After 20 years competing in eventing, I decided to take a break from that world in 2007 and concentrate on getting my U.S. Dressage Federation silver medal. I always thought I would return to eventing someday but never suspected a Pura Raza Española mare would serve as the catalyst.
At the time I began to focus more on dressage, I’d shown my Holsteiner mare, Capri, through Fourth Level, but it was becoming apparent that she would not be able to move up to Prix St. Georges, necessary for a silver medal. Also at that time, my husband, Eric, and I took a trip Spain. While there, we were impressed by the temperament of the PRE breed and their ability to perform collected work.
Soon after, we purchased Decoroso HGF, a 4-year-old PRE stallion from Kim Boyer of Hampton Green Farm. As I moved Deco through the levels over the next six years, we considered getting another PRE for Eric, an adult amateur in dressage. Naturally, we reached out to Kim, who had a 4-year-old sporthorse mare she planned to keep for herself. However, after some cajoling, she agreed to sell.
When Carina HGF arrived at our home in California in early 2013, I started out riding and training her because she was green-broke. We had seen the breed jump in Spain, so I schooled her over a few fences. That’s when her hallmark characteristic—confidence—emerged.
Several months later and after a six-year hiatus from eventing, I entered Carina in a Beginner Novice division at Twin Rivers Horse Trials in the winter of 2013—and we won. During the next two years, we amassed four first-place ribbons and three seconds at Novice level and finished third at the U.S. Eventing Association Area VI Championships. In late 2014, we also qualified for the Novice Horse division at the 2015 Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships held in the fall. With almost a year to plan, we started fund-raising to pay for the cost of the event. Then disaster struck.
In April 2015, with the AEC less than six months away, I fractured the tibial plateau in my right knee in a freak accident while dismounting from a horse. After two months of immobilization and another month of rehab, I was able to ride again. Since my knee was still not 100 percent, I concentrated on dressage. I showed Decoroso at Prix St. Georges, earning my USDF silver medal in September, and Carina at Second Level. By August I was able to begin jumping.
With nothing to lose, we entered the Summer Event at Woodside and placed second and then won at Twin Rivers Ranch in September. My knee felt better, and Carina seemed to be peaking just in time. The American Eventing Championships were on.
We made the 34-hour ride to Texas Rose Horse Park with an unfazed Carina. She unloaded Wednesday more confident than ever, and by Friday she was ready for the first phase of the event.
The Novice Horse division was arguably the most competitive in dressage at the AEC with the top 10 competitors scoring less than 30.0. Carina and I earned 27.3, which placed us in eighth after dressage out of a field of 27. Now we just had to go double-clear on cross country to maintain our position.
Carina had never run on grass, and the course was definitely of championship caliber. As I screwed the studs into her shoes, I felt some trepidation about tackling a course that we had never schooled. But once again, Carina handled the challenge with confidence, finishing double-clear and one second under optimum time. We remained in eighth place going into show jumping.
On the final day, Carina delivered her best show-jumping round ever, going clear with confidence, style and grace. By the end of the competition, we had moved up to seventh.
As I watched the last three riders go, the magnitude of what we had accomplished dawned on me. Carina was possibly one of the first PRE horses to compete and place in the top 10 at the AEC. My return to eventing was complete.
Cindy Ramirez-Smith is the resident trainer and manager of Vulcan Mesa Ranch in Atascadero, California. She and Carina HGF also ended 2015 as USDF/USPRE All Breeds champions at Second Level.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.