Overseas Adventures with Tess Nelson

Tess Nelson never dreamed that she would be experiencing horse show competition on an international scene. Although she was born into a family that did not have horses, it was only a matter of time before they became the lifeblood that would spur her on through later life. A California native, Tess and her husband Brian now call Germany home. When they moved, Tess decided to take her horse with her as well and dive into a world of trail riding, training, and competition abroad.

At two and a half years old Tess was attending a birthday party that had ponies. During this party, the kids were allowed to give the ponies treats. While she was feeding one, it decided to take a little taste of her pinky as well. “Instead of being the kid that screamed and was terrified it made me want a pony.” Tess recalled with a laugh. “Then I became obsessed with ponies.” Fast forward to when she was seven when her mom took her to a BBQ hosted by a coworker who had horses. “During the BBQ my mom’s friend was leading kids around on a sorrel mare with a blaze named Sunflower. She asked if I wanted to ride Sunflower by myself and of course seven-year-old me said yes!” Tess shared. She remembered being shown how to steer and then riding away happy as can be. “I was having the time of my life walking around when I walked through some hay wire that got stuck on Sunflower’s tail. She then took off bucking, but I held on and starting laughing. My mom’s coworker turned to my mom after I stuck it and said ‘This isn’t just a phase. This is going to be a lifelong love.’

Lifelong love indeed, as that joy she experienced only grew each time she saw a horse. Then one fateful day when she was 12, she happened upon a cute little sorrel mare that reminded her of Sunflower. “I went over to my friend’s house as she was trying a quarter horse mare named Peanut. My parents were not in the market for a horse but for whatever reason they let me get on her. I instantly fell in love with her.” Tess shared happily. “My parents surprised me and bought her. Her registered name was Will Work For Chocolate and I just loved that name. She hated other horses but she was a great starter horse in the walk trot for me to get my feet wet in showing.”

Tess loved competing, but she loved the way that horse shows brought kids from all over together for the love of the horse. Tess looked back on her early experiences thinking, “I felt it wasn’t as competitive and it was a lot more fun. I had that competitive drive but I liked the fact that it was just fun and I got to do it with my friends. I loved waking up early and going and getting donuts. It was the comradery of it that made the start of it fun. Some of my longest friendships stemmed from those times.” She even had girls that she met showing as a kid as her bridesmaids in her wedding.

Although she loved getting into the show pen, she had to take a step back when she entered college. “I did a lot of catch riding to pay for college. I rode hunter jumpers, Gypsy canner horses, I broke two-year-olds. During college I worked for a saddlebred trainer and learned about different facets of the horse industry.” Tess said. During this time, Tess watch her best friend win the NRHA Rookie of the Year. “I remember thinking how cool that was and how fun that looked. I just remember that I wanted to return to showing with friends and saw how much fun she was having in the reining and wanted to try that.” Tess set out to find a reining horse of her own. After finding her mare, she went to three lessons and then decided to try her hand in the reining show pen. “I was very excited and then quickly realize I was very naive. Not necessarily underprepared but naive in the fact it was extremely difficult if you didn’t have the right horse.” Tess sought out professional training after that through Darren Stancik. “I emailed him and asked I could do haul in lessons. He said to come on up and watch a lesson and ask questions and we will see if it’s a good fit for the program.” They got along great and her love of reining was solidified.

Her next horse came along unintentionally through her time with Darren. “We decided I needed to get a step-up horse. At the time the plan was to get a two-year-old and try the futurity horse. Then my husband got orders to move, so I decided to sell my horse and just go up for lessons and still have fun with the barn. There was a horse in the barn that was currently being shown in the futurities but owned by the assistant. She offered for me to ride her during my lessons and Khaleesi and I just clicked. Right before I was supposed to move, the trainer asked if I wanted to buy her because she knew how well we got along. I went home and talked to my husband and made an agreement that if I got a job in the new location, I could buy the horse. Within a week, Tess found a job at their new town because she so desperately wanted that horse.

