Tips and Insights from Courtney King

Word Cup competitor Courtney King gives insight on calming show-day nerves and her Grand Prix partner Idocus.
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Word Cup competitor Courtney King gives insight on calming show-day nerves and her Grand Prix partner Idocus.

Courtney King is a 29-year-old dressage trainer from New Milford, Conn., who has worked her way from Young Riders to a professional career, breaking into international competition at the 2007 World Cup in Las Vegas. The following is from an interview at the World Cup [where she finished a very respectable 6th in the freestyle].

World Cup competitor Courtney King with the 5-year-old gelding Harmony

World Cup competitor Courtney King with the 5-year-old gelding Harmony

Dressage Today: How do you keep your nerves in check at a big competition like the World Cup?

Courtney King: To be honest, I wasn't really nervous as all. I was simply excited to be there. I was not expecting to qualify for the final, so just to be there was a real treat and achievement. As for the stress that comes with showing, the organizers were great, and we were well taken care of, so that reduces stress, and I had three other horses nearby that I was keeping in work. So having a routine and sticking to it helps keep stress down. It was really special to be at the World Cup. I just had so much fun. It helps to feel that the crowd is friendly--it is reassuring internally.

DT: Can you tell me a bit about Idocus?

CK: Scott Hassler started him as a young horse. Then he went to Lendon Gray at the age of 6, where I rode him often on the farm while Lendon competed him. He was her competition horse, and she showed him successfully to Intermediaire I. I had come to Lendon's to work for her when I was 16. She began letting me ride him. When Idocus turned 9 years old Lendon stopped competing him, and I was able to focus on him. We made our Grand Prix debut when he was 10 years old. In 2000 I took Idocus to Europe to work with Conrad Schumacher. We did one show and got a 70 percent. Then the owner, Christine McCarthy, decided to leave him in Holland to breed and compete. I love that horse so much, and I wasn't resentful, but it was hard and emotional to let him go. Marlies van Balen rode him for four years, including at the last Olympics.

Then in the fall of 2004, Christine called me. She was bringing Idocus back to the United States and asked me to ride him again. By that time I had my own business in Pawling, N.Y. (courtneykingdressage.com). I have a yearly lease to ride and show Idocus who is still a breeding stallion.

DT: When you got Idocus back, how did you prepare him to get back into competition?

CK: The first year was rough and wasn't looking promising. I believed in the horse and didn't want to give up. It was slow in the beginning, but in the spring of 2006, he turned a corner in his training. I had to get him physically strong while not putting pressure on him. Also, that spring I moved my business back to Lendon's property. So his improvement may be connected with that move back to a familiar place. I don't know. It's certainly a coincidence. He is an emotionally mature and intelligent horse.

DT: Can you give me an example of his intelligence?

CK: He isn't a spooky horse, but one day I was doing extended canter, and he just stopped and spun around and galloped away. I later found out that the stable manager had been at that corner when Idocus saw him. The manager had tried unsuccessfully to get Idocus into a trailer to go to breed, so Idocus decided that he could avoid going by not getting near the man (who felt really bad about it).

DT: Do you have any sponsors?

CK: I'm working on that. At the moment, I have very strong supporters. Richard Malloch of New York City is a client who has two horses in training with me. He helped me enormously by financially supporting my training and showing with Idocus. Also, Lendon's plan for raising money is not to go the Pan Ams, but to help with the costs of traveling and going for the major competitions all year. Things like the Pan Ams themselves are completely funded by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, but campaigning for them and just being away from your business is extremely expensive. It is mostly for Idocus that the fundraising is geared as I pay all of his expenses.

DT: How did you prepare for the World Cup?

CK: I would say that normally I don't work Idocus very hard in the week leading up to a competition, but before the World Cup I had the chance to work with Steffen Peters, so I did work him harder than usual. He was a little bit less energetic in the competition than usual, but overall I was very happy with him. He did rise to the occasion in the freestyle, but I took a couple of risks that didn't pay off. But again, I was thrilled with a 6th place finish.

DT: What horse did you see at the World Cup that you would like to ride?

CK: Sunrise [the Dutch mare ridden by Imke Schellekens-Bartels who placed second in the freestyle].