About Karl

The Early Years

Karl as a child with his mother, Rosa and his dog Bobby
Inset Left:
Karl and his father, Hans

Karl was born in August of 1935 in Vienna, Austria, into the turbulent times of ‘the war generation’ in the heart of a motherland facing the inevitability of World War II. Adolf Hitler was already in power and, by the time Karl was four, his mother and he would bid his father a fearful farewell as he marched off to battle on the Russian front. The occupation of Austria by Hitler, the drafting of his father into the German Army, Hitler’s attack on Poland which launched WWII, along with many other events from Stalingrad to Allied air raids and the May, 1945 arrival of Russian troops in Vienna, forced his family to live for extended periods of time in bunkers and basements.

Vienna was divided into four districts: British, Russian, French and American. Living in the Second District, his mother and he were under Russian control and the first order was for schools to teach Russian. So he learned Russian but over the years, without continued exposure, he forgot much of it.

Before, during and after WWII, horsepower was an important part of the local economy and Karl has pleasant childhood memories of encounters with workhorses pulling milk, beer, bread and coal wagons. One especially fond memory was that of riding with a neighbor on his deliveries of fresh produce from a horse drawn wagon. He loved the scent of the horse and the feel of the leather reins in his hands. He made it a habit to stop and feed treats to the tethered horses on his way to school, often resulting in a tardy arrival. No small wonder that when he was 13 and received his first bicycle, one of his initial ventures – which soon became a daily routine – was to visit the Prater, the former hunting grounds of the Imperial Family and site of several riding stables and racetracks.

1950 was a year of firsts: Karl had his first job working at a harness racetrack and, later that year, took his first riding lesson – on his 15th birthday to be exact – at Reitstall-Kottas Heldenberg, a riding facility owned by an aunt of Arthur Kottas, a former Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School.

The Spanish Riding School

Col. Alois Podhajsky, director of the Spanish Riding School until 1965

In 1955, upon submission of a letter of interest to the Spanish Riding School at the age of 19, Karl was interviewed by the then director Alois Podhajsky and subsequently accepted as an elévé, the lowest rank of rider-employee at the school. At that time, the School was still in exile at Wels in Upper Austria. In 1955, Bundeskanzler Leopold Figl succeeded in convincing the occupying forces to leave Austria, and Austria became free again. After ten years in exile, The Spanish Riding School could return to its home in the Hofburg.

In 1967, Karl achieved the rank of Chief Rider at the Spanish Riding School. In this photo, Karl is riding Neapolitano Strana in a picture book Levade.

At the time of Karl’s admission, the school was short of riders and Podhajsky brought retired Bereiter Alfred Cerha back into active duty. Luckily for him, Cerha was assigned as his teacher and he became officially his last student at the school. Karl owes much to Cerha’s excellent guidance. Without it, he is certain his equestrian education would have taken a much different route. Within five years, he was promoted to Assistant Rider and eventually achieved the rank of Oberreiter, or Chief Rider, in 1967.

Above Left and Center: Photos taken during the filming of the movie ‘The Miracle of the White Stallions’; the true story of the rescue of the horses through the American Army under the command of General Patton and Colonel Reed. The film starred Robert Taylor who played the role of Col. Podhajsky and Eddie Albert who played the role of Chief Rider Irbinger.

Above Left: Karl is third from left on Conversano Benvenuta II.

Above Right: Karl riding his young stallion Siglavy Capriola in the Summer Riding School 1967.

For more photos of Karl Mikolka’s years at the Spanish Riding School, please visit our Gallery page.


Karl moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to help train riders for a national team to represent Brazil in international competition

In 1968, Karl left the School to accept an invitation in Brazil to create a nucleus of Dressage in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo with the goal to eventually put a team together that could show in Europe. This move marked the beginning of a long separation from his two young sons, Alexander and Günther, who were living in Vienna with their mother and stepfather. At that time, Karl was married to Cindy Sydnor.

In 1972, Karl’s contract with the Confederação Brasileira de Hipismo ended and although invited to stay, he found the tropical climate unsuitable for training horses.

Above Left: Karl visiting the Cavalry School outside of Rio de Janeiro. The pet monkey seems to like him.

Above Center: Sra. Diana Osward riding her horse Titan.

Above Right: Karl working Titan at the Clube Hipica Metropolitana.

For more photos of Karl’s experiences in Brazil, please visit our Gallery page.

Friar’s Gate Farm

Karl founded the Massachusetts Dressage Academy at Friar’s Gate Farm in the early 1970s

After his time in Brazil, Karl fulfilled his childhood dream by relocating to the United States where, with the support of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ulrich, he established a home base at their Friar’s Gate Farm in Pembroke, Massachusetts. It was there that Karl founded the Massachusetts Dressage Academy to provide a systematic educational dressage curriculum.

In 1974, invited by Lowell Boomer, president of the newly formed United States Dressage Federation, Karl traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska and was present at the official founding of the organization. By the mid 1970s, he was an AHSA (now known as the USEF) Dressage Judge and served on the judging panels of several Olympic selection trials.

Above Left: Academy Formal, American Thoroughbred from the race track being introduced to the world of competition (Knoll Farm, Long Island 1974).

