and Hera Finish the Gold Medal Job
By Tim Holekamp
(reprinted from The American Trakehner with permission)
Gold Medal recipient Cheryl Holekamp riding Hera
Cheryl Holekamp has spent 23 years breeding riding horses
with me, first as an avocation when she was working full-time
as a surgical nurse and raising our children, more recently
as a full-time occupation. I study the details of pedigrees
and history, cheer on the family competitors, and sometimes
make hare-brained breeding decisions that seem to work out
pretty well. In fact, this story revolves partly around one
of those great moments in breeding history. It illustrates
why self-styled horsebreeding geniuses ought to take their
humble pills daily.
At the ATA meeting in 1990 I made the winning Futurity bid
for service from the Eidt’s late Consul son, Garibaldi,
and in 1991 we used it to breed our gray Preussengeist mare,
Fond Memories. In March, 1992 she foaled a really wonderful
filly, so good to our eyes that we immediately called Sam
Eidt and made arrangements for another breeding, trying to
catch her in foal heat. The night we planned to inseminate
her, Cheryl was out of town and so I held the mare for the
vet, who palpated her and declared it to be "too late
– she ovulated."
Rats! I was raised to "waste not, and want not."
It was a very cold night and the horses were all inside, the
nearest stall occupied by our son’s riding mare, not
scheduled for breeding that season, but not being ridden much
either (14-year-old boys sometimes move on to human females
about then). She was in obvious full heat. In that unforgettable
moment I just made what I choose to call an "executive
decision" and told the vet to "put it in THAT one."
He narrowed his eyes and looked at me sideways (I think "askance"
is the word), but did it anyway. Naturally that single breeding
led to a pregnancy and the next March Havel presented us with
a cute bay filly we named Hera.
and Cheryl at the trot half pass
Cheryl’s role on our farm has always been to manage
the broodmares and get the foals started. She is a true artist
at teaching Trakehner horses the "right" way, with
firm leadership but no forcing. Cheryl speaks horse, and especially
speaks "young horse," in the same way a great kindergarten
teacher speaks 5-year-old child. It is a lot more than speech,
obviously. Those of you who know about the horses she has
started and trained and about what they have ended up doing
with their lives know well enough just how good she is.
All along she has been a local winner in dressage, jumping,
eventing, even some hunters, but always at the lower levels.
Almost none of our bred horses have stayed on our farm long
enough to be reaching upward in the levels; and those that
were still here at an appropriate age were invariably mares
that stayed to have foals after a few years of competition
This has been a great formula for producing and selling useful
riding horses and for identifying the best "keeper"
mares, but the one thing those many years deprived Cheryl
of was the opportunity to spend any time or resources learning
the upper levels of her big passion – dressage. About
six years ago I finally realized how wasteful this was of
a talented rider’s career, one who left a top job in
nursing to be a full-time mother to three children and to
run New Spring Farm. As the kids began moving away, it finally
dawned on me that time was running out. If she were ever to
go up to the top, it would need to be soon. We talked. She
Since the highest-trained horse on our farm at that time
was just beginning Second Level dressage, I suggested we go
looking for a made horse. First we bought ACTRESS, a powerful
and sexy Avignon daughter, who was going Prix St. Georges
with success. That mare turned out to have a totally defeating
bitting flaw that could not be diagnosed nor made right by
any vet, dentist or dressage coach. We tried them all. So
Actress became a rather expensive broodmare, who is now producing
top quality foals. Then we spent an even bigger pile of dough
on one of the very few actual Grand Prix stallions in the
ATA, the aged Merkur son APACHE. As handsome and as talented
as he is, he was very lame and a frustrating year of on–and-off
(mostly off) soundness finally led to his return to the seller.
