It was two years ago at Dressage Affaire in San Diego, California, that I met Calleen Kinney, a captain in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). As I was tending to my vendor space and watching all the beautiful dressage horses, this helicopter pilot for the USMC came up to me to discuss dressage and personal training. She was on a mission: She wanted to earn her USDF bronze medal before she deployed to Afghanistan in two years and she was in need of a trainer.
She told me that she needed to train close to southern California’s Camp Pendleton, and it just so happened that my facility, Sterling Farms, is only 15 minutes from the military training base’s back gate.
Calleen had other challenges in addition to her upcoming deployment: Although she had ridden her whole life, she only recently had started riding dressage and thus, would be starting almost from the beginning. She also couldn’t commit to owning a horse because of her deployment. In less than two years, we had to find her a suitable horse and get Calleen from Training through Third Level, earning scores above 60 percent twice at each level from First through Third to earn her bronze. Calleen’s direct objective and obvious determination gave me the confidence that she could achieve her goal and I told her I was happy to help.
The first show season we were lucky to find a sweet Andalusian stallion named Nobel. The owner was looking for someone to show him to help get him sold, and Calleen was the perfect answer. Nobel had dressage training, but he had some holes due to inconsistent training in his past. To get qualifying scores for a USDF bronze medal, the horse must be essentially flawless in the basics. Calleen needed to become more established at the lower levels and Nobel needed more time spent there as well.
Calleen rode Nobel from Training to Second Level in one season and qualified for the 2012 Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) in southern California at Second Level.
After the 2012 show season, Nobel went to a new owner and Calleen found another horse to ride. He was also a stallion, this time a Holsteiner named Luke.
Unlike Nobel, Luke was a very high-spirited horse. Calleen was capable of riding him, no doubt, but keeping him under control to get her qualifying scores would be the challenge. To add to it all, we had only about six months left to earn two qualifying scores at Third Level.
That spring, Calleen was given the chance to ride Luke with renowned trainer Conrad Schumacher, which was a huge help. Her military training allowed her to take each level and prioritize what she needed to do: set a target, get to it and then move past it.
In just under a year and a half, this young woman was riding Third Level in clinics with Conrad and international judge Axel Steiner and achieved her two required scores
With only a month left before her deployment, Calleen received her USDF bronze medal in the mail. In the short time she showed in San Diego, Calleen took away more than just blue ribbons and a bronze medal. She also earned the Dover Medal Award at the Del Mar Nationals.
In addition, she qualified for and placed in the 2012 and 2013 RAAC and was the California Dressage Society San Diego Circuit Awards Second Level Champion of 2012. Her mission does not end when she returns home from Afghanistan, however.
Down the road, Calleen hopes to reach the upper levels with her new mount, Tailor, and earn her silver medal within two or three years.