He spins around like a reining horse in the warm-up ring. He throws himself on the ground and rolls in protest if he isn’t the first horse out of his stall in the morning. He once kicked the grill out of a farrier’s truck for having the audacity to be parked near the in-gate he was about to enter.
His name is With Wings, and he is up to his ears in personality. Luckily his pilot and owner for the past seven years, Karen Polle, doesn’t mind it—in fact, she loves “Wing’s” not so little quirks.
“I just love everything about him, I wouldn’t change anything,” Polle, 24, said. “Not anything at all.”
Wings started out his show career with professional Marilyn Little in the jumper and hunter rings. The now-14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Larino—Doici, L. Ronald) competed up through the first-year green working hunters in 2009 before Little switched him to the jumper ring full-time, and Polle bought him from Little in 2010.
Polle and Wings started in the low junior jumper divisions and over the years progressed to the open FEI classes in 2013. After multiple top-three FEI grand prix finishes, including winning the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix in 2015, Polle and Wings won their first five-star class at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) in July of 2016 and her first five-star grand prix at this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), the $380,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix in March. Most recently, Polle and Wings won the Progress Energy Cup CSI***** at Spruce Meadows on July 7.
Polle currently trains with Rodrigo Pessoa and has her eye set on qualifying to represent her home country of Japan in the 2018 World Equestrian Games. (Polle was born in Tokyo, raised in New York City, and holds dual U.S./Japanese citizenship.) We caught up with Polle at her winter base in Wellington, Fla., earlier this year to go behind the stall door with Wings.
• The first thing you need to know about Wings is although he is a show horse is the truest sense of the word, he needs his turn-out time. Like, a lot of turn-out time. When Polle is in Florida for the winter, she will often trail ride Wings from the show grounds straight to his paddock at a nearby farm and untack him in the field.
“He’ll stay out all day; he’s really only in his stall overnight. He needs his turn-out. He demands it,” Polle said. “When you bring out the turn-out stuff to get him ready, he knows, and he gets really excited, and when you put the [fly sheet] on he stands completely still to help you.”
• Wings has been with Polle for seven years, and he insists on maintaining his top dog status despite new arrivals at the barn.
“He knows he’s the king, so if he has to wait he gets mad and he rolls, just to show that he’s been waiting for something,” said Stef Goldenberg, Polle’s barn manager of the past six years. “I can’t put the other [horse] on the walker unless Wings is going to be taken out shortly after because he thinks it’s unfair.”
• While Wings is not a total slob in his stall, per se, he’s no neat freak.
“He’s not a sloppy horse, I mean overnight we bed them on straw, so he has straw everywhere, and he dunks his hay, so there’s water everywhere,” Polle said. “And he moves his hay around sometimes, and sometimes he’ll hide his poop.”
• Oh, and about the reining horse spin—it was not a one-time performance by the Wing, it’s actually more of a party trick at this point.
“When he gets fresh he can just spin, and he spins fast. I mean 360, and fast,” Polle said with a laugh. “Sometimes if he doesn’t want to work he’ll just run out of the ring; he’ll spin out of the ring.
“And if he’s fresh he’ll rear to get you to lean forward and out of position, and then he’ll buck three times in a row,” Polle continued. “But he’s not really trying to get you to fall off, he’s just being cheeky.”
• He sounds a bit like a naughty pony but Wings would protest the comparison, possibly while dragging Polle toward grass like a pony, because the little beasts terrify him.
“He does a pony trick where when you’re riding him he will pretend he has to scratch and itch on his leg and then he’ll eat grass, but he’s actually afraid of ponies,” Polle said with a laugh. “And white horses scare him, so white ponies are like his nemesis. If they’re coming at him he’ll just spin the other way. Or the other day I was on a trail ride, and we passed a pony, and he was just snorting at it.”
• If you’ve watched Polle compete Wings, you’ll notice she sometimes has to get on with a leg up in the ring because sometimes Wings has trouble going in the in-gate (like this year at WEF. RIP, farrier’s truck grill).
“He took out the grill on the farrier’s truck next to the international ring. I was trying to get him in the in-gate, and he went in the farrier shed and kicked the truck,” Polle said, shaking her head. “My dad had to go ask him how much he owed him for the grill. That’s Wings for you!”
Polle really has no idea what it is about some in-gates that gets Wings all worked up.
“It’s not at every show. Some in-gates he’s totally fine. WEF is probably his hardest in-gate,” Polle said, but then Wings does actually occasionally go into the ring under the bridge at WEF normally. “And at Calgary [Spruce Meadows], they have a clock tower you go underneath, and he’s usually fine with it. It’s a little bit hard to pinpoint what exactly it is.”
• Speaking of shoes, Wings goes in aluminum heart bars (and believe it or not, farrier’s truck, he’s perfectly well behaved for having them put on).
• If Wings had it his way, he’d probably collect water buckets like snow globes because he loves them.
“If we have a bucket sitting in an aisle, especially a small one, he needs to drink out of it,” Goldenberg said. “If he sees the tack cleaning bucket hanging he tries to drink out of it. And if I’m filling buckets at a show, and I have to put one on the ground to hang the other one up, he’ll drink out of the one on the ground. It’s more exciting—he’ll reach over his stall guard to drink the one on the ground when the other one is right in front of him.”
• As far as food goes, Wings is your typical chowhound—he likes apples, carrots, bananas, will occasionally get a hanging ball treat in his stall, and he eats peanut butter crackers. Polle said he makes a noise after he gets a treat, especially after peanut butter crackers.
“He makes a funny noise when you give him treats. He likes to savor the flavor—it’s like sucking his tongue,” Polle said.
• Between his extensive turn-out time and a rider and manager appreciative of his endless list of quirks, Wings is living the good life—and he knows it.
“He’s just a happy guy,” Goldenberg said. “I take great comfort in knowing I have one of the happier horses at the show.”