‘I can’t slam doors and withhold dinner!’ Top Armenian rider compares horses with husbands

  • Anyone who has ever ridden understands the sense of partnership between human and horse. However, Carrie Schopf, Armenia’s sole international dressage rider, takes it a step further. Competing at the European Dressage Championships with her partner of five years, the chestnut gelding Saumur, Carrie likened their relationship to “more of a marriage”.

    After scoring 67% in the grand prix test, Carrie explained that, however much she loves her horse, they hadn’t quite seen eye to eye in the Riesenbeck arena.

    “Anyone who has been married or in a long-term relationship knows what that can be like,” says Carrie, 66.

    “My horse really uses critical moments as a discussion point. I don’t have big expectations with him – some days he goes for a 73 and other days he has an issue with me. Today was an issue day, not a serious issue as we still scored over 67% but certainly an under-achieving day. But that’s OK! I ride for myself, and I enjoy it. I enjoy cheering for other riders who don’t ride for themselves. I don’t have a sponsor and I am an amateur.”

    Carrie explains how she never wants to pressurise Saumur to perform perfectly, even though he’s not always as sharp as she’s hoping for, but they have fun.

    “He just was going to underperform today,” she says. “My husband says I’m too soft. Perhaps sometimes I should be more assertive and say, ‘Today you cannot underperform’.

    “But it’s a difficult balance. You love your horse and want to be really kind to him, but on the other hand you have to be a showman. And if your horse has a bad day, what am I going to do? I would have liked it if he wanted to give me a bit more, but I wasn’t going to scream at him! I can’t slam doors, tell him he’s going without dinner, tell him to get out of the house – all the things you can do in a marriage!” she jokes.

    Although both of Carrie’s parents are Armenian, she was born in the US and is based “down the road” in Germany. After her European Dressage Championships test, she was heading off to ride her other grand prix horse, a mare.

    “I find it interesting to compare the two,” said Carrie, who believes the mare might be her Olympic ride for 2024 – if she can control her hot side.

    “Saumur is a gelding, though he was a real boy for a long time. Mares are so much more black and white, it’s yes or it’s no. My mare is opinionated, but I can talk with her in a whisper. I have a feeling that if I did raise my voice, she would raise her voice, and then I’d talk a bit louder, and she would talk a bit louder – and in the end we’d find a compromise. With Saumur, he just sulks. He says, ‘Why don’t you like me now?’.

    Carrie was lying in 24th spot at the midway stage of the grand prix, out of 32 combinations to compete so far.

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