Tran­si­tions

One ded­i­cated rider and her team bring an un­likely dres­sage hero into the spot­light.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Jen­nifer Gross­man

A Noble Cham­pion Emerges

Sev­eral months af­ter los­ing my long-time dres­sage part­ner to a tragic ac­ci­dent, I set out on a 10-de­gree day in De­cem­ber 2014, to see a skinny, homely look­ing lit­tle Haflinger pony I found on Craigslist. He was tacked up in an over­sized Western sad­dle and head­stall. He had no for­mal train­ing. He would not pick up his feet to be cleaned, would not stand still to be mounted, had no de­sire to trot and no idea how to can­ter. De­spite these short­com­ings, I could not leave him be­hind. So for the cost of ba­sic vac­ci­na­tions, a Cog­gins test and $700 cash, I be­came the owner of what ap­peared to be a shaggy and un­kempt pony. Lit­tle did I know that he would turn out to be a fu­ture rock star, liv­ing up to his reg­is­tered name, Noble Cham­pion, or “Champ.”

Af­ter a few months of good nu­tri­tion, far­rier and dental work, Champ started to clean up nicely. My ini­tial plan was to work with him for sev­eral months as a project and sell him to a young upand-com­ing rider, how­ever the more I worked with him, the more at­tached I be­came. The first year of our part­ner­ship was spent trail rid­ing with friends, com­pet­ing in the Crys­tal Crown Judged Trail Rid­ing se­ries in North­ern Vir­ginia and do­ing ba­sic flat work in the ring. I toyed with jump­ing lessons, and while Champ had an affin­ity for jump­ing, my pas­sion was al­ways dres­sage.

About nine months af­ter pur­chas­ing Champ, I met and be­gan board­ing with my friend and rid­ing buddy, Mi­randa. I had ex­pressed my in­ter­est in get­ting back into dres­sage and Mi­randa in­tro­duced me to her dres­sage trainer, Michelle Camp­bell.

Michelle was trained in the clas­si­cal school of dres­sage. Her ap­proach to train­ing and in­struc­tion is to fo­cus on the ba­sics and en­sure a solid foun­da­tion in rhythm and bal­ance be­fore mov­ing for­ward. She be­lieves in tak­ing things slowly and con­sis­tently. She has a tremen­dous amount of com­pas­sion for the horses and how hard they work for their rid­ers.

Af­ter watch­ing her teach, I was im­pressed with her abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate the in­tri­ca­cies of dres­sage to the rider while still keep­ing things sim­ple. She was also very pa­tient and en­cour­ag­ing and was al­ways fo­cused on pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment.

Ad­mit­tedly, I was not con­vinced that Champ could ex­cel in dres­sage. His con­for­ma­tion was not ideal for the sport. He was ter­ri­bly un­bal­anced and, most no­tably, his move­ment was like that of a sewing ma­chine—short, choppy and with­out rhythm. I knew it would be tough, but I de­cided to move for­ward with lessons. With Michelle’s pos­i­tive train­ing ap­proach, it did not take long

for Champ to show his true gift for dres­sage, be­com­ing more bal­anced and rhyth­mic in his gaits. Af­ter just a few months of lessons, ground­work and longe­ing ses­sions, Michelle and I found that Champ’s stride be­gan to open up and be­fore long, he was float­ing across the ring.

In 2015 Michelle en­cour­aged me to show him at Train­ing Level through­out the sum­mer. His scores were in­cred­i­ble. He con­sis­tently earned scores into the 70s, as well as high-score awards at many of the shows. By the end of that year we had started First Level and were school­ing a va­ri­ety of lat­eral move­ments.

Champ’s suc­cess con­tin­ued at First Level dur­ing 2016, as he won mul­ti­ple classes, and qual­i­fied for the Re­gion 1 Bengt Ljungquist Memo­rial Cham­pi­onships. By the end of 2016 we had moved on to Se­cond Level, where we won all the classes we en­tered at that level dur­ing that year.

With the help of my boyfriend, Myles, dres­sage trainer Michelle, and many friends, Champ and I have achieved in­cred­i­ble re­sults. In both 2015 and 2016 Champ won nu­mer­ous awards in Re­gion 1 and even the Crys­tal Crown Judged Plea­sure Ride Se­ries.

This year Champ and I are con­tin­u­ing to move up the lev­els in dres­sage. We are cur­rently school­ing Third Level move­ments and have suc­cess­fully kicked off the 2017 show sea­son at Se­cond Level. With Champ’s pos­i­tive and will­ing at­ti­tude, it looks as though the sky is the limit. Every time I ride him, he con­tin­ues to amaze me with his ta­lent. He has ex­celled in dres­sage, jump­ing and judged trail rides. He has the most in­cred­i­ble work ethic and a heart of gold.

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Jen­nifer Gross­man and Noble Cham­pion ("Champ")

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