2015 USEF Horse of the Year – Playboys Boon with Misty Nichols

A lovely story from one of our adult amateur members. Meet Misty and her handsome paint gelding Opie. In just three short years, this determined duo went from their very first horse show to a 2015 USEF Horse of the Year Award!

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Photo courtesy of Logan Edgerly of Moments Last Forever

Three short years ago, I rode in my very first horse show. Yes, it was a small schooling show, but at age 48 just getting in the ring was a feat in itself. It all began when a friend asked me to photograph her granddaughter in a local horse show. I’d never had an interest in dressage but when I watched one particular rider/horse pair dance together in the ring I knew I wanted to build a similar connection with my horse. Yes, I had a pasture pony. To be specific, a never shown, 15 year old, lazy, opinionated, paint gelding named Chief. Regardless, following that show, I inquired about the lady and the big Friesian and discovered that she was a local trainer

This trainer, luckily, was familiar with the new and upcoming sport of western dressage (actually the fastest growing equestrian sport in the nation) and knew it would be perfect for my lackadaisical paint and me. It became immediately apparent this was something Chief and I could do that would be fun and improvement our partnership.

Yes, those first lessons sparked quite a passion in this middle-aged horse lover. So, besides riding and taking every lesson I possibly could find time for, I signed up to attend the 2013 WDAA National Convention. Later, I connected with Tori Blankenship, a well- known local trainer and nationally recognized equestrian, and we decided to coordinate our travel plans.

While attending the convention, I felt like the poster child for novice adult amateur riders. Over and over I voiced the need for WDAA to remain all-inclusive so that people like me would feel welcome in this exciting new sport. I was certain there were many more horse owners, like me, without show experience or even a fundamental understanding of dressage, that would embrace this up and coming discipline.

Before flying home, Tori and I went to watch a few hours of the WDAA World Show. It was so unexpected and exciting to see horses and riders covering the entire experience spectrum, all enjoying every minute of their world show rides. Watching from the grandstands, I quietly set a personal goal to someday ride in the WDAA World Show.

As soon as we got in the cab we began talking about the show and how much fun it would be to participate. By the time we hit the airport, it was a forgone conclusion that we were going to trailer from Florida to Oklahoma to ride in the 2014 World Show. I’ll never forget my husband’s response when I called him to report that I was getting ready to board the plane and “oh by the way, Tori and I are going to trailer our horses out here next year to ride in the World Show!” “Ah, Misty” he said, “that is crazy for even you to come up with”. Yes, thankfully, Roger warmed up to the idea of Tulsa and has since become a true horse husband in every wonderful sense of the word.

In the months following our visit to Tulsa it became clear that my obstinate, ulcer prone paint could not handle the demands of showing even at the schooling show level. But just when I thought my dreams for the World Show might be shattered the stars aligned and the perfect western dressage prospect magically materialized.

His name: Playboys Boon, aka Opie, a 4 year old, 16 hand, red dun, American Quarter Horse, gelding with the temperament of an old soul and moves like Fred Astaire. Yes, I was smitten. No, as a novice I was not looking for a 4 year old. In fact, I don’t think I even knew how old he was the first time I rode him. What I did know was that riding this horse instilled a great deal of confidence in me.   After four rides and even the opportunity to collect cows with the ranch crew I knew I wanted this horse as my dance partner.

Recognizing that I didn’t have the experience to make an educated decision about purchasing a horse, I called Tori. She was busy with lessons but told me to sit tight and she’d send her husband Bud. Well, the idea of “Bud” (a Member of the Foxtrotter Hall of Fame and the personification of the Marlboro man) watching me ride had me shaking in my boots but I was confident in his knowledge of horses and I knew he would be brutally honest. Bud arrived and ambled into the arena where I sat on Opie. He said, “Ok, lets see what he’s got”. I rode a couple of circles at a nice comfortable trot, slowed to a walk and looked over at Bud. He said, “Ok, now pick up a nice lope, right now, pick it up from the walk, NOW!” Instead of admitting to the strong, silent, intimidating cowboy that I had never done that before I simple asked Opie to pickup the lope, which he did, on the correct lead, without missing a beat!   Oh the excitement that came over me when Bud said I’d be a fool not to buy this horse.

Fast forward through many months of training three to four days a week with Corey Rogers, Opie’s original owner and Tori. The goal of Tulsa was only eight short months away and I was on a mission to be the best we could be. I worried about trusting my 4 year old in the electric atmosphere of the “world show” but there was no need for worry. My kind, athletic horse, who, like me, had never been to the “big” show, entered at “A” like he had been there a hundred times before. Opie and I left Tulsa World Champions in Intro Western Dressage. Driving home, with my head in the clouds, I realized the only self-doubt and the fear to dream would limit what we would be able to accomplish together.

Nichols-OpieSo what goal does an adult amateur set after success at the World Show? Well, it just so happened that 2015 would be the first year for USEF to recognize and award Horse of the Year (HOTY) Awards for Western Dressage. Fortunately, a series of USEF Florida rated shows were planning to offer western dressage classes. So, I decided we would set our sites high and make a run at HOTY. What an exciting, challenging, learning, wonderful, and yes, nerve-racking experience. Riding rated shows is a far cry from the local schooling shows but at every show, on every test, Opie gave me his very best. Not once did I enter the ring without learning something new about him or me or competing in general. That is the magic about western dressage. The progressive tests and levels provide a framework that builds and expands on each movement. This allows each horse and rider pair to use the training pyramid to progress and learn at their own pace based on their abilities working together. The judge’s feedback (actually comments on each move) provides invaluable information on every move of each ride so the rider can continue to learn and grow from the experience.

So, a couple of weekends ago I attended the 2015 USEF Horse of the Year Gala in Lexington KY and accepted Opie’s award for Introductory Western Dressage. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that a novice, adult amateur like myself could achieve such a prestigious award but this is why western dressage is such an amazing sport and WDAA, WDAFL and USEF are such wonderful organizations. These organizations welcome and encourage riders at all levels of experience and talent. I sat in that ballroom in KY with the some of the most elite equestrians in the nation and felt welcomed.

Beyond the riding and the ring, participation in western dressage has taught me a tremendous amount about life and fostered personal growth. It has forced me to look inward; face a few demons (some known and some completely unexpected), identify my strengths and my weaknesses and finally realize that I may be middle age but I am still a work in progress.

This wonderful new sport has provided me the opportunity to meet wonderful, encouraging, supportive, friends. I’ve learned about sportsmanship, horsemanship, and showmanship. My husband has become our biggest fan and best of all my partnership with my horse has grown strong while he remains willing and happy to enter the ring. Thank you WDAA!! Without this wonderful organization I would still be sitting on the sidelines wondering if I would ever have the nerve to get into the show ring.

For others out there like me, with no riding experience and a pasture pet in the backyard NOW is the perfect time to begin your western dressage journey. WDAA has just announced a new Horse Performance Awards program and that the 2016 World Show will be hosted for the first time under the WDAA brand. If this has struck a chord then take a moment and consider becoming a member USEF and WDAA’s National and State Affiliated Associations.

Sometimes in order to dream we first need to be reminded of the possibilities by a dreamer. WDAA, WDAFL, USEF have reminded me of the possibilities and given me the platform and the courage to saddle up and chase my dreams!

Submitted by Misty Nichols on 01/22/2016

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