the location of the winter circuit. In return, Brookstone hosts Michelle when she comes to Texas for her clinics here. See below for proof of what Brookstone’s successful multi-pronged approach to dressage has done.
Brookstone's Impressive Record
You can contact Richard & Carol Schmickrath of Brookstone Farm at 512-863-5005,
you can also email .
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