Patience produces golden results with an aging ex-racehorse
By Lynne Lavers with Victoria Bellino
Reprinted from the October 2016 USDF Connection magazine
In my family, off -the-track Thoroughbreds have been both a business (when I was growing up, my mom and I would retrain OTTBs for second careers) and an avocation (I worked my way up to a Pony Club “A” rating on a string of OTTBs). But I couldn’t have predicted that an ornery Thoroughbred with two bowed tendons would take me to the Grand Prix level in dressage.
In the late 1990s, my equestrian sport of choice was eventing, and I was looking for an advanced-level prospect. A friend had been urging me to look at a horse that had been turned out for two years after bowed tendons in both front legs ended his racing career.
Nick of Time was 16.3 hands, with a gorgeous copper coat, a can-do attitude that seemed perfect for an event horse—and an aggressive streak that caused many to call him dangerous and even unridable. I bought him on the spot
“Nick’s” foibles didn’t bother me. He chased people out of his stall at feeding time, and he kicked and pinned his ears when the girth is tightened. But he’s sound— those bowed tendons don’t affect his performance— and as he progressed through the levels in eventing, he especially shone in the dressage phase.
Nick and I evented through preliminary level, but despite his attitude on the ground, he lacked confidence crosscountry. In 2006, I made the decision to switch his career to dressage.
Our relationship reached a turning point when I put Nick in a job that he was suited for and took my agenda out of it. We began to develop mutual trust, and slowly we began working our way through the levels. I’d earned some USDF bronze-medal scores at dressage shows during Nick’s eventing days, and we continued to earn scores toward our bronze and then toward our silver.
In 2013, we competed at the Intermediate level. It was demanding, and I realized that if Nick and I were to get to Grand Prix, I needed to stop thinking only about my horse and focus on improving myself as a rider. We’d been together for 15 years, and Nick was 19. It was now or never.
In 2014, Nick and I headed from our home in Tennessee to Florida, where we had the opportunity to train with international competitor Kathleen Raine and the late Uwe Steiner. Back home, we worked with trainer and clinician Carrie Harnden. Jennifer Thompson, president of the Central Tennessee Dressage Association, helped me with my position. Every night I studied Grand Prix tests on YouTube.
Nick taught me that practice and hard work alone aren’t enough. He mirrored my attitude: If I was tense and uptight, so was he. After earning a score of 59.9 percent on a Grand Prix test, I knew I had to change my approach. When I made a conscious effort to ride with relaxation, and focused more on engagement and throughness than on the minutiae of the test, the scores went up. Our next time out, we earned a 64.6 percent. Last December, we earned the USDF gold medal.
Now 20, Nick is still sound and he hasn’t slowed down one bit, so I’ve set a new goal: ride a Grand Prix Freestyle with him. Meanwhile, I’m bringing along a young horse. I hope to develop him to Grand Prix, as well—with the same patience, humility, and determination I learned from Nick.
Lynne Lavers is a natural-health practitioner and owner of Optimal Health Management in Nashville, TN. She is also a licensed massage therapist, a certified lymphatic therapist, and a craniosacral therapist. She is a member of the Central Tennessee Dressage Association.
Victoria Bellino is an amateur dressage rider, owner of an OTTB, and a CTDA member.