By Beatrice Marienau
During the show season of 2011, my former trainer and I realized that my wonderful schoolmaster, Reve de Neige, was growing old, and my small tour horse, Quirinius, was not quite ready for Grand Prix yet. We decided that we should look for a horse that could take me into the international show arena. I was very lucky to find a wonderful sponsor, who agreed to support me on that quest.
In November 2011, I went to Germany and drove thousands of miles, all across Europe. After ten rainy, grey days, without much luck in finding what I was looking for, we arrived in Iserlohn at Arnd Erben’s barn. Stefano 8 was all tacked up and ready to go. We watched the warm up, and I tried hard not to show that I was already in love with him. Stefano was simply stunning! I hopped on and immediately had, what I call, the “Avatar Connection”. We connected with each other without words, just by heart and thoughts. Within a few minutes, we did everything out of the Grand Prix test, pretty much on the first try. Not perfect yet, but we spoke the same language. Needless to say, I was in love.
On December 26, all the due diligence and finances were dealt with, and we celebrated Stefano 8, also known as Fino, becoming a family member. We decided that it would be best for him to stay in Germany, with my former trainer, while I would travel back and forth. During the first part of 2012, both of my old FEI horses got injured, and we decided to bring Stefano over to the USA. Sadly, within two months after Stefano arrived, my small tour horse passed away. Later that year, my schoolmaster passed away as well. Both of them died due to surgical complications. I was devastated, and without Fino, I would have never found my way out of the darkness, or even continued riding. He reminded me that every day could be a good day.
That year, we competed in just one national show, but realized that the emotional pain was too much for me to endure while showing. In the fall, Fino and I went back to Lilo Fore, my trainer and mentor. Stefano and I needed a refresher to address a few issues. Even though Fino was a successful young Grand Prix horse, he needed to be dialed in to be a lady’s horse.
The words I heard most from Lilo in the first year were “be patient”, “have him wait”, “have him listen to you”, “first ride him small, so YOU can make him big”, and “first throughness and suppleness – then Grand Prix elements”. We were working to get a lighter connection, less manufactured gaits, and a more natural over the top line. Our biggest challenge was changing the negative tension into positive tension. Fino can get very easily stressed out, and he goes into the “snorting” or “fire breathing dragon mode”. Over the past five years, we have been able to minimize these moments to almost nonexistent, at home, and are still trying to achieve that in the show ring.
Interestingly, last year, I was still finding out more about Fino’s history and character through the previous co-owner and trainer, Arnd Erben. Fino always has been a special case. In Germany, his stable behavior was questionable, like running grooms out of his stall during feeding time. Fino was quietly opinionated, in training and handling, he used to bite, loved to buck, and if he didn’t like something, Fino was out of there. Driving 400 km to a championship, entering the ring, getting spooked at C, while entering, and running out of the dressage arena, all the way back to the trailer, wasn’t fun. Fino also used to have an FEI-registered travel companion pony, which would travel with him everywhere. Without this pony, Fino would not travel. Nevertheless, Arnd believed in Stefano and kept training him, with rider Bart Veeze, successfully up to Grand Prix, in 2010. At the end of 2011, a “no show” year, the syndicate decided it was best to put Stefano 8 on the market.
Over these past five years, Fino has helped me to gain more and more confidence and experience, in the CDI show ring. He has fulfilled my dreams and more, placing third behind Steffen Peters and Guenther Seidel in Burbank, in 2014, winning our first CDI 3* Freestyle in Murietta, CA, in 2014, placing second in CDI-W Grand Prix Special in Burbank 2015, qualifying for the Festival of the Champions in Wellington 2015, placing third in GDF I – CDI 3* Grand Prix Special 2016, winning GDF 5-CDI 3* Grand Prix Freestyle 2016, fulfilling the dream of competing internationally in Europe, and competing in a USA Nations Cup Team, in Denmark.
Besides all the dreams and goals that this amazing horse has fulfilled for me, the most important is that he is my soulmate, my guardian in horse version.