By Carol Alonso
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in CDS June Dressage Letters.
The Century Club was established at The Dressage Foundation in 1996, at the suggestion of Dr. Max Gahwyler, noted dressage judge and clinician. The purpose of the Century Club is to honor senior dressage riders and horses that are still actively riding and competing together. In order to become a member of the Century Club, the ages of the rider and horse must add up to 100 or more years! The team must also ride any level dressage test at a show, and be scored by a judge. The Club has inducted over 275 members across the U.S. since 1996.
A Century Ride was one of my goals for many years, so when my PRE partner of 24 years, El Gavilan, (barn name “Julio”) turned 26 in April, we decided to make the ride into an event to celebrate our “101 years.” We were honored by Hetty Dutra’s invitation to hold the ride during a CDS/USDF/USEF show at her “Hossmoor” facility in Briones, CA. It would be the last morning ride so we could celebrate during the lunch hour.
I bought my noble Spanish horse, Julio, as a 2-year-old stallion in 1993, and year after year since then Julio has continued to perform well and love his job. He never got the chance to be a Grand Prix horse because of me, his older career physicist and very amateur Mom, but he is the happiest horse I have ever met. He loves his work and yet is very laid back about it. The great rider from the Spanish Riding School, Karl Mikolka, rode him once and said, “This is a very generous horse, you must always be careful that no-one takes advantage of him.”
Julio and I competed together in dressage from 1996 through this year – 21 years! Year after year we won trophies and awards at our low amateur level. We weren’t headed for the Olympics but we had a wonderful partnership and showing helped us to continuously improve. As Julio got older I saved his back using rising trot in First Level. Two months ago, at Golden State, we qualified for the RAAC and CDS annual championships. Two years ago, in 2015, we were invited to compete our First Level Freestyle at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in Lexington, KY. What fun it was to ride every day in the Kentucky Horse Park! They say we were the oldest pair at Finals. I decided we would do that freestyle for our Century Club Ride.
Our Century Club Ride day was definitely a high point of my horse life! Heidi Gaian judged the ride with her usual right-on comments. Our freestyle was good, and the speeches, flowers, ceremony and champagne in the arena afterward were lovely. Hetty introduced the Century Club, and my trainer Jolie Wentworth pinned the long gold and black Century Club ribbon on Julio’s bridle. About 60 spectators toasted us with flutes of champagne, and Hetty presented a huge bouquet of gorgeous purple lilies. Julio meanwhile happily munched a bunch of carrots provided by Tracy Bowman. Other friends gave me eight lovely bouquets of flowers, plus gifts like wine, olive oil and Godiva chocolates! Another high point was that we introduced Julio’s grey yearling son Lord Nelson, who stood calmly by his proud Daddy amid all the hubbub.
The party afterward was excellent. Many of my friends and supporters were there and they all got to meet Julio and enjoy his outgoing personality (he loves people). My husband Jose and I had decorated a colorful pavilion on site with flowers, awards, championship ribbons, and lots of photos of Julio and myself over the years, and we served champagne and fancy cupcakes to our guests. I stood with Julio near the outside of the pavilion where he joyfully received all “his” guests, who fed him a zillion carrots and took selfies with him. We all feel certain that Julio understood that the party was for him.
For myself, I am deeply happy to still be riding my beloved horses Julio and Zholani every day; it is the result of some luck and a lot of hard work, with careful attention to fitness and nutrition for both my horses and myself. Many thanks are due to the several trainers who have helped keep Julio and I continue competing and even winning: Heidi Riddle, Jenny Backs, Tracy, and especially Jolie. Thanks also to all my friends and especially my husband Jose for such longstanding support. I thank all the guests who came to share this day that meant so much to me. A special thanks to Hetty for hosting our Century Club Ride, and to The Dressage Foundation for making it possible. But when all is said and done, my biggest thanks go to Julio, my wonderful dressage partner for 24 years and counting.