An Unexpected Journey

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By Jennifer M. Keeler
Photographs By SusanJStickle.com

For young dressage professional Christine Landry, of East Dennis, MA, competing at the US Dressage Finals wasn’t even a pipe dream. But when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself from the most unlikely of circumstances, as Landry put it, “You have to make it happen.”

A lifelong dressage enthusiast, Landry, now 26, got her big break after graduating from high school, when she became a working student for “the Bills” William Warren and Bill McMullin. She worked at Warren-
McMullin Dressage in Stoughton, MA, for three years while earning a business degree from Framingham (MA) State University.

Then another door opened: “I got a job working for Steffen and Shannon Peters in San Diego from 2011 to 2012,” Landry said. “It was incredible; the amount of knowledge I gained was amazing.”

During her stint, Landry accompanied Lientje Schueler, then assistant trainer at Team Peters, on a trip to Germany. “While we were there I saw Santino, who was a three-year-old, and it was love at first sight,” Landry recalled. But even as she took the leap to purchase the young Hanoverian, more changes were in the air. “At the same time, I was invited to stay and train [in Germany]. So I went home for the summer, finished my job in San Diego, and went back to Germany, where I was reunited with Santino. I eventually brought him home the following year, and we started doing the Four-Year-Old classes. He was always super-talented.”

But before long, the honeymoon was over. “When he turned five, everything changed. All of a sudden he became a real handful—just so unhappy and naughty to work with. No one could figure out what was happening or why, and it just went on and on with no answer in sight. It felt like a dead end, and I was devastated for both of us,” said Landry. “Finally, out of desperation, we did a nuclear scan, and everything lit up. The vet was like, ‘Huh, maybe we should have checked for Lyme disease earlier.’ But who would have thought it?”

After a lengthy course of treatment, Santino slowly reverted to the horse Landry had fallen in love with. “It turned out that all the bad behavior was result of the physical symptoms he was experiencing from Lyme, but we didn’t know it. All of a sudden, his great attitude was back. He seemed to say, ‘OK, I can do this,’ and he was my teammate again.”

Having lost nearly a year, the young pair cautiously returned to showing in the spring of 2015. They started out at First Level and immediately qualified for the Great American/USDF Region 8 Championship. So “We went ahead and tried Second Level, and he just got better and better and suddenly we were qualified for that too,” said Landry. “We went to Regionals, and he won! The Finals weren’t ever on my radar because I was just so grateful to have my horse back. Then we received the Finals invitation, and I couldn’t believe it. It was surreal to even think that we could have made it after what we’d been through.”

Although the invitation was tempting, Landry had concerns about attending the Finals. She was working full-time for Massachusetts-based Grand Prix-level rider and trainer Cindi Rose Wylie. Money was tight, and the prospect of making the thousand-mile trip to Kentucky was daunting. What’s more, Landry had her mind on something even more important: her upcoming wedding.

As it has for several other Finals competitors, crowdfunding saved the day. Explained Landry: “I set up a GoFundMe account, and a lot of friends really helped out with donations. My fiancé, Chris, and I packed our truck and drove ourselves down, trying to make things as affordable as possible. The weekend before we left for the Finals was like a whirlwind with trying to get wedding stuff done, cake tastings and all that; thank goodness I have my mom to help me! To have all of this happen all at once is just crazy.”

The craziness paid off. Landry and the horse she refused to give up on competed in both the First and Second Level divisions at the US Dressage Finals, placing fifth in the hard-fought First Level Open Championship.

“If you want it badly enough, you have to make it happen one way or another,” Landry said. “You hope and you pray and you find the money. It’s an opportunity that can’t be passed up. Now I’ll go home and can’t wait to wear that wedding dress, but I sure hope to be back.”

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