My Riding Story - Chris Cashel
On October 29, 2022 I finished my gold medal. There are others who finished medals last year but I wanted to share my story as an adult amateur who began riding at age 55. I had thought
about this article for a long time before I finished ready to write about tenacity, pride, luck and the right horse at the right time. What I feel about the accomplishment is relief!!
My story as a dressage rider goes back to 1983. I was spending a year as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. I suppose I had more time to reflect on things I wanted to do in the upcoming years. Returning to riding was one of them. My parents had me sell my hunter when I went to college. The thought kept returning and when I got home to Stillwater, Oklahoma it was still a strong want. At the same time, I had a new puppy that I took to training and what do you know the dog trainer had a horse barn in town! Serendipity! Before I knew it I shared my desire with the teacher and she offered me a non-paying working student position. Yes! I was in. As one of the oldest working students on the planet I learned about the care of horses, watched many lessons and received lessons in return. The idea of buying my own horse came up and I wasn’t in any hurry. We attended a show and in the middle of it my trainer came to me and said she had found a horse for me. Not knowing exactly what to do I test rode the horse and bought him. He was a big, grey Dutch boy who taught me more than I expected. I took lessons and entered a schooling show at Intro level. Then we traveled to Texas and I entered my first recognized show. I had just purchased all new show garb and was ready to go. I hadn’t braided since high school but I tried. That first show experience has become legend. MY braids popped out during my ride. I was going to wear my new jacket despite the hundred plus degree day. I scared other horses in the warmup with my ‘squeaky’ clean boots and saddle. Coming down centerline my horse stopped and pooped right in front of the judge. My trainer and the show photographer were laughing so hard I had to work at remembering my test. As I transitioned into a walk the horse bucked. Really? I learned so much that day!!!
Back at home I decide to retire from my professor job at the University so I could be a full- time barn girl and to pursue the dressage riding thing. I continued on my journey. I advanced to training level and decided to stay there until I learned the basics. Really, I could not sit my
horse’s trot so could not move forward! I showed in Oklahoma and Texas and even qualified for Regionals. I did improve but slowly.
One day my trainer and I traveled to Kansas to pick up a horse that was in need of a new home. He had been neglected and skinny. On the way home I was told that he was mine! Tango turned out to be the kindest horse ever and after gaining about 500 pounds took me through fourth level. Sadly, his suspensories gave out and he lived in the pasture after that. On the horizon was a little bay named Keo. He was already in his twenties and we had fun at PSG. I also fell in love with smaller horses.
On a trip with my trainer to Florida for her to look at horses her agent said to me that he had
found a horse for me. I said I wasn’t looking but rode him anyway. He was so smooth and
another 17 hand horse came into my life. I was totally smitten with this horse. We rode through
PSG, I-1 and were training for Grand Prix. It is noteworthy to mention that I still didn’t think I
was a very good rider but I was on good horses. I knew the mechanics but did not have artistic qualities. I began going to exercise classes to loosen my hips and back. I was learning as much as I could at clinics, private lessons and from my horse. I did ride Bueno ( Buena Vista’s barn name) Grand Prix and it was not too good. There were a couple of movements we just couldn’t manage. So, enter Waterfront. He had been injured and had been standing for a while. He belonged to my trainer and she had leased him to another student. He came back and she suggested that I ride him. Now I was riding two GP horses a day! Well to make a long story short a year and a half later I finished my gold medal on Waterfront. It had been four years of trying before I finished. While the horses I rode all contributed to this feat I think the unique aspects of my journey are significant. 1) I am 72 years old; 2) I have had only one trainer from Intro level to Grand Prix. Robin Hessel has been the one and has stayed with me and supported me as a competitive senior rider on senior horses. Of course, I have to thank my clinic instructors also but Robin really is the star here; 3) I have a combined purchase
investment of $80000 across five horses; 4) dressage has improved my strength, my mental
acuity and alleviated a lot of body pain that I acquired by participating in many other activities
in my life. The point is an amateur can be successful given the right horse and being in the right place at the right time.
I have been surprised at the number of people who ask what I will do now? Well I intend to
improve at GP and then show my horses at lower levels where we can enjoy the ride. Bueno is 25 and Waterfront is 23 but neither seem to want to slow down much. I am aiming for a
century ride on Bueno in another year. To all the adult amateurs out there- we may be old but
we are not done yet!