Daniel Clasing recently sold his longtime upper level partner, Houston, to the Hasselquist family for their daughter, Anna, to ride. Houston will move on to the next chapter in his life in Minnesota, and Daniel took the time to write a guest blog on his experiences with the cheeky chestnut gelding. Thank you to Daniel for writing this blog, and we wish Houston the best of luck in his new home with the Hasselquists.
When Houston stepped on the van to leave for his new home in Minnesota, it marked the end of a long journey. It was one that began while I was still in high school, continued on through college, and onto the seven-year process of starting a barn and training horses for a living.
Houston was born in 2001, on the weekend of my first three-day event, the Virginia CCI*. My mother was all abuzz from the thrilling experience of being at an FEI event with that unique, big-event atmosphere. Within the next month, she impetuously purchased a baby Houston from his breeder Ann McKay. I was less than thrilled, as she had just bought a foal the previous year.
I really had no say. I could either break and ride the young horses that she bought, or I could not ride at all. My mind was quickly changed by Houston, as he had a presence that the other foal did not. He also had a kindness to him that Yardley, my first upper-level horse, was lacking (he was in turn talented, cheeky and more than a bit naughty).
I backed Houston as a 2-year-old, then left him home when I departed for college. He was slow to mature physically, so for the first few years, I only rode him in between semesters. Due to his slow maturation, he only made it to one event in the fall of his 4-year-old year, and didn’t start competing regularly until he was 5.
I continued with him through the levels at a consistent pace: Preliminary at 6, Intermediate at 7. Weakness and late maturity began to catch up with us at the Intermediate level, as he lacked the necessary strength and self carriage for that level, getting by on his willingness and desire to get to the other side.
It finally caused an issue at his first CCI2* at Jersey Fresh; I couldn’t rebalance him enough at a combination that included a gate. We got a little deep, he hung a leg, and I fell off. That was the only cross-country fault that we ever had at a three-day event. We continued campaigning at Intermediate for the rest of the year and went to the Fair Hill CCI2* in the fall. This was one of my favorite competition memories, although I hope I am never at another event like it ever again.
I think it started raining on that Wednesday and continued heavily through Sunday. I was in 66th after the dressage, but jumped double clean on cross country and had a nice show jumping to finish in 8th. Houston is absolutely the horse you want if you are running in bad, sloppy conditions. He has an amazing gallop, one that’s big and very efficient, and he has the temperament to cope with the mud and the rain.
The next winter, we were named to the Developing Riders training list, so in addition to the help of my regular coaches, Phillip Dutton and Mara DePuy, I had the added benefit of Capt. Mark Phillips and Katie Prudent. I found the additional training very beneficial, and we had a successful move up to Advanced at Southern Pines in March. I believe we had a dressage score in the upper 30s, clean cross country with some time and two rails in the show jumping.
I had to go home back to Maryland after that, since I couldn’t afford to stay in Aiken any longer. Unfortunately, winter had not left us yet in the mid-Atlantic. There was still a good amount of snow on the ground from the multiple blizzards of “snowmageddon.” I was hoping to make it to the CCI3* at Bromont, steadily increasing Houston’s fitness work, but with the conditions being less than ideal, he ended up with a small tendon injury. He came back to work the following spring, and we went to our first CCI3* that fall at Fair Hill.
We qualified for Rolex at that Fair Hill but didn’t make it to Kentucky the following spring because Houston had contracted Lyme’s disease. We hadn’t diagnosed it until early May, but he was not going well enough to go to Kentucky, so I scratched my entry. Ever since then, I have drawn a Lyme titer before I leave for Aiken. He went on antibiotics and we bounced back to have another double clear at Fair Hill and an 8th-place finish in the CCI3*.
I was extra determined to make it to Rolex the next year, going down to Aiken earlier and with more horses since I felt I needed more time saddle time while we were there. Houston and I hadn’t done a spring three-day since 2009, and this was 2013. There was definitely pressure to get going well early. My build up started a little rough with a bad go at Pine Top (a course that had always been a bit of a jinx for me), but we bounced back, and I had great runs at Southern Pines and the Fork.
At our first Rolex, we received a 64.5 in dressage, went double clear cross country and had four rails in show jumping to finish 21st. This spring at Rolex, we received a 64.5 in dressage, went double clear cross country and had five rails to finish 26th. It doesn’t sound like there is much progress there, but numbers never tell the whole story.
I’m glad I that I didn’t sell him last year and that we got our second go at Rolex. Everything about this year’s Rolex was tougher: the field was bigger and stronger, the cross country was definitely a bit stiffer, and the show jumping was a longer, tougher track.
I also think that we had the best cross country of our career at this year’s Rolex, which is especially gratifying given the intensity of the course. It will probably take a couple years to get back to Kentucky, so I am glad that I can rebuild knowing that our four-star completion wasn’t a fluke or just a “soft” year.
Rolex this spring marked our last competition together, as he was recently purchased by the Hasselquist family for their daughter, Anna. I think they will have many successful years ahead of them as they work up the levels together in the Young Rider ranks.
People have asked me, how could I sell a horse I have had for this long, one with whom I have such a partnership? It wasn’t an easy decision, but a necessary one, as it allows me to invest in my next generation of horses while Houston delivers the best kind of education to a young rider.
I will always be grateful to Houston, my first big horse with an even bigger heart.