Three years ago, Krista Spencer was a training level dressage rider, and Take Over was a university-owned Grand Prix schoolmaster with a bolting problem who wouldn’t pass a vet check. Now? They’re a definite team, with a trip to the Adequan North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Ky.) and a recent USDF/GAIG Regional Championship FEI Young Rider title to their names.
Take Over, a 20-year-old Danish Warmblood (Rambo—Tenna, Aleksander) gelding, was donated to William Woods University (Mo.) when he was 17. He’d competed through Intermediaire I with previous owner Gail Tasch, and he’d schooled all of the Grand Prix work. When he arrived, William Woods dressage instructor Karen Pautz knew who’d suit him perfectly.
“My job is to find students who benefit the horse and horses who benefit the students,” said Pautz. “I knew Krista could handle ‘Tigger.’ At that point, I had no ambitions for him to keep moving up the levels or go to Young Riders, but Krista just clicked with him.”
Spencer had been riding a different horse, but that mount turned out to not be the best fit for William Woods because of some soundness issues. Though she’d arrived at William Woods with a background in hunters and jumpers, intending to focus on those disciplines, she was placed in a dressage class her first semester and ended up hooked on the new discipline.
“The horse I’d been riding was kind of a fireball, and between when he left and Tigger came, I’d just been riding some other school horses in classes,” said Spencer, Naperville, Ill. “When Tigger was donated, they said he had a bit of a bolt or spook. I got on him, and then I never stopped riding him.”
In the William Woods dressage program, the upper level horses are “projected” with just one rider. Pautz likes to match them for at least one semester, but in instances like Spencer’s, the partnership can last a lot longer.
“I don’t normally leave a horse with a rider for years, but for the upper level horses, I like to have one person on them,” she said. “It keeps the horses saner if they have some consistency. If you have a different rider on the horse every week, they get confused or dull or unhappy.”
Spencer, 21, started figuring out Tigger’s buttons, but she’d initially push some of the higher level ones inadvertently.
“When I was learning to ride him, he’d throw in a lot of flying changes. We did one-tempis on our first training level test,” she said. “But he gives 100 percent, and that’s what makes him such a good teacher. If you ask even kind of right for something, he’ll give it to you at least a little bit.”
The pair started competing at training level together, then first level, then they went straight to third level from there based on the strength of Tigger’s flying changes. But it wasn’t until a Platinum Performance/USDF Junior/Young Rider clinic with Jan Ebeling last December that Spencer or Pautz considered a bid for the 2013 NAJYRC.
“I’d never really even heard of Young Riders before that,” said Spencer. “The Region 4 Chef d’ Equipe Nancy Gorton approached me at the clinic, and I was like, ‘I can’t do Young Riders on a school horse.’ We just thought of it as a far-fetched idea, but I started discussing it with Karen. She was like, ‘Well, Tigger’s soundness and happiness come first,’ especially since he’s older. But we decided to try and go for it on a show-by-show basis.”
Early this season they started in the Prix St. Georges and FEI Young Rider tests, and Spencer qualified for the Region 4 NAJYRC team. But once the pair arrived in Kentucky, things didn’t go quite to plan.
“During the first jog, he was a bit stiff, and we were held for re-inspection,” said Spencer. “In the past, if he’s stiff, he gets a lot better after a canter. The vet was super, super nice, and he said he’d come see him early in the morning after I’d had a chance to ride him a bit. But after we cantered, he still felt stiff, so we withdrew him right away. But we still got to school in the Rolex Stadium, and that was the coolest thing ever. Even though we withdrew, I was like, ‘We made it here on a donated horse,’ so that was really exciting.”
Spencer received the NAJYRC Style Award for dressage, thanks to her sportsmanship. They also journeyed to the USDF/GAIG Region 4 Championships, Oct. 11-13 in Lake St. Louis, Mo. There they won the FEI Young Rider title on a 66.84 percent.
“He’s really good at everything because he’s a schoolmaster, but at the end of the test, there’s an extended canter across the diagonal before going down centerline,” said Spencer. “He gets so excited about that part. His ears go forward, and it’s his favorite movement. I always try to get him back for the centerline, but it never works. This time, in the corner, I was like, ‘OK, focus and half-halt,’ and he came back. It’s so nice we got to the point where we could work together like that.”
Though she’s graduating next spring and leaving Tigger behind, Spencer joked that she hopes Pautz will let the gelding retire with her when he’s ready.
“None of this would have been possible without him or Karen,” she said. “I’m so grateful to both of them.”
“I’m so glad Krista could win Regionals as a pay-off for all of her hard work,” said Pautz. “She has a lot of talent, but she doesn’t have that kind of ambition that gets in your way as a rider. It was just fun and exciting for her to move up the levels with Tigger. We get a lot of these older horses who maybe can't mantain at the level they're at. I have the luxury of dropping them down a bit so they're comfortable, but they can still teach these riders a whole lot.”