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September 28, 2013

Does Your Horse Know How To Charm A Judge Like This?

Embracing Picasso charmed everyone by munching on some mums after his test with Patty Weston at Dressage At Devon. Photo by Sue Stickle

Does your horse know how to charm a dressage judge? Embracing Picasso certainly does!

After the off-the-track Thoroughbred completed his first test in the U.S. Equestrian Federation 5-Year-Old Young Horse division at Dressage at Devon on Sept. 26-27, Patty Weston rode him up to C for the judge’s comments. Lilo Fore stood to offer constructive criticism of the ride, but in the middle of her assessment, “Pablo” reached down and pulled some flowers from the decorative flowerpot atop the letter.

The crowd erupted in laughter and Pablo happily munched on some yellow chrysanthemums until someone retrieved them. When Fore recovered her composure, she told the audience that Pablo was offering her flowers for his walk score (his highest score). Many photographers got shots of the “floral moment” and Pablo and Weston went viral on the Internet within hours.

See the moment (listen closely for Fore's comments!)...

“I was listening intently to [Fore’s] advice on how to improve him,” Weston said. “I was trying to maintain my composure as I listened to them tell me basically all the reasons why this test was so hard for him being who he was.

“What a tension breaker when he nonchalantly reached forward, grabbed those flowers and waved them around. Oh my God! I started laughing so hard I covered my face and at one point laid down on his neck. Everyone in the judge’s booth was laughing and the crowd roared,” Weston continued.

“This was my boy! Such a clown! Someone came out, took the flowers and presented them to the judge who graciously thanked him for his offering,” said Weston.

Weston happened to overhear Fore’s comments on the next horse’s test as well—after Young Horse tests, the judges make public comments aloud about the performance. “When she was discussing the test with the lovely horse who competed after me she said ‘We gave him a 9.8 on his trot—I couldn't give you a 10 because he didn't give me flowers!’” Weston said with a laugh.

Pablo’s sense of humor and charm were the talk of the showgrounds, but they weren’t the only reason he stood out from the crowd. Pablo and Weston might have finished out of the ribbons in both USEF 5-Year-Old Young Horse classes—scoring a 61.80 percent in both tests—but just competing was a victory for them.


Patty Weston and Embracing Picasso 
Photo by Lisa Slade

Pablo’s journey to Devon started when his racing career ended. Weston, of Stewartsville, N.J., purchased the flashy chestnut Thoroughbred (Fleet Foot—Embracing Beauty, King Of Kings) off the track for $1,000. Embracing Picasso is his Jockey Club name; Weston didn’t change it. Pablo had raced successfully with nine starts and earnings of more than $10,000, but bowed a tendon in the spring of 2012.

When Weston bought him, he had been on months of stall rest. After getting a clean bill of health, he started his retraining to be a dressage horse in November. Weston found him to have a good mind, elastic gaits, and natural athleticism; he progressed rapidly.  

“He is very different from the other more seasoned off-the-track horses I have had in the past,” Weston said. “It’s been a new experience to work with a more laidback horse, and one who sulks when he isn’t the star student. My other Thoroughbreds have been older, more confident, and more opinionated about dressage work.”

A former eventer, Weston is experienced in re-training Thoroughbreds, and she worked with Maureen Ferris of Elm Brook Farm in Stewartsville, N.J., to bring Pablo along. By this summer, Weston and Pablo were competing in schooling shows successfully, and they did the young horse test at a few recognized shows with good scores.

Read lots of other Dressage
 at Devon stories
, including   
great photo gallery of 
highlights
 from the Grand 
Prix and a story about
four-star eventer Trading
Aces
 competing there.

But a minor injury slowed their progress, then he didn’t seem to recover well. “He was moving flat,” recalled Weston. “We knew something was wrong.” For weeks they monitored him, and then the signs of physical discomfort increased--he started lying down. He was shipped to a clinic, where he stayed for five days with a diagnosis of hind gut ulcerative colitis.He was put on special diet and five small feedings a day, and when he was well out of the woods, Weston was given the OK to resume his training. In late July, she brought him back to work, and they competed in a recognized Lehigh Valley Dressage Association show in late August to get his qualifying score for Devon, winning the class with a 69.80 percent.

But by the time Pablo got his Devon-qualifying score, the 5-Year-Old class at Devon was filled. Weston was wait-listed, but she was determined. “I told the show manager I would drive into the show grounds on the morning of his class, braided and ready to go,” she said. It wasn’t until Monday of the week of Devon that Weston learned that she had secured a spot in the class.

Weston notes that getting Pablo to Devon was not about the prestige, the ribbons, or the scores. “I want to show everyone that Thoroughbreds can play in the big sandbox!” she said.

Devon was hectic, and it did not go off without a hitch, but Weston had plenty of support from an entourage of friends and members of her local GMO, the Lehigh Valley Dressage Association. “We were assigned a stall in the CDI barn, and we had to move Pablo and all of our stuff three hours before my ride. But it didn’t matter, I had a *&^%-eating grin the whole day,” Weston said.

Pablo proved to be a cool customer, unfazed by the electric atmosphere. He was a gentleman in the warm-up, but when they stepped into the show ring Weston could feel his confidence waiver. “He was just overwhelmed for the first few minutes,” she said. The announcer introduced Weston and  Pablo, and described his “off-the-track Thoroughbred” breeding. “I was so proud to trot down that centerline not once, but twice,” said Weston of her Devon tests. “We had a respectable test on Thursday, but I knew that we were facing an uphill battle in that class.”

As Weston left the ring, spectators shook her hand and gave her a thumbs-up. “Those are the moments that made my day,” she said.

“I have a real soft spot for Thoroughbreds,” Weston said. “I love the idea of giving them another job when their racing career is over and I just think they are fabulous animals to work with. I also think they are under-rated, because they can be a tough ride. But if you take the time to work with them and give them the time they need to blossom.”

Given Pablo's taste for yellow mums, “blossom” is just the right word.

 

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