First level at any dressage show is highly competitive, but especially at the Col. Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships, where two large divisions competed for top honors Oct. 4-7 in Williamston, North Carolina.
For Katherine Rigby, her win in the first level, test 2, division A (68.75%), with Carnaval HM was a culmination of several intense months of training, and the fact that the gelding is a Lusitano made Rigby even prouder to come out on top.
“For the breed, to be able to be competitive with these warmbloods—the Lusitanos and the PREs look so easy to ride,” said Rigby. “In one way they’re incredibly comfortable, and they have a lot of energy and are quite uphill, but what people don’t really see if they can be very unstable and very difficult to keep straight, and they take quite a long time to get stronger. It’s not like a warmblood who will keep its rhythm all day long. A Lusitano is a full-time job making sure you set the rhythm yourself. There are pluses and minuses to the breed. I absolutely love that horse.”
Rigby bought the 11-year-old gelding (Portugal—Orla Da Estrela) a little over two years ago after riding warmbloods proved to be too much for her back issues. He’d been imported from Brazil and wasn’t exactly an amateur horse as she soon found out, so she had her trainer, Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel, ride and show him a bit in 2016. With additional help from assistant trainer Corinne Foxley, Rigby soon forged a partnership with Carnaval HM.
“I was facing giving up riding,” she said. “I’m 5’11”, so I didn’t think there would be a Lusitano tall enough for me. I found him online. Felicitas would say he wasn’t typical of the breed. He was very nervous, and nervous of going places and nervous of new situations. Last year all I did was take him to non-competes and schooling shows, so the pair of us could get a partnership and get more trust in each other.”
Rigby is from England and worked at a riding school while working on her British Horse Society exams when she was younger.
“I figured out there’s two kinds of people in horses—ones with money and the other people work to death and have no money!” she said.
She decided to go to school and attended Nottingham Trent University (England) where she studied textile and fashion design. As part of the school’s program, she spent a year working in the industry. She spent six months in London working for Marks and Spencer, then came to the U.S. to intern for six months at Abercrombie & Fitch in Columbus, Ohio.
“My specialty is in sweaters. Sweaters used to be very popular, and there was a Scottish lady there who came to my university and needed some help, so I got a six-month internship,” she said. “The head of design [at Abercrombie] used to run a dude ranch and knew my love of horses. We just got a long really well, so he offered me a job. At the end of my internship I came back to England and had another year of university, then I moved to America when I was 23.”
Rigby worked her way up the ladder at Abercrombie & Fitch, eventually becoming the senior vice president and head of design for all male brands. She worked for the company for 16 years before leaving and starting her own interior design company.
After a year though, Under Armour came calling, and she moved to Maryland to help the company, who was looking for an experienced team manager. At Abercrombie & Fitch, Rigby had more than 90 people working for her.
“I think growing up in the stables and learning how to manage difficult situations and just working hard, the work ethic, and managing a lot of people and all the things that can go wrong when you have a riding school, I learned how to keep very calm,” she said. “I think all of that really helped me manage really big teams.”
Rigby, Ellicott City, Maryland, enjoyed her work, but hadn’t ridden regularly for 18 years while building her career. Once she bought Carnaval HM, she found she had no time to ride or show, so she quit her job four months ago to finally focus on getting better at riding.
“The opportunity was just amazing,” she said. “I got to work with all these amazing people. But those kind of jobs just take over your life. All you do is work. I found this amazing horse, and I have these unbelievable two trainers, and I wanted to really learn how to ride properly. For the first time in my life I’ve been riding three or four days a week, and I absolutely love it.”
Rigby had been put off of showing after a former grand prix show jumper “nearly killed” her a few times, so this year she’s been enjoying finally getting into the ring. She’s only competed about 10 times in her life, so the CBLM win was a major accomplishment.
Carnaval HM has a big personality, according to Rigby. “I’ve never had a horse like this that absolutely loves people,” she said. “I think the judges could see that. He loves to show. Even though he can be afraid in new environments, his ears are always pricked forward; he’s always really interested in what’s going on. It was the hottest show I’ve ever been to. It was absolutely awful. We got there on Wednesday. I didn’t ride him Wednesday. I rode him for 15 minutes Thursday, so I had horse left for the weekend. He had tons of energy on Sunday for the last class. A lot of the horses were not that into it. I think that gave us a tiny bit of an edge.”
Rigby, 43, is looking towards second level next year and hopes to get her bronze medal on the gelding. She’s considering getting back into interior design as well.
“I’m excited to go up the training [scale] because his qualities are collection,” she said. “He can do a nice flying change. He’s better at cantering from the walk. I’m really excited to hopefully progress to second level and show him off a bit more.”
For full results, click here.