College was initially on David Ziegler’s mind when he graduated from high school. Only problem was he couldn’t figure out what to study. He changed his mind about his major on a weekly basis, which led his frustrated mother to give him this advice: “Just go ride and figure it out.” David took his mother’s advice and as he put it, “and here we are three years later.” David, 21, is now in the history books of the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships as one of the few riders to compete, and medal, in more than one discipline during the championships. He earned a silver medal in dressage and a gold medal in eventing. The dressage silver medal was earned with the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Peninsula Top Man, sired by Kings Master. The eventing gold was earned with the help of the 18-year-old Critical Decision, previously the mount of Missy Ransehousen, with whom David has trained in eventing for the past three years. The eventing success at NAJYRC was not such a surprise to David considering that Critical Decision is a veteran competitor, but he was surprised by his dressage success. “I hadn’t expected the individual silver in dressage with Topper because at our last CDI in Wellington in January he was still quite unconfirmed at Prix St. Georges and his scores weren’t fabulous,” David said.
“He improved an amazing amount in these last seven months but I still wasn’t sure how he’d do against the flashier Warmbloods. After our team test scores, I thought we just might be able to win something in the individual test.” And the pair did. They might have also placed well in the dressage freestyle competition had it not been for some spooks in the corner of the ring but David said it was perhaps for the best. “My ego might not have been able to handle earning two gold medals.”
The son of cattle ranchers, David grew up on his family’s 3,000-acre ranch located about an hour north of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The ranch has been in the family for four generations and while it might be the perfect setting for a cowboy, David and his sisters saw it as the perfect place for racing cross country. Their mother is a life-long equestrian with experience in both Western and English riding. She passed her passion for riding on to her children, all of whom joined Pony Club and quickly developed a passion for eventing. David’s older sister, 23-year-old Katelyn is a full-time event rider working with Marilyn Dixon. His twin sister Courtney is a vet tech and part-time event rider. She joined her brother at NAJYRC and served as his groom.
“We were all very competitive with each other when we were kids,” David said with a laugh. “But it was great and eventing became a family affair. We would go to Florida or California in the winter to do some competitions and mom would come along. Dad liked to stay home around the farm but sometimes he’d join us.”
The siblings all worked with Marilyn Dixon as kids and got training in dressage from Shelley Malbeuf. As he progressed, David also began working with Sandra Donnelly, one of Canada’s top Olympic eventers. “So, we did have proper training,” David said of the education that he and his sisters received.
In time, David also started working with eventer Leslie Law and that connection then led him to Missy Ransehousen. “A friend suggested I take a lesson with Missy and so I did and my horse never went better. So, I took on Missy as my full-time trainer,” David said. Fortunately, with Missy came her mother, Jessica Ransehousen, an Olympic dressage rider and former Chef d'Equipe of the U.S. dressage team. It was fortunate because Topper had decided that eventing was not for him and Jessica was there to step in with an alternate plan. David imported Topper from Ireland six years ago with the intention of competing him in eventing. “He had everything you would want in an event horse except that he just didn’t have the heart,” David said.
David joined the Ransehousens at their Blue Hill Farm in Unionville, Penn. and Jessica stepped in to oversee Topper’s transformation from eventer to dressage horse. She admits that she was not initially impressed with Topper as a dressage prospect. “Topper had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in eventing and had told David so in some rather unfortunate ways,” Jessica said. “At first, I didn’t see much in the horse as a dressage prospect but David was at the farm with the horse so I figured we should give it a try and see if Topper would take to dressage.”
Hence, Topper began dressage training while continuing to compete in eventing. By the winter of 2014, he was trained up to Prix St. Georges but Jessica said it wasn’t easy. “When we started with collection and the pirouettes, Topper would kick and buck and rear and run off,” Jessica said. “Getting the flying changes was a bit the same. It was like a rodeo for awhile.” She said it was worth the effort because when Topper was focused, it was clear the horse had real potential. “We worked through the problems by tempting him without asking for a great deal. Once he realized he could do things well, he really turned around. It helped that David was real committed to making Topper a dressage horse.”
An added bonus, Jessica said, is that David proved himself a fabulous dressage rider. “He looks very, very elegant. I have to say he rode beautiful at Young Riders.”
NAJYRC was the last competition for David’s event partner at NAJYRC – Critical Decision. He is now retired and that leaves David with Topper as his main mount. Hence, his next competitive target is a dressage competition – Dressage at Devon. David and Topper have already qualified for Devon at Prix St. Georges but they are testing the waters of Intermediaire I this next month to see if they can also qualify for Devon at that level. Jessica said she believes Topper has the ability to move up to grand prix. “The horse has wonderful pirouettes and even now has the two tempis and I think he could have a nice passage and piaffe.”
David’s success at NAJYRC is getting him offers of other horses to ride but he has not yet decided the direction of his post-NAJYRC life. He came to the U.S. on a sports visa with NAJYRC as his target. “My goal was to learn and ride and go to Young Riders and that has been achieved,” David said. His visa is expiring, which means he must either try for another sports visa or a green card if he wants to stay in the U.S. and ride full-time. “It’s outrageously hard to get a visa,” he said. His other option is to return home to Canada and perhaps attend college and ride on the side.
The one certainty in David’s life is that his tremendous success at NAJYRC is sure to open doors of opportunity. Even if he opts to head home, horses are sure to remain part of his life. David jokingly said that he has some ideas about the family ranch. “I’ve had some plans at times to turn it in to a horse park but I have to talk the parents into that one.”