A Faithful Star for Arianna

Arianna Ladd aboard Mikaela’s Faithful Star. Photo by Lisa Michelle Dean Photography. .

The fabled Norwegian Fjord! We are celebrating these horses as our October Breed of the Month on YourDressage! We will be sharing stories and galleries all month long from folks who love this breed.

Did you know that dressage riders who choose a Norwegian Fjord as their dressage mount are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry is a participating organization?

Here, an owner recounts the journey with her Norwegian Fjord, who helped a Region 2 professional achieve her USDF Bronze Medal – in only three competitions!

By Gwen Lawson

When a rider sets their sights on achieving the prestigious USDF Bronze Medal, there is always a story worth telling, and for Arianna Ladd, this is no exception. In the spring of 2017, Adonai Farm welcomed Scarlett O’Hara GSF, a very talented and award-winning Rhinelander mare, to their herd. When we purchased Scarlett, she was being retrained for the hunter/jumpers. Although she could jump beautifully, she was originally a bronze-level dressage horse. Therefore, I decided to re-introduce her to the discipline she had been trained to perform and confirm her status as a solid Third and Fourth Level competitor. 

As we began training, it was evident that my beautiful Scarlett O’Hara needed a more experienced rider. A close friend suggested that I get in touch with a young woman by the name of Arianna Ladd. Before contacting Arianna, I researched her background to learn more about her credentials. To my surprise, Arianna had recently resigned from her position on the Hong Kong Junior Team, leaving behind a promising future riding in international competitions, to return to the United States to care for her mother, who had recently been diagnosed with a rare disease called Wegener’s Vasculitis. During Ari’s career in Europe, she won numerous awards, including wins at the 2015 Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard CSI1* and the  2013 FEI World Dressage Challenge – Hong Kong. After observing her first ride on Scarlett, I knew she was the perfect fit. 

With Arianna as Scarlett’s new trainer and rider, my goal was to enter the mare in her first show in five years and very first USDF-recognized show. In June of 2020, Arianna took Scarlett to Meadow Lake Equestrian Center in Kentucky. In true champion form, Arianna rose to the occasion by bringing home first- and second-place ribbons and qualifying scores at both the Third and Fourth Levels. Now, all Arianna needed was one more show to achieve the monumental goal established for Scarlett. We quickly set our sights on the KDA Summer Classic, scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park. We entered the show, and once again, Arianna achieved qualifying scores at both the Third and Fourth Levels, along with another win. Not only had Arianna accomplished the goal for which we employed her, but she had just acquired the Third Level scores for her USDF Bronze Medal and the first Fourth Level score for her USDF Silver Medal in just a matter of weeks. As fate would have it, a few short weeks later, I sold Scarlett to a woman whose skills in the discipline of dressage far exceeded my own. The two made for a much better partnership, but unfortunately, this left Arianna without a mount to complete her Bronze Medal.

Wanting to find something more suited to my personality, my farrier and trusted friend of 16 years suggested I begin exploring the Norwegian Fjord. Within two weeks, I found Mikaela’s Faithful Star and, on a whim, I loaded up my trailer and set out for Forsyth, Georgia. I’d never seen a Norwegian Fjord in person, so I was a bit taken aback by her small stature. Without question, she had some growing to do, in both size and under saddle. I’d had a positive experience dealing with a youngster in the past, but I really wanted something more finished. Reluctantly, I decided to take a leap of faith and purchased this adorable 4-year-old Fjord. Upon our arrival at Adonai Farm, my husband took one look at this pint-sized pony and jokingly asked, “Is this all there is?” He immediately nicknamed her Sprout. Faith certainly had the mindset of a champion and made up for her small stature with a sassy attitude. 

During the next two years, “normal” life at Adonai Farm and dreams of a Bronze Medal for Arianna were halted by a life-altering Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer diagnosis. After months of major surgeries and clinical trial medications, I knew it was time for Arianna to take over Faith’s training.

With the cancer threat still looming, we set a new goal: to train Faith solely for dressage, hoping to make her more marketable in the event that she would need a new home. As the months passed, I saw incredible growth in Faith. She had become supple and light in the bridle, and her paces had improved tremendously. 

In mid-April of 2023, Arianna and I decided it was time to “test the waters” by entering Faith in her first recognized show. Up to this point, Faith had only been to one schooling show, competing as a five-year-old at Training Level. Knowing it was a long shot, Arianna and I decided to “roll the dice” and take a risk. Arianna would go on to compete with Faith at First and Second Levels at the 2023 KDA Spring Warm-Up and 2023 KDA 36th Annual Dressage Show, held at the Kentucky Horse Park. Much to our surprise, Arianna and Faith performed all three days, with three rides a day, consisting of First Level Test 1, First Level Test 3, and Second Level Test 1. By the end of the weekend, Arianna and Faith had obtained nine consecutive scores, all at or above 60%. 

Faith, now a 14.1 hand Norwegian Fjord, had made it possible for Arianna to earn the scores she needed at the First and Second Levels. When combining the scores Arianna achieved on Faith and those earned at the Third Level with Scarlett, Arianna had completed the requirements for her USDF Bronze Medal, a well-deserved honor she earned in just three events. 

Following this competition, Arianna and Faith went on to attend two additional events, thus completing all the requirements necessary to compete for the 2023 Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Award at First Level for the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry – in which they are currently a strong contender for first place. They are truly the “dynamic duo” and have accomplished so much, in so little time. Arianna aspires to compete at Third and possibly Fourth Levels starting in 2024.

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