By Tamera Mayo
My journey with dressage started when I was 14, in a very unique location: Tripoli, Libya. My father’s job took us to Libya for four of my teenage years. Since my parents had long since given in to their horse crazy daughter, I had a little Barb Arab. A British expat friend knew Robert Hall, a classical dressage trainer based in England. She invited him to come to Tripoli to teach for two weeks, and then invited me to join them for lessons. Even though the horse I rode wasn’t trained in dressage, and the saddle I used wasn’t meant for dressage, those two weeks changed my whole outlook on my riding and my connection with my horses. I was so enamored with dressage that I talked my parents into letting me spend a summer at Mr. Hall’s school at Fulmer, England, when I turned fifteen. When I was attending university, I took a semester off for another four months stay to earn my BHSAI and deepen my understanding of classical dressage.
Years later, married now with kids, my husband’s job took us to France. We lived in a small village on the Seine River, and I bought a beautiful black Selle Francaise mare named Quif Quif. I got to experience something unusual to us Americans- riding to a show. We saddled up at home, rode two miles through the woods to an old Abbey that had been turned into an equestrian center where I showed dressage and won my class, and then rode home. On the way back, my mare suddenly side stepped, staring at something just off the trail. When I followed her gaze, there nestled in the undergrowth was a tiny fawn, just a few feet away. Experiences like this put the joie de vivre (joy of living) back into competition, and I proceeded to have a blast learning about classical dressage the French way.
Some years later, my husband’s job moved us again, this time to Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. There the situation was such that owning a horse was not a good idea. An evacuation on 24-hour notice was always a possibility, and in fact did happen once while we were there. Instead I came to an arrangement with a local man, actually something of a celebrity in the Venezuelan horse world, where he made sure I always had at least two horses to ride, but they would change since they were also always for sale. Each morning there were at least two, but sometimes as many as six, horses for me to ride. This turned into an irreplaceable opportunity for me to learn from many, many different horses. It was this arrangement that helped prove to me that dressage training improves any horse, for any sport. In particular, there was one mare that I rode dressage on daily, but the barn manager showed her once a month in team penning. The competitions and occasional weekend were the only times the mare worked cattle. Her work was 90% dressage, 10% cattle. As the months went by, the barn manager’s smile got bigger and bigger as the mare kept winning. One day I came out to find the biggest smiles on the entire family as the girls danced around in their new dresses and the boys ran in their new shoes. The mare had come through big and won a large cash prize for him the previous weekend.
Some time passed, and my family uprooted to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I bought a New Zealand OTTB and stabled with a group of like-minded expats and locals. Our intrepid leader was half Indonesian and half German. She was an excellent rider, twice winning the individual and team gold in dressage at the Southeast Asian Games. She has competed successfully at Aachen and recently became a FEI judge. I was fortunate to benefit from her unique point of view in the international dressage competition, and had the opportunity to compete under FEI judges as they made a yearly tour through Asia.
After Indonesia, we took a relatively short relocation to Darwin, Australia. Here I bought another OTTB that taught me a lot and gave me some great moments, such as the time he executed a beautifully balanced capriole. It was such a feeling, but of course it would have been more thrilling if I had asked for it! A wallaby leaping out of the bush and crossing the trail right in front of us made him decide he needed to leap, too. The most incredible thing about riding in Darwin was the stable’s location. It was in the middle of East Point Nature Reserve with waves from the Timor Sea breaking against bluffs at the edge of the pastures. Just outside the gate were wonderful trails that always included sightings of wallabies. But the greatest sights, in my opinion, were the birds. A flock of black Palm Cockatoos would perch on the paddock rails,waiting for my horse to finish eating so they could clean up any dropped grain, the trees flitted with the color of dozens of parrots, and much to our delight, a pair of the critically endangered Curlew Sandpipers built a nest just a few feet from the letter E.
Once more, my family transferred to the Middle East country of Qatar. Again it was not advisable to buy a horse so I leased a German Warmblood, and worked with a few other warmbloods, putting dressage training on high dollar jumpers brought from Europe. Here I had the interesting experience of working within a very luxurious equestrian complex. They had three full-time veterinarians on staff and four farriers, two tack shops, a restaurant, and café. The horses had air-conditioned stables and indoor arenas, an equine swimming pool, and several outdoor arenas, plus a conditioning track. Since it was the national equestrian center, it was often a stop for busloads of tourists. I am sure my horse and I are in several Japanese photo albums, as they were thrilled to have their picture taken touching a real live horse!
Seeing the world through the ears of a horse has been amazing. The connections I’ve had with all my horses lends to a deeper connection to the world around me. I have been blessed in my journey to have a husband that fully supports my passion, who also rides well enough that we have had some fantastic gallops; across beautiful northern Mongolia, beaches on the Cayman Islands and Bali, the Bell Forest of Australia, under the cork trees of Portugal, and extra special gallops with the giraffes and zebras of Kenya. Now we are back in the US and my journey has taken another path, this time within, a whole new area of exploration for me and my horses. I am actively showing two Friesians and enjoying the friendship of the local dressage community. I can’t wait to see where dressage will take me next.