By Ruby Tevis
Marie Meyers has been around the world because of dressage, but it’s her farm in Moorpark, California, that has captured her heart. The farm and the business that thrives there represent Marie’s lifelong journey—a journey made up of good friends, spectacular horses and relationships made to last.
Marie was raised in Southern California, and spent her childhood playing just about every sport under the sun, but she didn’t discover riding until she was 14 years old. “I loved animals so much, so I started taking lessons. I did jumping at first, but I was very bad at that, for sure!” Marie laughed.
After some time, Marie moved on to take lessons at Foxfield Riding Academy and began riding dressage. “I fell into dressage by accident,” Marie said, “At the beginning, I thought it was extremely boring, but then I got hooked. By the time I graduated from high school, I had plans to travel to England to work for Franz Rochowansky, a former head of the Spanish Riding School.”
With her jumping horse, Marie set out overseas to become completely immersed in her education. “It was a little bit of a shock to leave home and my family in that way when I was so young,” Marie said.“Looking back, I wish I knew more at the time so I could really understand everything that was being taught to me. It was a remarkable few years, and even better when I found Dimitrius. I sold my jumper, bought Dimi as a 3-year-old, and we flew back to California together. I knew he was something special, but I never expected he’d become my Grand Prix mount for the US Equestrian Team.”
A Special Partner
Back stateside with her new horse, Marie spent some time training with Hilda Gurney and was then introduced to Robert Dover. “I went to see a horse for sale and he was riding at the farm,” Marie said. “I remember watching him and thinking, Wow! His riding was like nothing I’d ever seen at that point.”
Mesmerized by Robert’s connection with horses, Marie asked him if she could bring Dimitrius to train. “Robert saw the horse as an individual, and he really understood how horses think,” she said. “It’s what Dimi needed. Nowadays, Dimi would be considered an average horse, but back then he had really nice gaits.”
Though Dimitrius had many talents, Marie describes him as a difficult ride. “He found many things easy, but he was not an easy horse to ride. He was difficult in his character,” she said. “Robert helped me navigate that. I learned how to be very quiet with my hands. I learned how to sit and what a horse needs. I would’ve never finished him if it weren’t for Robert. He helped me so much bringing Dimi to Grand Prix.”
In 1988, Marie’s hard work paid off, and the pair was selected as alternates for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. “They didn’t take the alternates that year, so we didn’t go to Seoul, but the experience, the training and the European Tour afterwards set me up for the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden,” Marie said.
“We were very lucky to have Herbert Rehbein as our coach for Stockholm,” Marie said. “To be around somebody who’s in a league by himself as a rider and horseman was an amazing experience. We’d had Robert coaching on the tour the year before, and his familiarity with the European circuit was invaluable to our preparation. It’s a complete honor to represent your country—there’s no doubt about it—but there are huge sacrifices you make, too. It’s not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of determination, but there’s nothing else like it.”
Friends in Business
In addition to having success representing her country, Marie was busy with her life—marriage, a business, teaching lessons and clinics. It was while Marie was off teaching a clinic that her husband, Frank, received several phone calls from 16-year-old horse enthusiast Marisa Festerling. “Practical Horseman had just run a story on Marie,” Marisa said. “The article asked what was on
her Christmas list, and Marie said she wanted a jacuzzi in the shape of a horse head. I thought that was pretty great, so I wanted to come take a lesson with her. This was before cell phones, and I didn’t know she was gone at a clinic, so I kept calling Marie’s house!”
Thanks to Marisa’s persistence, Marie called back and invited her over for a lesson. “She had her old horse trailer, and Grandpa driving it,” Marie said. “She had this horse that really didn’t like dressage very much, so she came over for three lessons in a row. I told her she needed to stay for training, but she couldn’t afford it, so I offered her a job and that’s it—she never left!”
Now preparing to celebrate 30 years in business together, Marie and Marisa make the perfect team. “It was effortless with Marisa. Despite our age difference, we are so similar in many ways. We both have a work ethic like no other, and she’s always been a pleasure to teach,” Marie said. “When you’re with someone so long, you build a level of respect and trust that makes working together so seamless.”
