A Mustang in the Dressage Ring

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A little buckskin named Violet turns heads—and changes attitudes

Reprinted from the February 2015 Issue of USDF Connection

 By Jenn Boblitt

From my first dressage horse 20 years ago—an Arabian- Thoroughbred mare—to my latest partner, a Thoroughbred- Percheron cross, I’ve been willing to compromise on “dressage” breeding for the right conformation, the right attitude, and, yes, the right price. Still, I never quite pictured myself saluting at X atop a little buckskin mustang.

It was 2011, and I had just started my own dressage business when I was asked to put some training on Violet, a three-year-old mustang mare. The mare was born wild and captured as a weanling in the mysterious Area 51 in Nevada, and Violet’s owner bought her at auction through the Bureau of Land Management.

When Violet came to me, she had been ridden previously but hadn’t been worked with for a while. My first thought was, “A mustang—great. She’s going to be a bucking bronco.” I started lungeing Violet and began riding her a week later. I was relieved to find that she was sweet, sensible, and intelligent.

We worked on the basics: obedience, steering, and connection. Violet progressed quickly, and within a few months she could walk, trot, and canter on the bit and maintain a consistent rhythm. In 2012, I took her to some schooling shows, where she behaved like a veteran and scored in the upper seventies at Training Level. I spent that year working on improving her canter. We also schooled flying changes. She is such a quick learner that she grasped the concept the very first day.

 Early in 2013, I looked into the USDF All-Breeds Awards program. Violet’s owner and I decided to try for the Second Level award from the American Mustang & Burro Association. We began earning our qualifying scores, and one judge commented that she admired what I had done with Violet. These words of encouragement meant a lot to me. I have my doubts sometimes at shows, trotting around the warm-up ring on a 14.2-hand mustang as fancy warmbloods loom over us. For a knowledgeable person to compliment my efforts with Violet was validating.

The season had started out well, but we had a lot to work on. Violet doesn’t have much of a trot lengthening and she is built “downhill,” so getting her poll to be the highest point is difficult. She could do all the movements easily, but she needed more freedom in her shoulder and to start to use her hind end to sit. We worked on collecting the canter, and as Violet was consistently doing three- and four-tempi changes, I started schooling twos. The first time I asked for them, she did three! She will try anything and doesn’t get flustered. A few weeks later, she did five one-tempis. She was also sitting more and had developed better self-carriage.

At our last show that year, Violet earned her highest score of the season and completed the requirements for her All-Breeds award. Only two mustangs qualified at Second Level in 2013, and Violet was the reserve champion.

Today Violet is schooling everything in the Prix St. Georges. Only a few mustangs have made it to FEI, and I believe Violet has what it takes to join that elite group. She has completely changed my opinion of her breed. Mustangs might lack the impressive movement required to earn top scores in dressage, but they are sturdy and incredibly intelligent. Training Violet, like training any horse not built for dressage, has required extra work and resourcefulness, but she has never let me down. She is always willing and eager to work, which isn’t always something I can say of horses with “better” breeding. She comes to me in the paddock, likes to have her butt scratched, and loves her cookies. Her temperament has made the extra effort worthwhile, and I look forward to seeing how far we can go together.

Jenn Boblitt is a professional dressage instructor and trainer based at Alta Vista Farm in Goshen, KY. A USDF bronze and silver medalist, she enjoys working with different breeds and helping people enjoy and learn dressage.

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