It’s not often that a judge returns the salute of a competitor in the dressage ring.
But that’s exactly what happened when Eric Grimm rode in his first-ever dressage competition.
“It was in 1990 or 1991, and [Maj.] Gen. [Jonathan] Burton was the judge, the first judge I rode under at a recognized show,” Grimm recalled. “It’s kind of cool because I was in uniform, and he stood up, and he snapped a really good return salute when I saluted him before beginning my test.”
At the time, Grimm was 30 years old and just eight years into what would become a total of almost 30 years in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer. He’d taken after his father, who served as a Marine in the Korean War in the early 1950s before transferring to the Air Force for continued military service.
“My dad was stationed in Germany in the 1960s,” he said. “And when he moved back to Massachusetts in 1965, and I was 5 years old, I got my first pony.”
For the next decade, Grimm, now 62, was hooked on hunters and jumpers, growing up in different cities. His father became a commercial airline pilot, which kept the family on the move. He only stopped riding once he left for college at the University of Maryland, where he entered the school’s ROTC program and eventually earned his Army commission in 1982.
But he’d known he wanted a future in dressage before he’d joined the Army.
“Until I went to college, I showed hunters and jumpers,” he said. “And then in my senior year in high school, we were at a night-time horse show, it was 11:30 at night, under the lights, and my horse quit dirty in the second element in a one-stride, and I went right over his head. And I said, ‘I’m done with this jumping crap.’ ”
Luckily for Grimm, his future wife, Faith, would get him back in the saddle—albeit a dressage saddle. And in an especially odd twist of fate, their parents had been longtime friends. But except for one get-together when both were infants, the two didn’t meet until she was in college.
“My first pair of riding boots, my first show coat were his cast-offs,” Faith said. “But I’d never met him.”
“I’m one of those girls that never had dolls. I had toy horses,” she said of her childhood in Evanston, Illinois.
Like Eric, Faith, 61, began riding at just 5 years old, and the sport soon turned into a serious pursuit. She found one of the rare four-year degrees in equestrian sciences available at the time, and enrolled in Ohio’s Lake Erie College to pursue a formal dressage trainer education.
Unfortunately, the horse she’d brought to college wasn’t working out well. So Faith called a woman with a reputation for finding good horses—Eric’s mother.
“I spent a couple months with his mother riding and looking for a horse. Eric was away at jump school [military parachute training], and probably about a month before I was supposed to go home, Eric comes back from jump school, wearing his burgundy beret and his uniform and stuff,” she said. “We started hanging out and doing all of that. And that was a lot of fun.”
The couple married in 1986.
Faith was just the woman for their often-impossible combination of lifestyles—active-duty military and horses.
Throughout Eric’s Army career, Faith taught dressage lessons, and sometimes hunters, on various Army bases.
“I kept doing the horses as much as I could on the side,” Faith said of her time training on military bases during Eric’s service. “I supported the horses for the most part; I earned enough teaching and training to pay all the horse bills, but we never had the money to go buy a competition horse. We always talked about it, you know.”
From The Service To The Sandbox
Eric retired from the Army in 2011, and the couple settled in California, an area they already were well-acquainted with from their time in the military. Ft. Ord, near Monterey, was one of their first duty stations, and over the next few decades, between relocating to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and Ft. Benning, Georgia, the Grimms often returned to California. Eric served in leadership roles at an Army Division Headquarters just south of Los Angeles, an infantry brigade near San Diego, and at the 40th Division at Los Alamitos, in Orange County.
After leaving the Army, Eric spent the next decade in hotel management, putting his military leadership skills to work, while Faith focused on building her dressage business. In 2015, they built a barn together—only to see it destroyed two years later in the Canyon Fire, one of several devastating wildfires to hit California that year.
“We enclosed it, did the stalls, the tack room, everything,” Faith recalled. “And that fire came in, and within an hour and a half, everything was gone. There were 175 horses at the facility, and we got all of them off in under two hours. At the end, people were just grabbing four, five, six horses and walking them out. And civilians, non-horsey people, were parking on the streets and taking horses from people, and walking them across two six-lane roads to get to the local grocery store, where we were staging. Nobody got hurt, no horses got hurt, but the entire stables was destroyed.”
Rebuilding Toward Grand Prix
For the next five years, they rode, and Faith taught at different facilities. Soon, however, they’ll begin construction on a new barn not far from their current home in Orange County. Eric is overseeing construction permits, planning for their new barn and helping Faith around the barn while she balances teaching her students with training with participating in the USDF L Program, her first step in becoming a judge.
“Now, I don’t do anything except ride horses,” he said. “I wake up, have breakfast, go to the farm and spend all day there, then come home and go to bed.”
Eric previously gained small tour experience on the couple’s homebred Remise (Riverman—Senzanome, Meistersinger), grandson to a Trakehner mare the two had started their small breeding program with in the mid-1990s. In 2020, they earned the California Dressage Society’s Horse of the Year award for the Intermediaire I adult amateur division, with a 66.02%. While Remise is now 18 and semi-retired, Eric also has Carlos Ramirez, a horse the couple imported just before the fire, with whom he hopes to make his Grand Prix debut later this year.
Eric jokingly says he stole “Carlos,” a 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Cardenio—Ronja Ramirez), from his wife. The couple purchased the gelding in the Netherlands in 2016, to be Faith’s first high-level competition horse with the goal of achieving Grand Prix together. A serendipitous property sale had provided a windfall that allowed Faith and Eric to purchase such a horse after years of breeding and bringing along their own youngsters.
“We’d bred some horses over the years that were super nice, and I rode clients’ horses and stuff, but we never really had a horse where we could say, ‘OK, here’s your shot,’ ” Faith said.
But over time it became clear that Carlos was a better match for Eric.
“We showed, and we were getting 70 percents in Intermediaire 1,” Faith said of her three years riding Carlos before Eric took the reins in 2020. “But he was a bit of a difficult horse for me to ride. Then we sold our property and made money on it. We had been sharing Carlos, and Carlos was much happier with Eric. We found out that he’d been started by a man and spent most of his life in training with a man. We were successful, but once Eric started riding, he was much happier with Eric.”
Faith was able to purchase a new upper-level horse, Don Juan, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Vivaldi—Ferlia), in 2021, with whom she has started competing in Intermediaire II, while Eric campaigns Carlos. Last year, Eric placed second in the CDS Annual Championship Show adult amateur Intermediaire I with a score of 64.11%. And more recently, Eric and Carlos took first place in the adult amateur Prix St. Georges at the Dressage At Southern California Equestrian Center Horse Show in April, scoring 66.91%.
And while there are some qualities from a life in the military that carry over to success in the dressage ring—namely, Eric said, the precision and exactitude required to be a skilled artillery officer and a skilled dressage rider—there are some things that horses and marriage alone have taught and are still teaching him: patience, in particular.
“Our marriage survived the Army, it survived the deployment to Afghanistan and multiple training missions around the world, and now [with Faith] being in my coach,” he said. “I’m not very patient normally—I wasn’t very patient in the military—but you learn patience with a horse.”