How It All Began – Pony Club to FEI

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sharon McCusker - Dressage Trainer and Coach

Sharon McCusker began riding for fun as a youngster, but turned serious when she joined the Pony Club at age 13. Eventing became Sharon’s discipline and she pursued the sport avidly. By age 16, Sharon was a participant in the Young Riders program as a Three Day Event Rider and competed at the 1978 North American Young Riders Championship. At age 18, Sharon was long-listed with the United States Equestrian Team (USET) for the Three-Day Team and trained with legendary coach Jack Le Goff.

After high school, in 1980, Sharon and her two Three Day horses moved to Delaware so that she could train with Mike Plumb while she attended the University of Delaware. During her junior and senior years, Sharon took a sabbatical from riding to complete her degree in Philosophy and graduated in 1984.

In 1987, Sharon and Kevin McCusker were married and purchased the 12-acre farm in Ashby, MA, where they still reside. They named their facility Souhegan Farm. Sharon changed her focus from Eventing to Dressage and began to build her business in boarding, training, teaching, and sales. After 20-plus years of developing the facility and business, Sharon’s Souhegan Farm currently has 22-stalls, comprised of a new 12-stall barn and the original 10-stall barn, plus an indoor arena and outdoor arenas.

In the beginning of her professional career, Sharon concentrated primarily on her own riding.  In 1991, she purchased a big chestnut gelding named Peter the Great – a former mount of Michael Klimke. “He was my first really good horse,” Sharon notes.

Peter the Great was trained to Third Level when Sharon acquired him, but with the help of Gunnar Ostergaard and Carol Lavell, she was able to show the talented gelding in the small tour in 1996 and 1997, and ultimately debuted him at Grand Prix in 1998.  In 1999, Sharon and Peter the Great qualified as one of the top 12 combinations in the nation to compete at Gladstone in the National Grand Prix Championship. In 2000, Peter the Great was ranked sixth in the USEF Grand Prix national standings. Sharon sold Peter the Great in 2001.

From 2001 on, Sharon has focused primarily on growing her training, teaching, and sales business. She built the new barn at Souhegan Farm in 2001. As the business grew, Sharon also remained an active and successful competitor, bringing several lower level horses up through the FEI ranks. In 2004, competing in the small tour with Maestro, Sharon won CDI classes at Ox Ridge and NEDA. In 2005, Sharon debuted Maestro at Grand Prix. When Maestro was sold in 2005, Sharon concentrated on Weltheir, a black mare that was sent to her as an unbroken five-year-old. Sharon purchased the impressive mare and trained her to Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire I. Sharon and Weltheir were successful in the small tour during 2005. They were named to the USEF Developing Horse List and selected to work with U.S. Dressage Chef d’Equipe Klaus Balkenhol. Sharon sold Weltheir in 2006.

In the Fall of 2007, Sharon acquired Juli Sherif, her current FEI mount. Sharon brought the gelding from Prix St. Georges to his Grand Prix debut in 2009 and has shown him successfully during the 2009 show season.

“My agenda with Juli Sherif is to develop him so that he can gain strength and mature as a Grand Prix horse and see where it takes us,” Sharon said. “My stretch goal for this year was to make the National Championships. The fact that he made it is very exciting, very rewarding – it’s just fantastic. I’m so pleased with him. I set the goal for him and he was able to achieve it. This whole next year is going to be really interesting to see how he continues to develop because he just keeps improving from month to month. I still don’t think I’ve gotten a ride in the ring that’s representative of the work I’ve gotten at home.”

Sharon has received encouraging feedback on Juli Sherif from top U.S. and European trainers including Conrad Schumacher, Peter Markne, and Michael Poulin. “They really feel he’s a 70-plus horse and a team caliber mount,” Sharon recounts. “That means a lot. I’ll keep working on making him as good as I can this year and see if he can get good enough scores to be considered for the 2010 WEG.”

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