Written by Kathy Packman
Original Publish Date February 2014
Covenant Farm, in Dubach, LA, is pleased to announce the addition of Suzanne May, widow of German Bereiter Wolfgang May, to it’s teaching staff. With her many years of teaching and training experience, Suzanne brings her passion for dressage to every lesson. As a teacher, she combines positive encouragement with an innate insight into the needs of both horse and rider to create the perfect atmosphere for an optimum learning experience. But equally as important, she brings an indomitable spirit, which becomes infectious to her students!
Suzanne comes by her love of riding naturally, having begun at age four by participating in weekend riding outings with her parents in the parks around her native Chicago. She got her first horse, a Thoroughbred, at age fifteen, and began her formal riding instruction while participating in a high school riding club.
Suzanne’s love of dressage began in 1973, when she became a working student under trainer Mykola “Nick” Pawlenko, who was one of the founding organizers of the United States Dressage Federation. Ukranian born Pawlenko, a classical riding master and former calvary officer, was instrumental in bringing dressage to the Chicago area. Not only was he a master horseman, but he was also highly educated in the history and theory of training—the perfect mentor for an eager young rider. This working student arrangement continued for almost thriteen years, during which time Suzanne had the opportunity to learn all phases of horsemanship while riding and helping to train countless Thoroughbreds and warmbloods up to FEI levels.
In 1976, Suzanne had the opportunity to attend the Olympics in Montreal, during which the U.S. won the bronze medal in dressage. This became a motivational turning point in her riding career. She remembers “coming home from that Olympics and trying zig-zag canter half-passes down the center line and doing tempi lead changes around the entire arena!”
After breaking her back in an automobile accident, Suzanne began focusing more on dressage theory, which led to a deeper love and understanding of how it all comes together, from starting a young horse through training at the grand prix level.
In 1985 Suzanne began her relationship with Wolfgang May, who became both her husband and trainer. Suzanne credits Wolfgang for teaching her what lightness and self-carriage really mean. Wolfgang had received his German Bereiter certification under former Olympic dressage coach Walther Gunther. After working as a trainer in Rome and then spending a year at the Spanish Riding School in Austria, Wolfgang came to the United States as a trainer for the Tempel Lipizzans at Tempel Farms. Eventually Wolfgang and Suzanne owned their own training facility. After several successful years of training both horses and riders to FEI levels, they decided to sell their farm and turn their focus solely to clinics and lessons. They traveled all over the United States and to Mexico giving clinics, teaching private lessons, and coaching at shows.
Suzanne remembers this as a “happy and productive time,” which continued until Wolfgang’s death from pancreatic cancer in June of 2012. Two days after his death, Suzanne herself was diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer. After surgery and several months of chemotherapy, Suzanne was beginning to bounce back, and had even traveled back to Texas to teach some lessons, when a fall down the stairs resulted in a broken femur at the hip joint, another surgery, and eight more weeks of recovery.
Remaining undaunted, when an opportunity came to move to Covenant Farm in September of 2013 and begin teaching again, Suzanne, as she puts it, “grabbed it and has not looked back!” She is feeling pretty good and loving being able to teach. Not just a trainer, Suzanne considers herself a “dressage missionary,” who wants to impart her depth of learning and understanding to everyone she teaches. Suzanne is available for lessons and clinics, both at Covenant Farm and at other locations. She can be contacted at (830) 388-0783.