Orangevale equestrian rides onto Olympic stage after a lifetime of preparation

Kasey Perry-Glass and Dublet
Kasey Perry-Glass and Dublet CDIO 5* Compiegne, France

Kasey Perry-Glass and Dublet clicked from the moment they met on a Danish farm.

It wasn’t just his head-turning presence, deep brown eyes and jet black mane. This handsome Dane boasted instant pizzazz, the kind of free-flowing style that makes judges take notice.

Discovered thousands of miles from Perry-Glass’ California home, Dublet proved to be just the horse the young Orangevale woman needed: a world-class athlete who could carry them both to her sport’s highest peaks. Together, they’re now on the verge of fulfilling her lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics.

“The moment I got on him, I knew there was something special about him,” she said. “We just had an instant bond.”

At 28, Perry-Glass soon will be making her Olympic debut in dressage – the equine equivalent of ballroom dancing – aboard Dublet at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The dressage competition is scheduled to start Aug. 8, right after the opening ceremony.

“To me, to be an Olympian is being blessed enough to have the honor of representing my country, first and foremost,” Perry-Glass said by phone from Belgium, where she’s training. “On a personal level, it represents the hard work and sacrifices my family, trainers and I made over the last several years to get to this point.”

The threat of the Zika virus hanging over these Olympics won’t stop her or her horse, she added. Along with show jumping and eventing (which combines dressage with jumping and cross-country riding), dressage is one of three Olympic equine disciplines at the Rio Games.

“I feel like this is an opportunity that may only come around once in a lifetime,” she said. “I can’t let those threats deter me from this dream.

“On a practical note, I feel that since this year’s competition is in their winter season, the threat is less,” she said. “Also, the equestrian facilities are not near water, where mosquitoes thrive. Needless to say, I will still be packing tons of bug spray, just to be safe.”

Perry-Glass started riding in kindergarten after she received her first pony at age 5. With her older sisters, she joined a local pony club where young riders could learn their sport.

“We soon met some other kids that were jumping fences and doing three-day eventing, and it looked like a lot of fun,” Perry-Glass recalled. “By the time I had reached high school, I had really fallen in love with dressage.”

She graduated from Capital Christian High School and California State University, Sacramento, where she earned a degree in business entrepreneurship. The whole time, she kept riding and competing.

Dressage requires perfection under pressure while making it look effortless, she noted. She ended up impressing the Team USA selection committee with her 2016 performances in Europe.

“I like the complexity and technique you have to have for it,” she said. “I’m really working hard to get every moment out of the horse, but the audience doesn’t see it.”

Perry-Glass will join a team of mostly young American equestrians, anchored by an experienced leader. Teammates Laura Graves, 29, and Allison Brock, 36, also qualified for their first Olympics, and they’ll compete with four-time Olympian Steffen Peters, 51, who earned a team bronze medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Former Olympian Debbie McDonald, who won a team bronze at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, now serves as Team USA’s dressage talent scout. At her ranch in Idaho, she coaches Perry-Glass.

“There’s just something you can see in someone when you know they have that special international quality,” McDonald said. “We communicate, and she’s always asking the right questions.”

That same bond goes for Perry-Glass and her horse, Dublet. Standing 17 hands tall (or 5 feet, 8 inches at the shoulder) and bred to be a dressage star, the 13-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding has a special relationship with his rider.

“Dublet is a gentle giant,” Perry-Glass said. “He’s very loving, passionate about his job, and he really cares about doing his job right.”

The right partner is crucial in dressage, which Perry-Glass described as like “dancing with your horse.”

“The beauty and harmony of the horse and rider should look – and be – effortless,” she said. “It’s also really important that the horse loves doing its job.”

Several members of her family travel with her and Dublet and serve as her support staff. They call themselves “Team Believe.”

Diane and Bob Perry, Kasey’s parents, dedicated countless hours to helping the youngest of their six children pursue an equestrian career, Perry-Glass said. Diane purchased Dublet for her daughter four years ago from a former Olympian. Bob drives their horse trailer, including on an annual cross-country trek to Florida for winter horse shows and training. Holly Gorman, one of Kasey’s sisters, serves as groom. Dana Glass, Kasey’s husband and a farrier, makes sure Dublet has his dancing shoes on.

Perry-Glass also recruited her grandparents, Jim and Joyce Teel, former owners of the Raley’s supermarket chain. Four years ago, she presented to them a concrete business plan, “outlining our dream to make the Olympic team,” she said. The Teels became her sponsor.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a horse in the Olympics,” said Diane Perry, who started riding when Kasey was a baby. “I feel so very blessed that my daughter had the same dream, along with the drive, focus and commitment. I believe it takes many people to have the same dream to help the dream to come true.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

What is dressage?

“Dancing on horseback”; that’s how participants often describe this equestrian sport.

Part of the Olympic Games since 1912, dressage dates back centuries. Its name is derived from the French word for “training.” As a sport, it represents the ultimate test for a well-trained horse and disciplined rider.

According to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, dressage is “the highest expression of horse training.” Horse and rider must perform difficult series of movements from memory, then are graded by judges on a scale of 0 (“not executed”) to 10 (“excellent”).

“In the full definition, it’s the execution by a trained horse of precise movements in response to barely perceptible signals from its rider,” explained Orangevale’s Kasey Perry-Glass, who will represent Team USA in dressage at the 2016 Rio Games. “You can relate it to figure skating and floor routine of gymnastics.

“In the Olympic format, the horse and rider have to perform three different tests: the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle,” she said. “In both the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, you perform a standardized test. ... There are several judges scoring all around the arena. There’s definitely nowhere to hide.”

Use of hands, legs, seat or voice are all considered “aids” to get the horse to execute those intricate maneuvers. But at this elite level of dressage, the use of such aids should appear invisible with the horse responding to the slightest cue from a near-motionless rider.

– Debbie Arrington