Karen's Journey to Dressage
Life Before Dressage
I grew up in Southern California in a small college town. Answering
an ad for a working student, at age 12, I was hired by a very kind
woman to help out at her backyard operation. She had been to England
and received her BSHAI, so I got a safe start. From there I rode
anything and everything I could get my hands on. My parents finally
bought me a cheap off-the-track Thoroughbred, who was way too much
horse for me, but that I raced around the foothills bareback, never
knowing if she would cross a ditch or plant her feet and balk.
I joined the California Dressage Society, and rode in DeKunffy
clinics, but my heart and soul wanted to jump. People like Susie
Hutchinson and Jimmy Williams were my idols.
Once I got my driver’s
license, (and could borrow a car), I made many trips to Hunter
trainer Mary Gatti, who would give me jobs to do to earn rides
and lessons. I often groomed at horse shows and would earn a trip
in a class as payment. My real formal education began when I started
college. I graduated from Sweet Briar College in Virginia where
I studied with Paul Cronin for four years. There I learned a system
of riding and teaching Hunters/Jumpers. I also got to experience
Foxhunting, Hunt Meet Pair Racing, and Combined Training as well
as Show Hunters and Jumpers. My rough edges were smoothed out.
There was a proper and safe way to do everything. I even took a
biology course in Horse Science! I also made a lifelong friend
in roommate Prue Saunders (now Pitcock), who talked me into many
things, including a summer job taking care of The Shakerag Hounds,
foxhunters, and polo ponies with her in Suwanee, Georgia. My fate
was sealed to become a Georgian when I married Lawrence McGoldrick
from Savannah in 1979.
Life With Dressage
After college, and marriage, I dabbled with Hunters, while trying to
decide what to do with myself professionally. Prue briefly talked
me into the racehorse “breaking” business. I rode foxhunters
for Sherry Levin, and briefly worked at Tack Tavern. I worked at
Animal Hospitals half-days and rode in the afternoons. My certificate
to teach High School English expired, never to be renewed.
Then one day Sherry Levin hosted a Dressage clinic with Suzanne Handler.
I showed up in my flat saddle and D-ring snaffle, with my stirrups
really short! (I still have photos). The second day I borrowed appropriate
tack and we were off! My little quarter horse “Bodacious”,
that I had purchased as a 2 year old from the Market Bulletin, was
a saint and absolutely compliant. When I entered my first Dressage
show (at Wills Park), he won all his training level classes. There
is nothing like a little success to get you hooked. I thought that
Dressage was pretty easy. (Ignorance is bliss.) Maybe I would stick
with it awhile. I thought if I got to second level I would probably
I felt very happy at Sherry Levin’s, but once again Prue talked
me into joining her, this time working for Dressage trainer, Sue Malone-Casey.
The two years I worked for Sue were incredibly educational. The day
she told me she was moving to Texas I wept. We worked very hard at
Sue’s, and she pushed us in many ways, but she also put a tremendous
effort into our development. Sue gave me horses to school, and students
to teach. She showed me how to organize a training barn, and a show
day. She made me volunteer time to our local club, and help run educational
programs. She let me ride her Grand Prix Schoolmaster “Ravon”.
I got to experience well-trained flying changes, piaffe, passage, and
Accolade’s incredible extended trot, all at the very beginning
of my Dressage career. I will be forever grateful.
When Sue left, I found a job working for Kaye Norment-Smarslik. Kaye
imported Holsteiners and ran a lesson program with school horses. While
tacking up and lunging beginners was not my cup of tea, I quickly morphed
out of that work into riding her imports and sales horses. Inexperienced
riders were importing three-year-olds from the Auctions. I would ride
their horses and then try and teach them to ride on these same horses.
It was almost an impossible task, although some of these people were
determined and survived, and are still out there riding! Kaye was incredibly
charismatic and inspirational. She encouraged me to get more training
during the Florida season with someone famous! We decided I needed
to ride with Jessica Ransehousen. We carefully crafted a letter of
introduction. Jessica quickly responded with a handwritten note saying, “Come
on." I borrowed two horses, mooched a spot in a condo, and headed
down to Florida. It was the beginning of several very important friendships
that continue to this day, seventeen years later.