Six World Cup wins. 20 Nations Cups wins. Multiple medals at Pan-American Games, a little visit to the Olympics, and over 200 Grand Prix wins.
(Some sources say 195, but really after you hit triple digits who’s counting?)
American show jumper Margie Engle is no stranger to success in the show ring, and with a list of accomplishments longer than Reed Kessler’s future reading list, it’s safe to say she’s got a little experience in what makes a horse a winner.
So when she found that her mount Café au Lait-Petula (better known on the circuit as “Royce”) wasn’t quite as adjustable in the ring as she’d like, she called in reinforcements.
Did she amp up the hardware? Hardly.
Did she work him twice as hard over the jumps? Nope.
Did she trade him in for a newer model? Certainly not!
No, Royce was sent off for ol’ fashioned dressage boot camp with Olympic bronze medalist Lisa Wilcox. (Because if you’re a ten time American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year, you don’t send your prize mount to just any dressage trainer).
“He tends to be very laid back and a little bit lazy,” explained Engle. “He’s the type that would just as soon kind of be in your lap like a lap dog and take a nap most of the day.”
Wilcox seconded that opinion, reportedly telling Engle that “he’s so smart that even if you think about a downward transition, he’s ready to pull up and relax.”
The dressage veteran was tasked with improving the 14-year-old Oldenburg stallion’s rideability and work ethic.
“So making him engage behind and making him kind of carry himself from the back end,” continued Engle. “Making him a bit more even both directions, working on lengthening and shortening [his stride], keeping him more animated.”
Between flat training sessions, Engle has the decidedly more pleasant job of keeping him happy in his work.
“After she’s done, a lot of times I take him on a long trail ride. I do a lot of work outside of the ring too, just for his brain, and also to work on different surfaces,” she said.
“Lisa is the stricter one with him. Then I get on and can be little bit nicer.”
The other piece of the Royce’s rideability puzzle: regular chiropractic work with Engle’s husband, Steve.
“Royce gets a little stuck on the left side of his neck, so it’s just constant work with him,” she said.
And has it paid off?
Their results in the ring certainly suggest so. Engle and Royce were third with a double clear in the $220,00 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Wellington at the Palm Beach Masters in February and, on Saturday, took home the biggest grand prix of the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival—the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*.
“He’s never going to be a speed demon, he’s never going to be like a little speed horse, but it’s making his rideability better—it makes it so easy for him to open up and shorten out,” said Engle. “His rideability has changed immensely.”
So if you’re looking to shave a second or three off your jump offs, take a page out of Engle’s playbook and bring in an Olympic dressage trainer. Or, take the cheaper route, and focus on your flat work.