Over the past few years, I have met some amazing Canadian riders who have impressed me with their accomplishments, whether reaching the highest levels of FEI competition or overcoming incredible personal challenges just to get in the saddle. I wanted to profile some of their achievements and their stories, so decided to to start a new blog series called Amateurs (Not) Like Us.
If you missed the first installment featuring Jennifer Black, check it out. Today I'm excited to introduce you to an inspirational rider named Anne Leueen. Many of you already know her and her horse Biasini from her popular HorseAddict blog. Anne is a wonderful source of information, news, training advice and really all things dressage, but she's also a highly accomplished re-rider who has found success in the FEI ring in her 70s. How does this self-described "vintage rider" do it? We asked her:
When and why did you start riding?
I started riding when I was about 7 at a dude ranch in Arizona while we were on holiday. I started to ride on a regular basis at age 10. I went after school with a friend and my parents leased a horse for me.
When and why did I start to focus on dressage?
I never imagined I would focus on dressage . As a teenager I was eventing at Pebble Beach and I thought dressage was a joke. I had a 30-year gap from age 19 to 49 when I did not ride. When my daughter started she was interested in dressage, and by then I was 50 so I thought it would be more sensible if I did not jump and tried dressage instead.
What were your initial goals?
Initially I just thought I would like to get back to competing. After a couple of years I set my sights on the Prix St-Georges. When I told my 10-year-old daughter this she burst out laughing.
How have those goals changed over the past few years?
I rode my first PSG in 2013. Then my horse got ill and had to be put down. I was heartbroken as we had come up the levels from Training to PSG together. I got another horse and within six months I lost him as well. I thought about stopping riding but realized that if i gave up horses I was going to get old quickly. That was when I got Biasini. I do not have the goal of getting to the Grand Prix. I am currently 71 and Biasini is 15, so that would be an unrealistic goal. And that's fine with me. We are currently competing at the I-1 level and I am aiming for the Century ride, where the horse and rider's ages added together equal 100. Dressage Canada does not have this award yet., so I am going to go about getting that set up for myself and other elder riders!
You have dealt with some serious health challenges; how have they affected your riding?
The year my daughter started riding I was diagnosed with Systemic Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease in the same family as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was pretty ill, with all my joints inflamed and skin thickened and tightened all over my body. It can also affect the lungs , kidneys and heart, but I was lucky and did not experience that.
I started back riding to share a leased horse with my daughter. The Scleroderma stopped progressing, but then I was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer. I had a major surgery to have several working parts removed, and now have a permanent colostomy. The year after the cancer surgery my Scleroderma began to go into what the doctors described as a "dramatic" remission. Today I have only minor symptoms. I was not then and am not now on any medication that would have caused this improvement. My "miracle cure" was that I bought myself a horse! That was 20 years ago.
How do you define success at dressage for yourself?
This is a tough question. I do not measure it by my test scores. I think I measure it by achieving improvements in the things I am working on with my coach.
As an amateur what have been the biggest obstacles to success?
I have to say I have not really encountered any obstacles as an amateur rider. The USDF has awards to encourage amateurs and older riders. I have my Masters Challenge awards for riders over 60 right up to the FEI level. It is nice to have something to work towards and fun to get a nice diploma, elegant picture frame, and a medal.
What have been the most helpful tools or strategies in achieving success?
Good coaches! To me there is nothing more important than investing in good training. I am very lucky to have a very good coach in Florida, Luis Denizard ,and my home coach here in Ontario is [Canadian Olympian] Belinda Trussell. She had Biasini from the age of 4 until I bought him at 9. So I have had the benefit of a well-trained horse. He's not an easy horse to ride, but is very well-trained. Also Belinda does not treat me like a 70-year-old rider and she pushes me to do better and then even better.
What is your career highlight to date?
Last year Biasini and I were the Reserve Champions of the Adult Amateur division at Intermediare 1 in the White Fences Championship Series in Florida. This year we were Reserve Champions for the FEI Freestyle. I celebrated both of those.
Biggest setback to date?
To be honest any setbacks I have had have not been that bad. I'm not just being a social media Pollyanna about this. I am extremely fortunate and my setbacks are just first-world problems.
What's the most important advice you can give fellow amateurs?
Get the right horse for where you are now. Don't get sucked in to getting a big fancy mover when what you need is a sensible horse that you can enjoy. The horse I came up through the levels with was not a big fancy mover, but he was consistent and he gave me confidence. We learned together. I would not be able to ride a horse like Biasini if I had not had Tommie. And when you get the right horse, make sure you have access to a good coach and trainer who can help you achieve your goals. Finally, especially if you are older, it is paramount to maintain a very good level of fitness. I have to be fit to be able to ride well. We all do.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.