Posts Tagged ‘dressage

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at Fair Hill International

Over the weekend I attended the Fair Hill International Event to watch my friends from the Chincoteague Pony Drill Team perform. The Fair Hill International Event is one of the most prestigious international three day events in the world.

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

The Drill team was fantastic, and it was fun getting to watch them perform so close to home.

Chincoteague Pony Drill Team at the Fair Hill International

You can check out Ammo’s recap of the day on his blog.

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Gypsy Vanner Ride

If you read this blog on a regular basis than you know that I’m a self proclaimed Chincoteague Pony Lover. I tell myself that I’ll never own another breed again (this may or may not be true – but I certainly am a fan of the breed). It’s also a rare occasion that I actually ride another breed, considering 3 out of our 5 family horses are Chincoteague Ponies. So when I had the chance to ride a Gypsy Vanner at a farm down the street (to help a friend out) I was excited to try something new.

The 4 year old mare I rode was Sattui (who is for sale at El Brio Vanner). At 4 years old she reminded me of an experienced horse who had “been there done that” – definitely not your typical 4 year old. I got Boomerang when he was 4 years old and his maturity level was not even close to Sattui’s. Boomer could barely hold himself together (his balance was horrendous, especially on the trail) and he used any chance he got to act like a baby. Although to be fair Chincotaegue ponies mature MUCH later than most breeds.

From what I hear Gypsy Vanners are a very level-headed breed. Great as quiet trail horses among other things and just an all around safe horse that anyone can ride. And after taking my first ride on one, I believe it.

I helped my friend out by riding Sattui all “Dressagey” for a sale video – never mind the fact that I haven’t actually ridden a horse in a dressage frame in say maybe 4 years. Lets just say my abs aren’t the only thing that is sore!

It was a fun experience, and coming from someone that has never ridden a Gypsy Vanner before I can attest to what a nice breed they are (just don’t tell my Chincoteague Ponies).

If you are in the market for a nice horse be sure to check out El Brio Vanner, they have a great selection of made horses as well as foals and mares in foal!

P.S. El Brio Vanner is also home to the famous, Odd Job Bob, the movie star! Read all about him here.

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Birthday Boy Turns 24

Nitro in 2000

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Niatross aka Nitro is turning 24 on Sunday. Nitro is my retired Dressage horse whom I’ve had since I was 14 years old (thats 12 years for anyone counting). Nitro was probably my first real experience working with a troubled horse, and how I wish I had discovered clicker training when he first came to live with me.

For 12 years of his life Nitro lived at the same farm where he was bred. Family raised, in what I assume to be a loving home (I have talked to his previous owner/breeder before). After learning the basics Nitro spend the majority of his life in a pasture, shielded from the World, mostly because his owners were afraid of him. See Nitro was supposed to be a pony, or maybe a small horse. His mom was a small pony (Connemara/Welsh) and his dad was a Thoroughbred. Nitro must have inherited his dad’s lanky legs, because he stands 16.3 hands tall. His size can be intimidating.

Nitro in 2001

Anyway at the age of 12 Nitro was sent to a dealer to be sold, where I happened to find him. I had spent nearly a year looking for a Dressage horse, and when I saw Nitro I knew he was something different. I was told he had Evented, and been “around the block” – a safe horse to buy a 14 year old who had outgrown their childhood pony. He was quiet, and was big enough to take up my long legs. After vetting him I brought him home on trial.

I knew enough to always have my possibly purchases vetted and brought home on trial. After childhood experiences of nearly buying blind ponies, ponies with positive coggins, and a horse that flipped over when girthed…..I knew its ALWAYS better safe than sorry. Only in this case, I didn’t expect to be lied to…..or to take a horse on trial with a 30 day tranquilizer on him.

Nitro in 2002

Live and learn, and never buy a horse from a dealer you don’t know. Needless to say after purchasing him my mom and I were finally able to track down his original owner, who told us he went to one show – and had a panic attack so they took him home. Fantastic. And after 30 days I was left with an explosive horse that had no ground manners, and couldn’t even leave the property without having a freakout. Not to mention he was deathly afraid of the cows that lived down the street and had panic attacks when in a “warm-up” ring situation.

Nitro in 2003

I later learned as a yearling he was viciously attacked by a group of geldings that had gotten into his field – the mark on his neck is the reminder he will always live with. This traumatizing event accounted for the fear of “group” riding. The cows – I have no idea what happened there. And his breakdowns when leaving home was due to his lack of experience in ANYTHING. All he knew was his safe pasture where he was born.

All I wanted was a nice horse to take me through the ranks of USPC in Dressage. Instead Luckily I got Nitro. Many trainers labeled him dangerous, and other pony club parents wondered what a 14 year old was doing with a horse like him. My mom feared I would get hurt, and asked me to consider finding him another home on numerous occasions. But I couldn’t sell him, I knew I could help him.