Khalessi allowed Tess to achieve her goal of marking a 70 as well as qualify for the NRHA Rookie of the Year finals both at the same time and within two years of ownership. “I told my trainer I wanted to do that and so we got to work. We were planning on going to multiple qualifying shows but then the pandemic hit and everything was shut down. Thankfully they changed the qualifying methods, so we made the decision to go to NRBC, one of the largest horse shows, with hopes of qualifying. Being able to mark my very first 70 and qualify was one of the best feelings in the world.” She and Khaleesi then set their sights towards the finals to be held in Oklahoma City in December. “It was really exciting. I knew I didn’t have the horse to win it, but I was just excited to qualify and be there. It was neat to be able to show during the pandemic when it was so uncertain to be able to show because of the circumstances.” Tess and her horse did extremely well, plusing multiple maneuvers as well as making their dreams become a reality.

Brian, Tess’s husband, is a career airman. They have been stationed all across the United States, but in 2021, Tess and Brian got orders to move across the pond to Germany. They were thrilled about this opportunity not only to serve their country, but to be able to explore different parts of the world. Tess had no question in her mind as to whether she would take her horse with her. Once they had everything settled in Germany, she had Khaleesi flown over. “She got into contact with an international shipper and the rest of easy. “They said that they would handle all the paperwork, the vet stuff, and quarantine. They were great at communicating her status throughout the whole trip. It was the easiest hauling experience I’ve ever had.”

Since Khaleesi had accomplished her goals in the reining pen, she decided to set her sights on new goals in Germany. “I wanted to look for a three-year-old to pursue the futurity dream but in Europe.” The horse that would help her chase this dream came into her life as unplanned as Khaleesi did. There was a fellow reiner at the barn she boarded at who loved breeding and raising great reining prospects. One day she was loping around a little sorrel with a white blaze that caught Tess’s attention. “I asked if she was for sale and she said everything was for sale. I told her I really liked the sorrel mare, but she only had 10 rides. I told her there was something about her I liked.” Tess recalled. “My husband and I came out that weekend and gave her a try. She was two so she only knew walk, jog, lope and a little steering. Even with that little training there was just something about her that felt special.” The decision to purchase Shiney was made and her dreams came alive again.

Shiney was a great minded mare, making it easy for Tess to give her a few months of riding on her own. Once Shiney was strong enough to enter reining training, she decided to send her to Max Gomeier. “My friend had been riding with a him for a few years. He was a soft rider and very kind to the horses.” Tess said. “We took both our horses over there at the end of their two-year-old year for two months. Max could instantly feel her potential and told me I had a great one on my hands.” After two months, she came home to grow before going back into futurity training. “During that time we trail rode and had fun.” The property that Tess boards at backs up to a beautiful riding trail that allows for miles of exploring. She has found that this has been a great bonding experience for her and her horses.

Needing to knock of a little rust before steeping into the futurity pen with Shiney, Tess decided to get Khaleesi back into show shape and hit the reining and ranch riding pen in Germany. “Khaleesi had always been a steady horse in the show pen and you could count on her to give you everything she could. I needed something I felt familiar with to practice pattern placement before going in with my young horse. My friend told me about a fun local club show so we went and gave it a try.” Tess shared. Despite the language barrier when it came to entering the classes, Tess loved every bit of her first showing experience overseas. “The atmosphere was very friendly and a little less judgmental.” Tess explained. “The main difference I’ve noticed if they are much more reserved in cheering. But it’s more of a cultural thing so that was interesting to get used to.” She tried Ranch Riding for the first time as well while at this show. Similar to her first reining experience, her eyes were opened after entering the pen. “I underestimated how prepared I needed to be for transitions. I am looking forward to going back and working on my horse and try again. I thought it was really fun thing to explore.”

Tess plans to continue chasing the dream of showing in Germany and reaching new heights in the show pen. She hopes to balances the stresses of competition with plenty of trail riding with friends and her husband. For anyone thinking they can’t make it happen overseas, Tess is here to tell you to give it a chance, because the journey abroad is a wonderful and exciting time.

By Lauren Crivelli