GOULDSBORO — Adelaide Prosser, at 16, is more disciplined than most. She spent much of her summer training on horseback, or in the stables with her horses — one in Gouldsboro, and the other 70 miles away in Dixmont. When she wasn’t working one of her two jobs, that is.
She was saving up for a chance to spend three months studying dressage in Wellington, Fla., which becomes a hub for the world’s top equestrians each winter.
Dressage is a French term that means “training” in English. The purpose of the sport is “to develop a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider,” according to the United States Dressage Federation’s website.
“You have to think a lot to do it,” Prosser said. “There’s so many little details you have to focus on to be good, so I think it makes you work harder… it’s like ballet for horses.”
In the winter and spring of 2018, Prosser will be one of 14 young riders from across the country attending the Winter Intensive Training Program at Dressage4Kids in Wellington, Fla.
Prosser worked two jobs to raise the funds for the endeavor, which includes transporting her horse, Gazzo, and the cost of the program. One job was at Gouldsboro’s Mandala Farm, where she’s worked since she was 12, and the other was as a server at Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor. To train her horses after work, she would drive 70 miles to Dixmont, where she keeps the horse she’ll be bringing to Florida.
Dirigo, Prosser’s Norwegian Fjord horse, is kept at Mandala Farm in Gouldsboro, where he helps plough the fields. Mandala is an organic farm that specializes in produce, eggs and meat.
“He’s probably not ever going to be an Olympic-level horse,” Prosser said, laughing.
Dirigo will stay behind in Maine while Gazzo, an Anglo-Arab horse, heads to training in Wellington.
Prosser leases Gazzo from a trainer in Florida, and she’s invested a lot of time training him. She said he didn’t start at a very high level.
“It’s all about the skill and the relationship between you and the horse,” said her mother, Jana, who also has spent much of her life riding horses.
According to a two-time Olympian and the program’s director, Lendon Gray, Prosser was impressive because she was the first one to apply for the program.
“She got out there and let me know in advance that this was something she thought about that she really wanted to do,” Gray said.
She was selected to participate in the three-month program, which is billed on its website as “not for the casual dressage rider, but for aspiring young riders that are committed to be the best they can be.”
After the program ends in March, she’ll be staying in Florida for the month of April to train with the 2016 Olympic alternate for the United States dressage team, Shelly Francis, who also grew up in Maine, in Bar Harbor.
To participate, she’ll end up missing a semester of school at Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan, where she’s a junior. She said she’s working out with school administrators how to make up the schoolwork so that she’ll still be on track to finish high school on time in 2019.
Once she’s in Florida, she’ll be starting her day at 6:30 a.m. to do barn work, followed by chores, according to the program website. Then it’s on to lessons. Included in the training is fitness, written tests, riding lessons, field trips and lectures.
Gray said the program is expensive, which makes it difficult for some kids, but she had deep appreciation for those from places like Maine, who would do whatever they can to improve their riding.
“There’s a lot that goes into being able to come,” she said. “One of the things that I appreciate is the kids who want to do it badly enough that they move heaven and Earth. That’s the kind of kids we want.”
The sport involves multiple levels through which participants advance, and Prosser said those levels are dependent on both the rider and the horse. A rider could be skilled, but the horse has to be trained well enough to perform at a certain level, she said.
Gray, who was on the Olympic team in 1980 and 1988 for dressage, was born in Old Town and said students from Maine have fewer opportunities to compete at the national level in the sport.
“Kids from Maine, as I was, are far away from the major dressage world,” Gray said.
In dressage, Gray said access to events and competitions matters for riders to improve. Prosser’s experience driving hours to and from one of the few farms in the state that has dressage events will be a remarkable difference from the opportunity in Wellington. Gray described the city as a “total horse area.”
“It is huge, it is the place to be, which makes it great, because it means that the kids in my group, we get to go watch the best in the world training, we get to talk to them,” Gray said.
For Prosser, money and access are key aspects of dressage, and are inseparable from her development.
“I haven’t come from where there are a lot of people who do this,” Prosser said. “It is a high money sport, so not coming from a high money place has made it a little harder.”
But she said that’s helped her focus on the goal, not hindered it.
“It taught me to work harder and appreciate it a lot more than if it was just handed to me,” Prosser said.