My Safe Horse

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It’s easy to pick a Knabstrupper out of the crowd.  The Danish breed is an instant head-turner, featuring beautiful and unique coloring from solid to full leopard spotted coats, and everything in between.  We are celebrating this breed as our April Breed of the Month on YourDressage! Join us all month long as we celebrate Knabstruppers with photo galleries and exclusive stories!

Dressage riders who choose Knabstruppers as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All Breeds Awards program as the Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark (KNN) is a participating organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a rider from Region 3’s Central Tennessee Dressage Association shares the story of her leopard Knabstrupper, who dispelled her aversion to both grays and mares.

By Kathy Coviello

Photos by Hannah Draughan Photography

In some ways, it may have been destiny.  The first horse that I owned was an Appaloosa gelding, a bay with a spotted blanket, that I campaigned in hunter and dressage shows, some breed competitions, and judged pleasure rides.  So, as he gracefully aged into his mid-twenties and slowed down, I commenced looking for his understudy while I was living in Northern Virginia. A working adult amateur, there were some specific requirements for my future horse in terms of temperament, substance, and such. I also told my trainer at the time – no mares, no grays.  While in New England, as a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, I had ridden Lippizan mares in an honor guard/ceremonial unit and remembered just how hard they were to keep presentable.  My overall experience with mares was a mixed bag, so I allowed that bias to impact my vision. 

Alas, in December 2013, I ended up the proud owner of a 2009 Knabstrupper mare, CCG Silinde, acquired from one of the inaugural United States-based Knabstrupper breeders, Dr. Melyni Worth of Cedar Creek Stables, in Staunton, VA.  What clinched the deal on the bay leopard, 16.0 hand lass was not her color, nor her free shoulder in her movement, nor her potential as a future valuable broodmare prospect, but rather her impeccable temperament as a young four-year-old. She truly matched the 40-minute uncut sales video that presented her entering the grooming stall, to undergoing tack up, to mounting up, to her under-saddle arena work.  I knew that whatever horse I purchased needed to be safe-safe-safe; to the point that I needed to know that I would feel comfortable riding that horse 20 years from then when I would be 65 years old.  The young mare that I purchased was just that, and so much more.  As an added bonus, I found out that Silinde had been used in a handicapped riding program, while just a 4-year-old, and comfortably handled wheelchair ramps, disabled riders, and more.  She stands solid as a rock for me to mount from – and dismount onto – my solid 3-step mounting block, a time when safety is paramount.

Once I brought her to the northern Virginia farm where I boarded, we celebrated the month Silinde turned five by attending a “bombproof your horse” clinic at Loch Moy Farm, in Maryland, where she showed her mettle and superb mind. The event cemented our bond and she learned that she could always trust me to keep HER safe as well!!! Motorcycles, flags, flares, gun shots, you name it – she kept her mind about her under some pretty mentally stressful pressure and circumstances.  We also began our dressage journey that year – starting from the bottom and patiently working up the levels. Now, after moving to Alabama seven years ago, she is starting her show debut at Third Level with her professional rider, while I prepare to complete my Second Level scores required for that portion of my USDF Bronze Medal. My journey is slow, impacted by my intense full-time job as a civil servant – but we love how well dressage accommodates those circumstances.  At the northern Alabama farm where we board and train, Silinde is a barn favorite with the sweetest temperament, yet still has enough athleticism to conquer upper level movements. We also just started playing in virtual online competitive trail obstacle events, which has required her to diversify her skills further.  On days when the weather is too hot or cold to ride, or I am just worn out, we enjoy working on a repertoire of tricks that Silinde has keenly learned. Note that Knabstruppers in Europe are often seen in circuses performing! 

While her base coat is bay, she is predominately white (gray) in coloration, which has had me learn lots of grooming skills to remove stains for shows and such.  Silinde is a loudly colored horse, ridden by her plus-sized adult amateur rider – the judges remember us.  Most of the time, fortunately, it is for accurately executed tests, solid training, harmony, obedience/submission, and the wonderful teamwork that we enjoy as a well matched pair.  Training, and occasionally competing, in dressage has allowed Silinde and I to grow in our strength, self-carriage, and accuracy in a sport that is just as mentally challenging as it is physically demanding.  I feel blessed every day to have fought through my unconscious bias – wanting nothing to do with mares or grays – to become her partner.

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