by Carly Weilminster
(first appeared in the September 2012 issue of The Equiery)
Time is key when creating a lasting partnership. Dressage rider Elizabeth Simmeth-Ensor’s patient waiting for just the right partnership has finally paid off and her journey to greatness has begun. Her relationship with Baltic Hanoverian gelding Liuteris Star began in 2007 and has been progressing ever since. But this past year, their partnership has developed into something she only could have imagined, a move up to Third Level, a U.S. Dressage Federation Bronze Medal, and countless accolades including The Equiery Perpetual Dressage Award.
The Journey Begins
Elizabeth Simmeth was the youngest of four children and the only girl. Her parents decided to give her an activity she could call her own and enrolled her in weekly riding lessons at an early age. A native of Maryland, Elizabeth grew up riding at some of the best-known farms in Harford County. For her 12th birthday, her parents gave her her first pony and at age 16, Eileen Prichard Brian, a family friend, introduced her to Pony Club. What she once thought of as a simple hobby became a passion.
Competing professionally in the sport of eventing was her original goal; however, in 1980 she met Greg Ensor, and they were married seven years later. They bought some land in Jarrettsville and built a house and a barn. Together, they decided that a life of traveling and competing was not conducive to raising a family, so Elizabeth chose to lay her professional dreams to rest. Her son Corbin was born in September of 1989 and her daughter Laurel followed three years later. Even though competing professionally was out of the question, she continued with her riding. Elizabeth would often bring Corbin to the barn with her, set up his playpen near the ring, and like many other horse moms, multitasked, riding while also keeping a close eye on her son.
Committing to Dressage
As time passed, Elizabeth competed and worked with several horses, but one, Korbin’s Keila, a Percheron/Thoroughbred mare, helped Elizabeth realize her need to “fine-tune” her dressage skills. Elizabeth first competed Keila in eventing but an injury prevented the mare from jumping at that level and she turned to dressage. What was only meant to be a quick tune-up through a few lessons turned into one of Elizabeth’s longest-lasting friendships. Margaret Haskins, now Elizabeth’s trainer, friend and confidant, helped guide her in the transition from dressage as just the first phase of eventing into preparing for the classical dressage world.
Elizabeth began competing Keila with Margaret’s guidance up through First Level. Her scores began to improve. “Earning my USDF Bronze medal was my goal and I did everything I could to make sure that I would succeed,” Elizabeth stated. She already had the scores she needed at First Level from her rides with Keila.
Finding the Partner
Through Keila and Margaret, Elizabeth deepened her appreciation of dressage. When it came time to purchase a horse who would help her learn the ropes of the upper levels, Elizabeth had a schoolmaster in mind. But when she was shown a video by Jim Armstrong of a feisty chestnut gelding in Virginia, she could not pass up the opportunity to “at least go look.” Lo and behold, Elizabeth fell in love with Luisteris Star (aka Alexi), who she comically nicknamed “Bubble Boy” due to his lack of turnout and extreme “dressagesque” upkeep.
Elizabeth went back to try Alexi twice before deciding that he was the horse for her. He was only four years old and she knew that he was no schoolmaster, but he clearly had the talent to reach the top if she could continue to be patient.
With Alexi, Elizabeth set out to earn the final scores she needed for the USDF Bronze Medal. In order to qualify for this award, one must receive two scores above 60% at each level in First, Second, and Third Level classes. Alexi proved to be very spooky in his early years, creating some difficult challenges for the pair. She jokingly said, “If a leaf dropped into the ring, before I knew it, we were halfway across the arena.” But, she adds, he is an overachiever and is willing to push himself for the results that she asks him for.
After years of some of the toughest and most mentally trying competitions, she finally earned her last qualifying score in 2011. She recalls, laughing,“I was the queen of 59%. For some reason I could not get a 60% and I kept thinking to myself, what is so difficult about getting a 60%?”. Just to put the cherry on top of a successful season, Elizabeth decided to travel with her daughter Laurel to San Diego, California to personally accept the award at the USDF Convention/Symposium.
Elizabeth stated that the most important part of reaching her goal was the journey she took to get there. The journey for her is always more important than the final result.
Being awarded with the Equiery Perpetual Dressage Award is something that Elizabeth will never forget. When she received notice that she was to be honored at the Potomac Valley Dressage Association banquet, she called Margaret and said, “I think they have the wrong person!” Relatively new to PVDA, Elizabeth did not know much about the award’s qualifications and figured the board had made a mistake. But hard work pays off and winning the award became the highlight of a wonderful year.
Although Elizabeth and Alexi ended 2011 ready to move up to Fourth Level, their 2012 season had to be put on hold and Elizabeth’s patience was tried again. A misstep here, a tight canter transition there, and Elizabeth knew that something was wrong with her equine partner. After days of testing, she finally decided to take Alexi to Dr. Kent Allen at Virginia Equine Imaging. After blocking, MRIs and other diagnostics, they discovered that Alexi had bursitis in both front feet.
Thankfully, the issue was caught very early and treatment was begun soon enough that the 2012 season will not be a complete waste. After weeks of stall rest and limited turnout, Alexi and Elizabeth hope to pick up their competition journey at the end of this year.
Elizabeth accredited Alexi’s quick recovery to Dr. Kent Allen, thanking him for the intense and specialized work he did to find the best treatment for Alexi. She also graciously thanked EMO and Great American Insurance for giving her peace of mind, not having to worry about the financial burden of such expensive treatments. She also said that without the support of Wayne Winsor (Green Glen Equine), Jim Jeswick (Manor Equine) and her farrier, Steven Wheeler, Alexi’s progress would not and could not continue at the rate it is today. “They are the reason he is at the level he is and the reason he will keep progressing,” Elizabeth said.
The Journey Continues
Dressage is not easy and it can take years and years to perfect a single moment that in competition is over in mere seconds, yet it is the demand for detail and poise that drew Elizabeth in and has kept her working hard to reach her ultimate goal of competing at Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges. Margaret said about the pair, “The most enjoyable part of teaching Elizabeth has been watching her grow and mature into someone who knows more about life because of her riding. That is the most important thing to me and ultimately the most fulfilling.”