My George and Me: The Story of a Grand Prix Saddlebred

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Photo by Meghan Benge

Celebrating the American Saddlebred!!  This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating the graceful Saddlebred and Saddlebred crosses of all kinds.

Dressage riders who choose Saddlebreds as their mounts are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as the American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a lifelong Saddlebred lover shares about her heart horse George, and their adventures through Grand Prix Level together.

by Jody Swimmer

Photo by Meghan Benge

We all have a heart horse, and if we are very very fortunate, we may have more than one in our lifetimes. I’m that lucky girl that has had several, but my guy “George,” CH-SH New York City Slicker, will always have the majority of space in my being. You see, George and I became each other’s person when he was a coming two-year-old and I was in my late 40s. I returned to school to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a physical therapist, concurrently with returning to my breed, the American Saddlebred, to learn the art of dressage.

My family raised American Saddlebreds on their farm in North Carolina. Basically, Mother campaigned good mares and then bred them. They sent them to Kentucky, and I campaigned them with huge success in that market through the mid-90s. Mother had stopped breeding horses, and I was yearning to return to daily care of my own horse. At 40, I switched disciplines and began my dressage journey.

It started with one of our last colts, David’s Tee Time (my brother David drove up and found him interrupting his golf game one morning). The colt was naturally gaited but unfortunately, not enough horse for the Kentucky market. I absolutely insisted on trying him as my dressage project. He was a dear guy, but also did not have the canter for a dressage horse. My friend Rob Byers took him for a lesson horse and let him live out his days teaching young riders how to ride a gaited horse. I will be forever grateful to the Byers’ for their loving care of David.

I then began the search for my next prospect (after cheating on my breed and spending a fortune on a warmblood mare that hated to come through, and would NOT do a change on the bit). She was beautiful and kind, and I retired her back on our farm in North Carolina because I can’t sell horses.

Photo by John Borys

Bill Knight called one day and had heard I was looking for a horse. I will never forget him saying, “I got a colt that will do dressage.” Ironically,  I used to watch Bill’s wife Kris work her horses at Rock Creek Riding Stables near my house. I always said if I ever bought an American Saddlebred, I would want to get one of hers. She was so correct and kind in her training, and all her horses were happy and sound.

I went over to their barn on a cold Saturday morning. The colt was pretty enough, but I wanted safety too. I liked what I saw, and Bill told me to come bring my tack and start working him. So, I did. The colt had no buck, rear, or bolt in him. Forward he went. The first time I long-lined him, I had Bill start him. Within one round, I said, “Okay I feel good.”

I took the lines and Bill said, “Oh you’ve got this girl.” The colt just did what I asked of him— and holy cow was it just what I was looking for. I brought him to the boarding barn and Bill’s assistant that hauled him over for me looked around and said, “This colt is going to have a good life.”

And we have had a beautiful life together. He is kind and smart, and there is just something about an American Saddlebred that speaks to my heart. They always have and always will.

I like to do things the hard way; but you see, although it IS hard learning the art of dressage, my beloved George and I climbed through the levels together, achieving the skills required through Grand Prix. Because my George and I might have conformation challenges, we both have the hearts of work horses; strong students willing to put the time and energy in to become successful. We trust each other implicitly and always have. From ground work as a two-year-old, to hacking out alone as a three-year-old on 100 acres, to traveling to shows alone.

Photo by Meghan Benge

My George (I’m really his) has taught me how to become a Grand Prix rider at 62 years young. Through a hip replacement, hand surgeries, shoulder surgery, PT school and career change, and a move to North Carolina, he never misses a beat and always gives me his best. My personal soap box has been and always will be: amateurs, go get a green-started Saddlebred and train them your way. You won’t regret it. The American Saddlebred is beautiful, kind, and athletic. And if you show them a fair and consistent training system, they will not disappoint. If you want a safe mount to make your dreams come true, go find one! I’m here to help.

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