Cooling Out With ... Michael Traurig
After 20 years knocking heads — specifically, his own head — as a leading jockey on the steeplechase circuit, Michael Traurig is aiming to follow his famous father, legendary rider and coach Bernie Traurig, into the Grand Prix show jumping ring.
Michael, 44, whose mother is local horsewoman Tiffany Teeter, moved to Southern Pines a month and a half ago. Since he retired from riding steeplechase races last year, Michael has wandered the Eastern Seaboard, looking for a place to start his business (riding, coaching and horse sales).
He has been riding for local horse owners and currently has two young thoroughbreds of his own he hopes to sell as eventers.
Q: What made you choose Southern Pines as a base?
A: I’ve been in and out of this town for 20 years because I was just down the road in Camden. I’d been floating around, trying to find my feet, since I retired from racing. I was in New Jersey, but it wasn’t happening there. I was meant to go work in Mexico riding and training show jumpers, but that fell through. I got back here and decided to stay.
Q: Is there enough work here to keep you busy?
A: For sure. I was only here a week and I already had a lot of horses to ride. But I do need owners and I need horses. Right now I’ve got a couple of investment horses that look like I can sell them in the eventing world. Some of the local people are having me ride and school their horses. I ride with Nick Ellis a lot … he’s kind of my mental coach.
Q: Presumably, your dad — who won 60-something show jumping Grand Prixes and represented the U.S. eight times in World Cup Finals — taught you to ride?
A: Oh, yeah. And the list of people I’ve worked for…there are a lot of Hall of Fame trainers on that list. I’ve taken something from everybody I’ve worked for. I’ve been able to work in England, Germany, Ireland, Holland … I’ve been very lucky.
Q: What have you done in the show ring since retiring from steeplechasing?
A: I just got back from Argentina. I went to look for horses and wound up showing 20 rounds in jumper classes. And I picked up a spare ride in a meter 1.40 class. That’s the biggest class I’ve competed in. I haven’t been in the ring that much since I retired from racing.
Q: Who were the best horses you rode in your steeplechase career?
A: I rode three champions: Thor Thors (2001 timber champion), Lots of Talk (1992 timber champion), and Feeling So Pretty (the top American female steeplechase horse of all time). She was amazing. She was only around 15.2 but she was just a machine of a horse. We got weighted up because we kept winning … so many times we were riding at 20 pounds more than everyone else. She had something very special about her.
Q: Did your show jumping foundation help you on the steeplechase course?
A: Thor Thors was a complete runoff … he’d take off with you and then get beat at the wire. I’d do a lot of half halts with him … just have really soft hands, give and take on the reins. In timber it’s so important to be clean over the fences. Because I had a good eye from show jumping I could kind of lure the other riders into a bad spot at the fences … really take the stuffing out of them with my eye.
Q: A lot of steeplechase riders have been in multiple wrecks. How about you?
A: I’ve had multiple concussions … major concussions. I’ve had a lot of broken fingers. I was really lucky … I never broke my collarbone. I had experience ski racing and motorcycle racing; going fast and crashing is something I’m pretty good at.
My career was based on people calling me and saying, “Hey, this horse has fallen the last two times and he’s difficult to ride.” I got a reputation for riding anything, which didn’t necessarily help my riding.
Q: Some riders make the transition to training steeplechase horses. Is that something you ever considered?
A: The reality of training steeplechase horses is that it’s not a lucrative business to get into. Plus, I’ve always had this desire to walk in my dad’s footsteps in the show jumping ring.
Q: What do you do when you’re not riding?
A: I sit around and wonder what to do! I try to stay busy. Right now, it’s both my hobby and my work. I might try eventing, if not for any other reason than to prepare a sales horse. I’ve sold a lot of thoroughbreds to eventers, and I do have fun with cross country and show jumping.
The dressage is a pain in the neck … it’s definitely not my strong suit to remember stuff like that.
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