At just 23 years-old, many riders could only dream of competing in huge grand prix classes, let alone succeeding in them. That dream has become a reality for Shawn Casady, a talented young rider who recently paired up with Wyndmont, Inc. to help bring up young horses while also competing in the grand prix ring with Olympic veteran, Valinski S.
The Wyndmont, Inc. team’s recent partnership with John Madden Sales, Inc. has already produced top results with Casady in the irons. We chatted with Casady to find out what it’s been like to train with Wyndmont, Inc. under the tutelage of Ronnie Beard and Michael Dorman.
First, tell us about the transition from John Madden Sales to Wyndmont and how that process happened?
“At the end of WEF Ronnie had talked to John about me possibly coming to ride a couple of the horses for the summer if I wasn’t going to be going off to Europe with them. It started with a couple of new sale horses, and they really needed a full time rider. So when that opportunity came up, John was all for it. Ronnie has really nice horses and John knows Ronnie really well – John used to work for Ronnie back in the day. John was really all for it and supportive of it. I still work close with John and Beezie and I still have free time for them. Whenever I’m home from Ronnie, I go and I ride some of the young horses for John and some of the other horses. I’ve been kind of back and forth still working for both of them but it’s been an easy transition. They both have very similar programs. They’re both geared to the top of the sport. It’s very similar and an easy adjustment.
What are some similarities you’ve noticed between the two programs?
Ronnie’s operation is really geared toward sales and producing top horses from a young age, similar to John’s. The similarities I’d say is that they’re both really geared toward the horse, what’s best for the horse, and how are we going to make these horses better in the most humane way. Both are based around strong horsemanship, and that’s how I was raised riding for Bill Schaub and Ken Smith. It’s kind of how they were raised as well so it was an easy transition to John’s. They both really have a similar philosophy in the sport.
You had the chance to go to Europe this spring with Michael Dorman to look at horses. Tell us more about what it was like and what you learned while you were there.
I had never sat on a horse for Wyndmont until I went over to Europe so I was a little nervous because I had never worked for them. They had seen me ride, but I had never worked for them so it was kind of an interesting experience just going right to it – trying to express an opinion and also listening, it was kind of interesting. Michael [Dorman] has a really great eye for talented horses so that really helped. It’s always my main goal to get on anything and see how much I can get out of it and I think Michael appreciated that part, but he also has more of a critical eye. What he thinks the horse is, he has a really good eye for the young horses.
Now you’ve been to HITS Saugerties and Lake Placid with the Wyndmont team. Describe what a typical day at a horse show looks like for you.
Right now we have nine horses total, so everything can really be organized the way we want it. We’ll ride a horse in the morning and everything is prepared. Something I’ve seen with them is also something John stressed when I was with him – control the things you can control, and then the rest, you’ve set yourself up for the best result and did your homework. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, you go back to the drawing board. But the whole system is very respectful of each other. Michael is always asking me how I feel and I’m always asking them what they see. We’re always kind of working together as far as preparing the horses for the show ring and in training as well. It’s very open- minded. Every time we take a horse to the ring or to school it, it’s always geared toward the next day and the next time. It’s not just ‘Can we jump a clear round and win a class?’ but ‘How are we going to make this horse better for the future?’
What have you been working on with the younger horses?
For everything we kind of prepare for the future. So a good example would be a 7-year-old we have. He has a really strong personality, but he is also a really strong fighter to keep the jumps up. In the beginning he wasn’t always like that. He was a little defensive and wanted to do it his own way. It’s really been geared toward harnessing the positive things, use the strengths to our advantage and let him develop off his strengths, then working on the weaknesses. Not necessarily attacking the weaknesses and bringing him down but using his strengths to keep him confident and happy while at the same time, schooling the weaknesses.
Are there any particular exercises you focus on?
We do a lot of gymnastics, and when it comes time to show we try to make the best of it and if something is a little weak or one is jumping a little bit past or shallow or whatever, we’ll adjust our schooling to work on that. One of the horses was having a little bit of trouble adjusting his body on an in-and-out, oxer, vertical, vertical, oxer. He’ll do one good, but then he’ll have trouble with the other, so then we practice it. You make a mistake, you come back and do it again, hopefully he does it better and if he does he’s learning. You can’t necessarily force the horses into learning things, they have to learn it by themselves.
Talk about what it’s been like to compete on a seasoned grand prix horse and Olympic veteran like Valinski.
It’s awesome. I’m really ecstatic about it, to be 23 years old and to have an opportunity like that. I don’t think there’s endless opportunities out there for young riders, and it really means a lot that they chose me. They’re trusting me with their horse in the ring, and they have confidence in me that I’m going to produce results for them. Not only am I learning a lot from it, but it really goes a long way, that this is a possible dream, it’s not unreachable.
What kinds of things have you learned since riding him?
Some horses really teach you how to ride, how to communicate. You have to let them teach you, of course. But they’re not just going to teach you, you have to be open-minded. That’s what is so nice about having the opportunity to ride such young horses. But to have a horse that has all of that experience, you focus on the class. You know the horse has the experience, and then you really use it and get chances to ride stronger here and slicker here and softer there and all of the little details. Having a horse like that I get the opportunity to jump a grand prix, jump a clear round and go fast in the jump-off. I believe he’s 15 years old this year, he knows what he’s doing and he’s totally game. I get to focus on myself as a grand prix rider.
What would you say is the number one lesson you’ve learned riding with Wyndmont?
It’s one of the first lessons that you learn as a horseman, and it’s that the horses come first. If you give the most to your horses then they can give the most to you. They are tools to our careers and that’s why they’re the most important thing, They’re the most important ingredient to all of this. I’m so happy. I’m having a great time doing this and learning a lot. I’m looking forward to the future with it. I’m very grateful for the whole team that’s behind it, Ronnie and Michael, the grooms, investors, there’s a lot that goes into. It’s not just me going in to the ring – there’s a lot of people that dedicate a lot to it and I’m just so appreciative to have those people.