Kimberly Herslow made a big impression when she and Rosmarin helped the U.S. team win gold in Toronto at the 2015 Pan American Games. Since then, she’s been hard at work training rising star Elvis HI, a 13-year-old Lusitano gelding (Travesso FC–Quizumba HI, Leão) she owns alongside Ailene Cascio. The pair has won every class they’ve entered this season save one in which they were second. Their latest wins came July 10-11 at Dressage At The Park, held at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown, where they topped the Prix St. Georges (68.97%) and the Intermediaire I (67.89%).
“He’s different for me to ride than a warmblood because of the sensitivity and the hotness,” Herslow said. “There’s a lot more blood you’re riding and a lot more power. We’re still developing all that together. I’ve been trying to just get him in the ring as much as possible this year.
“We’re still working on being very consistent and clean, but when it’s good, it’s really good,” she added. “There’s a lot of potential there. I can see the big picture with him, having ridden him for so long consistently myself.”
After 4 ½ years working together at Herslow’s Upper Creek Farm in Stockton, New Jersey, Herslow and “Elvis” currently sit seventh on the Tim Dutta Intermediaire I ranking list, and Herslow has her sights set on the upcoming U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions (Illinois) in August.
We caught up with Herslow after her latest wins to hear about her relationship with Elvis, her thoughts on Lusitanos versus warmbloods and changes in her life since the Pan American Games.
How did you and Elvis pair up?
Ailene Cascio owned him; she had found him and picked him out. He was basically fresh off the plane from Brazil as a coming 4-year-old and still a stallion. She bought him, thinking she could see his potential but really just wanted a nice, sweet guy for herself.
She decided she wanted to bring Elvis over to me six years ago, but she couldn’t afford my training, so I had an assistant that could help her and was more reasonable. He wound up coming, and he was still doing basics at the time. [Ailene] is now in her 70s and can’t ride anymore, so we had a discussion when I took over the ride about what the goals were. I’m not trying to ride him for her anymore, I’m trying to ride him to train him and bring him along. So we worked out a deal, and I just took my time with him in the beginning. He was what you’d call “leg salad” in the beginning. His legs would go everywhere, and he tried so hard, but there was no balance in it that you could work with in movements.
We just backed everything up and did a lot of transition work and got him to understand how to pick his core up and then make that energy go out into my hands so he can reach out into the bit. And that was a solid year and a half training process because we were starting all over again.
Our most amazing ride we ever had, so far, was in the absolute pouring rain when it was 45 degrees. It was a ring full of puddles. He was amazing in that; he just rose up and stepped up to the plate. He got a 74 [in the Intermediaire I] in that show.
You started riding him when he was at training level. When did you begin to think he would compete as a small tour horse and beyond?Probably about two years ago when I started to work the changes. It took him a really long time to gain control over his body in the changes. It was quite a process of patience and consistency and learning. I’m not kidding, I’d see his front legs out in front of me every time we did a change. It was like, “Here we go through the air.” We still have quite a bit of expression when the balance is where it needs to be. We’re still sometimes tweaking that. Every day is a little different.
Consistency is what I’m trying to hone down on. But he’s also changed so much, even since I started showing this season, so it’s cool because I can see that he really wants to do it, and he never says no.
Talk about working with Linda Zang.
We started working together three years ago when I was in Florida. I’d been friends with her for a while.
She really kind of clicked with me on this horse, and I felt like I was making really good progress during my first season in Florida that I started working with her with Elvis. When I got home from Florida, I asked if she could come up and do clinics so we could work more consistently, and she said yes. So, since then, every month she comes up and works a clinic up here.
She is a wealth of knowledge and such a nice person, with so much to give back to the dressage community. Her experience alone, judging as much as she has at all the top competitions in the world, [is invaluable]. She can say the same thing in so many different ways, that no matter what she’ll always make sure you understand what you’re trying to do before she finishes.
She just has an eye—an unbelievable eye—and a great way. She’s fun to train with, and she keeps it light. We laugh a lot. You don’t get to the point where you’re stressed and your horse is getting fried. It’s always a positive, and I really appreciate that perspective. I enjoy all the time I get to spend with her.
Tell me about your weekend.
Linda came to school me, which is amazing. From the Horse Park it’s a three-hour drive. She drove up and met me and coached me on Saturday before I went into the ring. It’s certainly helpful to have her there.
She got us tuned up and we went in. I’m still learning Elvis—as far as how much I could push, how much I should sit and steady—trying to build him and keep him in the right collected frame. He’s a little like Gumby, so it’s challenging at times, and depending on his energy level it changes each section of the test. It’s a challenge, but in a good way. He’s inspiring me to be a better rider.
When you have a horse that does that, and you don’t get discouraged by having some mistakes, you just have to look at it as, “You know what? I have to learn how to be his partner as all of it.” That’s what we were working on in the ring.
We did unfortunately not have clean tests, which is why our scores weren’t higher. I was really hoping to have higher scores, but I look back and feel like it’s all part of his development, and right now it’s just working through those things. The big picture is going to be the Grand Prix.
What’s Elvis’s life like at home?
