by Eleanor Davis
Most dressage riders yearn to earn their USDF bronze medal and move up the levels with their equine partner. While Whitney Johnson’s to-do list includes the typical goals, like moving up a level and improving her horse’s medium trot, she also has a dream that’s a little bit different from the norm. She hopes to ride her Maryland-bred Off the Track Thoroughbred, Lion’s Share, in a freestyle demonstration at Maryland Million Day to raise awareness about the breed’s talent for dressage.
Whitney first ran into “Leo” when he was still on the track.
“It was love at first sight,” she says, citing his big expressive eyes and sweet face.
Through the help of a friend in the industry, as well as Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Whitney was able to network and talk to Leo’s connections. Whitney was able to attend his last race, and very soon after adopt Leo due to his lack of ability as a racehorse. After a few months to let down and relax, Whitney brought Leo to his new home, Stonebrook Farm.
Whitney and Leo began working together to develop as a dressage team. Whitney worked hard to establish trust with Leo, after he’d spent so many years on the track. While he was initially very uncertain about things and got nervous easily, Whitney says that Leo has forced her to become a calmer and more confident rider. “He’s taught me to ride more accurately as well,” she states “because he got nervous if he didn’t know what I wanted.” However, Leo’s lighthearted personality makes training fun, even when it is demanding. According to Whitney, he’s even earned the nickname “Justin Bieber” because of his long forelock and teenage-esque personality.
Leo may be goofy in the barn, but he is all business and a formidable competitor in the show ring. In their first year, Whitney and Leo received the Potomac Valley Dressage Association (PVDA) Champion award at Introductory Level, as well as the TPR award, as Leo was the highest scoring thoroughbred. After Whitney took some time off to start a family, the duo came roaring back in 2014 to snag the PVDA Champion award at Training Level and the Perpetual Trophy for the highest training level score in the organization. Whitney then set her sights on rated shows for Leo. Unfortunately, fate intervened, and Whitney broke her leg (non-riding accident), making it impossible for the two to begin rated shows. This year, they’ve bounced back from the set back, and moved up to First Level at rated shows, receiving a 66% and placing third in a large class at their debut.
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Bonus — See Leo and Whitney Dance together during their First Level Three Dressage Test video: https://youtu.be/Cka76i39ISE