Caen, France - There is no higher level of equestrian competition than a World Equestrian Games, an Olympic Games, or a Paralympic Games. The experience, not surprisingly, is like no other and even at this level, an up-and-coming horse has to get his feet wet. It may seem odd to think of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ as a schooling show, but to an extent that's what it's been for Kamiakin, a nine-year-old PRE stallion owned by Kathryn Hill and ridden by Grade IV competitor Susan Treabess.
Relaxed, poised, and confident at the U.S. WEG para-equestrian dressage selection trials in June, Kamiakin has been more on edge in Normandy, with lovely moments interrupted by slight tension. Today's Grade IV Individual test, for one, was off to a good start when a runner popped out from behind a judge's booth. Kamiakin spooked, and Treabess did a masterful job of regaining the stallion's focus-which came and went a few more times until he finally settled toward the end. The ride garnered a score of 60.667 percent.
"I'm disappointed, but I keep getting back to...for [us] it's just a stepping stone, as kind of a young partnership and him as a young horse. He's young and he's a stallion, and he has those things that come along with being a young stallion. Once the third mistake happened, I kind of said, 'That's it; it's a schooling experience and he's here to learn. I'm going to get him through this, and he's going to have to learn to handle this kind of pressure and atmosphere,'" Treabess said afterward.
Kamiakin was also unnerved by the low scoreboards positioned outside the arena perimeters, Treabess said, as they weren't there when competitors had their "arena familiarization" opportunity a few days ago.
"Being a stallion, if they change the furniture, that's it," she said. "He's got to get over that. He has to learn to let me protect him in those situations, and trust that I'm not going to put him in a situation where his life is in jeopardy."
Still, the trainer-she has brought Kamiakin up from Training Level to confirmed small-tour horse in just three years, and he's schooling all the movements of the Grand Prix-is proud of the way her mount performed.
"In about the last two movements, he really settled in and let me ride him. To me it's a win. It was fun to come to France and be part of this experience, and we're going to go home and put some banners up and maybe take him to some shows where they change the arena. So hopefully in two years we'll be ready to rock and roll [at the 2016 Paralympics].
"The George Clooney of Horses"
That's what Treabess, 37, and the other folks at her training base, Somerset Farm, Winters, Calif., call "Kam." Like the famously handsome actor, Kam is a head-turner: a dark bay PRE (by Kianto) with that fabulously cresty Iberian-stallion neck and an unmistakable presence. Although Kam has been "on vacation" from breeding, he is an approved breeding stallion who will return to breeding on a limited basis after the WEG, and probably turn to breeding as a second career after he retires from dressage competition, Treabess said. (Not a bad way to spend a retirement!)
Kam has garnered attention at the WEG for another reason, as well: According to Treabess, he is the first PRE ever to make a U.S. team.
"The PRE owners and riders have been trying to have this happen for years," Treabess said. "[Olympic dressage competitor] Courtney King [Dye] had Grandioso, and when she was injured he went to Spain." (Grandioso is competing at the 2014 WEG under Jose Daniel Martin Dockx.) "They're amazing horses; they're highly intelligent and they're fun to ride. This horse has incredible potential."
Treabess, who was born without a left hand, says that "having one hand, they're the choice breed for me [because] he's quite easy to ride off the seat. I cannot have a horse that's heavy in the hand. There are plenty of warmbloods that are like that as well, but there's just something special about the PREs." She choked up as she said of Kam, "He's one of my best friends."
Treabess and Kam: Right Place, Right Time
Kam's owner, Kathryn "Katie" Hill, is from Oregon but now lives in the Netherlands, Treabess said. "When she and her husband, Scott, were moving to the Netherlands, they decided they wanted to sell him, so they brought him down to me. Things just fell into place, and now I'm a part-owner," said Treabess, who has been paired for Kam for three years.
Serendipity also played a role in Treabess's entry into the para-equestrian dressage world. She had previously competed in able-bodied eventing (including trying out for the FEI North American Young Riders Championships) and had "competed in dressage as a hobby for a long time." FEI-level dressage trainer and competitor Dennis Callin, who had previously coached a Paralympian, came to California to conduct a clinic with colleague Monica Theodorescu, then chef d'équipe of the German dressage team.
"He said, 'I hear you're quite a good rider. Have you ever thought of getting into para-dressage?'" Treabess recalled. "I had never even heard of it. He introduced me, and it was sort of surprising-him scouting for para riders. He's a pretty big advocate of the sport."
Even though the U.S.-born Callin now resides in the United Kingdom, Treabess continues to work with her trainer. "I've been bringing him every eight weeks from the U.K., and he stays for a week. We've been doing that now for three years. He will be competing his own horses next year, so we're going to back off a little bit from that schedule, but continue to train." Callin also helps to oversee the training programs at Somerset Farm, she said.
The Road to Rio
As the 2014 WEG para-dressage competition winds down (tomorrow is the freestyle finals), Treabess is already looking to the future.
"Next year, I'm going to try to show him on the small-tour CDI circuit in California and continue to school him toward Grand Prix; then continue to compete in the para and work toward Rio [the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro]," she says of her stallion. "Our goal of getting here [WEG] was getting him out and having a schooling-type experience, getting ready for Rio."
Tomorrow, Friday, is the final day of WEG 2014 para-dressage competition, with individual freestyles in all grades. With a score of 67.486 percent in today's Grade II Individual test, Rebecca Hart and Schroeter's Romani look to have qualified. (Official freestyle start lists hadn't yet been issued at press time.)
"It was good; she was more settled for this one, but we still need to add a little bit of power," Hart said of the twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Lobster x Come Back II). "She did everything I asked of her today, so I'm happy with that. I'm hoping [to qualify] for the freestyle. We'll have to wait for the rest of the day." (The top third in each grade, based on combined scores from the team test and the individual test, will advance to the freestyle.)
The other U.S. competitor who has a chance of dancing tomorrow is Grade Ia's Roxanne Trunnell on Nice Touch, a nineteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (by Grundstein). Trunnell improved on her 68.087 percent score in the Grade Ia Team test, earning an impressive 69.435 percent in today's Grade Ia Individual test. She placed eighth in both classes.