Canadian Cindy Ishoy’s been on a roll lately. With her own Germanbred gelding Proton, she’s swept the last two CDI competitions she’s entered, winning the Grand Prix and Grand Prix freestyle at the Port Jervis CDI (N.J.) on April 23-25 and the same two classes at the Paxton Farm CDI (Ohio) on May 13-16.
Ishoy said she received high marks for Proton’s ex-tended walk and his flying changes, scoring a 68.12 percent in the Grand Prix. Then, in the Grand Prix freestyle (72.02%), her horse’s passage and piaffe, always a strongpoint, really came into play.
As last year was Proton’s debut at Grand Prix, her freestyle choreography and music was “fun and light.” But Proton’s capable of a lot more this year, so Ishoy revamped her freestyle.
“He’s so much stronger now, we’re ready to do something demanding and dramatic,” she said.
Ishoy’s freestyle opens with passage down the centerline, straight into a 10-meter passage circle after the halt, then continues with rapid-fire transitions from passage to piaffe to passage to extended trot. Her canter work includes a double pirouette to a one-tempi line, to another double pirouette, as well as two tempi changes on a three-loop serpentine.
“The woman who designed my music named Proton’s compilation “Criminal Intent.” We do the passage work to ‘Fever’ and the trot work to James Bond music. It’s a difficult freestyle”it just keeps coming,” said Ishoy. “Proton has to be incredibly fit to pull it all off, but he seems to really love it.”
In fact, Proton’s a whole new horse now that he’s fully immersed in Grand Prix. Ishoy’s been training Proton, 10, for the last six years, and she said Grand Prix is definitely his niche.
“This horse likes being a Grand Prix horse. I think it’s because Grand Prix is interesting enough to keep his mind engaged. Until we started Grand Prix, he was always challenging me a little bit,” said Ishoy. “We’re now in a relationship where I’m not making him do it anymore. He’s eager to go to work and wants to do well. The change was really dramatic too. When I finished our first Grand Prix [last year] I had tears in my eyes. No one could really understand why, but the feeling he gave me in that arena was so different.”
Ishoy, 51, and Proton are qualified to ride at the Canadian Olympic Final Selection Trials, June 18-20 at the York Equestrian CDI***, in Cedar Valley, Ont.
With a 1988 Olympic team bronze medal to her name and a fourth- and a second-placed finish in the 1987 and 1988 FEI Dressage World Cup Finals, all accomplished on her Hanoverian gelding Dynasty, it’s not a stretch for Ishoy to be seeking her fifth Olympic berth since her 1972 debut at age 20. But she said that her journey to the Grand Prix arena on Proton has been anything but a cakewalk.
After Dynasty died following colic surgery in 1989, Ishoy said she went through a period of training “a couple of really tough horses,” which didn’t do her self-confidence much good. She also had a car accident, suffering severe whiplash, which she said she “never really recovered from. Constant pain and discomfort is depressing, and without really realizing it at the time, my self-confidence had become quite battered.”
That wavering self-confidence almost made her pass up Proton, as she searched for a horse to take to Grand Prix again. Accompanied by her husband, Neil, a Grand Prix rider and a former international three-day event competitor, Ishoy found Proton in a sales barn in Germany.
“I liked him right away. He had three very good gaits and I liked his look. But when I rode him, I didn’t like him at all. He was very short in the neck and his trot was this auction-trot thing, where he was very active with his front legs and had no back end at all.
“Also, he had a bit of a streak in him, and I was tired of tough horses. My car accident had battered my confidence in my physical ability, and I had no interest in a horse that reared or bolted, both of which he did at least once. I was just really worried about his temperament. I couldn’t even get him off the rail. I felt like a Pony Club kid, not an international rider,” said Ishoy.
But then Neil rode the horse and Cindy was impressed with what she saw. “If Neil hadn’t been there to reassure me that Proton was a nice horse, I wouldn’t have bought him,” she said. “Thank goodness I listened to him.”
Once home, Ishoy took Proton all the way back to the basics, but as he started learning his Grand Prix, she felt as if some element was missing in their partnership.
“For me it came down to dance or get off the floor. I felt like neither the horse nor I was fully committed to being the best we could be, and it came down to a matter of strength training for both of us,” said Cindy.
To help get over her nagging physical discomfort from the car accident, Cindy started working with a personal trainer four times a week. “The more physically fit I got, the more confidently I rode,” she said. “It was the same for Proton. The fitter he was, the more confident and willing he became in the arena. I just had to believe in myself all over again to get over it all.”
The Proper Way For Proton
But Ishoy’s drive and determination never overrode her desire to properly prepare Proton for his life as a Grand Prix horse. Even with the Olympics as a goal, she made sure she did what she felt right was for the horse. She even held him back a year, when he was 8 and at Prix St. Georges, a critical point in his training, because she didn’t think he was mentally mature enough to step up a level.
“I also purposely didn’t go to Florida this winter to show”neither did I go to Europe”because I thought it would be too much for him and too long a season. I just felt like I needed to get him ready as best as I could at home and only take him out when he was ready to perform,” she said.
And she said she doesn’t think it will matter that Proton hasn’t shown in front of European judges, on European soil.
“First, all the North American shows where I’ve shown Proton have had European judges on the jury. Second, I think you have to give judges more credit than that. If they see a correct horse, they see a correct horse. And, you know what, I’m not into that game.
“I’m always going to do what’s best for my horse, for me, and for my family.
“Dressage and the training of dressage is about the journey, not just getting there, and so far it’s been a really fun ride,” she added. “Even if I don’t make the team”or if I do”and I don’t finish in the top three, I still will have accomplished a lot, like producing a Grand Prix horse on North American soil. That’s just as important to me.”
And more than anything, Ishoy said she’s been truly lucky to have found another horse of the same quality as Dynasty. “What people seem to forget often, is that you’re only as good as your horse. You have to have respect for your horse. They are so amazing and so giving and to get a horse who says, ‘Oh, you want it done better? I can do it better if you want,’ is very rare and unusual. I’ve been blessed.”