"He always wants to cuddle," she explained. "If you're having a rough day, he'll sit there and lick your face and your neck and make sure you're feeling better. We call him 'Monster' because he's so big, but he's also the sweetest."
Culver trains with Jenny Baldwin of Royal Crown Dressage in Boulder, CO. Baldwin was proud to watch Culver and Royal Aries reaching their goals at Dressage in the Rockies.
"It's been so fun to see them grow up and do well," Baldwin said. "I was very happy for her. It was fun to see her come along with the horse. She works hard for it."
Baldwin had a standout weekend herself. She rode Fabrioso, a 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Virginia Carr, to the win in Sunday's Grand Prix Open with a score of 65.3 percent. On Saturday, she and the 7-year-old Hanseat were Upper Level High Percentage Champions after scoring 71.625 percent to win the Open division of Fourth Level Test 3, which they won again on Sunday.
Parker, CO - August 3, 2014 - Danielle Culver has had her fair share of heartbreak in her dressage career to date, but she can count this year's Dressage in the Rockies at the Colorado Horse Park as one of the highlights. After achieving a longtime goal through years of steady work, the future looks bright for this young competitor and her 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Royal Aries.
Culver was successful as a junior with her beloved horse Florian, competing at the 2007 FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. But Florian was diagnosed with Wobbler Syndrome not long after the pair moved up from the juniors into the young rider ranks in 2008. Despite surgery and other efforts to give him a comfortable life, Florian never recovered, and he passed away three years ago.
Before Florian developed the disease, Culver had worked with Luna Tunes Freestyles to create a young rider musical freestyle for him. She never had the chance to ride the freestyle with Florian, but at Dressage in the Rockies, she finally fulfilled that ambition in the irons of Royal Aries.
The pair showed off their Fourth Level freestyle in the USDF Freestyle classes on Friday and Saturday, earning scores of 67.833 percent and 66.333 percent. They were Upper Level High Percentage Champions on Friday, and they capped the weekend with victory in the Amateur division of Fourth Level Test 3 on Sunday.
"The freestyle has been in my back pocket all this time," Culver, who is now 25 years old, said. "I loved riding it this weekend. I'd never ridden it in a big ring, which was scary, especially because I had so many people coming to watch me."
Culver enjoys a strong support system when she competes. Her family dresses in Team Culver t-shirts to cheer her on at all her shows, and her father has helped out as a groom for her since his retirement. She said her family members are a priority for her, and she makes a point of spending as much time with them as she can.
Royal Aries has become a part of the family as well since Culver purchased him four years ago following a fortunate chain of events.
"It was kind of a joke - someone from my barn was going to Germany, and I said, 'Bring a horse home for me,'" Culver recalled. "I didn't have a lot of money; I had sold my Friesian, so I only had as much as you get for selling a Second Level Friesian. You can't buy a horse in Germany for how much I had, but she called me two days into the trip and said 'I found your horse.'"
Culver was impressed by the video and amazed that the horse was within her budget, so she took the risk and spent her savings to purchase him. The gamble has paid off since then, as she has trained Royal Aries up through the levels and developed a close bond with him in the process.
"He's been my pride and my joy," she said. "He's been my love. He's been my superstar and my hero. He's the one thing that keeps me going in the morning. He protects me no matter what. He's an amazing horse."
Culver said Royal Aries has been with her through thick and thin and knows exactly how to cheer her up when she's down.
Baldwin and Fabrioso are longtime partners with 10 years of experience together, and they produced a Grand Prix test with numerous highlights despite a couple of small mistakes.
"He is very calm and very easy," Baldwin said of Fabrioso, who is by Federweissee. "He's fun to ride. He's just a pleasure."
Hanseat, a Hanoverian gelding, is a newer mount for Baldwin, who has been riding him for six months for owner Tiffany Goldman.
Though inexperienced at Fourth Level, the son of His Highness has the type and athleticism to attract notice in the show ring. His fluid movement is a particular highlight.
"He just flows through everything," Baldwin said. "His half-passes were really good today, and he has nice pirouettes. His changes were a little exuberant when I first started, but we got a 9 on the four-tempis yesterday from (judge) Sarah Geikie."
Baldwin is thinking of making the Developing Horse Prix St. Georges the goal for next year with Hanseat, but she's not in any rush.
"We'll see what happens with him and what he can do," she said. "He's 7, so he's got time. He's such a good boy."
Sunday wrapped up three successful days of competition at Dressage in the Rockies I, II and III, held under sunny skies at the Colorado Horse Park and adeptly managed by Glenda McElroy of Cornerstone Event Management. The venue will host the Great American/USDF Region 5 Dressage Championships in September.
Results: Dressage in the Rockies III
August 3, 2014
Judge for Ring 1: Hilda Gurney
Grand Prix - Open
1. Jenny Baldwin/Fabrioso/65.300%
2. KC Parkins-Kyle/Olaf/61.800%
Grand Prix - Amateur/Junior/Young Rider
1. Suzie Halle/Tennyson-ISF/55.700%
2. Ann Edelman/Boucheron/53.700%
Prix St. Georges - Open
1. Jessica Greer/White Sun/67.105%
2. Colleen Diamond/Jilles V.R./62.105%
3. Stephanie Leahey/Rubecca/59.342%
4. Gloria Knight/Misha/58.553%
Prix St. Georges - Amateur/Junior/Young Rider
1. Kate Ernst-Todd/Bente fan Meren State/57.763%
Intermediaire I - Open
1. Layne Sandercott/Rolex Tyme/63.816%
2. Gloria Knight/Dancon/63.421%
Intermediaire I - Amateur/Junior/Young Rider
1. Christine DeHerrera/Festivo/61.316%
2. Jennifer Kirch/Paladin/56.579%
Intermediaire II - Open
1. Grant Schneidman/Maude- RF/65.132%
2. Jessica Greer/Matinee SF/63.947%