Friday, May. 24, 2024

Courtney King-Dye Is Ready For The Next Phase Of Her Road To The Olympics

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Hong Kong in 2008.

For the past six to eight months, I have done everything I could to be as prepared as possible. We’ve tried to
make all the right decisions, and I feel pretty good. The horses are both very fit and going well. Now we have to bubble wrap them and get them to the show.


In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Hong Kong in 2008.

For the past six to eight months, I have done everything I could to be as prepared as possible. We’ve tried to
make all the right decisions, and I feel pretty good. The horses are both very fit and going well. Now we have to bubble wrap them and get them to the show.

Klaus [Balkenhol, the U.S. Dressage Team coach] was very involved in [the decision to take Idocus to the FEI World Cup Final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, March 27-29.] He thought I should do the World Cup with Idocus because we both thought Myth would be the stronger contender for the Olympics, especially with Idocus getting older. That may still be the case, but Idy has certainly surprised me by how great he is feeling.

I knew Idocus would have to go through a breeding season before the selection trial, and breeding is generally very tough on him. But he’s been brilliant through this whole season. They came up with a method that made the breeding much easier on him. He hasn’t taken a step back. He’s so fit. He’s lost 150 pounds. I was expecting him to take a downward turn with the breeding, but he didn’t. Actually, he’s better now than he was at the World Cup.
I feel a lot more confident [after the World Cup]. I’ve shown Idocus in Europe several times now, and I never broke into the 70s in the Grand Prix. I think he still had a reputation, and they had some preconceived notions about him. Over the past two years he’s gotten better and better. It was really great for me to go in front of the judges in Holland and get over 70 percent in the World Cup Grand Prix.
It seems that maybe now Idocus has earned their respect. He still has to put in a darn clean test, but they will give him the scores which, makes me feel better about the possibility of having him as a team horse.
The triple pirouette mistake—I would’ve expected that I’d let that get to me a whole lot more. [King-Dye mistakenly performed a triple pirouette in her freestyle at the World Cup, which dropped her to last place since the movement is illegal.] But I really learned from that mistake. I know I won’t make it again. It doesn’t affect my confidence in a negative way. It makes me feel more confident that I won’t be so stupid.

One Last Practice Run


I went to the [ESDCTA Memorial Weekend show, May 23-25] to get in the ring and practice once more. Although I initially planned to take only Mythilus in order to get feedback on his freestyle, I did end up showing Idy as well. I got excellent feedback from Cara Whitham and Axel Steiner to help me improve
my freestyle.

Marlene Whitaker has been working with me [on Mythilus’ freestyle,] and she has been fantastic with all of my nitpicking little details. It’s based around a Cat Stevens song that I love, “Sad Lisa.” It has a beautiful instrumental part in that song. That was the first piece, and she found all the other music to fit with that. To me the word for it is enchanting.
Both Axel and Cara said it needs more drama. It’s beautiful, but I think what happens is that when I listen to it in my car with a really good sound system, the music is so clear and the emotions take you up and down. I think it’s understated. I need to change it to have some bolder crescendos. Marlene has been great about making it the best that we can. We’ve got a month to work on it, which is a ton of time.
When we came back from Germany [in January], Myth, who is a very sound, healthy horse, was just feeling deflated. He’d never felt that way before. We couldn’t find anything really wrong with him. That weighed on me. The vet came all the time, and there was nothing wrong. That lasted about six weeks. In the last month of Florida he started getting better and better.
Then, about a month ago, I made a mistake and put shoes on him that he didn’t like at all. He was always in work, but he didn’t feel really good. I lost a couple of weeks of good solid training with him. He could’ve loved the shoes, it could have been great, but it was a risk. Those two things were real downs.
He was very fit and doing his gallops and his hills. Now he’s building back up to that point of real fitness. I’ve been happy with the way he’s going. His piaffe has always been really good, but his passage has gotten much more stabilized, consistent and confident. I can ask him for bigger passage and know that the rhythm will stay there. His rideability has just gotten better and better, and for him the movements themselves are very easy.
I hadn’t shown him since Florida, so it was a good feeling to get back in the ring and feel that everything was right there. The past couple of times he’s shown, he’s been really solid. Both times he’s gone head-to-head with Idocus, he’s beaten him.
They’re such different horses. It’s a question of how they’re going on the weekends and what the judges think of them. I’m really curious to see which one is the stronger candidate. There’s a good chance that neither of them will make it, but just to see who places in front of the other one—at this point I just don’t know.

The Horses Are Just One Piece Of The Puzzle

I’ve been taking the physical part of my preparation seriously. I always like to hand-walk my horses anyway. I hand-walk two or three horses a day. We have lots of big hills at Sunnyfield, so I walk all the way to the top of the big hills with horses. I ride all day and then come home and ride my bike for half an hour to get that cardio fitness that you don’t necessarily get from riding.

