Lawder Finds Balancee in the Music and the Moment
In ballet, a balancé is a beautiful rocking step where a dancer moves while alternating balance between their feet in a three-step “down, up, down” motion with the legs.
In dressage, Balancee is the name of Shelley Lawder’s upcoming international mount and the winner of Sunday’s FEI Intermediate 1 Freestyle CDI1*, sponsored by Bonnie Brae Farm—a feat they accomplished with a beautiful and balanced dance to ballet music.
Lawder has been knocking at the door of a win all weekend at the Touch of Class CDI. She was sixth with Epona in the FEI Prix St Georges CDI1* on Friday and second with Balancee in the FEI Intermediate I CDI1* on Saturday. Both mares are just nine. Both had only contested one CDI previously.
“This is such a unique and special opportunity for West Coast riders to have CDIs here on the West Coast,” said Lawder of her decision to bring two green horses to Thunderbird Show Park. “So even though I didn’t feel ready with either mare, because they were both not competing at this level yet, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.
“My goal was that we would go for the big upgrade, which is giving the horses some mileage and experience in this kind of environment and with these great judges and for this overall CDI atmosphere and experience.”
Her roll of the dice was rewarded on Sunday. Lawder and the aptly named Balancee danced to the top of the leaderboard with a score of 72.850%, besting a field of 10 in the most competitive division of the show. Their fluid, floating and, yes, balanced Freestyle was set to a Nutcracker theme.
“I think the ballet music might have won the [judges] over,” smiled Lawder, noting that she was reticient to use music often associated with Christmas in a freestyle that would performed in the summer. The horse’s owner, however, had no such reservations.
“The owner of Balancee, Molly Brewer, loves ballet,” explained Lawder. “All her horses have ballet names. And so she said, ‘We must have ballet music, it must be Tchaikovsky.’
“So I had to acquiesce.”
The music is a fitting tribute to both the mare and its connections. Lawder and Brewer were brought together by a mutual friend, Randi Nelson-Shipley, who was dying of cancer. Brewer, an oncologist by trade, used to ride with her friend but had since given up horses. Lawder was helping train lead changes on Nelson-Shipley’s horse. When Nelson-Shipley made the introduction, it was with instructions for both women: Brewer was to have horses in her life again and Lawder was tasked with finding right ones.
Randi Nelson-Shipley passed away in September 2018. But her legacy lives on in both women.
“It’s a very special story. She was an amazing woman and rode right until her last day. And so she was such a powerful inspiration to me as a dressage rider because there are so many ups and downs in the sport and there are so many times that you think to yourself, why am I doing this? It makes no financial sense. This is so much work. And, you know, I was successful 20 years ago, and now I don’t feel successful. There’s a lot of ongoing challenges of every sort that you have to overcome.
“And then, with Randi, this is what she wanted to do on her last days on Earth. And so that was such a profound inspiration to Molly and I. And that’s what really seals our partnership.”
They made good on Randi’s directive with Balancee, an Westphalian mare discovered at Olympic coach Johann Hinnemann’s farm in California.
“She was the second horse that we tried and we fell in love with this incredible temperament. She’s just such an easy going, easy to ride horse. She’s the most trainable horse I’ve ever encountered,” said Lawder, noting that she’s so taken with the mare’s mind, she’s since bred her own mares to the same stallion.
Balancee’s CDI career is only beginning and there is still much work to be done, said Lawder. But at this moment, she’s embracing the journey.
“I’m very, very grateful to everybody that made this happen. I know it was a huge undertaking to host an event like this. And I’m just incredibly grateful to everybody that participated and supported this event at every level and obviously very grateful to my team.”