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Vera Koo: In Search of the Perfect Athlete, a Dressage Horse

He wanted to find a perfect athlete who demonstrated focus. One who maintained their body and avoided injury. One who had the mental makeup to not only handle thousands of hours of practice, but also the stress of competition. One who would thrive under pressure.

Vera Koo The Most Unlikely Champion is the story of a petite Chinese-American woman, wife, mother and grandmother and her run to the top as a world title holder in the sport of Action Pistol Shooting.

Carlos went to Denmark in search of a dressage horse, but as he considered the qualities he sought for a top dressage horse, he realized those characteristics mirrored those of a top Bianchi Cup shooter. 

“It’s like they’re training Bianchi shooters out there,” Carlos said after he returned home from Blue Hors farm in Denmark.

The comparison goes beyond Bianchi Cup shooters. The qualities Carlos sought in a horse are present in top athletes in any sport. 

Perfect Athlete dressage horse

Carlos began riding a horse around age 12 while he lived with his mom in Brazil. They had a horse, and he rode daily. During the summer, he spent almost entire days on the horse. We both took equestrian electives while we were living in an apartment on the Stanford campus, where he was pursuing his graduate degrees. However, Carlos’ equestrian course was at a much more advanced level.

I never caught up to Carlos’ level. After I was thrown from a horse while riding in Singapore’s Rotary Club and fractured my spine, Carlos asked, “Why didn’t you do an acrobatic dismount?” Easy for him to say. Like I would know how to do that!

As Carlos advanced into his 70s, he recommitted to horseback riding. While I was off training for competitions, Carlos would busy himself with riding. Carlos’ background was in English style riding and jumping, but he decided to take up dressage just recently and has worked with a coach to learn the ropes of the sport.

Dressage is a form of horseback riding in which the rider and horse perform a series of predetermined movements. It is an elegant form of horseback riding that is almost like art.

When Carlos’ dressage coach said she was traveling to her native Denmark to buy a horse for another client, I suggested that Carlos travel with her and see if he could find a horse that he would be interested in purchasing. If nothing else, I considered it a fantastic learning opportunity.

Perfect Athlete dressage horse

Carlos and his coach visited 7 farms and decided on purchasing from Blue Hors farm, which only breeds dressage horses. This farm has about 350 horses that they breed and raise. 

For the first few years of the horses’ lives, they roam in fields. When the horses are about 4 years old, they are assigned to a trainer. All the trainers are elite riders, and medal winners.  Every trainer is assigned a stable of about 10 horses, and a pair of groomers work with each trainer.

Horses train for 1 to 2 hours every day, 6 days a week. The top selection of horses are all potential Olympic champions.

Trainers look for horses that demonstrate a willingness to be trained and practice, enjoy being ridden, are alert and are anxious to perform. To be a top horse, one must be willing to repeat the same routine over and over with focused energy.

The stables at Blue Hors farm are like a five-star hotel for horses. The horses have private treadmills. 

Dressage horses have thin legs that are easily injured, so they must be cared for closely. They receive ice baths and regular baths to aid in their recovery and cleaning. Stable boys keep the quarters in top condition. The staff treats the horses like royalty.

Although certain qualities seem to be required of any top athlete, including horses, that is not to say all athletes are created equal. The skills required to shoot Bianchi Cup are not a replica of what you need to be a Super Bowl winning quarterback or an all-star basketball player. Part of our abilities and whether we are well suited for a certain sport boils down to biology. Even within the shooting discipline, it takes a different type of skillset to excel in one competition versus another. 

Early in my career, I competed in Steel Challenge and IPSC (USPSA), but I realized I did not have the speed or athleticism required to perform at an elite level in those disciplines. So, I shifted my focus to Bianchi Cup, a competition where I could take advantage of my accuracy. I knew I had the mental fortitude and drive to put in the long hours of practice I would need to sharpen my accuracy to a top level.

Perfect Athlete dressage horse

Carlos purchased a 6-year-old horse named Impression Texel. He is a good horse who demonstrates the qualities that trainers seek in elite dressage horses. He’s friendly, alert, attentive to commands and eager to work and practice. However, Texel’s biology did not allow him to become a gold medal winning horse. He simply did not grow tall enough. That makes him perfect for Carlos, though, because Carlos is not very tall. Impression Texel’s physical build meshes perfectly with Carlos’ height. Therefore, Carlos is lucky to have found him.

Nanna Skodborg Merrald is a female trainer who has won many top level competitions, and she has expressed the possibility of traveling to the United States to help set up training for Impression Texel after Carlos purchased him. Ms. Merrald has been the trainer for Impression Texel for the past 2 years prior to Carlos’ purchase.

Carlos plans to ride Texel for a few years and enter him in competitions. In doing so, Carlos will be enjoying a horse that has all the qualities you would find in any top competitor.

  • About Vera Koo

    Vera Koo is an 8-time National Action Pistol Woman Champion who holds 2 World individual titles. Her most recent win was a Gold for Team Women (2-person team) at the NRA World Action Pistol Championship in Germany in September 2012. Vera is proud to be part of the United States Action Pistol Shooting Team since 1999. She is passionate about sharing her love of the shooting sport and the pressures of being a competitive athlete while challenging cultural expectations.