Man oh man, 2021 had some cool things in store for me. The trio of horses I’d spent years developing, The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, my mom’s Helio, and my own Gretzky, are all 2011 babies, so they were all 10, all touching on the Grand Prix things, all really solid in their understanding of The Rules on life and dressage and the program.
Elvis showed it first, and Helio after that, and Puck is really close. And they’re not only extraordinary athletes, but they’re all known quantities to me; they’ve been my friends and partners for so long that we speak the same shorthand, and our work together is productive and efficient and based on a deep mutual friendship and trust.
Now it’s 2022, and I’ve made Helio and Puck into such good horses that it’s time for them to move on. The choice to sell both was a bear, but Helio’s job was to be for my mom, and they just didn’t click. For Puck, my brilliant little weirdo whose greatest days are yet to come, I can’t justify the push into the international ring when I’m bearing the total cost myself, and when Elvis is equally extraordinary but with expenses I get help paying. Helio’s sale was quick and efficient, to a wonderful rider who’s a part of my circle, and so he’ll stay in my life. I’m now embarking on the journey with Puck to find his next tall, hungry human; he’ll require the right person, but he’s gorgeous and powerful and beautifully educated and has been well cared for. His next lucky person will find him soon enough.
And I’ll be starting over.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE making horses up the levels, and I particularly love doing it from as close to scratch as I can. I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if someone said, “Oh hey, let me hand you a $3 million finished product with incredible training and gaits,” but since my phone isn’t exactly ringing with those calls, I’ll just be here quietly doing it myself—build that rapport, take my time, do it right. There’s unbelievable comfort in knowing how you got to the one-tempis, to the piaffe, to the high collection, because it’s easier to trust when you’re the one that’s laid the foundation.
But just … ugh.
Because there’s also the unfun of the first time they tell you no, the first time they decided to test the boundaries. Young horses don’t know how to learn yet. They don’t know that their day is actually easier—and shorter—if they give it the ol’ college try, rather than pining for their paddock or their friends.
There’s the first show, where you really don’t have any idea of what they’re going to think of it all. Will they pace in their stalls for hours, calling to their friends? Will they refuse to eat? Will they spin around and act like fools?
The more horses I develop, the less I’m rattled by the hiccups and the valleys of the journey up the levels. But there’s always that voice in the back of my head—what if this is another amateur’s small tour horse? What if this one never goes anywhere? What if you put your heart and your soul—along with your time and your dollars—into this one and it fails to impress, fails to thrive? And while at least in the beginning, with 3- and 4-year-olds, the goalposts are close together and you get some early things to celebrate, there’s that long stretch in the middle where you’re just a little bit nowhere, and it has to be OK.
I’m ready to start anew; I’ve already begun. The vets said no to my first pick, but I’m already working on the second, and there’ll be more after that. My Maddie is 5, and went to her first show this year with great aplomb. Baby Lala, age 3, will be put under saddle by my awesome friend and student Abe, who will then hand me the reins in the spring of next year. They are fun and athletic and brimming with possibility. They are worth getting excited about.
While I’m still waffling on exactly what to add to my string next—more foals, with lower cost but wildly greater risk? Another riding-age horse, even with prices truly sky-high at the moment? Or nothing at all, because clearly between those babies and Elvis I’ll be plenty busy?—I’m trying to get excited about the opportunity. Instead, though, I’m twinging with regret and loss, a pang for the feeling of Helio’s easy changes, for the way I could rev Puck up in the corner before extended trot to passage to piaffe, hind legs like a muscle car humming underneath me, but totally familiar.
The devils I know aren’t devilish anymore. I made them wonderful. I did my job and did it well. And I’ll do my job again, just as well and hopefully better for all that these boys taught me.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.