ports, it seems, place a hefty weight on youth. With youth comes strength, energy, vitality. But there’s also something to be said about the wisdom, skill, and excellence that comes with age. There’s nothing like time to produce the kind of calm confidence that sets the seasoned athlete apart from the young guns. When it comes to the Titans of horse sport, there’s a group of dressage horses proving that the distinction age often trumps the sparkle of youth, especially when it comes to topping the podium on the international stage.
Three top riders in the sport – USA’s Laura Graves, Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour, and Germany’s Helen Langenhenenberg – are showing the world that their mature partners, four-legged 'dudes' who have 'been there, done that,’ are nowhere near slowing down. On the contrary, it seems like the reign of these skillful gentlemen is just getting started.Related: These 7 Horses Will Make You Fall In Love With Dressage (Again)
Cathrine Dufour on 15-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding Atterupgaards Cassidy
“I think this [past] season [up until he sustained a minor injury in the paddock before WEG] has now shown that he’s really in the best shape of his life, ever. I think trying to make a [big] break when they’re like 13 or 14 is quite ambitious. So I think, in one way, it’s nice that I’ve been a little light with Cassidy up until now because hopefully, knock on wood, it will make him last longer. They stay sound for longer, I think, if they aren’t worked 4 days a week in a row. It’s very important to do something else [besides schooling] also for the body. For the hooves, it’s important to go on different surfaces. I put a lot of work into [cross training] with him. And then when I work him, I really work him. We’ll [work on a] full test [at home] and we try to do almost everything, but then I give him a good break after that."
"He would be very sad if I retired him now. He loves the whole competition thing, being with me all day. I think [horses like him] are kind of living for the competitions. They love when the truck pulls in and they’re like, “Ooh, bring me!” So I think it’s just a pity to retire them when they’re too young, of course, as long as they’re fresh and sound and all that.”
"As long as he wants to work, wants to keep going, and is healthy, we’ll keep going. If he doesn’t want to work anymore, we will know.” - Helen Langehanenberg on Damsay Frh
Laura Graves on 16-year-old KWPN gelding Verdades
“I think [when they are at their best] depends on the personality of the horse. There are ones that I get on every day and I have to tell them to be a machine. But ‘Diddy’ is a machine and a little bit too much so to the point where I have to help him back that up a little bit. They are real individuals. If you rode him the same way I ride some of my others or the way some of my teammates have to help their horses peak at the right time, he would lose his cookies. You just have to really pay attention to that, because it’s a make it or break it kind of deal in our sport especially.”
Helen Langehanenberg on 16-year-old Hanoverian stallion Damsay Frh
“I’m hoping to do the World Cup season with Damsay next year. He will be 17-years-old, [but] he’s not retiring. Even if he gets older on paper, he’s so fresh and [feels like he] gets younger. He has the strongest character I have ever seen in a horse. When he doesn’t want to do this anymore, I’m sure he will tell me, I’m sure – I’m really sure."
"He was really annoyed when he wasn’t showing and all the younger horses left to show. He was angry and kicked in his stable. When the lorry left without him, he was mad. As long as he wants to work, wants to keep going, and is healthy, we’ll keep going. If he doesn’t want to work anymore, we will know.”
Photos by Shannon Brinkman.