Going for Gold: The Road to Grand Prix

Jody and George; Photo by John Borys.

By Jody Swimmer

After my birth, my mother began her riding career at Mr. Walker’s, one mile from our house.  Our neighborhood was built on, what was once, a large farm in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Mr. Walker trained American Saddlebreds and raised Dalmatians. She would walk to the farm with me in the stroller and take her lessons. One day, Mr. Walker put me up on Prince, with my pigtails flying. This was the EARLY sixties and I was probably four years old, and that was it. From that day forward, my love of the American Saddlebred horse and Dalmatians became ingrained in every cell of my body.

Photo by Meghan Benge

When I was ten years old, Mother found twenty acres south of Charlotte, where we built our barn and moved our horses home. My first pony, My Love, was a Saddlebred/Hackney/who-knows-what cross that was eventing when Mother found her for me. She was my everything.  As I outgrew her, Mother found Twisty Mist (Twin Pines Desdemona), with whom I achieved my first Reserve World Champion in the Three Gaited Pony division. After Twisty, I had a short hiatus from horses, which I overcame after moving to Kentucky.  I was sent a cute bay American Saddlebred gelding (named BC for bay colt) from home, with whom I rode endurance, western, English pleasure, equitation, and even did a little jumping. None of which we did well, but we had the MOST fun.  

I was soon enlisted to campaign Mother’s horses she was raising on the Kentucky show circuit. We did very well and I enjoyed it, but I missed caring for my own horse.  At the age of 40 (now 23 years ago), I switched to dressage and never looked back. It was what I was missing all those years, but I had to have a Saddlebred as my partner. 

I cheated once, with a lovely (expensive) bay mare who was a warmblood cross.  I spent some money on her and she peaked at Second Level. After looking at a few warmbloods, several that scared me, I decided this was nuts.  I wanted a Saddlebred. No Saddlebred had ever frightened me. At this time, I was riding with Chrissa Hoffman, who trained the famous ASB Harry Callahan to the Grand Prix level. She was very pregnant the winter I started looking for a young horse to start, and she got the call from Bill Knight, who thought he had a colt that “could do dressage”. 

I knew Bill’s wife, Kris, and had always admired how she worked her horses when I watched her at the Rock Creek Riding Club, where I had kept BC for some time.  I went to look at this colt and he was so sweet.  He was barely started under tack, but was so kind. Bill let me come out and start working with him.  I put him in the long lines and he was gorgeous. I brought him home.  New York City Slicker, also known as George, was just turning two.  

Jody and New York City Slicker (George) strut their stuff in the FEI ring; John Borys photo

We worked our way up the levels, starting with the Materiale classes. George performed extremely well.  By the time he was learning his changes at Third Level, I had started back to school to become a physical therapist.  I didn’t stress too much about earning Third Level scores because I had already earned my USDF Bronze Medal. 

By the time we were ready for Prix St. Georges, I was ready for a new right hip.  We got our first score right before my surgery and then, after I rehabbed, our fitness improved together. We knocked our second score out of the park.  Earning my USDF Silver Medal was my long game plan at the time, but we went to work on the two tempis, and Intermediate 1 was a breeze for him.  We stayed there for two years, even earning a ribbon at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®.  We made a mistake in our right pirouette which cost us third place. Unfortunately, this was the first sign that George’s stifles were developing arthritis.  

The following year, I was rear-ended, resulting in shoulder surgery. We had begun to work towards passage and piaffe and, during my recovery, his stifles really worsened.  That was when I discovered Prostride treatments, which saved the day.  He continues to receive the treatments biannually and it has kept him sound.  In 2018, we moved back to North Carolina so that I could care for my mother.  We continued to work at the Grand Prix movements, learning the one tempis, strengthening the passage, and struggling with piaffe.  The fact that he learned all the movements is a testament to his huge heart.  George simply was not built to sit, with his straight hocks and flat croup.  My George would do anything for me. We did it and he does not ever have to do another pirouette again. I would do anything for him. 

Before moving to North Carolina, I bought another barely two-year-old colt.  His personality and conformation are so different from George, but he is an athletic bugger.  At his first ever dressage show, he won his first class well at Third Level, beating five very nice warmbloods.  His next move up will be to Prix St. Georges, in hopes of him achieving his Champion Sport Horse (CH-SH) designation from the American Saddlebred Association. 

Not only do I have a deep, long-standing love for the breed, I have hopes to continue showing the community to please stop throwing these beautiful, loving animals away just because they don’t meet an expected saddleseat standard.  I also hope to show the dressage community at large that this is a breed that will help you achieve your dressage, or eventing, or whatever equestrian dreams you may have.  

Jody aboard her “anything but plain” youngster, Hart’s Divine Memories; Christine Quinn photo

There are so many gorgeous Saddlebreds available, and they are my breed of choice.  It’s a feeling I get from looking at them, and from riding them.  They are my safe place. I am an old amateur. There are lots of ladies out there like myself that want a safe, sweet ride.

The road to Grand Prix is long, but it has been a road well-traveled, with cherished memories with my beloved George (New York City Slicker).  I am looking forward to competing with my little man Wrapper (Hart’s Divine Memories).  He’s quite the personality, but he’s fun. His name is derived from me remarking, as I kept going back to look at him, that he was “the plain one”, “the all brown one”, “the plain brown wrapper”.  He may have big shoes to fill following George, but he’s anything but plain.

Jody is all smiles aboard Hart’s Divine Memories; Christine Quinn Photo

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