One Woman’s Path to Success in Dressage
By Deborah Cole
Like many adult amateur riders, Rikki Smeltzer has a vision of competing successfully in equestrian sports. Born into a farming family, Rikki began riding at age 4. Her parents supported these early endeavors by enrolling her in 4-H at age 9 and many years of western games followed suit.
She became serious about dressage a few years ago – when she owned a Quarter Horse mare named Jazzy who “tried her little heart out” the first year they evented. Rikki focused their training on the dressage phase and went to several schooling shows to hone their skills. She and Jazzy proved themselves solid in their first year with fine scores at the Grasshopper level.
However, Rikki knew in her heart that Jazzy’s conformation was not well suited to move up the levels in eventing. They struggled at Beginner Novice, and so the search began for a more appropriate mount.
Flexibility and a New Direction
Rikki purchased a Thoroughbred gelding named Prince to be her eventing partner. However, in their first few outings, he displayed a true disdain for cross-country. He was overreactive, nervous, and perhaps in pain.
Rikki tried to solve this by addressing any physical problems he might have. Saddle fittings, dental work, chiropractic adjustments and ulcer treatment were all completed in the hope that Prince would feel more confident on course. This wasn’t the case though, and rather than give up on Prince, Rikki directed their career goals to the dressage ring.
Design a Plan, Work the Plan, the Plan Works
Together with her coach, Dawn Morgan, Rikki put together a plan to earn her United States Dressage Federation Bronze Medal with Prince. Noting he was capable but not a flashy mover, a strategy was formed in order to make it happen. Keeping that bronze medal in mind with every ride they aimed at goals that were reasonably attainable; challenging, but not overwhelming to either Rikki or Prince, Dawn tracked their progress and defined the lessons for each week. Over the next three years the team worked diligently.
Dedication and Daily Laughter
Sometimes it was frustrating and Rikki would joke that Prince was currently “for sale… cheap!” Then training questions got harder and she lightened up. Many rides had Prince bucking on every lead change request, while Rikki, with her sunny outlook and steadfast seat, would offer a giggle or reassuring words for Prince.
Common phrases that kept everyone smiling included, “You change leads while playing in your pasture every day, Prince!” and “Doing all the fancy things when and where we are supposed to” or “Fast, faster, and fastest trot” and my favorite, “Playing for all the marbles”.
Eyes on the Prize – Celebrate Everything
The 2017 show season had the pair setting sights on scores in the 60s at the required rated shows at first, second, and third levels. Scores, not ribbons, were the ultimate goal.
The first few outings had Rikki smiling wide with success. Scores at first level were in hand. Half of the second level scores were posted as well, but a setback occurred. Prince went lame, leaving them short for the “one and done” season. They had to wait to complete the hunt for scores at second and third level.
They rallied, and this was accomplished in June 2018. All the scores necessary for her USDF Bronze Medal were earned at Whidbey Equestrian Center in Coupeville, WA.
Many adult amateurs know how much work moving up the levels in dressage entails. It can seem like a lot of failure if that is all we focus on. The trick is to enjoy and celebrate every bit of success.
If we ride each step of every ride, there are many things to feel accomplished about—like a square halt, a perfectly ridden corner, or just the fact that we showed up after work in the pouring rain. When we look at dressage training this way, it seems much easier to accept what is and what still remains to be discovered and perfected for the show ring.
Remember, This is Supposed to be Fun!
Quoting Rikki’s 8-year-old son who announced at a horse show recently, “The three rules of dressage shows are 1: Have fun, 2: Stay safe, and 3: Get the scores.” Apparently, his mom is rubbing off on him!
Congratulations to Rikki on this accomplishment. New goals using the same plan are in place for next season and I am excited to cheer this inspiring team on!
Deborah Cole is an adult amateur rider serving her community by volunteering her time and energy as newsletter editor of the Whatcom County Dressage and Eventing Association. She helped develop Sunset Farm Equestrian Park in Blaine, WA.