Four years ago, Alma Perkins was getting ready for a Century Club ride with her 25-year-old Arabian gelding, Tommitosk. But when “Tommy” passed away shortly before the ride, Perkins had to put her plans on hold.
Fast-forward a few years, and Perkins found another Century Club partner in a ¾ Arabian mare, Charisma. To be eligible for The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club, the combined age of a horse and rider must equal at least 100. When Perkins, 79, realized that she and Charisma, 26, were more than qualified, she started putting together the perfect freestyle.
“Freestyles have always been the attention getters, the audience pleasers,” said Perkins. “If you watch however many classes of first and training level dressage, it’s really boring unless you know what you’re looking at. The music really helps people watching, but most of all it helps the horse and rider to relax.”
Charisma and Perkins, Shreveport, La., performed their freestyle in front of judge Debbie Cinotto on May 5, during a Tri-State Dressage Society schooling show at Holly Hill Farm in Benton, La. The ride was even more meaningful since Cinotto bred both Charisma and another of Perkins’ mounts, Pandora. With the completion of her test, Perkins became the 100th person to perform a Century Club ride.
“It turned out to be really neat. I decided early on that I didn’t want to be competitive,” said Perkins. “I just wanted to do it. You have to have a judge certify you did the test, but I didn’t want my score to be counted. It was a tribute to Debbie too, and I wanted to call attention to her. She played such a big part in developing both of the horses.”
Perkins started riding at summer camps near Baltimore as a child. After moving to Texas, Perkins’ two sons, Jeff and Tom, picked up the sport as well. Though her original interest was trail riding, Alma switched to dressage around 1978. She found the Arabians she’d been using as trail horses also showed an aptitude for the new discipline.
“There wasn’t much dressage in the U.S. around that time,” she said. “Fortunately, Shreveport is in an area where there was a Thoroughbred racetrack. So there were the horses from the track that could be ridden, and people were getting interested in English riding because of them.”
Charisma was first used as a mount for Alma’s grandchildren. “The children loved her, and she was reliable, but when an experienced rider got on her there was another gear. She’s great. Charisma will stay on a loose rein and walk until asked to trot, and she’s worth her weight in gold for that,” said Alma. “But I really started having fun with her. She’s not as dramatic a horse as Tommy, but she’s so good. She was trained to second level, so I could have some fun with her.”
Pandora, a black-and-white pinto also trained to second level, came along a few years later. Alma and a friend, Karen Gordon, made a pas de deux with the two nearly matching mares. “We’re having a lot of fun with that, but it gets harried when you get into the canter,” said Alma.
Gordon is now developing a Cher freestyle for Charisma, and Alma has another goal in mind for Pandora.
“If Pandora and I both survive another two years, we’ll be able to do another Century Club ride,” she said. “As long as I can get on the horse, I’m going to stay with it.”