On Sept. 25, Lisa Wilcox will put her two Grand Prix horses on a plane bound for Europe—and while that flight will be long, it’ll be just a small part of Wilcox’s journey.
Wilcox last competed for the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where she won team bronze aboard Relevant, and her road back to the very top of the sport has been unfolding ever since. Now with Pikko del Cerro HU, Denzello and the Dressage Foundation’s Anne L. Barlow Ramsay Annual $25,000 Grant, Wilcox will spend her fall contesting CDIs in Europe in preparation for making a bid at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France).
“I've kept my nose to the grindstone, and the time seems to have flown by,” said Wilcox. “I wouldn't have known how long it’s been unless I actually calculate—do the math. I've had many horses over the years, many pieces of interesting clay, so to say, and I've been busy. I'm never bored, but I'm always hoping for that next better piece of clay. I've been so happy to have just one awesome piece of clay, and then the second one comes along, and it’s very, very exciting. This has been well worth the wait.”
While overseas, Wilcox, who was based in Germany full time from 1994 to 2006, will work with longtime trainer Ernst Hoyos. She has CDIs in Odense (Denmark), Lyon (France) and Stuttgart (Germany) on her schedule for both horses. Wilcox is part of a large U.S. contingency competing abroad this year, with new team coach Robert Dover making it a priority for many riders.
“It’s proven itself to be important, competing abroad, and Robert knows that,” said Wilcox, 46. “It’s clever what he’s doing. It’s a very subjective sport. The judges you see every weekend or every other weekend get acquainted with you as a horse/rider combination, and this enables them to develop a more accurate eye for what they are judging. I understand this, so I'm packing up my ponies and my bags to present myself over there.”
Pikko del Cerro HU, a 10-year-old Hanoverian (Pik L—Rohweena, Rohdiamant) stallion owned by Anne Sparks of Horses Unlimited, has been in Wilcox’s barn since 2011, and he was previously ridden by Wilcox’s friend, Denmark’s Mikala Gundersen. With Gundersen aboard, the stallion won the 6-Year-Old Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championship in 2009, before returning to top the USEF National Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Championship with Wilcox in 2011.
Last summer he won the inaugural USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Championship, making him one of the program’s most successful graduates so far. As an added bonus, Pikko del Cerro HU was bred in the United States.
“What we’ve tried to do here in America is duplicate that European young horse program,” said Wilcox. “It’s become very much a tool for marketing horses in Europe, but what we’d like to see is that we’re developing future team horses with it. It gives you guidelines as to where to be and when to be there with training a horse, and we were missing that before. It’s a great navigation system.”
“Cerro” made the jump to Grand Prix CDI competition last winter, winning three CDI Grand Prix classes in Wellington, Fla., early this year. Then, instead of taking him abroad this spring, Wilcox gave the stallion a little rest.
“We’ve just been steadily working through the summer,” she said. “We’re still working, but it’s not all the pressure, and it’s not pushing him from one CDI to another. He’s in tip-top form now.”
Denzello, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding (De Niro—Romina, Rohdiamant) owned by Betty Wells, came to Wilcox about two years ago. Wells wanted Wilcox to campaign the horse, and after one season at the small tour level, Wilcox and Denzello debuted in the Grand Prix this summer with scores up to 71.17 percent.
“Cerro needed to work through the passage, and that took the longest with him,” said Wilcox. “I spent an entire year developing Cerro's passage through the Intermediaire II and Young Horse Grand Prix tests. ‘Dino,’ however, was able to skip the I2 and Developing Grand Prix classes—moving into the Grand Prix directly following the small tour. He’s already getting 8s on his piaffe and passage.
“These two have been the best Grand Prix horses I’ve had since Relevant,” added Wilcox. “I’m thrilled beyond words with both of them. I keep pinching myself.”
Wilcox will return to her home base in Loxahatchee, Fla., before Thanksgiving, and she’ll likely contest several CDIs in Florida in early 2014, working toward the selection trials for the WEG.
“We’re so lucky to have the Florida circuit now,” she said. “The Europeans can go from CDI to CDI, but they have to travel for them. When you think about not having to travel with the horses, it takes a lot of the stress away.”
In the meantime, Wilcox will continue training and enjoying her two Grand Prix mounts, thankful they came along.
“It’s very funny, the two horses I have now, no one ever thought they’d be Grand Prix horses,” she said. “This is where I’m very appreciative of the whole education I received in Europe. It was so worth it. Everyone sees the brilliance now, but it starts with picking up the stone and dusting it off and polishing it. I say to myself, ‘I bet I can make something of this.’ The two jewels I have now are more than I ever dreamed of.”