A crowd gathered when Michael Schultz and his Dutch Warmblood gelding Nice Catch, aka Sammie, rode down the centerline at the White Fences Equestrian Center in Loxahatchee, Florida, April 9. It wasn’t because Schultz, handsome in his show coat and white breeches, was incompetent or because the gleaming Sammie misbehaved as the wind whipped his tail when his rider halted him at X and saluted the judge. It was because that ride was Schultz and Sammie’s induction into the Century Club, where the horse and rider’s combined age equals or exceeds 100.
Michael began riding at the age of 40 and took to showjumping, claiming wins at The Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida and in Vermont, Lake Placid and Saratoga horse shows. In 2001, he decided it was time to pack up the jumping saddle and he turned to dressage. Under the tutelage of his trainer of 30 years Marcia Kulak, as well as help from Jane Savoie and Ruth Hogan-Poulsen, Schultz rides six days a week. It was Kulak’s idea to get Schultz ready for the Century Club ride, as her 84-year-old mother is also a member of the club.
“Oh, I loved the ride,” Schultz said excitedly after the crowd applauded his final salute. “Marsha and Ruth set him up just perfectly and the last minute instructions were right on target. That was a good a ride as I’ve ever had, I think.”
Schultz, who divides his time between Wellington eight months of the year and Brant Lake, New York, stays active with swimming, tennis and golf as well as riding. He is equally happy working in the arena as he is hacking out on the trails.
“I enjoy riding and I certainly enjoy riding Sammie,” he said. “He is the nicest animal I have ever owned. He’s so calm and so patient with me. He’s a former Grand Prix school horse and every day he teaches me something. He’s just perfect.”
Kulak helped him find the big chestnut horse (Amaretto I-Jardonna H, Flemming H) who has helped him experienced riding upper level movements like piaffe, passage and tempi changes. Schultz is quick to sing Kulak’s praises.
“Marsha is fantastic,” he said of his trainer from his jumping days until now. “She knows when to cheer. She knows when to criticize, and she knows when to back off. She’s also the incredible finder of the right horse. She has been spot on almost perfect with all the horses that we’ve had over the last 30 years.”
Kulak agrees that Sammie was a great find. “We go out hacking with four or five horses and when something happens and all of them scatter like cats, the only one who stands there and assesses is Sammie,” she said.
When Schultz started riding dressage, Kulak thought he would benefit from lessons with Hogan-Poulsen. She travels to give him a weekly lesson and although he laments the fact that what they work on in practice isn’t so easy to accomplish in the ring, she praised his perseverance.
“Helping Michael achieve his Century Club ride is one if the highlights of my season,” Hogan-Poulsen said. “He is such a dedicated student, we could all take inspiration from him!
Schultz has been a keen competitor throughout his life and excelled in several sports including squash in high school and college.
“I really had a good time, “ he said of his ride down centerline. “I was nervous all day but I’m actually not nervous when I go in there. Then the adrenaline kicks in, especially when you have a horse you know is not going to do anything. He’s going to listen and try to do everything you ask him.”
Kulak pushed him to go for his Century Club ride, not only because it’s fun to have a goal but also because he’s the consummate competitor and student. The Dressage Foundation established the Century Club in 1996 at the suggestion of Dr. Max Gahwyler, a dressage judge and clinician. More than 220 members of the club have competed at various levels and are scored by a judge. The Dressage Foundation sends a beautiful black and gold ribbon to be presented to the team at the show. Following the test, the score sheet and papers verifying the ages of the horse and rider are sent to The Dressage Foundation and a handsome Century Club Award bearing the names of the rider and horse, the year of their ride, and team number, is presented to the Century Club team.
“It’s kept him striving to try and ride better every day,” Kulak said of her student. “Dressage is hard. He never gives up. He wants to come and he goes to work. Mike had a hip replacement several years ago and it takes courage to step up to the plate and continue riding. He means a lot to me as a person so it’s just that much more rewarding to me to bring him to this stage.
“For me, that’s probably the biggest take away: that he’s such a dedicated individual,” she continued. “It means a lot to me and my entire team.”