My Funny Valentine


The wonderful Westfalen! We are celebrating them as our August Breed of the Month on YourDressage

Dressage riders who choose Westfalens as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Westfalen Verband NA is a participating organization.

Here, a coach shares about falling in love with a Westfalen unexpectedly, while teaching a biomechanics clinic in Indiana.

By Suzanne Galdun 

I was not looking for a horse. In fact, I was at Forrest Hill Farm in Lafayette, Indiana last December to teach a biomechanics clinic. But there was this big chestnut gelding for sale, a registered Westfalen by Vitalis, and I didn’t really need the whole lunch break to eat, so why not hop on and give him a try? I had a few clients that were casually talking about looking for their next dressage partner, and it is always good to have a handle on what is out in the market these days. 

From the moment I swung my leg over, I knew I was in trouble. Ever get that feeling when you get on a horse, and it just feels like home? Yep, that was it. I was smitten in minutes. For me, to be able to get on an unknown 17.2 hand, big moving warmblood, and not only feel safe, but confident and comfortable working him through his paces when I hadn’t been riding horses like him lately, it really was special. In my heart, I knew I wanted and needed more time in the saddle than I was recently getting, but in my head, I wasn’t sure the cost and risk of horse ownership was something we were really ready to take on again. 

It had been almost 20 years since my first horse, an unraced Thoroughbred gelding, also 17.2h, had to retire early due to some chronic soundness issues. After that, my personal life focused on starting a family, and my professional focus turned to developing my coaching skills. I am a plus size professional, over six feet tall, and not every horse is the right fit for me. Thankfully, I have always found something to ride, but often it has been as little as once a week. 

I started riding with biomechanics pioneer Mary Wanless in clinics in 2013, on any horse I could borrow, and the difference it made in my riding has been tremendous. I wanted to share that transformative knowledge with more riders, so I started attending Mary’s teacher training program. I am now one of nine professionals currently accredited by Mary Wanless as a Ride With Your Mind coach. I travel locally, and across the country, teaching clinics to all levels of riders, from green to Grand Prix. That is why I ended up in Indiana that cold December weekend, and as the weeks went by, I never stopped thinking about Victor. 

Jennifer Kaiser from Forrest Hill reached out to me in January to ask if I had anyone interested in Victor. The owner was planning to send him to Aiken at the end of the month if he didn’t sell, since the market isn’t always so hot in the middle of a frigid Midwest winter! He was willing to consider offers, to avoid shipping Victor to the east coast. After a long talk with my husband, and some serious number crunching, I went back to ride Victor a second time. We pulled him out of his field, tacked him up, and I hopped right on. No lunging, no drama, and again, it felt like home. I was ready to move forward but still wasn’t sure we could make a deal. Victor had some surgical history that had scared some other buyers away, but the vet check went beautifully, and it was decided that the previous issues should have no impact on Victor’s ability to move up the levels. His owner, Charles Schneider, wanted to know my story, and was willing to negotiate with me on the purchase price to make this horse girl’s dream come true. 

Victor came home to me on Valentine’s Day. He is a big goofball, sweet and fun, and a barn favorite, loved by all the humans and the horses! We have been out to multiple clinics already, one of which was my first clinic with Mary Wanless riding my own personal horse. I am excited to continue working with her to develop not only my riding skills, but to develop my partnership with Victor.

After being out of the show ring for more than ten years – with my last outings choices I might like to go back and rethink – I finally went down centerline again in May of this year, and we have plans to show again in August. As a pair, Victor and I have made so much progress already, and I know I am just starting to tap into the potential he has. Our new saddle just arrived two weeks ago, and already his impressive gaits are becoming even bigger and more beautiful! Now to get to work on sitting that amazing trot… 

I am so incredibly thankful to have this horse in my life. We have already formed such a close bond, that even if we never get out to another show, it wouldn’t matter. The scores are not nearly as important to me as the relationship. That itself is the real reward of horse ownership. He comes to me in the field, leaving his herd behind. He knows when I am in the barn or teaching in the arena, and looks for me when he hears my step coming down the aisle. I am so grateful to Jennifer Kaiser for encouraging me to try him, Grace McCall who was riding him, and Charles Schneider who agreed to sell him to me. Every time I tack up, I still feel like a young girl, excited for the chance to climb in the saddle. I don’t think that feeling will ever get old.

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