The newly initiated member to the HITS $1 Million winner’s club from the weekend at HITS Coachella—Milano—loves nothing more than to compete under pressure, even if his kind eye and mellow attitude may hint otherwise.
The 12-year-old, bay, Swedish Warmblood gelding (Orlando—Marostica, Pomme Royal) first joined rider Mandy Porter’s stable in San Diego, Calif., in late 2013—but not as a mount for the three-time FEI World Cup Final competitor. Instead, Porter’s client Abigail Weese purchased him to develop to the grand prix ranks herself.
But in 2015, as Milano was coming back from a minor front leg injury, Weese turned the reins over to Porter in anticipation of new life changes, namely an upcoming wedding. Through the 2016 season, Porter and Milano established their partnership on the West Coast grand prix circuit, winning a handful of events without logging too many miles.
It was that strategic planning from that has carried momentum into the new year and season. And in the five weeks that Milano competed with Porter at HITS Coachella, he won four grand prix classes—the most notable of which is, of course, the big finale, the AIG $1 Million.
To learn about everything that’s gone into the toast of California’s winter circuit, we went behind the stall door at Milano’s desert stabling at the HITS Coachella showgrounds.
• Porter and Weese first discovered Milano at Enda Carroll’s Ashford Farm in Belgium through their longstanding relationship with Stevie Macken.
“I bought Milano in 2013, in Sweden,” Carroll wrote to us in an email. “The only person that ever tried [him] was Abby. It was so nice that she has given the horse the opportunity to grow.
“It gives me, as a horse dealer, such pleasure to see a good horse that we sold develop into a great horse through the professional hands of likeminded individuals,” he added.
• Even at the age of 12, Milano has yet to peak. He’s still learning the ropes and is showing he can take on the next level of challenges.
“He’s figuring out how to do a little more,” Porter explained. “He’s still learning. There’s still things he needs to learn with jumping bigger jumps at faster speeds. But when we show him something else, or teach him something new, he’s right there and seems to enjoy it.”
• Milano loves to compete and truly learns from the questions presented to him.
“He’s a real competitor,” said Porter. “If you leave him alone and let him do his job the happier he is. I knew in the [AIG $1 Million] that once he figured out the double combination in the first round that I could go faster in the jump-off and that he had it figured out.”
“He feeds off the high energy,” added Weese.
• His competition bit of choice is a full cheek gag. “He has a tendency to get a little bit strong and pull a little downhill so the bit has helped to get control of that—but he thinks otherwise,” said Porter.
• He’s opinionated and a free spirit.
“He’s fussy with his head,” Porter explained. “He and I have come to an understanding of how much and when [he can flip his head] rather than just controlling it. When he’s very fresh, he flips his head all over the place—a telltale sign that I haven’t done my homework. But I’m figuring out how to ride him so he can have expression without it getting in the way of his job at hand.”
• Milano always competes in EquiFit T-Sport Wraps, partly because they’re excellent leg protection but mostly because they’ve become part of the winning recipe.
“I absolutely love those wraps,” said Porter. “We started using those on him when he got hurt, to give him extra support. It was a small injury in front, and he probably doesn’t need them now but it’s kind of, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ ”
• When competing at HITS Coachella, Milano takes full advantage of the equine spa, which Porter believes helps to tighten his legs after competing and jumping hard. He also stands on the TheraPlate in the mornings before his handwalk, which helps to loosen him up.
• At home, his daily routine includes walking on the Eurociser and equal time hacking out on the trails and working on exercises in the arena.
• Porter uses EquiFit IceAir Cold Therapy boots and a Centurion magnetic blanket on Milano after every hard workout.
• His diet consists of hay and Purina Mills Omolene 400 Complete with the Purina SuperSport Amino Acid supplement.
“Purina is a big reason why we’re so happy with how the horses feel, perform, and look,” Porter revealed. “We don’t have to give a lot of extra supplements when we feed these products. Purina has done so much research to make complete feeds with the nutrition that the horses need.“
Milano eats Complete 400 and SuperSport, which is an amino acid additive that helps with muscle recovery and wellness. He also gets vitamin E and electrolytes. It’s quite basic. We don’t do a ton. We believe that a sound, strong, fit horse is a healthy horse.”
• Milano thinks he’s a big shot and loves to be fussed over by his groom Marco Antonio Cortes (known as “Cholo” around the barn).
“Since Cholo has started looking after him [before the start of the 2017 season], the horse has started to thrive,” said Porter. “Cholo gives a lot of attention to Milano and takes him out several times a day. He spends a lot of time with the horse and has bonded with him—which has made that horse better. Milano looks to his people now.”
• Milano can look mean in the cross ties, but it’s all for show. Otherwise, he’s totally relaxed when walking to and from the ring.
“It’s crazy, in a way, because he is so chill,” Porter described. “He can be so lazy. He will walk at a snail’s pace and you’ll wonder, ‘How do you get him to go?’ He’s really clever that way.
• “When he did have an injury and had to rehab, he was the best patient I’ve ever had,” she added. “Blood horses like him will sometimes blow up when they’re off for a while, but he was the best patient and cruised around, unfazed.”
• He can come out of the ring and immediately chill. “It’s an amazing trait that he has,” Porter said.
• But he gets very excited to jump.
“He goes the same way for me as he does for Mandy,” said Weese. “He’s feisty and flips his head. The faster you go, the higher he jumps. He’s a bit of a freak. We lucked out.”
• He’s not one for turn-out.
“We don’t turn him out a lot,” said Porter. “He would be one to run around too much. And we don’t have a nice, confined, small paddock for him. But he goes on a lot of handwalks and hacks out on the trails.”
• He has sensitive skin.
“He was losing some hair under the saddle at the beginning of the year,” said Porter. “So we started using a saddle pad from Professional’s Choice that has a nice piece of fleece on the underside and he’s felt really comfortable in that. I combine it with the EquiFit half pad and the combination has been really super for him.”
• He’s flying to Ocala, Fla., for the Great American $1 Million at HITS Ocala (Fla.) on Sunday, March 26.
“[My partner] Craig Starr deserves so much credit for the work he puts in with the horses, the program, and making the plan,” said Porter. “We just decided [the night after the AIG $1 Million] to go to Ocala.
“Craig’s expertise is invaluable,” Porter added. “He was the one that took Milano out for a morning lunge on Sunday morning to see how he was moving and if Milano had a little play in him. Craig knows Milano’s every in and out, and they’ll fly together to Florida.”