An Interview by Deena Helminiak
This article was an honorable mention in the 2020 GMO Newsletter Award in first person experience for GMOs with 175-499 members. It first appeared in Cross Country, Central States Dressage & Eventing Association, November 2019
Do you ever notice that there is something missing from almost every dressage show that you go to? I don’t mean literally at the show or in the barn but in the show ring. Its men! I think the most I have seen showing at one time is two.This got me to wondering why that is, so I asked the only man I know that shows to sit down and talk to me about this phenomenon and the outstanding year he had in the show ring. In the spirit of full disclosure, I board my horse and train at St. George’s so not only did I have the pleasure of interviewing Josh, I know him on a personal level as well.
Josh Solsvig is the Operations Manager at St George’s Dressage Academy and is no stranger to shows. However, it has been in a behind-the-scenes presence until this year when he decided he wanted to get out from behind the barn doors and get into the show ring. I sat down with him recently to talk to him about why he decided to start riding dressage, how his first show season went, why he thinks there aren’t more men in the show ring and what his future plans are.
Here’s a little background on Josh: He took his first dressage lesson in February of 2019 and along with his trainers Lindsay Fuchs and Jessica Olmsted, he embarked on his first show season with Unanimous, better known as “Bubbles,” in May 2019 showing at Training Level. As the show season progressed, they decided it was time to move up to First Level. He took the month of July off from showing and came back strong in the month of August. He was also riding another horse at this point – Lacksette, along with Bubbles. At the Northern Lights Dressage Show on August 25th Josh earned his Bronze Medal. I know a fair number of riders but I don’t think I know anyone who started riding and within four months had earned this honor. To say that he was having an exceptional show season was an understatement. Here is some insight into his first season in the show ring.
Why did you decide you wanted to start riding dressage? You’ve been hauling us and helping us at the shows for years but you hadn’t ridden dressage.
I had done a little bit of riding in the past (mostly reining) and gave it up because there was too much work to do at the farm. I ended up having back surgery and once my back was feeling better I started getting more involved in sports and started playing hockey again. I made the fatal mistake of one day smarting off to Jessie (the head trainer at St. George’s), Lindsay Fuchs (Jessie and now Josh’s trainer) and others that I could kick their butts and ride dressage. Of course, I said this as a joke but they said “Fine, let’s get you on horse then and you can prove it” and I was like “Fine, I’ll ride”. My back felt pretty good so I decided that I should just start riding. It was going pretty good so they suggested that I should start showing and it just snowballed from there.
What surprised you the most when you started riding and showing?
Dressage itself was so much more difficult that I thought. I had been around it a lot but I had no clue of how detailed everything was, from your position and every little detail that went into riding.
You had been around when we were getting lessons and you had heard what we were being told. Did that help you at all?
Yes, and that was good because I would just know what they were talking about when they told me to do something because I had heard it so many times before when others were getting lessons.
Do you enjoy riding dressage and what do you enjoy the most about riding dressage?
Yes, I totally enjoy it. The challenge of it is something that I enjoy a lot because it is difficult and the progress you can make is something that keeps me interested and striving to do more and more.
Did you ever think you would be the one out there in the fancy pants (we like to give him a hard time about his breeches) and boots showing?
(laughs) No. That also was a very difficult part of riding for me. It was a hard transition. I would put my breeches on, get on the horse, ride and take them off as soon as I got off. I’ve gotten over that now and don’t feel the need to change as soon as I’m done riding.
Do you ever find it hard to be one of only a few or the only guy at the shows?
Do you think it is an advantage?
(we both laughed) Probably. I mean yes, I would rather be around a bunch of girls rather than a bunch of guys in fancy pants. I suppose that is true – I didn’t even think of it that way.
I know your friends and family are very supportive of your new adventure as I’ve seen them at the shows cheering you on. Do some of your friends give you a hard time about riding in your fancy pants?
My family doesn’t and they are super supportive. My friends are also very supportive but they give me a lot of grief and a lot of it has to do with the fancy pants! They show up and watch and are very excited and it is nice to see that. It’s the pants and the bow-tie with the unicorns. Now that I’m used to wearing breeches, I figured I better get some cool socks to wear with them. I have one pair in particular that I go to when I feel pressure and need to make things happen.
Let’s talk about your coat? I know there was some controversy about it at a show early in the season. Is this the same coat you found at Nordstrom Rack?
Yes, it’s that coat. I needed to get a coat for the show (which came up really fast) and the first show was in May at Otter Creek. I ordered the first jacket on-line and ordered the biggest size available, which was an XL. I got that one and put it on and it was bursting at the seams.The show was like a week away and I tried it on for Jessie & Lindsay and I was like “Yeah, I think it fits – it’s stretchy – it’s fine” and they were like “You can’t wear that – it looks horrible!” so off we went to go shopping.We went to Nordstrom Rack and found a double-breasted sport coat and I was like “Perfect, this will match with my Unicorn bow-tie and my horse.”
By the middle of August, you had earned your Bronze Medal. Did you think that was going to happen this summer?
What were your goals when you started riding in February? Were you even going to show?
