Less than a year ago Lauren Sammis and Sagacious debuted in the Prix St. Georges, at Dressage at Devon, and are now on their way to Rio, to represent the United States on the Pan American Games Dressage Team, placing second overall in the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Dressage Intermediaire Championships.
Sagacious, an eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Al and Judy Guden’s Hyperion Farm, came in second overall in the Pan American Games Selection Trials, earning a spot on the U.S. Dressage Team that will travel to Rio this summer. The gelding was once almost on the sale block, but now he’ll most likely be heading to the Pan American Games this summer. After this weekend’s competition, Sammis and Sagacious have earned the right to represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games in Rio along with Hickey and Regent and Katherine Poulin-Neff and Brilliant Too. The team alternate is Susan Dutta with Pik-L.
It was Dutch trainer Toine Hoefs who bought Sagacious (by Welt Hit II out of Cocktail) for the Gudens when the horse was four months old. The gelding stayed in Europe until he was four and then the Gudens brought him home to the U.S.
Sammis came into the picture when the Gudens were looking to sell the horse. “I had the horse and I needed a new rider and I had decided at that point that I was going to sell the horse,” Al Guden said. “So I called Lauren and told her that I wanted her to get on, see what she thought of the horse and sell it for me. We’ve known each other for a dozen years, since she was a little kid. So she came over and rode him. When she got off the horse, I told her what I wanted to get for him and she, ‘absolutely no problem.’ But then she called me back the next day and said ‘I’d like to bring that horse along a little bit because I think he’s really valuable’.”
A Matter of Trust
Sammis, of South Orange, New Jersey, clearly knew what she had and Guden decided to trust her. “She knew what she had under her and she’s done a marvelous job training him, bringing him along,” he said.
A wonderful job indeed! Sammis and Sagacious really gave Hickey a run for his money in the three days of competition that encompassed the Pan Am Selection Trials. Day one consisted of the Prix St. Georges competition, which counted for 45 percent of the final score in the Selection Trials. Hickey and Regent, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Flemmingh out of Jenny and owned by Brenna Kucinski, won that class with a score of 71.15 percent. Sammis and Sagacious finished second with 70.15 percent.
The places were reversed in the Intermediaire I competition on the second day with Sammis taking the win with a 72.30 percent. Hickey earned a 71.40 percent. The Intermediaire counted for 30 percent of the total score. The remaining competitive event was the Intermediaire Freestyle on the final day. Hickey and Regent won that with a score of 74.50 for a final total score of 72.063 percent. Sammis and Sagacious earned a 73.45 percent in the Freestyle and had a final score of 71.725 percent.
PhelpsPhoto: Team Coach Klaus Balkenhol congratulates Lauren Sammis
Third place in the Selection Trials went to Katherine Poulin-Neff and the very popular Brilliant Too, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross by Brilliant out of Blue Brigetta. As usual, the Poulin family was on hand to offer their support, which consisted of handing out Brilliant Too t-shirts and buttons to supporters.
Sammis and Sagacious Top the Leader Boards In Intermediaire I
Sammis, who runs a sales and training business in New Jersey and Florida, also had a fair amount of family members in attendance during the competition. It added a bit of pressure for her to perform well, which, of course, she did. “I’m glad that I was able to step up to the plate and not embarrass my family,” she said.
Sammis is clearly thrilled with Sagacious, which really showed after the pair’s I-1 victory on the Saturday of competition. “I thought he felt great. I was happy to ride him,” she said. When asked to describe what was best about her ride she replied, “I can probably better describe things that didn’t go well, because I messed up a change and came around to my pirouette and thought, ‘you screwed up one thing so you’d better do really well on something else.’ I was thinking to myself, ‘come on buddy, bring it home.’ The whole horse has changed so dramatically, even over the last four weeks. He just feels really, really great and it sometimes surprises me when I go into a corner how right there he is.”
What’s changed most in the last month, Sammis said, is that Sagacious has begun to learn his passage.
“And that’s a big thing for a horse that is going from Prix St. Georges to Grand Prix.
When your horse can learn to passage, you can kind of put it into your test a little bit when your horse is really learning to collect.
And that just appeared with him and it’s amazing to get that feeling that he can just collect and you can start to get that cadence that will really show when it gets to Grand Prix, but it gives the horse a lot more expression in the Prix St. Georges.”
Hyperion Farm's Al and Judy Guden Along for the Ride
It may have been the idea of selling Sagacious that put Sammis and the gelding together, but there seems little doubt that this is a pair that won’t soon be broken up. “This horse is not being sold,” Sammis said. “The plan is to see how far he can go. It’s the process of where we’re going that’s the fun part. It’s great having the support of the owners and to be able to do this for them. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
For their part, the Gudens are as excited and pleased as is Sammis. And what they all share is a sense that what matters most in the showing of Sagacious is that they all have fun – the horse included. Guden said the horse had only a 20-minute break-in and he’s got the video to prove it. “He was just the calmest thing you’ve ever seen. It was like, ‘okay, it’s about time you got a saddle on me so let’s get going.’ He’s done fabulous ever since.”
Sagacious does have quite an impressive record. It includes being reserve champion stallion in the Netherlands, a regional championship, a second place at the prestigious Dressage at Devon, Horse of the Year for his breed and numerous competitive wins. Guden credits not only the horse, but also Sammis for the success.
“They are the most fabulous pair out there. They look like they were born together. They were just perfect from the time she got on the horse the first time. It’s just a marvelous pair.”
Sammis is more quick to give credit to Sagacious. “He’s easy because first of all, his confirmation is built to do this. So, there is no reason physically that he can’t do it. And he learns so quickly. And he loves it. If I don’t ride and I give him a day off, he’s upset. He loves to work. He loves it every single day. I’ve never ridden a horse that has been this trainable. He’s virtually without limitations.”
The Ashley Holzer Factor
Sammis also gives credit to Ashley Holzer, with whom she trains during the summer when back home in New Jersey. Holzer, she said, “has made me ride with more expression and more cadence in my gaits. She’s also helped make my horse physically stronger.”
The other added benefit Sammis has gained from working with Holzer is confidence. “She’s such a positive person. She makes me feel good about my riding and she reminds me to have fun.” Holzer has trained horses to Grand Prix that come from both sides of Sagacious’s bloodlines and hence, Sammis said she really knows his traits. “She knows his instincts and tendencies and that helps a lot.”
Although Sagacious is currently staying with Sammis at her New Jersey barn, he’s normally at home at the Guden’s Hyperion Farm in Wellington, Florida. And Guden credits the fabulous gelding with helping his wife in her battle with breast cancer. “This horse gets her up in the morning. We’re having such a good time. It’s been really special. So we don’t want to sell the horse, we just want to enjoy the horse. And everyone loves him, especially his groom, Mae Williams. She sleeps with him and you can’t say anything bad about the horse around her or you’re in trouble. I also want to thank Don Later, our farrier and friend for all of his help and support. ”