Codi Harrison has wanted to make a career with horses since she learned about them.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said the rider, who notched her first senior tour CDI win earlier this year and topped the Grand Prix at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions (Illinois) in late August aboard her own Katholt’s Bossco, a 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Blue Hors Don Schufro—Katholt’s Farceur, Michellino).
The pair’s resume also includes strong results in two appearances at the FEI North American Youth Championships in 2016 and 2017 and their win of the USEF Young Adult “Brentina Cup” at the 2018 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. In July, Harrison and “Bossco” were named to the shortlist for the U.S. Dressage Team at this year’s Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, and in August they earned the Neue Schule/USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship at the Festival of Champions.
“I love the process of taking every horse and trying to make it a little bit better, whether it’s one that’s super talented or one that’s not. It’s so much fun to watch them develop and grow,” said Harrison, 27, who’s based in Wellington, Florida. “I think my worst day as a trainer would be better than my best day in any office job or any other job.”
How did the self-described “very untalented” girl from a non-horsey family in Wichita, Kansas, make her dream of a dressage career a reality? It all comes down to good mentors, a lot of hard work and a very special horse.
Fun With Ponies
From her first leadline pony ride at age 3, Harrison remembered, “I just got the bug so bad.”
Tim and Bonnie Griest, then the owners of Briar Fox Farm in Wichita, told the eager Harrison that riding students had to be at least 6.
“My grandma would be out there three times a month to ask this man to let me take lessons,” Harrison said. “Right when I turned 5, he finally said OK.”
At 9, Harrison got her first pony, Zip Dee Doo Dah, a 13.2-hand black Quarter Horse who bucked her off the first time she got on him and regularly thereafter.
“It was lots of late-night rides with my best friends and backyard bareback pony riding—just the best childhood with horses,” Harrison said. “I think that’s why I never got sick of it or burnt out. We just had so much fun on those ponies.”
Under the influence of the Griests, who had a background in eventing, and their daughter-in-law Katie Griest, Harrison gained experience in hunters, jumpers, eventing and dressage. When she was 12, she found an online ad for Avalon, an 8-year-old Westphalian (Aslan—Koko) mare in Texas.
Hitting The Road
Somehow Harrison convinced her parents, Warner and Renee Harrison, to let her try the horse, and that’s how she connected with Avalon’s owner, trainer Donna Wright.
“She told me I could not have the horse unless I would come back and take lessons with her,” Codi said. The Harrisons found themselves driving their daughter and her new mount on the 16-hour round trip to Texas for a long weekend every six weeks or so.
With regular coaching from the Griests in Wichita and periodic lessons from Wright, Codi started winning at local shows in Kansas and in Oklahoma. In 2011, her parents took on an even longer road trip, all the way to Kentucky, for Codi’s first NAYC.
“That was a big awakening moment,” Codi said. “It was the first time I saw young kids on nice horses with trainers who were … I mean, they came in with freezers for their horses’ ice boots.”
The duo placed 31st in the junior division or, as Codi put it, “dead last.”
With Wright’s encouragement, Codi realized that she needed to look further afield to gain experience. After completing high school online, Codi graduated at 16 and flew to Germany to participate in the “little bronze” riding education program at the Landeslehrstätte Equestrian Sport facility in Vechta.
After the two-week course, Codi traveled on to Stall Ramsbrock, a breeding and sales barn where Wright had connections, for a three-month stint as a working student. As keen as she was, culture shock caught up with her.
“I remember craving Target and IHOP and just really craving the convenience of America,” she said.
But the education proved worth the discomfort as it exposed her to an entirely new world of purpose-bred performance horses for dressage and jumping.
Watching the German system for developing young horses made a strong impression. “Coming from Wichita, where a majority of our horses were Quarter Horses, maybe an Appendix or maybe a warmblood cross,” she said, “it’s just a big difference between young Quarter Horses and baby warmbloods.”
Back home in America at the end of the summer, Codi returned to Wright’s Texas farm, where she spent the next year as a working student. “Even though I learned quite a bit at Ramsbrock, I would have been nowhere without that year with her,” she recalled.
