A Daughter’s Gratitude - Dressage Today

A Daughter’s Gratitude

DT’s managing editor shares her appreciation for the unwavering support of her family.
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It still remains a mystery as to how my mother, Margaret, an artsy, creative, indoorsy type, and my father, Bill, the organ-playing scientist, ever produced me: a rider. There is not a single traceable drop of equestrian blood in my lineage and no one in my family had an interest in horses until I came along. Now I think they know far more about equestrian life than they ever cared to.

Apparently neither Kat nor the 16-year-old version of myself got the memo to smile for this photo, but this is typical of my parents, Bill and Margaret Paulsen, who put on their best faces to cheer me on at yet another schooling show. 

Apparently neither Kat nor the 16-year-old version of myself got the memo to smile for this photo, but this is typical of my parents, Bill and Margaret Paulsen, who put on their best faces to cheer me on at yet another schooling show. 

My mom might still flinch when my mare stomps her foot at the flies and she still religiously applies hand sanitizer after leaving the barn, but when I look back at everything, it’s clear to me how much effort she’s put into learning more about this weird thing called dressage. She’s come a long way from asking questions about “that thing that holds the saddle on” or wondering if it hurts when horses get shoes nailed on. She’s learned how to pronounce words like “passage” and “piaffe.” She’s also become pretty good at explaining to people how dressage is, in fact, a very complex sport.

My dad, the soft-spoken intellectual type, has also quietly been absorbing information about dressage and horses for the past 20 or so years. At one combined-training show where I competed when I was 16, I came out of the stadium arena after my round looking for my parents. I discovered my dad standing at the side of the dressage ring under the blistering Savannah, Georgia, sun, literally engrossed in an Introductory Level dressage test.

“Dad, did you see my jump round?” I asked. “No sweetie, did you already go?” he replied, sounding surprised. “Yeah, I just thought you might have wanted to watch that since jumping tends to be a little more of a spectator sport,” I said. “I really like to watch dressage,” he said excitedly. “You do?” I asked, shocked. “I just think it’s so neat,” he said. “Like the way you salute and everything. It all looks so graceful.”

I realized then what an incredibly special person it takes to not only appreciate dressage but to appreciate dressage in its most basic form—without any of the glamour and excitement of the advanced movements. And, honestly, it sometimes takes a very special person to see the grace and beauty of a walk–trot test. 

I have to give both of my parents so much credit for embracing this passion along beside me, especially for two people who started off without any innate interest in horses. They didn’t choose this. I did. But from my very first lessons as a little kid, they’ve been on board since day one. And I cannot thank them enough. 

I am thankful to my mom, who mended the holes in my breeches and let me wash hairy, sweaty saddle pads in our washing machine at home. She packed me snacks and drove me to my riding lessons and got up early to take me to the barn for clinics and competitions. She ironed my show shirts and took my coat to the dry cleaners. When I was in elementary school, she took hours to carefully paint my name on my turquoise grooming tote, and I felt like the coolest kid in the barn. She volunteered countless times as the ring steward for our schooling shows, proudly declaring herself the “dressage queen” for the day. And she put on her best smile to deal with all of the actual dressage queens who snapped at her for reminding them when they were due in the ring. 

I’m thankful to my mom for always being supportive without being overbearing and for letting horses be “my thing”; for letting me figure things out around the barn on my own, even when I know she secretly wanted to help solve problems for me. I’m thankful to her for putting her own fears of powerful 1,200-pound animals aside and trusting my horse to take care of me. I’m thankful to her for loving my horses in the best way she knows how.

While my dad doesn’t know how to mend holes in breeches, he is the soft, comforting voice on the other end of the phone after I’ve had a bad ride. He is also the first person I call when I have a good ride.

My dad is the one-in-a-million person who has sat on a horse only once or twice in his life, but understands exactly what I mean when I say that a certain horse wasn’t a good fit or that my test didn’t flow right. He has been my sounding board for nearly every major riding decision I have made, and his advice carries just as much weight as that of my trainer. 

My dad is the busiest person I know, but without hesitation, he makes time to share the ups and downs of my riding journey with me. He is the guy who was strong enough to give me endless leg-ups at shows and patient enough to swat bugs away from my horse’s face as we waited to enter the ring. If you listened carefully enough, you could hear him whispering into my mare’s ears, which flicked back and forth as he told her we were going to do great things that day. And to this day, I’m pretty sure my mare likes him more than she likes me. 

Sometimes I wonder how I was lucky enough to have the supportive parents I do—but I know it wasn’t an accident. They are the way they are because of their own parents, my grandparents, who have joined us along this ride. After all, it was my grandpa, Al, who first sat me on his lap when I was 5 years old, clutching my beloved Breyer horses in my arms as he told me he was starting a savings account to buy me my first horse. When I was 16, his promise became a reality when a little bay mare named Kat stepped off the trailer at my trainer’s farm. She was mine. 

Although my grandpa, Al, and grandma, Arlene, were never horsepeople themselves, their generous spirits made it possible for me to eventually have a horse of my own. 

Although my grandpa, Al, and grandma, Arlene, were never horsepeople themselves, their generous spirits made it possible for me to eventually have a horse of my own. 

It so happened that on the day that Kat arrived, my grandpa was hospitalized due to a major health concern. When he became conscious after the incident, “Did Lindsay get her horse?” were the first words out of his mouth.

This month will mark the 10th year of my partnership with Kat, and she will be turning 25 in January. Although our relationship is ever-evolving, she has been my constant muse and the light of my life every day I have owned her. And I’m lucky enough to still share stories of Kat with my grandpa over the phone. Maybe this all sounds familiar to you or strikes a chord in some way. If you are lucky enough to have had a similar experience with these kinds of people in your life, whether they are parents, grandparents, best friends or significant others, hug them extra tight today.

  If you haven’t had the same kind of support system that I have, I only wish that I could send some of that love and support your way. And if ever there comes a day that I am lucky enough to have children of my own—whether they choose to be riders or soccer players or book-worms—it will be my goal to fuel their fires for that passion in the same way my family has done for me.