Call him “Nugget,” call him “Nunu,” or just call him number one.
Katie Dinan’s 15-year-old Selle Francais gelding Nougat Du Vallet (Scherif D’Elle—Camee Du Vallet, Saphir D’Elle) has staked his claim as his barn’s top horse since he guided Dinan to victory in one of their first grand prix classes together, the $50,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix, during the 2012 Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.).
The tiny chestnut with the huge jump and euphoric post-fence buck took Dinan to her first Olympic selection trials, first five-star grand prix and first FEI World Cup Final. The duo also helped the United States win the Consolation Final at the inaugural Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in 2013 and kept up their winning ways—the $250,000 Alltech Grand Prix at the Alltech National Horse Show (Ky.) was just one of their 15 top-10 grand prix finishes in 2013, ’14 and ’15.
With that kind of resume, it’s easy to see why Nugget expects the best care, and he gets it from Dinan’s groom Cormac Kenny. The Irish native joined Dinan’s team in June, and he is involved in every aspect of the care and maintenance of her top mounts, from feeding and turnout to even riding while Dinan is attending classes at Harvard University (Mass.).
He took the Chronicle behind the stall door at Dinan’s Staysail Farm in Wellington, Fla., to get to know the horse with many nicknames but one unforgettable attitude.
- He’s number one. Period.If Nunu could sport a foam finger on one of his hooves, he would. The gelding knows he is the top horse in the barn and doesn’t let anyone forget it. If he could speak, his favorite word would be “first,” as it is a term that is spoken in his presence often.
“If he’s not being treated like he’s number one, he’ll remind you,” Kenny said. “He always comes out first. He’s fed first. Most of the time he’s ridden first. And he always goes out in the paddock first, because that’s definitely most important to him.
“He knows he’s special,” he added.
- He’s an active conservationist. No, he doesn’t care all that much about preserving the greenery in his paddock, but he most definitely conserves energy—at least, his own. Those acrobatic, athletic bucks he lets out in the ring? Those are all saved for when he’s competing on the big stage. The chestnut is quite the performer and showman in front of an audience, but you’d never know he had it in him by his demeanor at home or even in the schooling area.“He knows his job well,” Kenny said. “He’s funny. When he’s outside the ring in the warm-up, he just falls over the jumps, but then he goes in the ring and he just changes. He just sprouts wings and he goes.”
- That being said, Nougat has always got one eye open. He enjoys lounging about, but he’s ready to make a quick getaway should a potential danger present itself. He typically lets you know he’s on alert with a playful snort. “You can do anything to him in the barn,” Kenny said, “but sometimes he can get a bit sharp, if you work a little bit fast around him or if he sees something in the barn. Sometimes he looks very quiet, but he’s actually very with it. He’s alert.
“He’s actually quite lazy, but he’s on it,” he continued. “If a bag moves across the ground, he’s going to notice it.”
- He loves to snuggle. If you enter his stall, be prepared to make yourself useful in the form of acting masseuse. Nugget will greet you with a bright expression, perked ears and a cocked head, and then he will stick his nose directly into your chest. Your job is to cradle it and scratch his poll to his heart’s content. As you pamper, he naps.“He loves attention,” Kenny said. “If you don’t give him enough attention, he’ll kick the door. He’s really easy to care for. He’s happy and easy going.”
- The key to his heart is a carrot—or maybe five carrots.It might be difficult to estimate the amount carrots Kenny goes through a week at Staysail. Somewhere, a produce farm may be staying in business solely because of Nugget. The chestnut is ready to perform as asked, but he does expect compensation in the form of orange veggies. If the carrot bag is anywhere within reach, sight or smell, the gelding’s nose goes straight to it like a Beagle hunting a sandwich. He eats them like candy, but thankfully, they are not known to cause as many cavities.
“He won’t pass the grooming stall without a treat,” Kenny said. “We also keep a bucket of [Mrs. Pastures cookies] there, and he’ll just stop and wait for one.”
- He’s America’s Next Top [Equine] Model.Is that a camera you have there? Nugget is ready to show you his good side. And his other side, which is also his good side. He stands still as a statue for a picture and will gaze right into your lens as you place your finger down on the shutter. Then, he’ll adjust his pose and pause again. According to Kenny, it’s a common practice (However, see previous bullet for details on expected modeling compensation).
“He’s used to posing,” Kenny said. “I’m always sending photos to Katie [while she’s at school] to let her know he’s okay.”
- A roll a day keeps Nunu sane. “It’s the first thing he does after he’s ridden and goes in his stall,” Kenny said.
- He took a break from the spotlight, but he’s back. Nugget didn’t show from February to November in 2015 to recover from a mild injury. But he’s back in top form, with top-10 finishes in the $50,000 Longines Grand Prix Qualifier and the $200,000 Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier at the Wellington Masters in February and the $130,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 5 at WEF.