Chris Derr and her 10-year-old mare Ruth Anne have an incredible bond. Derr purchased the 15.1 hand Oldenburg when she was four months old, and the dressage rider’s goal was to produce the horse from the time she was a foal to the stage of her career where she’s competing at the FEI levels. The rider/horse combination competed this weekend at Softwinds Dressage Show at Highfields Event Center.

“This is her second show at fourth level,” said Derr. “We’ve moved up a level each year for the past three years, so I’m really happy we’re competing.”

The horseman is an adult amateur and has been producing the horse on her own, so, the process of moving up the levels has taken longer, but has been very rewarding. There have been difficulties along the way, but the challenges have been worth it, said the rider. Derr has attained two scores at fourth level that she’ll be able to use, with her sights set on Prix St. Georges.

“I don’t have her in full training with anyone,” said Derr, who refers to herself as a real amateur. “She’s all my fault. I’ve never competed at this level. I’ve never had a school master to learn on. So, we both learned our flying changes at the same time, and now we’re learning to do multiple changes at the same time.”

The Aiken-based rider embraces the challenge of learning through experience, improving her riding and strengthening her bond with Ruth Anne.

Making sure your timing is correct, when you’re in the ring and going through the movements for advanced tests, is paramount, said Derr.

“She understands what I’m asking,” said Derr. “You have to repeat and reward.”

Ruth Anne will let Derr know how far she is able to go as they move their way up the levels.

“We need at least four more scores at this level for the all year round awards,” said Derr. “At level four test three, you have to start counting strides, so that’s going to be another challenge.”

And, with Ruth Anne being only 10-years-old, Derr and the mare still have a number of years left to be competitive in the dressage ring.

“She has a really good work ethic,” said Derr. “She loves to work and loves to please.”