Your legacy to this world cannot be catalogued, but there is no better occasion to try than your passing on May 13. Fortunately for your friends in this country, you left your native Switzerland in 1952 as a young physician, bringing your wonderful wife Doris with you. In America, your work in the field of medical research was well recognized. But you were primarily a sportsman—an avid downhill skier. Predictably, the American version of skiing didn’t fulfill you because you were, in fact, very brave. So your passion turned to horses—specifically to dressage where you soon became a role model in this country.
In the ’60s you were one of the visionaries who started The American Dressage Institute. You served as president and helped bring European experts across the pond—Colonel Hans Handler, Karl Mikolka, Nuno Oliviera, Herbert Rehbein and others. Those Masters laid the foundation for dressage in this country even before the founding of our current governing body, the USDF.
I need to interrupt this list of accomplishments, because far more important than what you did was the grace and spirit with which you did it. However, if there was anyone more gracious than you, it was definitely your wife Doris. A visit to your home in Darien, Connecticut, adjacent to the Ox Ridge Hunt Club polo fields, was an experience that left one with a sense of calm, sort of like you’d just been to church. There were always pastries served in the European tradition. The book shelves were filled with beauty and dressage history, which was a mystery to most because it was all in French or German books. But with your multicultural background, you devoured the words of Xenophon, de la Gueriniere, Fillis, DeCarpentry, Baucher, Podhajsky and more. You loved sharing that history and would patiently explain it with your pipe carried just so and, of course, with your beloved Boxers at your feet.
You served as the USDF historian for some years, and you were an extraordinary teacher mostly because of the delight you felt as you taught your students and their horses. It absolutely didn’t matter if you were teaching an up-downer or if you were refining a student’s two-tempi flying changes. Your deep layers of knowledge were shared in the form of stories that were always right there in your back pocket as you taught—not far from the sugar that was always in the front pocket.
Between 1989 and 2000, you wrote three books, The Competitive Edge I, II and III. Those books were peppered with cartoons that helped convey the joy with which you perceived and experienced dressage. You became popular nationwide as a lecturer, a clinician and as an “S” judge. Who wouldn’t want a judge who made the rider smile as they left the arena? How did you do that?
In 1996, you approached The Dressage Foundation (TDF) with the suggestion that they form “The Century Club,” which recognizes riders and horses whose combined ages total 100 or more. In that year, you were the second member of the Century Club with your dear partner, Prince Eugen. Later, in 2002, you were the 23rd member riding Dresden.
In December of 2004, because of all this and really much more, you were inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame. It felt so right. You will be missed by your family in Switzerland and by dear Doris, your wife of 67 years and your adopted family of Susanne Handler. Your life was so clearly couched in love, kindness and grace, that those who knew you will always carry a bit of that with them. Thank you.
In memory of Max Gahwyler, donations may be made to H.O.R.S.E of Connecticut (horseofct.org/) or to The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club (https://dressagefoundationorg.presencehost.net/support/).