By Karen Sanchez
I have always been attracted to the “diamond in the rough”, the underdog, if you will. At nine years of age, my parents bought me the love of my life, my first horse, Shane. Shane came with his bridle, saddle, brushes, and blankets, and was a real bargain at $500, for an unregistered, very green, 4-year-old Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse. Lucky for me, I had grit, a good seat, and the stubbornness to not accept failure because he was quite the challenge for a child’s first horse! Together we had a huge learning curve, he became my first “heart horse”, and stayed with me until, at 37-years-old, it came time for him to depart to greener pastures. We had done the impossible – won medal classes, earned our hunt club colors, competed in hunter and 4-H State Fair championships, Pony Club rallies, and combined training events, and were even competitive at the USEA Area VIII Championships at the Prelim! Along the way came a few other horses, some were mine and others I rode for family friends. I was fortunate to have excellent coaches along the way, and my eagerness to learn never ceased.
As an adult, I have lived my life serving those marginalized by society, and have spent the majority of that time as the founder, executive director, and head instructor of a non-profit therapeutic riding program for children, adults, and veterans with different abilities; aptly named “The Shane Center”. I never lost my desire for those horses no one else could do anything with, and I have always dreamed of learning to ride upper level dressage. Pursuing my dressage goals was just a fantasy until my children were grown and the business was stable. Along the way, I did get to do some really cool things; like participate in the 2000 Olympic Games as a cross-country fence judge/National Technical Delegate, where I got a glimpse of the best of the best from all of the Olympic equine disciplines! I have been blessed beyond measure over the years with some great horses in my life. Some were so fun and easy, while others were more difficult, causing me to seek a better understanding of equine psychology.
In 2016, as an “empty nester” with an aging horse, I began the search for my next partner. I wanted to start one from the ground up, so I didn’t have to “fix” anything or undo bad habits (except for the ones I created myself!). As I looked at young warmbloods on the internet, I quickly realized I was going to have to buy a very young horse. I have “champagne taste on a beer budget”, so I started looking for the dressage-bred needle in the haystack. Ultimately, it took about two years, a lot of patience, prayers, time, and a husband willing to drive through the mountains in a snowstorm!
Enter Quarter Note (aka Bruce as they fondly called him – from Pixar’s Finding Nemo). By Hilltop Farm Inc.’s stallion, Qredit out of EM Acapella by Arrian, Bruce has some outstanding bloodlines for both dressage and jumping. Born on Mother’s Day, his dam unfortunately had complications and died. Horses raised as orphans have their own challenges in life, but a week-old colt with a shoulder infection made matters dire. Not even sure he would be pasture sound, and mourning the loss of a favorite mare, the breeder waited to register and geld him.
He was small and very immature looking. At 14 hands as a coming-3-year-old, he looked more like a long yearling. He had a beautiful head and neck but was super narrow chested, had spindly legs, and was a bit ornery. I spent hours on the internet researching every equine relative of his I could find. I studied the photos, and wrote down their stats. I thought to myself that this probably wouldn’t be my dream horse, as he was a completely different “type” than I am drawn to, not to mention that he would be a bit small for my 6-foot frame. Nevertheless, I had found my underdog in Bruce, whom I decided to call “Queue” (which is defined as a braid of hair usually worn at the back of the head. Since I often wear my hair in a braid like this, I thought this would be a perfect barn name!).
My goal was to give him a natural horsemanship start to his riding life and then help him become an all-around dressage, trail, and jumping horse suitable for an adult amateur or junior rider. I had started a number of horses in my lifetime, had been studying natural horsemanship for the previous 10+ years, and felt ready to help this small youngster with the big personality become all he could be. Easy peasy…
Boy, was I wrong! God knew what he was doing when he put this horse in my life! Queue was complicated, goofy, unconfident, demanding, unfocused, pushy, and very mouthy. He was a fun-loving, immature, challenging, goofball who was so good at reading humans (thanks to being a hand-raised orphan) that he read me like a book and figured out how to find every “hole” in my training plan, my confidence, and my riding ability. Queue was not a bad horse, and he was not dangerous; he did not have any bad habits or training issues. He just wanted to be the leader of the herd, and he knew humans inside and out. He knew he could win them over with his cute antics and then find a way to get what he wanted – which was to be in charge of the conversation.
If I could have, I would have sent him to a trainer. I told all of the local dressage trainers and my friends that he was for sale. “He moves like a Quarter Horse”, “he looks very immature”, “is he going to get any taller?”, “Hmmm, not quite what I’m looking for” were the responses I received. He wasn’t easy. He is one of those horses that is “too smart for his own good”. He is naughty, in a fun-loving way, and he is excellent at finding the weakest link in a toy, a sign hanging on the wall, a decoration, the chain on the gate, or your confidence.
He made me question my physical, mental, and emotional ability to teach him to be a respectable and safe riding horse. With the help of my team of outstanding natural horsemanship mentors and coaches, Jesse Peters, Kathy and John Baar, Juli Piovesan, Ryan Pfouts, and Tom Pompai, I slowly evolved into the human this horse needed. The pandemic brought us recorded and uploaded lessons, Zoom seminars, and virtual coaching, all of which have been key to my growth as an amateur rider with a very time intensive job.
