In the days preceding this year’s U.S. Dressage Finals, a horse riding competition that showcases the most talented horses and riders in the country at the renowned Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., the horse media world was already buzzing around Battle Ground equestrian Jessica Wisdom and her pony, North Forks Cardi.
Could the Pacific Northwest rider and her tiny horse beat the tall, warmblood horses that reigned supreme in the competitive world of dressage?
Wisdom, 37, a Battle Ground horse trainer, teacher and competitive rider, knew that they could. After all, she and her Welsh Cob pony had already had a pretty spectacular year, taking first-place in the freestyle category at prestigious international horse competitions and earning their spot in the national dressage competition.
Still, Wisdom realized that she and Cardi were breaking new ground. In fact, they are the only pony-rider combo currently competing at the Grand Prix level of dressage competition.
“Cardi is a pony, so he’s about five to eight inches smaller than the average dressage horse,” Wisdom said. “But we didn’t think of ourselves as underdogs.”
The media did, though.
In articles written just before the national competition and directly after, journalists marveled at the fact that a pony had performed so well at the U.S. Dressage Finals, taking first-place in the Open Grand Prix Freestyle division and placing third overall in the Grand Prix Open Championship.
One story, published at www.horsenation.com a few days after the national competition, and bearing the headline “Three Unlikely Pairs Kick Butt at the U.S. Dressage Finals,” called Wisdom and Cardi “an unorthodox success story” and led with Cardi’s size: “North Forks Cardi, the Welsh Cob stallion who won the Open Grand Prix Freestyle, stands at just 14.3 ½ hands … but you wouldn’t know it from the power and fluidity of his movement.”
The fact that Cardi won the national freestyle event, which combines technical skills with the more artistic aspects of dressage, didn’t surprise Wisdom. After all, Cardi has always loved the freestyle event and the loud music that accompanies it.
“He turns into a rock star when he hears the music,” Wisdom says. “And, like any other rock star, he likes to show off … at this point, he’s in charge. He’s not mine. I’m his. He knows that I’m just there to do his bidding.”
Surprisingly, Wisdom, who currently leases more than 20 stalls at the Emerald Valley Stables in Ridgefield, where she trains clients’ horses and teaches all levels of riders, did not come from a horse-loving family. In fact, she says, her parents, who live in Tacoma, were not “horse people.”
“I started riding when I was 11, so not that young,” Wisdom says. “My parents supported me in that they didn’t say no to lessons, but they weren’t horse people.”
Wisdom fell in love with horses and with riding, but she never planned to be a professional trainer or dressage competitor. In fact, her original life plans didn’t even involve the land.
“I had big plans to go to the U.S. Naval Academy,” Wisdom says. “But I took a big spill right before I would have joined … and I was pretty banged up, so my plans changed.”
Flash forward 20 years and Wisdom certainly isn’t regretting her change in life plans. Today she is an in-demand horse trainer and instructor who has won multiple gold medals in Olympic-caliber competitions.
Since making a name for himself on the Grand Prix competition circuit, Wisdom’s pony, Cardi, also has been in high demand with breeders. Wisdom has seven of Cardi’s offspring at the Emerald Valley Stables in Ridgefield and says breeders are smitten with her “rock star” pony.
“There aren’t a lot of Welsh Cobs in the Grand Prix, so he’s special,” Wisdom says of her prize-winning pony. “He’s high performance in a sports car size. And I think we’re showing people that dressage is for every horse … that every horse and rider can benefit from it.”
Not only are Wisdom and Cardi making a name for rider-pony combos, they’re also highlighting dressage competitors from the Pacific Northwest, a region Wisdom calls “up and coming” in the horse training and competition world.
“It’s a pretty incredible journey we’ve had and I’m so thankful to be able to share it,” Wisdom says. “I mean, I’m a no-name girl from a no-name town, riding a pony … and we won. It is extraordinary.”
To find out more about Wisdom or Team Cardi, the supporters who have helped Cardi make a name for himself on the international and national dressage competition circuits, visit www.eqequestrian.com. Wisdom trains and teaches at Emerald Valley Stables, at 1613 NE 259th St., Ridgefield. To contact Wisdom regarding horse training or riding lessons, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (253) 230-9764.