It’s true blondes have more fun. Just ask the owners of the flaxen-haired Haflinger Asti FCH, the distinctively highlighted Norwegian Fjord Sven, and the golden palomino Lusitano Barroco who competed at the 2015 U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, Nov. 5-8.
Asti FCH placed fourth in the First Level Freestyle Championship class with a 71.111 percent. The 9-year-old, 14.2 Haflinger gelding (Arno Van Het Nieshof x Cristal Lite SDH) is owned by Bryn Walsh and was ridden by Rebecca Reed, who has had the ride for three years. The pony has been doing dressage for just a bit longer.
“He’s a super pony,” Reed said of Asti, who went down centerline with an “A+” clipped onto his hindquarters. “A for Asti, plus because he’s super. He’s also super sensitive and really smart, so he’s fun to train. You could take him home and watch TV on the couch with him. Everywhere on the show grounds people smile at him.”
Reed knew that competing in the freestyle would be a good choice for Asti. The music was by the Piano Guys and included “I Want You Back, “Rockelbel's Canon,” “Me and my Cello,” and “Over the Rainbow.”
“I really wanted our music to be fun so that when I come into the ring on a fluffy pony, the judges will think, ‘Oh this is cute. This is fun,’” she explained. “I wanted it to be upbeat. It’s really cool to compete a rare breed like him and have him do well. People don’t expect it of him.”
Walsh said that although Asti is a non-traditional dressage breed, the judging is fair. “I think it’s great that judges are recognizing good training and nice moving horses can be in all packages and not just Warmbloods,” she said. “It’s nice to see that coming through.” Reed agreed. “One of the scores I got one time said, ‘A pleasure to see a rare breed with such correct training and so well ridden.’”
Sven, an 8-year-old Norwegian Fjord gelding (Glacier View’s Samson x Ranka) whose Pony Card lists him at 14.27 hands, is owned by Laurie Moore and was ridden by Whitney Petersen-McIntosh. He was out in a field in Minnesota helping raising foals until he was 7, when Moore bought him. A year later, he competed at the U.S. Dressage Finals.
“We started him last fall and rode him all winter,” Moore said. “In the spring, he started out showing at a schooling show walk/trot. He went to his first horse show ever in May. And then Whitney showed him all summer at Training Level and then, by August, we said, ‘Oh, let’s try First Level and let’s do a freestyle.’”
Sven also competed in the First Level Freestyle Championship class to a medley of Christmas music. “We were listening to music on a website and we couldn’t find anything that matched him,” Petersen-McIntosh said. “Our nickname for him is ‘Yoda’ because his years are like Yoda ears − they go sideways. So, I looked at ‘Starwars’ music and he’s so little that I said, ‘Just for fun (in July or August) let’s try Christmas music.’ We clicked on Christmas music on the phone and watched the video of him from the horse show and started laughing hysterically.”
“The thing is, when you have a horse like that, you capitalize on the things that he does well,” Moore said. “He’s got such a good nature and great rhythm and a wonderful canter. He’d rather do the freestyle than any test. He knows the music and he anticipates what we’re going to do.” Moore said Sven amassed a fan club at Finals with people coming by the stall to snap selfies with the little blond with his signature Fjord black and white highlighted mane. “He’s a cool little guy!” she added.
Barroco is a different kind of blond than the two ponies, but he also attracts admiring glances with his gold-flecked palomino coat. The 9-year-old Lusitano stallion (Torre x Vadia) owned by Candace Platz and ridden by Melissa MacLaren, competed in the Championship Fourth Level Open and the Championship Prix St. Georges Open classes. The pair placed in the ribbons in the hotly contested Fourth Level class with a 67.815 percent. Barroco has qualified for the Finals in every class in which he has been eligible and this was his third year to compete there.
She said that judges have their own opinions about gaits, but she doesn’t think that has had a negative impact on the judging of her Baroque horse. She and MacLaren and trainer Ruth Hogan-Poulsen are looking toward the Grand Prix for the stallion, an approved breeding stallion imported from Portugal. “They are bred to behave as stallions to be ridden by normal people,” she explained “They aren’t bred to be different. Most people don’t know he’s a stallion.”
Although Iberian horses are becoming more mainstream in dressage, as Platz said, “He’s still a palomino. He’s still a Barbie dream horse. But, he’s legitimate. I didn’t buy him because he’s blond and I wouldn’t NOT buy him because of that. I think it makes him more noticed and if he drops the ball or I drop the ball or the rider drops the ball, it’s perhaps with a little bit bigger splash. But when we kick it out of the park, we also kick it out of the park with a bigger splash.”