In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.
You could say I knew Paragon before he was born because I was training his mother, Pari Lord, to get her ready for her under saddle grading when she was just a 3-year-old. I was breaking a lot of horses for Oak Hill Ranch in Folsom, La., at that point, and she stood out to me as an incredibly rideable one. I just liked her, and I liked her temperament.
I asked them to breed her to Don Schufro, so I sort of custom ordered Paragon. I didn’t put in the order for 18 hands and chestnut, but I’m really glad I got that too. I was there the night he was born, so I’ve known him ever since.
I thought he would be a horse I could train and sell, but seeing him trot around when he was a 3-month-old, that was pretty stunning. There were a couple of glimpses when he was a coming 5-year-old that he could really be something, and I kind of thought, “Oh, maybe I have a nicer horse than I thought I did.”
Between just coming 5 and coming 6, I was pretty sure he had the talent to do the Olympics. Of course there are a lot of other factors, but at least I knew then he was a talented enough horse to do that.
I guess I’ve been thinking for about a year that London could really be something I should have as a goal in front of me, just in case it happened. We all have hopes, and we all have what we predict, and what we think we know, but at the World Dressage Masters Palm Beach [held Jan. 26-29 in Florida, where Paragon placed second in the CDI**** Olympic Grand Prix Special with a 72.04 percent], I really thought, “This could happen.”
But there are still so many unknowns. Everyone is concerned, as I am, that he’s so young. There’s a lot of strength to build. He’s still just a gangly teenager, but sure enough, he just keeps rising to the occasion.
After the Masters, I totally believe in him now, even though I know I have some glitches I have to work on. We still have five months, and at the rate he’s progressing, I’m very confident. Even weekly, he’s progressing in leaps and bounds.
Watch Paragon's Grand Prix Special performance at the World Dressage Masters. (Video courtesy of HorseJunkiesUnited.com.)
2011: A Year To Remember
Last year was a great year. When we started out the small tour, the first time I really showed Paragon he scored over 70 percent and was the high score of the show. He started off in the very beginning like that, and he hasn’t let me down yet. So last year building all the way up to the Pan American Games (Mexico), it was just super.
Paragon got to Mexico before I did because the grooms went with the horses, and the riders had to go through Houston, Texas. I got messages from my groom, Hannah Michaels, that as soon as he got there, people started taking pictures of him. He already had quite a following on YouTube and on his Facebook fan page, and there was already buzz about him before the Games even started. People were really interested in seeing him in person. I loved that.
He’s a low-stress horse for me. He doesn’t have a lot of unknowns, and he’s predictable. So I didn’t have a lot of stress about being there. I wasn’t nervous. It was all just really fun, and I felt so lucky the whole time to be able to do something like that in my life. It doesn’t happen to many people, and I was really glad it was happening to me.
One of the best parts of the Pan Ams was feeling like I was part of a team, because it doesn’t happen often in our sport. We were all gunning for each other. To be there with a horse I designed and trained, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.
Bringing Along A Prodigy
Paragon has a lot of natural talent, so even now my riding focuses on very, very basic things. I just keep making sure he’s reactive—doesn’t matter to what necessarily, but he has to react—and then my No. 1 priority is balance. I always keep him in his body, so I don’t push him a lot from behind, and I don’t pull him in in the neck. I just make his body really balanced.
I’ve let his frame come along slowly, and I didn’t make that an issue in the beginning, even though he was really high in his neck. I didn’t press a frame on him early. I just let that develop over time, and in retrospect I’m really glad I did that. I’ve just focused on balance, letting him bring out his talent. I’ve taught him some things, but I’ve basically just tried to stay out of his way and show him what his body can do, and he’s given it to me.
I was concerned when he was 3 and 4 that he wasn’t hot enough to be an FEI horse. I didn’t know if he had it in him to be sharp. He’s kind of a slow-twitch horse. I could touch him with a whip on his leg 20 times, and it’s like he never felt it. He’s not a touch horse; he’s a mental horse.
I taught him in the beginning that all he had to do was care about what was happening. Once he got to the mental level of concern, then the switches turned on. But in the beginning he was pretty quiet. It made it nice, because he was never dangerous!
I think one of the reasons it’s come along so quickly is because nobody was telling me it had to. I bought him as a resale project, and no one’s put pressure on me—nobody but myself. I haven’t had to follow anyone’s schedule as far as moving quickly or slowly.