Virginia “Ginny” Wegener, 95, rode down centerline at the Arkansas Valley Dressage Association October Riverwalk Schooling Show (Colorado) on Oct. 6, on the back of a 27-year-old Norwegian Fjord mare named Solveig. That test earned Wegener her third entry in The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club, which recognizes horse-and-rider pairs whose combined age reaches over 100 years old.
Wegener first joined the club with her Arabian gelding MHR Handsome. She took “Sam” on her first century ride in 2002, then recorded her second trip in 2010 aboard her Fjord Loki. Her recent ride on Solveig was one of more than 300 The Dressage Foundation has recorded since the program’s debut in 1996.
Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, Wegener grew up loving horses. She rode at a local stable, but her family was never wealthy enough to fulfill her dreams of owning a horse.
“The riding stable used to let me take the horse I rode a lot home for the weekends,” Wegener said. “That was as close as I got. Then I had to leave the horses behind when I got married, started a career and had three kids.”
That career was as a pilot and flight teacher. Wegener’s ex-husband sold airplanes and encouraged her to learn to fly.
“So I did,” Wegener said with a laugh. She taught flying for many years to countless students, including each of her three children. She and her eldest daughter, Carol Johnson, competed in the Powder Puff Derby, an annual women’s transcontinental flying race.
“I always liked flying, and I enjoyed teaching a lot,” Wegener said. “Every time I get on a plane I check to see who’s piloting because I may have taught them!”
Wegener reconnected with horses when her children were old enough to start riding. They owned horses on their property in Santa Rosa, California, and the children competed in local shows.
“I did a lot of taking the kids to horse shows; it was pretty much English riding and dressage in that area,” Wegener said. “One of them started off doing gymkhana on a little palomino, then she kind of came to dressage too. It was just what the kids around us were doing. I have a granddaughter now who also rides, so the horses have carried on throughout several generations.”
Wegener’s children grew up and got married; their childhood horses were sold, and Wegener felt the horse bug itching again. She purchased Sam and started riding at the age of 58. She moved to Colorado, where she met trainer Taffy Plaisted of Echo Valley Training Center. Plaisted solidified Wegener’s basics, then encouraged her to try the century rides.
“When we were planning this last one, Ginny said, ‘I want to ride the third level, test 1!’ ” Plaisted said. “She wanted to show people what she could do. But that’s an eight-minute test! I tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t hear it, so I started reading the test for her one day, and she made a great effort but wore herself out pretty quick. I convinced her that doing a clean training level test was a better idea.”
Plaisted was the barn manager at the breeding farm where Solveig and Loki were born. On the day he arrived, Loki escaped and ran two miles in the snow before Plaisted was able to catch him. She slung him over his dam’s back and rode home, unsure if he would survive the night.
“I called the vet out, and the vet said, ‘This horse will never have leg problems. He’ll grow up to be very strong,’ ” Plaisted said. “And he’s 22 now and has never had a lameness issue.
“Ginny saw Loki as a colt and just fell in love with him,” added Plaisted. “By the time he was 3 Ginny decided she wanted to own him.”
Solveig, who trained to Prix St. Georges with Plaisted, broke her leg 10 years ago after falling into a badger hole. Veterinarians recommend putting her down, but Plaisted gave her the chance to recover. When Wegener decided to aim for a third century ride, Solveig was the obvious choice, but they only had a few practice rides before their show ring debut.
“She was a little nervous because Solveig is much bigger than Loki,” Plaisted said. “But I said, ‘I trained you both, so the signals are exactly the same.’ And they did a great job. Ginny actually dropped her stirrup at one point, but she didn’t let that rattle her.”
Wegener tries never to miss her weekly lesson with Plaisted, and she also takes the opportunity to watch her trainer in action when she makes weekend trips to teach lessons in Canon City, where Wegener lives. Wegener finds a comfortable seat in the shade and watches Plaisted teach for hours. A few days after Wegener completed her century ride with Solveig, she underwent a knee replacement. She’s taking some time out of the saddle to recover but plans to ride again as soon as she’s able.
“We’re thinking the first of the year will be her first real ride back,” Plaisted said. “Even at 22, Loki can still throw in a buck here and there. Ginny is such an awesome person. She’s an inspiration.”