At the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, there’s a common question bouncing around the rings and barn aisles between the volunteers and competitors: “Have you seen the checkered horse, yet?”
The “checkered horse” is Benedictus WS, or “Ben,” a 9-year-old Hanoverian who made his way from Sherborn, Massachusetts with rider Fie Studnitz Andersen, who runs Equito Dressage. This weekend, the gelding’s gleaming coat is looking more gingham than his usual chestnut.
“I absolutely despise clipping, and so the best way to deal with that is, of course, to do a freehand checkers clip job that makes it take five or six hours to complete,” she said with a laugh.
Rather than continue to hate that task as it was, Andersen turned the chore into an opportunity for creative expression. She borrowed the idea for a small pattern from a friend, then multiplied the pattern across the entire horse.
“There’s an artistic freedom in it,” Andersen said. “When you do it, you don’t look at what you’re clipping away, you try to imagine what you’re leaving behind. So for me at least, it’s a bit of mind gymnastics, and I find it challenging and fun.”
Because the job takes longer than your average trace clip, Andersen is careful to make it a pleasant experience for the horse as well. She broke up the long process over a few days and listened to Ben when he needed a break.
“I like my horses to be happy when I clip; I don’t like to drug them,” she said. “They get under the solarium when it’s a cold day, and we just chip away at it.”
Ben’s personality makes him a good candidate, not just for the involved clipping process, but for all the attention he’s been getting this weekend.
“You couldn’t find a bigger goofball. He’s a comedian.” Andersen said. “And he’s a baby. He wants to be snuggled and to always have a part of his body touching.”
This is Andersen’s third year bringing a horse to the finals with an unconventional clip job, and she says she’s careful to make sure her horses’ coats are within the rules.
“I’m definitely a rule follower,” she said. “But within that a little bit of a renegade, perhaps.”
Andersen’s personal style as a competitor is also bold. She says she dresses to compliment the horse’s coat, and that means changing things up. She laughs, thinking back to the days when riders had to wear all black and white, a standard she longed to rebel against.
“I remember in the beginning when people started wearing dark blue, navy blue, and I go, ‘Oh, that’s so much prettier,’ ” she said. “So that was my color for the longest time: black boots, navy helmet, navy coat.”
Since the rules have loosened up further, she’s graduated from the days of braving navy to something a bit more bold. This year’s show attire includes snakeskin tall boots with a matching helmet and cream coat. Between the snakeskin on her and the checkers on him, Andersen and Ben are turning heads. She’s aware that their look is divisive.
“Some people look and do the up-and-down and kind of make a face, and I’m like, ‘OK, you don’t like it. That’s cool,’ ” she said. “Most people, though, they ask me to stop; they want to take photos; they think Ben is so cool. It’s fun.”
Ben isn’t just cool looking. The gelding, owned by Nan Hermanns, has had a strong year with Andersen since they started their partnership in May, breaking 70% on nearly every test. She’ll show him in Saturday’s open first level championship.
“Since it’s such a new partnership, and we’re still getting to know each other, we’re still getting stronger as a team,” Andersen said. “My hope is to be in the ribbons. You know, it’s one of those things where, if the sun shines just right and everything goes just as it should, we could make top three. But they’re horses, and it doesn’t always go just right. I’d be thrilled to make the ribbons with him.”