It’s hard to know what’s cuter about Balou, his adorable pony face or his tidy tight knees over a fence. The pint-sized dynamo of a hunter has become a consistent winner with trainer Amanda Steege in the performance classes and owner Lisa Arena Davis in the amateur-owner divisions.
Balou is one of those rare creatures, the unintended horse of a lifetime. Steege and Davis looked at Balou, a now-14-year-old Westphalian gelding, at Emil Spadone’s farm with the thought that he’d be a cute lesson horse for Davis and maybe a nice adult hunter. Little did they know how much more he’d turn out to be for them.
“Baby B” started his show career in 2010 with Steege in the pre-green division, and by 2011 and 2012, he was winning championship after championship in the first year and second year green classes and showing in the adult amateurs with Davis. Since then, Steege and Davis have traded the reins back and forth.
In 2014, Balou was second in the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix (New York) and in 2015, Davis claimed the grand low amateur-owner hunter championship at the Pennsylvania National. Balou shows lightly around Davis’ busy schedule as a mom of two, but can be counted on to earn blues for Davis and Steege whenever he’s braided.
Here’s what you need to know about Baby B:
• Balou has a cheeky, inquisitive personality. He’s always interested in what’s going on in the barn aisle and loves attention.
• That cheeky personality came out in spades in Balou’s early years. “I’m sure everyone who knows him remembers his early green days when we used to joke that he was a loose horse on course, and Amanda was just along for the ride!” Davis said.
“She would walk out of the ring saying, ‘Oh man, he was such a jerk out there,’ and then they would announce a score of 92. She’d say, ‘How can I tell him to listen to me when he gets those scores?’ I don’t think I tried showing him until the end of his first year green year, and then I didn’t try again for a while after that!”
• Balou has four white socks, but they all have ermine black spots within the white.
• Much to Davis’ dismay, Balou has a particular affection for Steege’s barn manager, Tim Delovich. “Balou nickers at Tim every time Tim walks down the aisle. Lisa gets so mad,” Steege joked.
“Lisa will be here, and he’ll see me down the aisle and nicker to me,” Delovich said with a wry smile.
• Balou can be a little bit sharp. In the afternoon, before the afternoon hay comes around, he’ll come out over his stall door like a snake and bite at everybody. “He thinks he’s the biggest horse in the barn,” said Delovich. (Balou is about 15.2 hands!)
• There are 18 horses named “Balou” in the U.S. Equestrian Federation database, with just three of them—including this Balou—listing Balou Du Rouet as their sire.
• If there’s any chance someone might have a treat in their pocket, Balou turns into a full-on beggar, banging on the stall door with his knee and looking cute.
• Balou tends to feel warm, but he hates to be cold, which makes blanketing him appropriately a bit of a challenge.
• His tendency to run hot also can lead to some worry during the summer months. “If he gets hot, he’ll stand in the corner of his stall and breathe a little bit heavy, which has caused us some panics about colic,” said Steege. “But he’s just a heavy breather. We monitor that when it’s hot and make sure he’s cooled off.”
• In the beginning, Balou was a bit aloof about special attention. “He was like, ‘Tack me up, take me to the ring, I’m perfect, let’s do this,’ ” said Delovich. “It took me a while, until the first year he did the $500,000 class in Saugerties, where I spent a ton of time with him. Then he just started to appreciate that I could help him. I feel like the horses know I can help them, and if something’s wrong, I’ll do my best to figure it out.”
• Steege will show Balou in warm-up classes without braids in, but Balou knows it’s not the real deal. “He just doesn’t take it seriously,” said Delovich. “The bigger the class, the more he’s into it.”
• Balou loves to be groomed, and he’s perfect to clip.
• Whenever he’s not showing, he lives at Davis’ farm in the Rochester, New York, area, going on trail rides and enjoying plenty of turnout time.
• He also gets to play in the snow and grow a winter coat when he’s in New York!
• Balou loves his turnout time and sometimes is reluctant to be caught to come back in the barn. “But he is easily bribed with some food,” Davis said.
• Balou is very gentle and good with Davis’ two small children. “When my daughter rode for the first time, it was with me on B,” said Davis. “He certainly thinks very highly of himself, but at the same time he’s super behaved.”
• Davis’ husband knows where he stands on the ladder, and it’s one rung below Balou. “My husband jokes that when Balou is home, he has to plan ahead for anything else to fit in my schedule. Amanda and I talk on and off all day, checking in on the other one who has him,” Davis said.