San Juan Capistrano, Calif.—March 23
As a 7-year-old, Umeeko wasn’t the easiest horse.
“He was pretty fresh as a young horse!” said Michelle Reilly. “We were very patient with him. He never wanted to be bad, but he was hot. He was young and hot. Thank goodness Axel [Steiner] was like, ‘Stick it through. Stick with him.’ ”
As a 13-year-old, Umeeko has not only learned to trust Reilly, but he’s repaying the patience she’s had with him over the years. Today he won the San Juan Capistrano CDI-W Grand Prix Special on a 68.64 percent. It was the first CDI win at any level for Reilly.
“It’s a thrill that the journey has brought us here,” she said. “I was very happy with our test today. He came out really relaxed in the warm-up, and I took lots of walking breaks. I was like, ‘I hope this doesn’t backfire when we go into the test.’ But he was good. Every time I picked him up, he was ready to go.”
Umeeko, a Dutch Warmblood (Goodlord—Otilinda, Jacorde) owned by Reilly’s mother Sharon Roberts, and Reilly finished fourth in yesterday’s Grand Prix.
“Today the relaxation was much better, and I was happy to have a clean test,” said Reilly, 33. “Yesterday I was so bummed we had a mistake in the two tempis because the changes are really very secure for him. Even though the piaffe still has to come along, he was on my aids both days. We’re still building the relationship and strength for that.”
Their win today almost didn’t happen, however. When Reilly was pregnant with her son, Noah, who’s now 11 months old, she strongly considered putting Umeeko on the market.
“I was also horse shopping at the time because I knew I wasn't going to quit riding,” she said. “But I couldn’t find anything better than him at the time for affordable prices.”
So Reilly just kept riding her grey gelding—even hacking around at the walk until about five days before she delivered.
“People know him from here at the shows, and they can’t believe I did that. But he’s a saint at home,” she said. “He never took a wrong step. When I’d stop him at the mounting block to get off, he’d kind of lean over to it so it was easier for me. It was so cute of him.”
Umeeko started in the Grand Prix at national shows in 2012. He’d been competing in Intermediaire I and II tests when Reilly’s Grand Prix horse, Atlantic, sustained an injury.
“I can say this because Umeeko isn’t here right now, but [Atlantic] is the more talented one,” said Reilly, who now rides with Guenter Seidel. “But he’s just surprised us as he’s come along, and he tries so hard. He makes up for not being a huge, extravagant mover by trying so hard.”
And Umeeko doesn’t mind doing double-duty in a different kind of competition as well.
“At our little chapter dressage show last October, they had a costume class. I dressed him up as a unicorn. He had a huge purple glitter horn. He was so cute,” said Reilly, whose non-horsey husband, Kenneth, attended this CDI to help watch Noah, feed Umeeko carrots and take photos.
The pair competed at the Burbank CDI-W in February, and they’ll contest next week’s CDI*** in San Juan Capistrano as well. Reilly is also considering the Del Mar CDI*** (Calif.) in April.
“I did put my application in for [the USEF Dressage] Festival Of Champions,” said Reilly, who runs her Mountain View Dressage out of Encinitas, Calif. “I would love to do it. It would be fun and a good next step for me. We’ll see about Del Mar. He’s getting better in the show ring, so I hate to just go go go. But at the same time, you learn something new every time you go in there.”