To Fall in Love with a Giant

To give an idea of how big he is - I am 5’9” and can barely see over his back on my tip toes.

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, an adult amateur in Region 6 shares about falling in love with a mighty American Shire, and learning that there is much more to these horses than just pulling when he became her dressage partner.

By Tanya Robacker

I still remember walking into the barn and seeing a newly arrived American Shire named Echo Valley Nash in the stall across the aisle from my horse.  I had never seen one in person and at two years old, he was at least 16.2h and 1,500lbs.  He was black as night with a wide blaze that swept over his left eye like a dodo bird.  He had silky white feathers covering all four legs, an undocked tail as thick as the jungle, and feet the size of 7-inch dinner plates. He was absolutely majestic, and I was enamored by him.

Nash at 2yo

The crossties at our boarding barn were just outside of Nash’s stall, so I talked to him all the time while tacking up my 12-year-old Appaloosa Benny, shot video of every cute thing he did, and took pictures of him ad nauseam.  I even downloaded the owner’s Facebook profile picture of him free lunging in the outdoor.  Never once did I even consider the possibility that he would someday be mine. 

A little over a year later, it happened.  Benny was at the trainer out of state getting some trail miles, and he tripped and fell. It seemed like a very minor injury on his front fetlock joint.  He went to the vet, got cleaned up, and was administered a course of antibiotics just for good measure. The day after the antibiotics were done, his leg was the size of an elephant.  Back to the vet to discover there was a puncture wound that was not noticed at the first visit that had penetrated the joint.  It was a daily rollercoaster with the prognosis varying day to day from return to full work, hope for pasture soundness, to fear of losing Benny. I was devastated.

Meanwhile back at our barn, Nash’s owner Miguel had decided to focus on dressage and warmbloods.  He very kindly allowed me to lease Nash so that I’d have something to ride while Benny was fighting to get well.  Nash was three and a half by now, and was just started under saddle, but was kind enough I felt safe on him to walk and jog around so I took him.  It was good to have the distraction, and I can never thank Miguel enough for the blessing that Nash was to me at that time.  I had never owned a Draft or even been around one, but I quickly learned so many things about Draft care.  I learned how to feed low carb. The art of oiling and sulfuring legs to prevent skin problems under all the feathers.  The difficulty of finding Draft size tack, especially riding English. And never mind trying to find a farrier willing to do Draft feet, and of course the cost once you did find one willing to climb underneath. 

Four months later with Benny healed and home, but permanently unsound for riding, I had fallen in love with Nash and Miguel agreed to sell him to me.  He was officially mine New Year’s Eve 2015.  I took the next two years very slowly with his training, with winters off spent on my 20 acres where he grew to be the 17.3h, 1,900lb tank he is today.

The fall of his 5 year old year, we decided to start showing.  A Draft show came to the local show grounds in Spanaway, Washington and we entered english, western, and halter. Nash was nervous, electric, and slightly out of control on a few occasions, but he was expressive and awesome to ride, and judges loved him.  He came away that weekend with his first highpoint. 

Donida winter series 2019
Donida winter series our first intro canter class

There were no more Draft shows locally after that, and I started to focus on the unlikely discipline of dressage, as that was my true passion.  I knew Nash wasn’t bred for this but felt in my soul he could do the lower levels.  The winter of 2018, we showed our first dressage schooling series at Donida in both english and western dressage. Nash got scores up to 72%, and won high point for the winter series at Intro Level. 

Spring of 2019, I discovered Pinto Horse Association of America was registering Draft horses under the utility division, and Nash’s high whites and belly splash made him eligible to register, so PtHA shows were next on our list.  We took lessons from Tawnya Elrod and practiced on bridges, poles, cones, and gates. That fall, Nash was entered in the pinto show in english, western, halter, and trail where he won high point utility and our first ever buckle.  He also got the national pinto award for utility horse of the year for halter and trail from that one show.  I was so proud of him, and discovered during this journey Draft horses are not just for pulling.  They can be light and forward, and Nash was willing to try anything if I gave him the time to figure it out.   We have since won multiple high point utility division awards in PtHA and love showing with our local Pinto groups. 

2019 Pinto show trail

In 2019, we moved to Summervale in Roy, Washington and started taking lessons from the incredibly talented Jennifer Williams, where our dressage skills improved dramatically.  Covid hit and slowed us down, but we still managed to show our first rated dressage shows at Training Level in 2020 and 2021. We have shown at Donida and Summervale in Washington and Devonwood in Oregon, with Training Level scores as high as 67.115% for Test 1 and as high as 65.862% in Test 3. 

As an amateur rider on a Draft horse, I am so proud that we are qualified for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships this fall at Training Level, and Nash continues to be a willing partner in everything we attempt.  Nash is nine now and learning more lateral work and strengthening his canter to the point that First Level seems possible someday.  I will keep aspiring for new goals as long as he is willing and sound.  We have an incredible partnership and this horse touches the deepest part of my soul with his commitment and try. Whether it’s relaxing on the trails, cantering the ocean beaches, or working on dressage patterns, I love my time with him.  We’ll see what his future holds. 

Related Links:

Celebrating Draft Horses!

Rubeus Hagrid, the Half Giant

Belle of the Ball – A Cinderella Shire

All Jazz’Dup

The Many Faces of Dressage: An American Cream Draft’s Perspective

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