A Late Start Hasn't Diverted Lynn Symansky's Road To The World Games

May 19, 2014 - 10:47 AM
Lynn Symansky's road to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games hasn't been without its bumps, but she's got Normandy in her sights for Donner. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

I started last year with a three-star horse and a broken “claw” hand. I didn’t quite know what I was going to have going into Donner’s first Rolex Kentucky CCI**** [in 2013]. I knew he was a great horse and a good jumper. He just exceeded all the expectations, and it just felt so easy for him. [They finished fifth with a double clear on cross-country.] I thought it was a really good first four-star for him, and he came out of it a better horse.

The last four-star I did was in 2008 [with No It Tissant], so the 2013 Rolex was my third four-star and the second horse I had brought up to that level. You learn more about how to ride them with each horse you get. I was more educated this time around, so I think I was able to give Donner a better ride.

I thought Pau [CCI**** (France) where they finished 13th with a double-clear cross-country ride in the fall of 2013] was a good second one for him. It was much more technical, and I thought there were some questions that we don’t normally see here—a lot of bending lines, skinnies and a mound jump. He came out of that looking better than ever.

You have long-term goals in the back of your head, but I don’t like thinking about them much because nothing really ever goes to plan! [The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games] didn’t truly come onto my radar and become a possibility until after Pau. I knew he was a good cross-country horse at Kentucky. For him, it was quite easy, but after he went and did a Pierre Michelet four-star course [Michelet is the course designer for the World Games], I thought it could be a really strong possibility.


Home Base:
Handlen Farm,
Middleburg, Va.

Age: 31

World Games Contender:
Donner, an 11-year-old U.S.-bred
Thoroughbred gelding
(Gorky Park—Smart Jane, Smarten).

 “I know him so well,” said Symansky,
who started riding Donner at novice
in 2008 after purchasing him through
Tiffany Catledge. “He’s very quirky,
and I can usually guess when I’m
walking the course exactly what he’s
going to spook at. I think he’s definitely
a partnership horse. Each year has
helped me figure him out on the flat.
He’s quite different than some of my
other horses.” 

Notable Results

13th – 2013 Pau CCI**** (France)

5th – 2013 Rolex Kentucky CCI****

1st – 2013 The Fork CIC*** (N.C.)

6th – 2011 Pan American Games CCI** (Mexico)

Fit For The Job

In addition to riding several horses a day,
Symansky has made an effort to work on
her own fitness. “I have a pretty bad lower
back, and I do barre class, which helps with
core strengthening,” she said. “It’s like a
combination of pilates, a little aerobics
and some ballet. It’s so good for riders
because it makes you stretch and elongate
and strengthen.”

He didn’t have a lot of down time [after Pau]. He had two weeks off. I turned him out in a field for a little bit, which is always nerve-wracking because he’s his own worst enemy. He likes to run a lot.

It’s such a struggle in the States trying to make enough money to be able to do what we do. If you take all the horses in training and all the students [south for the winter], you kind of take away from being able to focus on your top horses. I wanted to just take a little time for myself and my horses and really immerse myself in that, so I took six horses and one other person with me [to Ocala, Fla., in January]. I’m not afraid to muck stalls or do my own work!

Florida was great. There was something going on every day—a clinic, or training sessions or [U.S. Eventing Association Instructor Certification Program] stuff. It’s so unusual to be able to do. It’s hard enough to find time when you’re back at your own barn to be able to take a lesson yourself. You just don’t realize that the trainer needs to further her education. It doesn’t ever end. It was a really cool experience to take a little bit of time to do that.

I did the first [U.S. Equestrian Federation High Performance Training Session] with Donner, but he had a little fill in his right hind ankle that kept popping up. We couldn’t even figure out what was wrong with him; it just wasn’t quite right. So we decided to back off the jumping and keep him in flatwork [this spring] so I’d have a sound horse.

I worked with [U.S. Chef d’Equipe David O’Connor] on the flat a little bit and also with [Canadian dressage Olympian] Jacquie Brooks and [FEI five-star judge] Linda Zang.

I’ve found Linda is really helpful for test riding and how to present the horse for the highest possible score. I just started working with Jacquie last summer. She really helps communicate exactly how it’s supposed to feel. She has a way of explaining things that makes so much sense. She’s been able to fill in some of the gaps that David and I have worked with for a really long time. David and I just speak the same language, and he knows us both so well. It’s a combination of all three.

