The inexperienced but talented stallion is a class act for Tina Konyot.
Tina Konyot is no stranger to the highest levels of dressage competition, having finished seventh in the 2004 Olympic Selection Trials with Anna Karenina. But she found herself without an upper level prospect after the talented mare retired in 2005.
So she was especially excited when a new horse stepped up to Grand Prix, capturing the prestigious win in the Grand Prix freestyle during Dressage At Devon, Sept. 24-27 in Devon, Pa.
Calecto V (Come Back II—Bahera) and Konyot performed their freestyle for the first time, wowed the crowd and the judges despite the heavy rains, and led the victory round after posting a score of 72.60 percent.
“I’m actually overwhelmed,” said Konyot, North Stonington, Conn. “There are lots of things to fix and make stronger and more consistent, but he has so much talent and is so happy doing his job. It’s nice to have something special that I’m trying to develop.”
Taking A Chance
Three years ago, at the persistent urging of her friend and client, Mary Allyn, Konyot traveled to Denmark to attend a sport horse auction. While the two women looked at many horses, Calecto, then 8, caught their attention.
“He had a beautiful walk, a very good canter, but a very normal trot,” Konyot said. “He had been ridden by quite a strong rider and was very dull. I don’t think anyone there thought much of him. No one could see through that, or maybe no one wanted to take the chance.”
Konyot rode the stallion about five times while she was in Denmark and sensed that there was something special lingering just below the surface of Calecto’s black coat.
“I didn’t think I was getting the greatest horse in the world,” she admitted. “But John Byrialsen, his breeder, believed in my riding and in the horse and said we could make it. He gave me a shove in that direction. He knew I could do it.”
With the assistance of Allyn and two other friends, Konyot made the decision to take a chance on Calecto.
“Mary Allyn put it together. She’s the one who did it,” said Konyot. “If it wasn’t for her, I’d never have this horse. If it wasn’t for her efforts and her push for me to go I would have never gone to Denmark to pursue it.”
A Long Road
Calecto made the journey to Konyot’s home in Connecticut and began adjusting to his new life.
“He didn’t have any personality when I got him,” said Konyot. “He kind of stood in the corner of his stall and wasn’t the happiest horse. The first time I put him out in the paddock he just stood and looked up at the sky. I didn’t know what the hell he was looking at—he just stood there!”
Konyot began slowly and carefully building the horse’s strength and trust. His trot work was one of her main focuses, as he had some balance issues and didn’t have much of an extension or suspension. She took his training one step at a time, in tribute to her late father, Alex Konyot’s mantra, “That’s enough already.”
“Happy horses,” she said of her father’s biggest influence in her horsemanship. “Teaching a horse something is about reward, not repetition. Sometimes we do have to repeat things, but keeping them fresh and happy is something that’s very important.”
With patience, Konyot finally cracked Calecto’s shell, and a playful, happy horse emerged.
“He’s full of personality now,” she said. “He’s fresh and happy and squeals when he goes out. When I walk in the barn he’s always watching and looking for me. Every so often I ride him bareback, just for fun, so he knows it’s not all about ring work. He trail rides almost every day, and he gets turned out every day. It’s all those little extra things that help.”
After successful seasons in the small tour in 2007 and 2008, Konyot was aiming Calecto toward the Grand Prix in the beginning of 2009. However, a tumble down the stairs in December while she was doing laundry left her with a broken ankle in nine places. She couldn’t walk for four months.
“I started riding before I got my cast off, just 10 minutes at a time, walking,” said Konyot. “I did my first Grand Prix with this horse before I was walking. No one else was riding him, he wasn’t doing anything, just a little longeing and turnout.”
Despite the setback, Calecto performed admirably in his first outing at Grand Prix, scoring 68.19 percent.
