What a difference a year makes. In the summer of 2016, Karen Pavicic was rarely out of the international spotlight, riding in Europe’s most prestigious dressage shows, competing in grand prix classes against the top riders in the world, and setting her sights on qualifying for the Rio Olympics. Following the sale of her only grand prix mount in 2017, Don Daiquiri, Karen put away her tailcoat and stepped out of the limelight for the time being to focus on her young horses. And she couldn’t be happier.

The native of Richmond, BC, has spent her entire life around horses, growing up on the family farm and first learning to ride from her mother. She credits joining Pony Club at the age of eight with sparking her passion for equestrian sport and introducing her to dressage.

At age 11, Karen began working with German-born trainer Dietrich von Hopffgarten, whose lessons in classical dressage still remain the foundation of her training philosophy today. She rode every horse she could at her parents’ boarding stable, learning something from each one and developing her natural talent as both a rider and a trainer – a talent which quickly led to competitive success.

Karen has represented Canada internationally for more than two decades, beginning with the North American Young Rider Championship (now NAJYRC) in 1989 where she captured the team gold and individual bronze medals aboard her home-bred, home-raised and self-trained Northern Lights. After winning a grant to train in Europe in 1990, she returned home in 1991 to be a working student for Johan Hinnemann. As a “targeted athlete” for Canada since her Young Rider days, Karen is quick to credit that support for much of her success.

“The Canadian team won the bronze medal for dressage at the 1988 Olympics, and I really benefitted from the programs that were developed as a result of their success,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have clinics and symposiums with many wonderful and talented trainers over the course of my lifetime who have all shaped me to be the rider I am today. Most recently, Jan Bemelmens and Ashley Holzer have been a big influence on me.

“I’ve taken the things I’ve learned from Dietrich and those many others over the years and developed my own system,” she continues. “For me, dressage is about developing and training horses to be the best they can possibly become. Through the use of correct basics even an average horse can become beautiful. Patience, consistency and attention to details in daily training are key; however, it’s also important for horses to be horses. Hacking out, turnout, and cross-training are essential for a happy, healthy, horse and rider.”

A unlikely partnership with a 2002 Oldenburg gelding named Don Daiquiri led Karen to her greatest competitive successes to date.

“Dono was a challenging and temperamental five-year-old when he first came to me,” recounts Karen. “He belonged to a client and came to me to be sold. He was very difficult and many people told me he wasn’t good enough and couldn’t be successful, but it was love at first ride for me. Lionheart, my grand prix horse at the time, was nearing the end of his competitive career and I was looking for a talented young horse.”

Karen seized the opportunity and the rest, as they say, is history. She and Don Daiquiri represented Canada at the 2014 World Equestrian Games and qualified as an alternate for the 2016 Olympics. Unfortunately, a change in the Olympic dressage qualifying process meant Canada was eligible to send just two individual competitors to the Games, and not a full team as in previous years.

Although not being able to compete in Rio was a huge disappointment, Karen views the experience in a positive light. “It was a wonderful accomplishment. Regardless of the fact that I did not go to the Olympics, I am extremely proud of qualifying as an alternate. I’m hopeful that I may have another opportunity and I work every day towards that goal.”

Following the sale of Don Daiquiri to Israeli rider Sahar Daniel Hirosh in early 2017, Karen shifted her focus to three promising young horses: her own Totem, a five-year-old Canadian-bred Hanoverian stallion by Totilas out of Denebola (x Donnerhall) bred by Patricia Close; Beaujolais, a seven-year-old Oldenburg mare she owns by Bordeaux out of Lalina (x Londonderry); and Fausto, a nine-year-old Canadian-bred Hanoverian gelding by Fidertanz, bred by Rayelle Arbo and owned by Laura Penikett.

Karen showed all three youngsters with great success in 2017. Totem competed in the FEI five-year-old division, while Beaujolais and Fausto showed fourth level and will make their small tour debut in 2018.

“Don Daiquiri was my heart horse, the horse of a lifetime, and I miss him every day, but I’m happy that he has a loving and caring home,” she says. “My real passion is training and developing young horses, though, and I can only hope for one of these youngsters to be as successful as Dono. It will take a lot of hard work, patience, and a bit of luck. But I love the journey!”