“When I bestride him I soar, I am a hawk; he trots the air, the earth sings when he touches it. The basest horn of his hoof is more musical that the pipe of Hermes.” Shakespeare….. Henry V
On the ground I am a 66 year old amateur rider with both my hips replaced and a survivor of colorectal cancer and systemic scleroderma. But on my horse, Biasini, I am far above this; I am flying free with a purpose and a passion in life. I am in a training program with top level professional coaches and I compete in the winter season in Florida at the Prix St. George level. This level is competed at the Pan Am Games and is one level below the Olympics. I’m not a professional and I have no dreams of going to the Olympics but Biasini is the equalizer; with him I am able to compete with other riders, both men and women, who are twenty, thirty or more years younger than me. Not many other sports where an older athlete can do that!
Biasini is the primary athlete, an elite athlete at that, so I pay strict attention to his physical and mental wellbeing. He gets chiropractic, equine sports massage treatments and supplements to ensure he is at peak health. For a horse in a full training program that is being transported to horse shows and competing there is a real danger of ulcers. Some 90% of horses will suffer from ulcers at some point in their lives and the highest incidence of this occurs in horses under the stress of transport and competition. There are medications that are used to treat and prevent ulcers in horses and while they are very effective, in my experience, they are not suitable for long term use. In the past I had a horse that had to be on ulcer medication full time for a long time and although he was given the gold standard medication he developed a resistance to it. In the end this had very serious consequences for him so now I am very vigilant to protect against the development of ulcers in Biasini. So in addition to a vitamin and mineral supplement Biasini gets a stomach support supplement, Gastra –FX made by Omega Alpha. While I am in Florida in the winter and in competitions I use this on a regular basis. Biasini also has another Omega Alpha product, Biotic 8, a pre and probiotic digestive tract formula that he takes daily year round.
I am very lucky to have two top professionals who are prepared to coach an older rider and her talented horse: at home in Ontario Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell and in Florida international competitor Luis Reteguiz Denizard (known as Lou to his friends). These are the two “Riders on the Road to Rio” which can be found here on Horse Addict. I am honored that they both take me seriously and do not patronize me because I’m an old bird. It is a privilege to train with professionals of this calibre. My horse Biasini was owned by Belinda and trained by her from a youngster. I have everything I need and it is up to me to turn up and just ‘do it’.
This year my goal is to compete at the Prix St. George and get qualifying scores for my United States Dressage Federation ( USDF) silver medal and also for the USDF Master’s Challenge award. The Master’s Challenge is for riders over the age of 60 and they take into consideration that over 60 just getting to the show and doing the work involved is a task, so their qualifying score is 55% or higher. The silver medal is 60% or higher. Am I being a wimp about the show effort? Well, let me tell you what’s involved.
Biasini’s stall has to be set up. That involves bags of wood shavings being opened and spread around the floor of the stall, two full water buckets, a feed bucket and for Biasini a hay Nibblenet hung on the stall walls. The Nibblenet slows down his eating speed and gives him something to be working on for longer. At the shows in Wellington they have a wonderful service “Equine Nanny” that has people who will come and feed your horse hay and grain at 9pm , check on the horse every hour during the night , top up water buckets if necessary and feed hay and grain at 5:30 am. This is a service that brings more peace of mind than I can tell you! On the day of the show, even if even if I do not show till the afternoon, I must be there by 8 AM. My husband David will hand walk Biasini while I muck out the stall and put in fresh shavings, clean the water and feed buckets, prepare the feeds for soaking for the day, and make sure I am organized for my test ride time.
Before my ride I will take Biasini out and lunge him. This allows him to let out any extra energy without having me in the saddle. It is not a long lunging session usually a maximum of 7-10 minutes. Then I will bring him back to his stall and give him a good brush and braid his mane. I am not really the world’s best braider but I do a presentable job and it takes me about half an hour. Usually David takes this time to walk our little Schnauzer Tia and get a coffee and see what is going on at the show. Then I tack up and get dressed in my show clothes; white breeches (yes, very practical around horses but they look smart) and a navy blue tail coat and helmet. I mount up and we are ready to go to the warm up ring and start our warm up routine. My coach, either Belinda or Lou, will be there to help me with the warm up. As experienced professionals they can judge the atmosphere and how it is affecting Biasini and give me valuable information and exercises to do to get us ready for the ring. There is nothing ‘laissez faire’ about dressage ride times. You have a time and if it is 1:54pm then at 1:54 pm you will be expected to be entering the ring. When my time is getting close I will get David to take off Biasini’s exercise boots as no boots are allowed in Dressage. He will give me a quick sip of water, a couple of sugar cubes to Biasini and we are into the ring.
After the test, if it is hot weather , Biasini will need to be showered off and you can’t do that wearing your tall show boots , white breeches and a tail coat so David will take off the saddle and bridle while I get changed. Once Biasini has been bathed David will take him for a short walk and I will freshen up his stall. Horses eat a lot of roughage so “housekeeping” involves a lot more than just leaving a mint chocolate on his pillow for the night! I then set out the grain and hay labelled AM and PM for the Equine Nanny and we are set to return home by 5 or 6 pm.
For our first show this season Biasini and I showed at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival National show in Wellington. As Lou says this is showing with the “Big Boys”. We arrived and set up on the Friday and schooled in the ring we would be competing in. As Lou was riding his Grand Prix horse in a clinic Belinda came to help me. On Saturday we rode our Prix St. George test. Unfortunately Biasini was spooked by a photographer standing next to the announcer’s booth. So for the entire test he was unwilling to go to that corner of the arena. He did not behave badly, no spinning, leaping or bolting as some horses will do if they are spooked he just would lose impulsion and we made expensive mistakes. Nonetheless we managed to get a 57% as the movements in the other areas of the ring were all good. On the Sunday he was a different horse, the photographers stood in a different place and we went smoothly through the test for a score of 65% and fourth place in a big class.
I was very proud of Biasini for his hard work, tremendously grateful to David as without him I just would not be doing shows and happy to have the support and good advice of Belinda ringside . I will be doing more shows and will be posting blog updates on my progress.