Visit Legacy Farms—home of Olympian Lars Petersen—in Loxahatchee, Florida, any day of the week and you will notice that it runs like a well-oiled machine. It has to. With an elite head dressage trainer; his Grand Prix competitor wife, Melissa Taylor; four top grooms; two apprentice trainers; 30 horses in training/sales and 25 students’ horses stabled in or around the farm, it is the only way to achieve the success they have at the top of the sport. With Petersen and Taylor at the helm, the team includes groom Caitlin Calabrese and student trainers Katryna Evans and Laura Rique.
A Strong Leader
Petersen, born in Denmark, grew up with the foundation of a strong work ethic. As a rider for the Blue Hors Stud—one of Europe’s leading stallion stations—he maintained enough focus to train horses to win the Danish National Championship five times, and represent his country at the Atlanta Olympic Games, three World Equestrian Games (WEG) and two World Cups. For the last 11 years, he’s built his business in the United States, just 15 minutes northwest of the famed Wellington, Florida. Last year he returned to Denmark for the first time since moving to the U.S. to compete in the Danish Championships and other top European shows, achieving the rank of 18th on the FEI World Ranking List for dressage riders.
Petersen’s work ethic speaks for itself: He rides seven to nine horses in the morning before teaching as many as eight full-hour riding lessons throughout the day. “It’s quite a daily operation,” says Calabrese. “Lars knows what he needs to do with each horse and lets me know what’s needed in the way of care.”
Evans believes Petersen understands the horse as an athlete more than anybody she’s ever worked for. “He has a really sound foundation of horsemanship,” she says. “He loves his horses. He knows how to get them to want to do the work for him. He doesn’t force it out of them. They are really willing. He also gives self-confidence to the horse. He lets the horses make mistakes and doesn’t punish them; rather, he encourages them to try even harder. It’s as if Lars says to the horse, ‘You tried, that was wrong, keep trying.’”
A Great Partner
Taylor is the “brains” of the entire operation, overseeing the full-time staff, keeping the business books and working on the scheduling as well as the care of the facility and a whole lot more. Up at 4 a.m., when Petersen leaves to ride, Taylor does all the office work and responds to emails before riding her first horse at 6:45 a.m. She then rides three to four more horses before teaching her half-dozen or so students.
“My big focus is getting Katy [Evans] and Schumacker really tuned up for the FEI Under 25 Grand Prix,” says Taylor. Schumacker Solyst (aka Shumy) is Taylor’s 19-year-old Grand Prix horse whom she competed in the U.S. Equestrian Federation Festival of Champions for numerous years. Happy to pass along all she’s learned, Taylor says, “Shumy is like putting on an old shoe. It just fits. We have been together for years. I can get on him and I know exactly what he’s going to do. Lately, I’ve been sitting on him first and showing Katy my technique. Then she can feel where he needs to be in the collected work. It’s really been fun.”
Evans, 24, has been working as one of Petersen’s riders for more than a year. “I help Lars with the warming up and the cooling down of his horses,” she says. “I really don’t know how he does what he does, but it’s amazing to watch him ride. I do whatever he needs to keep his horses on the correct training schedule that he has designed for each one. Later in the day, I work with [Taylor].”
Evans began her career at the age of 13, when she first went to Germany to be a praktikant—an intern who helps with sweeping, rolling wraps and riding the occasional horse. At 16, she started her bereiter apprenticeship. Under normal German conditions, the bereiter takes three years, but for foreigners, it takes five. After five years, Evans passed the bereiter exam in Warendorf, Germany, at the age of 21. The test requires an extensive written exam, an essay, a 10-minute speech in front of a panel of judges, teaching a lesson in dressage and jumping and riding one of the facility-owned school horses in dressage and jumping.
Thirty-year-old Rique is from Zurich, Switzerland, and has worked as one of Petersen’s riders for more than a year and a half with Team Legacy. She has also become quite proficient with in-hand work. “I warm up horses for Lars and prepare the sale horses,” she says. “Plus, I’ve become talented in the in-hand work that Lars has taught me. I really had to watch him and understand what he was looking for. It works really well. I have a passion for it.”