Cheryl was disappointed and getting worried about the money
It happened that just as we were giving up on Apache, Cheryl
was signed up for another Gunnar Ostergaard clinic in nearby
St. Louis and was unexpectedly faced with the prospect of
forfeiting a paid-for weekend. I insisted that this was not
about APACHE, rather it was about CHERYL, and I urged her
to just grab a broodmare and go. By that time HERA had graduated
magna cum laude from Cheryl’s mare-testing program (third
in the ATA Futurity and then won the USCTA Area IV Training
eventing championship) and had produced a filly by Amethyst
(HERACLEA). Because she was open and in reasonably good fitness,
the next thing that mare knew she was on the trailer rolling
to St. Louis. No prep whatsoever. What happened next has more
or less driven our lives for the last four years.
and Cheryl at extended trot
Gunnar watched them, made suggestions, ordered movements
and corrections, and all of a sudden little Hera was doing
the FEI dances! At the end of the weekend, Gunnar laughed
and told Cheryl that her last two "rides" (Actress
and Apache) were nothing compared to this very talented little
bay mare she had been hiding behind the barn, who (in his
opinion) could make it to Grand Prix.
Since Cheryl was at the time struggling with Fourth Level
riding and had no idea how to train a middle-range horse to
Grand Prix, it meant clinics in St. Louis, winters living
in a barn stall (no kidding) in Ocala near Gunnar’s
place for three years, as Gunnar taught Cheryl how to teach
a horse FEI dressage. Then, last year, we bought a little
winter farm just two miles from both Darren Chiacchia (Editor’s
note: the trainer and rider of the Holekamp’s star eventer
WINDFALL *Pg*) and Gunnar, and Cheryl has settled in
there with great happiness.
Meanwhile Hera has made steady progress, sometimes very slow
and incremental, but without one moment’s backsliding.
Gunnar is patient. Cheryl has made the process great fun for
herself. Along the way, she also went through the USDF judges
"L" program, passed with distinction, went on
to earn her USEF "r" dressage judge’s license
in 2005, and is now much in demand as a judge, working toward
an "R" rating.
When last winter began and Cheryl and Hera were scoring in
the 60’s at Intermediaire I and II, I began to wonder
if they would ever get to their place on the highest cloud.
Everyone seemed remarkably satisfied with things, but I was
thinking, "Why not Grand Prix?" So after some
wrangling, the goal was then set last Christmas. In the second
week of February, Gunnar finally said, "You are ready,
I think." And so Cheryl nervously signed up for the
Big One at Fox Lea Farm Dressage Show in Venice, FL, on Friday,
February 24. I just could not stay away and flew down there
a week ahead of time.
and Cheryl at the canter pirouette
Talk about nervous? Hera was still looking happy and sound,
galloping for the heck of it around her pasture right outside
our bedroom window. Cheryl was not sleeping much.
The day arrived. We were ready. Weather gorgeous. Camera
charged. Horse maxi-spiffed. Gunnar very cool -- been there,
done that a zillion times. Arena perfect. Flowers beautiful.
Cheryl said she was trying to envision success but kept seeing
herself and Hera refusing to enter the arena. And yet, when
the moment finally arrived, into the arena at A they went!
I got short of breath, but being the big videographer, I could
not let myself go at all.
They cruised. I mean, they just flat did it! There were some
weaknesses and a few mistakes --17 absolutely perfect, straight
and clean, single tempi changes (unfortunately the test calls
for 15, no more, no less). Wonderful piaffes, but pirouettes
that lacked accuracy. Extensions that took one’s breath
away. And the whole time Cheryl grinned and so did Hera, as
they accurately marched, trotted and cantered along. I can
prove it, all on digital 8mm videotape.
As they came out of the arena, neither of us really cared
about the score, as we knew what an incredible accomplishment
this was for both of them and for our farm. The way things
turned out, fate deprived Cheryl of the 60% she needs for
her USDF Rider’s Gold Medal, but the deprivation was
by only one single point on one single movement. She got a
59.3%! Not to worry, those scores in the sixties will come.
They are right there to grab.
We celebrated at the best restaurant we could locate in Venice;
The Big Splurge was its name, as I recall. It was absolutely
(Editor’s note: at the Ocala Dressage Show on March
11-2, 2006, Cheryl and Hera scored 63.75% in the Grand Prix,
and then on July 7 at the Missouri Dressage Classic they tallied
a Grand Prix score of 61.875%. Cheryl received the USDF Rider’s
Gold Medal at the USDF annual meeting in Kansas City on December
2, 2006. There are very few who have earned this highest honor
on horses they bred and trained themselves. And this one a
purebred TRAKEHNER studbook mare at that! )
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7901 Highway 63 South
Columbia, MO 65201
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