Lexington, Ky.–Nov. 7
Five years ago Jessi Lash, the performance horse manager for Leatherdale Farms took a chance on Mike Suchanek. When he arrived for his interview to work with their young horses, he’d never sat in a dressage saddle—in fact, his only experience in the tack had previously been in a western saddle.
“He didn’t know he could do this when we hired him,” said Lash. “I knew he could; I knew it was in there. We thought we’d take a chance on him. He could break a horse and then we thought we’d go from there. He showed up in his jeans and his roper boots for the interview and we took a chance. I knew it was there.
“He had a feel for the horse that you can’t just teach somebody. That’s there or it’s not,” she continued. “The way that he handled a young horse and was not afraid. Every horse I handed him to ride in the interview, he just really systematically decided what it needed more of, and he just did it with confidence and kindness which is important. [He has] so much feel.”
He started breaking the farm’s young horses and in 2014 he started taking lessons with the farm’s trainer Alison Sader Larson so that he could compete some of their young horses. He rode Fleur de Lis L to the reserve championship in the training level open division at the U.S. Dressage Finals last year with just a few months of formal training under his belt.
Fast forward two years and he’s proved to be adaptable by piloting Corenzo to the fourth level open championship at this year’s U.S. Dressage Finals.
Mike Suchanek and Corenzo earned a 70.74 percent at fourth level. Photo by Kimberly Loushin.
Unlike the other horses Suchanek brought to the finals, Corenzo came to him with preliminary training. The 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Conteur—Ramira, Rotspon) had competed up to second level prior to coming to the Leatherdale Farm in Long Lake, Minn.
“We started working with him and just put him in my line-up and started getting confidence through helping each other through some issues,” said Suchanek. “He’s been building himself up and muscle and getting some more confidence in the ring.”
Suchanek grew up riding western and briefly competed in some western equitation and pleasure divisions along with gaming and 4-H, so the transition from jeans and a cowboy hat to tall boots and breeches has been an interesting one for him.
“I hadn’t even worn a pair of breeches before,” he said. “It’s still a little weird [wearing tall boots]. I’m getting used to it for sure.”
“Easy,” said Larson when asked what it’s been like to teach Suchanek dressage. “He already has the feel, which you can’t train. It’s hard to teach somebody to feel something. The feel part was easy, and then he does his homework. I tell him, A ,B and C, and then he goes and works on it, and we go from there.
“Plus he’s consistent with me every week many times a week with different horses so he learns so much. You have five or eight horses you work with in a week and you know how quickly you can progress because this one’s different, and this one’s different, and this one’s different. You learn so fast. It’s been very easy.”
While starting young horses isn’t easy, Suchanek wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do like the fact that I’m the one that’s sat on them the most, bringing them from the ground up. It’s like seeing your child go off from the school or the job. It’s kind of fulfilling that way. Definitely with Corenzo I’ve brought him a long way in a couple of years, and I really feel close to him, and he’s getting confidence and reaching out to me for confidence.”
Mike Suchanek rode Dublin L, one of the horses he started himself, in the first level open championship. Photo by Kimberly Loushin.