Nitro's first trick - discovered when he accidently sampled cat food

I spend YEARS helping him overcome his fears and gain confidence. I am proud to say by the time he retired he was a functioning member of horse society. No more nervous breakdowns in group settings, no more kicking fences out of fear and frustration, no more plowing me over just because he could. Nitro still has his quirks. He never COMPLETELY got over his cow fear (although he could now walk past them without panicking) and he still preferred not to be too close to strange horses he didn’t know (no pair class for us) and if put in the wrong situation, he’d probably still plow me over to get to a safe area. But the difference is I can trust him now, and he trusts me to make sure he is safe.

Nitro was never that perfect Dressage horse that won me first place ribbons and every kid wanted to borrow. He was a challenge, and its because of him that I am a better rider and a better trainer. I had to work every single second I was with him. I’m happy that he was able to find a home with me, its horses like him that end up in homes that don’t understand them and ultimately end up even more battered and bruised than they started out.

Nitro is one of those special horses that comes along to show you the way. Thank you Nitro for 12 years of excitement! Happy Birthday Pal!

Nitro 2004

Nitro 2005 Super Hero Pas De Deux - highest score of the day

Nitro 2006 Pas De Deux

2006 - Nitro passing a C-2 rating - one of our BIGGEST challenges

2008 Nitro and his mare, Jet

2009 Nitro at IHF

2010 Nitro with his "cushings disease" winter coat

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Minnow goes to Camp

KD pictured on the left riding Niatross during a drill team exhibition at the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show

KD pictured on the right riding Niatross during a drill team exhibition at the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show

Recently I fell back in contact with my long-time childhood riding coach – an FEI rider specializing in Dressage Training. As a youth I attended camps and lessons at her local farm – where I had help training 2 of my horses, Oopsie Daisy and Niatross. Oopsie was my very first Dressage mount who always seemed to be in the ribbons with his cute fluid gaits until I moved up to my much larger mount, 16.3 hand Nitro. Nitro was a difficult ride, but with the help of my instructor I was able to school him up to 2nd Level. With a local team we pulled together we even competed in the Region I USDF Championships in 2000 and 2001 – earning Reserve Champion Overall. We did extensive drill team work as well, and we were one of the first groups in the area to be involved with drill team demonstrations. Pictured above is a photograph from a drill team exhibition we did at the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show several years back. I had to manage riding my handful of a horse, Nitro, while wearing a full daffy duck outfit – complete with giant duck butt – I’m not really sure how I managed to stay on…let alone do a sitting trot.

I ran into my old instructor at the Devon Horse Show this year – where she mentioned she had heard of my trick ponies and was interested in bringing a group of her campers to see them. We have since organized two dates where the campers will come to watch the ponies perform, and then afterward Minnow will paint each of them a t-shirt. I plan to go over a little bit about clicker training as well – I always jump at the oppertunity to teach new people about this amazing training method. It should be a fun time, and I know the ponies will love it – they love to perform, Minnow always becomes such a ham infront of crowds.


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My Buddy Nitro


Dressage Rally with Nitro 2002

Dressage Rally with Nitro 2002

So I feel like I’ve completed an entire day and its only 11am! While my parents are away at my brother’s graduation in North Carolina I’m in charge of our many animals. My parent’s dog, Trooper, is staying with me, I also have to feed the cat at their house, and of course the 9 horses we are in charge of. On top of that my retired dressage horse, Nitro, now has an abscess in his hoof. Poor guy is hobbling around on 3 legs. So last night after working a 10 hour day at my shop (I own a custom picture framing shop) I drove out to the barn to check on him. Seeing that his condition hadn’t improved I scheduled a farrier visit for today. So I woke up really early, loaded up all the dogs, helped my hobbling husband (he broke his foot on tuesday) to the car and headed for the barn. I began soaking and removing Nitro’s poultice for the farrier – and when he arrived I took on the task of holding Nitro still. Now Nitro is a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred/Conemarra/Welsh cross – yes he should of been a pony as his mother was 13 hands, today I found myself wishing he was. Nitro, although much improved, at 23 years old is a pain in the butt to keep still for the farrier. We have been battling this issue (along with his fear of cows) for 10 years now, but if you saw him when I brought him home I think you would be VERY surprised how far he’s come. He has no respect for personal space and he has no problem barreling through anything that stands in his way. Needless to say I got clocked in the face several times by his massive head which resulted in a fat lip. 



