Pony power!! This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating ponies of all breeds. Dressage riders who choose ponies as their mounts are eligible for many Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as there are several pony organizations on our Participating Organization list. Here, an adult amateur shares about her spirited Haflinger partner, Beau, who she never gave up on when taking him from an unstarted 3-year-old to Prix St. Georges!
By Lindy Thompson
I started riding dressage when I was 12 – I was a horse-crazy little girl who lived in the city (Seattle) and didn’t have horsey-parents. My mom found a program at the Woodland Park Zoo for young people to volunteer to lead pony rides and in return, they got to care for and ride the ponies themselves. I got a position in the program and met my best friend, Jess (and we’re still close after 25+ years!). Jess did riding lessons with a dressage trainer on the east side of the city, and she invited me to go out with her. For me, dressage was love at first sight. My mom signed me up for lessons on a school horse, and the rest is history!
I got Beau in 2012 as an unstarted 3-year-old. The story is that I “hid” my “horse-crazy” from my husband until after we were married. He said, “If you want a horse, find a free one.” So I did. Beau was given to me with the hopes that he’d have a shot at dressage. Turned out, he was a wildling with a sassy mind of his own. His tricky nature showed itself early on and stuck. After we got him started (with the help of a local cowboy), I took him to a woman, Petra Warlimont, who worked with his sire and had a reputation as a talented young horse trainer. She was kind and encouraging when I met her, but she quickly passed us off to her assistant. She turned out to be my coach of a lifetime and one of my best friends. Petra and I have been on this adventure with Beau from the beginning, and I couldn’t have accomplished what we did without her.
The early years with Beau were quite difficult, and there were plenty of times that we had some serious conversations about him not being a good fit for me or dressage. On his best days, he was a tricky ride – on the bad days, he was dangerous and uncontrollable. After one of my lessons, he kicked me while I was picking out his stall. That landed me in the ICU for 5 days with a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and lacerated liver. Petra turned Beau out with some old, retired mares and said that if they didn’t straighten him out, not much could. She was right, and to this day I credit Chloe and Revalie with saving Beau’s life.
Being goal-oriented and competitive, I love to show. Petra’s program has always been full of fancy young horses, sales imports, talented young riders, and ambitious adult amateurs. It took me years to get over my “pony complex” when I went to shows with her team – a complex that Beau didn’t help with his behavior at the shows. He continued to be difficult to control in and out of the ring – it was a full time job just to keep him on the bit! Through the early years, there were lots of tears and plenty of embarrassment. Petra has shared many wise words with me, but one day after we got home from a show she said, “You have to stop crying over this because your disappointment in your pony isn’t fair to him. He doesn’t know any better. We just have to keep training him until he does.”
That’s what we did – together we kept training him. She was patient and kind enough to coach me through the training and let me do the riding. In November of 2014, my husband and I moved from Colorado to Michigan. I was so nervous and sad to leave my barn family. I wasn’t sure if I could handle Beau’s handling and training on my own. Once again, Petra was encouraging and supportive. We ended up figuring out virtual lessons and coaching at shows and kept plugging away at the training.
Competing a pony has been a wild ride, sometimes literally! It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Truthfully, I’ve experienced so many instances of feeling intimidated or embarrassed showing against warmbloods and purpose-bred horses. My own barn family is packed full of amazingly talented horses and riders and there were certainly times I felt like I didn’t fit in. Looking back on my adventure with Beau, I realize we did fit in – Beau is tricky, but he’s always been talented. I’ve always been tenacious, competitive, and absolutely dedicated to my education and his. It took a lot of time for me to not only be comfortable with this, but proud of our path as well.
Despite his difficult nature and being tricky to ride, we accomplished quite a bit over the years. Wins, recognition, placings at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships and multiple invitations to the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Our stand-out year was definitely 2019. We’ve been long-time supporters of the National Dressage Pony Cup and have attended the annual show every year since 2015. In 2019, Beau and I were Adult Amateur champions at Third and Fourth Levels – we were also the overall Haflinger High Point Champions and earned the coveted Rachel King Memorial Trophy. Later in the season, we ended up as the USDF Region 2 Adult Amateur Fourth Level reserve champions and were 3rd place at Third Level – both classes having over 20 entries! Those results and scores earned us a trip to the US Dressage Finals that we took for the first time. Petra met us in Kentucky, and we were honored to show our little Haflinger at Third and Fourth levels.
COVID turned 2020 on its head for everyone. My husband and I decided to re-tool our manufacturing facility to build PPE for the relief effort in Michigan. We made the tough decision to send Beau to Colorado to stay in work with Petra and the team. My plan was to travel back and forth, which ended up being extremely tricky as the pandemic set in. I felt very lucky to get to show Beau once in August of 2020 where we did 3 solid Prix St. Georges tests for the first time. It was fitting that we were able to accomplish that milestone in Colorado, where it all began. Our companies remained busy, and we decided to leave Beau with Petra into the new year. I am looking forward to bringing Beau home to Michigan in June and fitting in a couple of shows this year at Prix St. Georges and Intermediate 1. It’s likely that we’ll spend future winters in Colorado as we aim towards a Grand Prix. Beau shows talent for the Grand Prix work, and Petra has been playing with it over the last year.
In the end, Beau is my little horse of a lifetime. He will always be a tricky ride, but Petra is fond of saying “you could not have purchased a better professor.” Beau has made me into the rider I am today, and I am incredibly proud to be his dance partner. He’s a funny, quirky little horse with a loud opinion about everything. His personality is larger than life, and he’s captured the hearts of many people. One of my favorite stories about Beau is that Petra’s two, very talented assistants both love riding him. They have the opportunity to ride some amazing horses, and they still choose to ride the pony every chance they get. I feel the same way. I feel lucky and special every time I get to ride and show Beau – I daydream about our years ahead all the time, and I can’t wait to get him home and back in the ring!