Her passion was and is dressage. She took up eventing mostly because the horse whose life she saved 10 years earlier lost her rider, and well, the mare liked to jump.
Mauri Anderson rejected the idea that taking up eventing at age 54 was crazy, and, with just one year of competition under her belt, she rode to a blue ribbon at the novice classic-format three-day at The Event at Rebecca Farm (Mont.) on July 19-23.
With Anderson on this adventure was Relevé, nicknamed Arlie, an 11-year-old mare that was born at Anderson’s barn in Davis, Calif. Anderson had bred her mother, Britannia, an elite Hanoverian mare, twice before, and was hoping for a dressage star to match her mother’s wonderful character and good movement. But while giving birth to Allie, Brit ruptured her uterine artery and died.
Anderson was devastated, having such great affection for the mare. To save Brit’s last baby, Anderson hoped a mare from University of California at Davis whose foal died would take to the baby, but she was instead very aggressive towards the young one.
Then a boarder at Anderson’s Plainfield Ridge Stable (back in the day a riding school where eventing star Gina Miles grew up riding) offered her older mare who loved babies and would at times spontaneously lactate as a surrogate.
“We brought this huge mare into the barn with a chain on her nose,” Anderson recalled. “We opened the stall door just a little so they could sniff each other, and the next thing we knew the mare pushed the door open and barreled into the stall. I thought she was going to kill the baby. But no, she went right over, sniffed her all over and nickered. I got tears in my eyes.”
The big mare even let the baby try to nurse. But it was Anderson and her boarders who bottle-fed the little one every two hours.
“One of the boarders was a string theorist at UC Davis. He would sit there at 2 a.m., feed the baby and take notes on how she was doing. When Arlie was old enough, we devised a contraption out of PVC and a nursing lamb’s nipple. She drank goat milk and formula. People in the neighborhood who had goats dropped off milk for her in the mornings. The whole community jumped in. It was pretty special.”
The baby’s training, however, was put on the back burner. Anderson’t parents were in failing health and her work heated up when her position at the UC Davis department of viticulture and enology expanded from staff researcher associate to include laboratory manager.
Anderson did start Arlie, as she has always started and trained her own horses. While not a professional on the one hand, she does not hold an amateur card and competes in the open division. She has never bought a “made” horse and has had considerable success in dressage, including placing in the USDF third level horse of the year top 10 on her homebred Swedish Warmblood Zanzibar.
A third generation in Anderson’s breeding program, Arlie didn’t fit the image she had of her next dressage horse. She is 5’9” and Arlie was on the small side. To focus on a different career, Anderson had a friend, Lindsay Rains, start her over fences and take the mare to three events at beginner novice. But Rains gave up the ride in the fall of 2015 when she bought her own horse.
Anderson decided she’d take the plunge and start eventing—at age 54. She entered Arlie in their first competition together in February 2016, at the Fresno County Horse Park CIC and Horse Trials. They were third in a division of beginner novice and Arlie clearly moved up to the front burner.
“Arlie likes jumping, it looked fun, and even though I was scared and way out of my comfort zone, I decided to give it a try,” Anderson admitted. “I had never been on a cross-country course in my life. But I think it’s important to have a horse that is happy while working. The way Arlie pricks her ears at a fence and searches for the next one is something to see.
“She’s such an honest horse and a perfect match for me. I can work on the dressage and I’m learning to love the jumping,” said Anderson, who trains with UC Davis event team coach and equestrian center program director Holly Fox. She also clinics with dressage coach Conrad Schumacher twice a year.
“Holly would say ‘try that trakehner’ or ‘jump the coffin’ and I would go, ‘what?’ I jumped when I was a kid, but I had no idea what eventing was. I’d never really ridden up and down hills. I didn’t know how to jump into water. When Holly told me to slip the reins, I would stick my elbows out.
“My first time in a jumping saddle, oh my God. I can ride all day without stirrups in my dressage saddle. But when I was put into that different balance, I thought I was going to topple off. My quads and calves were so sore. When you take things up at 54, it takes a while.”
But Anderson stuck with it, built muscles in new places, and moved up to novice in April 2016 at Fresno. They completed three more novice events before tackling the three-day at Rebecca Farm.
Conditioning Arlie for the classic three-day at Rebecca Farm took creative use of the time she had between work and her boarding facility. “I’m lucky with my property. I was able to do trot sets and gallop in my back field and on nearby closed levee roads. Maybe I didn’t jump as much as I should have because it was hard to trailer to Holly’s with work and everything. I just tried to make it work.
“Dressage is still our weakest point. I hadn’t given her the training and background I would have with my other horses. She does hold tension in her back and the throughness isn’t always there. But her dressage has gotten so much better. And the dressage we’ve done recently has helped in all three disciplines. But it kind of gelled at Rebecca.”
As a bit of an oddity, she could be called an event rider whose love is dressage. “People laugh at me because I want to be close to the optimum time all the time. And I was. In my steeplechase time, I was right on. And I was close to my optimum time on cross-country.
“I have a fourth level dressage horse that I want to get to Prix St. Georges this year. When I have a good dressage ride, there’s no feeling like that. In dressage, you ride every stride and feel every muscle. For me, eventing is more adrenaline and conquering your fears.”
While eventing took her out of her comfort zone, she likes that it makes her a little afraid. “You either get bolder and more excited or you shrink away. I found I’m getting bolder. It’s taught me a lot. You face your fears. You feel a sense of accomplishment when you push yourself. I still love dressage and it’s my primary focus, but I’m learning a lot,” she said.
“You really have to trust your horse in eventing, and your bond becomes deeper than many other types of riding. But I’ve only evented one horse and I’m spoiled because of my bond with this particular mare.”