When Jessica Fussner first laid eyes on I’ve Been Ripped ++//, she couldn't have dreamed she’d be cantering down centerline with him, let alone at the FEI levels. But 14 years later, Fussner’s earned her U.S. Dressage Federation bronze and silver medals aboard the Arabian-Paint cross, and she’s set on achieving gold.
Fussner first met “Rip” when he was a foal. Her aunt bred him, and Fussner's family bought him as a 2-year-old. She'd grown up competing Arabians in breed shows, so naturally began training and showing Rip with that focus in mind.
They competed in hunter pleasure and jumping, western and saddle seat classes until Fussner, Caseyville, Ill., was bitten by the dressage bug four years ago.
“We were told at first that he might not make it up the levels,” Fussner said. “He just really started to try. I feel like in dressage, you start to get more connected with your horse than you do in pleasure. He really started to enjoy it, and the more and more we did it, the better he got.”
With the help of her trainers, Martin Kuhn and Kate Fleming-Kuhn, Fussner and Rip progressed through the levels while continuing to compete at Arabian breed shows.
“He’s very talented and very smart and loves to work,” said Fussner, 26. “For him, at first, changes were very hard. We had moments we were taking off, bolting, kicking out. Now that he gets them, they’re easy. The piaffe is probably his favorite thing to do. He picked up on that very quickly.”
Fussner enjoys the challenge of competing Rip (Shennendoahs Pride—Roscza Sadon) in recognized dressage shows to see how her mount sizes up to the horses who were bred for the sport.
“It’s definitely much harder because he’s not your big, extravagant warmblood,” she said. “He loves to show off. I just think [Arabians are] beautiful the way they move. All of mine really love to show what they have. Under the right person, they really make awesome dressage horses. I feel that the warmbloods are a little easier. They want to come over their backs and go out to the bit. With the Arabians, it definitely takes a lot more convincing.”
This fall, Fussner and Rip finished seventh in the GAIG/USDF Region 4 Open Prix St. Georges Championship (Mo.) and won the Prix St. Georges championship and the fourth level reserve championship at the Arabian and Half-Arabian Sport Horse Nationals (Va.).
Fussner teaches at her family’s Grand Paradise Ranch, where she works with mainly beginner riders, but she continues riding other Arabians in dressage, including TT Ebony Lace, who’s currently at fourth level. She’s also pursuing her USDF trainer certification.
Fussner plans to compete at Intermediaire I and II next year, and she hopes to take Rip to the Grand Prix level by 2015.
“He was the first horse I started all on my own,” she said. “He just has an awesome personality. ‘I want to be in your pocket, I want you to love on me, I want you to do everything.’ This year has just been one really great year, and I hope next year is just as good.”
Jessica Fussner and I’ve Been Ripped ++// are part of our series on untraditional horses thriving in dressage. Have an example of a horse you think deserves to be featured? Email your idea to Lisa@chronofhorse.com