The Genn Family Is Show Jumping's Triple Threat

The Genn Family Is Show Jumping's Triple Threat

Wilhelm Genn has always been a man of hope. Fresh off a World Cup Qualifier win in Sacramento, CA, that hope is proving to be a smart thing to hold onto.

Hope is what drove him when he gave up opportunities in his home nation of Germany to start his Rheinland Farm operation in the U.S. with his wife, Patricia, more than 30 years ago. And it’s what he held on to as his two youngest sons Theo and Ryan grew up on the farm and sat astride their first Shetland Ponies, Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate Chip.

Wilhelm hoped Theo and Ryan would catch on and join the family business, but he didn’t pressure them. He had to wait until both boys were in their teens for them to show interest in the sport of show jumping, but the Genn trio is now strongly making their presence known, with all three succeeding in the Grand Prix ranks across the country.

Theo Genn. Photo by Anwar Esquivel.

“I never counted on it,” Wilhelm says. “I tried to be realistic about it and open minded. Our oldest son Wilhelm (Jr.) quit riding when he was nine, but I think it was because we started him too early. He fell off a few times, and then he quit. So, my wife and I decided to leave Theo and Ryan alone. If they wanted to ride, they could ride, and if they didn’t, that was fine, too.”

“Of course, deep down, I was hoping, but I want them to be happy, and I feel like the best thing for any young person is to find a passion.”

Theo, 28, and Ryan, 26, have certainly found it. Theo has won at the international level and has solidified a string of Grand Prix mounts. Ryan didn’t start riding until he was almost 17, but he won his first Grand Prix within four years. Both now travel with their own string of Rheinland horses, and Wilhelm divides his time between them. He teaches by example, and the father-son rivalry has brought out the best in all three Genns: Wilhelm didn’t let up when winning both the $50,000 CSI2* North Face Farm Grand Prix and the $50,000 Great Lakes Grand Prix this summer at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in Traverse City, MI, with Eduardo Leon’s Bugatti.

Wilhelm Genn aboard Bugatti. Photo by Anwar Esquivel.

“I think we all work really well together,” Theo says. “We’re all similar enough personalities, and we all take it really seriously. We have each other's back at the end of the day. We all believe the same things, we work the horses the same, and we all want the same thing. Of course, [my dad] wants a lot from you, but he’s so supportive and an amazing dad. It makes it easy.”

Natural Progression

Theo and Ryan can count on one hand the amount of formal riding lessons they’ve had. Their father is the only teacher they’ve ever known.

Both boys were heavily immersed in other sports before seriously pursuing a career in the saddle. Ryan, especially, seemingly exhausted all other options – soccer, football, baseball (for a year – he hated it), golf, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, basketball…there may have been more – before he went where his genes told him he should. He finally took the, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” route when he was the only man left at the house while Wilhelm and Theo were on the road following the show circuit.

Ryan Genn. Photo by Sportfot.

“Starting late is actually what motivated me so much,” Ryan says. “I did my first show when I was 16, and I was way behind the eight ball. Because of that, I was watching everyone else my age doing the junior jumpers, and I was jumping 1.0m. I was competitive, and I had played other sports, and I was always pretty good at them. So, I rode six to eight horses a day trying to play catch-up. I was really fortunate that I was in the situation where I had the opportunity to ride so many other horses.”

In addition to getting extra reps in the ring, he also learned by observation and replication.

“It was a lot of learning with your eyes and ears, not so much lessons. I’ve probably had five lessons in my entire life from [my dad],” Ryan says. “I’m always watching him, and he’s watching me, and he doesn’t really say anything – but that’s a good thing. You want him to be quiet, because then you know that everything’s going well! If he sees something [that’s not right], he’ll tell you straight up. Then he’ll leave you alone to figure it out and work on it.”

“I always thought we get more patient as we get older, but then a friend of mine, who was a really good football player, said, ‘Wilhelm, we get less patient as we get older!’” Wilhelm exclaims. “So, I think that’s why I said to Ryan, ‘Just watch what I’m doing and ask questions!’ It obviously worked out!”

