Regional championships are always pressure-packed, even if you’re not 3,000 miles from home riding your trainer’s horse, and even if your trainer isn’t Anne Gribbons.
At the Great American/USDF Region 3 Championships held Oct. 5-8 at the Palm Beach Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla., Megan Gardner of North Plains, Ore., outrode all of those nerves aboard Gribbons’ 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Calexico.
Gardner, 38, arrived in Wellington in 2014 to train with Gribbons. Sponsored by her hometown barn owner, Karen Newsom of FallBrooks Farm, Gardner brought a horse of her own, De Rousseau, and later brought on another horse, Zaffier, purchased by Newsom.
But it’s the ride she didn’t expect that’s taking her to the U.S. Dressage Finals after earning her a championship ribbon in the third level open (71.73%) and a reserve in fourth level open (69.72%).
COTH: So how cool that you’re riding a horse owned by Anne Gribbons! What’s that like?
Gardner: Actually, Anne AND David Gribbons—that’s very important! We laugh, but David actually is an owner on the paperwork as well as in everything else. He just loves this horse.
COTH: What makes him so loveable?
Gardner: He’s not only super level-headed, he’s also really easy to teach things to. He was born to do this and physically is capable of doing it super easily. You can take him out on the trail, he doesn’t get flustered, and you can really push him and he doesn’t get nervous or anything like that.
COTH: How did you get the ride on him?
Gardner: I came to Anne and David’s three years ago from Oregon with my own horse. Calexico arrived shortly after I did from Sweden. David had purchased him. Anne had me ride him a bit, then a bit more, and then a bit more. And then basically, we started working with him together.
Anne and David are wonderful that way. She gets this fabulous horse in to ride herself and she lets me ride him and show him and work with her with him. They’re so generous that way.
Right now, Anne’s overall goal for me with letting me ride this horse is to help me get my name out there. My other two horses are super and they did really well [at regionals] also, but this particular horse is really a big boost for me.
COTH: What made you decide to move to Florida from Oregon?
Gardner: Basically the barn where I was working went up for sale and I needed to find somewhere else to go. So I moved into FallBrooks Farm where I knew the owner, Karen, a little, but not very well. She already had her own trainer but she let me move in with my own program and my students.
I just did my own thing, but she seemed to notice that I was hard working and ambitious and eventually decided she wanted to help support me and my education. She started helping me with some local shows and clinics, and then she just said, “I really am in this with you. How do you think we should move forward?” And I said, “I think I need to go somewhere.” And she said, “Let’s do it.”
I have always loved Anne, so it’s really been a dream come true that she’s been willing to let me train here. I was only supposed to stay out here for three months, but obviously that didn’t happen and I’m so thankful it didn’t!
COTH: This is a little impertinent, but I’m curious—how are you making it work financially?
Gardner: Basically, I have to watch every penny. My sponsor is amazing and so my horses live great—I just have to really, really watch how I spend my money on my necessities.
I do not go shopping; I do not go out. Those are not priorities at all. I train with Anne, I take care of the horses, and I work out. Every now and then I’ll catch a movie on half-price night, but I have to really watch it. My parents are great, too, and they try to help me out here and there.
COTH: What are some differences between dressage in Florida and dressage in Oregon?
Gardner: It is so different. First of all, the caliber of horses and riders are significantly different; there’s really no comparison. In Oregon, there are a few top riders in the area, and they’re good riders and they’re good trainers. It’s just that here there are so many [in Florida]! And the quality of horses and riders—you take the total number in the Northwest and you times that by a bazillion and that’s what you have down in Wellington.
Also, I noticed that even at the smaller shows we go to in the Orlando area, they have lots and lots of prizes—high point and reserve high point for every level, then there’s an amateur, a junior, an open. We don’t really have that in Oregon. I don’t know if it’s just because they have more funding to work with or what, but it’s fun! Everybody likes to get something when you go to the show.
COTH: Speaking of prizes, tell me about your win at regionals. Is this your first regional championship?
Gardner: Years and years ago, I had a horse that I won the junior training level on—a $500 horse.
This path with Calexico has been a totally different experience, so fun and so rewarding. He’s just the whole package. If I can stay on track and not screw it up, usually we do quite well. So I came into regionals feeling a good bit of pressure to do well, and after the rain stopped over the weekend, and that was horrendous, I went out there and did that third level test and I just he just didn’t put a foot out of place. He was so good. I probably could have asked for even more, but I was just so careful not to rock the boat.
COTH: What’s it like working with Anne?
Gardner: Everybody knows how amazing she is as a trainer and a judge, and I think some people think “Oh well, Anne doesn’t waste words,” which can be intimidating at first. Yes, she’s going to tell you how it is. But boy, she is right there for you.
For example, just in the warm-up at a show where everybody is nervous, she’s the most calming voice ever. She makes you feel like no matter what, everything is going to be just fine.
COTH: What are your plans for the future?
Gardner: Basically I’m going to stay here until I’m told I can’t any longer, at which point I will figure something out. I love Oregon and its beauty is amazing. I have a lot of great friends and my family is there. But it’s not a happening dressage scene right now. Maybe someday I’ll go back and retire in Oregon.
Like this story? We’re featuring lots of GAIG/USEF Regional winners on www.coth.com—including a neurosurgeon amateur’s bittersweet win, how North Forks Cardi helped his amateur rider overcome nerves, and more. Read about them all!