Amateur Showcase: From Feral Foal To Champion, Young Attorney Grows Her Own Dressage Star

Jan 23, 2023 - 7:57 AM

As a corporate attorney, Haley Barrett Hyska is analytical and deliberate. But when she saw 5-month-old Mi Amora RW, an unhandled foal whose breeder had died, those lawyerly qualities took a back seat to pure emotion.

“I remember walking into the back of the barn and seeing this tiny little baby that looked just like my Zalsa,” Hyska recalled. The resemblance in color and markings between “Mia” and Zalsa, Hyska’s now-18-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding who she’s competed through Intermediaire 1, seemed like a sign. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to have her!’ ”

Trainer Laurie Moore of Grand Rapids, Michigan, urged Hyska to go for it, so she made an offer despite “having zero plan of what I was going to do with her, having no idea of how to raise a young horse at all.”

Now, at 5, the “absolutely feral” baby horse Hyska fell in love with has helped the 31-year-old earn the U.S. Dressage Federation’s 2022 Adult Amateur Training Level Rider of the Year award.

Mi Amora And Zalsa
Haley Barrett Hyska with her matching team of dressage horses, 18-year-old Zalsa, left, and 5-year-old Mi Amora RW. Photo Courtesy Of Haley Barrett Hyska

Bringing Babies Home

Things didn’t always go smoothly for the Detroit-area duo.

“My trainer actually ended up getting [Mia’s stall mate], so I brought both the feral little babies home,” Hyska said. “It was a learning curve. I remember, the first night, not being able to catch them to bring them into their stall for the night, since they were used to being in a stall. Most babies live out in a field, but they were a little different.”

Hyska worried she had made “a huge mistake.” Luckily, she connected with plenty of knowledgeable help to guide her in halter training the two foals and beginning their education. Later on, USDF silver medalist Carrie Wilson took over the ride for Mia’s first show season—which happened to coincide with the lead-up to Hyska’s summer wedding in 2021.

“That allowed me to get married and not worry that she was just sitting around,” Hyska said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team behind her.”

Hyska noted that she did get the mare for cheap, “but the amount of work that I put into her that made her the way that she is, that was the real investment.”

 “You can do it all up front, or you can do it on the installment plan,” Moore added, noting that despite the many unknowns of developing a young horse, taking a chance on Mia has paid off for her client.

A Confidence-Builder From The Start

Aside from her resemblance to her other Dutch Warmblood, Zalsa (Special D—Femke, Zuidhorn), who Hyska calls her “heart horse,” it was Mia’s attitude that first captivated her eventual owner.

“I knew from the moment that I met her, you could just tell, she has always had so much confidence,” Hyska said. “And she’s just level-headed with everything. I mean, she does spook, but she’s not explosive. She’s just given me a ton of my confidence back.”

That confidence had taken some hits over the years with Zalsa. “He’s super-hot and the most emotional horse I think I will ever own,” she said.

Hyska’s experience with the sensitive schoolmaster prepared her for riding a young horse, but at shows she’s found Mia to be a welcome change.

“I can just go into the ring and ride the test,” she said. “I can think about the movements ahead of time because I’m not in survival mode.”

Remote Work, Remote Training

Hyska says her parents, Kim and Mark Barrett, have supported her equestrian adventures since she started riding at age 8. Instead of commuting to an office, Hyska makes the 40-minute drive from the apartment she shares with her husband to her parents’ farm in Metamora each day. From there, she works remotely as Lotus Cars’ only U.S.-based attorney while keeping a close eye on the horses.

“I only work in the barn if they’re sick, and I have to be out there monitoring; then I’ll be in the tack room doing my work, checking on them,” she said. “Other than that, I’m in the house, watching out the window as they are eating away, and I’m slaving away to afford them.”

Most of Hyska’s preparation for the 2022 show season took place in the field at the Barretts’ farm. She had weekly remote lessons using the Pixem technology with Moore, who’s located a couple of hours away.

“My trainer was a little worried about how the steering was going to go during the show season. Thankfully she didn’t say that out loud,” Hyska recalled. ”I wasn’t practicing in a ring with walls, I was just going nonchalantly around in a circle and hoping for the best.”

Over the course of three recognized shows plus the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships (Michigan), Hyska’s hopes became reality: The cumulative scores she and Mia earned were the highest of any amateur partnership. Their seventh-place finish at the U.S. Dressage Finals (Kentucky), Nov. 10-13, was also a thrill, Hyska said.

Mi Amora RW
Hyska and “Mia” competing at the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships, held in September 2022 in Grass Lake, Mich. Diana Hadsall Photography Photo

“My absolute favorite memory from the season was the first time I went down centerline with her,” Hyska said. “I was so nervous, not knowing her very well and not knowing what to think, what she’d be afraid of. And feeling all of her confidence was just so cool.”

Onward And Upward

In addition to continuing Mia’s training, Hyska also sits on the board of her local group membership organization, the All Dressage Association. She helped reinstate the Michigan group’s nonprofit status, which has bolstered its fundraising efforts, and she also presided over an update of its bylaws.

Being involved in the local dressage community, Hyska said, is both fun and rewarding.

“We give awards for USDF and the schooling show circuit,” she said. “It raises awareness of dressage and allows people to get extra recognition for their hard work throughout the year.”

Looking to the future, Moore has no doubt that Hyska and Mia are just getting started.

“Definitely she will take this horse to the FEI,” Moore said. “Mia has an exceptional temperament, and it is truly a perfect match with Haley, because she puts so much time into them. She has them at home and really knows her horses inside and out.”

For her part, Hyska is still basking in the glow of a rewarding first season with her promising mare.

“This is not an easy sport. I feel lucky every time I come out of the ring with some kind of success,” she says. “I’m very grateful and still in disbelief that this show season happened. I look forward to the future with her.”

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