A Dif­fer­ent Kind of Ride

How a for­mer stock-seat cham­pion turned Adult Ama­teur dres­sage rider found suc­cess at the 2016 U.S. Dres­sage Fi­nals.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Jen­nifer Keeler

How a for­mer stock-seat cham­pion found suc­cess at the U.S. Dres­sage Fi­nals.

Dur­ing an un­for­get­table trip to Ken­tucky as a teenager, Terri Sue Wensinger earned a stun­ning sil­ver tro­phy and had her name added to the his­tor­i­cal ledger of Amer­i­can Horse Show As­so­ci­a­tion (AHSA) cham­pi­ons by win­ning the pres­ti­gious Stock Seat Medal class at the 1978 Ara­bian Na­tion­als. Forty years later, Wensinger was back in the Blue­grass State for an equally mem­o­rable ride, but this time in a very dif­fer­ent sad­dle as an Adult Ama­teur com­peti­tor in the U.S. Dres­sage Fi­nals pre­sented by Ad­e­quan®.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing the Fi­nals for the first time on­line on the USEF Net­work and want­ing so badly to com­pete there some­day,” said Wensinger, 56, of Dal­las, Texas. “I had my first op­por­tu­nity in 2014 when I eked my way in but didn’t do very well. But this year I re­ally felt like I de­served to be there af­ter win­ning at the Re­gional Cham­pi­onships, and it paid off with top-10 plac­ings in all three of our Small Tour classes. Walk­ing from our barn down to the All­tech arena on Fri­day night for the In­ter­me­di­ate I awards cer­e­mony, I had tears in my eyes think­ing about how spe­cial it was to be there with my horse. You have to em­brace these types of spe­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties while you can.”

A Good Di­ver­sion

If it wasn’t for her par­ents’ at­tempts to thwart re­bel­lious teenage be­hav­ior, Wensinger may never have dis­cov­ered her pas­sion for horses. “As a kid we moved from Ok­la­homa to Kansas City, Mis­souri, and I was get­ting in­volved with some friends that my par­ents didn’t think were such a good in­flu­ence on me,” she ex­plained. “They knew some­one in­volved in Ara­bi­ans and en­cour­aged me to go out to see the horses. I liked it and ended up watch­ing the Ara­bian Na­tion­als with them, where I saw a girl who was the same age as me [13]. She and her horse were stun­ning. I was ab­so­lutely smit­ten and, at that point, de­cided that I wanted to be just like that. I told my par­ents that I would stay away from trou­ble, work my butt off and would do any­thing to have a horse.”

Her fam­ily agreed to give horses a try and pur­chased Wensinger an Arab named Lazy D Zorro, whom she cared for and at­tempted to show on her own. “I had no idea what I was do­ing and, think­ing back, it was just a big mess,” she re­mem­bered. “I would go to the barn ev­ery day af­ter school, and since it was a self-care barn, I was pretty much there by my­self. One day I was long­ing Zorro and he ducked in and kicked me in the face, break­ing my nose and cheek. I don’t know how long I lay there un­con­scious be­fore the woman who was sup­posed to drive me home found me. It’s a won­der I wasn’t killed!”

Wensinger’s fa­ther de­cided it would be safer for his daugh­ter and her mount if he en­listed pro­fes­sional help and got con­nected with a lo­cal Quar­ter Horse judge, who turned out to be friends with horse­man Billy Har­ris, a leg­endary horse trainer. “Even though I hadn’t started rid­ing as young as many other kids, I was so de­ter­mined to suc­ceed that I ap­plied for an inde-

pen­dent study pro­gram to go spend a month work­ing with Billy in Cal­i­for­nia,” said Wen­siger. “Af­ter spend­ing that time with him, he thought I had some tal­ent, so I went home for school and then back to Cal­i­for­nia to spend the next sum­mer there. In ret­ro­spect, I can’t be­lieve my par­ents let me do this—I wasn’t even 16 yet and I was spend­ing sum­mers so far from home ba­si­cally with strangers, all just to ride horses. But I showed in the open classes, got a great horse named Bal­lan­drad, and we just cleaned up. We went to Scotts­dale and won both the Sad­dle Seat and the Stock Seat Medal classes in 1978 and then on to Ara­bian Na­tion­als, which were in Ken­tucky that year, and won the AHSA Na­tional Stock Seat ti­tle.”