Through twice daily longe-line lessons, Wright focused on developing Codi’s seat.
“It was a long year of many tears,” Codi said. “She was firm, and she was tough, but not only did she shape my riding but really my lifestyle. She was the first one to show me healthy eating habits.”
Progress Makes Perfect
Having sold Avalon before her stint in Germany, Codi leased Poetry In Motion (Traunstein—Depesche, Don Juan), a 19-year-old Hanoverian gelding, to continue her young rider career. “He was so sweet, so great to learn on,” Codi said. “A little stiff but a really good boy.”
In 2013, Codi and “Poet” competed at NAYC in the young rider division. “We didn’t make it into the freestyle, so we were lower down, but we weren’t dead last!” she said.
After that year’s U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, Poet’s lease ended, and Codi decided to take a few classes at a community college alongside teaching lessons and riding client horses. One of those clients introduced Codi to fellow former Wichita resident and Wellington-based dressage trainer Philesha Chandler on a long weekend trip to Florida. Codi was smitten with the equestrian scene in Wellington, and Chandler was impressed with Codi. After her semester at community college ended, Codi headed south to take a working student position with Chandler Dressage.
Several months later, as her job with Chandler was winding down at the end of the winter season in 2014, Codi reached out to several top trainers. That’s how she connected with Lars Petersen, an Olympian for Denmark, and his American wife, Melissa Taylor.
“They emailed me back, ‘Yeah, actually we are looking.’ So I went and met Lars at Global and had a brief interview with him, and that was that,” Codi explained. She ended up working for the couple for five years.
Petersen recalled his first impressions of Codi. “When Codi first came to us, I thought to myself, ‘OK, she’s a very nice girl,’ and we liked her parents. But I was not 100 percent sure she had what it would take to be a trainer, to be honest.”
Codi spent a couple of months working as a groom at Petersen and Taylor’s Legacy Farms. Her first riding assignment was a horse “that no one else wanted to ride,” she said. Slowly, she added more horses to her list, and after a couple of years, was promoted to assistant trainer.
“When she worked at Legacy Farms, she worked her ass off,” said Petersen. “She rode, sometimes, 17 horses in a day.” He attributes Codi’s success to that ferocious work ethic. “She gets up in the morning, she takes care of the horses, she rides. She’s very determined. There’s no, ‘Oh, I’m tired today; let’s skip that one,’ ” he said. “She’s very driven.”
A Perfect Match
Alongside her work at Legacy Farms, Codi began searching for her next partner. She tried a handful of horses, but none of them struck a chord with her. Then Taylor mentioned she was taking a horse-shopping trip to Denmark and asked if Codi wanted to come along. The pair tried 26 horses over three days, but Codi knew that Bossco, then 8, was the one from the moment she sat on him.
“I don’t even think I had trotted off,” she recalled. “There was just something about him. I remember looking down. He was a dark liver chestnut at the time, and his mane was kind of flaxen. Just a kind, kind horse, and I could feel it when I got on.”
She was so smitten, in fact, that Taylor had to remind her to keep a straight face. “ ‘There’s no negotiation if you smile,’ ” Taylor advised.
“Every day, I’m so thankful that that’s the horse that I fell in love with, because I tried a lot of horses that I liked a lot who probably never could have given me what Bossco has given me,” Codi said.
Petersen credited a little bit of luck and Codi’s training with the success story she and Bossco have written together. “When a young rider can buy a horse that can take them from FEI Young Riders to U25 and winning the Brentina Cup to also being successful on the senior tour—that doesn’t happen that often with a horse,” he said.
“Of course, she bought a good horse, but she actually managed to make it even better and on a higher level,” he added.
The pair took some time to build a partnership together, and their first NAYC appearances yielded strong but not podium-worthy individual results. In 2016, Codi and Bossco shared a team bronze medal, but the top individual prizes eluded them.
“I was just so lucky that Lars really put the time into me,” Codi said. “I remember begging him to just get on Bossco to teach him something like the piaffe or the passage, and he rarely got on him. He was the one who made me learn to teach the horse myself.”
