Meet Niki Clarke, Manna Pro Pro-Rider, and Grand Prix dressage rider to watch! What does it take to be top level? Plus insider training tips to keep her beautiful horses focused in the ring.
(Photo Credit Terri Miller)
Tell us how your riding career began?
I was born on a ranch out in Montana, so horses have always been part of my life. I started taking English riding lessons when I was 8, and I actually started out my professional career in eventing before making the change over to pure dressage.
Why did you switch to dressage?
I always loved dressage, and back in 2004 I was lucky to have an opportunity from some friends to go over to Europe and train with Bert Rutten. The time I spent there learning and absorbing everything I could, confirmed for me that this was the sport I wanted to dedicate my life.
For those who are less familiar with dressage, how would you describe it?
I guess I would describe it as a combination of ballet and ice skating, but on a horse. It really emphasizes the importance of a solid connection between horse and rider – that communication is key to performing any dressage movements, especially in the upper levels.
Where do you train now (tell us about your stable). Can you describe your training methods? Do you think having such a well-rounded past helps you in the dressage ring?
I run Dressage Unlimited out of De Luz Meadows in Temecula, California. I wouldn’t say I have one training system or set of methods that work for every horse – I try to tailor my approach to training based on the individual horse I’m riding, and I listen to them, so they are able to work at the rate at which that horse is ready to progress. My riding background really helps me to be able to ride all types of horses, and it also gave me a great foundation to cross train my dressage horses so that I can help them perform at their best physically and mentally.
Tell us about your horses?
Quincy is a nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Jennifer Mason. I’ve been riding him since he was six, so we’ve been able to develop a really strong partnership together. He has a heart of gold, and he tries harder than any other horse I’ve ever ridden. He’s just a joy to be around every day.
My own horse, Fling, is a seven-year-old KWPN. He’s such a character – he has a very unique personality, and he’s constantly getting into trouble because he just wants to be in everyone’s business. He would love to live in the house if he could!
Quincy (above) hanging out in the pasture rocking his Pro-Force Fly mask
You are a beautiful rider! If you could give one tip to an aspiring dressage rider, what would it be?
Thank you! I think my biggest piece of advice would be to just be patient. It’s going to be a long road, but it’s worth it.
In a dressage test, it is very important that there is no tail swishing, and the horse looks calm and relaxed. Can you tell us your regimen to keep pests away?
The Opti-Force Fly Spray is my go-to because it repels everything- gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and midges and no-see-ums which are a huge issue where we live. I use it every day at home and away at shows because I know I can rely on it to really last a long time! We apply it with a cloth or a soft brush over the horse’s whole body, including their face and ears as the final step of our grooming regimen. So, bugs aren’t a problem for the rest of the day, even when they sweat.
What are your long term goals for you and your horses?
For me, a long-term goal is to compete on a team for the United States on the international stage. For my horses, my goal is always to simply develop a great relationship with each of them and to enjoy the journey, however far that will take us together.
For $7 in Force coupons – Click Here!Niki Clarke is a Manna Pro Sponsored Rider
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