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May 6, 2013

Ringside Chat With Sue Blinks

Sue Blinks is back in the ring with Robin Hood after some ups and downs last year. Photo by Sara Lieser.

Sue Blinks first became a household name in the international dressage world with the expressive Flim Flam. Blinks and Flim Flam won team bronze at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games (Spain).

Blinks, 55, and her current Grand Prix partner, Robin Hood, have won CDI Grand Prix classes in California, Quebec and Ontario. Based out of Leatherdale Farm West in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Blinks is a popular clinician and trainer, in addition to her riding duties.

We checked in with Blinks recently to see how she’s enjoying life on the West Coast, what’s next for Robin Hood, and what she learned from Flim Flam. 

What's Robin Hood up to? [The 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding spent most of 2012 on the sidelines but got back into the game with two competitions this spring in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Del Mar, Calif.]

I hadn't competed him, through a comedy of many situations, since the Olympic trials at Gladstone [N.J.] in 2012.

It’s incredible to have an opportunity to ride any Grand Prix horse every day. Yes, he’s been there and done that, but he’s mentally pretty fresh and still seems to love his job. We’re both still learning and trying to make everything that much better every day. I’m hoping to do the National Championships this year.

What are your plans for him next season?

When a horse is 15, you take it every year at a time. I’ll keep asking him what he’s up for and let the chips fall where they will as far as next year. 

How have you helped Robin Hood develop more confidence in his surroundings for the show ring?

I’ve done a lot of desensitization training, which, in a sense, that’s what horse showing is. He needs to get back in the swing of things. And I guess I’ve accepted it as a part of his personality. The few times when that sparkle is gone, I know something is not right, and I miss it. I guess that’s one of the things you learn; I’ve come to terms with it instead of thinking it needs to go away. 

What exciting horses do you have coming up in your barn right now?

I have a really amazing 7-year-old who just had in injury. I showed him last year and had him with me training in Gladstone when I came out east. Now he’s recovering from an injury and will be out for a full year, but that’s an incredible horse that someone else owns.

Then I have a 6-year-old, Collin, I own myself that I bought as a baby. He’s very cool about horse show situations, but he’s immature physically. In that way, he reminds me of Flim Flam—bones tied together with soft tissue and very elastic but sort of painfully disorganized. That’s a project I have with the potential for high quality. I’m also heading off to Europe to look for one more 4- or 5-year-old.

You’ve been on the West Coast since 2005. What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between dressage on the West Coast versus the East Coast?

Obviously, the weather is amazing on the West Coast. The colleagues there are around you—there’s a few of the very, very best out here, and that’s always nice.

What I’m struggling with right now is that we’re really in trouble with the lack of CDIs and World Cup qualifiers. So few organizers are going the CDI or CDI-W route. It’s come to a crisis level out here on the West Coast, and I was unprepared for that and surprised by it.

You’ve had a long relationship with sponsors Doug and Louise Leatherdale. Why do you think that’s worked so well for so many years?

When I moved out there, I thought [my time of being sponsored] was over and that I’d be on my own out here. Then the Leatherdales came along, and that was really wonderful.

I think it’s lasted a long time because Doug and Louise are really wonderful, generous, easy-to-work-together-with people. They’re extremely uncomplicated, generous, lovely and kind, supportive people. That makes it very, very easy. And, luckily for everyone, they’re in a financial situation to be generous.

Beyond that, the bottom line in any of these relationships is a lot of honesty, integrity and making sure that every party involved is getting what they need. For me, it’s important to involve them in the process enough and to offer them what they’re looking for in terms of ownership of international quality horses. I think that these things, when they come and go, it’s because people aren’t nurturing what makes everybody needs to be happy. That’s a two-way street for sure.

I still have a good relationship with Fritz Kundrun [Flim Flam’s owner], and I stayed in his house when I was in Wellington, Fla., for the Global Dressage Forum North America in January. It’s really important to me that everything is solid and good with those relationships.

You had to take some time off last year. Can you talk about that?

I have Graves’ Disease. It can, but doesn’t necessarily, involve some really severe eye complications. I spent basically 2 1/2 years dealing with the symptoms.

It runs its course and does the damage to your eyes, and I had five surgeries to save my vision and tinker with it until it was as good as possible. It’s where it will be now.

Somewhere in there, I also tore my rotator cuff, so I was off horses for six months from that. It’s really nice to be trying to get up and running this year. But, like my doctor said, “It’s not cancer, honey.” When you’re whining about some temporary nuisance, that puts everything in perspective.

I have really good doctors; there’s a world famous dream team based in La Jolla, Calif. I was really lucky on a bunch of different levels to be geographically in a good place for it.

What did you learn from Flim Flam that you still apply to your daily riding?

Everything! It’s a journey; every horse teaches you amazing amounts of things. I’m constantly still discovering, and it doesn’t stop. I assume “till death do we part” with learning and discovering and adding layers of understanding. Flim Flam was a huge part of my education.

How much time do you spend teaching versus riding?

It’s not enough riding time right now. It’s probably 1/3 riding and the rest is teaching. Then there are lots of things that don’t involve riding or teaching; it’s just managing the whole situation and keeping on top of the facility and organizing things. Setting up a really good working environment for the horses, that takes a lot of time and effort. There are 14 stalls there, and right now there are 11 horses there. It’s busy but still nice and private.  

 
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