By Janie Pride
In 1996, I took a wonderful trip to Holland to look for a dressage pony. Little did I know then that this trip would change my life in the dressage world. I had been fortunate enough to meet the Dutch rider and trainer, Werner Geven, in 1996, when he came to the USA to give a dressage clinic. At the time, I had a Thoroughbred and a Welsh cross pony. I rode with Werner every time he came to clinics at Donna and Gary Stegman’s beautiful facility, Poplar Place Farm, in Hampton, GA. I was incredibly impressed with his riding, his gracious personality, his ability to teach each rider in his or her own style, and his sense of the horse.
When I decided to look for a new pony, I knew that Werner was the only one I trusted to find me the pony of my dreams. I am very small, and although in America it seems that “bigger is better”, Werner and I both knew we could find a very competitive equine on the smaller side. At the time, I had no idea I would come home with not one, but two ponies, and that the two would be so extremely talented and competitive.
Werner had been training young riders on Mr. ALJ van Esch’s fabulous Dutch Riding (NRPS) ponies. We visited Mr. van Esch first. I tried one of his beautiful mares, but I am not a mare person. Then he showed us the stunning stallions he had bred, including the brilliant Idzard and a young NRPS stallion named Ilja, by Idzard out of Oldert’s Karola by Oldert’s Fastwind. I fell in love with Ilja immediately, and was astonished at his exciting gaits. Ilja was only two years old and a stallion, neither of which I needed, but I was in love. I tried to talk myself out of it and agreed to continue searching.
Werner had one special pony that a client had purchased from Mr. van Esch, as a yearling, for his 8-year-old daughter. He was a 3-year-old NRPS gelding by Idzard out of Jasmijn, a KWPN mare by Olympic Cocktail. The 8-year-old had started Ico. Werner was so impressed by Ico’s outstanding temperament and gaits that he knew I had to see him. When I first saw Ico, I thought he was cute, small, and fuzzy, but he did not seem very special. When I told Werner that he might not be what I was looking for, Werner simply smiled and said, “Just wait.” Then, he turned Ico out in the indoor arena. The pony soared. He had a trot that astounded me. I rode him, and he felt incredible. He stole my heart!
I had fallen for two incredible ponies and I simply could not choose between the two of them. So I did the only thing that made sense: I brought both of them home with me.
Ico and Ilja have settled in beautifully at their new home, and both have gone on to compete successfully in the show ring. Their list of accomplishments includes many year-end awards through the Adequan®/ USDF All-Breeds, Adequan®/USDF Horse of the Year, Performance Horse Registry’s Silver Stirrups, and the Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Association awards. This year, Ilja competed in the National Dressage Pony Cup in Lexington, KY. He was Champion FEI AA Pony, Reserve Champion Musical Freestyles, Champion at I-1 AA, and Champion Dutch pony. I was such a proud mom!
Ico and Ilja have also helped many different riders earn USDF Rider Awards. Werner’s wife, Marjolein Geven, started her USA career on the ponies. They helped her earn her USDF Bronze and Silver medals as well as her USDF Musical Freestyle Bronze and Silver bars. Ilja’s current rider, Billy Jackson, has earned his USDF Bronze and Silver Medals as well. Ico, showing successfully at Grand Prix, gave rider Blair Bowers Elver the Grand Prix scores she needed for her USDF Gold Medal. Junior and young rider Elle Turner rode Ico to earn her USDF Bronze and Silver Medals. Elle received one score for her USDF Gold Medal at the age of 16! The boys also earned Meredith Mobley’s Bronze and Silver medals.
It has been an amazing journey with Ico and Ilja. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have a Grand Prix pony and an I-1 pony, who is now schooling the Grand Prix. Dreams really do come true!