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While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing “Behold the Desert” (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!
Most horses that contend at the highest level of equestrian competitions come from large ranches and carefully selective breeding. That’s not the case for Soby, the rescue horse equestrian that trainer Kaili Graf will be riding at the Western Dressage World Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this coming November.
Kaili rescued Soby back in 2010 as a baby when she was neglected and left out alone in a field. The two had an instant connection, as rider and horse developed a strong partnership in a short time that would typically take weeks for other trainers.
“As soon as I saw her, I said, ‘This is not a normal horse,’” said Graf, a trainer who has been riding horses for as long as she can remember. “Soby has a goofy personality, but she loves to work.”
Soby was one of the earliest rescue horses that Kaili ever worked with, and as such is a bit of a “poster child” for rescue horses competing in Western Dressage, having won four state titles in 2014. A new discipline, Western Dressage’s influences date back to the 1700s with the ranches of the American West and Spanish vaqueros. Western Horsemanship meets the English Classical Dressage in a style that emphasizes “lightness” and “subtle cues.”
For Kaili and Soby, the goal in competition is to execute techniques as a single unit and to make their movement as instinctive and intuitive as possible. The importance of this upcoming World Championship goes beyond personal aspirations, however, as Kaili wants to advocate for the sport and rescue horses. “I want to inspire the riders who think they could never make it,” says Graf. “There’s an existing structure that no one wants to challenge.”
If Kaili and Soby can prevail at the World Championships, it will show that rescue horses and anyone from modest means can find success with hard work. The cost of competing is not cheap, though, so the duo can use all the support they can rally.