The pony that Linden Thompson brought to the 2023 U.S. Dressage Finals, who held his own in a field of big warmbloods to take third in Friday’s adult amateur Intermediaire I championship, is a far cry from the Craigslist pony that she first brought home 11 years ago.
When the Denver-based rider first came across N’Tempo SSH1’s ad, the then 3-year-old Haflinger was being rehomed because he was too much horse for his owner. The 14.1-hand pony, “Beau,” had a reputation for using his driving-breed genetics to bulldoze through his handlers’ cues.
“His party trick at that point was to take you dirt skiing when you tried to longe him,” Thompson said. “The woman who showed him to me, she was going to longe him in her little arena, and he pulled her into the dirt face-first. I’m like, ‘Can we free longe him?’ ”
Thompson was just getting back into dressage after years away as a young adult, when the expense of horses, along with a college athletics career, pulled her away from horses. Thompson laughs when she remembers her non-horsey husband’s naive agreement at the start of her horse search.
“Funnily enough, my husband was like, ‘Yeah, you can have a horse if you can find a free one,’ ” she said.
But against the odds, Thompson found her free horse with dressage potential—and even more impressively, she stuck with him. In those early days together, the athletic gelding used his power to barrel around under saddle, and he was pushy on the ground.
“The journey has been rocky,” she said. “I’m going to use the word ‘feral.’ He was treated like a puppy dog. He was allowed to do anything. He didn’t have to be in his stall; he could wander wherever he wanted.”
She said Beau’s naughty pony behavior hit a crisis point when he kicked Thompson against the wall of his stall, landing her in the ICU for five days. At that point, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep the gelding she’d been working so hard to make into a good citizen.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said. “So we turn him out with my trainers’ old lady mares who were retired in a pasture. It was incredible to watch their reaction to him, because they were like, ‘Oh, no. You stay in that corner.’ ”
Beau’s humbling experience in the field with those no-nonsense mares seemed to turn the young horse around.
“I think it saved his life,” Thompson said.
Over the decade she’s owned him, Thompson has worked steadily with her trainer Petra Warlimont to turn her cart driving pony into an engaged and supple dressage horse. She said that her trainer often jokes that it’s Thompson’s persistence, not just the program, that has led to the pair’s success.
“My coach in Colorado likes to say, ‘I think you were stubborn enough to see it through,’ ” Thompson said. “A lot of people would have been like, ‘This is not worth it. It’s not fun. It’s not fun for the horse.’ But we just stayed with it—tick tock.”
Thompson knows something about taking the hard road. In fact, she has a masters in sport psychology and for years she coached clients around their mental performance. From her background as a college athlete, a graduate student studying sports, a mindset coach, and her trials as an adult amateur dressage rider on a challenging pony, one principle has remained firm: “Joy matters.”
“As amateurs, we do this for fun,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not fun, and we need to have a person or group of people that remind us that we’re doing this for fun, and that it’s not always perfect.”
And for Thompson’s part, she’s found the joy in riding Beau and is thrilled when others can see it, as well.
“I’ve had people tell me that Kathy Connelly, doing the live stream commentary, has said some really cute things about him,” Thompson said. “[She] described him as a ‘lovely bundle of dressage delight.’ ”
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The Chronicle will be on site at the U.S. Dressage Finals, bringing you gorgeous photos, interviews and more. Make sure to follow along at www.coth.com and on Facebook, and Instagram @Chronofhorse. For full analysis and coverage from the horse show be sure to check out the Dec. 18 issue of the magazine.