Northwest Observer

The art and sport of dressage

According to Merriam-Webster, dressage is defined as: "the execution by a trained horse of precision movements in response to barely perceptible signals from its rider"

While growing up in a Chicago suburb, Jody Morse dreamed of owning a horse.

“I was a ‘horse-crazy’ girl and rode horses for a year or two, but stopped when I was about 10 years old,” she said, explaining that her parents just couldn’t afford the riding lessons.

After she grew up, Morse married Michael Doyle and the two of them opened a dental practice in Chicago. During her 26 years there, she transformed into a city girl and put horse riding behind her.

That changed in 2005, when she and Michael purchased a farm in Stokesdale. Morse said she wasn’t keen on the purchase at first, but she was all in after her husband mentioned that she could have a horse.

Along with the farm, the couple purchased a dental practice in Kernersville, where they both worked full-time. Nonetheless, they still devoted hours to getting their farm, which they named Centric Farm, up and going and working with the two horses they had acquired.

“The horses were completely inappropriate for inexperienced people such as ourselves,” said Morse, adding that Michael got thrown early on, shattered his wrist and was out of work for several months.

At that point, Morse, now 52, hired a trainer, sold the horses and with the trainer’s help found a horse that was more suited to her level of experience. The trainer was involved with dressage and encouraged Morse to take up the sport.

The International Equestrian Federation defines dressage as “the highest expression of horse training.” For the person who knows little about horses, it can be difficult to explain and sometimes even to understand what’s going on, especially from a novice’s perspective.

In the sport of competitive dressage, the rider and horse move while following a specific pattern and performing certain movements at different points in the arena. It’s a very strenuous sport for both horse and rider, and showcases their athletic ability, discipline and talent.

Morse’s current trainer, Jean DeVenny, who also manages Morse’s horse farm, likens it to ice skating.

“It’s a very technical sport which requires the rider and horse to move fluidly,” DeVenny explained. “The rider becomes a partner with the horse as they learn to communicate in a different language and move in harmony.”

Competitions are offered at levels ranging from amateur to what’s known as Grand Prix. From there, competitors can move on to compete in the highest levels of competition – the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics.

Morse started her dressage career with Mai, a gorgeous white Norwegian Fjord horse. The two teamed up until 2019, when Morse finally realized that if she wanted to compete on a higher level, she needed to find another equine partner.

“I didn’t want to give Mai up,” said Morse, noting that she leases the 19-year-old horse to a friend who competes in dressage, but she doesn’t plan to ever sell her.

“Mai has taken care of me, and I will continue to take care of her,” she said.

For the last two years, Morse has been working with Borealis Blume – B.B. for short – a sport pony who was named Horse of the Year 2022 in its division by the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association.

Although Morse enjoys dressage, competing in the sport hasn’t come easy for her.

“I didn’t want to compete, and I even cried before my first competition,” she admitted.

Over the years, she’s calmed her nerves and competes in a large show about once a month during the competition season, which runs from March to November. Most take place in central North Carolina and Virginia.

This past November, Morse and B.B. were invited to participate in the 2022 U.S. Dressage Finals, a national competition that showcases the best teams in the country.

Morse was both excited and nervous to compete in her first national event, which was held in Lexington, Kentucky, in unexpectedly frigid weather – we’re talking snow, icy cold temperatures, and frozen water.

“It was crazy, but it was fun,” Morse said, smiling. “We fell about in the middle of the pack, but it was my first nationals, and I was very proud.”

Morse has even more accolades to add to her accomplishments this year. Based on her cumulative scores, she placed ninth in the nation for riders over 50 years old, and second in the nation for the National Dressage Pony Cup, which “showcases the exceptional talent, training and commitment of ponies and small horses, their owners, breeders, trainers and riders in the art and sport of dressage.”

Morse has moved through three of the various levels of dressage – Introductory, Training and Level 1 – and is set on reaching Level 2.

“My goal is to get to the next level and just to continue the journey,” she said. “You do the best you can every time you walk into that arena and hope for the best.”

The art and sport of dressage

The art and sport of dressage

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