He and his unusual partner worked their way to a USDF gold medal.
When Patrick Marley first laid eyes upon Honey Bright Dream, a Quarter Horse mare, he wasn’t overly impressed.
The 7-year-old was overweight, scraggly, and hadn’t known anything but life in a field for four years. From those unglamorous beginnings in 2002, Marley has molded the diminutive Honey into a svelte Grand Prix horse, and together they achieved their U.S. Dressage Federation gold medal in 2008.
“I started showing her for her previous owner in June of 2003,” said Marley. “I knew the minute I first took her in the ring that I had to have her. She was so rideable, and I totally clicked with her.”
Honey (Buzzie Red Bars—De Hobo) moved to Marley’s farm in Burlington, N.C., in late 2003, and Marley purchased her in April of 2004 after showing her at second level on back-to-back weekends.
“The first weekend was a disaster,” Marley said with a laugh. “I think she took it personally that she was being judged by someone sitting in a car. She was having a basic temper tantrum. The following weekend we got a 65 [percent] and change, and I couldn’t not have her at that point.”
Honey and Patrick moved up the levels with ease, tackling third level in the fall of 2004 and fourth level in April of 2005. They made their FEI debut in 2006 and won the USDF All-Breeds Award at Prix St. Georges that year. In 2007 the pair found more achievements at Intermediaire I, winning the All-Breeds Award again, as well as the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association Intermediaire I Horse of the Year title.
Making A Move Upward
At that point, Marley realized that he was going to need help getting the mare to Grand Prix. In addition to occasional training with Jessica Ransehousen, he’s worked with Tami Batts of Fellowship Farm in Greensboro, N.C., for the past two years.
“Tami is the reason this horse went Grand Prix,” Marley said. “Tami took us from a place that wasn’t so pretty and gave us light at the end of the tunnel. Her generosity, training, the love and time she has taken really helped us get there. The journey had been easy, but Grand Prix took a long time to settle in. Everything comes at you so quickly, and I hadn’t done the level before, and it floored us. It’s been a rollercoaster.”
Batts said Marley and Honey were doing Intermediaire well when she started working with them. “The mare was very talented and tried hard, but being a Quarter Horse, her gaits were very small and short, so getting any type of brilliance was difficult,” she said. “Patrick was determined. He really likes to show, and one of the biggest things we’ve been working on is to get out of the ‘I’ve just got to show’ type of training and working on the relaxation and flow from one thing to another.”
Marley and Batts spent a year solidifying the movements of the Grand Prix tests, and while Honey caught on quickly to the passage and piaffe, her tempi-changes proved to be the most challenging part of her training.
“Her changes were there, but very short,” said Batts. “If you didn’t take a minute to get to know her and get a feel for how she went, you might have thought she was together behind on all the changes, but that’s just how she moved.”
Marley and Honey made their Grand Prix debut in August of 2008, where they scored a 60.83 percent, earning their first qualifying gold-medal score. They achieved their final score in September, a 63.13 percent. And in May they won a division of Grand Prix at Dressage In The Sandhills (N.C.) with a 65.74 percent in front of judge Lilo Fore.
“I’m always trying to make the extensions more expressive and more correct,” said Marley. “I would like to eventually add the freestyle and Special, but I really want to get her more confident in the show arena and continue to create the harmony. That’s what we’re about, the connection and the harmony. It’s about making her happier in the ring and giving her more confidence where she’s able to really show off all the good qualities that she has.”
The UN Of Horses
Marley was 12 when a friend began taking riding lessons. Marley joined in, wanting to jump at that point, and his passion slowly evolved toward the dressage ring.
“My love of dressage just naturally evolved from horse to horse, person to person,” Marley said. “For a while I just sort of rode anything and everything.”
He now owns a six-stall barn in Burlington, N.C., where he teaches and trains along with giving clinics. He has also been the head coach of the Elon University’s Intercollegiate Dressage Team since 2001.
Marley said that being involved in Elon’s program has opened up opportunities for him to ride many different horses for his students.
“My barn is like a UN of horses,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve got everything—Arabians, Friesians, Hanoverians, Quarter Horses, you name it. We pull up to a show and everything comes out with us.
“I want to put happy horses and riders together,” he continued. “I don’t have any set belief system, I just do what works. I try to treat each horse as an individual and try to meet their needs and what they want to do. I don’t do anything different or special. I just try to do good, solid horse training as correctly as I can.”
Naysayers And Doubters
Although she isn’t one of the warmbloods that dominate the sport, Honey has plenty of supporters, said Marley.
“If there have been doubters, I’ve never taken them seriously,” he said. “I’ve never looked at Honey as a Quarter Horse. I’ve never had a horse like her.”
Marley said he has only rarely thought he was being judged unfairly because of Honey’s breed. “I would say that 95 percent of the judges have judged fairly,” he said. “But I have to work three times harder on this horse than any other competitor. My piaffe can’t be just a piaffe. My horse has to put in 120 percent extra to get a 7.”
Marley hasn’t let anyone who doubts his mare’s ability affect his riding. “I had one person who point blank told me it was time to put her away,” he said. “I thought it was really interesting then to get that score from Lilo Fore and underline that she appreciated the willing attitude and that this level can only be achieved by correct schooling. I knew then it was not time to put her away.”
Now that Honey knows what will be asked of her, however, Marley has to focus on keeping her relaxed in the show ring.
“She’s an interesting horse because if I can get her super relaxed and loose then the whole test is a highlight,” he said. “You really can’t not give it good marks if everything is there. If there are mistakes, it’s me, not the horse. She’s pretty reliable. She’ll do whatever you ask, and she’s completely willing.”
A Love Affair
For Marley, the show ring accomplishments are the icing on the cake when it comes to the relationship he has with Honey.
“We go through a love affair nine months of the year,” Marley said with a laugh. “Then we go through two weeks, I don’t know if it’s her being a mare, or just her letting me know that she still has four legs and she is still in control. That’s usually when the rearing and the spinning kicks in. But then we go back to nine months of loving each other.”
Marley said that Honey is a sweet and respectful horse, but she has a shy side. While she enjoys being worked, she doesn’t necessarily care for turnout, protesting if there’s any chance of inclement weather.
“She takes it personally when she has a day off,” he said. “She’s a bit of a queen. If I ride something before her it’s also taken a little personally. I’m not allowed to teach before I ride her, either.”
When Marley has finished his career with Honey, he hopes to pass her on to one of his students to help him or her attain their goals. But he isn’t quite done with her yet and is grateful for the experiences she has brought him.
“When my life has hit rock bottom, the one thing that kept me going was this horse,” Marley said. “She owes me nothing. If she decides she doesn’t want to piaffe and passage anymore, that’s fine. There will never be another horse who has given me what she has.”