We often compare dressage to dancing, and it goes without saying that the best dance partners are not only the most skilled, but those that share a palpable connection and a love for performance. Together they possess an intangible quality that can't be pinned down to one movement, but rather it radiates from the entire exhibition. It's an attribute unique to those partners alone; star quality fused into one team. In dressage, this magnetic bond between horse and rider can't be earned in a single ride, or even several. It develops from shared history with a horse, and has the potential to turn sensitivity into something truly spectacular. International competitor Kathleen Raine and her Hanoverian mare Breanna are one of these dazzling pairs. Just over a month ago the duo put their remarkable connection on display, winning the Burbank World Cup Grand Prix with a 70.440%.
(Kathleen Raine pictured on Breanna.)
Raine and Breanna's magic in the court comes from a partnership of thirteen years, nearly a lifetime for the seventeen year old horse. After over a decade together Raine explains, "You know them so well. You know exactly how they think things through and react to different situations. Also, health wise you know them inside and out."
Back in 2004 when Breanna came up for sale as a four year old, Raine wasn't looking for another horse, in fact she wasn't even present to see her in person, but fate set the wheels in motion. The stunning mare was a top prospect at the Elite Auction in Verden, Germany, and through a partnership between Raine, her husband David Wightman, and friend Jennifer Mason, the trio was able to acquire Breanna.
Raine remembers, "She was a bit reactive and a bit hot, but of course that's what you want to be a Grand Prix horse. She had three expressive gaits and I think that's what really attracted my husband to her at the auction. He rode her for about twenty second and then got off because there's the whole game where you need to pretend not to show interest. He knew right away though that he wanted her. At the time we weren't really looking for a horse for me, we were looking for a horse for a friend of ours, but he found Breanna and thought she would be a good match for me."
Raine admits that channeling Breanna's sensitivity has come with its challenges, but being patient and allowing the mare to mature at her own pace has worked wonders.
"We've definitely had our ups and downs but that's part of the journey, and I've been lucky to have such a talented horse so it's worth it to me. We have might have a rough show or whatever and we move on from it. She always has worked with the rider, and really tried. I think she's been in situations that have made her really nervous, but after that I think she's grown and been able to handle that atmosphere. Now I think she's in that place where we can really rely on each other. The whole way along this journey she's been a great horse."
Today, Raine is careful to assess triggers that might unsettle Breanna at shows and has tweaked her approach to allow the mare to be comfortable. After thirteen years together she reads Breanna's mental state almost innately, a skill that has helped catapult them to international success and rack up wins including placing 5th at Aachen in 2014.
"I think that I know her strengths and the situations that might set her off. For example if I stay in a warmup that's quite electric, and then go in the ring that might not be best. Some horses are better if they work in that environment and then go into the ring, but she's better if she doesn't and goes straight into the ring. Those are the little things that I know about her, but I am still learning more and more about her even now."
There's no doubt that the sensitive mare feels most at home with Raine in the saddle. As a result, the duo continue to edge closer to perfection, especially if March's CDI win is any indicator.
"She has confidence in me and I have confidence in her and she can handle it. She is sensitive so I think trusting the rider and having confidence in them is a huge part of her performance. You know some horses go into the ring and they are just fine and they go (with whoever is riding) but Breanna definitely has to trust the person with her."
Many riders wait a lifetime hoping to find a horse like Breanna, searching for that perfect balance of compatibly and untapped potential. So even despite Breanna's initial promise, Raine admits she's been amazed by their success saying, "I'm surprised how good she really turned out to be. We always hoped and thought she had the potential but you never really know until they are actually doing it."
Today, Raine and Breanna are enjoying the sweet spot in their relationship. At seventeen years old Breanna has the maturity of seasoned Grand Prix horse but thanks to diligent care with twice daily exercise (and of course luck!) the mare is continuing to improve. Raine hopes to capitalize on their ascending trajectory with another trip to Europe.
"I would like to try to take her to Europe this summer but it is so expensive money-wise so we'll see if that materializes. I just want to keep enjoying riding her and having her enjoy the work, and as long as that continues we'll keep doing the bigger shows. I just want her to be fit and strong, and health and happy!
While Breanna doesn't appear to be slowly down anytime soon, Raine assures that when the time comes for her partner to step down from competition she'll be there to support the mare through her retirement.
"With Avontuur (Raine's former international GP horse) it was always hard for me to even say he was retired. You always want to say that they are going but there comes a time when they can't compete anymore. We have a field out in the front where David's old Grand Prix horse Partous lives and he's the only retired horse we have now. It's fun to have them when they've done so much for us. It's great to be able to give them a nice life after that."