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Team #698 Nancy Weis and Sassafrass

Team #698: Nancy Weis and Sassafrass
From: Castleton, Vermont
Ages: 74 & 26
Combined Age: 100
Date: September 22, 2023
Test: Training Level Test 2

When I turned 50, I gave myself riding lessons for my birthday. I was badly out of shape and struggling with COPD. I have longed to ride since I was eight years old, so I thought it would be the perfect exercise program. I had a few lessons and trail rides as a kid, so I could stay on and more or less steer at walk, trot, and canter. I thought I pretty much knew all I needed to know.  

I was amazingly fortunate that the nearest stable was Horse Amour, a beautiful, kind, low-key barn owned by Sue Cook, whose focus was low-level eventing. There I was quickly introduced to dressage as the underpinning of all English riding and began the hard work of learning to post properly and steer with legs and body as well as reins. It saved my life.

Two years later (and against the advice of my trainers and all common sense) I bought my first and only horse, Sassafrass. Sassy was a high-strung, reactive, and panic-prone four-year-old; a completely unsuitable horse for me and dressage, but she had a wonderful, forward walk and trot, responded to leg aids well, was the most actively intercommunicative horse I had met, and was just the right size for a short person like me. Sassy was anxious to please and a swift learner, but always high-headed and ready to flee. I was still pretty much a beginner without the skills or knowledge to educate her well. I fell off a lot.

We did a lot of slow, basic dressage practice and a huge amount of groundwork. She loved close attention and loved working. I read everything I could and enjoyed trying new things with her. When we started learning to jump, she thought that was what she was meant to do, and we were only limited by my fears and her excess of enthusiasm. I continued to fall off regularly. We continued to work on dressage.

A few times a year my trainers suggested other horses who might be easier, safer, and more successful in competition, but competition was not my personal interest. I had the luxury of keeping Sassafrass more as a working pet and friend than a competitive partner. Gradually I developed a more secure seat, and she developed the ability to round out her body and relax. We will never be a well-polished competitive team, but we have reached a point where we can move together harmoniously.

In the last three years, I have had a bunch of physical problems, including back surgery, a minor heart attack, breast cancer, and worsening respiratory problems.  I have wanted to join the Century Club since I first heard of it, and I set this ride as my goal for building back my strength. Thanks to a beautiful, low-humidity fall day and the support and help of my trainers, friends, and husband, we were able to do it. I am deeply grateful.