But Wensinger’s youth­ful glory days with horses were about to come to an end. As she aged out of the ju­nior di­vi­sions and pre­pared to head off to col­lege, she re­ceived dev­as­tat­ing news: Her par­ents had de­cided to di­vorce and she would need to sell her horse to pay for school. “So that was it for a re­ally long time—more than 30 years ac­tu­ally—as far as my in­volve­ment with horses,” she said. “Af­ter col­lege and law school, I worked for a real-es­tate de­vel­oper, got mar­ried, had three sons and I built my own com­pany called Snap! Event Pro­duc­tion, where we pro­duce events for big cor­po­ra­tions. Dur­ing those years I would still say that I loved horses but didn’t re­ally have a lot of time to think about them. Life just got in the way.”

The Switch

Then one fate­ful day in 2008, when Wensinger at­tended a rou­tine par­ent– teacher con­fer­ence at her son’s school, ev­ery­thing changed. “I saw a mom there in rid­ing clothes and she told me that there was a group of women who took a rid­ing les­son ev­ery Fri­day morn­ing at 8 a.m., and then ev­ery­one would go to work. I was in­trigued,” said Wensinger, who asked to join the group. “The fol­low­ing Fri­day I showed up at Rock­ing M Sta­bles in Dal­las with my de­signer jeans tucked into my fashion boots and climbed aboard a veteran school horse named Teddy. It was ut­terly ridicu­lous, but some­how I re­mem­bered how to post and check my leads. It was like I was breath­ing for the first time in a very long time.”

Lo­cated right in the heart of Dal­las, Rock­ing M Sta­bles is home to about 60 horses and backs up to a park sys­tem. This be­came a new weekly des­ti­na­tion for Wensinger, whose group learned some­thing new ev­ery Fri­day from dres­sage to jump­ing to quadrilles. “I just had the best time, so when an­other woman be­came preg­nant and put her Quar­ter Horse named An­nie up for lease, I took her over and ended up with the pret­ti­est horse in my Fri­day les­son group,” she laughed.

“A few months later I ac­tu­ally pur­chased An­nie and be­gan com­pet­ing in dres­sage. Then the stable owner brought in dres­sage trainer Yvonne Kusserow from Ger­many, so An­nie and I trained with her,” Wensinger con­tin­ued. “Yvonne and An­nie won a cham­pi­onship at First Level that year and I won

sev­eral dres­sage high-point awards through Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse As­so­ci­a­tion, in­clud­ing a huge sil­ver belt buckle. I didn’t know any bet­ter and re­ally thought An­nie and I were go­ing places in dres­sage and even ap­plied to ride in a clinic with Steffen Peters with my lit­tle Quar­ter Horse!”

As her knowl­edge and abil­i­ties grew, Wensinger pur­chased a school­mas­ter who car­ried her to suc­cess through Third Level. But some­thing was miss­ing. “I re­ally wanted to progress, but l didn’t have a lot of con­fi­dence,” she ex­plained. “So in 2011 I got con­nected with David Blake, and he in­vited me to come out to Cal­i­for­nia to work with him for a month. The pro­gres­sion was dra­matic. I got to watch amaz­ing horses and rid­ers, had a ton of fun and I earned my USDF sil­ver medal, so I kept go­ing back ev­ery sum­mer.”

It was fi­nally time for Wensinger to find her horse of a life­time, which she found in the form of a flashy chest­nut Dutch Warm­blood geld­ing named Valentino in Chris Von Mar­tels’ barn in Florida in 2012. “Val was 9 years old and com­pet­ing at Sec­ond Level, but he didn’t have a fly­ing change yet,” she re­called. “He was a big, pretty boy and I got on him and felt very fancy. So I bought him and left him in Florida to learn his changes. I trav­eled to Welling­ton sev­eral times to ride with Chris and one of the first times I rode Val he spooked, slipped and we both fell down. Cana­dian Olympian Jac­que­line Brooks picked us both up off the ground—not the most aus­pi­cious start!”

