What a year it has been! I feel I’ve been going non-stop, from show to show this year, almost every weekend. The year generally starts out trying to qualify for things such as the Young Horse Championships, Regionals, BLM’s, and Devon. Then later in the season, I attend all these shows, always with my homebred youngsters.
Since this is my first blog, I should probably give a little background on myself. I grew up on my family’s farm in horse crazy Hunterdon county, New Jersey. My mother is a trainer and a National Examiner for the United States Pony Club. I was always very involved in Pony Club as a child. I did mostly eventing and show jumping until I was 18.
It wasn’t until I was in high school and started working for a local Grand Prix dressage rider, Silke Rembacz, that I got more involved in dressage. My next horses became trained for dressage.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different fantastic trainers and Olympians over the years. I spent one winter living in Germany, working, training and just immersing myself in all things dressage. I did actually go to college and got my degree, but I will admit that I’ve never used it, and honestly never really intended to. Horses have always been my life, my love and my passion. How lucky am I, that I get to ride and train horses for a living?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have competed multiple horses now, up through the FEI levels, all of which I’ve had to train myself. Over time, I realized that the only way that I could afford to have quality horses was to make them myself, from the ground up.
I’ve never had the financial resources to buy or import a young, quality dressage horse, let alone one that is already trained. So my mother and I bred our own. We started with our little Oldenburg mare Ming. She’s by Weltstern, who is by Welt As. Welt As was the sire of Anky’s famous Grand Prix horse Bonfire. That is the damline of most of my horses.
Ming’s fourth foal was a colt by Freestyle (Florestan). We named him Fitzhessen. It needed to be an "F" name (Fitz means "son of") and Freestyle is from Hessen. So he was the son of a Hessen. I honesty didn’t like the name at first, but it grew on me over the years. Little did I know that the colt would change my life. I didn’t start him until he was a 4-year-old, because I had been away in Germany.
When he was five, I showed him all over the country, from Pebble Beach, Calif., to Colorado and Dressage at Devon in Pennsylvania. Over time, our bond grew stronger, and his talent was increasingly evident to me, and anyone who watched him. He was a head-turner everywhere we went.
I had never sat on a horse quite like him. His trot was so fun, and he had extreme talent for piaffe and passage, and he knew it! He loved doing it. He quickly climbed the levels and we spent a couple of seasons in Wellington, Fla. In 2012, we won the Intermediare 1 Regional Championships in only his third ever I-1. He really was my rockstar.
Most important of all, though, was that he was truly my best friend. I knew he was my horse of a lifetime. Every day that I rode him, I felt as if I had won the lottery. He would do absolutely anything for me. We would played tag in the indoor arena and he was always waiting for me. He would scream when my truck pulled in, and he’d announce my arrival every time I set foot in the barn.
I used to say we were very co-dependent; I always would say that I’d ride and teach all day long so I could afford everything I did with Fitz.Once we realized how successful the Ming/Freestyle cross was, we repeated it.
We got two full brothers to Fitz over the years. Thank goodness for that. It was a year ago, on Sept. 3, that I had to say goodbye to my beloved Fitzhessen, the most important thing in the world to me. I never could have imagined that I would lose him at 11 years old in the prime of his career.
We were just gearing up to do our first Grand Prix, but it wasn't to be; he developed laminitis. I would have done absolutely anything in the world to save him. We tried everything and fought so hard to keep him alive, as did he.
Nothing worked, so the kindest thing we could do was to let him go. It was probably the hardest day of my life. It felt like the world was ending. My career, my hopes, my dreams, and my best friend, all gone at one time. There was a part of me that wanted to stop riding, but I knew couldn’t, and Fitz would have never wanted that.
While I was riding Fitz, I already was starting to show and train his younger full brother, Faolan, 6-year-old licensed Oldenburg stallion. Last year, he qualified for the U.S. Young Horse Championships at Lamplight in Chicago. His success last year in Second Level at Regionals even earned him a trip to Kentucky for the U.S. Finals. In a weird way, it really did kind of help that he is Fitz’s full brother.
Faolan is clearly proving to me that he’s more that just "Fitz’s Baby Brother." He once again qualified for the Young Horse Championships this year in Chicago again, finishing in the top 10 in the country. He also went to Dressage at Devon, where he showed in the FEI 6-year old classes, as well as Open Fourth Level. He placed in every class, finishing fourth in the FEI 6-year-old, and second in one of the huge and very competitive open Fourth level classes. He also finished third in the Fourth Level Regional Championships, and Fifth in the Third Level Championships at the NEDA Fall Festival in Saugerties, N.Y., where he also qualified for the U.S. Finals in Kentucky.
Last weekend, we were invited to the USEF Young Horse training sessions held in Gladstone, N.J., at the USET Foundation. Our coach, Christine Traurig, flew in from California to work with the six of us, and there was plenty of time for one-on-one work and talking. Christine is tough, but incredibly helpful and good at what she does. Faolan was such a super boy, and we both gained a lot from the time with her.
I have some other young horses, that I’ve bred as well. Some I’ve shown, and some coming up. And another full brother to my Fitzhessen. Those are all for another blog. Our focus now is looking forward to Kentucky next week with my super kid, Faolan. I always know Fitz is watching over us, as Faolan and I continue on our journey in our own partnership.