Four years ago last month, Facebook reminded me, was Elvis’ debut into the American dressage world: We’d been selected to ride in a master class with the legendary Isabell Werth. He went in the ring second in a long list of fabulous horses, following a fantastic youngster from Helgstrand, and succeeded by more experienced horses with bigger gaits.
That night, we demonstrated the correctness of his development, his confidence in a big environment and his terrific heart, in that I could put into him the power and expression—still in small doses as he was not yet 8—that I’d felt the day I met him. We demonstrated that day that there was more to Elvis, a little brown horse of common breeding, than met the eye.
It took time. There were hiccups. The piaffe took a little longer than I’d hoped, and then suddenly became one of his highlights. I had some reckoning to do with my own demons, with my own riding. Too much time riding wing nuts, and doing so alone, left me with some habits that made me inelegant in the saddle. I had to address my position by adding time with a biomechanics expert. I had to address Elvis’ fitness, as I’d never had a horse at the level who wasn’t, honestly, a little nuts.
But then we were good. And I started dreaming big. I had a plan: CDIs, the national championships, maybe even a crazy run at something big and hairy. But we plan, and the universe laughs. It started to feel that way last fall, and then it became more clear: Elvis and I had gone as far together as we could go. In this business, especially when you have owners to answer to, and especially when any horse is only one hangnail away from disaster, being sentimental isn’t an option.
I’m not a God person, nor do I believe in sitting back and waiting for fate to have its way with me. I was recently told the military definition of the word “surrender”: to lay down your weapon and await further instructions. I have fought for this horse, believed in this horse, and made him the best I knew how. Now it’s time to stop fighting and see what happens next.
When the path forward becomes clear, and when it’s easy, it feels right. When Tina Irwin tried Elvis, sparks flew. Together they’ll tackle the big things, and I’m so excited to see where they go.
And as for me, I begin again. I’m lucky—many of the syndicate members want to stay aboard and go in search of another horse, hopefully something a little like Elvis, a little older (like 7, mayyyybe 8), with at least a change and a sense of collection. Unfortunately that’s what everyone on earth wants, so they’re not inexpensive, but the joy of syndication is that it divides that cost into fractions, so off we go.
I’m happy. Of course I’m happy. I did the impossible: I got a horse, I kept him sound and happy while I educated him, and I produced him into a delightful and quality athlete that cost more at the end than he did in the beginning. Huzzah. That’s a dream.
But it wasn’t THE dream, not for me. Up until this point my superpower has been making domestic-quality horses up the levels and producing them on to amateur or youth owners. That’s no small feat, and I know that. Everything I’ve made has gone on to make their new owners happy, help them learn, help them achieve things. That’s tremendous.
But I’d started to think that maybe, just maybe, I was heading to the big goal of being one of Those Guys. The Big Ring guys. Not so, says the universe. Put down your weapon, and await further instructions. Better luck next time.
There is, mercifully, a next time. I’m so unbelievably grateful to the syndicate members who made him possible, and to all those staying in for Round 2. How lucky, how blessed, to get to go off and look for another partner. No one should have sympathy for me, nor am I asking for any. But Elvis was my friend. He was a horse I trusted and loved more than most, and like an old shoe, I knew everything about him. He was familiar and comfortable and safe.
The problem is that safe doesn’t get you anywhere. And it sucks, it SUCKS, but I can’t personally afford to be nostalgic. The magic begins at the end of your comfort zone, the posters at the gym say. So I’m off to find my next Elvis. That’s a new experience, as I found Elvis alone and then brought people in to his little consortium; now I’m off to buy something with these owners, all of whom are wonderful and supportive and amazing. But it’s a different ball of wax, doing something like this with other peoples’ funds. It’s a different pressure.
Mercifully, everyone on Team Elvis has been incredible, and their understanding and support as the plan evolves leaves me breathless. I write this blog from a plane going overseas for what may be my only trip, or it may be the first of many; I could find my next prospect right away, or it could take weeks, or even months.
But whatever happens next will be an adventure. Ambition, Elvis Presley said, is a dream with a V8 engine. And while my Elvis may not be “my” Elvis anymore, he’s always with me. I am the horseman I am today because of him. I am more ready to meet his successor because of my time with him. I think we’re better for having known each other. Maybe the next one will go with me to the Big Ring, or even beyond, but wherever we go, it will be because of Elvis, and Danny before him, and Midge and Ella and Cleo and Billy before them. I may be putting down my weapon, and surrendering to whatever the fates have in store for me next, but I’m not doing it alone.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist with distinction making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing her and Mary Ewing’s Gretzky RV, as well as her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.