Any dressage rider would be nervous going down centerline with a new horse and Charlotte Merle-Smith is no exception.
She’s owned her 10-year-old Westphalian gelding Firewalker (Fidermark-Weinbotin, Weinberg) since November 1, but each day during the Jan. 22-24 show held at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival showgrounds in Wellington, Florida, her scores improved as she learned how her new horse behaves in the show ring. He did his new owner proud, especially because he had never been a horse for a para-equestrian rider before Merle-Smith bought him and she is a Grade II para-equestrian athlete.
As the CPEDI3* unfolded, Merle-Smith was consistently in the ribbons as her scores improved daily after the Grade II Individual Test, Grade II Team Test and Grade II Freestyle. She had only been practicing her freestyle for a week when she rode before the judges in the International Arena on Jan. 24 and snared a third place ribbon with her freedom and fun-themed freestyle.
Merle-Smith said that her goal has always been to ride for her country and this show, the second on which she rode aboard Firewalker, was a good opportunity for her.
“We’re trying to have good experience in the ring and this is the only qualifier on the East Coast for the Nationals and for Worlds,” she said. “I want to ride on the U.S. Team. It’s always been my goal to ride for the country. I was a professional event rider before I got hurt and it was always my dream.”
One of her coaches, Ruth Hogan Poulsen, was proud of her student’s achievement at the show.
“Charlotte never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “Now I add Firewalker to that statement. In a very short time, Firewalker has begun to understand his job as well as to understand Charlotte and what he has to do for her. She achieved her goal to earn scores high enough to place them in consideration for para-equestrian team membership. They are clearly forming a relationship and developing their language together. Each day of the show their vocabulary grew larger!”
Merle-Smith’s search for a new horse took two and a half years. She lost her former partner three years ago after a pasture accident and she’s been searching for a new one every since.
“He’s awesome,” she said, adding that para-equestrian horses can’t be someone’s old retired horse. “They have to be fancy. Para is very competitive. Very competitive. I totally lucked out. Finally!”
She said that her desire to ride again helped her during the rehabilitation period after her accident eight years ago and she was back astride a horse as quickly as she could.
“Horses are my life,” she said. “They’ve always been my life.”