TRAVERSE CITY — Julia Boss is earning her spot among the best of the best in the highly-skilled equestrian sport of dressage, but the Traverse City horsewoman, 21, doesn’t let trophies, ribbons or recognition distract her from what brought her to the sport in the first place:
The mutual respect between horse and rider that only time and hard work can build.
Boss recently returned from the week-long North American Junior/Young Rider Team competition in Lexington, Ky., where she and her horse San Remo placed 22nd in a field of the best riders from across the U.S., Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
The pair currently ranks 12th in the nation to compete in the United States Equestrian Federation’s National Championship this fall.
“It was an incredible opportunity and an amazing thing to be able to represent the United States in such an event,” said Boss, who was one of four riders to represent the Region 2 states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia and the only rider from Michigan.
“I’ve always enjoyed competing, and I prefer to try to beat my own best score rather than worry about the other riders,” she said. “I think that mindset has allowed me to progress in the sport.”
The word dressage comes from the French verb, dresseur, meaning “to train,” and some form of dressage is utilized in all types of riding, she said.
“It’s like horse dancing,” Boss said. “San Remo is a Hanoverian breed from Germany, and at 17.3 hands high and 1,500 pounds, he could blow me off any time he wanted to.”
Boss uses subtle, almost unnoticeable, movements of her hands, legs and feet to direct the horse as they work through their intricate choreography.
Boss boards and trains San Remo at Black Star Farms in Leelanau County. Her parents purchased the horse when Boss trained with Olympic Bronze Medalist Michelle Gibson in Florida.
“He’d been injured, and it took three years for him to recover from a fractured bone in his leg.”
During that time Boss cared for the horse, and the two bonded.
“He was owned by a company and had been trained in Germany,” she said. “Germany is the Mecca for dressage, but it’s an industry over there. He never had anyone be there for him. For those three years all I expected of him was for him to be my companion.”
Boss began riding at age 9 with Traverse City trainer Nan Lynch of Teahen Farms.
“When I moved to Traverse City, I didn’t connect with a lot of people. I was really shy and didn’t talk much. When I started riding it really changed me. I’ve become more outgoing. I speak for myself,” Boss said.
Boss’ mother Debra Sanborn says horsemanship helped her daughter overcome the obstacle of dyslexia.
“Riding helped her level of confidence and gave her a positive self-image,” Sanborn said.
Lynch, who watched Boss develop into a mature rider, said the Pre-St. George competition level she’s participating in leads to the Olympics.
“When it comes to dressage, she’s a purist,” Lynch said. “It’s not the stars she’s reaching for, it’s the excellence.”
Which leads Boss to a career decision, provided the lure of the 2020 Olympics doesn’t distract her. She’s a senior at Denison University in Ohio, and focused on completing her Psychology degree with the intention of pursuing a career in equine therapy.
“Horses have assisted me through my personal struggles, and the power they hold can help many people,” Boss said. “I realize plans can change, but I’d like to focus on training and riding, use competition as a pastime and someday have an equine therapy farm. There are a lot of goals in equestrian that are not the Olympics. Competition is the cherry on top.”