Sweet Seniors! On #YourDressage, we have been celebrating the special horses in our lives that are ages 20 and up through photo galleries and exclusive stories. Join us through the end of November as we celebrate the ‘Golden Oldies’ of the dressage community!
By Julia Gurgul
Eye Candy (Escudo II x Goldstern by Grenadier), a 1999 Hanoverian bred by Hans Hosp of Ottendorf Germany, began his classical dressage training in Vechta, Germany, with Catherine Haddad Staller in early 2003. Eye Candy was purchased by Robin Mattson in October of that year. Eye Candy remained in Germany in training with Staller until the fall of 2005, when Robin imported him to the United States. Over the next 17 years, Robin and Eye Candy progressed through the levels to Intermediate I, earning their USDF Bronze and Silver Medals.
Although in perfect health, Robin felt Eye Candy had earned his retirement at 21 and sent him to the beautiful North Carolina farm of a close friend. When Robin visited Eye Candy, she decided to hop on him and see how his first year of retirement was going. Well, it was very clear, after putting on quite a show, that he missed being in the spotlight, and perhaps retirement was not what he wanted.
So back on the trailer he went, to go to Chicago where he returned to training with his longtime previous trainer, Andreanna (Andi) Patzwald. Andi felt that he would be a fantastic partner for her new student – me – and I began my journey with Eye Candy. My family lives an hour and a half from the barn, but when the opportunity to lease Eye Candy was offered, I knew I needed to make it work and that this was a once in a lifetime chance. Not old enough at the time for my driver’s license, I would not only need my parents’ financial support, but I would need a lot of their time driving me to training sessions after school and if I was lucky, shows.
Eye Candy and I started our partnership almost a year and a half ago, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life.
He is now 23 years old, but proves to me daily that he is young at heart, feels good in his body with the supportive care and treatments he receives, and most importantly, he loves his job! When we first started together, Eye Candy and I were training and competing at First and Second Level, and we gelled pretty quickly. He was showing me the ropes, for sure, and I was thrilled to compete at the 2021 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships, and then at the 2021 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. We won the First Level Jr/ YR Championship class, and headed to Finals, where we placed 5th in the country! Eye Candy exceeded all of my expectations, and I was so grateful to have this opportunity to work with him, have the support of his owner Robin, and the training and guidance of Andi. Of course, my mom was still driving me everywhere and showing up to support me at my lessons and at the shows. It was a great season, but our journey did not stop at Finals.
When we returned to the barn, Andi thought that maybe Eye Candy and I should try out for the Region 2 North American Youth Championships (NAYC) Junior Team. This was going to be a big step up, and we were going to have to make sure Eye Candy was comfortable in his body, and that we could continue to ask him for more.
Moving up the levels was difficult, but Eye Candy was with me every step of the way and gave me his all. Once it was time to start competing, it was definitely different from last year’s season, due to the increased difficulty in the movements and tests in general. However, Eye Candy always showed up for me in the ring, and we progressed more and more at every show.
When the qualifying period for the team finished, I did not make it on the team, but ended up in the Alternate position. Even though I was not on the team, trying out was one of the best decisions made for Eye Candy and I. He helped me to really grow as a rider, and we received my USDF Bronze Medal – which was a huge goal of mine. At the time, I really thought that I was heading towards the end of my riding journey with Eye Candy after he had given me so much, but again I was wrong.
Andi and I started training the Fourth Level work, as it was shown to us by Eye Candy that he loves his work and his time with me was not finished. We competed at Fourth Level Test 2, and after completing the test twice, we already earned our Fourth Level scores towards earning my USDF Silver Medal. After those exciting shows performing at Fourth Level, we started preparing for the 2022 Region 2 Championships, which Eye Candy and I qualified for at Third Level, Third Level Freestyle, and the Junior Team test. We had such a successful show, placing as the Reserve Champion for the Third Level Freestyle and the Junior Team Test, and placing as the Champions for Third Level. When he gets in the ring, he is ageless and he turns his performance mode, even at 23 years old!
We are now heading to the 2022 US Dressage Finals, where we will be competing in the Third Level Freestyle and Third Level. Eye Candy is continuing to give me 110% during our training rides, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us.