Behind The Stall Door With: Donner

Jun 22, 2015 - 5:29 PM
Donner is a celebrity at the four-star level, having completed Rolex Kentucky twice and the Pau CCI**** as well as jumping for the United States at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with Lynn Symansky. Photo by Jasmine Wallace

With the way Lynn Symansky’s 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games partner Donner gallops cross-country, you might think that he’s as bold as they come. He chews up and spits out four-star courses like a hungry man sitting down to a breakfast buffet.

He was even born to run, bred to be a racehorse at Dresden Farm in Middleburg, Va. right down the road from Symansky’s Handlen Farm.

However, like his deer namesake, he’s a more sensitive, spooky ride than you might expect.

Here are a few more things you might not know about Donner, who just placed second in the Great Meadow International CIC*** (Va.):

  • His best friend is his groom, Kendyl Tracy. She started working for Symansky in January 2014 and has been Donner’s primary caretaker ever since.

    “He’s kind of everyone’s friend,” she said. Donner loves other horses and will always offer a friendly nicker instead of pinned ears.


Donner canoodling with Kendyl Tracy (left) and Lynn Symansky. Photo by Jasmine Wallace

  • He has quite the personality. “He’s a little bit quirky, which is what I love about him,” said Tracy. “He’s such a sweetheart but he gets a little bit frantic about things. He’s a genuinely good boy, but quirky.”

  • He spends a lot of time in the wash stall. “He’s allergic to his own sweat,” explained Symansky. “He has to have a lot of baths because his skin breaks out all the time in hives.” 
  • He can take or leave his turnout.

    He has a little pen attached to his stall so that he can get his fill of fresh air, but he doesn’t do well in a full-sized field. Instead, Tracy hand-grazes him at least twice a day so that he gets plenty of grass.


Donner, biding his time before he competes.

  • His sensitive skin requires soft tack and equipment, like fleece girths. He’s also quite the pampered athlete.

    “He gets the magnetic blanket once a day, sometimes twice a day depending on what we’re doing. He does a lot of stretches before he’s ridden. He gets the UltrOz on his legs and he gets lasered by a SpectraVET [therapeutic] laser, and he gets iced every time he does any sort of gallop or jump,” listed Symansky.

    “We do body work with him as well. Angie Cooney works on him back at home and we do that, when he’s in the competition season, once every two weeks, and then when he’s at the shows as well.”


Angela Cooney working her magic on Donner. 

  • He has a selective palate.

    “He’s not a very good chewer, so he doesn’t eat a lot of weird stuff; he has to smell it and make sure it’s alright,” said Symansky. Donner’s favorite treats are carrots.

  • During downtime, Tracy says that he loves to rub his ears on his hay bag and play with toys such as his treat ball. He also likes to hang out and people-watch.

    “He’s not a super affectionate horse to everybody; he has his few people that know how to rub him and then he’s a very sweet horse,” said Symansky. “He can be a little bit insecure. He likes to have quiet time too; he doesn’t like to have people around all the time.”


Donner taking in the sights at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. 

  • Donner, aka: “He’s got all the nicknames!” said Tracy.

    Sometimes he’s Donnie or Donnerd, a misspelling of his name that his online prescriptions are filled to, but most of the time he’s The Deer. He earned the latter because all of the foals born his year at Dresden Farm were named after reindeer.

    “He’s a little bit flighty and he has really long legs, and he likes to jump and run. That’s what deer do,” added Symansky. And his newest name, “Rhonda,” or, in full, “Rhonda Honda Beep Beep,” is reserved for when he’s feeling “just a little bit beautiful.”


Donner channeled his inner deer for Lynn Symansky’s 2014 holiday greetings.

  • He has a need for speed cross-country.

    “He really likes to go fast,” said Symansky. “He can get a little distracted sometimes in a lot of atmosphere, but once he’s completed cross-country, that’s when he feels the most relaxed and happiest.”

  • He struggles with nerves and has a spook in him.

    “He doesn’t mean to be naughty; he just has a lot of anxiety sometimes so he’s a trier, but sometimes his emotions get the best of him,” said Symansky. “Sometimes it makes cross-country tough if there’s something spooky, but it also is great because then you just keep coming; you don’t have to set up a lot for anything, you keep putting your leg on.

    “I always have a lot of confidence going in to the final day because he tries so hard and he’s a little bit afraid of the rails [in show jumping]. If it’s a very natural course, he doesn’t jump as well as something that’s a little spookier.”


Keeping Donner happy is the main mission for Tracy (left) and Symansky. Photo by Jasmine Wallace 

  • His pre-show routine is designed to keep him happy.

    “He gets his magnetic blanket on; he gets to go on a long walk and graze,” said Symansky. “He gets an ear rub and a head rub before he goes dressage because that calms him down the most.”

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