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Horse Power

We get in the saddle with a real Rancho Santa Fe olympian, dancing horse and all.

The Ranch’s king of dressage Günter Seidel atop his prized horse, Coral Reef Wylea

When top-ranked dressage rider Günter Seidel travels the world in a specially outfitted passenger jet to compete, equestrian fans clamor for his autograph. But he’s not the only attraction. “They always want photos with my horse,” says the three-time Olympic medalist and Cardiff resident. And do the gifted four-legged athletes oblige? “They definitely enjoy all the attention,” Seidel laughs.

Before Ann Romney’s horse, Rafalca, stole the spotlight at the last Olympics, launching countless late-night jokes and a YouTube meme of dressage set to hip-hop, the sport was little known stateside. Except, that is, in San Diego. “People would be surprised at how big the industry is in Southern California,” says Seidel, a native of Germany who came to S.D. for vacation three decades ago and never left. “It’s perfect weather for riding.”

And Rancho Santa Fe, where Seidel trains at Coral Reef Ranch, lures dressage enthusiasts of every ilk. “It includes everyone from children to 80-year-olds,” he says. “And it’s the only Olympic sport where men compete against women.”

Coral Reef Ranch may look like a Ralph Lauren spread—think preppy apparel, handsomely groomed horses and impeccably designed landscapes—but the athletes work as hard as cowboys. Teaching a horse to dance is no simple feat.

“The better you are, the easier you make it look,” says Seidel, who fell for equestrian sports as a boy in Bavaria.

Seidel is currently training for next year’s World Equestrian Games in Normandy. He travels with his horses, including his latest prize contender, a mare named Coral Reef Wylea.

“Your horse is your best friend,” says Seidel, known for his easygoing demeanor in and out of the arena. “You take care of him and he will want to please you.” And his favorite? “Whichever one I’m riding at the moment,” he says. “It has to be.”

When he’s not hanging out at the stables with his Cairn Terrier, Jackson, this rock star of dressage (look for the rings tattoo Seidel had inked after his first Olympic Games in ’96) spends his free time surfing in Cardiff. “I finally learned five years ago,” Seidel says. “It looks so easy and natural, but it turned out to be a very humbling experience for me that I remember whenever I’m teaching.”