Cartwheel’s Belle Star wasn’t Flavie Le Mener’s first choice for her next dressage horse when she went to try her four years ago.
The 14.1 Welsh Pony cross had competed to Prix St. Georges—along with doing a bit of everything from parade riding to jumping to western and western dressage—but she was built a bit downhill, was a bit sassy and was already 16 years old.
Le Mener’s trainer, Stephanie Raffety, saw something in “Belle” and knew she would be a good match for her young student, who was moving up the levels after competing on a rescue pony. Belle had competed to Prix St. Georges with her previous owner, Kari Prill, who had recently been doing western dressage with the pony.
“She’s like a freak unicorn,” said Raffety. “I was looking for a horse we could potentially get up the levels. Flavie’s been with me since she was 8, and I knew she was a talented rider, but we needed to find something within the budget. I rode this pony and felt she had something in there that was special, but we’ve had to dig it out!”
This season, the pair has been competing at fourth level and Prix St. Georges, qualifying for their first trip to the U.S. Dressage Finals, held Nov. 10-13 in Lexington, Kentucky, where they finished ninth in the junior/young rider fourth level championship (63.70%).
Flavie, now 18, admits that the first year of their partnership didn’t go well. Many rides ended in tears, and they went back to training level work to establish the basics together.
“I couldn’t do anything on her,” said Le Mener, of Dallas. “We started from scratch, and it took me a year of crying and doubts and wanting to quit all the time. I had [Raffety] telling me, ‘No, we’re going to get there,’ and my parents telling me, ‘Keep going, you’ll get there. This is the sport.’ We stuck through it that first year, and here we are at Nationals. When you can get her to do it, her movement looks amazing. She’s got an amazing work ethic, and she’s a little sassy. She has her own opinion. She’s super talented.”
Le Mener said the 20-year-old mare (Pecans Creek’s Polonaise—Cartwheel Bandit) has taught her a lot about dressage.
“It’s showed me that this sport is more than just physical; it’s mental too,” she said. “There’s lots of mental blocks, like coming out of the show ring, and I didn’t do good, and I see my score.
“I’ve had lots of mental blocks with her, too, where I’m numb and out of it, and Stephanie says, ‘Where are you? You need to stop thinking and start feeling your horse,'” she added. “Bella has had me go through a lot of those mental blocks, but now I can get through them quicker and faster and easier without as much doubt in myself.”
Raffety and Le Mener hope Belle may make it to Grand Prix. She’s schooling most of the movements at home now.
“It’s really a testament to Flavie’s perseverance and her strength, and she’s young,” said Raffety. “Most adults couldn’t handle that pressure. The mare is tough, but Flavie knows she’s talented and knows, ‘If I can figure out how to ride this difficult but talented horse, I can get something out of something very unique and special and challenging.’ ”