While the snow flies across much of the country, the coveted winter dressage season began in earnest during the Gold Coast Opener Festival CDI in Florida. On the scene for the first time as a duo were Olympic medalist Lisa Wilcox and 2009 FEI 6-Year-Old National Champion Pikko del Cerro HU, owned by Anne Sparks of Horses UnLimited. There, they showed the crowd how camaraderie, talent and the fundamentals of proper training produce success. Competing in their first USEF Developing Horse test, Wilcox and Cerro received a 68.67%, taking home the blue ribbon. This was quite an accomplishment for the pair who had only practiced the entire test three times prior to their win. This is only the first step on a successful path that they hope will include the National Developing Horse Championships and the Pan-American Games. For some, the new partnership might come as a surprise. But for those close to the team who watched the expressive Hanoverian stallion win numerous titles under former rider Mikala Gundersen, this transition is no curveball. "I'm not a U.S. citizen and cannot ride in the Developing Horse classes," explained Danish team rider Gundersen. "Cerro is one of the most successful U.S.-bred dressage horses today, and I thought it was important for him to continue in the Young Horse program." This camaraderie and generosity is something that many in the sport would commend.
For Anne Sparks, Pikko del Cerro's breeder and owner, this is yet another demonstration of Gundersens' character. "Mikala approached me and suggested that Lisa take over Cerro's ride. She believed it might be the better thing for me as the breeder," said Sparks. "That's what I love about Mikala. She does what is right and wanted to do what was right for my horse and me."
Taking over the competitive riding duties is a new role for Wilcox, but she has been a familiar face to Pikko del Cerro on the rail. Gundersen and Wilcox met many years ago while Wilcox was based in Germany, and they developed both a friendship and working relationship. Their training programs are similar and both have worked extensively with Ernst Hoyos. In 2009, while Gundersen was in Europe competing Horses Unlimited's Leonberg, Wilcox rode the young star regularly. She had the opportunity to learn what it felt like to train Cerro and laughs when you ask her about his personality. "He's very clever and cheeky." This is the type of horse Wilcox enjoys, and her excitement clearly shows.
The eight-year-old stallion, by Pik L, has a real sense of humor and reminds Wilcox of her former Grand Prix mount, Rohdiamont. This reminder is no coincidence; Rohdiamont happens to be Pikko del Cerro's grandsire. "Riding Cerro is so much fun - it feels like I'm back on "Roh"," remarked Wilcox. "It feels familiar, I recognize the thought process when we are training."
Surely the audacious bay stallion will flourish under Wilcox's tutelage as she understands what makes him "tick." Cheerfully she explained, "It is proving very helpful that both stallions are mentally very similar. With Rohdiamont, I didn't feel like I had the chance to finish everything I started. Now, I get to give everything I've learned since then to Cerro." This insight will help to quickly cement their under-saddle relationship.
"The things that puzzled me with RH, don't puzzle me now," said Wilcox. "I have the keys I didn't have then." When asked what those keys are, this seasoned professional doesn't hesitate to give credit to her long-time coach, Ernst Hoyos. "You have to learn to think faster than he does," Hoyos would stress. This quick thinking comes in handy as the tests become harder and the elements more challenging.
When asked how she feels about this new era for her beloved homebred, Sparks doesn't contain her exhilaration. "I knew the day this horse was born that he was special. This baby was in my head since I bought his mom. I just had the picture of him in my mind and was lucky to be there when he was born. Now, being here at this point, is so amazing. We all know it's a crap shoot."
Keep your eyes open as the dressage competitions heat up during the winter circuits. Olympic bronze medalist Wilcox and Pikko del Cerro HU will be giving their best. And Gundersen, supporting her team from the sidelines, will be right there ensuring the same training program continues. She, more than anyone, knows that this stallion is the product of a unique camaraderie - and that camaraderie such as this creates a happy horse that is poised for anything.
About Horses Unlimited
Headquartered in the heart of the Southwest, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Horses Unlimited's mission is to produce modern sport horses with great temperaments, athletic ability, and superior movement. In addition to seven international stallions available for breeding, Horses Unlimited regularly has 20 or more horses for sale, from weanlings to horses with show records, including offspring from their internationally recognized FEI Dressage stallions including Leonberg, Pik L, and Galant Du Serein.
For more information, please check their website at www.horsesunlimited.us.