Racing name: Zoe Lion
New name: Zoe
Sire: Silent Landing
Dam: Timely Weather
Color: Dark bay
An English lit grad and former captain of the UMass Dartmouth equestrian team finds one of the hardest lessons these days is making a circle.
Intellect and athlete Meghan Bilz says she has a renewed respect for that curvaceous geometric shape, and for that matter, the straight line, when riding in a dressage saddle on her off-track Thoroughbred (and study partner) Zoe.
“I’ve got a hunter/jumper background, and I always thought a circle was just a circle, and how hard could a straight line be, anyway? Then I started riding in a clinic with a Grand Prix dressage rider,” Bilz says. “I’ve been doing a lot of homework ever since, incorporating books and videos into my training with Zoe.”
The full-time grant writer with a New Hampshire nonprofit spends her time out of the office bringing Zoe back from a minor bowed tendon injury by building muscle strength and soundness through dressage work.
“With dressage, you are so much more connected with legs, seat and hands” than as a hunter/jumper rider, she says. “It’s really quite challenging, but also quite rewarding. You get these four or five steps that are perfect, and that can make your one-hour ride.”
She jokes that dressage training is perfect for the Type A personality.
“It’s the relentless pursuit of perfection that you will never achieve. You never stop learning,” she says, adding, “It’s very humbling.”
Prior to the training, her horse tended to go inverted, and resisted using her back muscles. By combining dressage lessons and walks and trots up and down hills, her horse is becoming an elegant little mover. “She’s learning to elongate from head to tail, and she’s swinging through her back,” Bilz says.
An equestrian since age 6, Bilz jokes she has “tried to quit” a number of times. Riding through her undergraduate days at UMass, and working on a farm while in grad school at University of Connecticut, she just couldn’t shake her horse habit.
To defray costs, Bilz mucks out stalls on weekends and never loses sight of her goals for Zoe.
“There’s a perception that Thoroughbreds can’t do dressage. I believe any horse can,” Bilz says. “My plan for Zoe is to bring her to first and second level.”