May brings baskets and bouquets of flowers to our doors. Mothers are honored and cherished with gifts galore. But there is another time-tested tradition taking place in this glorious month – the two greatest minutes in sport – the Kentucky Derby, held this year on May 7 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
So that got us thinking about equine themes. While this metro strip might be best known for aquatic life, there are several stables throughout the area. Orchard View Stables (OVS) in Watertown is owned by Heather Salden-Kurtz and July Hugen.
The stable houses 35 horses and trains over 60 students through Heather Salden Training. Horse racing isn’t the name of the game at this stable, but horses are, and that counts in our book. “We mainly specialize in dressage, but we also have a few jumpers. This is called combined training or eventing; these riders show up in both dressage and show jumping,” says Salden-Kurtz.
The sports of horse racing and show jumping are self-explanatory, but chances are most people don’t know much about dressage. Isabelle Gallagher, 22, agrees. “How I explain it first by saying, ‘Do you know that thing at the Olympics where they ride horses but don’t pass jumps? Yeah, that’s what I do. Or I say, “I make the horse dance,” she says.
“I love dressage because you can never be perfect,” says Gallagher. “I may have the best race of my life, but I know there is still something that inspires me to be better. The ability to constantly learn and connect with your horse is inspiring.
The Long Lake resident has been horseback riding since she was just 4 years old. “Horses have been there through everything in my life. I was lucky enough to start dressage at a young age, although I wasn’t very competitive in the sport until I started riding with [Salden-Kurtz].”
Gallagher participates every summer. “My grandma is my show buddy and comes with me to every show,” she says. “She’s a positive ray of sunshine at the shows, no matter how my race is going.” Working towards your competitive goals takes work. “Dressing is complex beyond anything I have ever done before. The whole point of sport is to make it look effortless, which, let me tell you, [it] is not,” she said. Gallagher trains one to three times a week. “The barn is my happy place,” she says. “It motivates me. If I’m having a bad week, I know I can go for it and it will make me smile.
Ribbons and awards aside, Gallagher points to other accolades she has earned through her dressage experience. “Horse riding taught me to solve problems and to be positive. You work with a partner who doesn’t speak the same language, so when you achieve something and you understand each other, it’s magic,” she says. “I have also learned so many life lessons from the inspiring women around me at the barn. Each one of them is so supportive and helps me grow as a human.
“One of my favorite things about the sport is that you can do it at any age,” says Gallagher. “I’m a senior at the University of St. Thomas and I’ve seen many of my friends have to say goodbye to their high school or even college sports because they’re done playing… Sports do so much part of us, and you see the sadness on the faces of these young adults as they say goodbye to something that has meant so much to them throughout their [lives]. I would be truly heartbroken if I had to say goodbye to riding, but in this sport you can be competitive at any age.
Example: Linda Anderson, in the early 70s, is a dressage rider.
“I’ve always loved horses and rode westerns as a young teenager – fun, barrel racing, pole bending, bareback tandem and a ton of games and rides,” says the Mound resident . “I first heard about dressage much later in life and started weekly lessons [in] around 1996.
I got hooked quickly and it became my most expensive project.
Anderson tries to ride four or five times a week. “My favorite thing is being with horses and working through an endless list of ways to improve my riding and communicate with my horse,” she says. “The challenges are endless. It gets me moving… and challenges my mind, trying to improve awareness and focus. Like Gallagher, Anderson learned life skills through sports. “I would say confidence is a big benefit of sport and fitness comes with it,” she says.
Anderson started competing eight years ago. “I love going to shows with the OVS team, supporting each other and taking care of my horse,” she says. “I’m not that crazy to be in the ring, and my nerves really bother me. I’ve achieved my goal of showing and now I’m looking for new goals, maybe a pas de deux or a freestyle because the music soothes me.
At the other end of the age spectrum is 11-year-old Juliana Streeter from Victoria, who started riding more than two years ago. “I liked the style because it’s so pretty and chic,” she says. Take note: Do not confuse these descriptors with easy and quiet. “It’s very exciting, but it can be difficult at times,” she says. “It’s a lot of work.”
Hard work has resulted in personal gains. “It helped me gain confidence,” says Juliana. “I’m shy, and riding a horse every week is something I look forward to… It has taught me to be more assertive and confident because I tell the horse what to do and where to go. It’s a huge animal!”
The wrong side? “You have to be okay with the drop and also be okay with the stench and the size of the horses,” she says. Fair enough.
According to the United States Dressage Federation, dressage dates back to classical Greek riding. The sport was developed by the military, and during the Renaissance European aristocrats presented their trained horses in equestrian competitions.
“The Imperial Spanish Riding School in Vienna was established in 1572, and today’s dressage training is based on many principles of that time,” he says. Dressage’s Olympic debut was at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, but only military officers were eligible to compete. This changed in 1953 when civilian men and women were allowed to compete.
Photo by: Isabelle Gallagher
Isabelle Gallagher trains up to three times a week and has learned valuable lessons through dressage experiences.
“I love the clothing aspect. If you’re fabulous, you can be fabulous. They can beat me in the ring, but they won’t beat my outfit. My staple is red lipstick for when I show. It’s all about trust, and red lipstick makes me fierce. –Isabelle Gallagher
Learn more about the teacher
Salden-Kurtz is a Certified United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Instructor/Trainer and a multiple USDF Medalist (including Gold). Her journey into the sport started at an early age and she started riding when she was 13 years old. “I cycled two miles to a barn that was being built outside of town,” she says. “I applied for a job, and after a few years of taking care of the horses, I started working for the trainer. I learned a lot by handling horses and watching lessons and training sessions, and eventually started riding young horses and working with horses that were considered problem horses. Gaining a horse’s trust and creating a true partnership is such an honor, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Tell us more about sports.
Dressage is basically training the horse to use its body appropriately to build strength and longevity. Think of it like yoga. It builds suppleness, flexibility and strength, so horses stay healthy as they age. If you’ve seen the Olympics, dressage is the “fancy prancing” in traditional black and white uniforms. Horses can be trained to do some pretty amazing things.
Why focus on dressage as a career?
I love spending time with horses and learning about each of their personalities. They all learn differently, just like children, so when you find a way to communicate with them individually and they have that aha! moment is fun and fulfilling. I enjoy working with horses over the long term to see where the training can take them… I also find teaching my students incredibly rewarding.
What about your riding career?
I got my first horse when I was 14 and competed in show jumping and eventing. I also enjoyed the trail rides and spending time with him… I’ve had lots of horses since, and usually train them through the dressage or show jumping levels until they reach their potential . Some horses are more talented than others, and I absolutely respect that at some point they can no longer excel.
Are you still competing?
I have an active competition life encompassing both my horses and my students. Our stable attends at least 15 shows each summer, sometimes with up to 15 horses per show. We are having a lot of success and, more importantly, a lot of fun and camaraderie. Our final show of 2021 was the United States Dressage Finals in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky. This is the national championship show, which means that only the best qualified riders/horses in each region are invited to participate. I brought two of my horses last year, along with three students. It’s surreal to show at the legendary Kentucky Horse Park. Everything is impeccable and prestigious. It’s one of my favorite places. I ended up finishing sixth nationally on my young horse, as well as national champion on one of my student’s horses. My students also did well, finishing in the top 10 in the country.
Is it ever too late to start training?
Many of my students didn’t start riding bikes until later in life and found a wonderful “family” of riders at OVS. We are all drawn to our love for horses, and this common language creates a magical world for us here at OVS.Orchard View Stables, 2830 Rose Ave., Watertown; 612.360.0848; saldentraining.com Orchard View Stables @orchard.view.stables