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 be satisfied.
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.


Logo and website © 2006 Karen McGoldrick