If Kurt Martin and former groom Nicole Wisniewski were only given one word to describe Anna Bella it would be “intense.”
Whether it’s under tack, leading or attacking her dinner, Anna Bella approaches every aspect of her life with gusto.
“She could just be trotting and cantering around, and she’s pounding the ground,” said Wisniewski. “You could be leading her in from the paddock, and she’s breathing intensely. It’s like, ‘It’s OK, we’re just walking.’ She’ll plow you over to get into the stall.”
It’s that intensity that makes her such a competitor and what compelled Kurt Martin to keep her. Windsor Farm in Upperville, Va., sent the German-bred Holsteiner (Acodetto—Hellena, Leonid) to Martin as a sales horse when she was 5. After a month Martin decided he liked the mare so much that he purchased her.
“She was a very difficult horse, but I liked that she was so tough,” he said. “[She and other top mount DeLux Z are] both very hardy horses. They would survive in the wild on their own. They’re not princesses, and that’s not for me. It’s just who they were when they came.”
The 11-year-old mare moved up to advanced in 2014 and won her CIC*** debut at Fair Hill (Md.). She had a strong start to her 2015 season with a win in the Pine Top advanced (Ga.), but then she suffered a hind leg injury while out in the paddock. After a year of stall rest she returned to competition in August 2016.
She started out with a few intermediate events, winning at Seneca Valley (Md.) in June before Martin moved her back up to advanced. They were 12th in the Great Meadows CICO*** (Va.) in July. Most recently, she and Martin placed eighth in a highly competitive CIC*** division at Plantation Field (Pa.) on Sept. 15-17.
“It was a long road, and I really took my time,” said Martin. “That’s what you’ve got to do with any horse if you want them to come back, and if you want them to be great, you’ve got to take your time.
“She was horrible to deal with,” he continued. “It was very, very difficult for her to have all that energy boxed up in a stall for a year. She’s a happier horse now. We stick to the routine, and she’s very happy, but it was a long, long road.”
Get to know Anna Bella:
• Anna Bella isn’t actually her name. Her breed registry name is Annabelle, but when Martin purchased her he was told she was named Anna Bella. It wasn’t until he looked at her passport closely after registering her that he realized his mistake.
• Martin described Anna Bella as being feral when she first came to him.
“She didn’t like people,” he said. “She was just in a herd for a long time until she was 6, so she came out and got broke after having a foal. I put her out in a field, and I couldn’t catch her. She just stayed out in that field. Only when I would feed her could I catch her, ride her, and then I’d turn her back out.”
• As a big mare, Anna Bella gets a lot of food to keep her in good weight even when she’s three-star fit. She has three water buckets in her stall and gets her hay soaked daily in addition to beet pulp and fatteners in her feed.
“She will really lean out, and it’s not a good look on her,” said Wisniewski. “You can just tell she’s supposed to be beefier looking and getting her fit for the three-stars is harder.”
• Martin’s the only one who longes Anna Bella because she’s so naughty. Where they’re based in Florida he has to longe her out in a field, and she’s been known to get loose.
“I’m in the barn cleaning stalls, and I hear Kurt go, ‘NICOLE! NICOLE!’ And I pop my head out of the barn and see a freight train of Anna Bella with a 20′ longe line behind her just flying at me,” said Wisniewski. “She just went right in her stall—that’s all she wanted to do.”
• You’d better make sure that water is warm. Anna Bella doesn’t do cold baths. If it’s not the right temperature she’ll dance around the entire time.
• “She sharpens her teeth on the bars,” said Wisniewski. “The last place we had didn’t have a full door. There were no bars so she would attack horses going by. Now she runs her teeth up and down the bars.”
• Anna Bella is a little bit of a princess when it comes to turnout. She hates flies, so she goes out in full fly gear, but even then if she gets annoyed she’ll start trotting the fence line.
• “She’s definitely high maintenance,” said Wisniewski. “She wants to be a diva. She likes the attention. She’s quirky in that way, but way different than Lux. Lux is like a fun quirky, but she’s intense. You’re like, ‘Oh she’s going to bite my head off.’ ”
• She might be a bit of a diva, but Anna Bella lives a low maintenance lifestyle. Martin doesn’t use a lot of supplements and therapies. Instead he relies on good old fashioned conditioning to keep his horses in top shape.
“A lot of people, they have a little bit more money to put into horses,” he said. “For me, these are very easy-keeping horses. I would say that the routine and the build-up to the show I’m always very consistent. I don’t overdo it, but I try to listen to them. If they’re not having a great day sometimes it’s not worth tackling the problems.
“She walks on hills, and honestly I would say that’s the best part of being in Virginia is the conditioning of the horses,” Martin continued. “I really try to get them fit. All around I would say that’s the approach you have with any event horse, or any good horse person would do that too.”
• Anna Bella wants to be pampered after she’s run around cross-country. “Anna Bella comes off, and she’s like done, she’s like, ‘OK, take care of me now,’ ” said Wisniewski.
• Putting studs in is sometimes a three-person job. Don’t be surprised if you find multiple people leaning all their weight against her in an attempt to get her foot up.
• Anna Bella has had one foal, but she wasn’t the most motherly and was known to push him out of the way to get to her grain. But while she won’t win any Mom of the Year awards Wisniewski says she’s always in heat.
“For whatever reason, as soon as she steps on a trailer she’ll come into heat the next day. Clockwork, every time.”
• Anna Bella is a loner. She’s pretty convinced that she’s too good for all the other geldings in Martin’s barn, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like teasing them. If she trailers to an event with another horse she’ll whinny for them when they’re unloaded, but once they’re back on the trailer she threatens to bite or kick them.
• Anna Bella may be as tough as they come out on cross-country, but when she’s not in work, she needs some bubble wrap. Her only injuries have been self-induced while out in the pasture, in the stall and in the trailer.
• No delicate feet here. Anna Bella’s hooves have earned the nickname “boxing gloves” due to their size.