By Valerie Goodman
If someone would have told me the first horse I would ride at an FEI level would be a barely backed, 6-year-old Welsh Cob, found from a random internet search, I’d have thought they were crazy.
Riding had been put on the back burner for too many years to count. As a busy mom of two active boys, and part-time marketing consultant, I wanted to try dressage, but realized after on and off attempts, switching from hunt seat (ridden during my junior years) to dressage was mind boggling and frustrating at best! Not to be discouraged, in 2011 I began riding more seriously to learn basic seat and position. At some point, I decided to find a horse of my own, and began my search. With a very meager budget and a computer, I set out to find a “project” horse that I could train.
What caught my eye online was a cute little Cob in a pasture in Kansas, with the most unusual markings. Although he looked far from remarkable and barely “okay”, after seeing a short video clip, something resonated with me (probably his price tag). I decided to get him vet checked. After the vet said, “he’s a good one, buy him”, I had him shipped out, much to the questionable head shaking of some of my very serious dressage-riding friends. Upon arrival, he looked even shorter and more out of shape than I recalled from the picture. I thought, well, if he doesn’t work out, I could always sell him. With that, our dressage journey began.
Fast forward five years later, my barely backed, internet search result, Welsh Cob Bryan (Idylwind Brychan) won our state’s Regional Adult at Second Level, earned reserve champion during California Dressage Society’s Annual Championship Show (Second Level), and earned Second Level Open Champion and Third Level Open Reserve Champion from the Welsh Cob and Pony Society of America. He was turning out to be the perfect dressage partner! I was looking forward to climbing up the levels with him.
Sadly after that year, he started exhibiting metabolic issues and our path upwards came to a grinding halt after he developed laminitis. For 14 months I worked diligently to bring him back, most of that time addressing his diet and managing stall rest.
Lessons learned: there are no shortcuts in dressage!
Getting back to where we were before was nearly impossible. I had lost my riding confidence and Bryan was suffering from it. It was then that I decided to work with Sarah Lockman (now a Pan American Games Gold Medalist) whenever possible. She immediately realized that Bryan and I both had lost our confidence and progress was at a standstill. Concentrating on the basics and working patiently and as accurately as possible within the training scale was exactly what we both needed.
Flash forward two years and I am thrilled to say that we will debut at Prix St Georges this year! Little did I realize, my short-statured horse named Bryan, would have an uncommon talent for the FEI movements such as pirouette, piaffe, and passage.
I would say I am a typical adult amateur rider with a busy family and work life, attempting to find satisfaction and some success within one of the most difficult equestrian sports. Doing this on an inexpensive horse not bred for the discipline makes it even harder. I know there are so many like me with the same challenges. Having the opportunity to clinic with some of the best has helped us tremendously. Jan Curtis, an “S” judge and USDF Gold Medal Rider, has and continues to be both tough and patient with us. Bryan is so willing to try! He has a natural balance. Yes, a Welsh Cob is not a common breed in dressage, but he has the correct response and elasticity that is so desirable in the discipline. He is a good example that one doesn’t have to pay a fortune for a nice dressage horse. He turns heads to watch him wherever he goes.
Knock on wood, we both stay healthy and continue to climb the levels. Regardless of the level we rise to, I am grateful every day for the heart, work ethic and sloppy kisses given to me from my pint-sized equine partner, Bryan.