He has a normal life, goes out for 3 to 3 1/2 hours in the morning in a big field full of grass. He usually gets ridden; Ailene gets here midday, so we do him in the middle of the day. She really enjoys watching him go. Then he goes on the walker in the afternoon and walks for 45 minutes with the group. He’s not a high-maintenance horse in any respect, thank God. He loves attention. He hangs his head out the window when Ailene gets here, says hi to her, and he gets his carrot and his apple. He gives you the tilt of the head, squinty-eye look. He’s a ham; he’s a character. He’s very simple like that. No fuss, no muss really.
Have you ridden a lot of Baroque horses?
No. He’d be No. 4. Other ones I’ve ridden are a little more of the short neck, chunky type. He is not like that. He doesn’t look like [a Lusitano]; most people don’t even know what he is. He’s more streamlined, his neck and butt aren’t bulky. Sometimes you can tell by the angle of his hip to his hock, but that’s filled out so much, in a good way. It’s hard for people to differentiate that he is a Lusitano. I get asked a lot what breed he is. He’s got a really fine head, tiny nose compared to most of them, definitely more sport horse type.
What’s the biggest difference between riding a Lusitano versus warmbloods?
The biggest difference is the connection, learning how to ride the connection the right way because they generally feel softer and looser in a way. You have to create energy without it running through the neck, making the neck tight. It’s teaching them how to lift and not just go faster. I think that is something you have to spend time on specifically working on that alone, especially in the beginning of training with them. Because if you don’t, it’s really easy to ride them too quick and have them brace their neck in the hand. Even though they might be soft feeling in the contact, they’re still braced in the neck because they only know how to balance from the neck rather than their body, core and their hind legs.
Who else do you have in the barn right now?
I have one horse that I bought for myself as a young horse [named Feymar OLD]. I’ve had her a little over two years. She’s doing her first show ever this coming Tuesday. She’s an Oldenburg by Furstenball out of a Weltmeyer mare. I’ve had to take it really slow because she’s growing—she’s a big mare. Big in body, not too tall, but she’s just filled out so much.
I had to give her time to keep finding the balance in that body. I’ve been trying to be so patient with her. She has the potential, but it’s just a question of is her body ready for harder work. I’ve talked to a couple breeders, and they’ve all said the F lines can take a lot longer than some of the others. So I think she’ll be worth the wait.
How has your life changed since winning team gold at the 2015 Pan American Games?
I’ve had some major changes in my life, some of which are good changes. One of them wasn’t so good: Mom passed away that fall. We found out a week after the Pan Ams that she had glioblastoma. That was tough because that definitely changed a lot of things in my family that none of us would have ever seen coming.
I also haven’t been to Florida the past couple years. I’ve stayed home, and I actually bought the house next to my farm. I’ve been enjoying being home for a change. I was on the road so much for seven years straight. It was just a lot of running, running, running, training and trying to keep clients coming with me and back and forth. It was nice to just sit tight.
I’m not crazy about the winters here, but at the same time, I’m fortunate to have an insulated indoor. My indoor is warmish in the winter now. I used to freeze in the winter here, and now it stays like 40 degrees in there. In the summer, it stays cool in there. And I learned how to use a Pixem system so I can get training from Debbie [McDonald] or Ali Brock. I’ve actually worked with Christine Stückelberger a bunch of times on the Pixem, too.
I’ve also gotten engaged. I’m getting married this November to Lenny Neugarten. We’ve been together 6 1/2 years, and he’s such a great guy. I’ve gotten so lucky. He understands what I’m doing. He appreciates the effort and energy I put into it and is one of my biggest supporters emotionally and mentally. He’s my rock.
What is Rosmarin doing now?
We do our hack every day. Some days we go in the ring and do a little work. He struggled after the surgery I had to do after the Pan Ams with recovering. [He had arthroscopic stifle surgery in January 2016 in which the veterinarians removed a cyst on top of his cruciate ligament.] Part of the struggle was when I had him in Florida, and we were schooling Grand Prix, he was sinking in the footing. I couldn’t wet it enough to hold him; he’s a big guy. He strained his suspensory and never really made a recovery. I did every single treatment option—you can’t imagine what my vet bills were. He’s happy. He’s still the first one I ride every day. We do our hack around; he loves going out in the field. We go down and visit Lenny at the house, and he brings him a carrot. We have this whole routine. He’s just a happy guy. That horse owes me nothing. I’m happy to have the ability to give him a good semi-retirement. He still has his job. He loves to go out and do his march around. And he still marches like he’s on his way to church. I know he’s happy, and that makes me feel good because he bent over backwards for me. He’s a great horse. He’s my heart horse.
He’s got a stall in my upper barn, where he can go out into a little area, and that opens up into a field. He’s got a great situation that works really well for him. The most important thing is that he feels good and he’s happy and he’s earned it.
What are your goals at this point in your career?
Short term goals are developing my young mare and have Elvis moving up to Grand Prix so I can get Grand Prix mileage on a horse that I’ve trained. I did ride Soraya II for a couple of years, and she was doing the Grand Prix. But she wasn’t a horse I’d trained; she was a horse that a client had bought to ride herself who then kept having physical issues that were not letting her ride. It was great mileage and great to get on that horse. I did a couple CDIs with her at Devon. We had fun.
But it’s different when it’s a horse you’ve trained; I definitely like that partnership. You just know each other so well by that point that you’re more on the same page with each other when it’s your own training that got you there. For sure that’s there in my mind. Obviously it’d be great to make a team again. Elvis would be the first one that I have a chance to do that with again, and I think he’d probably be the first Lusitano on an American team. I have that in the back of my mind.