An Article in Ride! Magazine

E Pluribus Unum
( One out of Many )
Written August 2000

by Ann Spencer

I have been reading Ride! Magazine for over 10 years. In that length of time, I have saved exactly one issue: the August 1992 issue.

As I look it over now, it was in the large ( 11" x 14" ) format. In that issue, Dennis Reis, founder of Universal Horsemanship, has a great article about ground exercises.

But the real reason I kept this issue is an article about mustangs in the show ring by Barbara Taylor and Kay Lieberknecht. I adopted my first mustangs in 1976, when an article appeared in my local newspaper over 4th of July weekend detailing the Adopt-A-Horse Program that the Bureau of Land Management ( BLM) was setting up to get rid of the excess horses in their care.

The article in Ride! was about mustangs that were winning at jumping, dressage, reining, and endurance. I was involved in lower level combined training with my grey mustang, Bull Shannon, at the time I read the article. I was absolutely astonished to read about Nicholas, the fourth level dressage mustang being shown by Nancie Louie. Little did I know in August of 1992 that my life with horses would change direction.

Coincidentally, a large bay mustang colt was being born in August ( or thereabouts ) as I was reading the article about mustangs. I eventually came to own him in November of 1996. I started ground work with him, then put him under saddle, and in March of 1997, he went over to a nearby training facility to be finished by professional trainer, Patty Cochrane.

When I bought him from the orginal adopter, she had called him "Levi", so we kept the name. When he began entering CDS rated Dressage shows in October of 1997, my husband decided to change his name on the entry form to "Leviticus" because it sounded more like the fancy names of the other horses. I was amazed at his success at First Level. Patty is an excellent rider, trainer, and person.

I am blessed to have found someone willing to show a real BLM Mustang, with his huge freezebrand. He now stands about 17 hands and looks a lot different than he did when I first saw him, thanks to the dressage work. People at the big shows are always trying to guess his bloodlines - Cleveland Bay ? Part Draft ? Part Thoroughbred? We tell the folks that many of the really large mustangs come from the northeast corner of Nevada.

After all, the now famous J.B. Andrew, a jet black 17 hand mustang showing at Intermediare II in Colorado was captured in the Eugene Mountains of Nevada, not more than 150 miles from the Black Rock Range where Levi was captured on March 5, 1994. I wonder what Levi's brothers and sisters and first cousins are doing these days ? I believe that each horse in this world is doing the job ( or non-job) that most interests the owner.

Levi now belongs to me, and I am a dressage enthusiast, even though I am not a very good dressage rider. My primary experience on horses has been long distance wilderness-style trail riding. I still trail ride my other 2 mustangs often in the Los Padres National Forest behind my house. We trail ride Levi each winter for two to three months - he does no arena work at all during his " vacation".

I am very proud of the accomplishments of Levi and Patty. Together, they won a United States Dressage Federation All Breeds Award at First Level in 1998. In 1999, Levi and Patty placed #213 out of 1,700 horses of all breeds in the nation at Second Level. Lateral work is Levi's most beautiful and fluid movement. This year (2000) we have moved up to Third Level, and his flying changes are getting better ( and more expressive ) each month. Some people feel that dressage competition is way too expensive these days and that you really must own a huge, expensive warmblood to even think of doing well.

I am here to tell you that Levi cost me \$200. We compete in an old used dressage saddle that cost me \$450 about 5 years ago. His one and only bridle is the same one I used for my grey mustang combined training horse, which cost me \$60 in 1991, and Levi's stainless steel snaffle bit cost me \$18 at Whitehorse Tack and Vet in Templeton. I bought a nice white show pad for \$26 at Atascadero Hay and Feed on clearance, and spent some cash to have it embroidered with the Logo of the American Mustang and Burro Association. The AMBA is one of 48 breeds signed up to acknowledge All Breeds with USDF.

During a large, AHSA, USDF and CDS rated show held this past June in Creston, Levi was one of 5 horses in his Second Level Test 4 class. All five horses were different breeds: one mustang, one Morgan, one Lippizan, one Selle Francise, and one Dutch Warmblood. Levi finished in 2nd place.

