“To be honest, I wasn't planning to make the trek this year but Anne Gribbons, my coach, twisted my arm,” said Alyssa Pitts about the 2014 Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage National Championships that take place at the Lamplight Equestrian Center, August 20-24, 2014. "Anne emphasized the importance for me be seen at a national championships, so that I stay on the radar but that didn't convince me entirely,” she says. For Pitts, the long haul from Snohomish, WA, where her AP Dressage is located, was the biggest consideration. The fact that she’s pregnant is a non-issue for the former Stanford stand out track athlete. “What put me over the top were people from this region telling me that it's important for riders from this area to be seen at national championships when they qualify. I do believe that, and so I'm on my way to Chicago to try to represent my region and the fantastic horses and riders that reside here.”
Pitts won the Markel/USEF 4 Year Old Championships in 2011 with Furst Fiorano, a 2007 Westfalen gelding by Furst Piccolo and will be riding him in the Developing Horse Prix St. George, along with Quintessential Hit in the 5 Year Old division. (Her Selestial R was an alternate in the 4 Year Old class.)
“Furst Fiorano is the first really nice horse that I got to ride, made possible through the generosity of Melissa Mulchahey of Rose Lane Sport Horses, Livermore, CA, who bought him for me in Germany.” Alyssa gradually earned the ownership over three years time, although Mulchahey retains a 1% interest as a heartfelt thank you for all of her support.
“In 2012-2013, we opted to not show much and train him up for Prix St. George. So far this year, he’s regularly scored nicely over 70%, so I hope we can improve on a few things to polish and fine tune our tests,” says Alyssa. “He's only 7 years old and he's a very big horse, so I'm really proud of him to have performed so well, thus far, in his FEI career. I believe that he’ll make an outstanding Grand Prix horse, so I want this show to be another nice step along the way.”
Alyssa calls Fred (aka Big Red Fred) a total punk at an enormous 17.3+ hands. “He’s good for me on the ground but he tests ANY new person who handles him. A new handler looks like they're flying a giant red kite on the way to turnout,” she laughs. “That's a little his personality under saddle as well but once he buckles down, he's a pretty hard worker.” Also known the Moose, his neighbor’s clothing and fly masks often end up in his stall. “I thought that he would outgrow it. Not yet!”
Fate Can Be a Horse
In a way, Alyssa orchestrated Quintessential Hit into existence. She told her friend, Sherry Smith, a breeder in Georgia, about Quaterback who then bred her maiden Sandro Hit x Wolkentanz II x Donnerhall x Pik Bube mare to Quaterback. Alyssa got first dibs on the foal, Quin. The story isn't that simple, though.
As a foal, vetting revealed OCD in his hocks and Sherry had them removed as a 2 year old. Vetted again, they found a small fragment embedded in tissue that couldn't be removed. Deciding she couldn't take the financial risk, Alyssa very sadly passed on buying him.
“A year later, Sherry still wanted me to have him and I still wanted to have him. There was always something about him that completely drew me in. She gave me a great deal and I’m so thankful!”
At the end of his 3 year old year, Alyssa shipped him straight to Randy Leighton, her cowboy mentor who operates Running Horse LLC in the Central Valley in CA, as she was pregnant. As soon as her son, Connor, was born, Quin shipped home to WA and she started riding him a few weeks later. “Quin is the horse love of my life! He's the real deal: beautiful, smart, sensitive, incredibly hard working. I can't stop gushing about him,“ says Alyssa.
Although still very green in the show ring, Quin has scored around 80% at First Level each time out. Alyssa firmly believes he’ll progress to be an incredible Grand Prix horse, so the goal is to have this trip be a positive stepping stone along that path.
“At his last show, he scored 9.4 for his trot in the 5 Year Old Test but we had some mistakes in the canter that brought the score down. I'd love to show off his canter, which I believe is better than his trot. This is my hope for the future!”
“I have so much admiration for her ability to always put her family first but at the same time, find her way with these quality horses,” says Erin Alberda, a para-dressage rider and former student. “I think every amateur has to struggle with work, family, then horses and it really is an inspiration to see a high level trainer succeeding. It shows ‘us’ that it is possible.”
“I'm not sure that I balance it beautifully,” Alyssa humbly says. “Being able to ride and train while being a mom flat out wouldn't be possible without the support of my husband, Colvin.” She also highly values her nanny, Lauressa. “Without the confidence of knowing that Connor’s having a blast with Lauressa, I wouldn't be comfortable leaving my job as mom for 40+ hours a week.”
In the barn, she credits Kathryn Christensen, her assistant, as a rock in caring for the horses and recently, Noah Keene has stepped up to the plate to “save my bacon” and help with the horses, as well.
Her students and clients are loyal and supportive of her duel roles as trainer and parent. “At this stage, parenting is very time intensive. I'm limited helping my students and then dashing off at shows. Thankfully, my students understand this. I know when my children are older, I can go back to spending long weekends at shows but that’s still a few years off.”
It’s no surprise that her clients are expressing their support. Pitt’s relocation from CA to WA several years ago has made a real impact on dressage in the area.
“Having her in our region has been such a positive,” note Alberda. “I see trainers pushing themselves a little harder, getting themselves on nicer horses and the bar has been raised in general since Alyssa moved here.” It’s a positive exchange that goes both ways.
After driving two horses to Lamplight in 2011 and experiencing the 35 hour trailer ride, Alyssa set up a gofundme page to raise $14,000 to fly the horses this time. “I think it's really unfair to cram the horses into a trailer, ask them to stand, shift their weight and balance in a trailer for that amount of time and then ask them to perform at their best a few days later.”
It’s a testament to her talent, professional conduct and persona that she’s nearly met her goal so quickly. “I can't name everyone who contributed as the list is too long but I can say that the support and generosity of so many people is very humbling. I realize how much I owe the Northwest community and also, my friends from California.”
With a young family and quality young horses, Pitts is making the most of her abundance and looks to be thriving building a home and community. It’s all interwoven with the horses. When pregnant with Connor, now 18 months old, she showed at the Regional Championships at 20 weeks, winning Reserve Champion at Intermediare-1 and continued to ride her Grand Prix horse, Jil Sander, until six weeks before delivering.
After Lamplight this week, Alyssa plans to ride Quintessential Hit “until I can't ride anymore. He's what gets me up in the morning!”
Alyssa has participated in the USEF Talent Search and USEF Elite Rider clinics and is a USDF L judge program graduate with distinction and USEF "r" judge candidate. A popular instructor and clinician, Alyssa also coached several CDS Junior Champions and had success with her students at the CDS/USDF Championships.