In this series, the Chronicle follows multiple riders as they seek to fulfill their World Equestrian Games dreams in Tryon, North Carolina, in 2018. We’ll check in with them in the coming months as they pursue a team spot to see how they’re getting their horses ready and preparing mentally.
Margie Engle’s résumé in the top echelons of the sport goes back decades. She’s competed in 17 FEI World Cup Finals starting in 1988 and has been a member of numerous Nations Cup teams. She rode on the 2000 Sydney Olympic show jumping team and earned a team silver in the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, as well as winning three Pan American Games medals.
Engle got the ride on Royce, the now 14-year-old German-bred Oldenburg stallion (Café Au Lait—Petula, Grandilot) bred by Gestüt Lewitz, in 2012. Since then, they’ve won and placed in numerous five-stars. In this 2018 season, they placed third in the $220,000 Longines FEI Wellington World Cup qualifier at Deeridge Farms (Florida) and won the $500,000 Rolex CSI***** Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida).
You’re always working toward things getting better and better. Royce was nice and fresh starting off this year. He had a couple months off before the season started. It was mainly working on his flatwork, his dressage work, and I’ve been watching and learning at the same time when [Olympic dressage medalist] Lisa [Wilcox] works him. Then I work him mainly on the flat—not much jumping—and trail riding. So he had a nice break. He was ready to go, and he feels probably the best he’s ever felt as far as rideability, and physically and mentally as good as ever over the seven years I’ve had him.
Then unfortunately I got sick—I got mono in the middle of the circuit. I think with all the stress of just a lot of training and riding of other horses at the same time. The season is pretty taxing as far as trying to do everything, and I tend to overdo and try to do too much. Wellington is my hometown, and I have a lot of different clients and horses during this time of year. It’s hard to get enough sleep with everything going on.
So I wasn’t able to show a few weeks, but it actually didn’t hurt him a bit. Lisa kept working him for me. Then he came out nice and fresh at the end, which was almost a blessing in disguise. The classes I did do, he was fantastic. I think he ended up doing three shows in Wellington and was in the ribbons at all the five-stars. And I did one at Deeridge, and he was double clean there. That was a very big course. I just can’t ask much more of him. I’m really enjoying riding him.
Seeing And Tapping Into The Potential
We got him when he was 7. He always had the power and the talent. He was unbelievably scopey. Before I got him, Liubov [Kochetova] was already showing him. I think as a 6-year-old, he did a big grand prix.
He had the sheer power and scope, and he had a huge heart. He jumped the huge jumps very easily. He would jump way up over the jumps. Just the rideability was a little difficult. It’s a work in progress. It’s something we’ll work on the rest of both his and my career. You kind of do with all the horses, but with him especially, it’s taken a long time to get to this level. It’s still something I’m always working on, and he just feels like each year he’s gotten better and better through Lisa’s help.
We’re working on the horses’ flexibility and making them limber and lengthening and shortening and just being more responsive to your aids, which always helps, especially with courses nowadays getting so technical. Not just jumping the jump; you have to have the rideability in between the jumps. So he doesn’t get too bored with jumping, I do some exercises with cavalettis that work on different muscles in their body and work on their core. I try to do a little bit of cross-training, which helps so that you’re not working the same muscles on the horse all the time.
I learn a lot by just watching [especially now with Lisa]. I did from when I was a little kid when I would offer to groom in exchange just to go to the big shows. I remember standing at the warm-up area watching some of the top riders like Rodney Jenkins warm up. You can soak up as much knowledge as you’re willing to just by watching and learning.
Similar To Another Champion
Royce is just a fun horse, even as a pet, which is kind of nice. He’s fun to play around with and interact with it. [Hidden Creek’s] Perin [my 2000 Olympic Games mount] was like that. He reminds of Perin.
Because he was a gelding, Perin was a little bit softer about things. Perin would literally put his head in your lap and just sit there and let you pet him like a dog, like a big Great Dane or a big Lab. Royce is very similar. They’re both were very scopey, very careful. Royce is probably more elastic than Perin was with his technique. But they were both similar, and both of them are just really sweet to be around.
They both have a huge heart too. As long I respect Royce and try to keep him happy and don’t ruin the trust you have between the horse and rider, then I think he’s willing to try to do almost anything for you. It’s kind of the same with Perin. He was so trusting that whatever you asked him, he would give it a shot. In most cases when you have that partnership, as long as we respect the horses properly and don’t do anything to ruin that trust and that bond, they’ll keep giving you as much you can.
Fighting For A Championship Final For Royce
It’s an honor to represent the country, and I’ve always wanted to do it. I don’t really want to go just to go at this point, unless I feel like I have a horse that would be competitive. I think Royce is probably one of the most competitive horses that I have ever had for a championship level. So I would love for him to have the opportunity to go.
He may not be the fastest horse in the world as far as winning a lot of grand prix [classes]. But as far as a horse that has the stamina and the ability to jump many large courses over a short period of time, he’s exceptional at that. He feels like a real championship horse to me. He’s hopefully reaching that level of rideability where he would be very competitive at this point.
I would love for him to have the opportunity to go because I think he deserves it. He’s just an exceptional horse. I would love to for myself too, but I really would for him. I always thought—even when I saw him as a 6-year-old—I thought he had the ability. Just watching his sheer jump, you could see he had the power and the scope and carefulness to be a good horse as long as everything else went well.
There’s always something new to accomplish; there are always new challenges and working with new horses. Once it’s a passion inside you, it’s in your blood—it kind of stays there.
I think as you get older, you realize you want to do it even more. When you’re younger, there’s so much time ahead of you, and you’ve got plenty of time to get there. As you get older you think, “Well my time’s getting shorter. How much time do I have left to do this?” In some ways it makes you yearn for it a little bit more.