There’s not much that makes Kristina Harrison nervous. She’s competed in some of dressage’s biggest events alongside the world’s top riders with enviable ease. But watching her 14-year-old daughter, Rison Naness, in the show arena is something else. “I get so nervous,” Harrison said in between classes at the Del Mar National Horse Show. “It’s torture! But Rison has nerves of steel. She’s pretty fierce.” Harrison, who was last seen on the international stage with the P.R.E. stallion Rociero XV, could just as well be describing herself, yet she says, “Rison rides much better than I did at her age. Even at six years old, she rode tests from memory. She doesn’t give anything away — she’s a tough competitor.” The two have perfected a working partnership that allows them to slip effortlessly from their roles as mother and daughter to that of trainer and student. Says Harrison, “When she gets frustrated, I tell her, ‘I’m your trainer right now, not your mother.”
For the past year Rison has been riding Kingsley, a 15.2-hand, 12-year-old black Lusitano that Harrison obtained in April 2010. He’d never been shown, but by the end of the year they were at Third Level. They’re now competing in the Junior division and have qualified for the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final this summer, which will be held in conjunction with the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships in Illinois. “He’s great for Rison,” says Harrison. “It’s not always about winning, it’s about learning to ride correctly. I never want her overmounted. It can be a lot for kids to put a big horse together. With Kingsley she can learn cadence and suspension.”
Kingsley may be small in stature, but he has big ideas. “He tries so hard,” says Harrison. Adds Rison, “He’s the softest, lightest horse, but he gets very quick when he’s nervous, and he wants to do piaffe and passage. I just want him to chill out and do his best.”
Rison grew up around horses (“her first words were ‘kick em,’” recalls her mother), but didn’t begin riding until she was nearly five years old. “I didn’t want her to ride unless she wanted to,” explains Harrison. “Even now, it’s always her choice; it’s on whatever terms she wants.”
Five mornings a week, mother and daughter rise at 5 a.m. so that Rison can be tacked up and ready for her 6:15 a.m. lesson at Harrison’s Angele Farms in Los Angeles. Then she heads to school, where’s she’s a straight-A student in the eighth grade. “Sometimes it’s exhausting, but I love it,” she says with a smile.
Harrison herself is now competing her eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Rohdiamant that Bob McDonald, Olympian Debbie McDonald’s husband, found in Europe four years ago. “He’s big — about 17.2 — and very athletic, but a bit of a late bloomer,” says Harrison. “He does Prix St. Georges and I-I movements, but this year is about him getting mileage. He used to be very hot, but he’s matured a lot. I want him to get stronger before I move him up.”
Whenever Harrison shows, Rison is on the sidelines, studying every move. After each test in Del Mar, a small voice could be heard from the far end of the ring: “Yay, mom!”