As a working student, Marisa started her education with none other than Dimitrius, who was retired from competition after the World Equestrian Games. Alongside developing her young student, Marie was also developing her next Grand Prix star, Extraordinaire, a gelding she purchased as a 4-year-old.
Pressure is a Privilege
No stranger to difficult horses, Marie found her experience with Extraordinaire as quite the opposite of Dimitrius. “Dimi was short backed, very light and a real ‘ladies horse,’ but was emotional. Extraordinaire had an amazing mind but was as long as a train,” Marie said. “He was extremely gifted, but he was a hard ride because of his size.”
Competing in his first Grand Prix at just 8 years old, Extraordinaire was poised for a young international career, beginning with his invitation to the 1992 Olympic Festival. Just as training Extraordinaire was different, competing him also proved to be an opposite experience for Marie. “With Dimitrius, you were happy if you could survive and he didn’t try to kill you,” she laughed. “With Extraordinaire, I just had to concentrate on doing the movements and the test—he wasn’t spooky at all!”
In 1997, Marie was welcomed to the European Tour once again, this time with Extraordinaire. The tour represented a full-circle moment for Marie, competing in England at the Hickstead CDI. “At Wimbledon, there is a quote on the wall from Billie Jean King that says ‘Pressure is a privilege,’” Marie said. “It’s a privilege for sure.”
This privilege—the privilege of being on the US Equestrian Team—would be one that Marisa would eventually experience for herself. As Marisa progressed from working student to assistant trainer, she had the opportunity to develop Big Tyme, a talented Belgian Warmblood gelding whose size lives up to his name.
“We bought him as a 3-year-old, and he was supposed to be for me, but he was just too big, so Marisa took him on to develop,” Marie said. As a young partnership, Marisa and Big Tyme traveled to Verden, Germany, to compete at the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses. Big Tyme quickly progressed to the FEI level, and in 2011, Marisa’s dreams came true: a ticket to the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I started as a kid who could barely ride around the arena, and Marie invested all her time and effort into me. She didn’t have to do that, but Marie is that kind of person. To win a team gold and individual bronze, it took 100% commitment from everybody—it was my horse, my family, my partners, it was Marie—I wouldn’t have gotten there without her, there’s no question,” Marisa said.
“Watching Marisa ride at the Pan-Ams is the biggest accomplishment of my career,” Marie said. “When it’s yourself out there, it’s all in your ballpark, but when it’s somebody you’ve brought along winning the medals, it’s a huge accomplishment for all of us.”
The Future to Come
Marie no longer considers Marisa her assistant trainer. “We’re equal partners now,” Marie said. “We both run the business. It depends who comes in the barn. I make her ride the difficult ones; I ride the easier ones, and I help some students and she helps others.”
Together, alongside business partners David and Alisa Wilson, Marie and Marisa are adding a new facet to their business—MWM Sales, specializing in importing horses and matching them with riders in the United States. “We really love selling horses,” Marie said. “Some people like sales and a lot of people don’t, but we both love flying over and looking at horses. We love helping riders find the horse of their dreams.”
In the competition ring, Marie has Double Dream, whom she trains with Guenter Seidel, at Grand Prix, and Marisa has De Russie preparing for his Grand Prix debut. With the Desert International Horse Park offering CDIs, the two don’t have to travel too far for international competitions. Showing beside Marie will be her young granddaughter, Athena, with her palomino pony. “She’s going to take over the business, if everything goes to plan,” Marie said. “Marisa has two kids, and her daughter is so talented, but she picked soccer. I’m really bummed!”
Marie is grateful for her journey in life, her lasting partnership with Marisa, and her husband of 42 years, Frank. “We don’t change people very much,” Marie laughed. “I enjoy working with my clients; some we’ve had for a very long time. I really do love riding every day. I get up and I’m so happy to ride, but I have Marisa, so I know when the time comes that I can’t ride, I can do sales, teach and work on the ground. Until then, it’s all about enjoying every minute doing what I love.”
For more information, visit mariemeyersdressage.com