Theo, meanwhile, always knew he’d be following in his father’s footsteps. He just needed to get serious about it.

"I step back all the time and think, ‘Wow, this isn’t real life. I’m lucky!’” - Theo Genn

“I started showing when I was just turning 14. I’ll never forget, my dad said to me one day, ‘Theo, if you actually want to show and do this, you’re going to have to ride at least three times a week,’ and it blew my mind! ‘Three times. Are you crazy?’” Theo recalls, laughing at the memory. “Then, it just got to this point where I decided, ‘Okay, I want to do this.’ So, I stopped playing all the other sports, and my dad got me a horse, and it went from there."

It’s been a natural progression, one that Wilhelm probably couldn’t have planned any better. The timing ended up ideal. With each Genn at different points in their progression, deciding who received the rides on which horses was, as Theo says, “super easy.”

“My dad rides as amazing as ever, but he can’t ride as many [horses] anymore, so he doesn’t ride many of the horses in training,” he explains. “He maybe rides three horses – sometimes up to five. My brother was in college for a while, so basically, everything that was coming in, I was riding. Then, slowly my string got put together, and once I had a really solid string of horses and couldn’t really take any more, Ryan graduated from college. So now, anything that comes in [goes to him], and they’re basically the same owners.”

The business is horse-centered, a rarity in an industry where riders frequently traverse the show grounds with an entourage of students in tow. The Genns have about 25 horses, with a few select students, and they don’t take that luxury for granted.

“It’s amazing,” Theo says. “I don’t have the same grind a lot of professionals do, just because of the way my dad was able to shape a business. I get to come [to the horse show] and work on me and work on my horses and try to build a relationship. Then, I get to help a couple of people, like Natalie [Thornell] and Matthew [Round]. They’re more friends than they are students. It’s a special situation. I step back all the time and think, ‘Wow, this isn’t real life. I’m lucky!’”

Family Beyond The Tree

Spend some time with the Rheinland Farm contingent, and it’s quickly apparent that “family” is a term that extends far beyond the surname Genn.

Tory Watters, Paula Quinn, Nina Moore, and Eduardo Leon are far more than owners. All have and continue to provide all three of the Genns with horses to develop and campaign, with little interest in selling. They travel together, dine together, celebrate together, and hang out together; at the end of a show day, you can find them seated together, relaxing and chatting like a family that’s catching up with each other after a long day.

“Eduardo Leon is the most amazing owner” - Theo Genn

Tory Watters of Cincinnati, OH, owns the 10-year-old dynamite chestnut mare Posh, who has been tough to beat on her best day at the 1.35m and 1.40m heights, notching wins at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, Split Rock, the Winter Equestrian Festival, Brownland, Kentucky, and more. Theo also rides the Tory’s homebred, Sporty (Yes, Watters is alluding to the Spice Girls – there’s also been a Beckham in her string) and has gone foxhunting with the family in Lexington, KY.

“I’m so glad that I have Posh, and [the other riders] don’t! She’s not fair!” Theo says. “I’ve had [Posh and Sporty] since they were four, and I’ve been developing them. They’re not really for sale – they’re more like family. The Watters just want to see what they can do. They’re super nice horses.”

Eduardo Leon, meanwhile, owns the superstar of the Genn string, Bugatti, who has racked up Grand Prix wins at both the national and international level like a machine, all with Wilhelm in the irons. The Dutch Warmblood gelding was originally meant to be a hunter, but when Wilhelm first saw a photo of the chestnut free jumping, he knew he wanted to work with him. After the hunter career did not come to fruition, Wilhelm got his chance – and Bugatti proved him right in spades. In addition to his two wins in Traverse City, the fast and agile 12-year-old won the George Hennessy Grand Prix at Country Heir in Lexington, KY, and two two-star grand prix events in Mexico this year alone – not to mention podium finishes in five-star ranking classes at Coapexpan and Ocala.

Wilhelm Genn aboard Bugatti. Photo by Anwar Esquivel.

