It’s not often that a dressage rider gets to forge a relationship with a fully trained Grand Prix horse, but Caroline Roffman’s new partner knows all the tricks. She and Sagacious HF made waves at the Dressage at Holiday and Horses in Wellington, Fla. They scored a 73.16 percent in the Young Rider Grand Prix on Dec. 1, and a 71.63 percent in the same test the next day to win both classes.
“I took him in as a clean slate,” Roffman said of Sagacious, who arrived at her Wellington farm in the summer. “We just started like it was a horse we never knew and worked to build our own opinions and our own methods. [We] just tried to learn him like any horse that comes into our barn.”
Former rider Lauren Sammis won team gold and individual silver at the 2007 Rio de Janeiro Pan American Games with the gelding. They moved up to Grand Prix in 2009, and earned six consecutive FEI Grand Prix wins that year. But in June, Sammis and Sagacious parted ways.
Al Guden, who owns the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Welt Hit II—Judith, Cocktail) through his Hyperion Farm, decided after the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions (N.J.) to bring the gelding to his farm in Florida, where Roffman keeps six of her horses. She trains primarily out of Lionshare Dressage with partner Endel Ots.
“We were kind of immersed in that process of having the horse come home,” said Roffman, who added she did not automatically expect to start riding the horse at that time. “When he got here, we gave him a little bit of rest. In my opinion, he was acceptable to continue working. We felt out where he was and started him back to work and never really looked back.”
After getting acquainted with Sagacious, Roffman ventured into the show ring. In the Gold Coast Fall Dressage Grand Prix for riders under 25 on Nov. 10, they scored a 72.44 percent. “We sold the horse we were supposed to be competing, so we had an empty spot in our rig, so I said, ‘OK, an opportunity to see what he does in a new place,’” said Roffman.
“I’m getting to know him more and more and integrate him into our program,” said Roffman. In addition to working with Ots, Roffman trains Sagacious a few times a week with Lars Petersen. Roffman also took Sagacious to Wayne, Ill., for the Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage Championships to lesson with Debbie McDonald for several days.
A large part of her program with the horse during the past few months has involved getting to know him both on the ground and in the saddle. “My horses get hand walked at least two times a day and grazed, and I try to do that myself with him versus having some of our working students, just so I can get to know him,” she said.
And get to know him she has. After many considerations for a barn name—“I didn’t know a previous nickname for the horse, and I really couldn’t get anything out of Sagacious”—Roffman decided to call the gelding Kitty.
“He kind of wants to be treated in a certain way. You can tell a dog to do something; you can only hope a cat does something,” laughed Roffman. “He’s like a cat, like somebody’s very fancy, Persian, black cat. I mean it in the best way.”
Although having little experience with Kitty before starting riding him has obvious disadvantages, the team at Lionshare took the new project in stride. “I can’t speak to his past—I don’t know it. I don’t feel comfortable trying to assume any of it,” Roffman said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity every day to get on a horse like that. I’m very fortunate. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m grateful toward Al, and I’m thankful for the work and the years his previous rider put in him. I can only be grateful and I can only try to represent the horse as best as I can, whatever that is.”
Roffman said she wants to take her time with Kitty and get to know him better to build a solid relationship before making any specific plans for the future. “It’s a perfect season to just sort of get to know each other, to just show and see where it takes us,” said Roffman. “At the moment, it’s about keeping the horse happy and healthy, getting Grand Prix experience for myself and trying to do the horse justice—just to show off his quality as best as I can.”