While dressage is her passion, Cedar Potts-Warner doesn’t rule anything out with horses—western dressage and bridleless dressage on her Grand Prix horse? Sure. The Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover? Yes, twice. Portuguese working equitation? Yes, complete with traditional costume.
“It makes it more interesting; it makes it more fun,” she said. “The more you do with horses, the better they are—just the more exposure and experience they can get. To me, I find it interesting to have to learn new things.”
At the GAIG/USDF Region 4 Championships, held Oct. 1-4 in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, Potts-Warner focused on FEI dressage, taking the open Intermediare II (67.35%), open Grand Prix (67.33%) and open Grand Prix freestyle (72.83%) championships with JP Giacomini’s JP Orion. She also won the reserve championships in the open Intermediaire II (65.95%) and the open Grand Prix freestyle (69.66%) with JP Zorro.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and it all went pretty well,” Potts-Warner said. “It’s pretty cool that the two horses I won the championship and reserve on are full brothers. I’ve known the younger one [“Zorro”] since he was a yearling, and the older one [“Orion”] for a lot of his life, so it’s pretty neat to see things come together with horses that I know so well and have invested so much time and passion in.”
Potts-Warner grew up in Mississippi and worked with a trainer who did a little bit of everything, from driving to natural horsemanship to dressage and jumping. But even with a well-rounded education, her heart kept choosing dressage.
She rode in college, first at Virginia Intermont, and then at Green Mountain College (Vermont) where she majored in English.
While working at a summer camp after graduation, Potts-Warner saw a working student ad for a position with Giacomini, a dressage trainer and Lusitano and Andalusian breeder based in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Beginning in 2009, Potts-Warner began working her way up with Giacomini, graduating to barn manager and now head trainer. She’s done everything from handling young horses to foaling and working with the breeding stallions.
Potts-Warner, 33, hadn’t shown much when she started with Giacomini at Baroque Farms USA, and she admits Grand Prix was never her goal.
“I came here interested in the training. I’ve never been a big show person,” she said. “The training is so interesting, and you can get caught up in it and the achievements within the training, so I just kept working at that, and suddenly they were at that level. JP trained Orion, and I trained Zorro. We decided to start showing to get his horses out there and get the business singing a little bit more. Then we were doing Grand Prix. It’s amazing. It’s really cool, but it was never a purposeful goal to get them to a show at Grand Prix.”
In 2016, Giacomini suggested Potts-Warner try the Thoroughbred Makeover for fun, and she competed that year with Majestic Lad in the freestyle division. In 2017, she and Alien Gray competed in the freestyle division, and she still has both horses.
“I didn’t have any expectations going into that,” she said. “I just trained my horse and had fun with the process and made a plan and a freestyle. I ended up in first place after the first round [in 2016 and placed second overall], and I was in disbelief. We just went in there and had a good time. It really opened my eyes to what I can do and what the horses can do. It was pretty neat.”
Orion, a 15-year-old Andalusian gelding (Hipogrifo—JP Adonia) was a breeding stallion until Giacomini asked Potts-Warner to start showing him a few years ago. Zorro, 12, was also a breeding stallion who’s since been gelded.
Potts-Warner said Orion moves more like a warmblood, so he tends to score a bit better than Zorro.
“Zorro has a faster cadence, with the quick steps that they need for the bullfighting ring, so I’ve been really working on getting him to slow down and steady, but his strengths are his piaffe and passage, and all his changes are easy,” Potts-Warner said. “He always steps up and tries his best. The judges don’t like him quite as much as his brother, but that’s my personal goal—to show them how special he is.”
Zorro has proven extremely versatile, and Potts-Warner has ridden him in several bridleless dressage demos. He was the freestyle champion at the International Liberty Horse Association Championship (Kentucky) in 2019 where he and Potts-Warner competed bridleless to “The Mask Of Zorro” music, executing Grand Prix movements and including some traditional la garrocha work, a method of riding with a long pole that was used by Spanish cowboys to help herd and move semiwild cattle.
Watch the video of Potts-Warner’s winning freestyle, courtesy of the International Liberty Horse Association.
A few weeks before the championships, Zorro substituted in for another horse with an abscess and competed in his first western dressage show at level 4, which is roughly equivalent to third level in pure dressage. Zorro had never worn a western saddle before, and Potts-Warner had one day to practice.
“We were showing against top western people, so that was a little intimidating,” she said. “He just tries so hard. I feel like he trusts me, so he’ll try whatever I ask. Even as a stallion we did a bridleless performance riding around other horses, and he was good. When you put the right foundation on them, and they’re responding to the seat and leg and your bodyweight, it’s not too difficult to transfer that to bridleless because you’ve already got that foundation that they’re responding to.”