Draft power!! This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating Draft Horses and Draft Crosses of all breeds. Dressage riders who choose Drafts as their mounts are eligible for many Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as there are several Draft organizations on our Participating Organization list. Here, a rider from Region 3 shares about finding her dream partner in a Draft Cross and how they are breaking the stereotypes of what a dressage horse “should” look like everywhere they go.
By Samantha Capoferri
I wasn’t seriously looking for another horse. I had just survived my first full year on my own as a budding dressage pro in the Low Country. My competition star at the time, Sir William, was just coming into his prime. The sixteen year old Clyde/Thoroughbred cross and I earned not only our USDF Bronze Medal the year before, but we clinched our Silver Medal and were gearing up for the training to set our sights on our Gold in the seasons to come. This stage of training is usually when my biological clock starts ticking somewhere in the depths of my brain. It’s like this whispering voice that, as the days and months crawl on, gets louder. “Don’t you think it’s time to start bringing up something behind Will?”, “You know, he is getting older, he might not be able to go all the way.”, “It’s going to take a long time for something new, you’re getting older. You need to find something soon.”.
This led to lots of scrolling through sale ads, social media posts, and the general nagging of friends for “the one,” but I was never really serious about anything I saw. One day, I saw a scruffy brown horse with a huge gangly body and delicate face. Friesian/Draft cross! Three years old! Dressage prospect! Low four figures! Hmm, okay, I’ll bite. I looked over the pictures, asked for specific videos, and thought it probably would be another dud. The seller responded quickly but knew exactly what she wanted for this horse. He was born on her farm in the Northeast unexpectedly. She rescued the dam at an auction only to find out later that she was pregnant with this big boy. She was able to track down the breeder and found out that he was bred by an Amish farmer in an attempt to sell Friesian crosses. He thought this mare was particularly difficult to breed so he sent her to auction, not knowing that she was pregnant. The woman who rescued the dam knew that this baby horse was special and he deserved all the chances in the world to have a great life. She already had my curiosity but after that, she had my full attention.
As luck (or fate?) would have it, I had a college roommate and friend who lived about 45 minutes away from the owner’s farm. My dear friend Rachel didn’t bat an eye when I asked if I could fly in and have her take me to look at this horse. Within a week or two, I was up there enjoying the September fall backdrop of the Northeast, driving windy roads to a beautiful and private farm. The whole time I was thinking to myself, this is probably all for nothing. Don’t fall in love. As I got out of Rachel’s truck, I saw him waiting, grazing, in a round pen. The owner greeted me and led me to him.
I stood there looking at a 17.3 hand three-year-old with gigantic feet, a kind eye, and the biggest heart of any horse I have met. I chased him around the round pen to see his gaits in person. I observed his personality, his bravery, his sensitivity. I watched him play with his friends in the pasture and chase the four wheeler playfully; that’s when I fell in love. I made my offer the next day and it was a done deal. That same day I decided to name him Rubeus Hagrid after the lovable and generous half giant from the Harry Potter books. After all, it was his mother who was the giantess while his father was a normal size. His story was too similar and he was too hairy to not be a Hagrid.
Once he arrived in the south, we got to work. I can still remember my coach’s reaction when she saw me lead Hagrid into the arena. Felicitas von Nueman-Cosel took a deep breath and joined me in the ring to start our multi-year journey of teaching Hagrid better balance, use of his body, and reaching out his very upright Friesian neck from his withers. Between our visits with the big boss, Felicitas, and our monthly training with the local boss, Cynthia Thaxton in Watkinsville, GA, Hagrid’s brain and body grew. I am so lucky to have aligned myself with these amazing trainers – they never once told me he couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t because he’s not a warmblood, because he doesn’t fit the “type.” They are both so creative with their approach, so hopeful for every horse they come into contact with, that it was only a matter of time before we began flourishing in the show ring.
Interestingly, it was more often the spectators that had an issue with his size than the judges. I remember hearing a railbird at our first schooling show ask, “What is that thing Sam is riding?” They meant it harmlessly enough because we were literally dwarfing some of the big warmbloods in the warmup, but I do hold it in my heart when we turn down centerline. This thing can out-dance most of the horses bred for this sport. He’s my linebacker that carries me around like a princess, and I think that explains the root of my love for draft crosses and draft breeds in general. These horses can do anything. They are kind and intelligent, and only need us to find the right language to explain what we need from them. Given the right environment, they become incredibly loyal partners. Between myself and my coaches, Hagrid understood.
In 2020, Hagrid and I had our best competitive year to date with his Second Level debut. We qualified for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 3 Championships our first weekend out and left the show undefeated. Our next show was an unbelievable repeat of the first. Each score that weekend was higher than the last, culminating not only in a High Point Second Level score for the weekend but the CBH International High Score Baroque Horse award that is offered at every Good Horseman Foundation dressage show. We once again left undefeated. But it got better: our last show of the season was the cherry on top. That Saturday we earned a 70.4% and 73.6%, a high score for the show, and many comments on our harmony and power. I cried. I hugged my horse and I told him he was done for the year. I scratched the second day to take my baby giant home for a well deserved break. We left undefeated.
Despite COVID-19, the Regional Championships were still being held in Ocala. Even though we were at an all time high, I chose not to make the seven hour drive south, for Hagrid’s sake. To me, that was too much time in a trailer for one test and a lot of anxiety. 2020 was an incredible season for us; we met all of our goals and he had nothing left to prove to me. Instead, we began to focus on the work necessary for Third Level. I chose to take the ‘21 season off from competition to focus solely on training but I do hope to debut Third Level in ‘22 with my best friend and competition partner.