Shelly Francis’ 2016 European Tour and upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics as the Traveling Alternate

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Friday, July 29, 2016

Shelly Francis and Patricia Stempel's Doktor at the Nations Cup in June in Rotterdam CDI5* 2016 Photo: Shannon Brinkman

Shelly Francis’s deliberate and methodical approach for preparing horses up to the Grand Prix levels for the long-term quest in the sport of dressage is based on patience and goodwill, reinforced with clear communication. “It’s all about nurturing willingness in a horse,” stated Shelly assuredly. “If you build a relationship based on trust and fairness, a horse will give you its all.” Along with her special owner, Patricia Stempel, Shelly continues to build strong foundations in her horses for a confident future. 

Her fourth year of taking part in the USA Dressage Team European Tour, Shelly traveled with three of Patricia Stempel’s geldings, 13-year old Doktor (Diamond Hit x Gurena x Renoir I), 12-year-old Danilo (De Niro x Annabelle x Andiamo) and 10-year-old Rubino (Roh Magic x Patrizia x Philipo). She qualified two of the horses for the USA dressage slots of the upcoming August 8, 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and will travel with Doktor this next week to Brazil as the traveling alternate(reserve).

At the end of April, sponsored by The Dutta Corp., her horses arrived in Retie, Belgium, using the Studfarm de Begijnhoeve as their home training base with the USA Dressage group. Shelly shares her insights on her 2016 European Tour summer journey.  

The European Tour Competitions

Shelly Francis and Patricia Stempel's Doktor at the Nations Cup in June in Rotterdam CDI5* 2016 Photo: Shannon Brinkman

The first set of competitions was the May 19-22, 2016 Compiegne (FRA) CDIO5*/3* in which Shelly rode both Grand Prix horses, “We didn’t have our best rides there. It’s a really nice show with nice stabling and the rings had brand new footing,” she said, “We really got rained out. Both horses were a little nervous there. We did our best.”

Next came the June 22-26 Rotterdam (NED) CDIO5*/3*, “Doktor’s always somewhat nervous at that competition. This year he was better, but he still had his moments. It’s a really long walk from the stabling through the woods and a large park. All around there’s always a huge amount of people. Behind some dark mesh fencing, there are very noisy platforms where people walk up those noisy bleachers. Even though we can’t see them, we could hear them. At one point, Doktor got quite a bit nervous and I had to ask the people to please stand still for a moment. It was that noisy.” She went on to say, “But, he did really well in there and especially in the freestyle.” 

Shelly said, “I learned that I have to adjust to each horse because of the differences in their personalities. Some need a little more encouragement than others. Take Doktor, for example. It’s obvious he feels really bad if he makes a mistake, so I’ll have to bolster his ego. Danilo, on the other hand, is super sensitive to my leg but has a tendency to become inattentive and then go back to being super sensitive again. In the passage and piaffe, he’s learning that they’re nothing to be nervous about, so when I push him for more energy he gives it. As a rider or trainer, you just feel when a horse is saying, ‘Okay, I can give you more now.’”Shelly Francis and Patricia Stempel's Danilo in June in Rotterdam CDI4* 2016 Photo: Shannon Brinkman

The last of the European Dressage Tour competitions was the 2016 CHIO World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany. In the CDI Grand Prix 4*, she rode Danilo, “The learning with Dani, for me, has been in figuring out the piaffe in that big ring. It may appear that he’s disobedient about the piaffes and not staying in front of the leg, but it’s his reaction to being nervous that makes him dumb up a little bit. I just have to find that middle ground in there with him.” Shelly elaborated, “There have been those moments in the ring when Dani’s been raring to go in front of my leg and then there’ve been times that he’s not. I can feel his nervousness and slowing in the warmup when there’s a lot of clapping. He just doesn’t notice my leg. But, when he’s paying attention, he’s super-sensitive to my leg, almost too much. So, most of the time, he’s either over-reacting or under-reacting. He doesn’t get that in-between. He’s still a work in progress at competitions, but I feel like we’re crossing over that threshold.”

In Aachen’s Nations Cup CDI 5*, Shelly competed on Doktor, “I was a little bit weak from a gastro-intestinal bug I got the night before the freestyle, but Doktor was good. He’s becoming more tuned in to where he’s being more consistently dependable. He’s a rock star.”

And, then there was also Pat Stempel’s 10-year-old Rubino (Roh Magic x Patrizia(Philipo). “Oh yeah, my Rubi,” Shelly said beaming. “He’s had a big growing up this summer. The trip was a little overwhelming for him. He’s like Mr. Innocent farm boy. He hasn’t been to many places. In fact, I think this is like only the fifth time I’ve shown him and it was at Aachen.”

On Winning the 2016 FEI Nations Cup Series

“In each competition, I focused on riding my horse. I hadn’t even realized I'd ridden in four of the Nations Cup competitions this year, starting in Wellington. Then, I was reminded when Robert Dover said, ‘Hey, we’re in first!’ That was fun.”

Shelly as the Olympics USA Dressage Team Alternate

“I asked what the alternate had to do,” Shelly said. “Two years ago at the World Equestrian Games, the alternate could be put in up to an hour before the jog.  But, now the FEI has changed that. I‘ll get to jog and then I will have to wait and be ready to go a couple of hours before the first Grand Prix test. So, I’ll be training to make sure that I’m ready if I need to ride.”

The USA Dressage Olympic Team includes Allison “Ali” Brock, Laura Graves, Kasey Perry-Glass, Steffen Peters and Shelly as the alternate. They are now all down to the wire in preparing for the world’s foremost Dressage Equestrian Sports Competition, the 2016 Olympic Games.

A good-natured team player who admittedly maintains a low-key profile, Shelly's achievements are being noticed and acknowledged more and more, the result of effective training for international competition.


The 2016 FEI Nations Cup Series Champions Photo: Dressage Headlines

 Shelly Francis and Patricia Stempel's Rubinio at 2016 Aachen Photo: Dressage Headlines