USDF dressage regional season is in full swing, and the Chronicle caught up with the open Grand Prix champion from the Great American/USDF Region 4, Nicole Harrington and Wizard Of Oz. Harrington took a unique path to the sport—she first competed her family’s homebred off-the-track Thoroughbred up to the preliminary level in eventing before deciding to focus on pure dressage. She now owns and operates Nicole Harrington Dressage in Batavia, Ohio.
The Region 4 championships were held during the Maffitt Lake Fall Harvest horse show on Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Cumming, Iowa, and Harrington and “Wizard” took their win with a 64.15 percent. The 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Weltmeyer—Vadella, Landadel) did his first Grand Prix with Harrington in April of this year.
Harrington also topped the open third level freestyle GAIG/USEF Region 4 championship with McDowell Equestrian Inc.’s Camomila MCD.
COTH: So tell me about why you made the switch from eventing to dressage.
Harrington: My parents were Thoroughbred trainers, and my mom had a farm right here in Bethel, Ohio, and we raised race horses. We had anywhere from 50 to 60 horses on the farm at all times. We had a lot of babies, and we would take them to the track and if they didn’t run they’d come home and my mom and I would kind of retrain them a little bit as riding horses and try to re-home them that way.
I got into eventing when I was a kid, and the horse I ended up going preliminary on was a Thoroughbred that we bred and raised. He was not a very good race horse, but he was a good event horse! His name was Sailor’s Little Man. You had to be 14 to show prelim and I turned 14 in February and I think I did my first prelim in May on a horse who had never done it before, either.
Then I started working on my dressage with some serious dressage people and I just got seriously hooked. I was probably 15 and after that I just kind of never looked back and decided that was what I really wanted to focus on.
COTH: Who was the trainer that got you started in dressage?
Harrington: It was Jackie Paxton, they owned Paxton Farms at the time and they were bringing in a lot of top notch trainers and I worked with them for a number of years and got to learn and see a lot over those years and it really gave me a good start on things.
I was a working student for Jackie for a number of years and I got to ride a lot of her nice horses over the years and learned a lot from that, and then I trained for an Andalusian farm for a number of years, Hidden Pond Farm. I started a lot of young horses for her and actually took one all the way up to Grand Prix, and now I’m on my own just bringing horses along!
I have a lot of young horses that we’ve brought up, like my 7-year-old is about ready to show Prix St. Georges, and my 8-year-old Andalusian mare just won the third level freestyle and was reserve in the third level open, so I have several coming up behind [Wizard].
COTH: So you kept up with the Andalusians after you left the Andalusian farm to set up your own business?
Harrington: I do, because people know my background with them. I have three or four in my barn, and most of the people I have now want to concentrate on dressage so that’s my forte but sometimes they’ll say we really want to do this breed show and I’m like OK, we can do it!
We were at the Andalusian World Cup in Las Vegas last year during Region 2 [championships]. It’s an all-Andalusian show at South Point Hotel and they do halter and driving and just about every discipline goes on at those shows, dressage included. We took my mare, Camomila MCD, the one that just won the [third level] freestyle, and she ended up overall champion dressage suitability of the show. We also do a little halter, a little dressage suitability, dressage hack, those kinds of classes.
COTH: How would you describe the Andalusian breed?
Harrington: They’re honestly really wonderful horses, they tend to be a very comfortable ride and they work really hard. Their collected work can really be their forte. The mare that I’m competing right now really has extraordinary gaits. She’s got an extended trot that rivals just about any warmblood out there—she gets 7.5s or 8s. It really depends though, there’s a wide variety of them and its really depends on their breeding. Some of them are really bred for halter and they honestly don’t move very well, but the breeders I tend to work with are focusing on the dressage aspect so they’re more a dressage horse.
COTH: Tell me more about your Grand Prix horse, Wizard!
Harrington: We imported him last November and he was pretty much just a Prix St. Georges, little bit Intermediaire 1 horse. I’ve trained him up and put the Grand Prix work on him over the winter and he’s turning out to be something we hope is going to be pretty special. We have goals of doing some CDIs and stuff this winter in Florida and kind of seeing where it goes.
He is a character—he’s like a big dog, he loves to lick. He’ll just lick up and down your arms and all over your face, and it doesn’t turn into biting he just loves to lick, he licks you like a lollipop. My working student, Katie, we call her his Katie-pop! You go to put his bridle on and he just licks and licks and licks.
He’s just the sweetest thing on four legs and he’s a worker bee, he works and tries so hard. He’s still gaining the strength in the Grand Prix work but he definitely loves his job.
COTH: How did it feel to get that regional win on him?
Harrington: That was my first Grand Prix win at regionals so it was pretty exciting, it’s a pretty special moment, because he’s turning into a special horse.
We had originally bought him as a sales horse so we were going to sell him as a junior/young rider horse, and I started bringing him along and it was like oh wait a second here, I think we should hold on to this one for a little while! He’s still a young horse so he’s got a lot of years left in him.
Like this story? We’re featuring lots of GAIG/USEF Regional winners on www.coth.com—including a neurosurgeon amateur’s bittersweet win, how North Forks Cardi helped his amateur rider overcome nerves, and more. Read about them all!