Changing Tack: Lifelong Jumpers Find A New Home In The Dressage Arena

Nov 30, 2022 - 2:57 PM

Keeley Titus grew up riding hunters, jumpers and equitation on the ‘A’ circuit, but when she aged out of the junior division, she found it hard to find her place as an adult amateur. Between expensive shows that required travel she often couldn’t do as she established her career, to the even more expensive horses, Titus found herself searching for something different.

A chance meeting with dressage trainer Polly Schmid, who taught at the Jamaica, Vermont, barn she moved to, put her on the path toward the sport. Today, Titus competes in dressage with Goofy Van Overis, a former grand prix competitor who had been with some of the biggest names in the hunter/jumper world before Titus purchased him a year ago to be her adult jumper. The pair left familiar turf to venture into the sandbox together.

“I was at a loss,” she said. “What do I do? I love showing and competing and setting and working towards goals. How do you do it? I have a good job, but I’m no millionaire. That’s what sold me on dressage. You have your set shows you can qualify for—regionals—and then I thought maybe [U.S. Dressage Finals in] Kentucky could potentially be an option.”

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Lindsay Berreth Photos

It was. Their discipline switch has been successful so far, with the pair qualifying for U.S. Dressage Finals last month in just their first year together. They competed in the adult amateur first level championship at Finals, held Nov. 10-13 in Lexington, Kentucky, and while they didn’t bring home a ribbon, Titus was just happy to be there with “Prince.”

“We were both performing our best, so that’s all you can ask for, especially after driving 16 hours from Vermont,” said Titus, 27.

Prince, a 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Courage) was imported by McLain Ward and then sold to Keely McIntosh to do high level jumpers. When McIntosh decided he’d be more comfortable at a lower level, she sold Prince to Redfield Farm, where he competed in jumpers and equitation with a variety of riders.

Titus met him and got to ride him when she was doing some part-time grooming for a hunter/jumper barn while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

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“I was in love with him immediately,” she said. “He was at Saugerties [New York] at one of the shows. He had such a personality—so cool and so bright—and I’d never had that much power underneath me. I always ride push rides. They told me his lease was up in three months, and I started going more consistently to that barn and riding and trying to figure out if I could be the next person to lease him.”

Titus was eventually able to purchase Prince. She works remotely as an executive assistant, and moved back to her Vermont hometown after working in Manhattan before the pandemic.

She had known Schmid as a child, and after spending more time around the trainer at her new barn, she decided to try dressage. It proved to be a challenge.<

“I had that hunter ride where you’re perched on top with short stirrups and moving separately rather than with the horse,” she said. “I started riding with Polly in September [2021] and started training with her in October.

“I was doing my own thing and realized, why not learn dressage while I’m here,” Titus continued. ““he knew it would be a tough transition, but all winter long I did a lot of walk work with her older clients, then worked my way up. My position was classic hunter rider in a dressage saddle. It took a long time to balance out. I’m still working on it.”

While she hated dressage when she first tried it in 4-H as a child, adult Titus found the many layers to the sport fascinating. It’s been equally fascinating to see how the career change has affected Prince, she said.

“He isn’t young,” she said. “He’s obviously had training in dressage in Europe, but for so long running at jumps, being above the bit, throwing his head up—his muscle development alone is crazy. He’s actually using himself.”

Titus says the dressage comes naturally to Prince, and she’s hoping to continue to move up the levels and learn from him.

“He’s very overdeveloped in his neck, so it’s easy for him to fake it and get behind the vertical, so it’s combating that, and his movement is very quick and bouncy, and he has lots of suspension naturally,” she said. “It was getting him to use his whole body and his back and his core and to engage that so I can actually sit to him. It’s tough. The challenge has been fun.”

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