Don’t Do What I Did

Jamie and Tess

By Jamie Knight

I’m excited to share my story with the YourDressage community.   I believe it’s fairly unique!  I rode horses as an adolescent and pre-teen, however I came off a couple of times learning to jump, and decided to pick up golf instead.   I played golf for my high school and Division One college team.  Then adulting began as I started my career in Finance, got married, and helped raise my stepdaughter.  I have no idea exactly what struck me, but one day I turned to my poor husband and declared, “I think we should buy a horse!”   He laughed and told me I was crazy (he grew up in Detroit – I’m pretty sure he’d never seen a real live horse before).  Within 6 months we were the proud, and clueless, owners of a 1-year-old Friesian mare.  Why a Friesian you ask?   Oh, certainly because I did TONS of research into what would be most appropriate for my skillset and goals, right?  Nope.  More so because we saw one in a movie and agreed it was pretty.   And why a yearling you ask?  Definitely because of my extensive young horse handling background, right?  Um no… she was the only Friesian that was within our price range within a reasonable (under 4 hours) driving distance.  Please don’t read the rest of my story and think that ANY of this was a good idea!  For whatever reason, the good Lord has kept me safe from my own ignorance and we’ve been incredibly fortunate, in spite of myself.

With Stephanie at Regionals

Thus Teske van G, aka “Tess,” moved to Texas and our adventures began.  I commenced watching every single Parelli DVD in existence, and read every single book on what on earth one does actually do with a horse.  Tess was more or less a complete saint in her tolerance.  I carrot-sticked her and hind-quarter disengaged the tar out of that poor horse!  This carried on until she turned four, and I decided that I might like to learn what dressage is all about.  At this point, I thought it might be a good idea to find a trainer (ya think?!?!).   How did I find a trainer you ask?  I Googled “Dressage Trainers in McKinney TX” and picked the closest one.  I did not know what Centerline Scores was, was clueless about any USDF Medals, and certainly didn’t bother to ask anyone for references.  However, again, fortune favored the ill-prepared.   We began training with Stephanie Raffety in the summer of 2010.  Tess was only four, so she was learning baby stuff.  I discovered that I was completely terrified of riding!  Stephanie, very patiently, started teaching me how to post the trot and canter on the lunge-line.  There were days where I would be trembling at the mounting block, terrified to get on, because I thought the wind might be blowing a bit too hard.  FYI – Tess was not, and is not, a spooky horse.  Stephanie and Tess helped me push through my fear issues, and I slowly became more confident that I might not die.  Our training consisted of twice a week lessons for me, and Stephanie also rode Tess twice a week.  I also rode on my own once a week.  When we were ready to attempt showing, I decided I wanted Stephanie to show her a level above me, and I’d try my best to keep up with them.   This actually worked well.  I would get to see what the next level was supposed to look like, and do my best to try and emulate that.  Watching them progress showed me what an incredible horse I had, and it pushed me to up my game and be the best that I could for my super mare.  

On the big stage at the US Dressage Finals

Here’s where the story gets really crazy.  In 2014, I earned my USDF Bronze Medal, 2015 Silver, and last year we became Gold Medalists.  I could get very gushy here, but I will spare you, mostly.  It wasn’t always a smooth ride to the top.  It took Tess a year and a half to figure out how to do a single flying change, and me probably even longer.  She’s sent poor Stephanie to the chiropractor more than once, with her croup-high, not-a-change-not-a-buck, maneuvers.  Tess’s piaffe has been fried more than once by clinicians who aren’t mindful of the fact that she’s a mega-overachiever and thinks that “a little more” must mean legs fly spastically every which way.  Sitting her soul-crushingly bouncy trot has made me spend more time in the gym than I really would like.  However, this has been the most incredible journey of my life.  To get to be at this level with this horse is beyond anything that I’d ever dreamed of when I first learned what levels were.  Grand Prix is a struggle for me (how come no one told me it was so freaking hard?!?), but every day I get to play at this stuff with my girl is a gift, and I’m catching on! 

The moral of the story is, for amateur riders; please look for the horse who’s not necessarily the flashiest, but the one with a heart of gold.  Find a trainer who genuinely cares about you and your horse, and pushes you to set goals and dream big.  Enjoy the journey, and whatever you do, don’t do what I did!

Footnotes:  My city-slicker husband has become the best treat-feeder, bucket carrier, shoulder to cry on, and horse-bather in the world!  We now also own Tess’s baby half-sister, Ella van G, who is two and shows great promise at being able to take a joke as well as her older sister has.

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