My Honey Bunny

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Photo by dornabrownphotography.com

The stunning Lipizzan! We are celebrating them as our September Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Lipizzans as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the United States Lipizzan Federation is a participating organization.

Here, a Region 7 professional shares the story of her Honey Bunny – a partnership she stumbled into by accident when the stars aligned perfectly!

By Monica Whitmer

Sometimes, your best partnership comes by accident.  I have ridden dressage since I was in college, competing on a hodgepodge of horses – running the full gamut of breeds.  I run a small training stable in Lancaster, CA – on the edge of the Mojave desert. Not exactly the center of elite horsemanship.

Photo by dornabrownphotography.com

For the past 15 years, I have been a 4H horse project leader.  I love working with the kids and helping them make the most of whatever horse or pony they have to ride. Four years ago, we had a show training clinic at my ranch, where two boys were sharing a pretty white mare, who was having trouble in one corner of the arena.  After the training session was over, I asked if I could ride the mare and show the boys how to ride through her spooking.  I settled into the saddle and asked the mare to connect to the bit, and she transformed almost instantly into a soft, round cloud.  As we floated around the ring, she showed me how much talent she had.  When I got off and handed the reins back to the boys’ mother, I said, “If you EVER want to sell her, please contact me”.  That was when I learned that she was a purebred Lipizzan.  I really had never thought ‘normal’ people could own Lipizzans!   

One year ago, I saw a post on Facebook – it was the same mare, being listed for sale.  I contacted the owner, and made an admittedly low offer, but it was all I had.  It took two months, but finally, after several other sales falling through, I got to purchase Arriva.  The first thing I did was give her a barn name.  No one had ever called her anything other than her registered name of Arriva.  She is a sweet bouncy little white thing – my little Honey Bunny!  

We were just starting to build our relationship, when I got the bad news that I had endometrial cancer.  I was very blessed that a total hysterectomy completely cured me, with no need to struggle with radiation or chemotherapy  – but I had to stay out of the saddle for over two months. 

Finally, in mid-January, I got to start riding again.  I was very glad to have a calm, kind, smooth horse to ride.  We both had to build our muscles.  In late February, we went to a hunter show  – my goal was to see how Bunny handled all the things shows require – clipping, hauling, a new environment – and I knew I was still not very fit.  So we did one showmanship halter class, one “jack benny” class where I could just ride walk and trot, and finally, the Open English Pleasure class.  We brought home a couple ribbons – but most importantly, I learned that my partner was calm standing tied to the trailer, and while banners on the rail concerned her, she didn’t completely lose her mind. 

Now I knew I had a show horse.  We worked hard for the next two months, and when the next Equestrian Trails Inc (ETC) show came along in May, we entered enough classes to qualify for the overall Open English High Point – and we took home the belt buckle!  In June, we entered our first dressage show – a California Dressage Society (CDS) recognized event.  Bunny scored 69% in Training Level Tests 2 and 3, and earned the High Score of day for Open riders!  In August, I moved her up to a First Level test, so that my students and I could qualify for the Team high point – which required three riders, with one at Intro, one at Training, and one at First Level.  Once again, Bunny stepped up and earned a 68%, and our team took home the high scoring Team award.  At the end of August, we again entered the ETI hunter show, and competed in showmanship, halter, pleasure, equitation, medal, country pleasure, and obedience.  Bunny earned another belt buckle for High Point Open English Horse!  And then one week later, I competed in a North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) trail ride – covering 8 ½ miles in under three hours – being judged on her trail skills through water, up and down hills, and also on her P & R’s – meaning her pulse and respiration – to show her fitness.  We didn’t win any awards, but we had perfect scores on fitness, and I have never had more fun on a trail ride. 

I have been showing horses for nearly 60 years.  I have never had a partner that could rise to the top so quickly, and work so willingly.  I have also not had the pleasure of consistently scoring in the high 60s.  Arriva is everything a Lipizzan has been bred to be for 500 years.  She is calm, forward, and straight by nature.  She seeks to please her rider.  She engages behind and lifts in front.  And yet, I can mount from the ground – because this powerhouse mare is only 14.1 hands tall.  Most people think Lipps are big horses – but they are not.  Some modern ones are being pushed up to 16 hands, but the breed is historically compact.  Bunny represents the ideal “mature” dressage rider’s mount.  She has the four S’s; she is short, sane, smooth, and stout. 

Photo by dornabrownphotography.com

I feel incredibly lucky to have found her.  I bless the day I offered to ride a 4H youth’s horse through a difficult spot.  I am blessed that I just happened to see her ad.  I am lucky that she hated being locked in a box stall so she didn’t sell, so my low offer was enough to buy her. 

We just celebrated our “gotcha” first anniversary on September 6th.  I have only been actively riding her since January 6th and she has exceeded my every expectation.  My goal for 2023 is to qualify for the CDS championships at First Level.  I want to work on a musical freestyle. I want to show the world that the Lipizzan is a real option for dressage competition.  They are not just for men in Austria with funny hats.  They are for everyday people who perhaps do NOT want to ride 16.2 hand Warmbloods.  My pony-sized Bunny stands tall – and the rest of the world is starting to see that! 

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