At the end of a small country road in southern Anne Arundel county, a few minutes from Annapolis, Maryland, is Exalt Farm, home to Marija Trieschman, a Grand Prix rider and trainer who has helped literally dozens of riders, from a variety of levels and backgrounds, earn their USDF medals. Since 2001, Marija’s Exalt horses and riders have earned 25 medals—but who is counting, with everyone learning so much and having fun doing it.
Marija (pronounced “Maria”) is a native of Sweden and came to the United States when she was 19. As she tells the story, she got off the plane with $30 in her pocket, two bags, a return plane ticket and “a whole lot of guts!” She had ridden show jumpers in Sweden and got her first job grooming for one of Sweden’s show jumping A-team members when she was 16. And quite by accident she then was offered a job with Jan Brink, who, at that time, was not as well-known as he is now. She worked for him for a year, and as she says, “found dressage.” Marija later went on to work with a variety of skilled dressage riders, including Gunnar Ostergaard, Ellin Dixon at Georg Theodorescu’s facility and Herbert Rehbein in Germany.
When Marija returned to the U.S., though she had several job offers, she decided to go independent. In 1997, she established Exalt Farm. Beginning with a few private students and some clinic jobs that Gunnar had set up for her, she built Exalt into the training barn that it is today. For the first decade or so, she imported one or two young horses each year, sometimes bred by her sister in Sweden, other times from other breeders. These she would train and sell, or keep to compete for some years herself. By 2000 she had earned her silver medal, and it was one of these horses, Tseuse, who became her gold medal mount in 2007. Marija trained all these horses by herself—she had no regular coach and went to only a few clinics.
But Marija was not really alone. By that time, she had a loyal following of boarders who supported each other and from time to time served as eyes on the ground for Marija herself. There were also working students, usually from Scandinavia, who stayed for six months or a year and became part of the Exalt family.
Exalt is a friendly barn. It is not fancy, proof that dollars do not necessarily create excellence and that horses do not care what their barn looks like as long as they are well cared for. All the horses go out from about 6 AM to noon in the winter and at night in the summer. Marija rides many of the horses several times a week. A few are horses she started, now owned by clients, still at Exalt. Some owners, now riding at Third Level or above, do most of their own riding, with Marija getting on the horse when there is some issue that needs work or when the student does not know what a certain movement should feel like.
Marija’s approach is to alternate between training the horse and training the rider. This is how she has brought along so many amateurs, many of whom arrive with their own horses and some training, perhaps at First or even Second Level, but are not able to get any further. And these amateurs show their own horses—rarely does Marija show a client horse.
The same comments about Marija come from many clients. They describe her as always encouraging, and say the barn is a fun place to be. People who gather there tend to have the same attitude and purpose in their riding. Everyone supports each other. Her students say that she can teach at any level and she is someone who has empathy and is spiritual. She helps promote a sense of purpose and service.
Some clients come to Marija after having ridden for many years, but all credit her with pushing them through to medal status. Marcia Mia was riding at First Level when she bought a young horse from Marija in the early 2000s, and a decade later she became the first of Marija’s students to earn her gold medal. Marcia sold that horse as a schoolmaster and he promptly carried his new owner, a Junior, from bronze to gold in three years.
A few lucky ones buy a made horse and those prior years of training pay off—another rider, Elizabeth Farina, bought her horse, Briggs, from Marija and went from bronze to gold in three years.
Then there is Bugsy, a one-eyed Thoroughbred bought as an unbroken youngster right out of a field by Elizabeth O’Connor, a police officer. Some years later they found Marija, and Bugsy is now well into his teens. He and Elizabeth earned their bronze in 2011, silver in 2014 and recently earned their gold—something that clearly astonishes Elizabeth, who had no such expectations, but who is quick to praise Marija for simply building one block at a time and never making assumptions about how much the horse could do or not do. Serene Pifer, a military spouse, has moved three times since leaving Exalt with her horse, Don Diablo, is one of Marija’s imports. He has carried her to her bronze and two scores toward silver, and her current trainer has earned her silver on “Donnie.” Serene says that everyone who has come in contact with her horse says “whoever trained him really knew what they were doing.” Marija also has a loyal group of students in Minnesota and Iowa where she clinics regularly, several of whom have earned medals since starting to work with her, including four silver medalists who have almost-to-gold scores in the bag. Linda Kiser, a newly-minted silver medalist , says, “Marija straightens out difficult horses and she straightens us out, too.”
This article first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Dressage Today.