Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Trust And Hypnosis Help Endel Ots In His Competitive Debut With Zen Elite’s Bohemian

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When Endel Ots filled out the entry for his first show with new ride Zen Elite’s Bohemian, he paused for a moment to consider: Should he ride unjudged, hors concours, to keep the pressure off?

It was one of his first shows at Grand Prix, but more importantly, it would happen aboard one of the most successful dressage horses in the world. 

Ots only started riding the 14-year-old Westphalian gelding (Bordeaux 28—Sunshine, Samarant) in December, and the eyes of the dressage world have been fixed on him since, waiting for the pair’s showing debut.

Under Danish Olympian Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour, “Bo” has earned medals at the FEI European Championships and finished fourth individually at the Tokyo Olympics, and he is one of the few horses to have achieved a 90% or better in a Grand Prix freestyle. The gelding was sold to Dong Seon Kim as an Olympic prospect in 2023, but after the South Korean rider decided to retire from the sport, owner Sportpferde Galleria GmbH announced the gelding, along with two other prospective Olympic horses it owned, would be sold at auction before year’s end so that they would be rehomed before the mid-January 2024 deadline for declaring ownership (and nationality) for the Paris Games. After online backlash, he was put up for sale privately, and Heidi Humphries of Zen Elite Equestrian Center purchased him for Ots to ride.

Ots has spent the past few months getting to know Bo in Florida, and he chose the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, held Feb. 28-March 3 in Wellington, Florida, as their debut in a national Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special.

Endle Ots and Zen Elite’s Bohemian won the Grand Prix (72.55%) and the Grand Prix Special (74.26%) in their competitive debut together at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, held Feb. 28-March 3 in Wellington, Fla. Emma Claire’s Photography

“I was trying to just coast through everything and just kind of feel stuff out,” he said. “I was originally thinking about doing [hors concours] the whole weekend, so I wouldn’t try to ride for anything and just do it as a real fact-finding mission. But I felt really good about everything, and I felt just for my mind and to get in the right spot with everything we want to do this year, I thought, ‘Why do it HC? Make it a little more like the real thing.’ ”

With his coach Albrecht Heidemann, friends including Olympian and fellow Zen Elite rider Adrienne Lyle and former U.S. Dressage team technical advisor Debbie McDonald, spectators and photographers lining the ring at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival grounds, Ots and Bo danced their way to a 72.55% in the Grand Prix and a 74.26% in the Grand Prix Special, with both performances earning them blue ribbons.

‘I Felt A Lot Of Pressure’

While Ots said he didn’t feel much pressure earlier in the year when Bo came to the barn, he admitted he was feeling it heading into the show ring together for the first time. Ots has lots of experience at the Developing Grand Prix level but had never ridden a full Grand Prix test until the end of January, when he rode Humphries’ schoolmaster Sai Baba Plus, a 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Sir Donnerhall—Daylight) in two national Grand Prix tests at AGDF.

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“[Humphries] wanted him to go out and play,” he said. “It was nice to go out and physically ride through the test. It wasn’t so much a purpose to take him out and do much. It just kind of worked out.”

When it came time to compete Bo, Ots relied on his longtime sports hypnotist Laura King, as well as confidence in himself and his past experiences with other horses.

“I felt a lot of pressure, actually,” said Ots, 38. “I was very nervous the first ride, even just schooling there. It was a very odd sensation, because most of the time I’m not that nervous—maybe a little nervous at big championships, but more so excited. It was a lot. I’m not used to all the photographers and everybody saying nice stuff. I was happy to get that first ride done, then understand a little bit where my mind was and what it was going to do and then come up with a plan with Laura to tweak a couple of things in my head. 

“The second ride I was really happy,” he continued. “I felt like I rode a lot better and a lot more clear. Then I got to know him a little bit, because every horse changes a little bit in the ring, so it was understanding where I can help him, where I can let him be, where I can push him. It was a lot, but it was really fun.”

Watch a bit of their Grand Prix Special test here:

Ots said he hadn’t ridden through either test at home with Bo, despite liking to practice tests front to back on other horses. Instead, he and Heidemann have been working on the basics, such as throughness and feeling the connection between walk, trot and canter transitions.

“I wanted to keep everything playful with Bo, because he comes out to work every day,” he said. “His work ethic is unbelievable, so I never want to practice anything too much. His joy to be out there, it’s something I haven’t ever felt in that kind of way. Some horses like to compete a little bit, but I feel sometimes on some horses like it’s a lot of adrenaline for them to go out there. The horse just tries and really enjoys the people. We spoil him, of course, every day at home.”

“I wanted to keep everything playful with Bo, because he comes out to work every day,” Ots said of their show ring debut.

Hypnosis: ‘The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done’

Ots’ usual routine is to be hypnotized the night before his tests. He explained that his sessions with King start with a 30-minute talk therapy before he’s hypnotized. 

“I told Laura, ‘I don’t want to look at anybody; I don’t want to pay any attention to anything.’ Just, I am on a horse, in the ring, just riding through the test,” he said.

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“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he added. “I wish I’d had this when I was younger. I had worked with some sports psychologists before. I read a lot of books on high performers and things. I would always feel like I could logically understand what they’re saying, logically apply it, but controlling the thought behind the thought—to work on the subconscious mind [was difficult].

“What I find is that [hypnotism] does 75% of the work for you, and it’s your responsibility the next 25,” he continued. “If you can put to words what you want to think or feel, it just flips a switch. When you start realizing how much your subconscious mind is controlling your life and having you do things and you’re not really thinking about doing them, it can just kind of toggle the switch.”

After his rides, Ots FaceTimed Laudrup-Dufour, who he still keeps in touch with about Bo.

“His ears pricked up, and he was all happy,” he said. “She’s been super nice. I’ve sent her little video clips of him being him around the barn. She was so happy with it and said some very nice things.”

As he looks ahead to a possible CDI at AGDF 12 at the end of March month, Ots is taking what he’s learned from his past and from Bo’s past connections and applying it to his new partnership.

“He’s such a beautiful soul, and I tried to get as much information from everybody coming in,” he said. “He’s had some very good riders. I tried to adjust certain things a little bit to what they said. What I found was I more so got everything from all the other horses I’ve ridden and all the other championships and my personal experience.”

“I wanted to keep everything playful with Bo, because he comes out to work every day. … His joy to be out there, it’s something I haven’t ever felt in that kind of way.”

Endel Ots on Zen Elite’s Bohemian

One of the past horses he’s referred back to in getting to know Bo is his student Chase Hickok’s former Grand Prix ride Sagacious HF, who died recently at age 24.

“It brought back a lot of memories, because that horse was really special,” he said. “He was a little bit difficult in certain ways, and you had to respect him. He was 18 when Chase was riding him. We would touch on certain things and do a certain type of warm-up, and we found what worked for him.”

At the same time, he’s treasuring everything that makes Bo his own unique being. 

“He loves horse shows; he’s such a super social horse. He falls in love with every horse that comes by. He loves ponies,” Ots said, ticking off the list of things he’s learned about Bo’s personality. “When you’re riding him, just the focus he has on you is crazy. I haven’t felt anything exactly like that.”

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