hey say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about thousands of dollars? That’s just what’s at stake for horse shoppers looking to purchase talented international prospects based on sales videos. What’s even harder, however, is making that purchase not based on a horse that’s already showing potential under saddle, but one that’s only spent a few months on the ground.
For the winner of Thursday’s Dutta Corp U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions Prix St. Georges class at USET Foundation headquarters at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, however, that kind of decision turned out to be the right one. Riding her eight-year-old Danish Warmblood mare, Monique (Temptation x Kaprice x Matador), Jane Cleveland took home the win with a score of 70.789 percent.
It’s an impressive result for a young horse that Jane has believed in since she first watched a video of her trotting alongside her mother at the Danish Foal Auction. “She had really excellent movement and a really powerful hind leg,” says Jane, who adds that one of the things that attracted her most to the filly was her obvious attitude. “She was running in front of her mother, like, I don’t need to follow her! You could seriously tell at that age—and she still has it. She’s really confident.”
The pair started off the year with a series of successful placings at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival near their Wellington, Florida homebase, but began their time together long before that, on 50 acres of rolling farmland in Tennessee. It was there, turned out in a field with 12 other young horses, that Monique spent her formative years in the United States, just enjoying being a horse.
“I have a friend who has a farm in Tennessee,” Jane says, “it has hills and creeks and a barn—a lot of grass and a lot of room to run. [Monique] was just out for a couple of years and I’d go over once a week and sort of visit with her. I’d found another one, alongside her, who was the same age, and I’d just go check on them. You can’t feed them, you can’t go out there with treats by any means, but I could go out and visit with them and watch the herd activity.”
Thankfully, Monique has been easy to train from the start, though Jane says there is one habit she’s happy the filly did outgrow. “I couldn’t catch her for a couple years,” Cleveland says, laughing. “It didn’t matter, though, because I thought, I’ll catch you when you’re three. She’d let me brush her tail but she wouldn’t let me put a halter on her.”
Eventually, Monique was able to be caught and then backed by a local cowboy before Jane took up the reins herself. Since that time, Cleveland says, the potential that was so evident to her in the filly’s auction video has more than proven out. “For a dressage horse, she’s light, she’s long-legged and light on the ground and light in my hand. She has a lot go, and she has a lot of buck when you first get on her every day,” Jane says. “She fits me really well because that’s how I ride. She’s tall but not very broad, and I’m not very big.
“[Monique] is smart, and she acts like she knows what the plan is without me telling her. She’s a pretty interesting horse. She enjoys the work—it’s really almost odd. She focuses and thinks it’s important and tries hard. It’s like she understands the program,” Jane explains. “She’s not stupid about anything and she’s not afraid of anything—she doesn’t have any problem in the big ring or with all the commotion. She goes to the horse show and has a good time.”
Thursday’s victory is the first of three phases Jane and Monique will compete in while vying for the USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship title. The Prix St. Georges will make up 40 percent of the final score, Saturday’s Intermediate I will make up 45 percent, and Sunday’s Intermediate I Freestyle will be 15 percent of the total. But Jane says, no matter what comes, the deliberate trust she’s built with Monique over the years means more to her than any competition result.
“I know her so well and she knows me so well. It’s tremendously rewarding. We’re a partnership that’s been together a lot longer than everything that’s going on here,” Jane says, adding that, while walking Monique on Thursday, the moment of where they were and what they’d so far accomplished wasn’t lost on her. “I thought, What are we doing in this fancy place? I’ve known her since she was running away from me in the field.”
This weekend at the Dutta Corp U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions will be Monique’s final performance of the Small Tour. “I actually told my friend [Thursday] that I had done my last walk pirouette on her,” Jane says. “Starting Tuesday, we go back to the Grand Prix work, and she already knows quite a bit of it. So that’s where we’re headed, and it’s going to come quick.
“I’m [so happy] to be here and do so well, but where Monique is going to be really good is in the Grand Prix—that’s what’s so exciting. I’m really lucky.”
-Photo credit: Susan J. Stickle/courtesy of US Equestrian.
You can watch the live stream of the Dutta Corp U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions on the USEF Network and get behind-the-scenes coverage on the USEF Network’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.