Beckham, formerly owned and trained by Nancy Rosen, will be representing Columbia at the Pan Am Games in dressage with his new rider Maria Ines. This is the story of how an adult rider in her mid-fifties trained a young horse to FEI and International competition. How did you and Beckam find each other? - Nancy: Meri Straz heard about Beckham through Sue Jacoma. Juan Matute owned him and Beckham had been competing in the 4-year-old tests in Germany--in fact he was the number 2 horse in Europe in the 4-year-olds. I had inherited a diamond ring from my mom which I had been keeping to someday buy a special horse. But Meri, my first trainer had been diagnosed with melanoma, and I wanted to give her an opportunity. I didn't really believe I deserved a fancy horse, after all, I was barely a 1st level rider, and had only competed in dressage as part of event competitions.
Beckham came to Florida in January of 2005 and Meri started training him. Tragically in August, Meri died in a horse accident and Beckham became mine to ride. He was way too big for me in height and length and he was by far the nicest thing I had ever ridden. He also was green, and shut down. I spent from August until January galloping up hills and hacking with some jumping thrown in to get his go button fired up. Then we came to Florida and we started working.
How long did it take you to train him to the FEI levels? Who helped you from the ground?
Nancy: Holger Bechtloff has been my trainer since Meri died, and bless him, he kept a straight face when I told him I wanted to bring Beckham up the levels. I was 56 at the time and had never even ridden an upper level horse no less trained one. But Holger took my desire seriously and pushed me in the right direction every time we worked together. He didn't ride Beckham at all for several years - saying that I wouldn't believe I had done the training if he rode him and so I persevered.
Learning to sit his big trot and basically moving up a level each time I accumulated sufficient scores towards my bronze and then silver medal. By 2009 we did our first Prix St. George at Welcome Back to White Fences and we competed PSG while training Intermediare-I.
Last winter I broke my back (not horse related) and sent Beckham to Florida with Holger rather than leave him home unridden. Within a month we received an offer on Beckham.
As much as I wanted him to be my forever horse, I was excited for him to go to Gloria Esquerra and her trainer Maria Ines who rides Beckham in competition. Meri's and my goal was for him to go to the Pan Am Games with her and now he is going to have a chance to represent Colombia. I went back to Juan Matute for another young horse and now Docatenango will be the second horse I will bring to FEI levels.
What inspired you to put him on a whole food diet and Biostar?
Nancy: I am a locavore and believe in the imperative of Michael Pollan's to eat "real food" and don't eat things your grandparents (or great grandparents) wouldn't recognize as food. I met Tigger Montague at a USDF convention that I attended (where I received my bronze medal on Beckham) and was moved by her talk about what our horses actually eat versus what they should be eating. I don't eat refined carbohydrates. Then I met Pati Pierucci who told me about her horses' great diets and I decided to give it a try; not just for Beckham but for my clients and all my school horses.
Beckham ate Optimum twice a day as well as Equilibrium and Tum-Ease. Because Beckham was a worrier I always worried about him developing ulcers and the Biostar diet made sense to me. I tasted the product myself and thought, why isn't anyone making this for us. Beckham thrived on this diet - his coat was always breathtakingly glossy and he was fit without being fat.
What are some of the things Beckham taught you?
Nancy: Beckham taught me patience, to dream big and not give up, and finally to have fun. Before I got injured we went on a hack with friends on the most gorgeous hunter pace I have ever seen. We jumped fences (he had never even seen a cross country fence) without a question. and half halts worked. I had never had that feeling before when I was actually an event rider - of having a horse who was so adjustable before and after a fence. It was like a dream. He was the horse of a lifetime for me yet I am hungry now to train another youngster. And get my gold medal - before I am 70.
What tips do you have for other riders who are training themselves and their horses up the levels?
Nancy: Find the best trainer you can and practice, practice, practice. Holger is particularly wonderful because he uses his body and words to help me find a feeling I have never had. He challenges me to look around the FEI rings and imagine what it would feel like and how to ask for it. Because I have a riding school (Frog Hollow Farm) I had many horses to practice with and I rode everything I could.
I have 13.2 hand ponies here who go easily on the bit and bend and are supple because I rode everything and practiced straightness and suppleness. I rode the ordinary horses, quarter horses, back yard horses: all lovely and willing. They improved me and I improved them. I had a lot of catching up to do. But if I did it, so can you.
What do you see as the benefits of feeding a whole food diet and Biostar?
Nancy: The first time my equine dentist came into my barn after I had converted to the whole food diet & Biostar he said, "Something is different. Everyone is so calm." And that is exactly it.
It wasn't an easy transition and my employees were not supportive because it seemed too far out to them, but whenever I needed support, Tigger was on the other end of the phone telling me what I needed to know.
At first, the horses didn't eat with the same eagerness (like what kid is going to be converted from ice cream to stringbeans with equal gusto?) but after some months, my horses were eating their unsweetened beet pulp based diet with the same eagerness that they previously attacked their sweet feed. It is not easy to get them off sugar. I keep carrots, apples and alfalfa pellets for treats and I try to forbid sugar and processed cookies.
Photos: Beckham; Nancy Rosen and Beckham; Beckham with Maria Ines; Nancy Rosen and Beckham 2009