It doesn't get any more American Bred than Leatherdale Farms when it comes to the Markel National Young Horse Championships. Deep in the heartland of the USA, Leatherdale Farms and their midwestern rider 32-year-old Mike Suchanek are bringing three horses in August to Lamplight Equestrian Center, in only his second year showing in dressage.
With the qualification period complete, Fleur de Lis L, a Hanoverian mare (First Dance-EM De La Rosa, De Niro) is ranked third and keeps steadily improving. In 2014 she was the Reserve Champion at the US Dressage Finals, and is now competing at Third Level with "no problem". "Every time she goes in the show ring she is exceeding our expectations," remarked Suchanek.
"Fleur is our princess at the farm and is all business in the show ring. She doesn't like to make a mistake. I am most excited about her future."
Suchanek will also be competing Fighting Chance L, a Hanoverian gelding (First Dance-EM Helia, Hohenstein), in the Six-year-old division ranked fourth on the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Ranking List for 6-year-olds.
"Chance's development over the winter was impressive. In his 4th show of his career and his first young horse test in the 6 yr. old division at Dressage at Lamplight May 2015, he came with a winning attitude and a score of 80% that started him out high on the ranking list."
Suchanek is looking forward to an audience at Lamplight the Markel event will be sure to draw from across the country. "Chance loves an audience. Every time he gets into the show ring he goes in with a look at me attitude and loves to show off. Even when he is turned out to pasture at home he will look over the fence to see if anyone is there to see him give his own freestyle."
In addition to competing against himself and the rest of the big time 6-year-old division, Leatherdale Farms has qualified a four-year-old with impressive results. In his second time ever off the farm Dublin L, a Hannoverian Gelding by Damsey out of EM Wibranda by Wolkenstein II at the IDCTA Classic in the 4-Year-Old Young Horse Test he got over an 84%. "I'm very proud of his confidence and presence in the show ring," Suchanek remarked.
"He is all business in the show ring. Being only 4 years old he has only been under saddle for a year. Dublin has been an exciting young horse to start under saddle with his excellent gaits and sharp mind. His bloodlines shine through in his ride ability and train ability."
Suchanek only recently made the transition from "plain old riding" to dressage, and has made the rapid rise as a bit of a prodigy for trainer Alison Sader Larson. “Mike is like a machine,” Larson said. “If you tell him to do A, he does A. If you tell him B, he does B. It’s like you type it into a computer and hit enter. It’s that easy because of the feel and the horsemanship that you can’t teach.”
Larson has taught countless riders, but she feels Suchanek stands out for his incredible aptitude and ability to immediately apply what she’s explained to him. “I taught him how to do walk pirouettes on one horse one day, and I came back a week later, and all three of them had it,” Larson said. “It’s that easy. It’s really hard to find any rider who can pick up on something like that.”
Suchanek, whose mother teaches centered riding, grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. He learned to ride on horses around the farm, and according to his mother, he was so comfortable in the saddle as a child that he would fall asleep while mounted.
By age 15, he began buying horses and training them to resell. From the beginning, he focused on starting young horses under saddle and producing balanced, confident, uncomplicated mounts.
While Suchanek’s work at Leatherdale Farms has taken him beyond the trail riding and small local shows he’d done before, his strong basics and natural ability made for a successful transition. He rides a couple of schoolmasters so that he can get to know the feel of the different movements and pass on that knowledge to the young horses he brings along.
“I always had a centered base of riding, so I think the transition from my plain old riding to a dressage purpose has been fairly simple for me,” Suchanek said. “It’s been amazing to have these types of horses to ride every day and learn from and teach them what they need to know to show. Having Alison as my coach has been great – she has kept the work fun and interesting, and I look forward to my lessons every week.”
He is grateful for the chance to learn a new discipline and ride some of the most promising young horses in the country while doing so, and for the opportunity the Markel Young Horse Championships offers the sport.
I want to thank Markel for sponsoring the 2015 National Young Horse and Developing Horse Championship and for USEF for creating this competition. A huge thank you to Doug and Louise Leatherdale for breeding such brilliant horses and trusting me with their development. I also want to thank Alison Sader Larson for her exceptional experience and her keen ability to share her expertise. And I want to thank Jessi Lash our performance horse manager and everyone behind the scenes working so hard to keep the horses looking beautiful.