In 2011, my family purchased Watson—a grade paint pony who had been picked up at auction for meat price. The woman who saved him would frequent the auction houses and pick up paint horses on occasion. Thankfully, she decided to bring my sweet Watson home that night. I had been riding for two months at the time, so taking on a green horse as a green 11-year-old rider proved to be a difficult task—especially when peers my age were telling me that:
"I needed to sell Watson for a 'real' dressage horse"
"He was too much horse for me"
"He was an ugly mover"
"Judges hate paints"
"He would never score well"
"He would never make it beyond training level."
Despite these comments, I continued to plod along through my mediocre Intro Level tests and train every day—daydreaming of the seemingly unattainable goal to ride down an FEI centerline with Watson. In 2012, I moved Watson to First Choice Equestrian Center and continued our journey from there under the coaching and guidance of Bobbie Gutman. After about a year, Watson and I had shown significant improvement in the Training Level work and aimed to qualify for USDF Regional Championships—which we managed to do early in the season. As the show season progressed and we began to school the First Level work, my coach and I were not sure if the work from First Level Test 3 would be too much for Watson, so we set out to find another horse that I could learn on. We searched and searched, and to no avail, came back empty handed. However, Watson continued to excel. At the last show of the 2013-2014 competition season, Watson qualified for USDF Regional Championships at First Level. With many tears shed after the placings were finalized, Watson was awarded 3rd in a large class of Jr/Young Riders—many of which piloted atop assorted Warmbloods.
We set out for Second Level, which we qualified for again relatively early in the following season. Soon after, Watson and I made our Third Level debut where we qualified for Regional Championships in one weekend, and earned our USDF Bronze Medal together. Later that year, we also scored a personal record of a 74.8% in the Third Level Freestyle.
As the highly demanding work of Fourth Level started to creep in, we began to look for a second horse again. And again, to no avail, we came back empty handed. What did Watson do? Well of course, he took to the Fourth Level work with competitive consistency, which allowed us to earn our scores for our USDF Silver medal together, even popping out a 70% in a Fourth Level Freestyle. We then went on to compete our first FEI Prix St. Georges together before I left to study at the University of Florida.
With college approaching and Watson's age increasing, we decided to take a step back and look for a youngster that I could develop up the levels. A close family friend was actually getting out of riding and had an FEI schoolmaster named Mr. B who she allowed me to ride and compete on. After a few months, she offered to sell Mr. B to my family for the price I was willing to pay for a youngster. I was incredibly thankful for this opportunity, as I would have otherwise never been able to own a horse of his caliber. From 2017-2019, Mr. B taught me an incredible amount of diligence, as well as how to handle a stronger, more athletic horse. We competed through FEI Intermediate-1 together, and schooled through the U-25 Grand Prix. I was also thankful for the opportunity to compete at USDF Regional Championships at Prix St. Georges—placing 3rd—as well as placing 2nd in the Prix St. Georges at Global Dressage Festival that same week together.
In my final year of my undergrad at the University of Florida, I decided to bring Watson to school with me. He had been out of heavy work for over a year, so my goal was to bring him back to schooling Prix St. Georges. Well... what do you think Watson did? By February of 2020, Watson and I were schooling the Grand Prix and signed up for our first U-25 Grand Prix... Duh. With the help of my good friends, Nikki and Devyn, Watson and I began to prepare for our big debut. Upon arriving at the show, Watson broke out in hives all over his body, wasn't eating, and had edema in all 4 legs Friday and Saturday. I promptly scratched him from his classes. The vet came to the barn Sunday and informed me that Watson had developed a bad bacterial infection, to which he had to go on a large dose of IV antibiotics for almost 2 weeks.
After he recovered and I could start bringing him back into work, the USA started to go into its first major lockdown for COVID-19. As my final classes were put online, I decided to bring Watson home for the summer. We continued to train under Bobbie and took out a few Prix St. Georges over the summer, qualifying for USDF Regional Championships. In June of 2020, Watson and I took our final FEI centerline together and placed 4th in an open class of 18 horse and rider pairs. I truly couldn't have asked for a better finale to our show career together.
Watson taught me countless lessons throughout our decade-long journey together, and is now teaching others as a schoolmaster. Because of Watson—and the many people who have supported us—I have been able to start Painted Dressage and Performance Horses. While this is still just the beginning, I am beyond excited to continue taking in horses from similar situations as Watson—giving them quality educations and even better forever homes.