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July 11, 2014

Ringside Chat With Mackinzie Pooley: Learning In Europe

Mackinzie Pooley competed her own Partous at the Rotterdam CDI in the Netherlands. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

After a successful FEI Young Rider career, Mackinzie Pooley stepped into Grand Prix classes in 2013. With Partous, a 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Juventus—Ladyway, Hemmingway) formerly ridden by Pooley’s trainer David Wightman, Pooley won Brentina Cup and FEI U25 Grand Prix classes at the Del Mar CDI*** (Calif.), Capistrano Dressage International CDI (Calif.) and Dressage Getaway (Calif.) this year.

Pooley, 21, is an upcoming senior at the University of San Diego, and she’s spending her summer competing in Europe. At the Rotterdam CDI on June 18-22, she made a splash by placing sixth in the Intermediaire II (66.05%) and 12th in the U25 Grand Prix on 61.95 percent.

The pair is curently competing at the Falsterbo CDI in Sweden, July 10-13. 

What’s your European agenda?

I’ve been over here for about a month now. I came over and went to the Rotterdam CHIO [the Netherlands]. Now I’m at Johann Hinnemann’s farm in Germany. Next week I’m going to the Falsterbo CDI in Sweden.

I’m at Jo’s with a couple of other Americans—Kathleen Raine and Brian Hafner are both here.

Being over here, it’s hard to get invitiations to the shows. It’s kind of a giant waiting game. I got into Rotterdam, which was huge, and then getting into Sweden was really exciting. I couldn’t get an invitation to the Aachen CDIO, which was really disappointing. This year they’re only having teams, so they’re not letting individuals ride, and we don’t have an U25 team yet.

I’ve been trying to come compete here since the last year. It didn’t happen last season, so after the Del Mar CDI*** this spring, we sat down and made a plan with [U.S. Dressage Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover and USEF Developing Dressage Coach Debbie McDonald].

How has Partous handled the travel?

He’s doing really well. He’s 17, but he’s acting 10. He seems really happy here. I’ve been shocked. I keep thinking he needs a day off, but then he doesn’t. If he wasn’t doing well, I wouldn’t send him on the 14-hour trip to Sweden, but he’s doing great. He’s good to go.

What did you learn competing at Rotterdam?

Rotterdam was not the best show I’ve ever had. Partous was actually a little tired for that, and I made a lot of mistakes. The first day I rode first, and the first day was better than the second. The first day I was sixth, and then I was 12th the second. The second day he didn’t have any gas.

But it was a really good learning experience, and it was so great to be there with everyone riding on the team. They were really great and made me feel part of it all. Even though it wasn’t the best show, I think I still learned a bunch. I was there to watch, too, and David was training me there.

When we came home there was a bunch to work on. It’s why I’m here—so I can make these little mistakes and learn from them.

It’s so different competing here. Every aspect of the show is different. I’m learning everything from how to manage my horse at a show like that, to what it’s like when there’s a 10-minute walk to the ring. Then there’s warming up in an indoor with 15 other people. There’s a lot more atmosphere at all the shows here. There were like 200 people watching my class. If there are five at home then I feel pretty popular.

The show was beautiful, and the stadium was amazing. They stopped the horse show to watch a World Cup soccer game. It was much more spectator-friendly in general.  

I thought I would get nervous at Rotterdam, but I didn’t at all. I think doing all those big competitions in the United States and being able to show so often there and going to [the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships] and [USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions in] Gladstone really helped. I think this would have been a huge jump if I hadn’t done those first. I could prove to myself that I could do this.

I’ve never been so excited to get a sixth-placed ribbon. It was my big goal to get a ribbon there.

What have you been working with in your lessons with Jo since Rotterdam?

We’re basically trying to fix everything from Rotterdam!

I struggle with him in canter work sometimes, and I miss the changes, and in Rotterdam we didn’t get the pirouettes. Jo has been great, and every day is getting better.

I’m really excited for Falsterbo because my horse is getting so much more through, and he feels awesome. He’s never felt better to me. Jo is a perfectionist, and that’s really helping me. I call him the finishing polish; he’s making it all better.

How are you spending your free time in Germany?

One day I was lucky enough to get to ride a few other horses.

Brian and Kathleen and I have lessons in the mornings and then we go other places in the afternoons. We’ve gone to watch other shows—a foal show and the German selection for the World Young Horse Dressage Championships. Brian and I drove to Perle [Germany] to watch their CDI and check out all the German team horses. It was so cool to see them all in person.

Everyone here has been so nice. I don’t know what I would do without anyone else. Then barbecue is pretty much an every night thing. It’s a very different pace here. It also doesn’t feel like summer! It’s not really cold, but it doesn’t feel like California either.

What are your plans for the rest of your season and next?

I definitely want to go to the GAIG/USDF Region 7 Championships. I’m sad to have missed Gladstone this year. I’d like to move Partous into the large tour next year. He’s getting older, but he’s still spunky. I also have an 8-year-old, Starlet M, doing Prix St. Georges.

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