When 18-year-old Natalie Marsden from Sundre, Alta., and 15-year-old Elexis Ortlieb from Edmonton, Alta., traveled to the North American Junior Young Rider Championships at Lexington, Kentucky in July 2012, they came home with some real horse tales, both good and bad.
Marsden competed in dressage on her Anglo Arab gelding, Zeffiro (Zef). “Anglo Arabs aren’t really common in the dressage ring,” Marsden admits. “And while Zef is an amazing horse, he isn’t super talented in dressage. But his personality makes him shine. He has an amazing work ethic, tries really hard and is super consistent.”
Ortlieb competed in dressage as well, mounted on Diego, a bay American Hanoverian. “People think Diego is a real grump,” Ortlieb says. “He pins his ears and even show his teeth at times. But he really isn’t like that. Diego’s a great dressage horse. He tries hard, and always gives you everything he has.”
Both horses travelled from Alberta to Kentucky via a commercial horse hauler, while their riders flew with their parents. Flying might have been quicker than driving, but came with some real challenges.
“Mom and I had a layover in Houston, and the flights out of there were all canceled due to bad weather,” Marsden says. “We ended up on stand-by, and after missing several flights, being awake for over 24 hours, discovering our luggage was missing, and taking an expensive 1-1/2 hour taxi ride we finally got to Lexington, just in time to help unload the horses.”
Ortlieb was on a different airline than Marsden, but was having flight problems of her own. “Just before our plane landed at Lexington the airport was struck by lightning,” Ortlieb says. “Everyone was freaking out, and they made our plane turn back. Then we circled and circled; it was raining buckets and you couldn’t see anything. I was incredibly thankful when we finally landed safely.”
Both horses unloaded well, and quickly settled into the barn. “I was really nervous,” Marsden admits. “I knew Zef and I would be competing against horses worth $100,000, but I just kept telling myself that no matter how we did, we were going to enjoy ourselves.”
Since they had arrived four days early, the pair had time to properly warm up, and familiarize themselves with the enormous Kentucky Horse Park.
But by day two, things weren’t going well for Ortlieb and Diego. “Diego had been totally sound at home, and he seemed fine when we first unloaded him,” Ortlieb says. “The hauler told me that Diego traveled well, but there had been a tire blow out on the trailer during the trip. We don’t know how his leg was injured; maybe the tire blowout caused the problem. Maybe not.”
Ortlieb and Diego were able to ride in warm-up, but Diego was acting out of character, frequently stopping. The next day the big horse was visibly unsound at a jog. Experienced vets were called out, but were unable to solve the problem.
At the end of the competition Marsden and Zef had placed 8th with their Canadian East/West team, and 27th in individuals. Ortlieb and Diego were unable to compete.
“It was a great experience to travel to Kentucky and to watch everyone else ride,” Ortlieb says. “But it was also really sad. Diego and I had worked very hard to get there, and it didn’t pay off.”
Ortlieb reports that Diego now seems totally sound, so she hopes they will qualify for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships again in 2013.
This won’t happen for Marsden, who had to sell Zef this fall before starting post secondary education. “I hated to sell Zef,” Marsden says. “But he went to an adult amateur dressage rider in Toronto who already loves him. She’s sent me photos, so I know he’s happy and safe.”