USDF has a new way of recognizing excellence in dressage: the Diamond Achievement Award! Members of this exclusive club have earned all three of their Bronze, Silver, and Gold Rider Medals, as well as the corresponding Freestyle Bars. From across the US and from all sorts of different backgrounds, we will be sharing some of their inspiring stories to reach this pinnacle in our new series Shine Bright Like a Diamond. In the first edition, which just so happens to fall during our Appaloosa Breed of the Month celebration, Region 7’s Shareen Purcell shares about the very special spotted horse that contributed to her many successes in the dressage arena, and that you don’t need the biggest budget or the fanciest horse to be a champion.
By Shareen Purcell
I have never been in a situation where I had the money or support to “really” do dressage, but I did the best I could. And I think I may be one of the only people who has accomplished the Diamond Achievement 100% on horses I bred and trained and rode, with minimal help (clinics, lessons maybe 2/3 times a year average?).
I bought my Appaloosa when I was 17 and had fun with him, really having most of my horsemanship training from the horse camp I bought him from, which I attended for about six years.
At 20, I decided I wanted to “do” horses, so I attended Pacific Horse Center in Elk Grove, California and was the only person there to ride hunter/jumpers, dressage (the boring stuff – or so I thought at the time) and western, because I wanted to learn all I could. At the time, Dennis Callin and his wife were running it and Dennis was long listed for the Olympic team, so we had a chance to see him ride Zenith and Zorn at those levels, though there was no training with him. After I graduated and returned from the east coast where I had worked for Torrance Fleischmann, fresh off the team Olympic eventing gold, I decided to take up dressage and started bringing Dennis in for clinics. I started showing dressage at Second or Third Level when my Appaloosa was 13. My first championships was at Third Level.
I showed Bymbeaux (a joke, his registered name was Bimbo’s Crazy King) until he was 28 at Intermediate1. Bymbeaux (May 28, 1976 to 2007) was out of the Thoroughbred mare Crazy Excuse, and sired by the Appaloosa Stallion Prince’s Bimbo, (by the legendary Prince Plaudit.) And, yes, I know, he had possibly THE stupidest name in horse history!
Bymbeaux had been completely blind since age 22/23, but it didn’t slow him down in the dressage arena. With him I earned all of the scores and got both my Silver Medal and Silver Freestyle Bar, since I loved doing freestyles with him. Before that, I borrowed a friend’s Thoroughbred and bred her to the horse I knew could do it, and had produced horses who could do it, and was local – Zorn. With Zuri, as I brought her up, I got the Bronze scores, but never did lower level freestyles. I was able to get both my Gold Medal and Gold Freestyle Bar with her before she tragically died at age 14, pregnant to Briar, after her colon went through her mesentery. And while the surgery repaired it, her colon would not work. This about killed me, having sold her daughter, who was doing all the Intermediate 1 work, for cheap. I almost quit dressage and horses. Bymbeaux was still alive and going strong at 28 (blind) but I stopped showing, and almost riding.
In looking around for another horse, I ended up looking at the most unlikely candidate, a greenbroke eight-year-old, 15.3hh (too small for me) mare who’d had three babies, based on a picture of her using her hind end. She was a mess to ride, throwing her head and body everywhere, but also unknowingly passaging and pirouetting. This completely inappropriate horse was also of similar classic Swedish lines as Zuri, and I ended up getting her. Sambuca, or Sora, was a big retraining issue and a hard ride. But, she was super talented, had great bloodlines, and was a super broodmare. One of the smartest things I ever did was breed her within six months to Freestyle (Florestan x SPS Paloma by Parademarsch I) up in Canada, chosen for the solid F bloodlines and his absolute steady, panther-like gaits, twice. While she was pregnant and had the foals at her side, I brought her up the levels, getting the scores for both my Bronze Medal and Bronze Freestyle Bar, finally completing all six Rider Medals and Freestyle Bars. She pretty much topped out at Prix St. Georges, because though she still has (at 24) a lovely piaffe and passage, she was never quite clean on changes, and by this point, I had her two daughters I was bringing up the levels.
Quilla is almost 14 now and competing at Intermediate 2, Grand Prix, and of course, Grand Prix Freestyle. Quinn (Quintessential, Sora’s 5th baby) is almost 12 and competing at Prix St. Georges and Intermediate 1, and Intermediate 1 Freestyle. I could move her up, but you can’t ride I-1 and I-2 at one show (!) and I don’t want to compete two horses at the same FEI levels. (I never ride just one ride at a show because it’s so expensive for me to show, I get a lot more for my money if I do two classes in one day. So, I show four FEI classes a day, and always to trailer in shows. That’s what I can afford.) We do okay. Could we do better? Yes, but I don’t have the resources, so I do the best I can with what I have.
This is why I learned to shoe a horse, and never put shoes on any I bred and have always trimmed them. I believe it is better for them, and I have never had an unsound horse. I also keep them out on pasture, in a herd. It’s what I can afford, and it’s SO much better for them. They are in shape and two FEI classes at a show is pretty easy for them. I don’t love hiking up muddy hills in pouring rain (should we ever get any) but it is what is best for them and allows me to be able to afford to compete. I love my 44-year-old Suburban that I painted a landscape on that I tow with, and my old four horse stock trailer I got for $1,000 that I put the horses in. I have to admit, pulling in with my rig next to several thousand dollar setups, and being in the FEI rides is kind of fun.
At almost 58, it has been a long, windy, painful, worthwhile, frustrating, satisfying, and every other adjective you can think of, road, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. My two girls are super nice horses, and if I had the ability, they should have babies. But that’s not going to happen because I can’t afford to keep more horses, and I really don’t want to be riding young horses in my 60’s. With Quilla and Quinn, I should be able to compete until 70, and then we’ll see. Dressage has become a very expensive sport to try to “do” anything with, and keeping horses in general has become so much more expensive, it’s not something I can push the boundaries on anymore. I will just keep on keeping on, doing the best I can with what I have.
Want to read more about Shareen and her Appaloosa, Bimbo? Check out their story on the International Pattern Sporthorse Registry website here.