Dressage Life: Ode to the Schoolmasters

Eager to recover from an injury, a dressage rider reflects on her riding experiences and the great schoolmasters who have helped her progress.
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Linda Rogers with Meredith Russo on Excelsior | Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers with Meredith Russo on Excelsior | Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers

I've been regrettably out of the saddle for seven months now, due to a shoulder/neck injury sustained at work. All this time to think about my riding experiences on great schoolmasters made me want to write some of it down. I figured I might as well kill time while I wait here in the orthopedics office another 45 minutes.

First, there was CJ, a Thoroughbred in his early 20s, owned by Lynnea Walker. She told me she went looking for a "husband horse," saw the emaciated Thoroughbred and purchased him for $100, unaware of his training. After a year of tender loving care, her husband mentioned while riding him that he felt weird. Lynnea got on to investigate what was going on and realized CJ had had some formal dressage training. So much for being a husband horse!

CJ acquired me when I decided to try dressage after riding Western for years on my own rescue horse. But, having lost my horse to old age, I was ready for a complete change of discipline. Lynnea and I laughed quite a bit during those lessons. I don't think she ever thought I would stop trying to neck rein, but I was hooked right away. She and CJ were just what I needed at that time.

Oscar was next--a Dutch Warmblood in his later years, owned by Joanne Lawrence. Thankfully, he was a very forgiving fellow. We spent a short time together on the basics. He could perform a wonderful straight leg yield that could make any lower-level student feel as though she could achieve lateral work one day. Joanne impressed upon me how important the basics really are.

Then, Adam came into my life. He was a Hanoverian that was owned by Wendy Rigby since he was 3. I don't think I've ever seen a horse so connected to his owner. Wendy told me he was very naughty in his early years, although she competed up to Prix St. Georges with him to earn her USDF silver medal when he was 18. He was so sensitive that he would try just about anything to figure out what his riders were asking for and, despite being almost 17 hands, he was a lamb when the smaller, younger kids would mount up.

I give Adam credit for allowing me to learn to feel a horse underneath me and to clearly think about what I was doing. I thank Wendy for all the work she has done with me to this day and for actually getting me to the show grounds. After all, who wouldn't want to show Adam if given the chance? His rider was practically guaranteed a ribbon. Finally, he received the well-earned opportunity to go back to Intro and Training Levels with some trail rides thrown in, which we loved. He holds a very special place in my heart and the hearts of other students privileged to have learned from him. All of his riders adored him. After a few years of battling Cushings Disease, he was euthanized in 2003. He is sadly missed and never forgotten.

The last schoolmaster I was learning on was Kalif, a 19-year-old Swedish Warmblood owned by JoAnn Veirkant. For some reason, he and the mares think he's the stud of the barn. No one dares tell him he was gelded a long time ago. Kalif comes out of his stall as though he is on a mission. He is serious about his work, and expects his rider to be serious about it, also. He knows he has talent and a lot to offer, yet he loves attention.

Trained to Grand Prix, Kalif was absolutely the most challenging horse I have ever ridden. Even at his age, he has unbelievable suspension, knows all the technicalities of the upper-level movements but will not execute them until the rider gets the aids exactly right. He made me earn every lesson. We enjoyed some wonderful hacks out on the trail in addition to the work in the ring. Kalif's gift to me was teaching me the correct way of applying the aids for the movement that I wanted and for giving me the chance to experience half pass, passage and piaffe. Thanks, JoAnn, for sharing him.

Now, as I work on healing, my very generous friend, Meredith Russo, has offered both her Friesians for me to ride or show when I can. We met about four years ago and hit it off from the start. We are two very different souls that compliment each other's personalities. I try to rein her in, and she tries to make me think outside the box.

Her older horse, Moose, and I have already spent some time together riding off and on over the years and even went to a show. His personality is almost cat-like, and he seems to not want to be bothered with that dressage stuff. Driving seems to be more his forte.

Meredith's other Friesian, Excelsior is another story indeed. She and her husband, Jere, brought him home as a baby. Now, just turning 4 and almost 16.3 hands, he wants to be with anyone who is willing to pay attention to him. We were working together to get him started until I got hurt at work and she had a riding accident that left her with a broken leg. Now I am handling some groundwork and clicker training until I can start riding again. Prior to my injury, I had a chance to try him a few times and am eager to get back on and apply all I've been able to learn from the generous horses and trainers I've been fortunate to work with. If it's possible to direct his power and talent, he has such potential for pursuing that centerline.

I'm hoping we'll see you there at X!

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