“I’ve had Bugatti since he was five,” Wilhelm says. “He’s one of many that I’ve developed. I had horses like Happy Z that won 60 grand prixs, I had Chantal that won 27 grand prixs, and I had Ariado that won 11 grand prixs, but Bugatti has turned into quite a special horse. He’s definitely in that elite group of horses I’ve had. He might not be like a huge championship horse, but he’s just a pleasure right now. He wins a lot, and he’s game.”

Eduardo also owns the talented 8-year-old Firewall, with whom Theo won a 1.45m ranking class at CSI2* San Miguel de Allende, the site of Eduardo’s own Otomí Club Hípico Horse Show, which hosts two- and three-star competition in the spring and fall. Ryan is riding two younger horses of Eduardo’s, including homebred Lemens, who won his first 6-Year-Old Young Jumper class at the World Equestrian Center (OH) in August.

“Eduardo Leon is the most amazing owner,” Theo says. “He’s a family friend now – if all the horses were to be gone tomorrow, we’d still be so close with him.”

Wilhelm Genn aboard Bugatti. Photo by Anwar Esquivel.

The foundation of the Genns’ business has centered on developing young horses, but the group is beginning to age and come into their own. Paula Quinn’s Chaccomo 11 and Colora, whom Paula owns in partnership with Nina Moore, are two other up-and-coming 9-year-olds that have Theo excited about the future. Theo is also enjoying working with Taylor Reid’s 12-year-old Boucanier, with whom he won the CSI 2* San Miguel de Allende Grand Prix in May. He got the ride after Taylor suffered an unfortunate back injury last year.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse like him that really knew his job and was that good at it,” Theo says. “I’m really excited to kind of keep him going, because he’s still on the way up.”

Seeking Out “Firsts” With Three

The Genn family is checking off a list of “firsts”: the first time they swept the podium together, the first time they did so in a national standard grand prix, and in May, Wilhelm and Theo shared the podium in an international grand prix, when Wilhelm won at San Miguel and Theo finished third.

Another more unique first for the family involved a bit of a role reversal. Instead of Wilhelm sharing the ride on a top horse with his sons, Theo gave the ride on one of his grand prix mounts to his father. Van Gogh, whom Theo debuted at the international level last summer, is now a mount of Wilhelm’s. The new partnership won two consecutive regional grand prixs at the World Equestrian Center in May.

“Theo was riding Van Gogh, and in the winter he said, ‘Dad, you need another good horse. Take Van Gogh,’” Wilhelm said. “That was very sweet of him. It almost brought me to tears.”

"There's just a lot of love [...] I think right now we have a really good dynamic, and it’s really exciting.” - Wilhelm Genn

With Theo set to jump at the five-star level, the next “first” the family would like to check off is riding in a Nations Cup together, whether on the same team or against each other. Wilhelm rides for Germany, while Theo and Ryan currently represent the U.S., but the younger Genns have the option to switch nationalities if they desire. Regardless of flag, they’ll always share a last name, and it’s obvious that although all have lofty goals – and the work ethic to match – family will always come first.

Ryan Genn. Photo by Sportfot.

“There’s just a lot of love,” Wilhelm says. “We do the training, and I’m sure you know, I’m a little old fashioned still that way. I’m very set in my ways and strict, but I also learned over the years that I have to give Theo and Ryan their freedom, and they have to make their own mistakes. They’re learning as I am learning, and I think it’s working beautifully now. I think right now we have a really good dynamic, and it’s really exciting.”

Don’t bet against this trio winning: a-Genn, and a-Genn, and a-Genn.

Feature photo by Anwar Esquivel.

Written by Catie Staszak

Catie Staszak can typically be found doing one of three things: talking about horses, writing about horses, or riding horses. A broadcast analyst and journalist at FEI competitions, she spends her time traveling to shows and getting behind the microphone to break down courses and get people excited about equestrian sport. Normally spotted with her dog Omaha nearby, she's grateful to be able to combine her greatest passions into a career she loves.