Linden Thompson’s Haflinger gelding may be a handful, but he’s also taken her to Kentucky to compete against the best in the country at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®
By Jennifer M. Keeler
When Linden Thompson’s Haflinger gelding N’Tempo SSH1 was four years old, he kicked her up against a wall and sent her to the local hospital’s intensive care unit for several days. “He can be quite naughty,” she laughs at the memory. But ten years later and on much better behavior, “Beau” took Thompson to her very first US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® last November, where the pair competed in both the Third and Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship classes and earned the US Dressage Finals High Score Breed Award from the American Haflinger Registry for the National Levels Adult Amateur Division.
Their story together begins in 2009 in Colorado, where Beau was born and sold to a neighbor as a weanling by his breeder, Sara Haas of Sure Shot Haflingers. As he grew to be a three-year-old, his owner recognized his natural talent and sought a dressage home for the feisty youngster. At the same time, Thompson and her husband were living in the area and had recently started a new business. “I didn’t have any extra money for a horse,” she explained. “But Beau’s owner felt like we’d be a good fit so she gave him to me for free. Turns out he was completely unstarted and quite wild!”
Even though Thompson had grown up riding and competing in dressage and felt herself to be a competent horsewoman, she quickly began to second-guess her decision to take a chance on Beau. “Generally, Haflingers are sweet, brave, and curious with huge personalities and who love people,” Thompson explained. “They are incredibly versatile and don’t let their drafty-looking appearance (they aren’t a draft breed!) and smaller stature (they aren’t a pony breed either!) fool you. They work hard and are good teachers, making them wonderful amateur and junior rider partners.
“At first Beau was quite hot, strong-willed, and fairly dangerous… certainly not a mount for a child,” Thompson continued. “He was difficult enough as a youngster that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep him around. Haflingers are curious horses and this personality trait is often mistaken for naughtiness, but Beau also struggles with trust and that was a long road to overcome. On top of that, he has always been incredibly stubborn and when he doesn’t want to participate, he bolts. To this day I still need someone to help me get him to and from the ring at big shows.”
Despite the challenges, Thompson never gave up on Beau even though she was often counseled to move on, and there were times she agreed. “My coach Petra Warlimont always believed in us and reminds me all the time that I couldn’t have purchased a better professor,” Thompson noted. “He’s taught me how to train a difficult horse who needs both strict boundaries and instantaneous understanding and compassion. He’s taught me to be brave, he’s taught me to forgive and be patient, he’s taught me the subtle differences of fear and misbehavior in the horse. He’s made me into a rider who strives to guide the horse through feeling and empathy. I do believe that this horse was placed in my life for a reason, and because of that I’ve refused to give up on him. You can call it passion, craziness, or pure stubbornness on both of our parts, but this is one horse who will always be with me as long as he’s happy and healthy.”
Through the years and with plenty of bumps in the road, Thompson and Beau slowly but steadily nurtured their partnership through dressage. Even after a move to Boyne City, Michigan five years ago, Thompson regularly makes the long trek back to Colorado to work with Warlimont, as well as utilizing virtual lessons and coaching. The pair also discovered a mutual enjoyment of competition, despite all the excitement and pressure that comes with it.
“I love to horse show and it turns out so does Beau,” Thompson explained. “My husband Jonathon travels with us and has become my most trusted groom and ground person. Because Beau is a tricky horse, I’ve spent countless days (at home and at shows) disappointed, in tears, and/or embarrassed…. but I look back on it all and wouldn’t trade any of it. The 2019 season was testament to having long-term goals and ‘sticking with it.’ We attended the National Dressage Pony Cup Championships where we were Adult Amateur Champion at both Third and Fourth Levels, and then ended up at the Region 2 Championships as the Adult Amateur Fourth Level Reserve Champion as well as placing third at Third Level. The season felt like a dream – my little, naughty pony fared pretty well at those big shows and it earned us our spots at the US Dressage Finals.”
Thompson had previously earned two invitations to the Finals but had turned them down, admitting that she not only was worried about making such a big trip to such a big show with Beau, but also that she needed to feel more confident in herself, her partner, and their combined talents in dressage. “It can be very intimidating to take a small cart pony into a dressage ring against the warmbloods, who are purpose-bred for this sport,” Thompson admitted. “A huge part of my journey with Beau has been overcoming those doubts and fears, and even though they’re always in the back of my head, last year felt different. I guess it truly didn’t matter if we’d be competitive when we got there, I felt confident that we earned our invitation with the Reserve Champion placing at Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships in a class of 21. I’m so glad we chose to make the trip – it was an amazing experience and such a huge honor to be there.
“I think the most important, special piece was that my mom came from Bellinham, Washington and Petra came from Colorado to join me, Jonathon, and Beau at the event,” Thompson continued. “I was surprised at how many of my friends made the drive to Kentucky to support us as well! Everyone around me made it feel special and important. Beau was quite sassy, the atmosphere at the Horse Park was buzzing, and it was SO COLD, so every day was a bit of its own mini-adventure. But he was very well-behaved for our rides, and I felt nothing but pride and accomplishment for being part of both classes. We, of course, loved the wonderful shopping, watching the freestyles in the Alltech, and enjoying distillery tours and dinners out in Lexington at our favorite places.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold this spring, Thompson sent Beau to Colorado to stay in work with Warlimont while she and her husband focused on building personal protective equipment (PPE) at their manufacturing facility in Michigan. But now as restrictions slowly begin to lift across the country, the pair plan to return to the show ring, including a possible return to the Region 2 Championships. “We’re already qualified for Fourth Level again and are now working towards our first Prix St. Georges. We’ll see how things turn out in this crazy year; but if given the opportunity to return to the Finals someday, we’ll be back for sure. My little Haflinger never ceases to keep my life interesting!”
To learn more about the High Score Breed Awards offered at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, visit this link: https://www.usdf.org/usdressagefinals/competitors/breed.asp
Read Jennifer Keeler’s story “Small But Mighty” about another High Score Breeds Awards winner.