California Riding Magazine • August, 2013

The Gallop: Chuck Esau
A horseman's life well lived.
Dec. 12, 1945 - June 15, 2013

by Cheryl Erpelding

Friends and family gathered at Del Mar Horsepark
to remember and honor the life of Chuck Esau.

Over 300 friends and family turned out on a beautiful summer day for Chuck Esau's memorial and celebration of his amazing life at the Del Mar Horsepark on July 15. Chuck's nephew Mac Esau did a wonderful job delivering the eulogy and many stood up to share their favorite Chuck stories. 

Chuck was born Charles G. Esau, Jr., Dec. 12, 1945, to Marie and Colonel Charles G. Esau Sr. in Washington DC. As an Army brat, Chuck lived in many places and got his first horse at the age of 6 while his dad was stationed in Germany. From that first ride it was reported that Chuck was rarely out of the saddle. The Army kept the Esaus on the move and Chuck found a new stable to ride at with every change of duty.

Chuck's first equine heartthrob was a little mare named Queante. They jumped, hunted and raced cross-country together putting together a life long winning streak. While his dad was stationed at the Pentagon, Chuck rode with many other riders that went on to great careers including Joe Fargis and Corky Shaha. Chuck at that time showed Able Archer to many wins. He was quite famous around the barn for being brave and maybe a bit crazy when in the irons.

Chuck headed off to college with the intent of studying veterinary medicine, but his love of riding and teaching brought him back to the barn. He applied and was hired to teach riding for the
B & B Farm, owned by the Anheuser-Busch families in St. Louis. Chuck's timing was perfect as two of our most legendary trainers regularly instructed at the B & B Farm. Learning from Gordon Wright and George Morris profoundly influenced Chuck's growth as a rider and instructor. The foundation Chuck received from these two riding giants was tremendous and Chuck used it to help all the riders and horses he worked with throughout his very successful career.

It was at the B & B Farm that Chuck met Lindy, whom he married in 1969. Shortly thereafter they moved to San Diego County where they built a hugely successful program at the former La Jolla Farms, ran the Rancho Bernardo Riding Club for 15 years, and eventually went into business with his daughter Emily, forming EE Show Stables. 

Photo courtesy of Nancy Reed

Chuck was very active and influential in the California horse industry. He served as the president of the California Professional Horsemen's Association, he was one of the founding members of the Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association, and was instrumental in the building of the Del Mar Horsepark. In 1991 Chuck was named United States Equestrian Federation's Trainer of the Year.

Chuck had an exceptional reputation as a trainer and teacher. His daughters Emily and Erin were always the ones to beat from the time they started in the short stirrup and pony divisions and as they continued up through the hunter and jumper divisions. Chuck loved all his students, but was always a formidable instructor. Attention to detail and doing things correctly were always front and center in every lesson. 

One of Chuck's traditions in teaching was his twice-weekly ladies group that he started back in St. Louis and continued with until the final two weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. Chuck always pushed his riders, even his ladies group. They loved his intensity and they all improved with every ride. He insisted that they never give up until they got it right.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Reed

Chuck was lucky enough to teach his son Charlie's daughter Ayla at his Cherem Farm in Encinitas. And in true Esau tradition, Ayla
has already pulled down her fair share of champion ribbons. 

George Morris sent a letter offering his deepest sympathies to Chuck's family. He wrote that Chuck was always a student of the sport. He always carried on the system to the whole West Coast and served that part of the country well by carrying on the principles of good horsemanship. 

Chuck is survived by his sisters, Suzanne Wilson, Beth Aikman; his brother, Ted Esau; his children, Emily Esau Williams, Erin Esau and Charles G. Esau III; his grandchildren, Ayla, Abigail and Wyatt; and his former wife, Lindy Esau, a steadfast part of his life. 

A Student's Reflection

by Ellen Watlington (written in 2004)

From across the show grounds, a hundred feet away, Chuck's voice is loud and clear…well I wouldn't say clear for though his voice is loud, it also has that unmistakable rasp and just a remnant of his Midwestern twang. I can only smile to myself for it is a voice and an experience that I have known for so many years.

It's 7 in the morning and he stands wearing his sweat stained cowboy hat and a stoic expression while he sips his diet Pepsi and prepares to light his next cigarette. The slight, almost transparent smile that plays across his face contradicts his screams of frustration at my sister for an imperfect ride on a far from perfect horse. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, all his tiny corrections seem to fix the problem which further justifies his reputation as the most feared and respected trainer in southern California.

Despite his aging body, he is the quintessential horseman. His smell, an unambiguous concoction of swirling smoke, saddle soap and maybe just a touch of sweet horse manure. He is like a walking jeopardy board full of horse facts that seems never ending. He knows everything and anything that is remotely connected to the word equine. And for every question you can ask him, there is a story to follow. Judges, trainers, grand prix riders and Olympic medalists, he knows them all and they all know him.

I distinctly remember my first lesson with the infamous Chuck Esau. I was nervous, no doubt, and certainly over-attired, but it made no difference to him that I was 9 years old on a 15 year old, limited pony. Everyone brave enough to be there gets the best he can give and is expected to give theirs.

The lesson continued on for 2½ hours in the crowded arena where I did all that I could to absorb his unrelenting criticisms and challenging exercises. "Your left hand is exactly a quarter of an inch higher than your right which is causing her head to turn slightly which pushes her inside shoulder to the center of the ring which throws her off balance and results in her picking up the incorrect lead," he bellowed in an exasperated tone.

Sometime before the lesson ended he managed to question both my intelligence and my attention span, but finally I managed to follow his direction and fix the problem. As I hopped off he put on a charming smile and said "great job sweetheart, see you tomorrow?" and walked out. Of course tomorrow! Every day of practice is one day closer to the congratulatory "whoop, whoop" we are all hoping to hear. Because Chuck not only expects hard work he also appreciates it.