Wayne, Illinois – It may surprise many to know that this year's USEF/Markel Four-Year-Old National Young Horse Champion spends most of his training time hacking over field and dell. He rarely sees a dressage ring. In fact, it wasn't until his first show that Aesthete, a KWPN gelding by Trento B (by Crack C) out of Unusual by Gribaldi, saw a real dressage ring. Aesthete scored an impressive 86.8 in the Four-Year-Old Championship Test at this year's National Young Horse Championships at Lamplight Equestrian Center to take the national championship title.
When not showing, he lives in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in the barn of his rider, Karen Monks-Reilly, where he is mostly surrounded by hunter horses. Bred by GEBR van der Steen in Holland, Aesthete is owned by Betsy Spence, of Unionville, Pennsylvania. He was bought in Holland as a nearly-three-year-old and was the last of 30 horses Spence and Monks-Reilly viewed on that buying trip.
"I had sold my FEI horse and the Spences offered to find me a good young horse," Monks-Reilly said. "We contacted friends in Holland and went over for three days. Aesthete was the last on the list and the only one whose sire I had never heard of so I was not so enthused about him. But we saw him on crossties and both Betsy and I said, 'That's the one.' He was also still a stallion at the time so he was totally not what we were looking for but I have an instinct about these things. I saw my husband and knew right away he was the one. We've been married for 17 years."
Aesthete turned out to be "an incredible, willing athlete." Monks-Reilly hails from a very equine family. She moved to Pennsylvania from her home in New Hampshire after her husband, Patrick, was offered a farrier's job at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. A mother of two, nine-year-old Patrick and seven-year-old Cooper, Monks-Reilly is a very family-oriented person and runs her barn much like a family. "We're a big team and a big family and now Aesthete is an incredible part of that."
A former event rider, Monks-Reilly trains not only future dressage stars like Aesthete, but also hunter horses and she's a big believer in a natural lifestyle for her horses, even ones with the potential for an international dressage career. "I train a lot of fox hunters for owners and Aesthete lives much like them. I don't really school him in a ring very much. We have one in the middle of a 30-acre pasture, but mostly we ride in the field. He's just so willing that I don't really have to school him. We've played with changes in the field and he just does them. We treat it as a game every day to see what we can try. We even swim in the pond."
Because her family is her first priority, Monks-Reilly doesn't travel south to Florida for the winter. If she needs a winter arena for Aesthete, she hacks down the road to a friend's indoor ring. She gets training help from Scott Hassler and said that next year, she'll be competing Aesthete in Five-Year-Old competition with the hope of qualifying for Verdun. "But who knows where he'll go. When we bought him, I didn't know then how great he really is but after two months, I knew this was the best horse I had ever sat on."
Monks-Reilly seems a bit surprised at the turn her life has taken and sometimes feels like Aesthete "deserves to be with someone of more caliber than I." But after a moment, she let's go of that thought. "But he's mine to ride and we'll go as far as we can go." No doubt, this pair will go far. Her family and the Spences believe in them. And now they've even got a sponsor in the Pennfield Grain company to help cover show costs."
"I've got the best husband in the world and we have a great time as a family. And all the people I work for are so wonderful. They all step in and help do the work and are so supportive. I believe the horses and showing should be fun and that's what it is. And now I have this very good horse," Monks-Reilly said.
DressageDaily Video by JJ. Hathaway