Lynn Symansky hardly had time to catch her breath at the Rocking Horse Winter III Horse Trials, riding five intermediate horses and a training horse on March 2 in Altoona, Florida.
She came home with the win in the open intermediate one-day on a new ride, Mary Ann Ghadban’s Under Suspection, finished fourth with The Donner Syndicate’s RF Cool Play, sixth with Nina and Tim Gardner’s FE Lifestyle and eighth with her own and SpectraVET’s SpectraVET Tempranillo—all with no jumping penalties.
She also ran a combined test with her FEI World Equestrian Games hopeful and longtime partner Donner, a 15-year-old Thoroughbred (Gorky Park—Smart Jane, Smarten) owned by The Donner Syndicate.
Symansky is catch riding FE Lifestyle, an 8-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Leo von Faelz—Berina A, Brandenburger), for Jennie Brannigan, who’s provisionally suspended from competing while she awaits results from an FEI prohibited substance hearing.
Under Suspection, a 14-year-old Holsteiner mare (Contender—Naomagic I, Exorbitant xx), was campaigned to the four-star level by Hannah Sue Burnett, who’s also awaiting the results of her hearing.
Symansky, 34, Middleburg, Virginia, has taken over the ride on the mare indefinitely.
And then there’s RF Cool Play, a 10-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Condors Champion—Roxana, Radscha), who won the Virginia CCI** last fall and will move up to advanced soon, as well as new rising star SpectraVET Tempranillo, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Boss—Zendana Mail VDL).
We caught up with Symansky to find out how her preparation for the WEG is going and what it’s like to take on new horses at the upper levels.
COTH: Congratulations on a big day at Rocking Horse!
Symansky: I had five [in the intermediate] and a training horse too, but that was pretty easy. They were all good. I was maybe going to do a combined test with Donner depending on what the [cross-country] track looked like, and it was pretty soft, so I elected not to run him cross-country.
[FE Lifestyle is] a really nice horse and has been really well-produced. He’ll be an exciting horse for the future. He’s a young horse still. I’ll keep competing him, and they’ll make a plan moving forward on what makes sense for the horse. He doesn’t have to get to anything right now, so it’s just getting him more mileage and getting him out. It’s day to day, and I’m very happy and honored to ride the horse in the meantime.
Cool Play will move up to advanced at [the Cloud 11-Gavilan North LLC Carolina International (North Carolina)], so that was his last intermediate run, and Under Suspection will do the CIC*** at Carolina. I’ve known [her owner] Mary Ann Ghadban for a bit. She’s a part of The Donner Syndicate. We’ll be moving up and probably targeting a CCI*** in the spring. Even though I’m a [category] A rider the horse can’t go to Kentucky because you have to have a CCI*** [together] before they do a four-star.
The SpectraVET horse, “Polly,” just moved up to the intermediate level. She’s very green, so she’ll do the CIC** at Carolina. Then Donner does the CIC*** at Carolina. A lot of people choose to go to Red Hills (Florida) this coming weekend, but I’m not down in Ocala for all that long compared to everyone else. We get down here at the beginning of January and come home from Carolina, so it’s a lot to fit into a small amount of time. I just choose to prepare the horses that way and stay local so it’s less stress on them. Then they travel up to Carolina and go home from there.
Polly was ridden by a young rider, and I got her last fall. I think she’s going to be a pretty special mare. She’s a fantastic jumper and has all the right pieces—a really good head. She does get a little bit mareish; she was kind of feeling in season last weekend! It wasn’t her best test. I think she’s going to take a little bit of time to produce because she is a red girl, and you’ve gotta meet in the middle with one like that. I think she’s a pretty exciting horse for the future. She’s just 7 this year. I’ve partnered with SpectraVET on her.
You’ve suddenly found yourself with a big string of upper-level horses this spring. What’s that been like?
It’s an unfortunate way I am sitting on two additional horses, but in terms of what I can bring back to the other horses it’s helpful to have other horses to sit on and practice on even though it’s not an ideal way to be riding them at all.
I’m very respectful of how they’ve produced these horses and their skill level. I just want to do right by the horses and the owners and keep [my friends’] situation very separate from what my job is, which is to ride these horses as the owners would wish them to be produced.
Tell me about the challenge of taking on a horse that’s gone to the four-star level, especially a horse that did so with one of your good friends.
Hannah and I have very similar riding backgrounds, but it’s still hard to just get a horse that was competed by somebody and have it magically go well. I rode [Under Suspection] in the dressage at Great Meadow [International CICO***(Virginia)] last year but didn’t get the opportunity to know the horse very well, so this has been a little bit better that we both get to know each other more.
I’ve enjoyed riding her. Her natural way of going is different than I’m used to. She’s a big girl and very brave on the cross-country. She’s a really good jumper, but she’s just taken a little bit to get to know. I wasn’t rushed this spring. I got to take her out to a prelim and did two intermediates. Just because the horse is doing the level doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense to put a partnership right out at that level if the horse doesn’t have to.
[Especially with the horse] being older—you can’t reinvent the wheel at that point. You’re just getting to know the horse and making the horse a little more your ride. You can get advice from the previous rider on things that have worked for them and take that and put it to use for yourself, but everybody has a different feel and style, and not one is correct or incorrect. It’s been me getting to know how the mare likes to go and her getting to know my style a little bit.
Hannah is one of my dearest friends. I have so much respect for Hannah, and I wouldn’t let our friendship get in the way of the transition. Both of us have known the owner as well. It’s hard to have a transition like that, but I think she’s been extremely supportive, and it hasn’t changed our relationship. If anything it’s helpful because I can bounce some ideas off of her. I trust her completely.
What has it been like to watch your close friends go through a tough time in their careers? Does it make you re-think anything about the sport?
It’s a bit frustrating watching the process with the FEI and the unknown. I’ve known it in horse cases when you hear something comes out, and you’re given a sentencing later. But it’s been frustrating, just the unknown of what they’re looking at. I kind of separate myself as a friend and looking at the sport, keep trying to do my job the best I can, and support my friends when I can be there.
I don’t think it’s really changed the way I go about my job or the sport. I do just find the process of it all a little bit frustrating. I think a lot of people do online—just trying to get some sort of answers and what happens next. I think that it’s frustrating for people that there isn’t that much clarity in the system.
You’ve been through a few championship cycles now. How does that influence your preparation and plans for Donner?
I’m going to do the same thing that’s been working for him. He goes to Carolina and The Fork (North Carolina) and Kentucky as long as he’s feeling good. It’s just keeping him sound and happy and at the level of play that he was last year. He doesn’t really have much to prove, so I’m not going out for the win at all, just keeping him on the job and keeping him happy. I’m not saving him, because then he would be underpracticed when it comes to thinking of the WEG team. [I want to do] enough to show that he’s still doing what he’s supposed to be doing without running his legs off at every outing.
[High performance director Erik Duvander] has been here a lot. I’ve been really happy working with him. I think he works really well with all the riders and their different coaches. I like his approach. He’s been very helpful to have around.