The mighty Irish Draught Horse! We are celebrating them as our January Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Irish Draughts as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America is a participating organization.

Here, a Region 1 rider shares her journey to her Bronze Medal, and beyond, with her foxhunting Irish Draught, Archie!

By Jeana Hollands

When I walk into the barn in the morning, I am greeted by not one, but five sweet Irish faces. To say I am a fan of the breed would be an understatement. I love the temperament, and the versatility of  them all. It’s so important to find the right job for a horse, and for Archie, that is all of them! 

Archie is a lovely grey Irish horse by the stallion Young Currabawn. When he was younger,  he was this gorgeous dark dapple grey with a sweet face, and now he is white and flea bitten. He had been successful on the hunter circuit, and had fox hunted a couple of times since he arrived in the US. 

The plan for Archie was to foxhunt him, both in the field and as a whip horse, but also to compete in the summer for fun. So the journey began, with the first mission being to teach this impatient, fidgety horse the importance of being able to stand and wait in the woods.  He was certain he didn’t need to. We spent many hours in random spots, waiting for the quiet halt. Eventually, it came. He would stand. 

Then, after the patience came the fun. We worked hard to shake him out of the “hunter ring” canter in which he was so comfortable, and to find a ground-covering gallop across any terrain, careful with his feet, and quick to  switch a lead as needed, and his brakes! This horse can stop faster than any horse I’ve ever met. Whip and gun training was easy–Archie’s trust in his rider is complete. He hunts very well, enjoying the closeness of other horses around him, and has no problem with hounds underfoot. He is useful to go out with friends on unfamiliar horses. He has fun being a bumper and usually tries to get other horses to play with him.

He is playful in the field too, and has taught all his friends his  favorite game, “Bite-knees”, a hilarious game usually resulting in some mud crawling, and some face biting action too! Archie is  always looking for someone to join in. 

You can put any rider up on Archie, and he is willing to try to follow any and all instructions. Even if they confuse him, he patiently tries again. It wouldn’t occur to him to be tricky, and he doesn’t have the capacity for frustration or anger. Mainly, he has two emotions: happy and itchy. 

We evented a few times at the lowest levels, but Archie, surprisingly, never really took to the cross country phase. He did not understand the point if there weren’t any hounds! However, he always scored solidly in the dressage tests, and they always seemed too easy. 

We started trying some dressage movements, beginning by doing impressions of them for fun, with no expectation of success.  But then he could leg yield, and shoulder-in became easy, and with every increase in difficulty, Archie just tried harder. We took some lessons, which he found amusing. And suddenly, in one season, we had gone from First Level through Third Level, and we had earned my USDF Bronze Medal!

We hunted over the winter, and wondered if we could come back to where we left off in the dressage ring –would Archie forget? So I asked him, and no, he was quite certain he wanted to do it! This began the eager turn down the center line at the beginning of the test, which I have come to love! We spent a season learning and enjoying Fourth Level. While Archie is not the biggest of movers, he is comfortable, reliable, and quite certain of his job, even if the movements challenge him. 

Now Archie wouldn’t be a happy horse to just school dressage all the time, his greatest joy is splashing in water! He loves a nice  hack, and while some of his friends will swim, he will wade in and splash everyone! He likes to jump, and is an expert though all kinds of gymnastics, and will happily pop around a course. He also loves a day off. Sometimes, right before a show, he is happy to take a nap and have a good roll in the field to save his best for the next day.

So back to hunting we went, with me wondering, could we come back and try for my USDF Silver Medal? Was Archie good enough for Prix St Georges, and was I  good enough to get him there? We are a work in progress, and we have been successful, we only have one score to go to meet that challenge.  We arrive at the shows and gulp when we see a big moving, fancy warmblood in the ring ahead of us, but when Archie goes in, that centerline is ruler straight, and what he lacks in extravagance, he makes up for in accuracy and obedience. 

Archie is a delight, and who knows what his next adventures will  be. I can’t wait to see what happens next and I know he will be ready to take on anything, as long as there is a carrot when he gets back to the trailer. 

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