'Age Is Just A Number' For Friesian Who Has Gone From Field To Finals At 21

Nov 13, 2021 - 2:51 PM

Not many people would pick a 19-year-old horse out of a field as a competitive dressage partner and expect success, but Ana DiGironimo just knew there was something special about Bouke Fan ‘E Olde Hoek.

“Boca,” a Friesian gelding by Jakob, had done some western and dressage through first level with his former owner before life changes forced her to sell him.

He’d been sitting in a field not doing much for nearly two years when DiGironimo, who knew him from boarding at the same barn, thought he might be a good fit for her student, Emily Bansky, in 2019. Bansky, now 16, had recently outgrown her pony and was ready for a horse.

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Emily Bansky and “Boca.” Photo courtesy of Emily Bansky

“Looking back on it, it was a pretty extreme decision, but I knew that safety was at the forefront of my mind, and I knew he had a great heart. He was a very sweet, kind horse,” DiGironimo said.

While Boca was barely in shape enough to canter a 20-meter circle, Bansky was ready for the challenge. She’d ridden her former pony to first level.

“He was very willing and obedient and ready to work right away,” she said.

DiGironimo said Boca rose to the occasion and became the “unicorn” she knew he could be.

“He’s literally risen to every challenge, and Emily has too,” she said. “I told her, ‘If you want to really to do this, you’re going to have to put a lot of heart into it, and you’re not going to have a lot of fun like your friends. It’s going to be a whole winter of getting this horse back in shape.’ ”

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Emily Bansky and “Boca.” Photo courtesy of Emily Bansky

She and Bansky always believed that Boca could be a solid dressage partner, and they’ve been competing at third level recently.

“She wanted to get her bronze medal on him,” DiGironimo said. “She wanted to prove to herself that he can do it. There’s no reason this horse can’t do it, after everyone is telling her that it’s going to be hard. She’s gonna be the kind of kid who will prove you wrong.”

DiGironimo describes Bansky, of Woolwich, New Jersey, as quiet but driven and tenacious. They qualified for the U.S. Dressage Finals this year at second level and will be competing Sunday in the junior second level championship.

“I’m very excited, even just being able to qualify. I’m really excited to be able to see what we can do here,” Bansky said.

She said Boca is sweet and cuddly like a big teddy bear, but gets his game face on for shows.

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Emily Bansky and Boca competing at the U.S Dressage Finals. Lindsay Berreth Photo

“He is the same at home and at shows. Nothing really phases him. He’s very calm,” she said.

The 21-year-old gelding enjoys therapies like Magnawave at home, and is treated like the king he is.

“I think what we spend in maintenance on him and the routine that’s he’s in for his maintenance balances out all the life experience that he has,” DiGironimo said. “How he just gets to a show and he’s relaxed, and he looks at the world not with a spooky eye, and he’s trustworthy and he’s confident. What we lack in young age and supple joints, we gain in experience and his overall experience. I think more people should look at horses who are 17-plus years old if they have certain goals in mind. My barn is filled with horses. I have a 22-year-old who just went to Regionals at I-1. Age is just a number.”

Are you competing at the U.S. Dressage Finals on a horse or pony with a cool story? Email Lindsay at lberreth@coth.com for a chance to be featured.

The Chronicle is on site at the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Read all our coverage here.

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