I didn’t know I was going to show but things were going pretty well. I did three clinics with Conrad Schumacher with Lindsay and at the third clinic he told Lindsay that I was ready to show and that I would do fine. So Lindsay was like “There you have it.” At that point, my goal was to show Training Level and hopefully do well. I showed Training Level at the first two shows and then when I was getting ready to register for the third show Lindsay told me I was going to show First level since I did so well at the first two shows. Before long I had qualifying scores for Regionals at both Training and First Level and my two scores at First Level for my Bronze Medal. I had also started to ride Lacksette, which was a blessing. I can’t thank Jim Torseth enough for the opportunity he has given me by allowing me to ride Lacksette, this wouldn’t have been possible without that.
A week before the next show Lindsay suggested that I show Lacksette there, since Jessie couldn’t go to this show. She said I should show her Third Level since we didn’t know when I would have this opportunity again. I could maybe show Bubbles Second Level but probably not Third, but if I could do Third Level on Lacksette now, I should just do it. Initially I was like “No, I am not going to be able to do this.” I didn’t want to do it but everybody was so supportive so I did it. We went to that show and got our Third Level scores. Down the road another show came up and it was decided that I should do Second Level and get those scores as well. It just worked out.
I know that all of us at St. Georges were so excited for you, to watch you do so much in such a short amount of time.
It is totally insane. I’m still trying to process all of it. We jumped into First Level, then Third Level and then Second Level, which I think was harder than Third Level, and then we did the CSDEA Fall Festival and I rode First, Second and Third Levels there.
So, let’s talk about the Festival? You’re at your first Festival, have never done the team challenge before, and your team, which included Lindsay Fuchs, Makena Scott and yourself, wins the Team Challenge.Things were going good for you and Sunday rolls around and you end up winning High Point and a custom made saddle! Everyone that shows dreams of winning high point and the custom made saddle and you, who has only been riding for five months, goes out and wins it! Did you feel bad for the rest of us?
(both of us laugh) Not really.
Were you surprised that you won it?
Yes, I really was and I was super excited and happy. I had worked my butt off to do what I did. I have had a ton of help and some lucky circumstances, like being able to ride Lacksette, but that just topped it off. I tried not to be excited about it because I didn’t want people to feel bad but inside, I was really excited. After the show, I went out with my buddies and celebrated properly.
Your next stop is Regionals. Can you tell me about the equitation class? I heard that you might not have been aware that you had to ride a pattern for this class and one of the other competitors came to your rescue and taught you the pattern.
I had done one other equitation seat class prior to this one but I was the only person in that class.The judge came out, talked to me about my seat, etc. and that was it so when I went to Regionals, I expected the same thing. As we are waiting to go into the class, I overhear someone talking about a pattern and I’m like “Lindsay what pattern?” Thankfully this other competitor helped me learn the pattern. We went into the ring in two separate groups and they were directing us what to do so I thought “This is perfect”, there is no pattern.” Plus, before I went in Lindsay said “If there is a pattern, just watch the people ride the pattern before you and you’ll be fine, it’s not like you’ll be first to go.” So they line up the top eight, which I am one of, and then say “Okay, we’ll call your number and you then come in and ride the pattern” and right then, I had a little heart attack and I’m pretty sure Lindsay did too! So, I’m like that’s alright, I’ll watch the first person and I’ll be fine.Wouldn’t you know it, they call my number first. I am freaking out! So I start walking in down by “C” (because they had the boards out on both ends for riders to exit once they are done riding their pattern) and because the pattern was to go down centerline at “C”, I went that way.They called me out “You enter at A” and I felt like the dumbest person on earth because what dressage test would you ever enter at the side of the arena! I went in and rode my pattern, somewhat successfully, and ended up in getting sixth place.
Do you know what your plans are going forward? Are you going to keep riding and showing?
Yes, I’m going to keep riding and showing. I recently rode in another clinic with Conrad Schumacher on Lacksette and he asked me what we were working on and Lindsay told him Fourth Level so we worked on fourth level stuff.
Had you been working on any fourth level stuff at this point?
No, not at all.
So, the first time you are working on some of these movements is with Conrad? I have to imagine that is just a bit intimidating.
It’s always intimidating riding with him.When I first rode with him it was a disaster. I just couldn’t even ride so this was much better. He was impressed with where I was with my seat, and riding and I had made progress so it sounds like Fourth Level is next.
So, you’ll start next show season at Fourth Level and maybe get your silver medal next summer?
That would be a lot! There is talk of trip to Florida this winter to look for a coat with tails!
Why do you think there aren’t more guys riding dressage?
I think there is so much focus on team sports these days and when I grew up, I didn’t even know about horses and if I wanted to ride at all, I would have wanted to be a cowboy. I just don’t think people know what the sport is all about.
If I was a guy and didn’t know anything about dressage, I would be like “Look at the pants those guys have to wear” but I was thinking about it and I was watching football with my buddies and we watch that sport all the time and their pants are probably tighter than my breeches and we never even think about it. Baseball players, football players – they all wear tight pants! I tried riding in jeans and cowboy boots when I first started and I still have marks from them so I am more than happy to wear my fancy pants now!
So, you are going to keep riding?
Absolutely, the challenge of dressage is incredible. I’ve seen it a lot and have listened to them train and watched you guys ride but now I realize how incredibly difficult it is and how every little detail between you and your horse is so important. I really like it.
Fascinating! Great interview. We need more dressage riders..