By Mimi Bliss Central Tennessee Dressage Association
Nelson Long of Signal Mountain, TN, began riding as a child when his father bought him riding lessons to prepare for a family camping trip. He enjoyed riding so much that he began mucking stalls in exchange for more lessons. He later went on to compete in the jumpers in California through Grand Prix, and then served as a captain in the Army. When he eventually returned to riding, he found dressage.
A longtime member of USDF and the Central Tennessee Dressage Association (CTDA), Nelson is a frequent competitor at the Tennessean and Ole South dressage shows, which are organized by CTDA and recognized by USDF. Nelson also rides in regular clinics with Jim Koford and Tom Poulin.
“Tom is kind enough to answer the phone when I call with a question,” says Nelson. “He will say ‘Try this or do that.’ And it always works.”
Nelson says his horses have been wonderful, loyal friends and tremendous teachers along his journey. These friendships have served him well, as Nelson has earned his USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals and has made two trips to the US Dressage Finals as an adult amateur. A high point in Nelson’s riding career came in November at the 2015 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Nelson and his Dutch Warmblood gelding, Be Cool Metall, were Reserve Champions for Fourth Level Freestyle with a score of 68.611%.
Nelson bought Cool in 2014, after the gelding was imported from the Netherlands. Cool was eight-years old and well-bred, but had limited training and no show experience. He’d spent most of his life as a stallion and was used for breeding only a few times.
“Cool is very green, so when we first went in the arena he was pretty full of himself, but he settled down and went to work,” Nelson explains. “He has talent and a huge amount of attitude. His attitude is both a blessing and a curse. He is hot.”
The pair competed at First and Second Level at the 2014 US Dressage Finals. Cool was so spooked by the electric environment at Kentucky Horse Park, that he cleared out the rail in the warm-up ring and required two people to lead him up the hill to the show ring. “I felt like a kid at a pony ride,” says Nelson.
A year later, Nelson and Cool competed successfully at Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges and made it back to the 2015 US Dressage Finals. “We were here in 2014 for First and Second Level, and what a difference a year makes. He works very hard and it really was fun.”
Before Cool, Nelson competed through Grand Prix on his horse, Abahn, and has taken several horses up through the levels from Training through FEI. “Cool is walking in the very large hoof prints of a very special horse, Abahn,” says Nelson. “I owe a great debt to my friend. He opened doors and took me places that I had never been. He let me train and ride him from a three-year-old. No horse does tempis like Abahn.”
Nelson said the experience of riding at the US Dressage Finals is like nothing else.
“I had a ball,” he says. “I met great people from Oklahoma, California, Michigan, New York, and other states. There are lots of nice horses who have earned the right to compete, and everybody is celebrating the fact that they are there.”
He plans to compete at Prix St. Georges and Intermediate I in 2016. Nelson’s advice for other adult amateurs is to always be learning from trainers, judges, and others. And finally, he says to trust your instincts as a rider and enjoy your horses.
“Go ride,” says Nelson. “Just go ride.”