On a Sunday in September, Janet Chisholm of Cambridge, ON, and her Thoroughbred gelding, Simon, sashayed down the centreline to the saucy strains of The Stripper and made their mark in Canadian dressage history.
At the conclusion of their musical freestyle (earning a score of 67.5%), this horse and rider became only the second Canadian pair to be inducted into the Dressage Foundation Century Club. The U.S.-based organization recognizes North American horses and riders whose combined ages total 100 years or more and who have performed a dressage test of any level scored by a judge.
Janet, 74, and Simon, 26, received a black-and-gold ribbon signifying the milestone as a crowd of 50 family members, friends, and Janet’s former and current riding students cheered them on at the Cornerstone CADORA show in Campbellville, ON.
Janet started riding a friend’s pony in gymkhanas as a child growing up in England. But after her family moved to Canada in 1954, she didn’t realize her dream to have a horse of her own until she was in her 40s she bought a young Morgan mare, Santana. She started taking lessons from an instructor who had a background in German military dressage, even though Santana didn’t prove to have much talent for the discipline.
While working full-time for Bell Canada, Janet also become a riding instructor and designed pas-de-deux, pas-de-trois and quadrilles, and was involved with vaulting teams. For 20 years she has taught at Brookside Equestrian Centre in Kitchener, ON, managed by Kerry and Felix Rommens. Although he’s not a horse person, Janet’s husband, David, has been a staunch supporter of her equine passion.
Simon the One-Dollar Horse
Janet’s daughter, Jennifer, worked at a racing stable where a young Thoroughbred colt named Simon, registered as Loud Appeal, had been born. When Simon broke his leg in the starting gate at age two, Jennifer bought him for $1 for her mother.
“He was terrible,” recalls Janet. “He was a typical Thoroughbred, really hard to handle. He even had trouble going over poles and didn’t like going through doorways, as they reminded him of the starting gate where he broke his leg.”
Although his injury ruled out a career over fences, Janet saw hidden potential as a dressage horse. Simon was a lovely mover and was built more like a warmblood than a Thoroughbred. Despite his often difficult behaviour, Janet pressed on.
“He is a beautiful, stunning horse, chestnut with three white socks, and despite the contrarians, you could tell he had a lovely, kind mind. As time went on, that personality overtook everything else,” she says.
Simon could be difficult about doing regular dressage, until Janet found music was her secret weapon. “We showed up to the old Level 4, which is the equivalent of Third Level,” says Janet. “Simon was never a fan of straight dressage – that’s when he’d get hot – but when it came to pas-de-deux, pas-de-trois and quadrille, that’s when he was happy.”
That was fine with his owner, who loves music of all genres, from classical to rock, and uses it to teach flat classes to her students at Brookside.
Triumphant Return to the Ring
When Janet saw a magazine article in 2007 about the Century Club, she thought it was something she and Simon could perhaps aspire to, even though they were no longer competing. It seemed unlikely, however, as Simon “has beautiful legs, but terrible feet” and has struggled with white line disease and having to recuperate after a fall on the ice.“We’ve only really worked on this for about two months and I’m amazed we could do it,” says Janet. “When we started, he could hardly get the canter.”
At the Cornerstone show, the pair returned to the ring after a 10-year absence. After their raunchy entrance, Janet and Simon performed the rest of the test to honky-tonk music that matches Simon’s rhythm. “He knew something special was happening as soon as he got in the ring, and afterwards, he was surrounded by a large group of people and lapped it up. He was always very proud and I always rode the lead in quadrille,” says Janet.
The Canadian duo are the 216th North American horse and rider to achieve Century Club status since it started in 1996 and will receive an engraved plaque in addition to the ribbon. Dawn Ruthven and Wisla from British Columbia were the first Canadians to achieve the honour in 2007.
The Century Club achievement ranks as one of the highlights of Janet and Simon’s lengthy relationship. “I’m still buzzing,” she says, recalling some other career memories. “The quadrille competitions held by the London Dressage Association were a big deal for us, travelling as a team with at least 12 riders and a huge trailer. And I’ve had the satisfaction of teaching riders that started at age eight or nine and then I’ve ended up going to their weddings, meeting their children, and seeing them go on to successful careers.”
Although she and Simon don’t have any plans to make another return to the show ring, she does have another goal. “My next objective is to get him to go around the trails at Brookside,” says Janet. “Now that he’s older, I’d like him to be comfortable on trails without the ‘airs above the ground!’”