Valerie DeCarlo and her spotted gelding, The Spy Nextdoor, have a pretty large fan club! It is not too often that you see an Appaloosa with color make it to the Top 10 at the United States Dressage Federation National Horse show, but this year, Valerie and Boomer proudly took a victory lap placing 10th in the First Level AA Championship earlier this month.
We caught up with Valerie to learn more about her, Boomer, and their journey to the USDF National Horse Show.
Valerie comes from a long line of horsemen and women. Her mother grew up in Oklahoma in a rodeo family where Valerie’s grandfather was a bull rider and her grandmother was a barrel racer. When she was 5 and living in Washington State, Valerie started riding lessons and her parents gifted her with her first horse when she was 7 years old. This gift horse turned out to be a grade pinto pony with a bad attitude and a nasty buck! Despite her downfalls, Valerie loved the pony and they showed in open shows and at 4-H. When Valerie outgrew her pony, she started to ride saddle seat with an Arabian trainer. Her upgrade horse turned out to be a recently gelded gray Arab named Krass. Valerie and Krass showed at open shows, 4-H and A rated Arabian horse shows. With then trainer Tim Wigren, they also competed at the Canadian Arabian National Horse Show.
When she was ready for a new horse, Valerie sold Krass to a friend who went on to do well with him in the dressage arena and bought her first Appaloosa. This Appaloosa, Honorific, was a 16.1 hand 4-year-old gelding when he became Valerie’s. She said he was difficult to train but was hard to beat when he learned his job. Unfortunately, Honorific sustained an injury that ended his show career. Valerie kept him for casual riding, and he was ultimately euthanized at the age of 25.
As happens, life gets in the way and Valerie took an 8 year hiatus from showing while she completed her schooling for anesthesia. She also bought a home and built a farm on her property in North Carolina. Eventually, when it was time to look for a new show prospect, she contacted Nancy Magnussen about a young horse she had been following. She picked him up at the Appaloosa National Show the year she purchased him after he won a Reserve Championship in the Yearling Hunter in Hand class.
Initially, Valerie wanted to show Boomer in the Hunter under Saddle classes. Despite having some success in this class in the show ring, including a placing at Nationals, he hated being shown in the pen with other horses. Because of the difficulties this presented in the ApHC hunter under saddle classes, Valerie started to look at other avenues to showcase her talented horse that would not involve him being in the ring with other horses.
The first discipline she tried was jumping. While Boomer turned out to be pretty good at it, Valerie didn’t love jumping. They then turned to Dressage with trainer Nancy Sharpless. For Valerie, taking lessons in Dressage was just for fun and she had no serious intentions of showing. However, Valerie soon came to love the challenge of dressage riding and Boomer seemed to as well. At her first training level class, she and Boomer scored a 70 and won the class. It was there that Valerie caught the bug for showing Dressage. The duo continued to show, taking a two-year break from the show arena for the birth of Valerie’s daughter and COVID. Boomer is now showing at 2nd level and will be schooling at 3rd level this winter.
Valerie stated that she was a little worried about bringing a loud colored Appaloosa to the USDF shows. However, she has found no bias against him as his movement and performance speak for themselves. She has found the dressage community to be a very supportive one where everyone roots for each other and cheers each other on.
In order to be invited to the USDF National show, a horse and rider have to qualify first. Similar to the Appaloosa Horse Club, the USDF is divided into regions. At the first level, where Boomer and Valerie showed, they needed 2 scores above a 62% and for second level, they needed 2 scores above a 61%. These scores need to come from two different judges at two different shows in your region. When a horse and rider get to the regional show, they have two opportunities to qualify for Nationals. The first is to place first or second in your class with a score above a 58%. The second way to qualify is to have a wildcard score, or a minimum score of 68% in first level or 65% in second level. Valerie and Boomer received a 64.6% at the regional show so they qualified for First level and barely missed a wildcard score for second level. At the regional show, the pair were 8th of 70 horses in their First Level class.
So, what was it like to show at the Kentucky Horse Park? Valerie said it was a bit intimidating at first, knowing she would be showing against 6 and 7 figure horses. She stated, “I’m bringing my Texas bred Appaloosa among these imported European horses and it’s easy to get in your head.” Valerie was able to conquer her qualms and had a good ride despite showing in the rain and sleet at 34 degrees. After her ride, she went back to the barn to warm up and await the scores of the riders after her. Shortly, she knew she and Boomer had one more ride, which was her victory Trot around the Alltech arena.
Valerie said that the victory trot was a fun way to show off her horse and the crowd was shouting “We Love Spots!”
Congratulations to Valerie and The Spy Nextdoor on your top 10 finish and spectacular rides. We love spots too!