Better At Grand Prix
In 2018, the pieces came together, and Codi and Bossco captured the USEF Young Adult “Brentina Cup” National Championship at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions.
Through her journey with Bossco, Codi discovered something surprising. “The horse was a much better Grand Prix horse than he ever was a small tour or young rider horse,” she said.
Although Bossco is “in my eyes, perfect,” Codi explained, he didn’t naturally have the biggest gaits or a lot of lateral suppleness.
“I remember thinking he was never going to make the Prix St. Georges half-pass, which is from the corner to the centerline, let alone a Grand Prix half-pass, which is all the way across in half the ring,” she said.
But when she began teaching Bossco the piaffe and the passage, he started to sit more and push from behind, which freed his shoulders for better reach and improved his suppleness.
“I was lucky that Bossco was pretty talented in the piaffe, and together we struggled through and learned the passage. Now those are some of his highlights,” she said.
Petersen’s coaching through the process helped Codi let go of the idea of looking perfect on the horse, which allowed her to focus more on feel. Then, “everything became a little more loose and a little more supple and more harmonious,” she said.
Codi called her record with Bossco “rare,” noting that she’s not aware of many partnerships that have lasted through the young riders and U25 divisions and into the senior Grand Prix. “It’s so nice to have that with him, to be able to grow with him. He’s starting to get a little up there in age, but so far he’s come out better and better every year,” she said.
Minding Her Business
In 2019, Codi and Bossco went home to Wichita for a break and ended up staying for much of the year. But in December, Wellington’s winter season beckoned. Scrambling to find a spot for Bossco on short notice, Codi snagged a stall in a tent at a farm that was under construction.
Three years (and one global pandemic) later, Flying Cow Equestrian now boasts 12- and 24-stall barns, pastures, an outdoor and a covered arena and other amenities.
“I really got lucky with what the facility turned into,” Codi said. Her own training and coaching business, IDOC Dressage, is based there.
Meanwhile, Petersen and Taylor entered a new chapter in their lives when Petersen was named in January 2022 as general manager of Helgstrand USA, an expansion of Helgstrand Dressage, which also has locations in Denmark and Germany. Petersen commented then that the timing was perfect, since the owner of his previous base, Legacy Farms, was ready to sell that property.
In April 2023, Codi joined Petersen and his team at Helgstrand on a part-time basis, developing four horses for Helgstrand.
“It’s so nice to work out of a really top facility and come in and ride the nice horses and then continue to have my own business outside of it,” Codi said.
In addition to Bossco, she’s developing a 6-year-old mare of her own as well as partnering with Petersen on one of his homebreds, a 3-year-old by Glamourdale.
Although riding 12 horses a day, six days a week, plus teaching and competing, all keeps Codi plenty busy, she finds time for fitness.
“For me, exercise is just such an outlet, where it gives me an hour or an hour and a half a day where I don’t have to think about anything else,” she said.
Through the gym, she’s connected to a group of decidedly non-horsey friends. “It’s a lot of firefighters, police officers, first-responder workers,” Codi said.
In fact, Codi said, if she ever got out of horses, she’d like to try her hand at firefighting as a career. But that’s not likely.
“I’ve known since I was so small that this is what I wanted to do,” she said. “I love teaching and watching riders develop and seeing them have these lightbulb moments with their own horses.”
Out of the hundreds of riders Petersen has worked with through the years, only five or six have persevered to become professional trainers at the highest levels of dressage, Codi among them.
“That doesn’t sound like many, out of hundreds, but it’s still pretty good,” he said.
And of course, Codi loves training horses.
“You get to try to enhance every ability that it has and make it competitive and as good as you can make it,” she said. “It’s a very emotional sport. Sometimes you just can’t help but get your own emotions involved because they’re living animals. It’s not a linear path by any means. But I love every day of it.”
Editor’s note: Andreas Helgstrand is the leader of Global Equestrian Group, which bought The Chronicle of the Horse in 2022.
A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.