“I would have liked a little easier road than the road I had to travel with him, and I wasn’t sure when I first got him that I would be able to put it together,” said Konyot. “When you see them in the show ring and they’re bright and happy you don’t realize the avenue that people travel to produce the horses. There were times in the beginning when I said to myself, ‘Lord, this is a lot of work to get this big Titanic to move.’ But I’m on the right track now. I’ll continue what I’m doing with him because he’s very happy.”
Under The Lights Of The Dixon Oval
With only four Grand Prix classes under Calecto’s belt prior to Devon, Konyot had no idea what to expect when she took him to the historic grounds for the first time.
“He’s so green at this level, and it’s all very new,” said Konyot. “But he was able to deal with the lights and the venue. I was so happy I could go in the arena and ride my horse. He never shut down. I gave him an apple after his test, and he was just like, ‘This is lovely, thank you.’ ”
Calecto also finished second in the Grand Prix for the freestyle with 66.85 percent, just .08 behind winners Jacqueline Brooks and Balmoral.
“I rode parts of the test where I allowed my reins to let loose, and he was so comfortable and so happy,” said Konyot. “I should have stopped petting the damn horse! I must have patted him about 15 times.”
Konyot had only ridden Calecto’s freestyle, which was originally designed for Anna Karenina, three times before presenting it to the public at Devon, but the music suited the 17.2-hand stallion well. It showed off his powerful passage and piaffe and expressive tempi changes.
“I’m happy with my horse every day. Devon could be every day for me because I love this horse so much. I’m happy just looking at him,” said Konyot. “It’s not only about the stories of people going and buying expensive horses. They all have to come from somewhere.
“So many of us wish we had more money to do this sport, but it’s not all about that,” she continued. “I was extremely fortunate to be raised by a brilliant horseman, and I believe in my training methods and my horse. No one wanted him, and all my friends didn’t think I’d make a Grand Prix horse out of him. But he’s going to be a grand Grand Prix horse. He’s special. I believe that.”
Balmoral Finds His Rhythm
It’s safe to say that Jacqueline Brooks was shocked when she and Balmoral (Belcanto—Charisma) were awarded the blue ribbon after their Grand Prix for the freestyle test. But she was even more surprised by their second-placed finish in the freestyle (69.80%).
“He’s my young horse,” said Brooks, Cedar Valley, Ont. “I made a few mistakes [on Friday] because I went, ‘Oh my God. Look at you!’ I came to the first piaffe and couldn’t stop him from doing it [even if I wanted to].”
Balmoral, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding, found his rhythm in the Dixon Oval, something that Brooks, 42, had been working toward for quite some time.
“I’ve struggled a little bit teaching him to want to perform in the ring,” said Brooks. “He just needed a little bit more time to figure out where he needed to be, and now he’s doing it all by himself out there.”
Brooks has been riding the Canadian-bred for several years and has won at Devon at nearly every level, including an Intermediaire I freestyle win in 2006. She gave the 10-year-old a year off while she was competing her other Grand Prix mount, Gran Gesto, at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong last year.
“I gave [Balmoral] to a friend to live in the field and just be a horse,” she said. “He missed a whole year of competing, so I thought he was a year behind, but in hindsight maybe it was the best thing I did for him.”
Balmoral, owned by Anne Welch & Brinc Ltd., and Brooks performed a lovely freestyle to a unique track of music made especially for the gelding.
“I’m still fine-tuning it, but it’s very suited to him,” said Brooks. “My horse is moving much differently now than when we first created it.”
Brooks’ trainer, Ashley Holzer, lost her father Ian Nicoll on Sept. 20. Affectionately known as “Pops,” Nicoll was a huge supporter of Holzer and her Canadian teammates.
“Pops was riding with me,” reflected Brooks. “When I told [Ashley] I wanted to come home for the funeral, she told me that Pops wanted me to be here, and he wanted me to win Devon. I know Pops was proud of me and that he wanted to be here. I’m really happy I was here. There’s something greater, and tonight, I was lucky to participate in that.”
Brooks plans to campaign both horses in Florida this spring and is aiming for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next fall, but she isn’t sure which horse will rise to the occasion.