Armani doesn’t believe in subtlety—after all, his name’s associated with a multi-billion dollar clothing line. And just like a penny shining face-up in the sun, Armani’s yellow coat gleams in the flood of seemingly mundane colors. But that’s exactly how the palomino gelding prefers it, and the more photographer’s lens pointed his way the better.
“He usually always has his ears up when the camera’s around,” said owner Claire Campbell. “When I was hacking him [at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Va.)], the girl walked along the line of ponies taking candid shots. And he saw the camera all the way around with his ears forward.
“He knows that he’s pretty,” she continued. “So when everyone’s looking at him, he makes sure to look extra pretty.”
Standing at 12.2 hands, the 13-year-old Welsh Pony (Bronheulog Royal—Nefydd Antoinette) bred by R.M. Andrew debuted in the show ring as an 8-year-old under Kelly Wilson’s guidance. Approximately a year later, Stacey Weiss spotted him at the Vermont Summer Series and shipped him to her home to Westminster, Md., for her daughter Madeline Schaefer.
“He was feisty,” said Weiss. “It took us a long time to get a blue ribbon.” But at the 2013 USEF Pony Finals (Ky.), a light bulb switched on for “Nugget,” with Daisy Farish catch-riding for the Schaefers. He earned reserve championship in the small pony division at Pony Finals that year and proceeded to be grand pony champion at Capital Challenge (Md.) and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show with Schaefer.
After he was purchased in 2014 by Pretty Penny Farm, Caroline Passarelli piloted him to reserve champion in the small pony hunters at the Devon Horse Show (Pa.). That same year, he again captured the reserve champion small pony title at Pony Finals with Schaefer, and then earned the small pony championship at the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.) with Campbell.
In 2015, the Campbells, who train with Weiss, purchased the gelding under the Maher Family LLC. Nugget is currently teaching the youngest Campbell equestrian, Rose, 11, the ways of the pony rings. They’re headed to the USEF Pony Finals this week. Need more info about Pony Finals? Check out COTH’s “What You Need To Know.”
Here’s what you need to know the small pony with a horse personality:
• For the majority of Armani’s early life, he was a breeding stallion. He was imported as a 6-month-old from Wales and stood stud until around 2011. He has sired three 2007 foals, including fellow small pony competitor Evans Conaire.
• When it comes to his stall and turn-out routine, Nugget has his people trained to his preferences.
“He loves to live outside,” said Weiss. “He stays in the shed if it’s raining and looks at you like, ‘Hey.’ He takes a nap in there. He lives out there all night. He’s a pony—he’s a real pony for sure.”
• But when he heads to Florida for the winter, he requires a special stall.
“At our farm in Ocala, we had a special stall made for him that’s 8’ x 12’ instead of 14’ x 14’ because he would sleep and he was more comfortable,” said Wiess. “When he would be in a big stall, he would run around the stall—literally canter. I was like, ‘God he rips his stall every day.’ So we put tires in the stall but that still didn’t help. So whenever we find a skinny stall for him we do because he seems to be more relaxed.”
• He’s on the cover of children’s book Bittersweet Farm 14: Sideshown Ding by Barbara Morgenroth with Claire.
“A friend of [my daughter’s] was doing a Google search for books about horses to put on your summer reading list, and found [it],” said Tracey Campbell. “And we had no idea. [So] we ordered the book.”
• He loves treats to a fault. “We can’t really feed him a lot because of him getting gelded late—if you give him too many, he gets really naughty,” said Claire. “He’s very sweet but if you feed him too much, he gets a little nippy.”
• But what does he do sans treats?
“One annoying thing he does is he bites the reins a lot,” said Claire.
• Beware if you leave items in his vicinity.
“He chewed a whole lid of a tack trunk that was too close to him in the trailer—he like chewed around the whole perimeter of it,” said Tracey.
• Armani has several nicknames with Nugget, pointing to his diminutive size and even smaller ears, being one of the most common ones. But he’s also called Mani and Golden Nugget, like the buffet chain.
“Usually when he wins its Golden Nugget,” said Claire. “But he doesn’t really do anything bad in the ring.”
• While some ponies dislike strange atmospheres and rings, Nugget actually shines in them.
“He’s like, ‘Got it. I like this,’ ” said Weiss. “It’s like a carnival. The more the better. The bigger the horse show—like Hampton Classic like with the strollers and all that going on, he’s like ‘Hey.’ He loves a crowd.”
• While Nugget doesn’t have a turn-out pal, he does have a favorite buddy: Penelope, the Campbells’ bulldog. They even have matching yellow hair.
• For his 12-and-under riders, they must avoid jogging with fancy bows in their hair—unless they want an unexpected hair tug from behind.
“It’s like an invitation for him to be in your personal space,” said Tracey. “And he likes to be in your personal space anyway, so he doesn’t need an invitation. So yeah the braids—forget it. And hats—no way.”
• “We joke that if he was a person, his house or apartment would be a pig sty,” said Tracey. “It would be dirty and he would sit on the couch drinking beer and be unshaven and disgusting. And then he would have a date and take a shower and look like he walked off GQ. But he would be like such a gross boy. Like you would not want to pay any attention to him because he would be so gross.”
• If Armani’s a lucky duck at the Bay State Classic (Md.), he gets to pick his own championship prize.
“[The horse show does] this thing called the Lucky Duck booth,” said Weiss. “And if you are champion, they have the ducks in the pond, and you get to pick your duck. And it has a number on the back and you get your basket. Well we let Armani pick his duck every time.”