One thing that makes Christy unique is her horses. Unlike many dressage riders, Christy is riding off track thoroughbreds. For them, dressage is more than a sport or new career, it’s a form of physical therapy. She’s had others in the past, but currently she has just two: Liam and Remy.
When Christy got Liam, he had just finished his 8 year old year and was at Arlington Park. He had made almost $113,000 in his racing career, including earnings made after breaking his leg. He still has 2 pins in his front left fetlock, and his big ankle and pin fired canon bones are reminders of his past that he’ll have forever. He met Christy only days before he was scheduled to get on the meat truck, and this once-champion who had sold for $80,000 as a yearling was purchased for the rock bottom price of $300. He knew nothing but racing, but his long years at the track and his old injuries had caught up with him. He walked with a limp, but the fire that had made him a champion still surged in his blood, and so a new journey was undertaken to try to return him to soundness and teach him a new job.
His fetlock fused almost completely, leaving him with very minimal range of motion in the joint, which can easily lead to a mechanical lameness. Teaching Liam to use his body as evenly and effeciently as possible would be literally life-saving, and to extend the years he can get around on that fetlock, getting him to shift his weight more to his back legs would be crucial. Basically, he needed dressage.
Vets and trainers were skeptical, but Liam is one of those horses that just keeps trying. It took a long time to retrain all those years spent at the racetrack, and he found dressage quite challenging. His slightly downhill build and low neck set put him at a disadvantage, and his firey nature made the slower paced work mentally challenging for him. But, his incredible work ethic and desire to please helped him overcome his obstacles. Slowly but surely he developed not only as a dressage horse (competing successfully through 2nd level!), but also as a trustworthy partner for trail riding and bareback/bitless riding.
For Christy, it was a labor of love, and whether or not they were ever “successful” by typical dressage standards was not a consideration. It also turned out to be an incredible education. Dressage is hard enough to learn anyways, but having a horse like this to learn with made Christy really understand not only the technical details of each movement, but how each movement built different parts of the horse to make other movements possible. Pretty much no matter what one of her students struggles with, Christy has been there and figured out how to help the horse physically and mentally work through the challenges. What may at first glance appear to be a significant barrier to success (and indeed was one when it comes to show ring success), has in time turned into a great asset. After working with Liam, other horses seem quite easy by comparison!
Christy’s newest project, Remy, is also a thoroughbred off the track. He retired much younger than Liam did, late in his 4 year old year, after an unsuccessful career with just a few starts and a few thousand in earnings. Compared to Liam, Remy was made for the dressage ring. He is built more uphill, and his short back and correct gaits make him easier to collect and do lateral work with. Although he retired from the track sound and healthy, he still had to learn a whole new way of using his body, and completely change his musculature in order to do dressage.
At his first shows as a lean, leggy 5 year old, he still stood out in the field of warmbloods. But at his second show, he got an “8” for both gaits and impulsion, hinting at the potential that is being developed as he matures. A year later, he’s starting to fill out and muscle up. It shouldn’t be too long before he starts to look more like the warmbloods he’s competing against, and all the challenges of training Liam have prepared Christy to thoroughly enjoy the journey with this “easier” horse.
As he gains strength and understanding, Christy is working to develop his gaits to compete with the fancier warmbloods at the Recognized shows. He seems to find the work easy and enjoyable, which makes the process that much more fun. He has also proven to be a sort of school master for Christy. He is a very sensitive horse and stays tuned in to the tiniest shifts his rider makes. Christy is using this sensitivity to make herself a better rider, letting Remy give her feedback on her riding through his responses, honing her own finesse with her aids to achieve a level of harmony and lightness with him that she hasn’t found with previous horses. He already understands shoulder-in, haunches-in and half pass, and has offered flying changes. It will be exciting to watch him continue to progress with his training and start putting the pieces together!