Hope for Harmony

One dressage rider accomplished her lifelong goal despite a turbulent journey.
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Credit: Courtesy, Alexa Briscoe Alexa Briscoe and 19-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding, Wildfeuer

Credit: Courtesy, Alexa Briscoe Alexa Briscoe and 19-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding, Wildfeuer

I have never believed in love at first sight, but Feuer and I had a connection from the start. When I was 15 my first horse needed a lighter workload so I sought a younger partner for my journey to Grand Prix. After months of searching, I traveled to Germany with my wonderful trainer, Becky Langwost-Barlow. We stopped at one farm to see a 2-year-old for her, and they suggested a 4-year-old stallion for me. The last thing I wanted was a young stallion. I didn’t change my mind as I watched him. But inexplicably as soon as I sat on his back and picked up the reins I knew he was my horse. I gelded and imported him and changed his name from Wildfire to Wildfeuer to honor his German heritage.

We had ups and downs over the next few years. Although sometimes very spooky, Feuer proved to be a mostly delightful partner for dressage, jumping and trail riding. We learned a lot together, though from the start we were interrupted by health issues, including loose stifles, a torn suspensory ligament and EPM. We didn’t show at all for a while between 2001 and 2003.

During my first year of college in Houston I missed Feuer terribly and realized how much horses and riding truly meant to me. I was thrilled when he joined me for my second year and we tried to get back on track. It was tough without Becky, with whom I had been training since I was 11. We suffered another setback when Feuer stuck his leg through a straight-wire fence. The vets told me that if the wire had gone just slightly farther into his coffin joint, Feuer would have had to be put down. Thankfully, he recovered well, and after I finally found a good trainer, Lurena Bell, we won the USDF/GAIG Region 9 Championships at Third Level in 2005.

Then, in early 2006, things started to fall apart. One day in March, Feuer spooked, spun and went instantly lame. He was better the next day but something wasn’t right. Months of intermittent lameness and diagnostics followed, until the vets finally determined that he had a bone cyst in his left shoulder. Vets at Texas A&M performed surgery to remove the cyst, and after many months I was able to ride again.

In 2008, I thought we would finally be able to move forward. After college I returned to Maryland, brought Feuer home and happily resumed training with Becky. Feuer and I showed that spring and summer, but in the fall, his lameness returned. A second surgery was performed to clean up the area of the cyst. When there was no real improvement, I really started to worry. 

That is when Dr. Norris Adams stepped in. He found a case study of three horses with a similar condition, who had been saved by a radical surgery. None of those horses was a dressage horse, and it seemed unlikely that Feuer would recover enough quality of movement and extension in the leg and shoulder to be in full work again. However, I loved him dearly and hoped that the surgery would at least make him comfortable enough to retire happily and maybe trail ride. While he recovered, I groomed and played with him and taught him silly tricks. One day when I saw him trotting in the field, he looked surprisingly sound. 

I sent Dr. Adams a video of Feuer trotting on the longe, and he gave me the green light to start gentle riding. As the weeks and months passed, Feuer’s recovery proved to be nearly miraculous: Not only could he be ridden comfortably, but he moved just as he had before!

Against all odds, we returned to the show ring in 2010. The past year has been a big one. Last fall we showed in our first CDI at Dressage at Devon. A few weeks later we won the Region 1 Championships at Intermediaire II and traveled to Kentucky for the U.S. Dressage Finals, where we came in second by a hair. 

The highlight of the weekend though, was showing Grand Prix for the first time in the Alltech Arena. I teared up as we went down centerline, thinking back to our years of uncertainty. I never suspected when I bought him as a 4-year-old that it wouldn’t happen until 13 years later! Earning my gold medal last April was the icing on the cake. 

The test was not flawless but it did perfectly reflect our many years together: moments of harmony punctuated by near-disaster. Here’s hoping the future holds more harmony.

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