Almost 400 horse riders across the country have been inducted into the Dressage Foundation’s Century Club and Moscow’s Susan Zenier will be the first Idahoan to join the special group.
Dressage is a highly-skilled form of horse riding performed in exhibition and competition. The Century Club recognizes dressage riders and horses whose combined ages total 100 years or more. Zenier, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service, is 75, and her appendix quarter horse, Snickers, is 26.
According to www.dressagefoundation.org, 387 horse and rider teams have been inducted into the club since it started in 1996 and none have been from the Gem State. Washington, Oregon and Montana have been represented at least once.
Zenier will be inducted into the prestigious group this weekend at the Spokane Sport Horse Farm. She will also perform a dressage routine at the venue and be judged on her performance.
Marina Parris Woodhead, Zenier’s trainer, said she has only trained one other rider in her 25 years of coaching who earned the Century Club recognition.
“People are riding longer,” Woodhead said. “Seventy is the new 50.”
Zenier said she has ridden horses her entire life but stopped riding for several years until she picked it back up three years ago.
“When I retired, I suddenly found that one can spend too much time between a screen and the refrigerator and put on 20 pounds,” Zenier said.
Zenier contacted Woodhead three years ago saying she wanted to literally “get back on the horse.”
Since then, Woodhead has made the two-and-a-half hour trek each week from Joseph, Ore., to the Palouse to train Zenier. Woodhead also trains others in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and on the Palouse.
Woodhead said Zenier has gradually improved her physical condition. Zenier said she had to crawl onto her horse the first time she met Woodhead, but now she rides with no hands, as she demonstrated last week at the Greenbriar Farm arena east of Troy — her normal training facility.
“It has been quite a therapeutic journey for her to recover some of her athleticism that had slipped by the wayside over the years,” Woodhead said.
Susan’s training regimen has included swimming, yoga, stretching and various horseback exercises to improve strength and balance.
“Horseback riding is really an athletic endeavor,” Woodhead said.
She said Zenier is dedicated, proven by Zenier never missing a lesson the three years they have worked together. Woodhead said Zenier rides in everything from cold, snowy conditions to sweltering heat.
Zenier also battles arthritis, which her 1,100-pound horse has as well, and a torn meniscus in her knee.
Snickers has shown his dedication, too.
Woodhead said dressage horses like Snickers can live well into their 20s but are usually not fit for competition after about 20.
“To have one that can get fit for competition, you know, at 26, and to have a rider that can stay fit for competition at 75 is what makes it unique,” Woodhead said.
She said prime competition years for Snickers’ breed is about 10 to 16.
Zenier said Snickers’ great physical condition can be attributed to being well cared for and living leisurely.
“He’s never had to turn in a 40-hour week,” she said.
While Snickers has not had to work hard, Zenier said her horse is not scared of anything.
“He doesn’t quit,” she said. “He doesn’t just say, ‘Not today. It’s Tuesday.’ ”
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.