A Pint of Guinness Stout

Aiden and Guinness Stout; Huppert Photography

The gorgeous Gypsy Horse! We are celebrating them as our September Breed of the Month on YourDressage! Did you know that dressage riders who choose Gypsy Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Gypsy Horse Registry of America (GHRA) & The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society are both participating organizations?

By Sarah Kossak; Photos by Huppert Photography

It is every mom’s dream to share their passion with their children, and horses are no different. Seeing your child enjoy a sport that you love, and interact with an animal that you adore so much, is like no other feeling. The goal had been to find a suitable horse that my then-five-year-old son, Aiden, would be able to grow up with, form a lasting relationship with, and grow confidence as he became a more skilled rider. I never intended to pursue riding again after I began a career and started a family life. Little did I know, that would soon all change.

Our riding instructor, who was working with Aiden and I to find a horse, Stephanie Bruggeman of SKM Riding LLC, suggested that we look into purchasing a Gypsy Vanner. The Gypsy Vanner horse is known as being the perfect family horse, with a willingness to please and an endearing personality. Stephanie was in the process of training a Gypsy Vanner, Vincent, that she had been working with for over a decade and invited us to meet him, along with his owner, Kay Peterson. It was love at first sight and, as they say, the rest is history. Kay connected us with Candace Taylor, of Taylor Farms in Georgia, and this is where our journey begins: with a then-ten-year-old Gypsy Vanner gelding named Guinness Stout.

The day Guinness arrived, whom Aiden affectionately calls Jack, was one of the best days of my life. I looked into his big eyes with his white eyelashes and felt like I was home. It was an amazing feeling, and I truly think he felt the same. Our bond and connection was instant. Over the next several weeks, Aiden and Jack would get to know each other and forge a friendship of their own. Aiden’s confidence grew, and Jack proved to be quite versatile. We discovered that Jack loved to jump fences, happily walk along a trail, and try his hoof at dressage. I was in the beginning stages of learning dressage on another horse when Stephanie suggested that I start riding Jack in my lessons.

The first thing that popped into my mind was, “can Gypsy Vanners do dressage?” He is a light draft horse, after all! Jack pulled carts and was a western trail horse, with very little training under an English saddle. I am 5’9” and Jack is 13.2 hh, I never would have imagined that the two of us would be partners. However, his stout self proved that he was a quick learner, that he would give his all to you, and that height does not measure heart. Jack has a heart of gold.

Over the next three years, we trained five days a week, teaching each other the flow of the dressage pyramid, and always coming back to the bottom. After all, dressage was new to the both of us! Rhythm, relaxation, and contact are the words that we hear echo through our minds on a daily basis. We are re-learning the gaits, how to remain in balance and self-carriage. I think we will be at this phase for some time to come, but to think back to where we started, and look at where we are, it is incredible. Jack can be stubborn and is always trying to outsmart me, so that his work is a little bit easier. He tells me, quite often, that it’s hard to listen to my driving aids and generate energy in his hindquarters so that I can receive it in my hands, rather than his forehand.

With the right motivation and training, we have embarked on a journey together that will hopefully see us make it to Third Level and earn my USDF Bronze Medal. That is our ultimate goal together. We have already received our rider performance award at Training Level, and are showing at First Level. 

It has also become my life’s mission to show that uncommon dressage horses can succeed. We often stand out in a field of warmbloods at the recognized shows, but that has never deterred us. In fact, it has only drawn positive attention to us and crowds form to watch Jack and I dance. Jack is the only full Gypsy Vanner that has competed at the shows we have attended, in the three seasons we have been together, in the midwest. After each test we ride, people usually approach us, and sometimes follow us to our stall, asking curious questions about his breed and are amazed at his successes thus far.

As I look back at the short time we have been together, I am so proud of how far we have come. Last year, Jack got 6th place in Pony Cup with the Central States Dressage Eventing Association (CSDEA) for 2022. This year, we are entered in the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards, and have qualified to ride in the CDSEA Champion show at Training Level. We are close to receiving our First Level scores toward our USDF Bronze Medal, and I know by next season we will get those. 

Jack and I have discovered that we love dancing in a freestyle and plan to put together a routine over winter. Training has not always been sunshine and rainbows, and we have had our fair share of discussions over the last three years of our partnership. However, we trust each other with our whole hearts. 

I can put my child on Jack and know he is in safe hands. I laugh at the two of them, as I really do think they plot mischief together during their riding lessons. Jack and I will gallop bareback across fields, go cross-country schooling, jump fences, and will do just about anything I point him towards. He will come running when I call his name in the field, and will nicker for me when I walk down the barn aisle. He loves everyone, especially if you have a cookie for him. Jack has made me the best rider that I can be. For that, I am eternally grateful, and am excited to just be his special person forever.

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