Anything with trot work is challenging. He does have a medium and extended trot in there, but it’s really hard to show in the ring. I’ve been working a lot on my centerlines and halts.

I’m trying to create a better overall picture from the beginning. I’ve been going through the four-star test a lot, trying to get his body to where he’s the most rideable through every single corner and how to set up for every movement. I’ve had more time to think about that this winter because I haven’t been able to jump him.

I did a dressage show recently, and he did the test ride at Fair Hill (Md.) and Kentucky. It’s a good way to practice the dressage for the World Games or for the [Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI**** (England)] if we don’t end up going.

The Best Laid Plans

I think you’ve got to know [setbacks and disappointments are] part of the game. The more horses you have, the easier it is. If one has a setback, it’s not as big of a blow. I don’t have a lot of horses compared to some other upper-level riders. I think you’ve got to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, because if you let one thing get to you, you start to lose focus on the bigger picture. Bad stuff happens, and it happens to everybody. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not the end of the world.

I have [Alton Quanbeck’s] Osbourne 9 at the two-star level and another mare who’s going to move up to intermediate, so I’ve got some really nice horses. I’m able to ride a lot of horses every day, but there’s a huge difference between jumping a novice horse and jumping an intermediate or advanced horse. It changes your eye; it changes the way you ride them. But I’m not the only one who has that problem. There are a lot of riders out there who only have one advanced horse. It’s tough, so you just have to make every second count in the saddle on that one horse.

Donner’s back to full jumping now. His first competition will be the CIC*** at Jersey Fresh (N.J.), then the Bromont CIC*** (Quebec).

**Editor’s Note: Symansky fell from Donner at the first water jump at Jersey Fresh and while Donner is fine, Symansky suffered some mild injuries. She should be back in the tack soon.**

We did the training sessions with [show jumping coach] Silvio Mazzoni and David recently. It doesn’t take much to get him fit; it’s just getting him rideable. Our first few jumps schools were quite exciting!

I’m still getting some of that out of him right now, but he looks great, knock on wood. The ankle looks better than ever, and he feels stronger than he ever has been. It’s been a chance to really be able to get some more weight on him and more topline.

I’m running the CICs this spring because I want to save him. I wish I could have a little more time, not only for the World Games, but for him, but as long as he’s sound and happy, that’s the plan. Bromont would make the most sense to start with, but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. He needs to get out twice this year.

You have to do enough to show the selectors that he’s still the horse he was last year, but I also need to do what’s best for him, which is why I wanted to give him a little more time this spring. In the end, you don’t really have the selectors telling you what to do. You end up talking to your coach or the team coach and your support team as to what makes the most sense.

Donner’s a really good jumper, but he gets quite excited. He has pretty bad show nerves. I love doing CCIs because I get to show jump last, and I think it’s a lot easier for him. He has to run a 10- to 12-minute course to make him rideable. He is quite spooky, so he’s always careful in the show jumping, but in the CICs it’s a lot harder for me when he hasn’t had the run to take the edge off.

It’s mostly working on his rideability in between the fences and the flatwork and getting fitter.

I feel less prepared than some of the other people since they started at the beginning of the season doing it how they wanted to. Ideally, I would have wanted to run an intermediate and then an advanced horse trials, then a CIC*** and go to Kentucky. I think that’s a good lead up. It’s a little harder to start later and bring him straight out to a three-star totally cold turkey. I’m apprehensive and a little nervous because I don’t know what I’m going to have. I think everybody feels that way the first time out; I’ve just had a bigger gap.

I have to trust that even though he’s spooky, he’s a great cross-country horse and a good jumper, and I need to let him do his job. I’m hoping maybe things all happen for a reason, and the time off has given me a little more time to get him fatter and stronger and more rideable. I guess we’ll just have to see!

This Road To The World Games article is one in a series the Chronicle is publishing in the print magazine. We’re following two riders each from dressage, eventing and show jumping as they aim for a team spot in Normandy later this year. 

Lynn’s next installment will be published in the June 23 issue of the Chronicle, where she’ll share how the Bromont CIC went for her and Donner and how she recovered from her Jersey Fresh fall both mentally and physically. Don’t miss it!

Category: Eventing

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