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Team Highlight | A journey to FEI | Huckleberry “Huckster” & Lea

July 23, 2022

I first met this team in 2020 when Lea walked into the barn with a smile on her face and her half Arabian in tow. I knew right away after a short conversation and instruduction that I was excited to watch their partnership grow and develop a friendship with Lea. As another fellow Arabian lover, it has been incredibly inspiring to see what Lea & Huckster were accomplishing just 2 years ago. Fast forward to now, I’ve been able to watch a few of their huge milestones, including the most recent when they made their debut down the centerline in PSG. Here is the story of this “meant for each other” team that has gotten to where they are now. I hope this story is as inspiring to you as it has been to me!

How did your partnership with Huckster start?

I purchased Huckster as a 6 year old in 2012. He is my first horse! He had been trained as a saddle seat horse to show in the Arabian Horse circuit. To be honest, he was a lot of horse for me and at the time it was definitely not the most ideal partnership. There were a lot of ups and downs and tears of frustration. Haha! Nonetheless, I was immediately smitten by him and the rest is history.

Tell me the story of your first show, or some of your favorite memories showing over the years! 

Oh boy! My very first show with him was actually an Arabian breed show at the Eastern Idaho State Fair. We had entered a Hunt Seat class. Out of all things at the fair, there was a chain saw show “conveniently” placed next to the horse show ring. Huckster did not approve and I ended up making a life choice of not riding him in the show! Lets say he knows how to “Hi-Ho Silver”. 

My very first Dressage Show ended up with a (generous) 50% at Training level. Haha! Huckster was not always the easiest horse and he was not having any of it that day! I was the only one in my class, so I still brought a blue ribbon back to the barn. Even though it was not ideal, I knew I wanted to go out to a show again and do better!

When did you make the decision to do FEI? Was it always the plan? 

Definitely not! In fact, I never even thought I would  show through Third Level! After successfully showing Third Level  and receiving the USDF Bronze Medal my trainer, Nadine Schwartsman, and my friends basically said “OK, that was fun… now on to Fourth Level and then the Silver Medal!”. I laughed at them, but here we are! Working on the Silver Medal! I am still in disbelief that we are cantering down centerline in a Shadbelly! 

What have been your biggest struggles on this journey? 

There have been a few. Haha!

Huckster did not start out as a dressage horse. Retraining him from saddle seat to dressage was quite the challenge! I admit, there were a lot of tears and doubt on that part of our journey. 

Huckster was also not the most bombproof horse. Haha! I quickly learned how to sit out big spooks and my favorite, the “Panic Pirouette”. 

We had wonderful trainers along our way and we started making progress, but unfortunately living in the Eastern Idaho region,  I did not have a dressage trainer consistently by my side. I learned through attending clinics and eventually began organizing my own clinic series to get the instruction I wanted and needed. 

I do have a trainer, Nadine Schwartsman, whom I work with on a regular basis now; however, her barn, Les Bois Dressage,  is a 4 ½ hour drive away! Every trip to see her is absolutely worth it but they are limited as I have a full time job and cannot always take time off. Luckily with today’s technology we can supplement my visits with live remote lessons! 

The last “struggle” I want to touch base on is the fact that Huckster is not a Schoolmaster and I am training him myself as we move up the levels. The catch is… I have never ridden these levels/movements myself. Not only do I have to train my own horse… I have to train myself and develop the feel. Luckily I have a wonderful instructor by my side who has been helping me along the way, has been patient and encouraging with our progress and is able to walk us through new things step by step. 

What are your tips to others struggling with similar roadblocks? 

Don’t give up! I know it’s not always easy, especially when you are riding on your own a lot. It is easy to get discouraged and focus on the hardships and not see the progress that has been made. 

Get out of your comfort zone! Want to ride with a specific trainer or clinician? Make contact, and ask for a  lesson. The worst they can say is no, but I found that any trainers I have approached are willing to work with someone who is motivated and determined even if you don’t have that fancy warmblood. After reaching out and metaphorically knocking on doors I am now fortunate enough to have consistency in my training with Nadine Schwartsman as my trainer and clinics with Jeremy Steinberg twice a year. 

It has not been easy and I have made a lot of sacrifices to get to the point I am at today. Progress definitely does not come from obsessing over the set backs, but moving forward and reaching for your goals. 

Try not to compare yourself with others. None of us are on  the same journey! Everyone has their own struggles and set backs in this sport. 

And Yes! I still struggle with ALL of that from time to time (just ask my super dedicated friends and family talking me down when it gets overwhelming. Haha!)

First time down the centerline in a shadbelly!

What has been your favorite part of this journey?

100% the relationship Huckster and I have developed! The trust we have in each other is so rewarding! 

I am also very appreciative of all the people I have met along the way and the new friendships that have been created. 

How did it feel completing the last show? 

Really good! I feel we have been getting more confident in putting the PSG together with each test we ride. At our last show we earned our first PSG score towards the USDF Silver Medal which gave me more motivation to work towards that final score!

Lea finding out that she got a very earned 62% on her PSG test!

What are your plans for the future with Huckster?

Honestly, my plan for Huckster is to continue keeping him in shape, happy and healthy. At 16 he is in the best shape he’s ever been and I want to keep him that way as he ages. 

Currently we are still working on achieving our final score towards the USDF Silver Medal, so I would say showing-wise that is my immediate goal.

In the future I would  like to continue improving at Prix St. Georges, and school some of the higher level movements. 

I would also love to work on creating a Freestyle with my friend Dylan Mandelosi and work towards the USDF Freestyle Bars.  

About Huckster: Huckster is a 2006 registered Half-Arabian. His  Dam was a purebred Arabian and his sire was a Dutch Harness Horse. Down the line he is actually related to Laura Graves’ Verdades, so he has no excuses. Olympics, here we come! Haha! Kidding…

Huckster was trained in the discipline of Saddle Seat and competed in the Arabian circuit until age 5. 

In 2017 we began showing Dressage at USDF/USEF sanctioned shows. 

In 2020 we received the USDF Bronze Medal and Huckster earned the USDF All-Breed Champion Award at Third Level. 

In 2021 Huckster received the Arabian Horse Association’s Legion of Honor designation. 

Huckster is his own person and basically does what he wants… as his trainer and rider I like to think I have influence on him by saying “I need to do this” or “I’ll have to school him more on that  next time”, but I give myself too much credit because at the end of the day, the Huckster will always do what the Huckster wants! And I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

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