Diva: The Student Becomes the Teacher

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Arabians are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for July!  One of the oldest horse breeds on earth, and the influence for many other breeds, these elegant horses are easily recognizable with their delicate faces and high tail carriage.  They excel in many sports, particularly endurance riding.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Arabians have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as Arabian Horse Association, North American Shagya-Arabian Society, and Performance Shagya-Arabian Registry are all Participating Organizations.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 2 mom and daughter pair share how their Arabian mare turned out to be both the best student and teacher on their dressage journey.

By Chelsea Akavickas and Sarah Brus

I had always dreamed of owning my own horse. I’m the only one in my family who has the riding-bug, but some of my earliest memories involve carousel rides, Breyer figurines, and, of course, begging my parents for a pony.

Sarah, Chelsea’s mom, recalled, “From the time she could talk, horses were what she talked about. By the time she was four, she was asking for a pony – and had it all planned out! The pony would live in the backyard, a living lawnmower, and we could tie it to the swing set at night. It wasn’t until she was seven that Chelsea was able to start taking riding lessons and, from that time forward, almost all of my pictures of Chelsea are of her riding. Pictures of her riding Diva, and later Mylo and Fig (a half-Arab pony she trained and sold), and now Deo and Luke, are very treasured memories.”

Fig, a Half Arabian

When I was ten, my dreams (and those of my trainer, I’m sure) came to life when my mother and I dove head first into horse ownership with Diva, registered name CH Divinia. Diva was a 15.2h, 1991, chestnut, Arabian broodmare (papered!), with ninety days of under-saddle training, who had stolen my heart. (Scoff – a schoolmaster!) Did I mention we hadn’t told our trainer? This was a combination that would have sent more experienced horse people driving swiftly to the next sale appointment (or in my mom’s case, finally putting in those new kitchen countertops instead of purchasing a horse). After an extensive vet check that easily outweighed her purchase price, she was ours!

Sarah explains, “A friend helped me search for a horse for Chelsea, watching video tapes with me and offering advice. But when it came to the final decision, it was all us. Chelsea, her sister Jenny, and I went on a road trip to test ride the final three. (We did a little skiing and had fun at a water park resort as well!) Diva was the last horse we saw and I knew she was the one – Chelsea was smiling from ear to ear when the trainer put her on her back and sent her around the indoor arena. We didn’t buy her immediately – $3,000 was a lot for a single mom to spend. But, after a little thought, I decided my kitchen renovation could wait and we agreed to buy Diva. Chelsea paid for her tack out of several years of saving her birthday and Christmas money, allowance, etc.”

When Diva arrived, it became apparent that we were in a little over our heads with our new fit and frightened show horse. Thankfully, we found the help of a wonderful horsewoman to help us (read: save us), Jennifer Kraemer. With her guidance, and what had to have been Mother Theresa-levels of patience, in and out of the saddle, Diva and I slowly became a team and started competing at local dressage schooling shows. Let’s just say we weren’t immediate sensations, but it didn’t deter me, and we continued working hard to become a more competitive pair.

“In the very beginning, I had a few misgivings about Diva, and even offered to sell her and look for a different horse, but Chelsea already loved her and was determined to stick with her new partner. Looking back now, I’m so glad we kept her. And, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second!”

Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

After a rocky season or two, we actually started to improve! We moved from schooling shows to rated shows, and were holding our own in the lower levels against the bigger, more traditional horses, with scores in the 70’s. My frightened little Arabian was becoming a fierce competitor and, more importantly, a partner. Diva consistently defied what was expected of her, including becoming the epitome of the perfect first horse. Together, we joined our local pony club and started eventing (enter Annemieke Childers – our jumping guru and friend). Diva and I went to pony club camps, ratings, and rallies, on bareback gallops through the pastures, and never have I had such a great time on a horse. We were even in a Christmas parade through the city! Diva also took me to my first regional dressage competition, and helped me get all of my First and Second Level scores towards my USDF Bronze Medal.

“Horse shows just became a part of our life! As we lived in Wisconsin, show season started as early as we could stand the weather (usually in April) and lasted pretty much until the first snow fell, or as long as we could find a show to enter! I bought an old steel trailer and learned how to pull a rig. Backing up was always interesting! And later, I traded up for a modern 2-horse, with a tack room in front. I was so impressed with Chelsea’s handling of her spooky Arabian mare. They just got better and better, and brought home ribbons and high point awards. More importantly, the three of us became an incredibly close team – horse, rider, and horse show Mom.”

Chelsea leads a young Grace Debney (now a Grand Prix showjumper!)

As we both got older, I taught my first lessons with students as young as four using Diva as my trusted lesson horse. She fulfilled dreams and taught important lessons to so many little girls, some who still ride and compete successfully to this day.

“Watching Chelsea and Diva teach others was so rewarding! This little Arabian mare, who initially was afraid of everything, had learned to trust, and could now introduce other kids to the joys of riding. She even let me ride her now and then! I swear that Diva knew when she had a young child on her back and took extra care with them. She continued to work hard for Chelsea, and for me – she knew I was just cooling her out while Chelsea worked another horse. She did what I asked, but, when she was ready to be done, she just stopped at the arena door and turned her head to me as if to say ‘we’re done – now let’s go get some treats!’”

It was on Diva’s back that my passion and drive for the sport was truly sparked. It was through her that I was introduced to some of the best horse people, who I’m still in contact with today. She taught me to be a braver, more patient rider, and a confident horsewoman. I’ve since achieved my USDF Gold Medal and have been lucky enough to ride with, and learn from, some of today’s top trainers, including two Olympians and two Olympic Coaches. I’ve made a career riding in the dressage industry and I’ve been fortunate enough to sit on international quality horses, and horses that have been nominated as USEF Horse of the Year. Still, that little red mare is one of the greatest I’ve ever had the honor of riding.

Information about the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards
Bob, the Accidental Dressage Horse
Bayiffics Serena
Breed of the Month – Arabians! Part 1
New Horse – A Whole New Ballgame

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