Marion Kimball Riese will tell you she knew years ago that once she retired, she’d buy a horse and start riding.
She’s been riding and training ever since, joining the Christiane Noelting Dressage Center when she got serious about her time on a horse.
Each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, she could be found training at the Vacaville barn. She is part of the team there, helping where she can, supporting other riders and trainers and encouraging them in their own goals.
Kimball Riese, 83, figures her years of success in teaching, tennis competitions, opera singing, and even a stint at the Oakland Tribune led her to this point in life.
“Keeping healthy, it’s important. Our bodies weren’t meant to just stand around and not do much of anything. We weren’t built for that,” she said. “Oh my gosh. And out here, this just helps so much to build character in everything they’re doing. I love what happens at the barn. It’s all ages and it just warms my heart. There are so many good things that come from it that people don’t realize if they’re not involved.”
On Saturday, all of Kimball Riese’s training and motivation paid off when she placed first in her class with Freckles, her 22-year-old gelding pony, in a very rare dressage century ride. In the century class, the ages of the rider and horse must add up to 100 or more years.
According to the Dressage Foundation News, Kimball Riese and Freckles joined just 500 other horse-and-rider teams from across the country that have made the list since 1996.
In preparation for the day’s ride, Kimball Riese had the assistance of Carla Schulz and Tsantzi Zamani, two young female riders who also train at the barn. They braided Freckles’ mane, dressed his front legs with bright white boot guards, and basically helped her with whatever she needed for the ride.
After practice and warm-up prior to the 11:58 a.m. time slot, the team tightened stirrups, adjusted the saddle strap, and checked everything twice for safety and perfection.
Barn owner and trainer Christiane Noelting put it all together in just a few words.
“OK, Marion, you’ve got your whip and a nice jacket,” she told Kimball Riese. “Sit up straight, short rein. I think you’re set. Let’s go. Everybody! Century ride. Come on, let’s watch!”
Excitement filled the air. Freckles’ ears stood at full attention, showing that he, too, was ready. The once-in-a-lifetime ride was about to happen.
Attendees with COVID-19 vaccine cards had received mask-free wrist bands on entry, and the crowd waited under a shade tree as the duo approached the show arena. Anticipatory applause rang out. Kimball Riese guided Freckles out to the far end of the show arena.
“No, no, no, Marion,” Noelting called out, “the other arena.”
Kimball Riese sat up straight, took a deep breath, and guided Freckles into Ring One.
Noelting’s guidance rang out.
“A — enter working trot. X, Salute,” she said as Kimball Riese and Freckles arrived at the first step of the routine, the Salute. “Proceed working trot, C track left.”
Kimball Riese and Freckles had everyone’s attention.
“A ... circle left, 20 meters developing left lead canter in the first quarter of the circle,” Noelting continued.
Several more turns, circling right or left, walking, and trotting with proper rein were followed by a final salute at center line. Kimball Riese’s century ride was complete, and her gleeful smile answered her admirers’ cheers.
The honors presentation included a ribbon and sash for Kimball Riese, a bouquet of roses, a special carved wooden bowl with a congratulatory plaque from her family, and a bright yellow ribbon for Freckles.
Post presentation, Kimball Riese began to guide Freckles to the gate exit at the far end of the arena. Unexpectedly, the shoulder sash quickly snapped in the wind, hit the saddle, and frightened the pony so much that he just took off. The crowd gasped as everyone stared.
Noelting shouted to Kimball Riese to sit back and pull back. Once Kimball Riese was safely in charge again, applause was once again in the air.
“I made two mistakes today,” she said later while brushing and cooling down her pony. “I should have known better on that one turn. The good thing is I cantered at A where I was supposed to and trotted at C, and the judges were so gracious. They probably don’t get to see that century ride very often, either, you know.”
Kimball Riese unbraided Freckles’ mane and walked him to the open stables, where he joined a few other horses. The derby scribe, who had recorded what Noelting said to Kimball Riese during the competition for judging purposes, pulled up on her horse to chat with Kimball Riese.
“Was that fun or what?” she said. “I scribe so much, and you — your hands were so steady, your geometry was amazing, and Freckles ... he sees the long side, and goes ‘whooooh.’ It was so much fun to watch. I’m really glad I was here to see you.”
After a full morning, former kindergarten teacher Kimball Riese sat down to lunch and learned about her scores. She was elated that they were very favorable, an average of 6.74 out of 8 — or, in grade school parlance, 84.25%, the highest score in her class.
Now that Kimball Riese has completed her first century ride, she’s hoping to show her mare, Romina C, at the upcoming June derby. She mentioned gleefully that there are three new foals at the barn.
“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I’ve done the things I wanted to do, accomplished some, some took longer than others. And Freckles, he picked up the canter at just the right spot. Good boy, good boy.”
Catch up on Napa County's top sports stories
In case you missed it, here is a look at the most-read sports stories on NapaValleyRegister.com.
Get unlimited digital access to the Napa Valley Register. Enjoy every article without restrictions and find tons of subscriber-only perks, such as access to our daily eEdition. Click here to learn more about becoming a subscriber!
Gordon Anderson, who will be inducted into the St. Helena High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Running the ball down its opponent’s throats and playing sound defense, the St. Helena High football team thumped visiting St. Patrick-St. Vin…
Three former Napa High School Spiritleaders have just been selected as members of NFL dance teams, two for the San Francisco 49ers’ Gold Rush …
Despite senior Caden Parlett's 279 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing, fumble recovery and blocked extra point, the Justin-Siena football team dro…