A New Meaning for “Never” in Dressage

One senior dressage rider’s quest to earn her USDF gold medal
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Sandy Jacobsen with her Swedish Warmblood, Monterey (left) and her Dutch Warmblood, Picasso.
 (Giavonna Scott )

Sandy Jacobsen with her Swedish Warmblood, Monterey (left) and her Dutch Warmblood, Picasso. (Giavonna Scott )

Most people know the axioms “never too late” and “better late than never.” They both apply to me and my journey to ride and show at the top of dressage: Grand Prix. My quest to ride dressage at the FEI level began as I ended a 25-year career of three-day eventing.

For me, the first step in this journey was to find a horse with potential for the upper levels. At the time, my event horses had never competed above First Level and were at the top of their training. I began with a horse-shopping trip to Holland with my trainer. This is where I found my Dutch Warmblood, Picasso. I knew within the first five minutes of riding him that he was the horse for me and to this day, we still have a fabulous partnership. Picasso had to endure learning dressage with me from First Level to Intermediaire I and fortunately we both survived. I earned my USDF bronze and silver medals with him and the two qualifying scores at Intermediaire I needed for my USDF gold medal. As quite often happens, Picasso’s talent did not go beyond Intermediaire I, but I love him so much I am content with the achievements we obtained together.

Even though I was so pleased with our accomplishments, in the following years I still had the desire to ride and show Grand Prix. I was lucky enough to ride a few schoolmasters and learn the movements, but the illusive gold medal was still on my bucket list. Since the years were flying by and I was 68 years old, I decided to get busy and make the final quest for the gold medal complete.

Several tasks needed to be completed to successfully show at Grand Prix and obtain the gold medal. I needed to live in a city with qualified trainers, the right type of boarding facility and easy access to dressage shows, so I relocated to Sacramento, California. Of course, I also needed a competitive Grand Prix schoolmaster. My search led me to Monterey or “Monty,” a Swedish Warmblood gelding who was the perfect horse. He is willing, forgiving and really knows his job. He is a fabulous horse and I dearly love him—he is always a gentleman at home and at the shows. Both he and Picasso are the greatest horses to own.

After owning Monty for two months and taking extensive lessons, I decided to show and finally ride the Grand Prix test. I figured it would be a good learning experience and I would find out how to warm him up for a test and we would see what our weaknesses were. To my surprise, we got a 60 percent qualifying score. Monty really came through for me and tried his best with my attempts at the Grand Prix movements. The next month we returned to that facility for another show and received another 60 percent qualifying score.

The hardest part of my quest is the constant demanding work involved in being able to ride at the Grand Prix level. In addition to all of the other parts and pieces of riding at that level, you also have to be dedicated to getting and staying physically fit enough to ride your horse. Riding the test is quite exhausting and I found myself just about out of breath at the end. This is not easy at 68 years old with an already broken and bent body. Luckily, I am still healthy enough to hang in there and I am glad to have the help of my trainer, who can do the extra hard work to keep Monty fit and tuned up.

Now I have succeeded in my quest of riding and showing at the top of the sport and earning my gold medal. Never say never. I think my final goal will be to ride the century test. When I am 75 years old, Picasso will be 25 and we will ride our last test together.

Some of my friends say I am an inspiration to have achieved my goal at my age. I have not really thought of it that way, but if I have inspired anyone with my journey to Grand Prix, that makes it all the better. I hope others will pursue their dream and then maybe I will have achieved more than just my goal of riding at Grand Prix.    

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