By Lisa Schmidt
I wear many different hats in dressage: rider, trainer, coach, judge, and, for the past six years, USDF Region 1 Director and member of the USDF Executive Board. On the board I was involved in the decisions about the US Dressage Finals from the initial idea to the inception in 2013. But my love for this sport started as a rider/competitor and that is where my true passion lies. Just after I received my USDF Gold Medal and earned my USEF “S” judging license, I trained students and their horses, and helped them excel in the show ring. I had retired my Grand Prix horse and was without a horse to compete.
Then, one day, a client brought me a just-backed three-year-old Quarterback/His Highness gelding to train, named Qrown Prince (aka QP). Lunging was the first step in QP’s education that December. I am positive that he was telling me, “Circles are stupid” and many times pulled and dragged me, on my knees, around the arena. Much of my work that winter consisted of ground work in his stall, teaching him to circle around me with the lead line. By the summer of his fourth year, I was able to occasionally lunge my client on him, and started adding more challenges to the training of this opinionated youngster. I had been told that Quarterback could be talented but difficult. QP was clearly a late bloomer, so showing him was not a goal that year.
I was lucky to have feedback from Lendon Gray, who was teaching clinics at our facility through the summer and fall. I was told not to baby him, which gave me a good chuckle. I knew he was a horse I had to negotiate with, especially concerning the contact. He would sometimes resent the bit and threaten to go up, but between myself and my tactful assistant, Allison Semanchik, we made huge progress. That next winter, QP’s balance and connection improved but his right lead canter was always a challenge. Kim Herslow and Scott Hassler answered my call to aid, and their insights were invaluable to getting into the horse’s brain and body. What a different horse he was going into his fift h year in 2015!
With all the progress coming together in his training, QP’s owner wondered if he could be shown. I thought we’d give Training Level a try, with the goal of qualifying for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships and the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial (BLM) Championships. Happily, his scores were in the high 60s to high 70s. First Level was a stretch, at that point, but we attempted it with the same results! We qualified for the Great American/USDF Region 1 Championships in Lexington, VA, and the BLM Championships in NJ.
When we competed at the BLM Championships in October, QP had not been in the show ring for two months. Not a smart decision on my part, as his tension prevented a supple performance at Training and First Level. The following week, at the regional championships, I just tried to keep him relaxed. We were the first ride in a huge Training Level Championship class, but throughout the day we held onto first place, with a 74%, and won the Training Level Open Championship. I was truly humbled to be in the company of so many other top riders and their horses. It was surreal.
Of course, the next big decision was whether or not to attend the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. QP’s owner was not sure, due to the expense, but I just thought what a huge honor it would be to become the first USDF Executive Board member to compete in the Finals! After much persuasion and preparation, we headed down to Kentucky that November.
I had never been to the Kentucky Horse Park before, and was impressed by its expansive layout. QP settled in well and came in second in his warm up class, with one little mistake. The next day, he felt happy, relaxed, and I didn’t think it could have gone better. We came in seventh in another large class, and my goal was to place in the top half. I was so proud to be in the award ceremony in the Alltech Arena. Here I was, experiencing firsthand the event I had worked hard on as a member of the USDF Executive Board. It was thrilling!
After such a positive experience, my goal early on in 2016 was to qualify for Finals again. But, in February of that year, his owner told me that she would have to sell Qrown Prince. How could I lose this talented youngster, with whom I had developed such a rapport? We negotiated, and thanks to my family, I was able to purchase QP and make him my own.
We showed Second Level that spring and summer, again with scores in the upper 60s to low 70s. This talented boy qualified again for the regional championships, and our score was posted at 68%! We received a wild card score for the Finals, placed sixth, and this time I would be announced as both rider and owner of QP.
The trip to Kentucky was uneventful, but the day after his arrival QP was too quiet for his perky personality. He looked like he was shivering, and I discovered he had a temperature of 103. A quick call to the local vet and a diagnosis of a virus, maybe shipping fever, put a somber tone on my day. QP had 48 hours to recover before the Finals class, but would that be enough?
By the next day, his temperature was normal and his full appetite returned. I had sent the blood results and diagnosis to my vet at home, who said to continue monitoring him and to use my best judgment. Our Finals ride was scheduled for late that afternoon, which gave me time to see how he felt. QP was anxious to graze on the Kentucky Horse Park grass, and was even slightly fresh on the lunge line. To scratch or not to scratch? I decided I was going to give the class a shot. I kept the warm up short, to conserve his energy, which ended up being a miscalculation on my part. The fever had made his shoulders stiff , and the old problem with the right lead canter resurfaced. QP was tense, and I needed more time to work through it.
I was starting to doubt my decision to compete, but I was the next ride on deck. Some friends showed up and bolstered my confidence, and in we went. The atmosphere made QP and I perk up. I smiled through the test, but the suppleness was just not attainable. I was proud of him though, and he did his best for me.
I know I made the right decision to go down that centerline. My youngster showed me he has a heart of gold and, even though he was not 100%, he danced his heart out for me. Had I not been given the opportunity to show at that wonderful competition, I may not have found the confirmed integrity of my horse and his undeniable willingness to please. Even though we didn’t place, it was an honor to ride in the US Dressage Finals two years in a row.