Everyone thinks that you just can't win with one of the "other" breeds. You can, but you must have the essentials of a good dressage mount :
  • 1. Very good conformation (to stay sound for a long time)
  • 2. Three good gaits ( to get good scores, to get good lengthenings, mediums,extensions )
  • 3. The willing attitude - the most important factor
And, about the other half of the equation:
  • 1. A talented and/or very dedicated (determined) rider
  • 2. Some money for good instruction and those entry fees
  • 3. The willingness and cash to travel some distances to shows
  • 4. An extremely supportive family
  • 5. A truck and horse trailer that are well maintained ( or access to one )
  • 6. The ability to be honest with yourself and your horse
  • 7. The personality to accept constructive criticism to improve each step of the way
  • 8. The time to practice, practice, practice, and prepare for the shows
Do you think that Levi is any different than other mustangs ? He is not.

He just happens to belong to someone who enjoys this sport. I have seen lots of mustang dressage prospects, just as I have seen Quarter Horse and Connamara and Arabian and Pinto prospects. Every horse has a talent. We are the caretakers. We make the decisions that enable our horses to shine, no matter what discipline we choose. Levi is lucky because he enjoys all the special attention he gets at the big shows. He is never bored with his life. That is what makes me so happy about my horse.

For more info about dressage in general, please log on to www.usdf.org on the Internet. For more info about the BLM Wild Horse Adoption Program, log on to www.blm.gov/whb. The website for AMBA is www.bardalisa.com.

Update : November 2001

Levi did very well during the 2000 competition year at Third Level. In 2001 he continued showing at Third Level, trying to achieve higher scores, and succeeded. For 2001 Levi and Patty won the United States Dressage Federation's All Breed Award at Third Level, with an impressive median score of 60.286 %, and he placed #144 out of all horses who qualifed for the All Breeds at Third Level. There were about 1200 horses competing nationally.

There has been a change in the saddle that we are using: Levi's back has changed with all the muscles and so my Crosby Prix St George dressage saddle has been " outgrown" literally.

In my search to locate a saddle to fit over his extremely large shoulders, I found the perfect fit, which is an Ansur saddle, which has no rigid tree, no wooden tree, and can therefore "grow" with my horse throughout his years of dressage. The cost was \$1900, which is considerably less expensive than any saddle with a rigid tree. We also invested in a double bridle and two bits to go with it. The cost was \$175 for the bridle and about \$160 for both bits.

We look forward to moving up to Fourth Level in 2002 and for the very first time, Levi will NOT be on vacation for December through March ( due to inclement weather ). We will continue trail riding at least once a week, on steep hills, and Patty will continue the arena work two days a week, and will continue a lesson with Instructor Ellen Eckstein twice a month. Levi will begin work on passage in December of 2001. He is doing well in his canter pirouette work and his changes are improving as his canter becomes more collected. Update on JB Andrew : he was retired from competition in late 2000 and is still ridden by his owner, Kelly O'Leary. He was schooling all of the grand prix movements and is still sound.

Update in June 2002:

On June 9, 2002 , Levi and Patty performed Fourth Level Test 1 for the first time ever and did very well, coming in second place with 57.7%. The plan for this summer is to focus on more collection at the canter, better and more consistent flying changes, the 4's and the 3's and to be able to keep the frame throughout all of the work.

We are doing arena work three days each week, with the occasional trail ride when it is not too hot ! We are not yet using the double bridle, but hope to this winter.

Update in April 2003:

Patty is still not using the double bridle. At the show held in August 2002, at Sport Horse International, Levi and Patty scored over 65% at Fourth Level test 1, and over 72 % in the Third Level Freestyle ! Plans for summer 2003 include triple - rated shows at the Sacramento Valley Show, May 3rd, Dressage in the Almonds, in Lodi, on May 4th, the Central Coast Dressage Shows I and II in June in the Paso Robles area. Update in August 2003: Patty and Levi scored over 62 % on Fourth Level Test 2 at the June show near Paso Robles, even though Patty went off course and had a 2 point deduction. She finished 2nd out of 4.