Elizabeth’s Dressage Life

Young Riders Champion Katie Johnson with proud mom and trainer, Elizabeth Johnson

Young Riders Champion Katie Johnson with proud mom and trainer, Elizabeth Johnson

Many years ago, at 5 years old, I proclaimed that I wanted to be a horse trainer when I grew up. The age old saying that horses are born into you is so true. Katie was born with the same passion. Her sister, Jessica, shares the love but her passion is her music.

As a child I rode bareback because we couldn’t afford a saddle. I literally grew up on the back of my pony trail riding for hours on end. I first saw Dressage performed when I was about 13 when Hilda (Gurney) was doing a demonstration at the community college. I mimicked as best I could, bareback, on my pony in the dirt field we called an arena. From there I was hooked. It wasn’t until high school that I met Laurie Falvo Doyle who rode at Woodland Hills Pony Club where Hilda rode and taught. I was excited at the prospect of possibly taking lessons!  I finally had a job and could afford to move my 14.2h pony to pony club AND I had a very inexpensive saddle. I thought was SET! With many hours of working student work for Laurie and Hilda, I was on my way, and the rest is history.

I ended up in San Diego with Laurie as we were close friends and she had a job offer down here  teaching and training. I moved down from the LA area and built a clientele of my own while going to school. Over the years I have worked with many instructors. Beyond Laurie and Hilda I have worked with Dennis Callen, Robert Dover, Donna Richardson, George Heiser, Christine Traurig, among others, and travelled to Germany to Johann Himmeman’s barn to ride for a couple of weeks.

I have trained and competed sucessfully through FEI and competed in the Insilco National Championships, Prix. St Georges,  in Oklahoma placing 4th. I achieved my USDF Bronze and Silver Medals.

My life changed dramatically when my husband Bill and I decided to have children. My upper level horse went lame and replacing him was out of the question. My perspective on life was altered with the realization that I wanted to spend as much time with Katie and Jessica as I could while they were growing up. I still rode but bred my mares and didn’t try to incorporate the competitive life into mine at this time. I backed off on teaching much as well and focused on the girls. They both rode and competed on their ponies and horses. Ultimately they both ended up at the CDS Junior Championships. Jessica’s last championships was when she was 12 at 1st level and Katie hasn’t looked back or considered quitting and has competed at all levels through Prix St. Georges! I was fortunate enough to be able to coach both of them through their training. It wasn’t all serious though. They spent hours playing games like cops and robbers in the ring together on their ponies. I didn’t allow them to ride in a saddle until they could gallop in a bare back pad! Halloween shows were a highlight of the year and I spent hours on costumes for the girls and the ponies.

As time went on and Katie made it to 3rd level on her TB gelding Gadget (Hammy) I decided to let her try to compete my Oldenberg gelding Meeko. My plan was to get back into the show ring on my mare Marahoote 2nd level while Katie had Meeko. I showed part of one season on her, winning the San Diego Chapter Championship,  and then she went catastrophically lame and is now a broodmare. So this left me pretty much horseless for competition, and I couldn’t take Meeko back and break Katie’s heart. Until…. He wasn’t ready to really try for young riders with Katie. So, now I have him (schooling Grand Prix) and my young horse, Artisan (schooling 3rd level). I am hoping for a change in the economy and maybe I can get them in the ring this year. Katie’s bid for young riders has been all encompassing to say the least and taken its toll on my horses’ progress, but the fruits of it all have been amazing! Having her work with Debbie (McDonald) has been fabulous for my teaching skills. Each time Katie goes to her my eye and coaching is checked out as well as learning new techniques and timing while watching.

I am now back to teaching and training full time and love doing both. To be able to share with my students is always so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade the years I’ve spent with my family but it feels good to be back ‘in it’ again!