Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg: happy birthday Maestro!

di Liana Ayres

Today is the birthday of one of the international icons of dressage: Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg. A truly evocative name in the arenas all over the world.

Born in Vienna in 1945, he trained at the oldest equestrian school in the Austrian capital, which was run by his parents. Very young, he began competing in both show jumping and dressage. At the age of 14, young Arthur won his first Austrian Youth Championship in dressage. At 16 he won the show jumping one.

Then, the way to the Vienna School opened up.

In the record time of just 8 years, Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg climbed all the steps of the Spanish Riding School training ladder and, at 25, became a bereiter. Step by step, Kottas-Heldenberg was given the title of Chief Rider and, finally, First Chief Rider…

We had the great opportunity to interview him for In his answers you can almost physically perceive the reference of a living legend. Who has travelled an incredible achievements while maintaining a truly enviable spirit.

What does dressage mean to you?

«For me, dressage means to exercise and develop the mind and the body of the horse.  Our main goal should be to develop the harmony between horse and rider».

When did you meet dressage and when did you decide that it would have such an important role in your life?

«My parents had the oldest riding school in Vienna and I had my own pony at 2.5 years old.  I was always very interested in riding, both dressage and jumping, and I was the Vienna Show Jumping Champion. At this time I recognised the importance of dressage in developing the horse.  I had luck because one of our stable neighbours had very well trained horses and I was allowed to ride and compete with these horses. Some of the Bereiters from the Hofreitschule came to the neighbour’s stable and they noticed me and I was invited, at the age of 16, to join the Spanische Hofreitschule».

Going to more technical matters, could you describe what in your opinion makes a winning dressage horse? And a winning dressage rider?

«First, the quality of the horse.  How is it trained? Do they show harmony between horse and rider? How correct and accurate are the movements? In my opinion, the seat is the key. You must be safe and also fair with the aids to the partner horse. For any athlete, horse or rider, you must be trained and fit, have dedication and focus, and have the mental training/psyche to handle the stress of competitions».

Breeding versus training . . . which aspect is more important when considering a dressage prospect?

«The breeding is the foundation and the training is how we build upon this foundation.  In my opinion over the last 20-30 years has changed a lot in a positive way.  Having a beautiful moving and looking horse is the beginning and then the training is the key to win. I always say that it doesn’t matter if you ride dressage, showjumping, reining, eventing.  There are 2 kinds of riders, good and bad.  And we wish to be the best».

Talking about judges . . . how to improve the relationship with them and how can they contribute for a better training.

«This relationship is important.  I always remember what General Albrecht (who was also a judge) from the Hofreitschule wrote in his brochure.  The judge has to be for the rider and not the rider for the judging. We need to be fair. If the rider asks how to improve then we must have the answer. If only theory and never felt, in my opinion, this is not the right way.  A judge must not judge mainly the name, but what is seen at the time of the judging.  Good and fair judging is not an easy task».

Would you summarise for us your dressage principles?

«Never stop to learn and to improve. A horse and the rider are never finished in their training. I always say that a horse without a rider is still a horse, but a rider without a horse is just a person».

What is a funny story that happened to you in the dressage world?

«At the Spanische Hofreitschule, after we warmed up the your horses on a performance day, we would go up to our rooms to clean and prepare for the performance. I was in the washroom cleaning my jacket and one of the riders came in with a boot in one hand. I asked him what he was doing with this one boot and he said he was going to play a joke on another rider and put a little water in the boot so that he would get stuck in his boot.  But now he was a bit afraid and had changed his mind. I said him that I wasn’t afraid and that I would do it. I put the water into the boot and then a few heads of some other riders looked around the corner. It was my boot!  But they all knew I loved a joke and I had another pair of boots for the performance so all was good».

Your dressage horse of a life-time?

«I’m honest, I never forget that I chose them and they didn’t choose me.  Some needed more or less training. But it is like your own children, they are all special to you in a different way and you can’t pick a favourite.  You love them all differently».

Your favourit rider, excluding yourself, and why?

«My teachers and trainers at the Hofreitschule».

Your dressage trainer of a life-time?

«My teachers and trainers at the Hofreitschule.  I always tried to pick up the best from each and try to make it even better».

Where are you based now?  What are your plans for the future?

«Vienna.  To stay healthy and to continue enjoying the work with the horses and their riders if they wish to learn and improve».

Happy birthday Mr. Kottas!

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