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November 6, 2013

From Kill Truck To Grand Prix National Championship

"I'm really grateful to have this wonderful horse in my stable," said Candace Platz of PMU rescue and Grand Prix partner Fynn. Photo by Jim Platz.

Often riders use the phrase, “a dream come true,” to describe their equestrian exploits or victories. Not Candace Platz. When she canters down centerline for her Grand Prix test at the U.S. Dressage Finals aboard PMU rescue Fynn, she’ll be experiencing an entirely different sensation.

“I can’t say it’s a dream come true,” said Platz. “This dream wouldn’t have occurred to me.”

Platz is contesting the adult amateur Grand Prix championship at the U.S. Dressage Finals, Nov. 8-10 in Lexington, Ky., after qualifying through winning her division at the USDF/GAIG Region 8 Championship (N.Y.). Even more impressive, Platz is in her first year competing at Grand Prix, and Fynn is only 9.

Oh, and he wasn’t bred for the sport at all.

That’s My Horse!

Fynn, a draft cross who’s registered with the U.S. Equestrian Federation as an American Warmblood, was bred as part of a pregnant mare urine collection process to produce the drug Premarin, and he was rescued from Canada by Adaire Hiestand in 2004 as a foal. He’d been bound for a kill truck shortly before Hiestand chose him based on his picture online.

After Hiestand raised and backed Fynn, the gelding spent a short time as a children’s camp horse. When he was 5, dressage rider Karri McFadden took him for a spin, and she was shocked at how quickly he picked up new skills.

“She couldn’t get him to canter at all in one direction, so she took him to a clinic,” said Platz. “The clinician said, ‘See if you can get him to do a flying change to that lead.’ He did, and then within three years he was a Grand Prix horse. He shouldn’t exist, but exist he does.”

McFadden bought Fynn and then showed him in training, first and second levels in 2009, before moving up to third level in 2010, Prix St. Georges in 2011 and Grand Prix in 2012. Within two competitions, Fynn earned McFadden the scores she needed for her U.S. Dressage Federation gold medal. She then started seeking a new home for the 15.3-hand gelding.

“I was looking for a small Grand Prix horse, and Michelle Gibson told me about him,” said Platz. “Karri sent me a picture of him, and the picture wasn’t of piaffe or passage, it was the horse laying in his stall with his head in her lap. I was like, ‘That’s my horse!’ I didn’t take anyone with me to look at him. I saw him and rode him for five minutes, and I said, ‘Sold.’

“It was exciting to me that his breeding isn’t traditional,” she continued. “It’s not like I’m trying to prove something by riding an untraditional horse—and if he wasn’t able to do it, they wouldn’t give him the scores—but it just made me laugh. I want to ride with my brain and my heart, and I want horses that reward that. I think it’s fun to do things in unexpected ways. I love when life is unusual and creative. Having such an unconventional horse, I was like, ‘This horse is born for me.’ ”

Second Chances Don’t Always Come

Platz brought Fynn home to her Poland, Maine, farm last September, but the horse stepped on one of his shoe clips shortly after and then spent nearly four months laid up because of that injury.

Platz traveled to Florida in January to ride with trainer Ruth Hogan-Poulsen.

“We didn’t compete at all in Florida,” said Platz. “I rode in an average of four to five lessons a day, though of course not just on Fynn. I’ve never ridden Grand Prix, and I knew I really needed to have Ruth deconstruct my riding and put it back together.”

Fynn and Platz competed together for the first time at the GMHA June (Vt.) competition.

“I took him out just to get our feet wet, but he earned me my first two scores for my [USDF] gold medal in our first two rides together,” she said. “The horse doesn’t have a hole in him. There’s not anything where I’m like, ‘We really can’t do that, but we’ll fake our way through.’ The hardest thing for me is the mental agility and focus it takes to be really present and not get distracted by fear or worry. It’s hard to really stay present and ride with heart but then not to allow emotion or judgment of myself or my horse distract me from the task.”

The pair quickly qualified for their regional championship, where Fynn and Platz won the adult amateur Grand Prix title, earning them a ticket to Kentucky. But even with that ticket in her hand, Platz wasn’t sure she’d make the trip.

“I said, ‘We’re not planning to go to Kentucky.’ I was like, ‘Next year when we’re better, we can go. He’s still young, and he’s still developing, and I’ll do so much better when I know more.’ And my husband said, ‘Are you nuts?’ Being an equine veterinarian, I know how fragile life is, and how second chances don’t always come. So we decided to go.”

After a nearly 24-hour trip with a professional hauler, Fynn arrived in Kentucky on Nov. 4 and quickly settled in. The pair will do their championship class today, Nov. 8.

“The thing that’s so important to understand is that when you watch a horse go down centerline at Grand Prix, it’s not just a horse going down centerline at Grand Prix,” said Platz. “It’s a whole community of people who made the experience possible. It’s profoundly humbling. You think, ‘When I finally get there, I’ll feel so great.’ But really what you feel is grateful.” 

 
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