When Lisa Croxton first saw a picture of Bingo Helen she just knew. True, the mare looked a little worse for having been put out to pasture with no foot maintenance. But she also possessed the tall, leggy conformation so desirous in a dressage mount.
Eager to find a suitable horse to pursue her dressage goals, Croxton eschewed the traditional warmblood route after a friend suggested she try adopting a Thoroughbred from adoption agency New Vocations instead.
“I checked the website everyday until I found her. I had to move fast because they go quickly,” Croxton says. “If you find one you have to have your credit card ready and be prepared to adopt sight unseen.”
Laughing, she admits some friends thought her “a little crazy” to try to teach dressage to a racehorse. She loves to remind them that U.S. dressage pioneer Hilda Gurney transformed a $1,000 Thoroughbred into an Olympic bronze medalist in 1976.
And she figured if a Thoroughbred was good enough for Gurney, Bingo was good enough for her.
Name: Bingo Helen
Sire: Crimson Guard
Dam: Royal Wiz
Age: 11 “Thoroughbreds need to be introduced more into dressage,” she says. “Hilda Gurney won her gold medal in dressage (at the 1979 Pan Am Games) … and she won the Olympics (team bronze) on her Thoroughbred (Keen), who was a rescue.”
Her aspirations are not quite so high. But the pair is moving up the ranks.
With an eye toward achieving Third Level, they’ve already won the USDF rider performance award and horse performance for training level and performance level. In second level, Croxton has earned her designation, and Bingo Helen is four scores away from her performance award.
As the pair concentrates on perfecting the flying lead change, Croxton is not so much focused on shows and winnings, as she is on working at a pace suitable for both of them.
“I don’t believe in taking a horse and forcing them into it,” she says. “If you think about it, Thoroughbreds aren’t built for that kind of collection work anyway.”
Instead, she gradually introduced Bingo Helen to her new life. The pair went from lunging and side-rein work to balancing the needs of her horse to be suitably relaxed and happy, and the needs of the rider. “We did a lot of lateral work, a lot of shoulder-in, to keep her relaxed and pushed into the bridle,” Croxton says. She notes that Bingo Helen receives constant rewards for holding herself in the correct “up” form, by getting many breaks and chances to stretch.
“I can always tell when she’s getting tired because she starts to get heavy in my hands. That’s when I let her stretch down.”
With all the lessons and all of the shows, Croxton has learned it wasn’t a stretch at all to train a racehorse to do dressage. “The Thoroughbreds can do it,” she says. “They just need to be introduced back into the discipline.”