By Victoria Bellino
Central Tennessee Dressage Association (CTDA) member Lynne Lavers grew up riding ponies in the southwest. As a fourth generation horseman, her experiences with horses began with riding along the mountains in New Mexico with her grandfather – a far cry from a dressage arena at the Kentucky Horse Park where Lynn, years later, would earn a qualifying score for her USDF Gold Medal on an ex-racehorse.
Riding her way to one of the highest honors in dressage, on an off track Thoroughbred (OTTB), wouldn’t come as a coincidence. When Lynne was twelve years old, her family moved from Texas to the East Coast. There she found OTTBs to be an affordable and effective way to work her way through United States Pony Club. In fact, she rode OTTBs all the way to her A rating. It was then that she developed a love for the breed.
Lynne’s passion for Thoroughbreds continued through a family business, in which she and her mother would break and train horses off the track for their second careers. When Lynn started looking for an up and coming, advanced level, eventing prospect, she again found a Thoroughbred.
Only this was no Pony Club mount—she found a horse that would not only challenge her to take on a new discipline at its highest levels, but also to undergo a self-transformation and personally develop herself on the back of a horse.
“Nick of Time” came into Lynne’s life, as a pasture horse, in 1999. Retired from racing, with bowed tendons in both front legs (information to which she was not privy to upon purchase), he spent two years on pasture before Lynne reluctantly agreed to look at him, after months of urging from a friend.
She bought him on the spot. It wasn’t his 16.3 hands or his copper coat; it was his “can-do, you don’t scare me” attitude that was just the mentality Lynne was looking for in an upper level eventer. What she got was a horse that many, including her boarding barn manager and multiple contemporaries, considered dangerous and unrideable.
Despite his formidable nature, Nick’s confidence didn’t translate on cross-country. So Lynne shifted his career to dressage, after riding him to Preliminary in 2006. Though her dreams of riding to Advanced were shelved, what Nick lacked over fences, he compensated for in the dressage ring, and she saw no reason why he couldn’t go Grand Prix.
“I would take him to horse shows, and he would buck me off,” said Lynne. “Our relationship really took a turn when I put him in a job that he was suited for and took my agenda out of it.”
Little by little, Nick and Lynne started working their way through the levels and chipping away at their bronze and silver medals. In 2013, the pair did a CDI tour, competing at Intermediate. The level of competition was something the pair had never before experienced. Though they didn’t place first, they weren’t always last. More importantly, the experience helped Lynne realize that if they were going to go Grand Prix, she needed to change her focus from the horse, and what the horse was doing wrong, to improving herself as a rider.
In 2014, Nick and Lynne then headed south to Florida, where they had the opportunity to train with Kathleen Raine and Uwe Steiner. There, Lynne set the ball in motion to go Grand Prix. After fifteen years together, and two disciplines, Lynne had a burning desire to earn the gold medal with Nick. But if they were going to do it, they were going to have to do it now. When Lynne and Nick- then nineteen years old- returned to Tennessee, they continued riding with trainer and clinician Carrie Harnden, and enlisted the help of CTDA President Jen Thompson, who helped Lynne develop her position. Lynne also immersed herself in study. She watched two to three Grand Prix rides on YouTube nightly, picking apart the rides and her own, and bringing one aspect she learned to the ring to practice and polish the next day.
But riding at the Grand Prix level wouldn’t be something Lynne could will through perfect practice. On show days, when she came into the arena tense and uptight, Nick was right there with her. He was a mirror to her attitude and agenda. After earning a 59.9% score on a Grand Prix test, Lynne knew that she had to ride with a different attitude. When she made a conscious effort to ride with relaxation, the scores went up. By shifting her focus to being a better rider, more focused on engagement and throughness, she brought up her next score to 64.6%.
With these lessons about mindset in play, Lynne and Nick earned their Grand Prix scores. The first was in Lexington at the Mid-South Eventing and Dressage Association Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park; the next was at Dressage at Greystone, in November.
Now with the USDF Gold Medal in hand, Lynne and Nick have no intentions of slowing down. Their next goal is to ride a Grand Prix Freestyle. And despite being twenty years old, Nick has far from lost the attitude that initially sparked Lynne’s interest in the horse. In fact, he hasn’t toned it down one bit. He still chases people out of his stall at feeding time, still kicks and pins his ears when the girth is cinched, and he’s still sound. The bowed tendons never affected his performance. As for Lynne, she isn’t slowing down either. In addition to her continued aspirations on Nick, she is also bringing along her young horse, a three-year-old Danish Warmblood named Pete. Lynne plans to develop the horse all the way to Grand Prix, with the same patience, humility, and determination she learned from Nick.