Grand Prix Dreams

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Mimi and Leo at the US Dressage Finals Photo by Susan J Stickle

By Mimi Benton

In 2009, I bought Lexington WF, “Leo”, as a two-year-old, bred by Vanessa Carlson of Woodridge Farm, in Claremore, OK. He’s by Liberty Gold, out of Arriana, by Arrian, and the horse of my dreams. I was determined he was going to become a Grand Prix horse!

For his whole two-year-old year, he traveled to all the local schooling shows, and when he turned three, I started him. The experience off the farm as a young horse was very important for him, as he was about to become my show horse.

When Leo turned four, we were ready for USDF-recognized shows. We started at Training Level with very high scores, and showed in one USEF Four-Year-Old Test, scoring a 77.8! We also qualified at First Level that same year, and went to the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Championships. Our Training Level championship class was a bit of a disaster. He was pretty much bored, but we finished fourth in our First Level championship class, with scores in the 70s. We were leading the class up until the last three riders. The scores were all so close.

Mimi and Wiebekka

The next year we trained hard and showed Second and Third Level. He had such a natural ability for dressage, it really was easy for him. We placed 6th at Second Level and 7th at Third Level at that year’s championships. In 2014 and 2015, we schooled and showed at Fourth Level, yet were not quite ready for that. We scored into the mid 60s, with many mistakes, proving the work was getting more difficult. That summer, I was at a clinic at Vanessa Carlson’s farm, and she had asked me to ride her lovely, ten-year-old mare Wiebekka. I gladly accepted, with a big smile, and said that I had an extra spot on my trailer, so I could take her home. And she accepted! I went home with two horses that day. God had a plan that day, and he knew what was about to happen.

The next few days proved to be devastating for me. My precious Leo had sustained a potentially career ending injury, both hind suspensories had damage, and would need stem cell surgery. Right away, we started on his recovery. He had to be stalled for two weeks, and hand-walked only. After that, it was walking for 30 days, slowly adding trotting, on straight lines only, and then cantering, straight lines only, for the next six months. In the mean time, I had Wiebekka to ride and train. She had not been ridden for more than five years, when I started riding her. In August 2015, I took her to her first show. It was the Old South Prelude, in Tennessee. We qualified for Training Level, with scores up to 76%, and First Level, with scores up to 74%.

Two months later was the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 4 Championships. She won her class at Training Level, with a score of 75%, and got Reserve Champion at First Level, with a score of 73%, earning our invitation to the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®.

We headed to the US Dressage Finals that November. It was my first time showing at the beautiful facility, and a dream come true! Wiebekka pulled off an awesome ride that earned us third place, with a score of 72.7%, and then again at First Level, with a score of 70%! All while Leo was recovering, Wiebekka made the process a little easier. I had fallen in love with this amazing horse that loved to show and gave me her all! I just wished that Leo and I would one day accomplish the same feat.

As Leo got healthier, our work got a little harder. That next year, we trained, but I had a new and much smarter way to train. Listening to my horse was most important. I started working with my current trainer Cathy Zappe, who is a USDF Certified Instructor at Training-Fourth Level and is also showing and training Grand Prix. She let me take the time we needed without pressure, which helped me with our training.

In April 2017, Leo and I debuted at Prix St. Georges, at the Texas Rose Horse Park. We earned our USDF Silver Medal, with the scores earned at that show, and qualified, once again, for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Championships. We had lots of mistakes and lots of room to improve. So, we went home and spent the summer training with Cathy, and returned to the same facility to show in September. Our scores improved to 68%! At just our third time out to show, the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Championships were next. With the best test Leo had ever given me, we scored at 68.8%, earning Reserve Champion honors! It was overwhelming and very exciting, and I couldn’t believe it. All of our hard work and patience paid off! And best of all, this also meant I was going to the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® again, but this time with my very own horse!

We worked hard and trained, and then made the drive to Lexington, KY. It was a ten hour drive for us. The first day there was our schooling day. We had to be up by 5:00 am, to ride in the Alltech Arena that morning at 6:00 am. It was a very electric place, and an amazing feeling to be riding in such a beautiful facility. My practice ride was the next day, and it was at 8:30 am. The temperature that morning was 25 degrees. I headed up to the outdoor arena, where the warm up was next to the show arena, with my heavy coat on over my shadbelly. My fingers and toes were numb when I got there. It was a good fifteen minute walk.

As I was warming him up, I was getting colder. I lost the feeling in my fingers and got very lightheaded. I had to get off- I was about to pass out and didn’t want to fall off my horse. I sat for a minute, with my head between my knees, as my friend held my horse. I had about five minutes before my test, but I pulled myself together, determined to give it my best and make it work! I took off my heavy coat and headed for the show arena. He gave me a good test, with a score in the mid 60s. I was pleased with the ride, but knew I had to work harder for my championship class.

As I was planning out my strategy for the next day, many thoughts came into mind. The biggest revelation was that with the Alltech being heated, I wasn’t worried about my fingers freezing!

I made the walk down the long green turf, headed into what was a dream about to come true; riding my own horse at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® at an FEI Level! Unfortunately, I gave myself too much time that day and was losing the energy that I had the day before. I went in and rode my test, with a few mistakes, but still I loved every minute.

My horse worked hard for me, we persevered to get here, and I am so thankful to have him in my life. He proves to love his work and we will continue on to Grand Prix. I thank God every day for this amazing horse He has given me, and for giving me a second chance with Leo, to make my dreams come true!

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