American Dressage Legends: Karl Mikolka

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Reprinted from the May 2014 USDF Connection magazine.

Although a number of European dressage masters played important roles in developing the sport in this country, relatively few actually got their dressage educations in the cradle of the classical art.

One who did was the Austrian- born Karl Mikolka, a former Oberbereiter (chief rider) at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. In the US, Mikolka’s name became synonymous with Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, IL, where he helped owners Tempel and Esther Smith realize their dream of creating an American version of the Spanish Riding School. Training and performing with the Tempel Lipizzans, Mikolka introduced thousands of spectators to haute école dressage and the stallions’ famed “airs above the ground.”

Now 78, Mikolka was just 19 when he entered the Spanish Riding School, where he spent the next 14 years learning the art of dressage and participating in the school’s legendary performances, including its landmark tour of the US in 1964. With his then wife, Cindy (now Cindy Sydnor), Mikolka left the SRS in 1968 for Brazil, where he strove to develop the first Brazilian Olympic dressage team. The endeavor was nearly successful, but the untimely death of a horse coupled with politics caused the Mikolkas to leave Brazil in 1972 for the United States.

Karl Mikolka and Belvedera in 1990

Mikolka established the Massachusetts Dressage Academy at Friar’s Gate Farm in Pembroke, MA. He became active in pioneering efforts to advance dressage in this country, including serving as a founding member of the USDF in 1973. He became an American Horse Shows Association (now United States Equestrian Federation) dressage judge in the mid-1970s and went on to judge at several Olympic dressage selection trials.

In 1980, Mikolka accepted Tempel Smith’s job offer to become a trainer at Tempel Farms, which at the time housed more than 400 Lipizzan horses. Mikolka trained numerous Lipizzans to Grand Prix and in the airs above the ground. As an instructor, arguably his best-known student is another former Tempel Farms trainer and rider, George Williams, who today is a successful international dressage competitor and trainer and the current USDF president. Other notable Mikolka students include the top rider/trainers Cindy Sydnor, Carole Grant, and Belinda Nairn- Wertman.

Karl Mikolka rides a levade aboard Neapolitano Strana at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in an undated photo

With his wife, Lynn, Mikolka left Tempel Farms in 1996 and relocated to Gloucester, MA, where the couple lives today. He has taught hundreds of students in clinics throughout the US, and he has been a prolific writer of articles on dressage, some of which are available on his website, MikolkaDressage.com. For his contributions to the development of dressage in the US, Mikolka was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame in 2003.

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