Meet two superstar dressage horses that have helped multiple riders achieve their dreams
By Colleen Scott
Talent, athleticism, longevity, heart, and a teaching spirit—that’s what two veteran dressage schoolmasters have in common. These worth-their-weight-in-gold geldings have partnered with multiple riders, helping them earn the scores required for various USDF Rider Performance Awards and USDF rider medals and freestyle bars. Turns out, not only does it take special horses like these two unicorns to make dreams come true; it also takes special owners.
The 1998 Friesian/Arabian cross and registered half-Arabian FA Patriot (Flurry of Ca-Lyn – La Sada Mega), bred by Jerry Thornton, carried co-owner Katie Lang, of Charlottesville, Virginia, to her USDF bronze, silver, and gold medals. Steel gray as a youngster, the gelding earned the nickname “Blue,” and it has stuck with him for more than two decades.
“Blue is an institution around here,” says his longtime trainer, USEF “S” dressage judge and USDF L program faculty member Kathy Rowse, at whose Silverleaf Farm, Suffolk, Virginia, Blue has resided since he was five.
When Rowse met the green youngster, she had no idea that he would become such an important part of so many riders’ dressage journeys.
“You don’t really know what you’ve got until you have them in your barn and are able to work with them every day,” Rowse says. “It’s very intangible. But Blue just comes in and puts his head down and goes to work every single day.”
Blue is not the kind of schoolmaster that rewards “good enough,” Lang and Rowse agree. He teaches riders by holding them to a higher standard.
“He has a great willingness to please, as long as you ask correctly,” says Rowse. “If you don’t ask correctly, he won’t do it. He’ll make you work a little harder.”
“He’s particular about letting you know if you’ve done something correctly or not,” Lang concurs. “He doesn’t make it easy. As my mom used to say, Blue tattles and tells his riders when they aren’t holding up their end of the partnership.”
Blue has taught many students the finer points of dressage. Besides Lang, he’s helped Jessica Zoskey earn some First Level scores and all of the required scores at Second Level, Third Level, Fourth Level, and Prix St. Georges for her USDF bronze and silver medals. Evelyn Eidem, who received her silver medal in 2020, earned a Prix St. Georges score on Blue. The hard-working gelding also helped Lili Nabhan to earn the required Third Level scores toward her USDF bronze medal.
Lang thinks that what makes Blue a good fit for a variety of riders is the fact that he truly loves people.
“He’s like a Golden Retriever,” she says. “I truly think he enjoys being ridden. He is such a good sport. Anyone he meets he makes friends with.”
The Dressage Dreamboat
Fabio isn’t just a flowing-maned Italian male model who’s graced romance-novel covers and TV commercials; he’s also a dark, handsome hunk of an Oldenburg gelding (West Coast –Doramber, bred by Judy Arnold) who’s still going strong at 25.
Kristy Lund, DVM, of Wellington, Florida, maxed out her credit cards to purchase Fabio, who she soon discovered was an unruly youngster.
“He was difficult,” Lund recalls. “I really bought him to get him out of what was a bad situation at the time.” She says that Fabio was unpredictable and inconsistent: “When he was on, he was on. When he was off, well, you might as well go home.”
But the gelding was talented and Lund persisted. Aboard Fabio, she earned Intermediate I, Intermediate II, and Grand Prix scores toward her USDF gold medal. Over time Fabio settled and became far more reliable in the ring.
“I don’t know what switch happened,” Lund says, “but late in life he became an ideal schoolmaster,” and she began allowing others to ride him. Fabio had evolved into such a steady Eddie that he came to mind when instructor/trainer Roberta Williams went looking for a mount for an adult-amateur student.
It was the dream of breast-cancer survivor Jenifer “Jeni” Gaffney, DVM, of Akron, Ohio, to earn her USDF gold medal and also to compete at the storied Dressage at Devon show in Pennsylvania. Gaffney shared her “bucket list” with Williams, who “thought of Fabio and approached Kristy,” Gaffney says.
As fate would have it, Fabio had been suffering from anhidrosis, a condition that impedes a horse’s ability to sweat normally, and Lund wanted to get him out of the Florida heat and humidity. A deal was struck and Fabio moved north to Ohio. He and Gaffney indeed competed at Devon in 2015, and they went on to compete at multiple US Dressage Finals.
Rider and owner run into each other from time to time, including at the 2017 US Dressage Finals, where Lund rode Akvavit and Gaffney rode Fabio in the Adult Amateur Grand Prix Freestyle Championship, placing fifth and sixth, respectively. And to cap off Gaffney’s achievements with Fabio, she checked off the other dressage-related item on her bucket list when she earned her USDF gold medal and her USDF gold freestyle bar.
Like Blue, Fabio wasn’t done yet. Nicole Del Giorno earned all of the scores for her USDF gold medal aboard Fabio. And in a nice “all in the family” moment, Gaffney’s son Colin Gaffney earned the Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges scores for his USDF silver medal aboard the horse that had already made Colin’s mother’s dreams come true.
The Generosity of Owners
These riders’ achievement would not have been possible, of course, had it not been for owners who were willing to share their four-legged professors.
“I really think a lot of these horses get retired too early,” says Lund. “Some people will never have the opportunity to have a horse that is capable of taking them as far as some of these schoolmasters.
“I’ve always wanted to do my part to include people and share when I can,” Lund continues. “This is a very expensive sport, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to these kinds of upper-level horses.”
Lang calls Blue “a fantastic teacher for all types of dressage riders” and says that “our family was always happy to give people the opportunity to take lessons on him. I am happy that I have been able to let other people ride Blue as I did for so many years. It’s really rewarding for me to see other people be successful with him.”
As of this writing, both geldings are still being ridden at the highest level, and neither has had any soundness issues. At this rate, we might see yet more lucky riders cantering down center line on Blue and Fabio. Their school is not out yet!