The pair found a way to get things go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, mov­ing their way up the lev­els to blos­som at Fourth Level, Prix St. Ge­orges and In­ter­me­di­ate I. “I’ve been lucky to have the sup­port of some won­der­ful peo­ple who have helped us find our way be­cause it’s not as easy as we’d like to think. You have to have help, sup­port, pa­tience and a ton of time. It is a jour­ney for sure,” said Wensinger. “Any op­por­tu­nity I have to ride in a clinic or ride some­one else’s horse, I do it. My ca­reer al­lows me to work from home, and the barn is eight miles from my house, so I ride my bike there and back. On days I don’t bike, I’m on the el­lip­ti­cal study­ing dres­sage videos on­line. My hus­band thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just very fo­cused.”

Sec­ond Time’s a Charm

Wensinger’s hard work paid off. Af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing first trip to the U.S. Dres- sage Fi­nals in 2014, she and Val re­turned to Lexington a year later to place third in the Fourth Level Adult Ama­teur Cham­pi­onship. “But then I went in for our Fourth Level freestyle and to­tally choked and for­got my pat­tern. I was ab­so­lutely mor­ti­fied, but it made me even more de­ter­mined to come back again and keep it to­gether.”

Af­ter win­ning the 2016 Prix St. Ge­orges and In­ter­me­di­ate I Adult Ama­teur ti­tles at the Great Amer­i­can/USDF Re­gion 9 Cham­pi­onships last Oc­to­ber, Wensinger felt more ready for the fi­nals than ever be­fore. She didn’t even let a last-minute com­pli­ca­tion stand in the way of suc­cess. “We ar­rived in Lexington and Yvonne fell ill and ended up in the hos­pi­tal. So all of a sud­den, I had no help or trainer,” she noted. “On a whim, I got in touch with Gwen Poulin be­cause I had taken a clinic with her at one point, and thank­fully she stepped in to help me.”

De­spite the distraction, there would be no chok­ing in the arena this time: In the huge and hard-fought Adult Ama­teur Small Tour di­vi­sions, Wensinger and Val fin­ished in the rib­bons in all three of their cham­pi­onship classes, in­clud­ing 10th in the Prix St. Ge­orges, sixth in the In­ter­me­di­ate I and then fifth in the In­ter­me­di­ate I Freestyle. “There’s no bet­ter feel­ing than hav­ing a goal, work­ing hard and achiev­ing it,” said Wensinger. “But at the fi­nals it’s about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. It sounds cliché, but ev­ery­one is just so nice. I met some won­der­ful peo­ple in the VIP area, and there are just so many in­cred­i­ble horses and rid­ers. One af­ter­noon we were stag­ing for awards and Akiko Ya­mazaki [owner of Steffen Peters’ Olympic mounts Ravel and Le­go­las] had also com­peted in my divi­sion, and she leaned over and started talk­ing to me and the other rid­ers who were wait­ing and we re­al­ized that ev­ery­one was from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent back­ground and part of the coun­try. It was just so cool.”

So what’s next for this de­ter­mined ama­teur? “I wouldn’t say that Grand Prix is nec­es­sar­ily my goal,” she said thought­fully. “Val does a great job for me, but I think I can ride him bet­ter and fancier. I feel like I’ve come so far so fast, so I’d like to take time to re­ally di­gest what I’ve learned and work on my re­ac­tion time. It’s a big dif­fer­ence between con­sis­tently get­ting a 65 per­cent and a 70 per­cent, and you can al­ways work to ride bet­ter and im­prove your scores even if you don’t have the fan­ci­est horse.”

At the 2016 U.S. Dres­sage Fi­nals, Wensinger and Valentino fin­ished in the rib­bons in all three of their cham­pi­onship classes in the Adult Ama­teur Small Tour di­vi­sions.

Forty years af­ter win­ning her first na­tional ti­tle in Ken­tucky, Terri Sue Wensinger of Dal­las, Texas, found her­self back in the Blue­grass, com­pet­ing on the na­tional stage yet again, but this time in a very dif­fer­ent sad­dle.

As a teenager, Wensinger claimed the Amer­i­can Horse Shows As­so­ci­a­tion Na­tional Stock Seat ti­tle with Bal­lan­drad while com­pet­ing at the 1978 Ara­bian Na­tion­als in Ken­tucky.

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