Road to the Finals: From Ranch Life to Equestrian Paradise Part II

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Cindy Olson and Pikko del Rio
Region 3

By Jennifer Keeler

While the summer months are the height of the show season for much of the country, in sweltering south Florida it’s a time for a break for most equestrians. But Cindy Olson and her 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding Pikko del Rio don’t waste a minute – they have their sights set on cooler days at November’s US Dressage Finals, and in the meantime have devoted their efforts towards training.

“In the summer, training is adjusted to take the Florida heat and humidity into account. It is easy to get dehydrated, and some days it feels like I am participating in an episode of Equestrian Survivor: whoever passes out and falls of their horse first gets kicked out of the village,” laughed Olson. “I stuff cool packs in my helmet and my pockets to cool off, and I drink Pedialyte. Most weeks we still ride five times per week with one day off and one day hacking out. The main difference is that the intervals we ride have to be shorter, and we have to take an extra break. The horses are offered water with molasses to encourage them to drink more.

“We have to keep an eye on Rio. If the humidity is too high or it is too hot, we have to wrap things up early,” Olson continued. “We attempted to go to the show and had to scratch because the heat index was 106. I was woozy and I could tell it was making Rio sluggish. I’m disappointed but we’ll keep cleaning up our Third Level test and look forward to the next competition at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center this fall.”

Cindy Olson (middle) braving the Florida summer heat with trainer Chenett Chemnitz (right) and assistant trainer Alex Garrett.

For the past year and a half Olson has worked with Mikala Gundersen in Wellington, and during summers when Gundersen is competing in Europe, Chenett Chemnitz takes over training duties. “Mikala teaches classic dressage technique and always considers the horse first. In training, if there is a problem, it is always considered the rider’s problem, not the horse’s,” Olson explained. “When I first arrived, I had to deconstruct my riding technique, using lunge lessons and riding without stirrups. I have continued to take Pilates classes, and as my core strength developed, I have been able to ride with my leg off and apply leg more effectively, and to be more steady and sensitive with my hands. That being said, we still have a long way to go. I’ve had to learn how to trust my horse and my riding ability, so that I do not block his lovely gaits. At the current moment, as we prepare to compete at Third Level at Regionals, our focus for this summer has been on collection.”

But it’s not all about sweating it out in the ring for Olson and Rio. Their weekly hacks on miles of trails along the canals of Wellington include sightings of interesting waterfowl and an occasional alligator. If the weather is uncooperative, Rio utilizes a covered treadmill for exercise. In contrast to her former home in rural Nebraska, Olson also appreciates the many resources readily available to equestrians in Wellington. “We have all amenities and a wide variety of equine experts are right here, from the grooms and trainers, to the farrier and the vet, the saddle specialist and massage therapist. “For instance, Rio has a high wither and if the front of
the saddle has fallen, he starts to dip his shoulder. I wasn’t able to determine what his problem was until I moved to Wellington. Now with the help of Bernardo Vergara of TrustIn Saddlery, I appreciate the importance of a well-fit, well-maintained saddle. It was pretty dramatic to see the issue disappear instantly when I had the new saddle, and a great relief that my horse didn’t have a soundness problem or a rider problem.”

Cindy Olson the day she earned her Bronze Medal at Global Dressage last season.

Florida’s tropical climate also dictates special attention on the grooming front. “Down here, grooms and trainers are always on the lookout for any nicks or scratches,” Olson explained. “If discovered, wounds are tended to meticulously so that summer sores aren’t able to set in. The flies lay larvae in the wounds and cause sores which are difficult to heal. We use a product called Heel Guard to help wounds heal quickly. Horses are washed almost every day, often with anti-fungal shampoo, and they have fans placed around them to dry before they are put in stalls. So basically Rio usually gets a mini equine spa treatment daily, plus standing on the Thera-Plate after a workout while he dries. He’s better taken care of than I am!”

In our next installment, see if Olson’s and Rio’s hard work pay off as they head to the Great American/USDF Region 3 Championship in Atlanta and continue their quest for an invitation to the US Dressage Finals!

Every year when riders and horses from across the country gather in Lexington, KY, for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, they not only bring top performances to the Alltech Arena – they also bring amazing stories. From overcoming tough odds, facing life’s daily challenges, healing from medical and veterinary conditions, or simply being the unlikely underdog, the tales which unfold at the Finals are nothing short of inspiring.
Through the good, the bad, and the ugly that entails life with horses and competing in the sport of dressage, these three riders will allow readers behind-the-scenes access as they try to qualify at the 2016 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championship, to pursue their dreams of competing with the best of the best at the Finals.

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