Good Luck Puck 

Puck and Susan at the GAIG/USDF Region 8 Dressage Championships; Photo by Susan J. Stickle Photography

USDF is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! In November & December, we are shining the spotlight on riders who have also reached this milestone. Follow along all through November and December for inspiring and heartwarming stories of trials and triumphs, and fabulous photo galleries!

By Susan Oakland

I have been blessed in my “vintage years” to have found my sweet, 15.2-hand partner. He is a horse, but he is small, so I call him “my pony.” He shows under the name Midsummer Night’s Dream, but at home he is Puck. This is our story.

When I think about the best time to shop for a dressage horse, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the middle of a pandemic on a small budget. It just seems like a bad idea. Despite this, that’s what I found myself doing. I am sure many of you can relate when I say that I need a horse in my life the same way I need to breathe.

So I found myself searching the horse advertisements, looking for something very specific. I needed a horse, with the number one criteria being a good, safe brain. Hitting the ground in my later 50s doesn’t have quite the same appeal as it did in my earlier years. Other than that, I needed a sound horse, and one that I could afford.

The problem became apparent immediately. If I could afford it, it was not safe or sound; if it was safe and sound, it was so far out of my budget we could all have a good laugh about it.

One day, I was scrolling through the advertisements on the Hilltop Farm website and came across a five-year-old gelding by their German Riding Pony stallion, Popeye. Here, at last, was a real possibility. He was advertised as child-safe and was just on the outside edge of my budget. He wasn’t a fancy mover, but dang, he was cute as a button.

Then I read closer, and reality hit. He was by a Hilltop Farm stallion but was currently located in Calgary, Canada. Considering I live in Maine, USA, this was on the other side of a different country – in the middle of a pandemic – with the borders closed. I regretfully clicked off the site.

But I kept going back. He drew me back. One morning (at 5 a.m.), I couldn’t stand it any longer. I called my trainer, Bryn Walsh of Puckerbrush Farm in Newburgh, Maine, and I asked her if I would be crazy to buy a horse sight unseen. She responded, “Probably, but the best horses I have ever had I bought sight unseen.”

I connected with Jessica Ray, Puck’s breeder and owner at the time. To make a long story short, we had a variety of videos and conversations going back and forth, and finally decided to do a pre-purchase exam. The nail that clinched the sale was when the veterinarian (the lead veterinarian for Spruce Meadows) told me that if I didn’t buy Puck, he was going to buy him for his grandkids. So home to me he came.

I was very lucky because he was exactly what was described by Jessica. How refreshing it was to find such an honest seller! Bryn and I set to work getting him ready for me to ride and show. I had no expectations, other than hoping to ride, show, and continue to enjoy myself as I moved into my later fifties.

Puck and I had a good first season. We qualified for the 2021 Great American Insurance Group (GAIG)/USDF Region 8 Dressage Championships and entered with no expectations. I had never ridden at a competition of that caliber, and there were 54 horses in our class. I simply hoped to finish in the top half. I showed early in the day and spent the rest of it on the verge of tears as it became more and more apparent that we would actually place in this huge class –  something I had never done before in my life – young or old. We finished sixth, and I cried the entire way to the ribbon ceremony.

We worked the winter away and came back the next year at First Level. At the 2022 GAIG/USDF Region 8 Dressage Championships, we entered another huge championship class – 63 entries this time. We performed our best (Puck always gives his best) and waited to see what would happen. We placed fourth this time and made another trip to the prize-giving ceremony. Now my sweet pony had given me the world twice!

This year, we are working at Second Level, and with Bryn’s excellent training, Puck is better at it than I am. We finished out of the ribbons at the GAIG/USDF Regional Championships this year (13th), but my pony of a lifetime still gave me everything.

Although I had never ridden in a Dressage Equitation class before, we entered the Adult Amateur Regional Finals class for something to do on the final day and finished fifth. Again, my pony took care of me.

The highlight of the year is still yet to come. Equine Affaire is coming up in Massachusetts, and Steffen Peters will be presenting. We decided it would be fun to apply for a riding spot with him. We applied with my trainer aboard, as that environment intimidates me. There was only one First/Second Level horse who would be accepted and lots of people who would want to ride with Steffen, so we had no expectations.

Last week, we received notice that Puck has been chosen to ride with Steffen in November!

When I called Bryn to let her know, her response (after she got over being speechless) was, “Is there anything that pony can’t do? Just watch, he will make it to the Olympics.” Obviously, it was a joke, but she is right. This pony has taken me to the moon and back.

I am looking forward to our future. Puck is now eight and diligently working on transitioning to Third Level next season. That being said, if for any reason we could never ride another step, he has earned a place in my barn, my life, and my heart forever. He has given me more than anyone ever has a right to expect. 💕

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