By Lauren R. Giannini
Last summer in Canada, Kimberly Herslow and Rosmarin achieved two personal best test scores that contributed greatly to the U.S. Dressage Team’s fifth straight Pan American Games gold medal — a vital victory that qualified the U.S.A. for the 2016 Brazil Olympics. Kim and Rosmarin (aka Reno) had been brilliant, virtually unbeatable, during the Small Tour Selection Trials in Europe, with consistent scores in the 70s in Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I. At the Pan Ams, they finished both team days as the top horse and rider ahead of Big Tour veterans Steffen Peters and Laura Graves, and Small Tour teammate Sabine Schut-Kery. It had taken 25 years, but Kim was on her way.
Named U.S. Dressage Federation Horse of the Year for Prix St. Georges, Reno has more than fulfilled the promise that caught Kim’s attention in 2008 when he was barely started under saddle. He trains like a dream, she said, always willing to give his best effort. Last fall, Kim noticed that Reno wasn’t comfortable when she asked him to “sit” to produce the powerful hind-leg flexions required by piaffe and passage. It simply wasn’t normal for Reno, and Kim knew it. She put a halt to training and lessons with Debbie McDonald, Developing Dressage Coach for the U.S. Equestrian Federation. She had to find out what was going on with her horse.
“I took Reno to Palm Beach Equine Clinic where he had arthroscopic surgery to remove a small cyst on the cruciate ligament of his right stifle,” said Kim. “Dr. Alan Nixon, who flew in from Cornell, Dr. Ryland Edwards from Fairfield Equine [Connecticut] and Dr. Ben Schachter hadn’t seen a cyst in that area before. The surgery was super successful and Reno’s getting all the time he needs to recover. Looking forward, I think WEG in 2017 will be our next big goal.”
Healthy, Happy Horses
Disappointing, but not the end of the world: Kim’s priority is healthy, happy horses. If anything, she felt badly asking Reno for everything he could possibly give in Canada. The stifle is the horse’s largest and most complex joint, equivalent to the human knee, allowing the hind limb unrestricted flexion and extension. Grand Prix level collection demands extreme rear-end strength for the hind leg action that propels the horse up (piaffe) or up and forward (passage). The good news is that Kim knew immediately something wasn’t right with Reno. Even better news is that the cyst and its removal caused no damage to the cruciate. The prognosis for Reno’s complete recovery is extremely positive.
“It’s a coach’s dream to work with a rider who has the determination to be the best and yet always has the horse’s well-being as their number one priority,” said Debbie McDonald. “Kim and Reno were able to shine in Europe because Kim’s a very cool competitor who believes in her horse. Reno loves the limelight and has complete trust in Kim. It was a pleasure to see their great partnership. In fact, I’ve been told that by several spectators.”
Kim knows about setbacks. Following the Pan Ams, she needed another surgery to correct an eye condition common in riders. Recurrent ptergium is when scar tissue, caused by prolonged exposure to sun and reflection off sand, forms in the white part of the eye. Kim earmarked the time she spent out of the saddle as R&R for her horses.
“We kept it low key, and Reno especially had time to be a horse and get turned out,” said Kim. “My left eye was a bit of a problem, because the growth had come back with a vengeance. But the third surgery was the easiest of all, and I was back riding after a month although it takes a full year for it to heal. My eyesight is totally fine, but I’m staying on top of it because I don’t want it coming back.”
Kim grew up in New Jersey, pony-crazy from the age of 7. She competed in hunter-jumper shows, but also developed a passion for fast cars, thanks to outings in the late 1970s and ’80s to drag races with her father, John Herslow, and his Super Stock Trans Ams. Kim was a fan of Shirley Muldowney who, in her hot-pink dragsters, made history as the first woman professionally licensed to compete in what had been an all-male sport and went on to win two prestigious Winston World Championships.
Today, Kim’s favorite horsepower on wheels is a vintage 1963 Corvette whose throaty growl recalls her childhood when her drag-racing daddy encouraged her dreams and provided her with ample opportunities to exercise determination, work ethic and drive. In 1990, John bought the acreage in Stockton, New Jersey, on which the Herslows built Upper Creek Farm, which launched Kim’s business at 18. She did everything from the ground up herself while carrying a full course load to earn her equine science degree from Delaware Valley College.
“I did all the work and caring for my own horses as well as the boarders for the first eight years or so, up to 15 horses, before I could afford to hire help to do stalls and turnout,” said Kim. “I kept learning from hunter and jumper trainers with the Thoroughbreds I purchased or rescued off the track as well as from breeders sending me horses. I did all my grooming and tacking for many years. I started 3-year-olds. My biggest obstacle was how to move forward in my riding and career with very little income because I had to pay the bills for my farm. Clients saw my potential as a rider and trainer and wanted to help me. Little by little, I worked my way up. Then, three years ago, my family’s business, Composecure LLC, sponsored me to train full time in Florida. It was the first time I ever had full training for myself and it made the world of difference.”
In 2008, her talent for picking upper-level talent hit the jackpot in Germany when she discovered Reno, a 2005 gelding by Rosencrantz/Weltmeyer, while looking at 50 other 3-year-olds. In 2013, they joined USA Team 1 to win the Nations Cup at the Global Dressage in Wellington, Florida. Competitively, 2014 was light for Kim and Reno, who made up for it last year. Their partnership continues to grow ever stronger.
“Reno is very sweet and loves attention and to be touched,” said Kim. “I hack him out here on the farm as well as in Florida. He likes the change of pace other than just working in an arena. He twirls his lips when he’s happy and bananas are his favorite treat. He also loves to be groomed with the metal curry and massaged. I spend lots of time with him, which is why we have such a strong partnership. He knows he’s loved and that I want him to feel his best.”
Kim learned from her drag-racing father about paying attention to your vehicle — the sound of the engine; how it handles; the importance of trustworthy people to help on race day; how a good driver always strives to beat his or her best time for the quarter-mile; about setting goals, short and long term.
“Even if you think it’s impossible, you have to believe in yourself,” said Kim. “Be around people you admire and respect in the industry. It takes a team to get to the top — the more you surround yourself with positive energy and influence, the more likely you are to succeed.”
Children really do live what they learn.
About the writer: Lauren R. Giannini is an award-winning journalist and avid photographer, specializing in stories about the equestrian world, wildlife and conservation. Lauren lives in the heart of Horse Country Virginia, watched over by her CEO (canine executive officer), a rescue who sums up perfectly the term “hybrid vigor.” Lauren’s pleasures and pastimes include horses, travel, especially to Kenya, and writing about wildlife, conservation and eco-tourism. Books are next on her to-do list.