Above Center: Karl long reining “Lover”, a Brazilian Thoroughbred acquired in Sao Paulo, owned by Cindy Sydnor. Friar’s Gate Farm held an Open House every April to show the progress of horses and riders. Lover is carrying the American flag as a reminder how Dressage can bring countries together peacefully.

Above Right: Molly Brown, American Thoroughbred from the race track, learning the piaffe and discipline through smartly applied Dressage (circa 1974).

For more photos of Friar’s Gate Farm, please visit our Gallery page.

Tempel Farms

Riding Master Alf Athenstaedt showing a Capriole in hand.

In 1958, steel magnate Tempel Smith brought several Lipizzans from Europe by boat to America and hired Riding Master Alf Athenstaedt, a student of Germany’s most famous trainer Willi Schultheis, to start a Lipizzan training center in Wadsworth, Illinois. Tempel Farms, consisting of more than 6,000 acres near the Wisconsin border, was home to more than 400 Lipizzaner stallions. Alf Athenstaedt was frequently invited to perform in Washington, DC at the White House on his superbly trained stallion Pluto Fantasca, introducing the beauty of the Lipizzan horse to a number of Presidents.

Karl trained Lippizaner stallions and rode in summer performances at Tempel Farms from 1980 to 1997, introducing thousands to Classical Dressage in the United States.

In 1980, Karl moved to Wadsworth, Illinois to join Tempel Farms at the persuasion of Mr. Smith. Karl assisted with enthusiasm in the creation of an American Spanish Riding School. An American Spanish Riding School was the dream of Tempel Smith, which, unfortunately, rapidly lost impetus after his death in December of 1980. While employed at Tempel Farms, Karl trained many of the horses in the System he learned in Vienna, producing several ‘Airs Above the Ground’ stallions and training enough riders and horses to offer Young Stallion, Long Rein and Quadrille segments to the Summer Performances. These summer performances quickly gained a widespread reputation and were responsible for introducing thousands of people to Classical Dressage in the United States.

Above Left: Karl’s promising young horse Neapolitano Alma during a Temple Farms performance. During a clinic held by a ‘European Expert’ stalls had to be made available for participating riders. Alma was moved from his stall where he was standing on shavings to a stall with straw. He developed colic that was detected too late. Karl lost a great horse and the opportunity to outshine the competition.

Above Center: Pluto Slatina, Karl’s Courbette horse, shows his talent under Amit Afrik, a student from Israel. Slatina loved to be ‘airborn’.

Above Right: Performing at Belmont Race Track (Long Island 1988).

For more photos of Karl’s years at Tempel Farms, please visit our Gallery page.

About this video L’art pour L’art is the final section of a video diary of a typical year at Tempel Farms. Conceived and filmed by his wife Lynn as a tribute to Karl as an artist, the sequence was not planned or choreographed as part of a Kur but filmed during a training session.

The music is The Angel’s Carol by John Ritter, performed by the Cambridge Singers and Lynn is playing the harp with the recording. The stallion is Conversano Grandioso.

Writing and Teaching

Karl left Tempel Farms in 1997 and relocated with his wife, Lynn to Gloucester, Massachusetts. Since that time, he has been bringing Classical Thinking to a few select locations where it is accepted and championed as a valuable piece of the equestrian culture, both past and continuing. He has been faithful to his alma mater by accepting all types of horses – not just those of carefully controlled breeding – as well as aspiring riders from all walks of life, rather than concentrating only on Olympic material. Since the preservation of Classical Principles is Karl’s duty and first concern, he has remained steadfast to introducing it to the broadest audience possible, hoping to preserve a System that today is in danger of being suffocated by competitive training techniques. He has provided his students with a sound foundation for the well-being of their horses and their own benefit, only asking that they carry on and remain loyal to the System. Karl has been fortunate that a few did, and have become credible teachers in their own right.

He continues to disseminate his teaching through his writings on all facets of classical and practical training of horses and riders for all major equestrian publications and the internet. A few examples of some of the issues addressed include:
Selection and Use of the Spur (1994)
To Bend or Not to Bend (1996)
The Double Bridle: Considerations and Applications (1996)
Baucher’s Methods (1997)
A Few Thoughts on the Use of Draw Reins (1998) and
The Keys to a Straight Back (1998)

USDF Hall of Fame

In 2003, Karl was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame. Since that time, he has been publishing numerous articles about his riding philosophy. This System of guidelines is based on a 400 year tradition of studying and finding the best ways to elevate the horse to the definitive equestrian athlete, thinking partner, friend and reliable companion through mental and physical education. The sanctuary for this time-honored System was once the Spanish Riding School.

Riding into the Future

He continues to promote this venerable System that is both simple and natural, always moving ahead slowly but thoroughly, never giving in to the temptations of exploiting a horse’s natural gifts or talents, nor valuing the winning of blue ribbons or medals above the horse’s physical and mental ability, and never putting the horse’s soundness or health at risk.

Karl is pleased to say that he has many strong believers and followers of the System. It is such dedicated disciples who experience the most beautiful changes in their not always easy to ride horses as a direct result of applying the techniques held in such high regard by the Old Masters.