Nitro at USDF Young Rider Championships

Nitro at USDF Young Rider Championships

Anyway, after an hour of chipping away at his foot still no relief was found, so we opted to wrap his foot back up and wait for whatever is in there to work its way out on its own. So poor Nitro is still hobbling around on 3 legs. By this time its getting close to the time I need to open up my shop. So I quickly feed and turn out some of the horses (one of our co-op people was supposed to feed instead of me). I load up the dogs again and head back to my apartment, quickly change then its off to feed the cat at my parents. And amazingly with 5 minutes to spare I unlock the door to the shop. Now here I sit writing this post, utterly exhausted, when I really should be framing something. So thats been my day so far – and I just have to do it all over again as I’m scheduled to feed the horses tonight too. I’m tired just thinking about it – the things we do for our horses. 🙂



USDF Young Rider Championships

USDF Young Rider Championships

So aside from that, the real thing I wanted to talk about today was Nitro. Now I usually write about “The Trick Ponies of Chincoteague” but dealing with Nitro today got me thinking about his story. So here goes. When my parents bought Nitro for me I was 13 (I’m now 25). I had sprouted long long legs and outgrew my childhood pony, Oopsie Daisy (whom I had up until last year when he passed away). So my parents decided it was time I got a bigger horse as I had become extremely interested in Dressage. After many attempted purchases (one horse I had on trial flipped me over backwards when I tightened the girth) we finally found Nitro. He was up for sale at a dealers barn – and while I hesitate to purchase from dealers, I had been looking for almost 2 years and there was just something different about Nitro. This 16.3 hand grey was built like a tank, but his eyes were so gentle and kind. My parents purchased Nitro to a tune of $6,000 thinking he had been to events and kinda knew his way around the block. Later we were to learn that he had only had one owner (who had him foaled by her pony mare) and he pretty much did nothing his whole life besides be a “pasture pet” and then he was sent to the dealer to be sold at 14 years of age.

Nitro makes a great Super Hero for USDF Pas De Deux

Nitro makes a great Super Hero for USDF Pas De Deux

Now your probably wondering why we didn’t try to find this out before we bought him – and well its because he was well behaved and seemed to know a lot of things and we trusted the dealer. Big mistake, because about 30 days into having him he went all split personality (we now believe he was under the influence of a 30 day tranquilizer). Nitro began having panic attacks, kicking out at fences and people when I rode him, spinning, sweating bullets, and simply walking on top of anything that got in his way, this included me. Some his background began to emerge – he has these dents in his neck which we were told happened when a bunch of geldings broke into Nitro’s field and attached him – who knows if thats true, but I sorta think it is because he’s always had issues passing horses he didn’t know in warm-up arenas. But the fact is (other than being tranquilized and taken to a new home, and being attacked by horses) we didn’t really believe he was abused, or had a horrible home in the past. So really – why was he so crazed?



usdfTo this day I’m still really not sure. I wish I had discovered clicker training back then, it probably would of helped me a ton. But I began working with a very nice trainer who believed in natural horsemanship, if it wasn’t for her I don’t think I could have fixed Nitro. Many a times throughout the process of retraining Nitro my parents threatened to sell him, they thought he was too dangerous for me. I can’t even count how many times he knocked me down in the barn only to run back to the pasture. But somehow I managed to evade my parents attempt to sell Nitro, and honestly if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be the rider I am today, he taught me how to ride through anything (in a confident and humane manner I might add). My biggest hurdle with Nitro was getting him to trust me – and not letting him push my buttons to the point of frustration. So in my lessons I began working on the ground with him teaching him to “follow me” – I guess looking back now it was probably very similar to the “join up” method so many trainers use today. To this day Nitro will follow me at liberty over jumps, through obstacles, at the trot and even canter – its our own special game we like to play. So for probably 3 years I spent working on the basics, I’m not going to go too far into it, because honestly I always write way too much in these posts. But in the end I produced a calmer horse, that I could control and even though he occasionally had panic attacks – I could gently calm him down again. Nitro went on to take me through 2nd level Dressage, we earned reserve champion at the USDF Young Rider Championships, and in 2006 he took me through my C-2 Rating in Pony Club. This was a HUGE accomplishment because jumping was a big contributor to Nitro’s panic attacks (luckily for him I loved Dressage). But being asked to complete a cross country course as well as a stadium course to pass the rating was very hard for Nitro. I probably spent several days just getting him to take one very very small step down jump in the woods. But he did it, maybe not with flying colors, but he atleast made it through.

nitroI actually did try to clicker train Nitro in 2007, he was nearing retirement then, but I decided it would be fun to try to get him to target a big yellow ball. He sort of understood, but I truly believe he has ADHD, I could not keep his focus for more than a minute. But being 23 years old and after 10 years of working hard for me, I think he’s earned his retirement, so I wasn’t going to push the clicker training. When my family makes our big move to Iron Horse Farm in a week (yippee!) I may start up with the clicker training again on Nitro. By then we will have a more adequate working area, the place we occupy right now is really not conducive to working with a VERY big horse that is sort of set in his ways.

So thats Nitro’s story (well the shortened version), he was a huge part in teaching me how to train horses, I think he may have been my toughest case (Minnow comes a close second – but being 1/2 Nitro’s size he was a bit more manageable). And as a short side note, Nitro came with the original name Royalty’s Pal and I’m sure you can guess why I renamed him Nitro (Niatross is his show name). 🙂


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