Amazing Gracie

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Riding Gracie at Regional Championships. John Borys photo.

The powerful American Warmblood! We are celebrating them as our July Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose American Warmbloods as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the American Warmblood Registry and the American Warmblood Society & Sporthorse Registry are both participating organizations

Here, a rider from Region 2 shares about looking for her next equine partner after the loss of her last horse, and how her search led her to an American Warmblood mare named Gracie, with whom she’d build a special connection.

By Patricia McVary

My first lesson on Gracie. Photo by Kate Fleming-Kuhn

Shopping for a new horse is wonderful in both anticipation and in memory. The actual process though is like shopping for clothes where fantasy and reality collide. I had just lost a very special horse and I knew that if I wanted to continue riding, I would have to start the process of looking for a new partner. Well, there is no time like the present! I also knew that this process could take many trips, many vet checks, and lead to many dead ends.

One day, while catching up on Facebook, I came upon a post by Kari Felton of Xanadu Farms. She was on her way to the Great American/USDF Regional Championships with a mare that she bred and trained namedGracie (Redeeming Grace). Kari is no stranger to my trainers, Kate Fleming-Kuhn and Martin Kuhn, and she had brought Gracie to their facility for many lessons and clinics. I had also seen her and Gracie compete at shows. You could not ask for a better, well-trained horse, suitable for the likes of me. What did I have to lose? I asked Kate if she would approach Kari about possibly selling Gracie. The stars aligned and, yippee! Kari was open to selling Gracie to a client at StarWest. What better home than with two trainers who know Gracie so well and who will also keep an eye on me?

I have been riding with the Kuhns’ since moving to Springfield, IL, nine years ago. Despite having “gaps in my education” as Kate gently put it, and despite Martin predicting that I would leave in a month, I was determined to become a better rider. As an older adult rider, I had a lot of learning to do! But they patiently worked with me, not complaining when they had to repeat the same instructions day after day, turning into year after year. Through them I was able to earn my USDF Bronze Medal. I was also able to compete at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® one year and even came home with a tenth-place ribbon in the Third Level Freestyle Championships. So, by the time I bought Gracie, I had acquired a better foundation and looked forward to this new partnership.

Malcolm Kuhn (Kate Martin’s son) welcoming Gracie to StarWest. Photo by Kate Fleming-Kuhn

Kate and Martin brought Gracie home to StarWest after the 2019 regional championships. I remember a clinician saying that it takes roughly two years for a rider and their horse to know each other. One year if they ride every day. There have been moments in the years since I bought her when we were not sure of each other, and there were times when we did not understand each other. I say “we” because of something that is so special about Gracie. She communicates clearly. She is very much in tune with her rider, and she will tell that person when something is bothering her. In return she intuits her rider’s mood and tries her best to please.

My previous horse was a gelding, whom I described as a surfer dude. Now I own a sensitive mare who is more of a yoga instructor.  We understand each other more fully now. I know that she will always watch out for me on the ground or in the saddle. She knows I will always be there for her, as well, and looks to me for reassurance. What I didn’t realize back then, was that from my first ride to the present, Gracie has always been the same horse. She has exceptional character and loves to work. She can be a babysitter or a hot tamale, that is up to you, as she will adjust to whatever you ask of her.

Kari is an advocate of the American Warmblood and continues to bring along her young horses for the American Warmblood Society and Sporthorse Registry (AWSSR). Gracie is a member of ASSWR, and as with other registries, inclusion depends on meeting certain criteria. Their focus is not on bloodlines but on the ability to perform as a sport horse in a chosen discipline. There is an inspection process but also a level of competency in performance that needs to be met. Gracie passed her inspection with a score above 80% which qualified her for Supreme status. According to Kari, less than 10% of AWSSR horses achieve that status! Gracie’s sire Risky Business was 4th in the six-year-old Young Jumpers and her dam Redemption was also a jumper. Gracie has certainly inherited their athleticism and is truly an American Warmblood!

Small Horse Champion. Photo by John Borys

Gracie helped me earn my USDF Silver Medal in 2021. We also were Adult Amateur Champions at Prix St. Georges that year, while competing at the National Dressage Pony Cup and Small Horse Championships. Gracie qualifies as a small horse, and we won in that division. After such an incredible year, I can now allow myself to enjoy the learning process with her. Every day, I try to learn to ride her better and, with no pressure to perform, the shows we went to this year have been much more pleasurable and productive.

Small Horse Awards Ceremony. Photo by Endless Options Photography, Dana Cook

But what was the absolute best thing we’ve done together? When we took our first walk in the fields at StarWest. It was a quiet summer morning, and it was very relaxing for the both of us. Gracie really enjoyed herself. How did I know? She told me so.

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