From Humble Beginnings to Bronze and Beyond

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By Katie-Rose Watson

It’s not every day that a horse intended for a kill pen makes it to championships but Dutch did just that. The striking 15.1 hand bay tobiano pinto gelding made it to the 2020 USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals in Wayne, Illinois with owner Grace Sharplin four years after she rescued him.

“He’s a super special boy,” gushes Grace, who sits beaming at her horse during this interview. “He always tries. No matter what day he’s having, he always tries his best.” The seventeen-year-old is a working student at Black Star Sport Horses near Dallas, Texas. She began riding western at age nine in her native Louisiana. She started with barrels before falling in love with dressage.

Dutch was the first horse Grace looked at when she decided to get her own horse. Louisiana trainer Danica Norred found Dutch and suggested they go look at him. His next stop was a kill pen. Grace had only $700 saved from babysitting. “He was running everywhere,” remembers Grace, a fondness in her voice. “They couldn’t even lunge him! When I got on him, we just clicked. We took him home that day in the trailer.”

Grace and Dutch started showing four and a half years ago. They were at Black Star Sport Horses’ beloved holiday schooling show (one of eight schooling shows the farm hosts each year) when Black Star owner and head trainer Lisa Blackmon approached her about a working student position.

“Dutch has a huge heart and loves Grace. He might be the most willing horse I’ve ever worked with. Every time Grace asks him to do something, he tries his best,” says Lisa. “Grace has done a great job with this horse. She’s a hard worker and we’re so proud. She really puts in the work. We admire young people who work on their horsemanship skills as well as dressage.” Grace decided to spend the summer in Dallas to train with Lisa at Black Star Sport Horses.

Last October, Grace and Dutch went to the Great American/USDF Region 9 Championships and won the Second Level Junior Young Rider Championship and the Southwest Junior Young Rider Championships. A few weeks ago, the duo traveled to Illinois with Black Star Sport Horses for the 2020 USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals at Lamplight and placed fourth. Grace was the only Dallas Dressage Club member to compete at Lamplight this year. “I was very proud of Grace’s composure and sportsmanship at her first major show,” says Blackmon. “She has learned a lot this year. Programs like the USEF seat medal are invaluable to the development of our young competitors.”

It isn’t all about showing though. In her free time, Grace enjoys riding bareback in the round pen, letting Dutch graze under the Texas sun, and exploring Black Star’s expansive wooded trails. Grace enthuses, “Dutch loves to be outdoors. He’s very chill but he also wants to succeed in the show ring. He knows if he wins or not!”

Dutch has also helped Grace get through a difficult time in her life. Her father, Thomas, has acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rare illness that makes breathing difficult. Channeling her energy into dressage and her horse has been healing for her. You would never know the struggle to talk to her; the good-natured teenager is wise beyond her years and has a genuine smile that’s infectious to all around her.

Grace’s dream is to compete in the Olympics someday. She and thirteen-year-old Dutch are currently showing at Third and Fourth Level, and they’re ready to work hard to make their dreams come true.

“It doesn’t really matter how much money you have or where you come from,” says Grace. “If you have the passion for dressage, you can do it.”

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