Mentally, I’m not too worried; my focus is my strength. I just keep everything in perspective and stay realistic. I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to think of everything that I can to make it easier. Last month, I didn’t do anything but the normal 10 horses that I have in training, and a couple of people that I have commitments to. I didn’t take in anyone new. I tried not to ride more horses than my own to keep that relaxation and not get overworked and stressed. I wanted to have the time to focus on the horses I need to focus on right now.


I learned that lesson after going to Aachen [Germany] last year. I learned it again in Florida. I took on way too much. I said, “I have to pay the bills for being gone in Germany for two months. I really need to work hard.” So I took every lesson and horse. I worked so hard that after two months I really felt it. I wasn’t riding as well. I wasn’t focusing as well. Klaus gave me a lecture to back off. I realized that here I am pursuing this dream, putting everything that I have toward achieving this goal and then running myself into the ground so that I can’t do it well.
Financially, about three weeks ago I had a mini-heart attack thinking about how in the world I would pay for the trip to California [for the selection trials]. I had been saving for the trip to California, but all that money went to the World Cup.
I have this fundraiser that I started for the 2007 World Cup called “Courtney’s Quest.” People contribute money, and I send out journals about all the things that are going on and my thoughts and feelings about everything. If they pay more money, they get four DVDs about all the experiences. Jason [her husband] tapes everything.
I redid that for this year. The response has been incredible. Yesterday, Jason and Lendon [Gray, King-Dye’s mentor and trainer] had a sendoff party for me. It doubled as a fundraising effort. It’s been unbelievable the amount of support. People are sending in $50 or $100 from all over the place.
Myth, his owners pay for. Idocus, I pay for. When you’re looking at being gone for potentially three months, you lose the training on the younger horses. I had to take my young horse Wyoming with me as well. To pay for two horses to California was what I was looking at.

Sometimes I feel like the cell phone commercial where the network is following someone around with hundreds of people to make sure they get good reception all the time. That’s kind of how I feel with the Quest list. It feels really good that I have so many people who care about what I’m doing and are going through the ups and the downs with me.

Renee Issler, who just helped me pay for Idocus’ plane ticket to the World Cup, basically has paid for almost all of Wyoming’s trip out there. She made an incredibly generous contribution just supporting me as a rider, not a particular horse, and it was that help that allowed me to take my own horse with me.
Purina Mills, who has been my feed sponsor for the past year, helped me get the horses on the right diet and constantly checked them to make sure their feed was right and was giving them all the energy and nutrients they needed. They astounded me by giving me $10,000 toward the trip.
If you’d asked me three days ago, I still would have been extremely stressed out. But after that fundraiser, it’s still difficult, but I’m going to be able to do it.
It’s a horrible feeling to always have to ask for money. At least with Courtney’s Quest, they are getting
something in return. They enjoy the journals and the DVDs, and they can really be a part of the adventure. I enjoy writing, and that’s what I went to school for. I like to reflect on things anyway.
You need so much help to organize everything to get there. Jason, my grooms and my owners have been unbelievably supportive. I’m gone potentially eight months out of 12 this year. My clients have been more supportive and accepting of that than I could ever have hoped for.
People, especially the people who have contributed to my efforts, keep saying “I know you’re going to be on the team.” Every time I hear that I kind of cringe.
If I make the team, it’s what I’ve been working my whole life for since I was 9 years old. Of course, I want to make the team. But if I don’t make the team, I’ll be all right. There are a lot of other things that I’ll look forward to doing, and I have plenty more Olympics to go for in the future. But, because everybody’s been so supportive, I don’t want to let them down. That’s the only part that’s hard for me mentally. I really want to validate all of these people’s support and belief in me. I’ll try as hard as I can and that’s all I can do.

On To California

We left May 28. We’re going to Hotel Peters for the month. I’ll be staying with Steffen [Peters in San Diego, Calif.], and the horses will be at his barn. That was a plan I’ve had for several months.

There are definitely many more ups than downs. I’m still pretty new to this international Grand Prix thing, and I feel that as a rider I’ve learned an incredible amount this year. I’m so much more capable. I feel like I can do a better job with my horses, and the horses are reflecting that. That’s a
constant feeling of achievement.

To have the best preparation possible, it’s ideal. I get to watch Steffen ride, and he’s just incredible. I don’t think he’ll have a lot of time to teach me, because he has to do his own preparation. But to be around him and Shannon too [Peters’ wife, who also rides Grand Prix], to be around the best riding possible always rubs off on you. To have help like that right before going in gives me so much more confidence.
I have a laundry list, which I’m trying to keep short, of things that I intend to badger him into helping me with. I’ll have the two Grand Prix horses and Wyoming and Grandioso, who is the PRE stallion owned by Hampton Green Farm. To really focus on those four talented horses will be extremely good preparation for me and for them. I can work on the freestyle and all the details without being torn in so many different directions.
I’m so thankful to them. It’s not easy for somebody as popular as Steffen to clear out four stalls for a month. It just shows the team spirit that’s developing in this country. Debbie [McDonald] also is helpful. We all want the best for the team. 

Courtney King-Dye, as told to Sara Lieser




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