Amateurs Like Us: Bitten By The Dressage Bug With My OTTB

Jan 26, 2017 - 4:23 AM
My goals with Echo have shifted over the years, and now we're focused on moving up the levels in dressage. Photo courtesy of Samantha Silver

“You HAVE to ride Jimmie Echo—you will love him!”

This was a line I heard over and over again from my best friend, Michelle Craig. She galloped Jimmie Echo for a steeplechase trainer in Middleburg, Va., and he was always her favorite ride of the day. I heard non-stop how awesome this horse was, what a professional he was, how easy he was to gallop… the list goes on and on.

By the time Michelle met “Echo,” his racing career was on the decline but when he was a 3-year-old in 2006, he won the prestigious $50,000 Gladstone Hurdle Stakes (N.J.). Out of 23 career starts, Echo (Eastern Echo—Fractious, Compliance) had two first-place finishes, four second-place finishes and five thirds for total earnings of $53,840. His last race was in October 2008, when he was 5, but he remained in training for another year.


Jimmie Echo in his former life.

When it came time for Echo to retire from the track, Michelle was quick to snatch him up as her primary business involves re-training and reselling of off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Around this same time, I was coming to the conclusion that I was over-horsed with my current gelding. In the spring of 2010 Michelle and I swapped horses—she would sell my horse and I would buy Echo once my horse sold.

It’s almost seven years later and I still remember the way I felt when I rode Echo for the first time.

Maybe it was Michelle having talked him up constantly, or maybe it was gut instinct, but from the moment I first stepped into the irons, I knew Echo was the one for me. I leased him for close to a year until my horse sold, and during that time we were doing schooling horse shows including dressage and horse trials. Having been a steeplechase horse in his former career, Echo is an absolute machine on cross-country! He gave me back the confidence that had been lost riding my previous horse and I felt like there was nothing we couldn’t conquer.


Echo and I during our eventing days.

In March 2011, soon after I purchased Echo, he came up slightly lame. To make an extremely long story short, he ended up having giant holes in both hind suspensory ligaments.

The floor dropped out from underneath my feet when I heard the vet tell me the diagnosis and prognosis—which was only about a 60 percent chance of Echo being sound enough to do flatwork.  The vet advised me that these were likely old racing injuries and it broke my heart to know that my big, strong, beautiful horse had been going around with a happy face all the while having these significant injuries.

Echo underwent the recommended surgery—fasciotomy with neurectomy and PRP therapy. We did stall rest and rehab exactly per the vet’s instructions and to say Echo has come back better than I ever expected is an understatement!

Don’t get me wrong—there were plenty of setbacks including a nasty case of cellulitis, hock sores, and Echo eventually getting his hocks chemically fused with ethyl alcohol, but we made it through this experience and are stronger for having gone through it. 


Echo being silly during his rehab.

One year after surgery (almost to the day), Echo and I were at our first recognized horse trial doing beginner novice. Unfortunately for me, Echo must have decided that during rehab, he was actually retired and therefore shouldn’t have to do anything that he didn’t want to. I fell off in the dressage warm-up when my rock solid dude reared like The Black Stallion and then proceeded to run around for 20 minutes refusing to be caught.

Luckily for me, Michelle’s husband, Dustin, specializes in working with problem horses. Echo spent a few months with Dustin, who determined there were no physical issues causing the behavior but instead, a crappy attitude. Echo did several beginner novice horse trials and a couple of novice level ones with Dustin before returning to me.

During the next few years, Echo carted me around horse trials, dressage shows, and jumper shows like a champ! We qualified and attended the CBLM Championships for dressage at training level in 2013 and did a novice horse trial (only one due to Echo’s handicap of having a wimpy rider!) in 2015.

In 2015 I met someone who would change my life—my friend Amy. Amy is an upper level dressage rider and she introduced me to the amazing world of straight dressage. I’m now ashamed to admit this, but my eventer brain always kind of thought that straight dressage was for people who were too afraid to jump.

Watching Amy ride her Prix St. Georges horse and having the chance to ride him myself changed my mind. The amount of power that is contained and then used is just incredible and the way she could manipulate his body parts had me in awe.

I have always been a big fan of setting goals and single-mindedly focusing (or obsessing might be a better word) until I achieve whatever goal I have set. I am cautious to set realistic, yet challenging goals for myself. Once I learned what a USDF bronze medal was, I knew I had to make that my next project.  


Echo and I in action in the little white ring. Photo by High Time Photography

It is interesting to me that when I was eventing, I never had aspirations to do the upper levels. I can’t live with the risk of a mistake I make injuring or killing my horse or myself. However, since getting bit by the dressage bug, I have realized a couple of important things: 1) I knew nothing about true dressage previously, and 2) I want to make a Grand Prix horse.

The upper levels of dressage are definitely a long-term goal of mine, and one I’m not sure Echo will be able to get me to, but we will go as far as he can take me and then go from there.

Echo and I have been riding with Allison Spivey since the fall of 2015 and have gotten our first level and second level scores towards my bronze medal.  Don’t get me wrong—we still jump around occasionally for fun, but the main focus is now on dressage. 


Happy with Echo! Photo by High Time Photography

I am hoping to show third level in 2017 and actually have gotten the most amazing opportunity to be a working student for Allison for two months during the winter! I live in Richmond, Va., and Allison’s farm is in Middleburg, Va., about two hours away. My job has been terrific in their flexibility, letting me switch to part-time remote employment for those two months.

The initial plan was for Echo and me to go to Allison’s farm for January and February of 2017, however in October 2016, Echo was running in the field and aggravated the scar tissue in his left hind suspensory. The ultrasounds didn’t show any new damage—just inflammation—but we treated aggressively with shockwave, stall rest, Surpass, icing, poulticing, and gradual rehab.

But as of Jan. 25, Echo was released to full work after a normal (for him!) ultrasound. I think the rest and rehab really gave his body the break he must have needed but is too stoic to show.

Being the awesome person she is, Allison had no problem with us pushing back our “visit” until February and March to give me more time to rehab Echo slowly and correctly. The plan right now is for us to leave on Jan. 28, and you will hear more from me after we arrive and get settled in.

Thanks for reading!

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