In 1996, The Dressage Foundation formed the Century Club to honor horse-and-rider pairs whose combined ages add up to 100 or more. In fall 2009, 74-year-old clinician and trainer Jeremy Beale of Chester Springs, Pa., became the first rider to join with an FEI-level ride. Riding Casual Winter (Tigger), a 26-year-old Colombian Thoroughbred owned by his student Amy York, Beale rode a Prix St. Georges test at the VADA NOVA Autumn II show at Morven Park in Virginia.
"My student Amy has been attending my clinics for a long time," says Beale. "With my help, she has taken Tigger all the way to Grand Prix. She was at a clinic in late 2008, and I just happened to ask her how old the horse was. It turned out he was 26 and still going strong. I am 74, so I thought, 'Well, we should have a go at the Century Club ride.' That's how it all started." Unfortunately, Tigger pulled a muscle early in 2009 and was laid up for a while, pushing plans for the Century ride to the fall. "Amy lives in Virginia, and I went down there the week of the show to ride him. I rode three times--that was the only preparation we had."
Beale recalls the test--foibles and all: "I felt good about it," he says, "but I was a little disappointed in Tigger's canter work. He and I didn't speak the same language when it came to flying changes." The horse had been doing Grand Prix with his owner but had not competed since his layoff. Beale says that going into a half pirouette, Tigger wanted to take over and do a complete circle. "I had to get him out of it, and in doing so he changed leads both times. He was supposed to stay in counter canter until we got to C for a flying change. Little things like that went wrong. I knew the trot and walk work had gone well, so I felt pretty good about that." Beale and Tigger scored 54 percent, "which is not very good," he says, "but it was probably the best we could do under the circumstances."
Beale admits to enjoying his first show in 16 years. "It was fun, and I have to say the show committee did a great job of putting it on."
A popular clinician, Beale's students came to watch from as far away as Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, as the news spread that he would perform his Century ride. "There were probably 50 to 70 people in the bleachers," he says. "We knew there was going to be a big ovation at the end and were afraid if that happened during the class, we would upset the next horse coming in. So, we suggested putting my ride last, and that worked very well. The judge actually came out and said a few nice words, and then I thanked all the people who helped me get there."
Beale came to dressage in the 1960s through eventing. "I had to make the choice between the British event team and British show jumping team," he remembers. He chose eventing and went on to a legendary international career, winning the prestigious Burghley Three-Day Event in 1965. He was reserve rider at the Olympics in 1960 and 1964, having lost his first-string horse to injury in the final weeks before both Games. He later penned the book Eventing in Focus.
After leaving the army with the rank of Major in 1967, he moved to the United States, focused on dressage and earned his USDF gold medal. In 1989, he began designing saddles and tack for his newest venture, Laser Equestrian Products. Today, he continues to teach and train with his wife, Jan, at their Pen-y-Bryn Farm. Will he compete again? "I have ridden at the top level in three disciplines and now prefer to live vicariously through my students," he says. "But this Century ride was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
To date, 66 riders have completed a Century Club ride. To learn more, go to www.dressagefoundation.org.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Dressage Today magazine.