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 Region 1 adult re-rider shares about her kill pen rescue Draft Cross, who convinced her not to give up on her love of riding after some previous scary experiences.
By Pam Kusnirik
All Jazz’Dup, or Jazz as we call him, is my 15-year-old Warmblood x Draft cross. He is the epitome of the Draft breed to me: kind, gentle, patient, and always willing to try. Dressage doesn’t exactly come naturally to a big drafty gelding like Jazz, but he sure puts in the effort and I’m thankful everyday for this absolute love of a horse.
My trainer, Stephanie Burgess (SLM Dressage) rescued Jazz from a kill pen when he was three and trained him all the way up to her USDF Bronze Medal. I bought him from her at a time in my life when I was considering giving up riding completely. For context, I grew up riding hunters competitively, stopped in my early 20s, then started again in my late 30s after a long break when I got married and then focused on my career and family. Riding again was something that I was beyond happy to get back into, but after a few scary experiences on the wrong horses, my confidence was shot. I quickly realized adulthood had somehow crept into my psyche and replaced the courage of youth with very real apprehensiveness. With little ones that needed me in one piece at home, I couldn’t get my head space back to a safe place that let me relax enough to really enjoy riding again.
Enter Jazz. The timing worked out perfectly where I could buy him from Stephanie, and together with her weekly lessons and monthly clinics with Nikki Serge (Nikki Serge Dressage), we worked toward getting my confidence back to where it should be. Slowly, working with these very patient trainers, Jazz took this cautious middle-aged re-rider and turned her into someone who rediscovered the joy of riding. I could always, every ride, depend on Jazz’s steady-eddy attitude, knowing that, for once, I could concentrate on improving myself. That turned into real enjoyment and expanded my confidence and abilities to where we started showing again.
Besides being a willing partner, Jazz is about the easiest keeper I have ever known and like his mom, prefers to stay away from the drama. Mares? Meh, pass. New jumpy horse in the field with him? I’ll just move over here, thanks, and graze in peace. He can get chubby on air, lives for his treats, and loves people and kids alike. One of my happiest memories is hearing my daughter’s giggles as Jazz trotted her around the ring when she was small. I once led Jazz up to an emu at a friend’s farm, to which he showed about 10 seconds of interest before looking to graze. That bird looked like a feathered dinosaur come to life, but Jazz couldn’t care less. If a surprise emu doesn’t make a horse spook, not much else will, I remember thinking.
I once had a friend refer to Jazz as a “gentleman farmer,” which I think describes him perfectly. Polite, always sweet, quiet, and ready to put in the work. Watching him amble up to me in the field, or lower his head for ear scritches, or pop his head out of the stall when he hears my voice is often the best medicine to a bad day. We might not make it to the highest levels of the dressage ring, and that’s okay. Knowing that I have the ability to take him to a show by myself, or trailer him to a new place to trail ride, or just hop on bareback, makes him worth his weight in gold. The calm demeanor of this special breed has proven itself to me again and again, and I’m forever grateful that I’m lucky enough to have a Draft of my own.