Welcome to Dressage Dossier!

My name is Gina, and I am a Dressage-a-holic.  As a child of an actress and a classical musician, finding ways to worm my way into barn time was always tricky and almost always done on a for trade basis.  I gained the coveted “barn rat” status at the tender age of 8, and due to an overly generous trainer – I was taught the ropes of horse handling, and allowed to “work” in exchange for lessons.  The best weekends and summers of my young life were spent at Will Rogers State park – bathing and grooming horses, learning to tack up and clean tack, learning to load horses on the trailer and being allowed to pony quiet school horses on the extensive trails.  The smell of eucalyptus trees and show sheen, and the purple hands left by washing too many tails with Quick Silver will forever be emblazoned into my memory, and I learned many important lessons such as – making friends with the stall cleaners is as easy as offering them half of the sandwich your mom packs you for lunch, and always be sure to tighten your girth an extra time before you ride double on a fat quarter horse who is prone to bloating.  I went over my first jumps and attended my first horse shows with that first trainer, and even more importantly I learned that kindness, patience, and hard work are the best ways to approach life at the barn.

I was scouted by a modeling agency in High School, and used that opportunity to finance the ownership of my first horse.  She was a green 8 year old (or so), chestnut TB mare who was prone to bolting, violently running out of fences, and launching herself skyward without warning by way of (in retrospect fairly impressive) capriole type maneuvers.  I was 13, and boy did that horse teach me some lessons.  Having a difficult horse that young is the type of experience that will either scare you straight and you lose your love, or teach you how to – defensively – ride a difficult horse.  I was the latter, and while the experience left me with some guts and tricks by the time I gave her to a friend in exchange for a rack of her famous bbq baby back ribs and the promise that she would (please GOD) do something with her that wouldn’t short circuit the poor mare’s brain, it also inevitably left me with a lot of tension – and a reputation as a good “crash test dummy” that has been utilized to this day by trainers and friends that I “hop on” horses for.

River, the quintessential chestnut mare, and my first horse. Not pictured – me passing out of heat stroke in the bushes shortly after this ride.

Modeling continued to pay for my horse experience throughout high school, which is when I began buying project horses, training and showing them, selling, and picking up the next one.  I learned something new from each horse and every success or heartbreak, and making riding work against the odds on a shoestring budget gave me a sense of responsibility and accomplishment that kept me out of trouble as a teenager and into my transition as a young adult.  Because I could only afford to send myself to local shows and work with smaller trainers, attempting to make riding my career was something that seemed impossible.  Any good junior rider needs a show resume, working student experience with a top trainer, and a nice horse of their own if they want to attempt to be a pro.  Because of my situation and my parent’s unfamiliarity with the world of a horse professional, I had no idea how to seek out the opportunities that would point me in the direction of real mastery.  I stumbled into dressage as an accident – when I was 20 I elected to have surgery to fix my crooked spine, even though it would mean a year off from riding.   In the months leading up to my surgery I had decided to use my modeling savings to give myself a “last hurrah” of training and showing to the extent I had never been able to do previously.  The only horse at my barn that I could afford to lease was a 4 year old 17hh Trakehner gelding named Gabe who had been started in Dressage, but was not ready to begin jumping.  I began taking dressage lessons on him and was hooked – I had never had a nice enough horse for the hunters, the jumpers were too stressful, and I was useless in an Eq workoff, but Dressage fit me perfectly.

Gabe, my first dressage partner

I did my best from then on to get on as many Dressage horses as possible, and try and learn something about the sport from any trainer that would humor me.  I eventually found myself in a position to purchase my first Dressage horse, and tried a few 3, 4, and 5 year olds at an auction in Northern California.  Everything was either not quite right or way out of my very modest budget.  At the auction there were two weanling colts by Totilas that were creating quite the buzz, they had been added to the auction fairly last minute and no one really knew they would be there.

Isley on Auction Day – Photocred Tamara with the camera

I, of course, HAD to attend the foal showcase to see them in the flesh.  The first of the two came out with his dam and went around, he was a dark liver chestnut with a nice dam line that I had been expecting to like, but didn’t.  The second Totilas colt came out – leggy and  black with a star and a snip very much like his sire.  He had the attention of everyone at the auction.  He was refined, fancy, and seemed like a total spitfire, he even left his dam and went on a romp to visit the crowd, snorting the whole time.  It was love at first sight, and when the auction ran the next day he was the second in order of go.  No one seemed to be there for a foal, and the few that were seemed hesitant to bid on one of the first horses of the day, so I found myself in a bidding war against someone across the country, bidding through an agent who was talking to them on the phone.  Finally the hammer struck, and “Isley” was mine.

First kiss!

It has been an long and interested road, and the waiting to have a horse to ride felt like it would never end.  I took him to a few shows as a yearling and did in-hand classes, but mostly I worked simultaneously on bringing him along correctly with proper care and nutrition, and learning myself how to bring along a baby from weanling to young dressage prospect.   Being his sole handler for his first three years created an inseparable bond between us, I got lucky enough to end up with my heart horse, and again have been lucky enough to – with the help of my trainer – start him under saddle and be his sole rider for the first few months when he turned three, and more recently take him to his first shows and clinics as a 4 year old.

Our journey has just begun, and I can’t wait to see where it will lead!

Snuggle time is the best time