Parker, CO — For United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Silver and Bronze medalist Maureen Sterling, creating a special bond with horses and their humans has been a lifelong passion. Sterling has a knack for growth, showing special talent when it comes to training students like Layne Sandercott, who won the GAIG/USDF Region V Third Level Adult Amateur Championship this past weekend. Whether earning USDF Horse of the Year awards, or empowering amateur equestrians to reach their dressage dreams, Sterling believes that horses and riders must have a connection born of shared mind, body and spirit. The result of this unique approach is often a blue ribbon or a high score at the horse shows, but also day-to day rides that surprise and delight both participants.
“I like Maureen’s quiet, intuitive, almost Zen-like way with the horses because that’s how I like to treat horses too. Her gentle style of training allows [my horse] to thrive. It’s a mind, body and spiritual experience,” explained Patricia McConathy, of Yarmony Creek Sporthorses, breeder and owner of French Tip. With Maureen in the saddle, the six-year-old Trakehner/KWPN mare finished with the 2012 Rocky Mountain Dressage Society (RMDS) Reserve Championship at First Level with a 70.242%.
This was only “Tipper’s” second weekend of showing, but she acted like a seasoned veteran and amassed a pile of blue ribbons and great scores. “She went down centerline like she was at home,” Sterling said of her rides. “She was so happy to be there, which is really important to me. I want my horses to love their jobs.” French Tip is by the Trakehner stallion Sinatra out of a KWPN mare by Roemer Preferent.
Another talented mare in Maureen’s program is her own Rhyme Tyme, an eight-year-old Oldenburg mare by Royal Diamond out of a Sandro daughter. The pair quickly developed a special bond when Maureen purchased the gorgeous dapple grey in January. “I’m so thrilled to have this very meaningful relationship with this loving, sweet horse,” Maureen said. “It is an indescribable feeling to have your horse trust you and try so hard for you.”
The RMDS Championships was only Rhyme’s second show. Although the inexperienced horse’s nerves were evident at the beginning of the weekend, she rose to the occasion and laid down an impressive trip when it really mattered. Maureen said, “It was really gratifying in the last class, [the Third Level championship]. She stopped worrying and trusted me to take care of her. She gave me everything she had that day in her training and it was amazing that she was able to let her true nature, which is so giving, to shine through in the show ring.” Rhyme’s complete faith and trust brought Maureen to tears as she exited the arena. The final tally was third-place with one judge awarding more than 71%.
While the accolades are nice, it’s the depth of feeling that she and Rhyme share that truly resonates with meaning for Sterling. “I love connecting with horses without saying a word, that’s when it becomes a spiritual experience.”
Maureen also brings this attitude to the riders she coaches. Layne Sandercott, 21, Denver, CO, has had big dreams for her dressage career, but a series of unfortunate events kept her out of the show ring for three years. She made up for it this season, with a multitude of wins, and a blue ribbon at the GAIG/USDF Region V Third Level Adult Amateur Championships.
“It has been a long road, but I have finally found a horse and trainer that just fit,” said Sandercott. “After all of our hard work, it is amazing to see it all pay off, especially at a Regional Championship event.”
In January, her quest for a top dressage horse was completed when Maureen found Rolex Tyme, a seven-year-old gelding by Rosario. The flamboyant black gelding had everything they were looking for: brilliance and an incredible work ethic. With only a few months of practice, Layne and Rolex headed into their first show season together. The result has been nothing short of incredible: 13 blue ribbons and six high point awards for their scores, which have reached upwards of 74%.
“This has been an incredible experience so far,” Layne reported. “I’m so excited to just be in the arena again. And I’m so grateful to my horse and to Maureen for making this happen.”
Layne had competed at FEI before she began working with Maureen, but she needed to bring more confidence to her riding. “Although dressage is a sport in which the details are the difference, being a perfectionist can sometimes undermine a rider’s confidence,” Maureen explained. “It has been fun to watch Layne and Rolex progress together.” Layne concurred, “In the past, I have been an anxious rider. Maureen has been really good at recognizing the thin line of pushing me outside of my comfort zone and pushing me too far. I have become a much better rider and everyone in my life has been able to see that.”
Maureen also coached her own assistant trainer, fellow professional trainer and mom, Julie Burt. The Parker resident is a USDF-Certified Instructor through second level who looks to Maureen to help her fine-tune her FEI-level skills. Riding Genuine Gem, Burt finished third in the RMDS Prix St. Georges Championship, and also won an Open Prix St. Georges class. The duo also claimed blue ribbons in two Prix St. Georges classes plus a High Point award in August at Dressage in the Rockies, the largest dressage show in the region.
Julie and Maureen met at Little Monkey Business, an indoor kid’s play center. “She had a horse on her hat and her son was the best behaved child at Little Monkey Business,” Julie recalled. Soon they were working together with the goal of improving the quality of the FEI movements while maintaining and enhancing the quality of the gaits.
They work on throughness — the feeling of the energy coming from the horse’s hind legs over its back through to the bit, and recycling it back again. Julie described the progression of work with Maureen, “Where she’s really helped me is how through my mare can be — carrying from behind. I’ve focused on my feeling for what the connection should be for my new horse.”
Maureen is thrilled to be able to help riders of all levels improve the quality of each and every ride. “Teaching riders is a big part of who I am. Giving them the tools they need to really connect with their horses. It doesn’t feel like a job to me.”
USDF Gold Medalist Jane Renner is another professional trainer who sought Maureen’s tutelage. With Maureen coaching, Renner has developed a strategy for working with her 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Waipua. “I think the world of [Maureen]; she is one of the best talents we have in Colorado,” Renner said. In the weeks leading up to the championships, Renner and Sterling worked on the influencing the gaits through the use of a fluid seat, as well as exercises that brought Waipua’s inside hind leg under and over, pushing the energy into the outside rein. The result was more than 70% in the First Level Freestyle Championship.
Regardless of a horse or rider’s level, Maureen focuses on giving them the tools to improve, usually resulting in an immediate change. This success has made Maureen an in-demand trainer, but over the past five years, she has shifted her focus from a large training barn to an intimate group of carefully selected horses and riders. This allows her to spend quality time with each client, as well as have good energy for her husband and two young sons. She remembered, “As much as I love training horses and teaching riders, when I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week, something was missing. Now, I’m blessed to have a meaningful profession and an amazing, full life with my family. The circle is complete.”
Learn more at www.sterlingdressage.com.