September 2019 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Saturday, 31 August 2019 18:25
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dressage news

What’s a Dressage Horse?

by Nan Meek

What do you envision when you think of a dressage horse? Most likely, one of the many varieties of warmblood that predominate in dressage shows these days.

But if you’re a “vintage” dressage rider, you’ll remember when most American dressage mounts were Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses, either repurposed hunter/jumper horses or off-the-track racing retirees.

 

Times change, and our horses change with the times. What will be the dressage horse of the future? I think there’s a good chance that many of them will be the Pura Raza Española, or PRE. I used to think PREs were wonderful horses for a lot of purposes, but not necessarily for competitive dressage. Recent experiences have opened my eyes a bit wider, however.

 

Charro on PRE.

A Dream to Ride

They say nothing beats personal experience, and so I’ve found. I’ve recently begun riding a friend’s PRE gelding, and he has opened my eyes to characteristics of the breed that I’d heard about but not fully appreciated until now.

Celtico, despite a checkered past that left him with vision in only one eye and a late start in his dressage training, is a dream to ride: cooperative enough to be a pleasure but independent enough to provide a challenge; smooth gaits that are big enough for a vintage amateur who isn’t riding in the Olympics; and a temperament that barely flinched when a car crashed just fifty yards ahead of us on the road where we were riding.

My experiences with Celtico in mind, I started paying attention to other PRE horses, and in July I found myself attending the Dancing Kings Farm PRE Celebration, which is covered elsewhere in this issue. One of the partners in the farm, Shae Lovazzano, described what originally attracted them to the PRE.

“About 6 years ago, we were bringing just a few PREs in from Spain for sale to the US market,” Shae recalled. “The PREs were just starting to get noticed. My mom, Tina, was the first one of us to have one, and once she started to ride and train with them, she never went back to warmbloods. I finally made the switch after buying a beautiful PRE stallion, Tracio. He was originally for my mom, but as he arrived he was a little bit too strong and needed some more training, so I took that over. I fell in love with the breed when I saw how much ability and talent the PRE could have.”

Two charros on PREs.

Dancing Horses

The Dancing Kings Farm PRE Celebration included demonstrations in dressage, working equitation, charro, and ANCCE morphology in-hand presentations, all with PRE horses and professionals in the sport, and all to showcase the ability, talent and beauty of the PRE horse. The mixture of demonstrations highlighted the various roles played by the PRE, from its Spanish origins to its present-day uses.

Originally bred to work on Spanish ranches and to be a family horse on Sundays, the PRE was designed to be versatile. That meant, when it was time to party, so did the family horse! The charro horses and their riders at the PRE Celebration certainly had fun, dancing in a piaffe to music that showed every bit as much connection with their horses, and pride in their abilities, as any Olympic freestyle medalist.  One of the horses showed the ability to sit down with his haunches and elevate his forehand that would not be out of place at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Maybe that’s not surprising, since the Lipizzan traces its bloodlines back to Spanish horses … hence the School’s name.

Today, many farms are breeding PREs for gaits more suited to dressage than the PREs of a decade ago. More dressage trainers are bringing PREs into their barns. More riders are choosing PREs to ride and show. And you don’t see them regretting their choices.

Shae commented on importing PREs for sale to US amateur owners, “The point is to provide not only beautiful but also super-talented, safe, and fun horses. We have also been breeding for the past four years, with our goal to provide a spectacular character, ridability, temperament, and dressage gaits while still keeping the beautiful PRE conformation.”

What makes the breeding program at Dancing Kings Farm unique, Shae believes, are the mares. “Unlike in warmblood breeds, there are very few top PRE mares showing in dressage. But most of the mares in our program have had a show career and several of their offspring have been trained and shown.

We hope to develop foals that are suitable for showing because they have that important temperament with all our breeding stock.”

Tina Lovazzano and Leon XXIX.

The Game is Afoot

While the presence of PRE horses at USDF and CDI shows across the country has increased dramatically in the past decade, the ultimate goal of having a PRE horse participate on the United States Dressage Team at the Grand Prix level has not yet been achieved.

But the US PRE Association has a plan to change all that. They now conduct the USPRE Sports Initiative for Dressage – a program designed to contribute to the development of PRE pairs at the FEI-levels (Junior, Young Rider, U25, Young Horse and Adult) toward the ultimate goal of United States team participation.

The USPREA holds clinics through this initiative to identify and encourage horse and rider pairs who have the exceptional quality needed to rise to the top of the field and become part of the USEF developing program for team consideration.

Celtico, owned and ridden by Claudia Deffenbaugh, won Reserve Champion Second Level Freestyle for CDS and Region 7 USDF in 2017. Photo: Terri Miller Photography

Something for Everyone

Part of what makes a breed successful is its ability to meet riders’ needs, and that holds true for the PRE as well. What does the market need in a dressage horse? For amateurs, it’s temperament. For dressage professionals, it’s athletic ability. That’s an over simplification, of course, but let the examples speak for themselves.

For Shae, it’s Noble DAV, her 17.2+ hands, 2013 PRE stallion. He’s a qualified stallion, he’d been very successful in ANCCE competitions when she acquired him, and although he had never been in a dressage show, she says, “He had wonderful training and awesome gaits. He is just finishing up this year at the FEI 6-year-old test with his last score of 77%. He has so much ability and talent, and rides like a Ferrari in the body of a giant horse! We plan to train this winter and make our PSG debut when he turns seven next year.”

For Tina, it’s Leon XXIX, who she’s been showing this year at Intermediaire 1 with scores into the 70s. “They are training to debut the GP next year,” Shae reports. “He’s very sensitive and cannot be close to other horses, but under saddle he is amazingly kind and trying. Together they have the most amazing connection! She taught him the one-tempis on her own and it shows just how amazing the PREs can be.”

For me, it’s Celtico, the “been there, done that” guy that I can ride in lessons and clinics, show, trail ride, have fun, and not worry about cars crashing in front of us.

Those examples of talent and temperament speak well for any breed. They are the reason I think the PRE is the next big thing in dressage.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1). Yes, dressage is embedded in her DNA.