Success in Dressage on a Budget

This rider proves it doesn't take big bucks to enjoy the sport of dressage.

Most people think you need a lot of money to be able to participate in dressage. I’m here to tell you otherwise. Today, my 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding and I have earned our scores toward our U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) bronze medal at First, Second and Third Levels. We now have our sights set on the silver medal, are schooling Prix St. Georges and plan on showing Fourth Level this year. And I’ve done it through a lot of hard work and without spending an exorbitant amount of money.

Credit: Courtesy, Elizabeth Goodwin Elizabeth Goodwin and Bugsy

My story began 11 years ago when I went on online and searched for sale horses with the Bold Ruler bloodline. I found this interesting classified: “For sale: 2-year-old Thoroughbred gelding by Class Secret by Secretariat.” I read on and became more and more excited. This sounded like the horse I had been searching for—the bloodlines, the athleticism and the price range. All the way at the bottom of the advertisement, my heart sank. It stated that “Bugsy” was a special horse, because he was born with only one eye. I tried to write this horse off, but something just kept making him pop into my mind.

So I went up to a suburb of Philadelphia to take a look at him. He was a scrawny, 15.2-hand bay gelding with a star and four white socks. He was underweight and furry from a rough Philadelphia winter, and his manners were horrendous. There was just enough space in the barn to get one full trot stride out of him, but it was enough to see he had a good overtracking stride. Besides being rump high, he was put together well. As for his one eye, you could see intelligence, personality and heart. The owner was asking $1,500. But I was a college student with very limited funds, and I just couldn’t pay that for an unbroken, gangly 2-year-old. So I left with a heavy heart. The owner e-mailed me later that week and told me that I was the most qualified of all who had contacted her.

She offered him to me for $500 with the stipulation that she would take him back if things weren’t working out, no questions asked. 

A minimal vet check for soundness with particular attention to the one existing eye and the deal was done. Six months of groceries and some serious groundwork and he was developing into a nice looking sport horse prospect. Apparently the food had a “Miracle-Grow®” effect on him because man did he grow. From his 2-year-old year to his 3-year-old year, Bugsy went from being 15.2 hands and a little under 700 pounds to more than a 1,000 pounds and just under 16.2 hands.

He was a quick study and our trust grew and grew. Since I was entering the police academy, I decided that I couldn’t take the risk of getting hurt, so I sent him to trainer Ursula Ferrier for a month of training under saddle. I told her what I was hoping for and that once he had brakes at the walk and trot that I wanted him to go trail riding. She took him for a trail ride with a buddy horse on day three. After another month or so of training at home, I gave him the fall and winter off. When we started back up in late April of his 3-year-old year, it was as if he never had any time off. 

Besides the first 30 days, I have not sent Bugsy for any other training and have continued to take lessons with local, accredited dressage instructors.

We will eventually earn our USDF silver medal, and we will have done it ourselves. That day will be a day that I will treasure forever. It will prove even further that dressage is for every horse and that you don’t need a ton of money to participate. It will also prove that it isn’t just about earning the ribbons and the medals (although that is fun, too). It proves that it’s also about the road traveled to get to those ribbons and medals, developing a bond like no other with a special horse.






The Many Talents of Matt McLaughlin
Unlock Your Riding Potential with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement®
Keeping Up with Steffen Peters
Alice Tarjan (USA)
Serenade MF
Breeding for Form and Function


Orlob Tops U.S. Olympic Dressage Hopefuls at CDI Kronberg
Ashley Holzer USA Valentine
Updates to U.S. Dressage Team Short List for Paris 2024 Olympic Games
Anna Marek and Fayvel
Anna Marek: Working Her Way to the Top
Are lumps or swellings under the jaw reason for concern?