By Katy Barglow
The powerful Lusitano! We are celebrating them as our February Breed of the Month on #YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose Lusitanos as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the US Lusitano Association Inc and the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association are both participating organizations.
Here, a Region 7 dressage trainer shares her story of finding her dream dance partner in the last horse she would have expected – a white Lusitano gelding who is full of personality – and how she has transformed him from a Third and Fourth Level horse into a Grand Prix mount.
When I first met Scout in the summer of 2018, we had gone to try him for a student of mine. He was 10 years old and schooled through Third and Fourth Levels, and we mostly stopped to see him because he was on the way to two horses my student was more interested in. The seller rode him, and my student rode him; the ride went fine but there was no magic. I hopped on, and suddenly found I didn’t want to get off. It was over 100 degrees, and my student was reminding me that we were going to be late for our next appointment, and yet I found myself asking if I could hack this horse around the barn after we finished in the arena.
I was NOT looking for a horse. I had plenty of students’ horses to ride and didn’t want one of my own, thank you very much! I was especially not looking for a white horse; having had a gray as a kid and struggled through keeping her clean for Pony Club inspections, I was sworn off them for life. And I really didn’t want an Iberian, as I was a “dyed in the wool” warmblood person and couldn’t understand why a serious dressage rider would want anything else.
And yet, I couldn’t get this white Lusitano out of my head. As luck would have it, I was heading back to that area of southern California (about 8 hours from where we lived) a few weeks later for a family vacation, so I called up my dear friend and coach, Donna Richardson, who lived nearby, to come see him with me. She approved of him, and after the second ride, I was completely smitten. That white Lusitano would be mine.
A few months later, I took him down centerline at Fourth Level, ending my longest-ever show ring drought of about 2.5 years (after the retirement of my previous Grand Prix horse), and starting our partnership with mediocre but honest tests. My coaches at the time thought he was cute but nothing special. He had the ability to sit, as typical for the breed, but was an average mover, tricky in the contact, and in the flying changes.
We kept training, and each time when I thought we had reached the max of his gaits and athletic ability, he showed us that he had more in there. My amazing coach, Christian Garweg, was particularly skilled at helping me find more and more new gears that he was capable of and helping me turn the inconsistent flying changes into solid ones. We moved up to the Prix St. Georges, then Intermediate 1, then Intermediate 2, then Grand Prix, and each level his scores were higher than the previous level. The one tempis were the biggest challenge, taking nearly 18 months of painstakingly asking for just one…more…change. But now, in our third year of Grand Prix, he can reel them off in his sleep. In 2021, our first year at Grand Prix, he finished second in the Adequan®/USDF All-Breed Award standings for Grand Prix Freestyle, and third in the Grand Prix for IALHA, and in 2022, we were Champion for the Grand Prix Freestyle, and Reserve Champion for Grand Prix for the US Lusitano Association. He loves his freestyle (to music from the Broadway musical, Annie) and definitely knows it– when the extended trot music comes on, he is off, regardless of whether I am quite at the right spot yet!
Scout is the smartest horse I have ever met and has a big sense of humor. He regularly lets himself out of his stall, unties himself (he can undo both quick release knots and breakaway crossties), slips his halter off, and goes gallivanting around. At one horse show, tied to the trailer while I made a quick porta potty run after tacking up, he slipped the halter and bridle over his ears, and went merrily passaging down the road, shedding bridle pieces as debris as he went (we had to borrow a bridle to compete that day!). He’s never hard to catch; in fact, he comes happily trotting back to me when he is finished, with a satisfied look on his face saying “aren’t I clever?”. He will eat anything that doesn’t eat him, including tree branches, bushes, twigs, and anything else that might have at one time resembled something remotely edible. On trail rides, he searches for tall branches along the side of the trail that he can grab without pulling on the reins. We have a local show grounds where the arena is surrounded by beautiful chest high bushes; he grabbed a giant mouthful as we were turning for “C” and cantered down centerline for an Intermediate 1 test with a big chunk of leaves hanging out of the side of his mouth (the judge laughed, I laughed, Scout finished chewing them, and off we went in the test). He loves to play with his lips (and have them played with by his human minions) and will flap them like Mr. Ed if you are standing nearby and daring to not pay attention to him. We have given up on trying to reform him and instead embraced his personality as a key part of who he is.
We try to keep him entertained with frequent trail rides (he is the best trail horse in my barn– rock steady, opens all the gates, herds the cows off the trail for us, and saves me when I get him lost in chest-high underbrush when off-roading), dabbling with small jumps and working equitation (we did one show at Intermediate B level, and I’m pretty sure he thought the speed round was the most fun he has ever had), and he loves horse shows. He puffs up in the show ring– people to show off for! He begs for treats from any extra humans that are willing to entertain him. A chance to escape every time we open his stall to clean it, which we do frequently since he is, as previously mentioned, white!
My hope is to move him from the national Grand Prix to the CDI ring in 2023 or 2024, and in his usual fashion, his gaits, piaffe, passage, and flying changes are still getting better all the time, so we are on the path. His white coat and tail absolutely gleam in the sun as he moves powerfully around the dressage arena. In 2021, rather than selling him at his peak value, I made the decision to enter a long-term part lease and partnership with my wonderful friend and student Sheri Jennings, for whom he is her dressage schoolmaster teacher, show ring partner, trail horse extraordinaire, and constant source of entertainment. He will be with me for life, and retire in my backyard where my now 30-year-old first Grand Prix horse currently resides. It’s safe to say that the white Lusitano I was sure I didn’t want was exactly the right horse for me.