Ask U.S. Olympic Dressage Team rider Sue Blinks to recall her favorite moment with horses and she won't mention the Olympics, or being part of the first U.S. team to win a Nations Cup, or first place in the Grand Prix.
"It's the night before the horses' day off when the barn is quiet. The horses are all tucked in comfy and satisfied, the work is all done, and the only sound you hear is bran mash slurping. That's a high you can relive every week and my favorite time," she says.
If that sets the 44-year-old Blinks a shade apart from her contemporaries, it's not surprising. It's that kind of horsemanship that landed her a berth on this year's Dressage team with her 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Flim Flam. She and her mount probably are the best bet for a U.S. Olympic medal.
Sue has trained all her own mounts, with help from some top dressage pros. She strongly believes in a customized training program for each animal based on his or her capability, rather than age.
"I try to listen to each horse, rather than setting a schedule according to what the last horse did or what people think the horse should be doing," she says.
Accurately reading where the horse is physically and mentally is an important part of being a good trainer, Blinks notes. "For example, although Flim Flam is a very gifted horse, he was slow to mature physically. I had to resist a lot of pressure to do things faster with him than I thought was right."
Sue's Love for Each Horse
Olympic teammate Robert Dover observes, "Sue's strongest point is her love for the horse. That shows in her riding. She also has a very large capacity to stick with the job and persevere."
Dressage expert and friend Jane Savoie describes Sue as "driven," and recounts a story that illustrates her dedication.
"A few years ago, Sue wanted me to come look at one of her horses and we set a time like 5:45 a.m., not realizing it would still be dark outside. But when I arrived, Sue was already on the horse, in the arena, in the dark. I had to park my truck so the headlights shone into the arena to see what was happening!"
So after Sue and Flim Flam march down Center Line in Sydney after being put through their paces, look for Sue back in the barn where she likes it best – with her horses.