Nicole Houghton

I am nineteen years old and live in Southern California. I graduated from Royal High School in Simi Valley and decided
to attend Moorpark College which is close to my barn. I began riding when I was very young and started learning Dressage as soon as I could ride. I have never wanted to do anything else. My horse’s name is Violaan (we call him Opie) and he became my new dressage partner at Christmastime in 2011. We plan to try out for the NAJYRC Region 7 Young Rider team in 2012.

When did you first start riding dressage?

I have been riding for as long as I can remember but started Dressage when I was about seven or eight. I did not start competing seriously until I was fifteen, but have ridden in local shows and in the DASC Junior championships with my now retired Thoroughbred mare, Jewel, while growing up.

Who are you training with?

I am currently training with Jodie Cressman in Moorpark, CA along with our assistant trainer Teresa Chang at the beautiful St. Emillion Farms facility. I have been with Jodie for almost four years now and have been so lucky to have such an amazing trainer. Jodie shared her 18 hand Trakehner gelding, Lancelot, with me and I was able to compete with him for two years and qualify for the 2010 NAJYRC Junior Team for Region 7. I am so grateful for that opportunity. Unfortunately, we lost Lance this past April due to an injury and it has been very difficult for both Jodie and I to move on. However, we have now been able to put our energies into getting Opie ready for this upcoming competition year. I am so grateful to both Jodie and Teresa for being with me every step of the way and helping me with my riding career and life ambitions. I can’t thank each of them enough for everything they have done for me.

Who is your biggest influence in you riding?

My mom for sure. Since I could walk, she has exposed me to horses and when it came time to fall in love with them, I did. She never pushed me into any riding style and I have done hunter/jumper training as well as Dressage. I love being on top of such a magnificent animal. Because my mom had a hunter/jumper background and enjoyed showing horses herself growing up, she knew the level of commitment having horses in my life would be. Because of her, I have always had a horse to ride and she supports me every step of the way. Although there have been days I have thought that I wanted to quit, my mom helps me to realize that the difficult moments are temporary and things get better with hard work and perseverance as long as I have the desire. My mom has helped me with my decisions and has supported me financially and emotionally.

What is a typical training day for you and your horse and what exercises do you work on more than others?

Every day is different for Opie and I. Because of school and work I have to use my time with him very wisely. Typically, we get tacked up and start warming up for our lesson which is different every day depending on how Opie feels. Right now we are getting back into our double bridle and working on all the PSG movements. There is not one specific movement that we work on more than any other. We do lots of exercises and PSG movements to prepare ourselves for the coming show season. I also work very hard on myself to keep myself supple in the body and strong in my core both on my horse and in the gym.

What is the most important tip you can give others?

Commitment, desire and patience. When I started, I did not have a horse to take me too far in the world of Dressage, but she did help me learn the basics. Learning to ride Lance was tough because he was so big and strong and knew way more about Dressage than I did. With a lot of work, and telling myself that “Nobody wants it as bad as I do,” I stayed focused and motivated to become a stronger rider. No matter how bad a lesson or show went, I knew that with hard work and patience, I could achieve more. Now that I have been in Dressage training for more than ten years, every time I step in the show arena I pretend like it’s the Olympics. I want to perform and do well and make sure both Opie and myself look our best and get the job done. The first step is to believe in yourself. Nobody is going to do the job for you. If you want it, you have to work at it.

Tell us about your horses personality, What he likes and doesn’t like.

Well, Opie is quite the interesting character. He is nine and was imported from the Netherlands a couple years ago. When I first got him I thought he was a bit dull and boring! One day, though, he woke up and became just like me. We both have a crazy, high-strung switch. He is the sweetest boy in the whole world on the ground and under saddle. He even lets my boyfriend take him for walks! He likes to nicker and talk, when you get near his stall he makes sure you know he’s there when he wants your attention. He loves peppermints. The funniest thing about him is that he will not eat peppermints at a show… he will only eat apples while he has his bridle on; and only the Fuji apples. The others he spits out. I waited about 10 years to have a horse like him for my own with so much potential. I am very excited to see what is in store for us over the next couple of years.

Who is your favorite rider?

I cannot pick just one. I take something away from each rider/horse pair. I have admired Debbie MacDonald and Brentina for as long as I can remember. I first saw them in person perform during the Olympic qualifiers in San Juan Capistrano before the Bejing games in 2008. I loved watching the two of them together. I have also loved watching Steffen Peters and Ravel over the past couple of years. I have been fortunate to see many of their amazing rides in person and it has been incredible to watch and learn from them.

Is it your goal to be in the Olympics someday?

Of course! It is this goal that stays in my mind when I am at a show or working at the barn rather than hanging with friends or going away to college.

What is your favorite dressage movement?

I like a lot of movements but the most fun for me is passage and piaffe. I have played with both a little on Opie and it is just such a cool feeling to ride those movements and they are so much fun! I first felt the piaffe on Lance. It was just so easy for him and so much fun for me since I had never been able to do that on any other horse.

Do you like riding to music?

I love it! Lance and I rode to a Red, White and Blue “American” freestyle and the music was patriotic and powerful. I am currently putting together my music for Opie and I look forward to it being a lot of fun.

Do you go trail riding?

Not so much anymore. I do on my retired mare, Jewel, because I can jump on her bareback and go play around on the trails. Opie and I have not ventured out on the trails. We have spent most of our time training and learning about each other during the nine months that we have been together. We do however, go on walks around the property.

What can you share with other riders is the most important part of learning dressage.

It would definitely be, to put your horse in front of yourself. If your horse is not feeling right one day, no matter what your plans were for your training that day you need to be flexible and work with your horse. Have patience. If your horse is not feeling right one day, don’t work so hard and don’t be afraid to scratch from a class or a show. When it comes down to it, your horse will be at your side no matter what, and for the most part takes care of you. It is your job to take care of them too and give them the best opportunities possible.

What can you tell other juniors about reaching their goals in dressage?

Stick with it, no matter what anyone else says. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something and consider the negative comments on your tests as another learning opportunity outside of your trainer that can drive you to perform even better to prove them wrong the next time.

What are your goals with your horse in 2011?

For the rest of the year we are continuing to get comfortable with the PSG movements and improve every aspect of our test to be prepared for the CDIs in January 2012 to qualify for the NAJYRC Region 7 Young Rider Team. I hope that we will be ready to go in January so be on the lookout for us!

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