Richard Freeman wasn’t exactly desperate to enter the Century Club. In fact, he wasn’t even aware of the award, which riders achieve by completing a dressage test where the combined age of horse and rider is at least 100 years. The Century Club was formed in 1996 by The Dressage Foundation, a 501c3 that provides financial support for the advancement of U.S. dressage.
But his niece Laura Freeman, a veterinarian and USDF silver medalist, hatched the plan when she realized her 17-hand schoolmaster Laoma would be a good fit for her 6’3” uncle. Richard, 78, went for it with gusto, choosing to ride third level, test 1, at the Nov. 5 Amen Corner Farm Schooling Show in Folsom, La. The pair scored 61.21 percent.
“It’s uncommon to see someone compete their century ride at third level,” said judge Betsy Gosling, who officiated the test. “It was very impressive. Wonderful to see. It was a very respectable test, and the horse really did his job.”
The plan was two years in the making, as the Freemans had to wait until they met the age requirements.
“I was sweating it a bit,” Laura said, “hoping to keep Laoma sound.”
But when the show day finally dawned, the 23-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Chronos—Fascal, Architect) arrived full of pep.
“I believe he forgot he was 23,” said Laura. “He hadn’t been to a show in some time and had quite a bit of energy.”
Fortunately, the bay gelding settled in and remembered his manners, demonstrating fluid transitions and a willing attitude in the show ring.
Richard rides almost daily when at home in Folsom at his Oak Hill Ranch and follows a regular exercise routine, which includes Pilates twice weekly, so his fitness was never in question.
When it came to choosing an appropriate test, he didn’t hesitate. “I wanted to step it up a bit,” he said.
A well-known breeder—he bred international Grand Prix horse Paragon and current small tour competitor Ripline—Richard has competed several horses at the upper levels, so the ride was a stretch for him only in that he had limited time to get acquainted with Laoma.
After spending the summer at his North Carolina residence, Richard returned to Oak Hill Ranch and was immediately immersed in planning a Dutch Warmblood inspection. He was too busy to do much riding until the event was over in September, but then he started riding Laoma several times a week.
On show day, a group of friends showed up to watch Richard’s ride. Show management gave him the riding spot just before the lunch break and a bridle number of 100, in acknowledgement of the Century Club ride.
“I noticed a lot of people watching from a covered pavilion near the arena as I helped my uncle warm up,” Laura said. “As they went around the outside of the arena, a crowd came up on either side of me. It was dead silent—kind of eerie.”
Neither horse nor rider gave away their age during the performance. The crowd burst into applause at the end, and a celebration took place in the stables with muffins and mimosas, and Richard was officially added to the Century Club.
“It’s remarkable what the animal will do to please a person,” Richard said.
This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, which is our Equitation special issue. In it, we have an article by the legendary William Steinkraus, Between Rounds columns with Anne Kursinski and Julie Winkel, a profile of Robin Fairclough, and so much more. See what else is in the issue in our Table Of Contents. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?