Jill Beltran had no intentions of buying a horse when she tagged along with a friend to an open house at Sunshine Friesians. "There were three yearling colts in a paddock and the tiniest one kept nickering at me, even though there were other people everywhere," the San Diego dressage professional recounts.
An experienced rider, trainer and competitor in the dressage, eventing and hunter/jumper disciplines, Jill was on what she thought would be a permanent break from the sport. "You are really cute," she told the adorable colt that day back in 2000. "But I'm not in the market."
But the colt was persistent in his irresistible attention and soon Jill's once-firm position shifted to thoughts of just owning a trail horse – nothing serious. Fast forward 12 years and Jill is now very much back in the sport, with a thriving dressage training business. And that adorable colt is Waling D, one of very few Friesians, likely the only one at the moment, competing Grand Prix dressage. This past April, Jill and Waling debuted at Grand Prix and Jill added a USDF gold medal to her bronze and silver collection.
Once she made the leap to returning to horse ownership back in 2000, Waling steered her back to dressage. "I started him at 3, and when we began riding he kept excelling at each level. He was so trainable," Jill explains. "His brain was so into learning anything I wanted to teach him. He always wanted to please and he always just got it, so it was very easy to teach him connection and he loves the work." Plus, "He was just not a trail horse! He is too silly on the trails. He was meant to do this."
Nick Wagman was a terrific help when Jill decided to direct Waling toward competitive dressage. In recent years, Jill returned to Eileen Fagan, who she has worked with often in her career. "Eileen has always been a great help and inspiration," Jill says. "And it is great to have a judge's perspective during training." Jill re-established her training business, located at the Fallbrook Equestrian Center in San Diego County, and travels for clinics.
Throughout her career in various disciplines, Jill has always used dressage as a foundation and, not surprisingly, many of her current clients in dressage training are owners of Baroque breeds. She still works with many Warmbloods as well, but now has a special appreciation for the Baroques. They can be absolutely spectacular in dressage, but typically present some conformation-oriented challenges that are unique to their breed.
Not Your Normal Friesian
Friesians were originally bred to trot, thanks to their origins as carriage horses. Producing a balanced canter is often tricky, but it wasn't for Waling. Most young Friesians at liberty will "blast the trot," canter a few strides, then go back to the trot, Jill explains. Waling was different from the start that day she first saw him. "He cantered all the time in that pasture. I liked that."
Which is not to say his rise has been without challenges. "For some reason he had trouble with the right haunches-in," Jill notes. "It took us a year of doing them at the walk, then one at the trot, which would be discombobulated, and we'd go back to the walk and do something else. Then one day, it was like 'hello!' and he got it."
Another challenge, his "hellacious buck," is actually a blessing, Jill conceded as the pair began working their one-tempi lead changes. "For a while I wondered when his brains would kick in and he would stop the bucking, and the vertical dodging, but later I realized how lucky I was that his quickness off the ground also enabled him to do the one-tempis so well." And he has mostly grown out of the bucking, too. "He will occasionally give me one buck," Jill reports. "It's his way of talking back to me, of saying he's is only 'allowing' me to do this and that he is really the one in control."
Waling is a small Friesian, only standing 16hh. But he is blissfully unaware of any height disadvantage. With his big, Warmblood way of going, he looks much larger than what the measuring tape says at his withers.
He's a total ham. "He knows what cameras are all about and he takes great photos," Jill says. He's involved in a love affair with Jill's dog, Checkers, and he's not afraid to let Jill or anybody else know when it's time to get out of the cross-ties and head back to his stall. "He's a real character!"
Along with the USDF and Friesian Horse Association of North America championships they have racked up over the years, Jill is grateful for the journey Waling has taken her on. Long-listed for the 1980 U.S. Olympic eventing team and winner of multiple championships in the hunter/jumper arena, Jill had not cracked the Grand Prix ranks before the handsome black horse came into her life. "I've learned that when you get to the Grand Prix level you are now a beginner again, with so much still to learn," she observes. Having started Waling and brought him along all this way "has been a great education," she notes. "At each level, you get a better understanding of why each test is designed the way it is and why it's so important for the next step up the levels."
She is very proud of their recent scores in the mid-60s and when they can edge those up to the high-60s, she hopes to tackle CDIs in a competitive fashion.
A Grand Journey
Jill is also very grateful for the family, friends and colleagues who have helped make the journey possible. One of those is sponsor Borne Saddlery. "I've known Jill and Waling for several years and have enjoyed the opportunity to see both of them grow up together in the dressage ring," says the saddlery's president Karen Borne. "For me, the most impressive thing has been the fact that Jill has trained her horse herself from Training Level to Grand Prix. As a former Friesian owner, I know how difficult the breed can be to train as a dressage horse due to the horse's conformation, and I
know what Jill has done is amazing and worthy
The appreciation is mutual. "It's such a relief to finally not have saddle issues, for myself and for my clients," Jill notes. "And to work with a company that comes through in fitting the horse and the rider correctly." Independent saddle fitter Zsuzsu Illes of Rebalance has been part of Jill's support system and John Sandoval is a standout among her sizable group of "amazing supporters."
Dr. Walker of Creekside Veterinary Services is another much-appreciated sponsor and Jill is proud to be a member of the Eqyss Grooming Products riding team. "Eqyss is an amazing company and I am very proud to be a part of their team."
Last year, Waling finished eighth nationally in the USDF's Open Horse of the Year standings at Intermediare 1. The duo's next big outing will be the CDS Championships in Los Angeles next month, when the flashy, feather-footed star is sure to gain more fans.
For more information on Jill Beltran Dressage, visit www.jillbeltrandressage.com or call 760-801-8652. For more information on Borne Saddlery, visit www.bornesaddlery.com.