A new year, and maybe the possibility of the time and concentration to continue blogging about my (our?) equine endeavors. I think this year I will cover a variety of topics, some will be more candid, others will be about training questions or revelations, and so on. I figured as this is an initial post that I will introduce some of my horses, which in turn will involve introducing their breed.
I currently have four horses that I am personally developing: JNDs Illuminator (Lumie, Venomous), Jeriah ( Jerry), Melman(We need a K name if anyone has something quirky), and Montego Bay (Monty). All four are Dutch Harness Horses. The breed gets a bad rap within dressage and when I began an involvement with them, I had many people tell me how "crazy" and "hot" they were; not to mention the fact that all of dressage-dom seems to believe that if it is not bred specifically for fancy dressage movements then it could never be successful at the high levels of dressage. I'll admit, some of the DHH's I have had have been quirky, hot, and at time tedious. They can be spooky. But they are horses. Coming from Morgans I have always felt the DHH's are more reasonable in their reactivity and sensitivity than the former. And for so many reasons the DHH won't work well for the rigid-training-plan-24hr-box-stalled-young-horse-class-superstar-must-be-doing-X-Y-or-Z-Level-at-this-age idea dressage seems to believe any Grand Prix horse has to go through to get there.
I have started exactly 16 DHH horses: Ringo, Quigley, Lumie, Jerry, Holden, Rev, Krypto, Lee, Larry, Wou, Jama, Melman, Mick, Monty, Bob, Odie. I have ridden a number others. These aren't generally the type of horses that take just being gotten on and going like so many of the dressage horses(and many others) are started like. Many of them came to us practically feral, never having seen a farrier, vet, and having had a halter put on them the day we came to get them at 2.5/3 years old. 16H, feral, scared baby horse is really something-- not for the faint of heart. My biggest suggestion is making sure you are quick footed and that you have a VERY VERY tall round pen(because they will in fact try to flee, over the top, or even through, if you try to get near them). We would often initially leave a halter on them in the stall and then just attach the lead to take to the round pen, but often for the first week(s) would have to run them back to from the round pen to their stalls as they wouldn't let us approach safely in the bigger area. Generally, I would do 6 months of groundwork before we would every start sitting on them. Sometimes once we sat on them thats all we would do for a week or even more til we felt them take a deep breath and become comfortable with us being on them. For me, a year is a normal length of time to have them going W/T/C in the open arena. There is never a rush, they go at their pace, so naturally some went faster, and others needed more time. Maybe that is why I get along well with this breed, and don't see them as too sensitive, etc.
If you do your job in the beginning with these guys, and take the time to gain a genuine relationship with them-- not the one where you have goals and they help you fulfill them, but the one where you take the time to understand their likes, dislikes, the way they learn, the lifestyle they like, who their best buddy is, etc. These are Horseman horses. Which in many ways make them not suitable for many dressage riders(Oh i know this statement will be found terribly controversial, so be it.). And maybe that is why they aren't always seen as great for the "sport" of dressage. Developing each one has been interesting.
Lumie (also known to friends as Venomous-- which if you've been in my barn you'd know why) has an ego that hardly fits in any room. He is wildly intelligent and uses his brain for anything and everything. Lumie came to us with some baggage, old injuries, and had been through a few auctions. He also has a few foals floating around somewhere within the Amish communities. Lumie has also been a kid genius-- you teach him something one day, he has it the next, and by the 3rd day he is using it against you. He was naughty as heck to show as a 3/4 year old because he thought training level was ridiculously boring and I was all too often holding on for dear life. I put a change on him midway through his 5 year old year, showed him 3rd as a 6 year old. By middle of his 7 year old year he was doing his first PSG. Lumie struggles with the "sit" work, but the lateral work and changes he gets. Once I got the PSG I had to get some more control, refinement. Initially it was all very held together-- partially because he lacked necessary strength, but also because I wouldn't let him do it himself. 2023 we gained control in the PSG, and was holding together the I-1-- the full pirouettes were biting us. The same thing- more strength, refinement. Unfortunately, we have hit a bump in the road-- his past catching up with the present. He has been sidelined with a collateral ligament injury in his front right coffin joint. Positively he is walking now under saddle, ultrasound shows improvement, and upon recent check he was sound.
Jeriah (Jerry) was purchased shortly prior to Lumie. He is about as opposite as possible from him as well-- completely different strengths, temperaments, builds, etc. Jerry is an introvert in every way and in training would become overwhelmed quickly when he was younger. The contact was always a significant issue-- he would always hide from the hand and didnt like to swing through his back. Despite this he is very steady and tries tons; he had early on success in dressage. He did very well at training and first levels at 4/5 years old. He is a rhymical and powerful mover that is quite eye-catching. It took significantly longer to get him to FEI then Lumie though as he would often become overwhelmed in the changes whenever he lost his balance or made a mistake. He is now schooling most of the I-2 work and considering the changes (we take them day by day).
Melman is my "giraffe" at 17.2h. He is a cross of bloodlines between Jerry and Lumie and got lots of good things from both lines, but his temperament is quite challenging. He is a very insecure, big guy and when he becomes afraid or uncomfortable then his answer is "no" followed by rearing, head tossing, and sometimes spinning or leaping. Its the same reason why we don't hack him out alone and always have a ground person to lead him to the warm-up and between warm-up and show arenas. He got a late start at 4 and I have taken things slowly due to the significant turbulence in his training. Funny enough, he is extremely sweet and smart, just gets overwhelmed quickly. Additionally, this year he was diagnosed with EPM, and while his symptoms were mild to marginal, we have to take it as it comes in his training. Melman was tedious in all the easy things -- the basics have always been difficult for him. The hard things, easy(ish). He is a massive mover and will absolutely toss you around and then get mad if your hands become unsteady(honestly totally reasonable). I could probably write a book on developing this guy. He did is first small show this past year at 3rd level and we are chipping away at the PSG now.
Lastly, Montego Bay (Monty) is my "baby" horse who decided to grow massively. He charms most everyone-- he is very quirky and personable(and likes to bang his door til someone pays attention to him). Additionally, he is about as sensitive as they get. You never need to kick this one hard or tap even with the whip-- actually you'd probably go for a wild ride if you did. Simply clucking a few times in the trot will get him all bothered, and touching with the whip has been a discussion(especially when teaching piaffe in hand). Monty is about 10ft tall and 2inches long so I am always fighting to get more length of neck, especially as we begin teaching collection. As always, its a work in progress. He is much like Lumie though, you teach something one day and he has it the next and then he is using it against you. He is also quite the distractable kid and is a bit to curious about his surroundings than necessary.
I will likely mention other horses during my posts but will be sure to give a bit of background on them when I do. I will plan to do a weekly post about the goings-on, educational topics(videos even), and many other things.
Feel free to drop me an email @ email@example.com if you have something you would like to have answered or shared.