The US Dressage Finals are now under way, and with almost 400 riders converged on the iconic Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, competition is steep at every level. Amanda Johnson, 33, of Franklin, WI, hopes to capture top honors with three of her horses, including one that people wanted her to get rid of once upon a time. One of her entries, Foley (Fabuleaux x Romance, by Puritano), was bred by Johnson’s mother. For a long time there weren’t many people who believed in the 2006 Hanoverian gelding, but he is now proving his talent as a dressage horse. Saturday, he will compete in the Fourth Level Open Championship at the Finals.
"When Foley was young, almost everyone told me I should sell him and that he wasn’t good enough for me, but he was my horse, and I believed in him," said Johnson. “Steffen Peters almost made me fall off when he said that ‘Foley was a horse he would buy’ when he was coaching us at the 2014 Midwest Horse Fair.”
Friends at Bell Oaks Farm in Freeport, IL, started the gelding in 2009. In 2010, Johnson competed him to the IDCTA Training Level Championship. Next, they finished third in the USEF Four-Year-Old test at Training Level at Dressage at Devon and ranked 7th in the USDF Horse of the Year Awards with a 74.4% median score. At age five, Foley won the Suitable to Be a Dressage Horse at Dressage at Devon along with the All-American Hanoverian Young Dressage Horse Award.
Johnson was really getting a glimpse of his real potential. "The only trainer that has seen him since the beginning and also believed in him has been Debbie McDonald. She has helped me about once a year since he was four. Foley found his hind legs at about six years old and has been really developing.”
It was at age six that he was the GAIG/USDF Region 4 Champion at First Level with a 71.935% and the Reserve Champion at Second Level with a 70.893%. In 2013, Foley became the USDF Horse of the Year Reserve Champion at Third Level with a score of 73.846%. This year, Foley won his first Prix St. Georges test with a 71.184% at Silverwood Dressage in May. At Dressage at Lamplight in July, he scored a 68.158% in his second Prix St. Georges test.
Johnson said she had a judge at the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Dressage Championships in Lexington, KY, where Foley placed third in the Fourth Level Championship, tell her that Foley was a horse that she needed to hang on to because, “What a horse he was!”
Johnson said Foley provides her with surprises every day, and she looks forward to continuing her journey with him after the US Dressage Finals. “It makes me so incredibly happy to have people now say such nice things about him,” she said.
Johnson called her proudest moment in dressage every time Foley is successful. “It is so incredibly rewarding to have had my family breed him and to be a part of his development as an athlete.”
The other horses she will be riding at the US Dressage Finals are U Rock and Pluto VI Andorella. She bought U Rock (UB40 x Piedra, by Tip Top) last year from breeder Carol Reid of Pembroke Farm in Socorro, NM. She and the Swedish Warmblood competed this year at the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships at Dressage at Lamplight in August, scoring a 7.56 in the Five-Year-Old Preliminary test and a 7.3 in the Final. At the Region 2 Championships, U Rock was Reserve Champion in the First Level Open Championships (test 3) with a score of 72.177%.
U Rock will compete at First Level at the US Dressage Finals. “I have high hopes for U Rock,” said Johnson. “He is so smart, sweet, and talented. He has good basic gaits and a high talent for adjustability in his gaits. I am excited to see how he will develop over the years.”
The Lipizzan Pluto VI Andorella, owned by Linda Leffingwell and bred by Tempel Farms, will compete in the Grand Prix Freestyle this weekend. At Silverwood Dressage August, he earned a 67.625% in the Grand Prix Freestyle and at Silverwood Dressage October, he earned a 68.200% in the Grand Prix. At the Region 2 Dressage Championships, Pluto VI Andorella placed third in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle Open Championship. Pluto VI Andorella will begin standing at stud next year.
Dressage Rider, Trainer, Clinician, and Instructor
It is no surprise to see Johnson succeed as a dressage rider, trainer, clinician, and instructor. Johnson’s parents had horses when she was young, and her mom, Barbara Putnam, started a breeding program for dressage horses. “We started out breeding Morgan horses, so we dabbled in some Morgan/Warmblood crosses to be suitable for amateurs,” said Johnson. “The last of our breeding program was my competition horse, Foley.”
“I got my start riding from my mother who has always had horses. She always joked that I started riding in utero,” said Johnson. “I started riding my first pony bareback out in the field, and it was probably when my mom saw that I had started cantering that she put me in a more formal lesson program.”
She tried eventing, but her Quarter Horse, Mr. Ed, wasn’t into jumping. So Johnson began riding him as a dressage horse, and dressage has been her passion ever since. “I love that there is always more to learn,” said Johnson. “You never stop learning in dressage. I also really enjoy the journey. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to bring a horse up the levels.”