Rique says the more horses she works with, the more she learns about their different personalities. “I can tell if the horse tends to be behind the leg or always heavy and running,” she says. “You can see their character. When the rider rides the horse after the in-hand work, he cannot believe the change in the horse’s back and the rideability.”
Both apprentice trainers appreciate the support they receive. “Lars really supports us and watches to make sure the horses go in the right way,” says Rique. “If he sees any difficulties, he really gets involved in helping us. If he sees it working out well, through the system in the way he wants, then he lets us be on our own and work it out ourselves.
“Lars is a very down-to-earth person,” Rique continues. “He knows how hard it is to make a Grand Prix horse, and that is why he is so tough on us. He’s trying to explain that if we want to become very good professional riders, we have to work and we have to be consistent. He doesn’t say this every day, but you can feel it. That’s what we appreciate about him.”
A Great Groom
Having worked for Petersen for more than three years, Calabrese’s day starts at 4:45 a.m., “when the birds are not chirping yet, but the tree frogs are.” She is in charge of his nine show horses, but most especially, Mariett, Lars’ top competition horse and WEG mount owned by Marcia Pepper. Calabrese either travels with Petersen and the horses or helps with lesson scheduling at home.
All the horses get out of their stalls three times a day—some get hand-walked while others are hacked out on a trail or worked in-hand. It depends on the needs of each horse on that particular day. “All of his horses have their own program assigned to them,” Calabrese explains. “I help with that. I do all their maintenance and therapeutic needs—magnetic blankets, lasering, icing, massaging, grooming. I make sure they are treated like the top athletes that they are.
“I love the shows,” adds Calabrese. “I look forward to going to Europe. It’s an awesome opportunity to go to such large venues and see such great horses and riders at the top of the sport. Last year the Danish Championships were exciting. I was exposed to a lot of horses and riders that I had never seen before; also the different grooms, how everybody does it. There aren’t a lot of people who get such a close look at the top athletes in the sport of dressage, and it’s very inspirational. I’m really proud of Lars and Mariett.”
Petersen also has Calabrese hack out Mariett a couple days a week. “He always says, ‘Just give her the reins and let her walk around.’ I have such a great bond with Mariett and such a great appreciation for her. I love being in her company. Coming from a small town,
I never thought I’d have the chance to sit on one of these top horses. It’s really humbling.”
Working with competition horses on the farm starts early each day and finishes at 5:30 p.m. every day of the week. Calabrese says, “It’s not like work. It’s not a job where you feel like you are going through the motions. You feel like your job has a purpose. What you are doing is going for a greater goal. You’re not just icing the horse for the sake of icing. It’s all the little pieces that make up the bigger puzzle.”
Rique agrees: “We really try to be on top of everything for each horse. Lars is a very traditional rider; he doesn’t overdo it. He doesn’t say, ‘Let the vet come.’ To him it’s all about the management, the care of the horse after being ridden. Of course, he thinks about the horse being ridden through and says this is where you keep the horses sound. If you don’t ride the horse in a through way [with the hind legs stepping under] your horse will not be sound.”
Both Petersen and Taylor believe that without a good team of grooms and riders, they wouldn’t get anywhere. “We would have too much work to do ourselves to accomplish anything,” says Taylor. “It takes a bit of responsibility, and it can get intense at times, but it’s absolutely worth it.
“Our grooms have to be on it,” she continues. “They cannot be behind. Everything has to run like clockwork. They might get yelled at here and there, but they quickly learn and know they are not being criticized. Same with the riders: Lars will be in the middle of a lesson, Katy or Laura may go by and Lars might give them a stern correction. It’s a chance for them to learn and they understand that it comes from a place of caring. Most often, he will explain more to them at the end of the lesson he’s teaching.”
In the end, the entire team understands that working together is what makes them so successful. “We have a really great atmosphere here at Legacy Farms and a great team,” says Calabrese. “We can work hard and laugh throughout the day.”