Friday, May. 24, 2024

Ringside Chat: Hickey Has A Hot New Dancing Partner In Stenagers Wyatt Earp



Chris Hickey’s been out of the CDI ring for nearly four years, but he hasn’t been sitting idle. For the past five years, he’s been developing an exciting young horse, Cecelia Stewart’s Stenagers Wyatt Earp. 

The pair earned the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges championship at the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions (Illinois), and made their national Grand Prix debut in 2021.

This year, Hickey was finally ready for the now 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Wilkens—Stenagers Santana, Sandro Hit) to make his international Grand Prix debut, and the pair showed four times at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Florida) over the winter.

With the advent of the new Dressage at Rhythm & Blues CDI3*, held June 23-25 in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Hickey saw an opportunity to get “Wyatt” international ring experience in a more low-key environment, and it paid off with a win in the CDI3* Grand Prix Special on a 70.48%—a personal best at the level for the pair.

Chris Hickey and Stenagers Wyatt Earp earned a personal best CDI Grand Prix Special score at the Dressage at Rhythm & Blues CDI3*. Meg McGuire Photography Photo

We caught up with Hickey, 54, of Edgemoor, South Carolina, to talk about his win and what’s next for Wyatt.

Congratulations on a personal best score! Tell me about the weekend.

My goal for in the Special was a quiet, fairly consistent test that had quiet piaffe and passage work. Sometimes he gets a little overactive in the passage, and then he can get excited coming into the piaffes. This horse gets sometimes overzealous, and he can get too hot. 

In the Grand Prix class, I had a great beginning of the test. There were some better parts of the Grand Prix test than was in the Special, but the Special was more consistent, and he was more quiet and more rideable through the whole test. 

He was winning the Grand Prix class, up until the last centerline the first day. He got too hot for his own good up the centerline, and I lost way too many points. The pot was boiling over, shall we say! And in the Special, I put the lid on the pot, and I turned the heat down on the stove a little bit.

What do you do when you have to calm his nerves in the show ring?


I have to ride his whole body and make sure that I can ride shoulder-fore and that I can touch him. If your horse gets too hot, and you can’t touch them with the aids, then it’s no longer good hot and useful hot, it’s not-productive hot. I try to send him a little forward, bring him a little back. Can I position him this way and that way? Certainly not head wagging, but I do have to be like, “Shoulder-fore a little left, OK. Now can I shoulder-fore a little to the right? Yep. OK. All right. All’s good.” And that makes a big difference.

We don’t often get new CDI competitions in North America. What made you want to come up to this one?

We now have a Lexington CDI [Virginia] in May and having a June CDI is a wonderful addition, in my opinion. For me, I wanted to take this horse up there because I thought it would be low key—not a lot of pressure for me and not a lot of pressure for the horse. It’s at a private farm rather than a show grounds, so the venue was not like [the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Florida)] or [the World Equestrian Center (Florida)]. I wanted an easy, friendly atmosphere. It was a lovely ring; the footing was great, and they had good judges’ boxes. They had an outdoor warm-up as well as an indoor arena to warm up in.

The show organizers were good. They were trying to make it a good experience for the competitors and make the competitors happy, and I think that they accomplished that. Hats off to the organizers for creating a nice show and a nice show atmosphere for the competitors. 

Tell me about Wyatt and your partnership with him.

We bought the horse when he was 6 from Helgstrand Dressage. He competed at the World Young Horse Championships as a 5-year-old and 6-year-old [with Denmark’s Kenneth Damgaard] before we bought him.  

He’s beautiful to look at. He’s uphill, conformationally. He carries his neck in a good way. He has a lot of talent for piaffe and passage and the trot. The walk is good. His walk is his weakest gait, but it isn’t bad. He uses himself well in the canter. 

He just comes into the ring and commands a lot of [attention]. He has that “look at me” way about him. He can fill the arena in a great way. 

He’s only 11 years old. I think he needs a few more years to mature as a Grand Prix horse, but in my mind, this is a horse that could make a team because he has that much dynamic. Sometimes now he gets too dynamic, and he can’t handle all that, and that’s when the water boils out over the pot. You have to turn the heat down and put the lid on it.

He’s quite a character. He can be strong; he’s not a plug, that is for sure. He can be a little opinionated, but he’s totally rideable, and when you say, “No, no, no. Wait. Come back here, come back down to earth,” he does.


I like a horse that you can put a little hot air in the balloon, and then you can let a little bit of the air out of the balloon. You can inflate it, or you can deflate it. He does have that—you can inflate it, but you also need to be able to deflate it and get that relaxation back at times. 

That’s possible with this horse. Nowadays, horses have to be hot enough and forward enough at the top of our sport to go into the CDIs and piaffe well still at the end of the test. If it’s a lazy or cold horse, those horses just make it, for me, a little harder. I prefer a horse that’s a little spicy [to] a horse that you have to kick around. It’s too much work.

You’ve had a break from the CDI ring since your last start in 2019 on Straight Horse Zackonik in the small tour and 2018 on Ronaldo in the Grand Prix. What have you been up to and how have you been working your way back?

I was in between. Sometimes you have to get the horses in the CDIs and just get in there and do it and do it and do it, and other times I feel like it’s more important to have them get more seasoned in the national shows. I’ve just been making sure [Wyatt] was ready to present him the way I wanted to be able to present him. We were just schooling and showing national shows.

We sold Ronaldo, and “Zackonik” is still at home. We tried breeding and getting an embryo from her. We’ve tried repeatedly for years without success. She had broken a tooth, and the dentist found a couple more, so it was surgery, and then an infection after the surgery.

We still have her, and I still show her. But in between we’re just focusing more on this horse. She hasn’t done a CDI in the Grand Prix. I hope she will when I feel like it’s the time. 

What are you hoping for yourself and for Wyatt in the future?

I would like this horse to show as best he can. It would be wonderful for me to make another team. I went to the Pan Am Games a long time ago [where he won individual and team gold on Regent at the Intermediaire I level], but I would like to make a team on a Grand Prix team. But it’s easy to say, and it’s a lot harder to accomplish. Our sport is so competitive, and we have such a small number of people on teams. But I would love to make a team on this horse.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but this horse is the best Grand Prix horse that I’ve had to date. There’s a lot more gas in the tank. There’s a lot more that can come from this horse that we’re not allowing him to show yet. He’s got to go in and lay down test after test of consistency before he gets too flamboyant for his own good.

I’m trying to get this horse to a lot of different venues and get him accustomed to different venues so I can go in and lay down a good, consistent test that’s showing quality and that’s basically a clean test without major mistakes. That’s my that’s my goal, and I’ll keep plugging away at that.



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