Several months after losing my long-time dressage partner to a tragic accident, I set out on a 10-degree day in December 2014, to see a skinny, homely looking little Haflinger pony I found on Craigslist. He was tacked up in an oversized Western saddle and headstall. He had no formal training. He would not pick up his feet to be cleaned, would not stand still to be mounted, had no desire to trot and no idea how to canter. Despite these shortcomings, I could not leave him behind. So for the cost of basic vaccinations, a Coggins test and $700 cash, I became the owner of what appeared to be a shaggy and unkempt pony. Little did I know that he would turn out to be a future rock star, living up to his registered name, Noble Champion, or “Champ.”
After a few months of good nutrition, farrier and dental work, Champ started to clean up nicely. My initial plan was to work with him for several months as a project and sell him to a young up-and-coming rider, however the more I worked with him, the more attached I became. The first year of our partnership was spent trail riding with friends, competing in the Crystal Crown Judged Trail Riding series in Northern Virginia and doing basic flat work in the ring. I toyed with jumping lessons, and while Champ had an affinity for jumping, my passion was always dressage.
About nine months after purchasing Champ, I met and began boarding with my friend and riding buddy, Miranda. I had expressed my interest in getting back into dressage and Miranda introduced me to her dressage trainer, Michelle Campbell.
Michelle was trained in the classical school of dressage. Her approach to training and instruction is to focus on the basics and ensure a solid foundation in rhythm and balance before moving forward. She believes in taking things slowly and consistently. She has a tremendous amount of compassion for the horses and how hard they work for their riders.
After watching her teach, I was impressed with her ability to communicate the intricacies of dressage to the rider while still keeping things simple. She was also very patient and encouraging and was always focused on positive reinforcement.
Admittedly, I was not convinced that Champ could excel in dressage. His conformation was not ideal for the sport. He was terribly unbalanced and, most notably, his movement was like that of a sewing machine—short, choppy and without rhythm. I knew it would be tough, but I decided to move forward with lessons. With Michelle’s positive training approach, it did not take long for Champ to show his true gift for dressage, becoming more balanced and rhythmic in his gaits. After just a few months of lessons, groundwork and longeing sessions, Michelle and I found that Champ’s stride began to open up and before long, he was floating across the ring.
In 2015 Michelle encouraged me to show him at Training Level throughout the summer. His scores were incredible. He consistently earned scores into the 70s, as well as high-score awards at many of the shows. By the end of that year we had started First Level and were schooling a variety of lateral movements.
Champ’s success continued at First Level during 2016, as he won multiple classes, and qualified for the Region 1 Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships. By the end of 2016 we had moved on to Second Level, where we won all the classes we entered at that level during that year.
With the help of my boyfriend, Myles, dressage trainer Michelle, and many friends, Champ and I have achieved incredible results. In both 2015 and 2016 Champ won numerous awards in Region 1 and even the Crystal Crown Judged Pleasure Ride Series.
This year Champ and I are continuing to move up the levels in dressage. We are currently schooling Third Level movements and have successfully kicked off the 2017 show season at Second Level. With Champ’s positive and willing attitude, it looks as though the sky is the limit. Every time I ride him, he continues to amaze me with his talent. He has excelled in dressage, jumping and judged trail rides. He has the most incredible work ethic and a heart of gold.