First time out at Prix St Georges, 13-year-old Sammie Fritz riding Rohanna, her 13.2 hand, 13-year-old Holsteiner-Welsh by Rapport earned 61.7% and 64+% to secure her USDF Silver Medal. But now time had come to sell Rohanna. Sammie was already riding a bigger mount at the riding school but being only two Prix St George scores from her Silver Medal, she paired with her wonder pony partner one during the June Dressage at Alpine I and II, in Medina, MN. achieving her scores in their first two tests; A poignant closure to a stellar career for both pony and child. The only rider in her family, Sammie’s enthusiasm and mindset sound well suited to the discipline. “I just love the beauty and the time and effort of dressage,” she says.
“The funnest part of it, would be the connection you and your horse make over time together. The hardest part is just getting used to the fact that you have to use every muscle in your body to get the horse to do what you want it to do!”
For trainer, USDF Gold Medalist Anne McKay who owns and operates Pegasus Riding School in Medina, MN, the process of developing the solid foundation on both pony and rider was a labor of love that reaped the reward of sending out a polished competitive pair.
Sammie started riding at age seven, “I loved it immediately!” Four months into lessons, her mother, Wendy, unversed in horses, ended up buying a green pony from another trainer.
“I was left with a tiny little girl and a pony she couldn't handle,” Anne remembers. “Although the pony was a very nice type, and sired by my Grand Prix Dressage Holsteiner Stallion, Rapport, she had been ridden in a way that made her very tense and nervous.”
Back to the drawing board was a blessing in disguise. She put both Rohanna and Sammie into vigorous training on the longe line. “Rohanna needed to learn how to use her body correctly and forget bad muscle memory and Sammie needed basics.” Over a long Minnesota winter, Sammie committed to four or more times a week and sat on Rohanna after a short warmup. The effort paid off. By spring, Sammie was riding Rohanna off the line with, Anne says, a remarkably good seat and position from all the longing.
Anne schooled the pony herself to get Rohanna ready and steady, so by early summer, when 8-year-old Sammie and Rohanna started confidently showing, they did extremely well. In 2011, the duo ranked 8th Nationally at Training Level Jr/Yr.
“Rohanna is a funny pony, I can ride her bareback and she likes to play in water. She can be very lovey. She has her own personality but she’s always easy. Oh, she loves her treats.” Sammie did some jumping along the way but dressage remained her focus.
Moving their training along at home, they decided to skip First and Second Level showing and aim towards FEI Pony competitions. “I told Sammie that jumping into showing Third level would not go as well as showing Training Level but she agreed to move up,” Anne said.
One year of learning the ropes of showing Third level on a green Third level pony was followed by a year seriously competing and doing well at both Third and Fourth Levels. In 2014, they earned Reserve Champion Region 4 Jr/Yr Third Level, 4th place Jr/Yr Fourth Level.
What happened to the FEI Pony dreams? “At the last minute, we realized Sammie was too young to qualify to ride FEI Pony, so we just showed Third and Fourth Levels Open! A good call in retrospect as Sammie shot up in growth and would have been big physically to be showing a 13.2 hand pony when she was finally old enough.”
“What made all of this possible was a talented pony, properly trained that now produces tests like a machine and an intelligent rider with a high degree of focus and toughness,” Anne says. She also cites the efforts of Wendy, as the parent, as crucial in making many sacrifices in getting Sammie to the stables and juggling it with her older daughter Annabelle's very successful basketball career.
“Becoming a Dressage Mom has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” Wendy says. “Watching your child find and develop her passion at such a young age is so gratifying. Rohanna has given our family more than we can explain!”
You don’t see many children competing in dressage, she notes. “Most kids want to jump. They don’t get how in tune the rider’s body can be to influence the movements.” It really opens the door. Wendy credits the learning curve of training for allowing her daughter to flourish in mind and body.
“At Pegasus Riding School, we have all tremendously enjoyed Sammie and Rohanna's show ring success and look forward to finding her a big horse to ride once Rohanna finds her new owner and rider,” Anne says.
For Sammie, a young rider with aspirations, learning with and from a talented pony is a huge stepping stone that builds on deeper lessons that value dedication, focus, passion.
“My life with horses means everything to me. If I didn't ride, I don't know where I would be today,“ Sammie says. Let’s see where the ride takes her.