Heather Mason, who owns and operates Flying Change Farm, Tewksbury, NJ, wins big in January because of the training of her horses. Awarded $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Training Grant in January 2012, Heather headed to Wellington for one month to compete in two CDIs. Mason and “Zar” a ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Iroko x Inga by Actueel, bred in the U.S. by Carol Collyer). She won the FEI Intermediaire Freestyle during the first week of competition and topped week 3 Intermediate I class with a score of 71.842%. She made a goal for the year to qualify Zar for the Festival of Champions (NJ), with her multiple wins in Wellington, she hopes be one of the fifteen invited. She shared, “The plan that I submitted for the Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize was a two year plan culminating with time in Florida training with Lars and competing."
"In 2012 I participated in multiple clinics with Lars and Alfredo Hernandez, and also had the opportunity to work more intensively with Lars while he was stationed in Pennsylvania for six weeks. I continued the clinics in 2013, with the plan to go to Florida in January 2014. The funds from the grant were allocated specifically for Warsteiner, so I have been fundraising and teaching extra clinics so that I could bring Zar along for the trip. It is especially hard financially for me as I have my horses from youngsters and train them all the way up the levels. I then keep them here in their retirement, as I get too attached and owe them too much to sell them. I prefer to own my horses, as I do get very attached, but it is difficult financially so I also have "resale" horses to help make money. I try to keep some separation from the sale horses, but as 3 of my current FEI horses (Respekt, Warsteiner, Zar) started as sale horses, I don't seem to be very good at that part. I have a wonderful group of supportive clients and I could not do it without them and my family. The Carol Lavell Prize allowed me to take much more consistent lessons than I ever have had in the past. Now that the funds have been depleted, I will do my best to try to stay on some sort of consistent clinic schedule as I know it is very important, especially at the High Performance level. I have been trying to come up with some ideas of how to at least get Zar sponsored as he is American Bred (born at Cornell University), but it is not something I am good at, and I don't want to get into anything where I relinquish ownership or control, which limits possibilities.”
"I've been working with Lars Petersen. He has been great. I started working with him about 12 years ago, but it was very inconsistent, and only in clinics when I would have the opportunity. He’s very down to earth. He’s for the horses and never overworks the horse. He works for more power, which is where I back off a little bit because I always think my horses are good enough. But now, for the high performance, I need to ramp it up. We've been working on more power and more engagement, especially in the extensions. I need to keep going like this and build the strength now,” she said.
“Lars has helped me develop more throughness, and connection in order to develop more power. He has helped me add the expression needed to be successful at the CDIs. It is easy to get a little too relaxed when just competing at the National shows, and one of the reasons I choose to show at the CDIs is that it pushes me to take more risk in the arena, and also to focus on the small details. Every point does count at the big shows. I have found Lars very helpful with all of the horses I have taken to him for lessons, he understands that these are the horses that I have and that I want to work with, and we work on improving them one step at a time. Although I have my High Performance horses, I also have a couple of horses that I chose to keep and train as they were difficult, and I was worried what would happen to them if I sold them. While my plans for each horse is training them and competing them at the Grand Prix Level, I do not expect them all to be CDI horses, and Lars understands this.”
“I tend to focus a lot on the transitions, the connection, the contact, but I don’t always push enough for the engagement and expression needed. That’s the point where I am, right now. I need someone to give me a kick once in a while.” Mason has developed a close relationship with Zar riding him for the past seven years. She broke Zar as a three-year-old, the KWPN gelding. “Zar has his qualifying scores for the Festival of Champions and hopefully we will be invited. The rest of this winter I will change the focus to develop more strength and consistency in his Piaffe and Passage work. He knows everything in the Grand Prix, but I have not been focusing on it while showing Small Tour. This spring I will probably do a couple local shows in the Prix St Georges and Intermediare I as warm up for the Festival , and then after the Festival move him up to the Intermediare II and maybe the Grand Prix. I am still trying to decide if I should do the Developing Grand Prix with him, as it is expensive and taking Warsteiner to the Fall CDIs needs to be my main focus.”
Mason also rode Warsteiner (Riverman x Roemer), eleven-years old, to receive high scores in the National FEI Grand Prix 2014 Global Dressage Festival with scores 71.400% and Lincoln competed in USDF Freestyle, Third Level 2011with scores 73.667%. She said, “Warsteiner is feeling quite comfortable with the Grand Prix now, but I still know there is so much more to tap into. I will continue to train and develop strength and aim for the fall CDIs at Saugerties. He will do some local shows this summer to keep him in the ring. He loves to show!”
With a strong focus she shared, “My goal has always been to learn to ride every kind of horse. In Pony Club, and then later at Skidmore College, I would ride as many different horses as I could, that experience was invaluable. I didn’t care if the horse was a jumper, hunter or polo pony. I learned something from all of them.” Running a full time business at home at home in New Jersey, she said, “I normally ride 8 or 9 horses a day. Yes, I realized fairly early that I did not want to compete at the top levels in eventing, and that was part of the reason I changed my focus to dressage. I consider that I was lucky in the beginning that I only had inexpensive, difficult mares. They really taught me a lot about patience and sticking with it through the problems. It was never an option to give up and get a new one, so I learned early, many methods to work through and around their individual issues. I enjoy the training process from baby all the way to Grand Prix, and enjoy competing at all levels. The training is the ultimate goal. The competitions are about evaluating the training, and they have taken me to some great places. My goal is really to ride the horses I have. For myself, I buy babies or unbroken resale horses. Warsteiner was one of those, Zar was a baby. I mixed well with these horses. For a period, they were sale horses. Zar was too spooky to sell; I just really hit it off with Warsteiner. I like to train my own horses because I get to know them so much better. It gives me a lot more to fall back on in the ring.”
She continued, “I usually start them under saddle as 3 year olds and then they have a break until they are almost four. In their four year old year, they do basic work and show at training and first levels. From there, it depends on the horse (the more difficult they are, the more they show. This helps me figure them out more quickly), and what other horses I am competing how quickly they move up the levels. I like to have them ready for the Grand Prix at age 10, but that is totally flexible, just my own personal guideline. I usually work them 5 days a week, mostly for only 20-30 minutes. I like to keep them happy and fresh. They all get turned out for at least 5 hours a day.”
Heather is a USEF 'S' Judge, a Graduate H-A Pony Clubber, and has her USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Freestyle bars. She has competed successfully in prestigious competitions including the NAYRC, USEF National Intermediate I Championships, U.S. Olympic Festival, North American Freestyle Challenge, North American Dressage Championships, U.S. National Dressage Championships, the Can-Am Challenge, and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDIs in Wellington, Florida.