Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 8
If you wandered over to the Murphy Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park around 1:30 today, you might have cocked your head at the sound of Christmas music coming over the loud speakers. It is, after all, only early November.
Walk a bit closer and you’d see a group of five people bundled in jackets with Santa hats adorning their heads.
They were all present to cheer on Whitney Peterson-McIntosh and Sven, the Norwegian Fjord, in the first level open freestyle championship of the U.S. Dressage Finals, where they scored a 66.33 percent.
“[We] qualified him for regionals at training level and said, ‘let’s see if we can teach him leg yields and lengthenings and do first level,’ ” said trainer Laurie Moore, who co-owns him with Tamsyn Sweetman. “Then he qualified for that, then we said, ‘Maybe we can get to nationals if we do a freestyle!’ So then we made a freestyle and now we’re here.”
Watch Sven’s freestyle test here:
Since they knew a Fjord wouldn’t be competitive enough to make it to nationals in an open division, Moore and Peterson-McIntosh thought a freestyle would be his best shot. But then they had to come up with music.
“It’s kind of a funny story, because we got the freestyle music at the end of July,” said Peterson-McIntosh.
“We couldn’t find anything, so it just came to be. I just said, ‘Laurie, what if we pick Christmas music?’ ” she continued. “I had purposefully not clicked on it for an hour because it’s Christmas music.”
But when they played the selection alongside a video of one of Sven’s test, the music just fit.
“It’s really funny. Doing it now it’s kind of seasonal, but in July when it was 90…” said Moore. “It’s perfect. It’s a light little thing and it just makes you happy. It’s the kind of pony that should not be taken seriously.”
Sven had a number of onlookers for his test dressed in Santa hats.
But make no mistake, Sven does take his work very seriously.
“He legitimately can be trained and has three good gaits that through proper gymnastic work he will just go along [up the levels,]” said Moore. “He already does shoulder-in; he already does haunches-in. He can do extended trot; he can counter-canter.”
Until last summer Sven’s life looked very different. For the first seven years of his life the Norwegian Fjord spent his days babysitting the foals at breeder Kathy Johnson’s Montrose, Minn., farm, Woodpecker Woods Fjords.
“As somebody who’d gotten too tall to ride a pony, I’d always wanted a pony!” said Sweetman. “Whitney and I had always wanted to train a pony and a friend of Whitney’s had had him on trial, and he wasn’t quite right for them. They were just about to send him back when we saw him and went, ‘OK!”
“We had never had a Fjord before,” said Moore. “We didn’t know anything about them; it wasn’t like we were, ‘Oh, let’s get a Fjord.’ Now we always want to have a Fjord in the barn.”
Sven and Whiney Peterson-McIntosh turned lots of heads at the U.S. National Finals.
Named after the reindeer from the Disney movie Frozen, the 8-year-old gelding (Glacier View’s Samson—Ranka), first entered a walk-trot test at a schooling show in May. Moore wasn’t sure they’d ever make it beyond that because the gelding initially refused to canter on the left lead.
“Under saddle, on the longe line, it didn’t matter. Out in the pasture he would only canter on one lead,” said Peterson-McIntosh.
So they had to get creative. Jumping and playing with things like bowing helped Sven grow more confident in his ability to canter to the left.
“It definitely felt like a long shot [trying to qualify for the finals],” said Moore. “Especially in May when I was like, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to stop if we do training level. Let’s just do walk-trot.’ He’s a fun little guy.”
Naturally, when you’re a horse who looks like he came straight out of a children’s movie, Sven has garnered quite the following.
“At our local show circuit everybody knows him,” said Moore. “He’s a celebrity, and the local tack shop bought Fjord Breyers for people to buy,”
“We would come to his stall and he’d be sleeping with his butt to the door and somebody would be standing by the stall door smiling, wanting to get a picture with him,” Peterson-McIntosh said. “People said, ‘We didn’t think it was a real breed—we just thought it was a Disney thing.’
“Now he knows his name because everybody in the barns would just yell to him, like, ‘SVEN!’ and he’d put his nose out and look for treats,” she continued. “They would come in the morning and feed him a bunch of treats before we got there. He’ll have people following him the whole time we’re [there].”
Sven particularly enjoys Wilemnia mints, however, he wasn’t always a treat monger. Because he was handled so little for seven years, he used to be a bit wary about taking thing from people. Sugar, apples and carrots were all suspect.
“Now we’ve corrupted him, and he’ll take anything that you put in front of him,” Moore said. “If he hears crinkling, his ears go up.”
“He’s already taken advantage of the fact that he’s big and smart and gets away from people, or gets away with things,” said Sweetman. “We had to be tactful and say, ‘No, no!’ ”
Laurie Moore, Tamsyn Sweetman and Whitney Peterson-McIntosh field lots of questions about Sven’s unique mane.
“We’ve been asked some ridiculous questions about him too,” said Peterson-McIntosh. “ ‘Did you paint the stripe in his mane?’ ”
“ ‘Does it grow like that,’ ” Moore added.
“ ‘Do you put that whole stripe down on his back?’ ” Sweetman shared.
Though Sven sported the traditional Fjord shave on his mane for the finals, Sweetman enjoys shaving fun shapes into his mane.
“Now that the show’s over we can go back to doing fun things with it,” said Moore.
Keep up with all the U.S. Dressage Finals action on www.coth.com, including coverage of Michael Poulin’s great win in the Grand Prix freestyle and his daughter Gwen’s triumph over him in the Grand Prix.
There’s also a great story about cowboy-turned-dressage rider Mike Suchanek—find out how he turned a western riding career into a trip to the U.S. Dressage Finals.
And don’t forget to miss more in-depth coverage of the U.S. Dressage Finals in the Nov. 23 & 30 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.