We talked to U.S. dressage rider Caroline Roffman, who traveled to Europe this summer to train and compete courtesy of a grant from the Dutta Corp. She made a big splash at the Aachen CHIO, placing second in the Under 25 CDI Grand Prix freestyle with Sagacious HF.
• What did you hope to accomplish on this summer European tour?
I came to Europe with my main focus on Aachen and the Under 25 championship with Sagacious. I was the first U.S. rider to compete in this class, and it was a great honor to be able to ride at a place like Aachen.
When I found out I could compete my small tour horse there as well, the plan began to change a bit. I really wanted to immerse myself in European dressage and soak in as much of the great riding and training as possible. Being in a class—let alone in a warm-up arena—with the likes of Isabell Werth, Ingrid Klimke and Steffen Peters is just so inspiring. This trip was really about growth, for both myself and my horses.
• What's been your favorite moment on the tour so far?
My favorite moment on tour so far will seem silly to most, but the on first day I rode Sagacious at Aachen I just lightly exercised him in the warm-up. It was late in the afternoon, nearly raining, and it was so quiet. I was focused on my ride, and I looked up and there was Isabell Werth riding alongside me.
Thank God horses think on their own because if I had been in a car I would have crashed. All I could think was “Wow, this person’s poster was hanging on my wall only 10 years ago and now she is riding in the same arena as me.”
That made it all come full circle. She said hello to me, and on another note she was so friendly, nice and down to earth, truly an inspiration.
• What shows did you attend, and where were you based?
I have been based at two main locations. I began my journey in Saumur, France, at Saumur Dressage just minutes down the road from the famous Cadre Noir. There I trained with Juan Matute and was also able to attend two French shows, first the CDI Compiegne [where she and Her Highness O placed second in both the Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I freestyle] and secondly La Baule, a national show, with Sagacious.
After I competed in Aachen I have been based in Haiger, Germany, at Petra Hofmann’s stable. I have been working my horses here with Petra, and she has kindly opened her home and family up to me and my horses. I leave today for the Perl CDI to compete Sagacious at Grand Prix.
• What changes have you seen in your horses and riding during the tour?
I always felt that coming to Europe was a necessity for my education as rider. I really wanted to know how my riding and my horses stand up over here where many of the world’s best compete.
I feel as though my bar has been raised being over here and of course that continues on to my horses. Her Highness 0 and I have been together for three years, the total of her show career. It was thrilling to come over here and to share this first with her. She really showed me she is no longer a broodmare and is ready and willing to try her hardest in the arena, no matter how big or scary the venue is.
Riding down the centerline at Aachen with her as my first ride there and hers as well was very cool; there were tears upon finishing. Sagacious HF and I are only a year-old partnership, but we really feel like a team now. I was so happy to feel that he too could go into an intimidating arena like Aachen's and bravely do his very best for me. Both horses have progressed in strength and brilliance, and I am very pleased with the last two months.
• What has been the most beneficial aspect of the tour? The shows? The training?
It is so hard to pinpoint what has been the best part of this trip. I feel that being able to be surrounded with such top sport is key to progress. It can be limiting for a rider’s education when they ride at home alone and are not able to see and experience good riding and horses.
I was able to sit ringside at Aachen for almost a whole week and watch some of the top in the world train their horses and show. The training of my horses directly connects with the experience gained both showing and watching at shows. It all ties together, seeing the best, trying to emulate it, getting new ideas and inspiration.
• Do you think it's essential for U.S. riders to show in Europe? Why?
What is right for one person is not always right for the next person, and this holds true to European experience too. Personally, this trip has been greatly essential, and I will aim to not make this my last trip overseas.
I am sure there are great talents who have never seen the other side of the pond and are no worse off for it. However, if a friend or peer or student of mine was given the opportunity to come over and be a part of this I would push them to go! I was able to bring one of our working students from Lionshare Dressage to Aachen, and I think it was inspirational for her.
• How did your success at Aachen affect you—has it given you more confidence?
This likely says something about my character, because though it was a success for my horse and me, it also really pushes me to ride better, make it back in the years to come, and do better.
Aachen was a realization of a dream and will always be a fond memory for me, especially thinking of all the bumps we experienced along the way. I realize more and more each year that it is truly "the climb." Though the end result at Aachen was wonderful, it was the road taken that I will cherish the most.
• When do you plan to return to the United States, and what are your goals upon your return?
With my focus very much on the next two shows I have over here with Sagacious, I have no firm plans upon return. I am very lucky to be able to be here, and it is only because of the team of people back home at Lionshare Dressage—mostly Endel Ots—holding down the fort and keeping business running.
When I return I have only three weeks before we head to Chicago for the [Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships] and of course with other good horses in the stable to train and ride, life as usual returns. It is odd when you go from riding 10-plus horses a day to two. It was a break for sure, but I miss my other horses and clients, friends and my job.
Upon returning home, I aim to finish Her Highness 0 to Grand Prix, continue developing my relationship with Sagacious HF, finish Pie to Grand Prix and continue the development of several young horses I have the privilege to ride, like Anne Schmidt’s Emeici. I am lucky and truly live my dreams every day.