Ten years ago, Alexandra Krossen rode in the first ever U.S. Dressage Finals on Zulft SCF, a Dutch Warmblood gelding. When “Zulft” died unexpectedly about a year later from colic, he left his rider, Krossen, and owner, Heather Mason, devastated.
Today, Krossen is thinking of Zulft as she returns to the Alltech Arena for the 2023 Finals, not only because of their memories here, but because she’s competing Zulft’s son, Looker SCF. On Saturday, Krossen piloted “Looker” to blue, with a 69.15% in the second level adult amateur freestyle championship.
“This horse is definitely a special one for me,” Krossen said following her win.
Because semen had been collected from Zulft before he was gelded, it gave Krossen the opportunity to continue the beloved gelding’s legacy. A decade later, she’s winning on the horse that she had custom-bred by Zulft’s breeders after his death, raised from a foal, and broke and trained herself.
“When we lost him, Heather and I were kind of talking, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, it would be kind of sentimental to have a baby of his.’ So this is Looker!” she said.
Krossen says that bringing along the 17-hand, 7-year-old gelding has been rewarding but not always easy. He was a gangly baby, and his parts were slow to come together.
“He’s been very slow to mature physically and mentally,” she said. “He has a lot of movement that we don’t know how to control always. It’s been a challenge.”
But the 37-year-old rider said that in the last year, she’s seen the most progress from Looker. A big part of their regimen has been incorporating cross-training and relaxed hacks, and those additions seem to have made a big difference in the gelding’s mindset.
“We’ve been working on keeping it fun and making sure he’s happy in his work,” Krossen said. “I jump him over little jumps. He really likes cantering and trotting around the field. So he has fun with that. We try to mix it up so he doesn’t get bored. That seems to really help this year, too. Just even hacking down the driveway; he loves that stuff.”
Incorporating variety into their regimen seems to have paid off at Finals. While the rider was concerned going into the atmosphere of the Alltech Arena, Looker gave her nothing to worry about.
“It was a good feeling [in the test],” she said. “He was with me, he was listening, he looked to me for a little bit of confidence, which was nice. He really listened very well.”
Krossen said that while Looker shares his sire’s talent for dressage, he is most definitely his own horse. Because of her history with both animals, she can clearly compare the two geldings.
“Compared to his dad, he is very different,” she said. “His dad was very forward, was not very elastic and supple. He’s quite different—quite different in the brain. Maybe because he was a stallion for a little bit longer, he was a little bit stronger in the bridle; his dad was just strong and forward and going.”
She notices the most similarities between Zulft and Looker when she’s spending off-time with the young gelding.
“On the ground, they’re both super personable,” she said. “I see it more on the ground, a little bit more of his dad coming out, than under saddle.”
Breeding Looker has helped Krossen to, in some sense, continue a life that was cut short. She likes to think Looker’s competitive future is bright, but she also wants him to have a say in their journey together.
“Hopefully one day he’ll be a Grand Prix horse, but short term, he’ll let us know what to do,” she said. “Hopefully third level for next year, and either build or keep him where he’s happy. I don’t want to overface him.”
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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.