How a shy, young dressage rider and an anxious horse found their confidence.
Callie Jones is the first to admit that she can be a bit shy. When she purchased Don Philippo, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding, she met a kindred spirit: a quiet horse capable of greatness.
Since the start of their partnership in 2016, Callie and “Phil” have overcome confidence issues to bring home some big wins — including a ‘W’ in the biggest competition for young dressage riders in the U.S.
Finding Her Village and Her Confidence
After a string of injured horses left Callie feeling hopeless for her competitive future, she struggled with her confidence, in and out of the arena.
“As a kid, I was very shy,” she says. “Even now, I’m still not the most outgoing person.”
In dressage, however, she found her community. “I just love everything about dressage. I love the partnership that you have to build with your horse and your trainer and your whole team. You need people around you that you trust. It takes a lot of work and support. You can’t do it alone. It takes a village.”
A trip to Europe, through the support of Discover Dressage, provided a breakthrough in Callie’s competitive mindset. There, she watched some of the world’s best dressage pairs receiving huge scores and wondered why she couldn’t get scores like that. Then she realized something: the best riders in the world were still making mistakes. But they knew how to correct them on the fly — or move on to the next stage of the test without letting it affect their confidence and them.
“It was a huge eye-opener to see that those riders are still human,” recalls Callie.
She returned to the U.S. with a new attitude. “It gave me the confidence I needed,” she says. “I can make mistakes, but I still have to ride. You have to let it go and move on.” Fueled by this new philosophy, Callie approached her partnership with Phil with an added boost of certainty. And her positive attitude rubbed off on Phil, too.
“As my confidence went up and I started believing in myself and believing in him, I saw a difference. He was happier in the showring. Now he just loves it.”
Her Bond with Phil
“Believe it or not, it took us a long time to become a team,” says Callie, 21. “To put it in people-terms, Phil was shy, too. I think he wanted a person that he could go to and be comfortable.”
Callie understood how the gelding felt. She, too, could get anxious in the arena. Maybe that’s how she knew just what Phil needed: time and space. “He had to get used to the way I rode and to my trainer and to the people who were going to be around him on a daily basis,” she recalls. “It was a huge change for him.”
Her patience has paid off in big ways. Despite the early frustrations and slow progress at times, Phil has opened up a lot in the last year.
“He’s just so loveable,” she laughs. “He’s definitely my best friend now. If he could sit in your lap, he would. He loves head scratches after our rides. I like to think he’d do anything for me, and I would definitely do anything for him.”
Graduating College and Opening New Doors
Over the past two years, Callie’s had to juggle her commitment to dressage and Phil with her senior year of college at Murray State University. She will graduate in May with a degree in agricultural business and a minor in marketing and management.
She drives two hours every weekend to work with Phil. “It gets a little bit exhausting but it’s definitely worth it,” she says. “I love school, but riding is my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After seeing what’s possible for young riders, Callie is excited to see what doors will open for her and Phil. “I want to make the Olympic and WEG teams,” she notes. “Those are huge goals of mine.”
But for now, she and Phil are taking a well-deserved break and preparing to train more intensely for the U25 dressage competitions — a big jump in the competitive dressage world.
They are following their proven strategy though and taking their time to do it right. “I don’t want to go in the ring if we’re not ready and bring both of our confidence down,” Callie says. “I want it to be a positive experience.”