In 2021, I didn’t feel Queue was quite ready for dressage lessons but I wanted to brush up on my skills, so I sought out Jennifer Sappington-Truett, who was recommended by a trusted friend and who could do live virtual lessons with me. I had planned to ride my 21-year-old horse Ghibson, and then teach Queue, when he was ready. Unfortunately, a week prior to my first lesson with Jen, Ghibson came in from the field displaying symptoms of EPM, and was barely able to walk to the barn. I didn’t want to cancel, so I hesitantly rode Queue. AND I lived! Jen saw immediately that I needed to trust in my abilities and skills to give Queue better leadership under saddle, sharpen my understanding of classical dressage, and expect way more out of my horse. (By the way, Ghibson made a full recovery from EPM!) Week after week, I took lessons with Jen. Most weeks were HARD and I had to dig deep within myself, get physically fitter, and figure out how to believe in myself. Jen pushed me out of my comfort zone, but in a positive and progressive way, and she has helped me shape my horse into the beautiful dance partner he is today.
I spent 2021 at local schooling shows, learning to show again and how to do so with my own nerves, as well as those unpredictable young horse antics that can show up. In addition to weekly virtual dressage lessons, I also took Queue trail riding, camping in Tennessee, and to numerous clinics and workshops in an effort to give him a solid foundation.
Fast forward to 2022. I started the year with a cancer diagnosis and then decided I was all in to try USDF-recognized competitions. Life is short, I‘m not getting any younger, and I ought to go after my wildest dreams! After all, I work with kids and adults that inspire me every single day to be the best person that I can be.
We have had a very blessed year, with an abundance of ribbons from the recognized shows where we competed. Together, we earned a championship ribbon, a High Point Hanoverian ribbon, a High Point AA Rider award, 20 first place ribbons, eight second place ribbons, a third place ribbon, and a fourth place ribbon! AND we qualified for the Great American/USDF Regional Championships!
Qualifying for Regional Championships has been on my goal board since 2013, when I took a hiatus from showing to focus on my family and farm. We have had an incredible year! Queue and I earned our USDF Horse Performance Certificates and Rider Performance Certificates at both Training Level and First Levels, respectively. I also earned USDF Dressage Seat Equitation Awards at the Elementary and Accomplished levels!
The Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 2 Championships were amazing, fun, exciting, and nerve-racking! I was the new kid on the block. My horse and I had never been to a competition of this magnitude. I went out there, gave it my best, and WON the very competitive Great American/USDF Region 2 Adult Amateur Training Level Championship class! We also placed 7th in our First Level Championship, and 5th in the Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Final presented by Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supply! I am still in disbelief that this beautiful 7-year-old, 16 hand goofball and I are Great American/USDF Regional Championships champions AND qualified for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®!
The icing on the cake was our 11th place finish in the 2022 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® Training Level Championships! As I headed out to ride my championship test, Queue MARCHED me from the barn to the warm up arenas like a seasoned pro and he was a super star during our ride. I, on the other hand, could not feel my thumbs. My brain was sluggish, trying to take in the moment, so I did not ride my best, but I had so much fun and am so proud of myself and my horse for a job well done!
I took a chance on a diamond in the rough and aside from his first ride at 3-years-old, and a month of riding at the age of four by a professional horse development specialist, I have done all of his training myself!
I am so honored to hold the following 2022 Adequan®/USDF Year-End Award Standings (based on total average percentage points):
Adequan®/USDF Year-End Awards:
Training Level Adult Amateur – 6th place
First Level Adult Amateur – 13th place
Training Level Vintage Cup (for riders 50+) – 3rd place
First Level Vintage Cup (for riders 50+) – 6th place
Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards:
American Hanoverian Society Inc. Training Level Adult Amateur – 3rd place
American Hanoverian Society Inc. Training Level Open – 8th place
American Hanoverian Society Inc. First Level Adult Amateur – 6th place
American Hanoverian Society Inc. First Level Open – 17th place
Adequan®/USDF Dressage Horse of the Year:
American Hanoverian Society Inc. Training Level Open – 44th place
American Hanoverian Society Inc. First Level Open – 127th place
I am also privileged, flattered, and grateful to hold the following 2022 Year-End Mid-Ohio Dressage Association (MODA) Awards:
MODA Founders Award for the highest scoring Adult Amateur at the MODA Classic, Training-Fourth Level
Qualified Rider Award at Training Level
MODA Bronze Medal at First Level
MODA Horse Performance Award at Training and First Levels
MODA Horse Awards for Champion Adult Amateur at Training and First Levels at recognized shows
I give all glory and honor to God, and thank Him every day for the people and horses He has placed in my life to help me be the person He created me to be. I am honored to use my gifts and talents to help others. My number one fan, without whose love, devotion, and strength I could not be who I am today, is my husband of 33 years, Joel. I also owe a lot to my horse-crazy mother, Kathy Seeds, whose passion is to help add fuel to the horse-crazy fire I have inside of me. I am blessed by the support of my grown children, who cheer me on from near and far, my Shane Center family, who inspire me to live my best life every day, as well as my in-laws (fondly called the outlaws!), extended family, and dear friends who also root for me, come to see me show, douse me in lavender to calm my nerves, and wipe my boots.
Here’s to the underdogs, especially my dream horse, Quarter Note, a beautiful “plain bay” whose name is represented by a large solid dot with a plain stem. A quarter note is the most common note type in music and often used as a baseline for counting other rhythms. He may be a quarter of a note but he has my whole heart! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us as we gallop into 2023 with our eye on First and Second Level, and my very first freestyle!