A Dressage Dream Fulfilled

How one rider found her ideal dressage partner in a Lusitano from Brazil.

Credit: Courtesy, Crystal Lee Nancy Stone and Universo

Picture yourself riding in harmony with your horse, executing a series of effortless flying changes, a fluid half pass and rhythmic passage steps. That was my dream. I tried to convince myself that I was perfectly happy with what I had, an Anglo-Arab competing at First Level and a difficult Dutch Warmblood mare perpetually stuck at Training Level. However, at age 48, I was finally ready to make my dream come true.

I was the stereotypical horse-crazy girl who visualized herself as the rider in The Black Stallion and King of the Wind. I had a picture in my mind where I was one with my horse. But I struggled to make my body move in harmony with my childhood horses. Eventually, my dream-chasing took me to Meredith Manor Equestrian Center in my late 20s, when I prematurely cashed in my retirement savings from teaching elementary school and enrolled in the program. I decided to study dressage since the systematic approach appealed to my personality and the sheer elegance of rider and horse closely matched the picture in my mind. 

After nearly 20 years of riding, I had to learn how to ride a horse. I had to unlock joints that had been successfully locked for years. Hip, knee and ankle joints had to become loose and absorb the motion to allow me to sit without banging in the saddle. I had to let my elbow joints learn how to open and close so that my hands were quiet. I learned balance and how to follow the horse’s motion without falling off. It was an amazing feeling when I finally sat the trot correctly. I felt that I moved in harmony with my horse for the first time in my life. I was becoming the picture in my mind, and with that realization, I discovered that my dream was to become a Grand Prix rider.

After six years working at Meredith Manor, I struck out on my own in the equestrian world. I established my own facility and specialized in working with owners to help them establish partnerships with their horses. It was rewarding work, which I did for 12 years, but it got me no closer to my dream. Instead, I spent my time establishing the foundation on young horses and never had the opportunity to ride a dressage schoolmaster. My body forgot the upper-level work that I had learned. 

Once again, I found myself determined to focus on achieving my goal. I went back to amateur status and starting taking dressage lessons with trainer Kris Barrett on my two horses. It quickly became evident that I was going to stay at the lower levels with my current horses. I struggled between the prudent decision not to invest in an upper-level horse and my desire to become a Grand Prix rider. Finally, with Kris’s expert advice, and the blessings of my daughters, I went to Brazil in search of my new horse.

Kris took me to Sucandi to ride Lusitanos. Of course I didn’t recognize my dream horse when I first saw him. Suffering from a combination of jet lag and nervous anticipation, I hopped on a small gray named Universo—a horse with an established foundation and already working at the upper levels. I did not feel graceful or harmonious at all. In fact, I felt quite the opposite, clumsy with my aids and out of sync with the horse. But when my trainer told me to do an extended trot, I didn’t think, I just asked for it, and suddenly I was airborne, not out of the saddle but flying on a horse like an airplane taking off (just like all the visualization techniques we are taught to use). I rode lots of other lovely Lusitanos, but after several days of riding the little gray, we began to fit together. And so I made the mind-boggling decision to purchase Universo.

I now own a confirmed Third Level horse with an abundance of natural talent, an affinity for work and the desire to please. At 10, he already has a schoolmaster personality, which I clearly need as I challenge my middle-age body to learn how to ride upper level movements. I am riding in a collected frame, executing lateral movements, working on mediums and extensions and practicing my flying changes. We are even working on the half steps that precede the piaffe and passage work. Finally, I own my dream, and I am on my way to becoming a Grand Prix rider. With Universo, I am the picture in my mind. 






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