Printed in Sidelines Magazine by Mary Hilton
It's been 12 years since Lynn Palm came down centerline, but she's back, riding My Royal Lark. Anyone even faintly familiar with the lore of 'America's horse' knows that when you see 'Palm' and 'Lark' in a show program, quarter horse royalty is on the grounds.
Lynn Palm will forever be associated in many fans' minds with one of the most outstanding horses to ever grace a ring - the quarter horse stallion Rugged Lark. He was named the AQHA World Champion three times and earned the title Super Horse twice as the highest scoring horse of the World Show in 1985 and 1987 - and he was the first horse to ever accomplish that feat.
Rugged Lark has since sired two horses that also earned the Super Horse Title twice. One of those was Lynn's mount The Lark Ascending, a horse she started in dressage and who now competes at Grand Prix with Mari Zdunic. Lynn not only rode Rugged Lark to competitive fame but also to exhibition glory - they were known for their performances that combined English and Western riding plus bridle-less dressage where Rugged Lark took his cues from the garland of flowers around his neck. They were featured in shows and expos, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Lynn was one of the first dressage riders in the United States, and began competing in the discipline as early as 1967.
Now at age 51, Lynn Palm is back in the dressage ring, seriously competing one of Rugged Lark's elegant sons - My Royal Lark, a 10-year-old, 16-hand stallion out of Tails of Hoffman, a Thoroughbred mare, which makes this beautiful bay an Appendix Quarter Horse. Lynn has had My Royal Lark since he was a yearling and has fostered a partnership with him for nine years. She started competing with him in the hunters as a five-year-old and continued to find success in those events over the years, but this year the duo switched to dressage. As of February 2004, they had competed in four dressage shows in Florida. "One big reason why I'm doing it is that the American Quarter Horse Association has adopted dressage as a recognized discipline at USDF and USEF shows. All his scores 60 and above will be recorded. If it's well-received this year, then in 2005 he would get AQHA points as well. They're also having end of the year awards for the quarter horses showing in dressage."
Lynn notes that in the United States Dressage Federation each year more and more people are registering 'Quarter Horse' and 'Quarter Horse Types', making it the largest growing breed in the federation's registry. "They're hoping with AQHA now being involved that more people will say, it's a registered quarter horse and get involved also in the nice awards and promotions that AQHA will offer to the dressage horses," explained Lynn. "I truly think it's a horse that will be very, very popular for the amateur because of their temperament and the confidence that people can get. I know there's going to be a lot of people introduced to dressage with the quarter horse."
Back at X
Prior to the recent weeks of competition, the last time Lynn halted and saluted at X was in 1992. At that time the American Quarter Horse Association had a program called the Best of America's Horse in which they recognized quarter horses in other disciplines, which inspired Lynn to don her white breeches. "I had the Horse Of The Year in Training Level and that was fun!" she said. With My Royal Lark, Lynn made her dressage debut in three shows before venturing to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. There she contested Second Level Test 1 and 2 over two days, in which she earned scores of 60.263% and 61.351%, for eighth place both days.
"My goal was to be more accurate because it had four different serpentines, and to be crisper in my transitions," said Lynn after her first ride. "Probably my hardest thing is getting him to think 'forward'. I have to create it every step of the way, but that's the quarter horse. I got a 60 score probably because the judge wanted to see more forward, maybe wanted to see a little more upright and collected. He really is in a First Level frame right now. I haven't trained him beyond that at this point but I plan to."
Jane Savoie is coaching Lynn and they are currently working to move My Royal Lark up to more collection in Second Level. Is this a horse that will make it all the way to Grand Prix? "I don't know," Lynn answers candidly. "He's got some great moves. I've been showing him exhibition like I did with Rugged Lark and he's got his three-tempi and two-tempi changes. He has a beautiful canter pirouette. He's uphill for a quarter horse, but it's going to take time to really develop him. The passage/piaffe, I'm sure he's capable of doing it but it'll be average. He's got a nice suspension to his stride - so yes, why not go for it, especially with some good guidance. But there will be parts that being a quarter horse he'll lack compared to what the warmbloods do when he gets to the higher levels."
Apart from the motivation AQHA has provided to draw Lynn back to dressage, My Royal Lark is also a factor in keeping her enjoying the show ring. "He's a lot like his dad - just a very trainable, happy horse. He really enjoys the dressage. The couple of shows that I've done, he's been mistake-free and he's right there with me."
My Rugged Lark was the High Score First Level horse in Orlando, which was only his third show, and has now already qualified at First Level for the GAIG/USDF Regional Championships. "I need one more score in my Second level Test 4 for the Regionals, so I want to do that and keep moving him up," said Lynn.
She noted that none of the judges, spectators, or fellow competitors has commented on her quarter horse being in the warmblood world, nor has anyone asked her what breed he is, but people do enjoy watching him. "In Orlando last weekend I got applause if you can believe that in a dressage class!" she grinned. "There were about 10 people watching and they all clapped when I was done."
In Education Mode
Lynn is originally from Sarasota, Florida, but moved to Michigan 22 years ago. She and her husband of 14 years, French show jumper Pittion Rossillon, operate a training center in Bessemer, Michigan, and recently opened another one in Ocala, Florida. Now she spends eight months of the year in Ocala and four months in Michigan. "I'm in a real mode of my business of education," she states. "I've had such a wonderful show career and that's why I enjoy doing the dressage again.
It's something that I'll always have in my blood. I really like sharing my knowledge with people. We have wonderful equestrian schools at both centers. I do horse expos and still compete in some quarter horse shows but I want to do more dressage. I love it. I've taken those principles into the western riding and to the hunt seat riding and that's really where my successes and bases of training come from. Dressage is for all breeds of horses and all disciplines. I'm very proud to share my dressage background with people of all interests." Lynn and Pittion teach dressage to all of their riders, even if they don't compete in the sport, but she encourages them to try it "because you get your tests back and you get your comments and your scores from the judges and it gives you a lot in that regard."
She also points out one of the most significant benefits of dressage, "There's no better discipline if you really want to bond a partnership with a horse."
Because of Pittion's specialization in jumpers, they've imported warmbloods and Lynn has been riding a lot of them. "Interesting enough, some that I've gotten that I've wanted to make dressage horses I think would be better jumpers," she says, "So I'm looking for a really special young horse. If I'm going to do some quarter horses, I also want to have a warmblood too." She's also found a way to combine her love of quarter horses and warmbloods - My Royal Lark is a busy breeding stallion, not only to quarter horse mares but also to warmbloods. Lynn has one Appendix Quarter Horse/Warmblood youngster already and two more coming this year. "I'm excited about that," said Lynn, and added with a smile, "I think we can put a little quarter horse temperament and his beauty into some warmblood mares."
Lynn cites that it is the influence of Thoroughbred blood that has created the modern quarter horse, which she notes looks a lot like My Royal Lark. "It's not the short stocky quarter horse that you think of as the American warmblood, so to speak. Today's quarter horse has got some nice moves and it's a horse that can give people a lot of confidence whereas the warmblood can be more difficult and require more riding skills. Quarter horses can give people a real fun way to get started in the show ring and the dressage ring." And a very nice way to return to the show ring too!
by Mary Hilton