An Unlikely Path From the Jumper Ring to US Dressage Finals

© Sarah Harper: Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire
Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire

Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 16, 2016 – When Jennifer ‘Joey’ Evans purchased Bombay Sapphire at a 1.0m show jumper in 2015, qualifying and competing at the 2016 US Dressage Finals was the last thing on her mind. However, what she least expected turned into a reality on Nov. 12 when she rode down the centerline on the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding in the First Level Adult Amateur Championship and earned a score a 65.343 percent.

To even be competing in the finals was quite a feat for a horse that had been purchased as a jumper and had never done dressage before.

“He was totally inverted [when she purchased him] and had no concept of what contact was or how to be over his back,” Evans said. “We spent the first 8 months just focusing on simple basics and building strength.”

A switch to a new trainer, Susan Ighani based in Napa, California started Evans and Bombay on their journey into the dressage ring.

“Susan played with him for a few weeks,” Evans said. “She told me ‘Let’s see what he can do! He’s great with your mom, he goes on trails and let’s just see where he can go.’”

Evans competes in both dressage and jumpers but Bombay has made it clear that he has found his true calling in the dressage ring.

“We jumped him a bit after doing the dressage and it was very clear that it stressed him,” Evans explained. “He’s been super happy and his confidence has come out – he loves his new job.”

Ighani has been impressed with the transformation the slight 16 hand gelding has made in just under a year of dressage training.

© Sarah Harper: Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire
Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire 

“The more we get his body stronger to match what he’s learning, the more he is confident to step up to the plate,” she said. “For me, as a trainer, to see in less than a year what he’s been able to do is amazing, and it also shows how much basics go a long way. I think it’s fun to find if a horse feels confident in something how much more successful they can be.”

A program that focuses on correct basics and strength has been vital to the pair’s success.

“We do a lot of cross training, hill work and poles,” Evans explained. “I think that it all helps him get stronger. Susan’s program is confidence building in itself. We are not going to ask him to do anything he can’t do and we will push him in areas that you push an athlete but not without the strength and the mental confidence that he needs to get there. It’s so surreal to be here with him after 10 months of training – it’s been really fun.”

Having a horse who doesn’t have the extravagant movement so often seen in the dressage ring hasn’t hindered Evans’s enthusiasm for her mount. In her mind, it has given her a challenge to raise the bar of her own riding.

“It’s easy to get intimidated by the atmosphere at the shows and by not having a big fancy mover,” Evans explained. “Susan and I school a lot about riding an accurate, clean test, and that’s what we wanted to do here at Finals. Make sure your 20m circles are 20m circles, are your loops out to X? What are you doing to grab every point you can knowing that you’re not going to have these incredible lengthenings? That focus on accuracy has really improved my riding both on him and in the jumper ring as well.”

© Sarah Harper: Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire
Joey Evans and Bombay Sapphire 

Working with Bombay and venturing into the dressage ring has opened Evans’ eyes to the importance of dressage training for her other jumpers as well.

“I think it’s good for everybody to have a handle on training through second level and getting a feel for shoulder-in and haunches-in so that you can understand how to get your horse truly through and get the engine you need,” Evans said. “We are constantly talking about haunches-in, or are your shoulders straight to a fence? You have to think about all of that when you’re jumping.”

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