Jennifer grew up as a hunter/jumper and had the good fortune of parents who would sit in a 20 degree barn or the super hot summers to allow her to ride. After several years of competing for her college equestrian team, she moved to Florida to work in the horse industry. Unfortunately, that’s where she lost all her confidence. She and her OTTB were joined a charity trail ride that ended in disaster 13 years ago, and they never quite the same after that day. For years Jennifer tried to get her confidence back but there were moments when she truly didn’t think she’d ever ride again.
“I wanted to have a life with horses and I knew there was more than just riding. I had bred my mare right before I lost any and all confidence, and when the baby, Ace, was born, there was just something about him. He was an OTTB crossed with this gorgeous black and white paint. I was hoping he’d be shorter than the 17.3 hands he turned out to be, and we had aspirations of jumping or eventing again, but for 6 years I couldn’t bring myself to even set foot in the saddle. We did so much groundwork over those years and I truly can’t explain how much Ace helped me get through a lot of stressful times in my life.”
She finally found a trainer who could put Ace under saddle. Jennifer was the first one on his back, even though it was just to sit on him and be led around for a few moments. From there the journey to dressage began, although it was not the intended outcome. John, her trainer, worked with both Jennifer and Ace where even mounting was a problem. If Ace didn’t stand perfectly still there was no way she would put her foot in the stirrup. Within about a year, John had her back in the saddle, albeit western.
“It reminded me of my crossover days when I tried reining in college. So here is this big 17.3 hand American Warmblood and Paint registered horse born from an OTTB with bloodlines back to Seattle Slew, War Admiral, and for the quarter horse people, Hancock, and now instead of jumping like we intended, we started working cows. Trust me when I say, I turned a few heads riding a huge horse like that in a sorting event.”
Then, about 3 years ago, an open dressage rider named Kristen joined the barn. At the same time, Balmoral, a harness racing track in the area, opened as the HITS Showgrounds in the Midwest. Jennifer still didn’t have all of her confidence back to go to a big recognized show, but she still wanted to one day show there because of family memories.
So, about 2 weeks before the entries closed, Jennifer asked Kristen if she’d be willing to take her horse down centerline, and she did.
“It was just supposed to be one show but we ended up choreographing a freestyle and working to qualify to ride it. Kristen got him to break 70 that year and it was amazing.”
Jennifer’s dream was that the following year she’d be the one to go down centerline at Balmoral. John kept helping her build confidence, but unfortunately injury struck some time before the show. It was a stifle issue, and thus started the road to recovery. After a lot of time and effort, Ace ended up being 100% sound, but with the time lapse, Jennifer hadn’t been able to spend much time in a classic dressage saddle. She decided to go through with the event anyhow.
“I know some would think I was out of my mind, but we put on the white breeches and trotted down centerline with the help of John who literally wore a cowboy hat and western boots at a USDF recognized event. We got through 2 classes each day and though our scores left something to be desired, we did it.”
Her only goal was to get down centerline. Coming from a person who could barely muster enough courage to canter again to stepping into that arena was a journey. She promised herself that she would do it again but with more preparation and higher goals.
“I saw Better Dressage Scores and thought, wow, if I could do that then maybe we’d have a chance! So here we are, my big 17.3 hand bred-for-jumping-turned-cow-horse coming down centerline with a rider who thought she’d never ride again.”
During this time, they’ve been riding Western Dressage because she’s still more confident stepping into the big stirrup of the western saddle. Her goal with Better Dressage Scores was to get feedback each month and improve so that when they set foot on the big stage, they would be prepared.
“John still has to give me a confidence boost or hold Ace when I’m too shaken to get on. My confidence in the saddle isn’t where it once was but we are still on the journey. Sitting in a classic dressage saddle takes a bit more from me, but riding down centerline won’t be my only goal. I want to improve tenfold from last year. Oh and yes, maybe chase some more cows in between all the dressage work too!”
Just a few years ago, Jennifer took the time and effort to heal Ace’s stifle injury. Now he’s returning the favor by helping Jennifer on her very own road to recovery.