Take one U.S. bred Spanish horse, a U.S. owner who lives in the Netherlands and a U.S. para-dressage rider in California, coached by a U.S. trainer living in the UK all headed to Normandy, France and you realize it takes not only a village but a high degree of logistical skill, motivation and planning to reach the international level.
“Anyone else humming ‘we are the world?’" asks Susan Treabess who feels ready to roll with Kamiakin, her 2005 PRE stallion owned in partnership with Katie and Scott Hill of the Netherlands. He will be the first of his breed (Pure Raza Espaῆol) to ever represent the United States in a WEG event. Born without a left hand, Susan is classified as a Grade 1V (the least impaired). She rides with a prosthetic hook.
Treabess turned decidely pro-active after she represented the U.S. at the 2010 Alltech/World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY, where she finished 10th overall in the Grade IV division, aboard her mare Moneypenny. There, she recognized the leap needed to be competitive.
“In 2010, I was getting my feet wet. Seeing the caliber of riding, training and equine partner in Kentucky, I knew I had to up my game big time if I wanted to get to another Games. I also decided I just wasn't in this for the experience, I wanted to compete well.”
Susan quit her job of 10 years as a policy consultant in environmental policy and law in the California State Senate to open her own training business Winterhaven Dressage at Somerset Farm in Winters, CA, with a handful of horses and clients. In four years, her business has rapidly expanded to a 70 horse operation. She credits a barn owner who believed in her approach to horses and the clinicians she brought in. “Really, my job in politics and policy was perfect training for the horse industry!” Susan laughs.
A USDF Bronze and Silver medalist, Susan believes wholeheartedly in combining the principles of classical dressage with the tried and true horsemanship principles taught by Tom Dorrance that she observed early as a child attending cowboy clinics with her father. As part of her program, she hosts regular clinics with horsemanship trainers, Ellen Eckstein and David Hillman, to expand the training horizons of all her students from competing FEI riders to pleasure riders.
When you find a trainer that offers the structure and insight, that adds the key ingredient to bring out the best in rider and horse, you find a way to make it work.
For the last two years, Susan has flown Dennis Callin in from Europe every eight weeks for a week of training at Winterhaven. A U.S. citizen, Callin resides in the UK but frequently trains in Germany and had competed the Grand Prix horse D‘Accord with great success.
“Dennis helps keep my training on track and having a coach who lives, competes and trains in Europe has also ensured that we are in the ball park of our peers,” Susan says. Callin also helps direct the Team Winterhaven show program including FEI small and large tour horses, FEI young horses, FEI Para Dressage and the Adult Amateur program.
Born without a left hand, Susan grew up using the basic hardware of a prosthetic but managing double reins with the hook is pretty impressive. Susan says it took two years to perfect her technique, “along with a lot of frustration and words inappropriate for this interview.”
She also travels with a back up prosthesis and duct tape. “At selection trials, my primary hook cable broke, a little duct tape and we were fine. I can also ride one handed if I have to, so if we have catastrophic failure in a test, I have a back up plan,” she says.
“I will say that this time around my head is more clear. I'm less focused on the actual competition and more on my personal training and preparation to put in the best performance I can: a precise, accurate, supple, yet powerful test.”
George Clooney of Horses
After 2010, watching both Fuego and one of the German Para horses, Treabess considered a PRE. “I have some serious long term issues in my ‘good’ hand that do not allow me to ride with very much weight in the rein contact and I heard that they were natural in self carriage.” It only took one ride to convince her to make the jump from warmbloods.
Susan calls Kam the George Clooney of horses. “He's sexy and he knows it but not in an arrogant way. He's Mr. Charisma and attracts a crowd wherever he goes. Being a stallion, keeping him happy is our primary focus.” He gets ridden four days a week, walked two additional days with daily pasture turnout. His barn buddy, Drake, a 5-year-old Hannoverian, is his best friend. “They are incredible horses, we had one in our barn in 2010. We now have 11.”
Katie Hill had bought Kamiakin as a 2-year-old from Ami MacHugh of Jackass Mountain Ranch in Pasco, Washington. “A friend involved in PREs suggested I look at the breed. I wasn’t really heart-set on owning one but the more PREs I saw, the more I felt they possessed the qualities I wanted in a rideable, athletic horse suitable for dressage.” Her visit to Ami MacHugh’s ranch clinched the deal. “Kam had the total package for me, including that phenomenal PRE disposition that makes him the kind of stallion that is a real pleasure to live and work with,” says Hill.
With an impending move to Holland, Hill’s first priority was finding a new home for her beloved horse. She brought him to Winterhaven for training from Oregon.
“He was Training level and a bit gangly as a 6-year-old but my business partner, Eva King, and I saw the raw material in him immediately,” says Treabess. “It was there under the surface begging to be brought out. He's now solid Prix St. George and Intermediare 1 in Open dressage and we're schooling Grand Prix.” She and Hill are now co-owners.
During awards, Susan lets him suck on his reins and that seems to keep the stallion side happy and under wraps. “I got after him about this at first but it only made him worse, so I caved and we reached a compromise. I adore him and I hope we have a long riding career together.”
Before meeting Susan, Hill had minimal exposure to para dressage, “a few videos and articles about it but that was about it,” she relates. “I never could have imagined that less than three years later that would mean heading to Normandy to watch Susan and Kam compete at the WEG!” She feels very fortunate to continue to be involved in Kam’s progress from afar. “This whole experience has been such a gift and I cannot thank Susan and her team enough.”
We Are the World
A donation of $11,900 from the Foundation of the Pure Spanish Horse via their members has helped Treabess enormously, as have all her supporters, family, friends and fans. As the lone West Coast Team member, Susan and Kam have had to fly twice to Gladstone. Once for selection trials in June and now to join the team before heading overseas.
“It has been incredible year. Words cannot justify how grateful I am. A few of my teammates are still running the fundraising race and I'm committed to making sure they too can live out their dreams.”
Susan sees the horse community as a way to help and promote others. She mentors fellow para-equestrian Grade II rider, Ashleigh Flores-Simmons and hosted 2013 West Coast Para Training Clinic at Winterhaven. She welcomes children with disabilities to visit the horses and is an enthusiastic role model that you can go after your dreams.
Few ever attain the heights of a World Games but the network needed takes many along for the ride. Hard work has paid off for Susan Treabess and Kamiakin. Their spirit of unity, on many levels, as parallel competitors, as members of Team USA, is exemplary. Bon Voyage and Bon Chance!