The strong & hardy New Forest Pony! We are celebrating them as our December Breed of the Month on #YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose New Forest Ponies as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the New Forest Pony Society of North America is a participating organization.
Here, a rider in Region 1 shares about finding her heart horse in a 14 hand New Forest Pony, and their trials and triumphs since their first meeting.
By Sarah Stinneford
In 2016 I found myself looking for my next dressage horse after I had to retire my mare due to health issues. I began searching for the next perfect horse, and soon realized that I would need to save a lot more money to get the horse I really needed. One very long year later, I was ready to begin my search for my next partner. I had thought that I wanted a replica of my last show horse: a 16+ hand chestnut warmblood mare. As it happens in most ways with horses, I found my actual heart horse the day I swung my leg over a very small, gangly, 14 hand, three-year-old New Forest pony in September of 2017.
I met Hank (Orchid’s Tamino) through Sara Schmitt, who imported him from Holland. I was lucky enough to be the first person who tried him when he came to her barn. He was full of personality, and was super willing , especially for only being three years old. As soon as I rode him I knew I had to have him, so I called my vet to set up a pre-purchase exam. A week later we did his exam and he passed with flying colors! I was thrilled to finally have a horse after a long year of saving and searching.
We spent our first year together building confidence on and off the property, going to lessons with my trainer, Marilyn Payne, and attending small schooling shows. Although Hank could be spooky to new sights and sounds, we were working through it and taking our time bringing him along.
Around the time he was 4.5 years old, Hank had become quite fit and his spooks became pretty explosive. It was during the winter of 2018 (and into 2019) when he had launched me three times in a month into the dirt that I decided maybe he wasn’t the horse I needed, or maybe I wasn’t the rider he needed. I was a new mom, and my husband and I had just purchased a farm, and I knew if I got seriously injured I was not going to be able to care for my daughter or pay my mortgage. My confidence was shattered so I pushed my ego to the side, and I handed the reins over to Marilyn’s daughter, 5-star event rider Holly Payne, with the intention of selling him. I drove Hank down to Aiken, crying when I dropped him off, absolutely gutted that this might not be my next forever horse.
Fast forward six weeks later, Hank was performing incredibly well! He was jumping for the first time, going cross country schooling, and even attended a local jumper show. I called Holly up and asked her if I really should be selling him after all, and she convinced me to give him another try. After Hank spent 11 weeks with Holly, I drove down to Aiken and rode him with her for three days – Hank was a completely different horse! I had to change my mindset and the way I rode him, but we were clicking again, and my heart was so full to be back on track with my favorite yellow pony. I brought him home and things got even better from there, as we both became more confident in one another again.
We spent the summer of 2019 showing at our first USDF Recognized shows at Training Level, with scores in the mid- to high-70s, and we ended High Score Open for Training Level with the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association (ESDCTA).
Things were going really well until fall of 2019, when Hank came in from turnout with a swollen leg. He had strained his proximal suspensory in his right hind leg. We began stall rest and shockwave treatment right away, and his leg was looking better. Four weeks into stall rest he had swelling on his lower pastern in his right hind leg. It turned out he had casted himself over night in his stall and now had damaged his superficial flexor tendon on the same leg. It was a long recovery for both injuries. We did six months of strict stall rest, followed by a three month rehab under saddle and stall rest. Thankfully, both injuries healed great, and we were able to get out and show later that summer and fall at First Level. We ended the 2020 year High Score Open First Level for the ESDCTA.
Since then, our lives have been a little less chaotic. In 2021 we showed at Second Level, and in 2022 Hank and I debuted together at Third Level (both of our first time) and we earned our USDF Bronze Medal with Distinction! We still train regularly with Marilyn, and are able to attend clinics with some fabulous trainers who have been coming to our area. Our goals are to move up to Fourth Level next year, and to start working towards our USDF Silver Medal. Hank is still full of so much personality, and makes me laugh every day. He has made me into a better rider, a better trainer, and a better horse person, and I am forever thankful to all of the experiences we have had together, and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for