The elegant Dutch Harness Horse! We are celebrating them as our May Breed of the Month on YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose Dutch Harness Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the American Dutch Harness Horse Association and KWPN of North America are both participating organizations.
Here, a Region 1 rider shares her journey of finding her new partner after a devastating loss and their goal of becoming champions in the dressage arena!
By Sara Bagala
The start of 2020 was difficult for many of us. For me, it started in February after the sudden and tragic loss of Diablo, my horse of 14 years, to a ruptured diaphragm. He was my heart horse who we had saved from a local auction after a not-so-great start to life. His favorite thing was making you laugh, and his party trick was “smiling”. I lost a piece of myself that day, and I was broken. Things with him weren’t always easy, hence his name, but thankfully, I was at a great barn, and everyone was supportive. I was offered horses to ride to keep me going. I struggled with the thought of getting a new horse, but in my heart, I knew it’s what I needed. Diablo was a big Friesian cross, and could be pushy, and sometimes a handful. I knew I wanted something on the smaller side, and so began my journey to find my new partner.
Except the COVID pandemic, and the restrictions that came with it, was now in full force… I wanted something I could eventually take up the levels, something I could take anywhere, or go on a trail ride with. A good solid citizen with a great brain, and quiet demeanor. After some trials and errors, and what felt like thousands of ads, I decided I wanted a Dutch Harness Horse.
Going to look at horses was becoming a struggle with COVID restrictions coming into play. Then, I found an ad in a Dutch Harness Horse group on Facebook that read “2015 15.2h DHH, 90 days professional training”. However, he was in Wisconsin, nearly 1,000 miles away, while I’m in New Jersey. It was an adorable little bay horse with a star, a snip, and a lovely, flowing forelock. I thought to myself, I really like this one. I was drawn to him, but he was too far away and I thought I’d never be able to go look at him. I tried to keep looking, but I kept being drawn back to him. Eventually I reached out requesting lots of videos, and asked what felt like 101 questions. I just knew I knew I needed him. I don’t know how to explain it, I like to think it was Diablo guiding him to me.
Three weeks later, early on a lovely April Saturday morning, Gold arrived off the trailer. He was the cutest little scrawny 5-year-old. It was love at first sight! Since there were so many restrictions due to Covid, I was only able to go to the barn two days a week for a limited time. Getting to know a new horse was a little hard, so we focused on ground work, and trusting one another. In time, as with anything, we started to build our bond with each other, and I learned his little quirks. We took things slow to start and eventually everything just clicked. We started showing in 2021, with local schooling shows to get used to being off property and to build his confidence.
We had a great year starting at Intro level and, eventually, moving on to Training Level. Gold was year end Reserve Champion for Intro Level in ESDCTA, and Champion at the Championship show. Last year, we finally dipped our toes into USDF-recognized shows at Training and First Levels, earning successful scores in both. He really hams it up to the judges too! We get a lot of “what a charming guy!” and “wonderful pair”. Gold has such a great brain, and he’s so smart! He is such a love, and so easy to train. Around the barn we affectionately call him “Goldy Pants.” Though he may be small, he’s got a huge presence, and an even bigger personality. Gold has a heart of gold; even though he thinks the blankets are going to eat him or puddles in the wash stall are lava, he will go hack out on the trail or go down to the creek to splash in the water. He is such a curious boy; he’s like a toddler who has to touch everything. I can dress him up in silly costumes for photos, paint him like a giraffe, and he just goes with the flow! He is slowly learning how to do a Spanish walk, and when he’s mad he makes this face where he curls his lips and twitches them to let you know his opinion.
I have taken him to several clinics with different clinicians such as Jim Koford, Emily Donaldson, and had a few lessons with Kathy Adams. We are working on schooling Second Level movements, but Gold will also happily pony around kids. We’ve had some bumpy times, like anyone with a young horse, but we just celebrated 3 years together.
There have been times I questioned if I was capable of taking on a young horse, especially when people put those negative thoughts in my head. I’ve been around horses of all different breeds, sizes, and temperaments nearly my entire life, but Gold was my first green horse, although I have restarted a few over the years with success. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I had as a young rider with my first trainer. It’s such a great feeling to look back and see all your hard work pay off, and to really see the development and progress.
Currently, we are in the process of rehabbing Gold. We’ve been managing a locking stifle for about 2 years, but in March, the vets and I decided it was time to move forward with a procedure to assist. Fingers crossed! We should be back in action by May.
My goal this year for us is to come back at First Level for the year, and maybe try our hand at Second Level by the end of the season. I am hoping to qualify for the CBLMs!
Thanks to Gold, that piece of my heart I thought would never be mended when Diablo left this world has healed, but not without scars. He had huge hoof prints to fill, and that he has. Gold continues to impress me day after day. It has made me want to continue to own Dutch Harness Horses, and I hope this breed continues to succeed in the dressage arena.