When she turned 15, her parents purchased the late Glissade (Guarantor x Puritano), a 1990 Westfalen gelding, who would become her horse for the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) for the next three years. She rode her first Grand Prix test on Glissade at age 20 while she was a working student for George Williams at Joann and Chuck Smith’s Gypsy Woods Farm in Richwood, OH. She and Glissade competed in the Region 4 Championships at every level from First Level through Grand Prix, winning in Prix St. George and Intermediate I in 2000, at Intermediate II and Grand Prix in 2002, and in the Grand Prix Freestyle in 2003. When Johnson turned 21, she became the second youngest rider to get her USDF Gold Medal, at that time.
Johnson has been in business for herself since 2002 when she started Amanda Johnson Dressage, LLC. She was still in college at the University of Iowa in the middle of getting her BSE in Industrial Engineering, while teaching students and training horses on the side. “My mom built an indoor arena and added some more stalls to our property in Iowa in 2003,” said Johnson. “In my final year of school I had five horses in full training and a full school schedule. I was doing pretty well when I graduated [in 2004], so I stuck with it and haven’t looked back.”
In 2007-2008 she also worked at Tempel Lipizzans in Old Mill Creek, IL. Since becoming a professional, she has had some very successful moments with horses she has trained. That comes as no surprise since she rides 10-15 horses per day. In the beginning, she started riding Barrie Anderson’s Pip, a 1994 Hanoverian gelding by Pik Solo, when he was at Training Level as a “naughty” nine-year-old. Her work with the gelding led them to win the USDF Third Level Musical Freestyle Challenge in 2005, and the pair had a successful small tour in 2008.
They won at Intermediate I and the Intermediate I Freestyle at Dressage at Lamplight CDI and tied for first at Dressage at Devon CDI. The next year they finished fourth in both the USEF Brentina Cup Championship and the Young Adult Grand Prix Championships at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions. And in 2010, Johnson won the Watermark Farm Perpetual Trophy at Dressage at Devon with Pip.
In 2011 Pip was injured, had surgery, and then surpassed the veterinary prognosis to compete again, this time with one of Johnson’s students, Nicole Chiappetti. Chiapetti showed him in the Young Rider division at the 2012 and 2013 NAJYRC and at the USEF Festival of Champions as the oldest horse there, all under Johnson’s tutelage. Now Chiappetti is showing Pip at the Grand Prix level. Johnson said it has been very satisfying seeing Chiappetti do so well with Pip. And she said her student Kristin Counterman did a beautiful job riding Pip in the 13 and Under division at the 2014 USEF Dressage Medal Seat Finals, where they finished sixth.
Johnson has many more accolades with a variety of other horses that have belonged to her and to clients. In addition, the Iowa native runs a full-service care and grooming facility, sells horses for clients, and teaches riders at any level, from amateurs to professionals, young riders to adults. Her students have won regional championships, high-point and year-end awards, and their USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals. “I love helping people achieve their riding goals, whether in the show ring or not,” she said. “I would love to partner with someone or a group who would invest in horses to compete at the highest levels.”
Johnson also teaches two-day dressage clinics in Stevens Point, Wausau, Boyceville, and Elkhart Lake, WI. She has worked with many top clinicians, such as Conrad Schumacher since 1997, Steffen Peters, Robert Dover, Debbie McDonald, Jan Ebeling, Christoph Hess, Christine Traurig, Susanne Von Dietze, Lars Petersen, Hans Riegler, Henk van Bergen, Volker Brommann, Walter Zettl, Cindy Ishoy, Neil Ishoy, Gerhard Politz, Colonel Christian Carde, and Mette Rosencranz.
Johnson trains and teaches out of Barn F at Sunflower Farms in Bristol, WI, and she spends 1.5 hours on the road every day to get to work from her house. All of her horses except one live at Sunflower Farms in the beautiful, heated 24-stall barn. Pluto VI Andorella lives at Tempel Farms.
Sunflower Farms’ amenities include three indoor and four outdoor arenas, trails, extra-wide aisles, a rider’s lounge, a tack room with individual lockers, a room for tack trunks, grooming bays, a wash stall, and an air filtration system. Johnson is thankful to be able to work out of such a top-notch facility and to run her business as she sees fit. She also partners with Sunflower Farms to bring in other clinicians. She has hopes of competing for Team USA one day.
She has been active within various riding organizations, serving in the past as president of the Eastern Iowa Dressage and Eventing Association, as a member of the USDF Junior/Young Rider Executive Board, as a member of the Region 4 Awards Council, and as a member of the Advanced Young Rider Graduate Program.
In her free time, Johnson loves going hiking with her husband and her two Corgis.
Johnson is sponsored by several companies: Horze, Dresch Saddles, Nutrena, Crown Jewels Design, and John Borys Photography.
To learn more about Amanda Johnson, visit www.amandajohnsondressage.com or follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/AmandaJohnsonDressageLLC. She can be reached by phone at 319-331-3241 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.