Behind The Stall Door With: Don John

Feb 4, 2019 - 10:35 PM

He’s independent but a big softy, and he’s carried Nick Wagman to several CDI Grand Prix victories over the last year. Meet Don John!

Wagman and Beverly Gepfer’s 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Johnson—Lindalie, Goodtimes) most recently won the CDI-W Grand Prix for the freestyle and Grand Prix freestyle at the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival (California) at the end of January, and they’re quietly eyeing the Pan American Games (Peru) as a goal for this year.

We went behind the stall door with “DJ” to learn more.

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Nick Wagman and Don John. Lindsay Berreth Photos

• DJ has a big grass paddock connected to his stall at Gepfer’s farm, but he’s not much for playing outside. He lives next door to Wagman’s other Grand Prix horse Zenith, and they’re good friends.

• The gelding enjoys regular bodywork, chiropractic work and magnetic therapy, and enjoys trail riding and cavaletti in the ring when he’s not working.

“He knows his routine, and he likes his schedule,” said Wagman, who added that he’s found a routine is best to keep horses and humans happy.

• Grooms Hector Ledezma and José Alaniz take care of Wagman’s horses, and they’re an integral part of DJ’s routine when traveling to shows.

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“I think it’s really important that the horses have their people that they know with them, and DJ knows that Hector and José take care of him,” said Wagman. “It’s really remarkable how important that bond is. He settles in so much more quickly because his guys are there.”

• These days, DJ and Wagman have a strong partnership, but when Wagman first got the ride on him when the horse was 5, he wasn’t so sure it would work out. Wagman found out DJ was sensitive to the girth when he was bucked off and sustained a compression fracture in his back.

He developed a routine of jogging DJ in hand or longing him before getting on, but it happened again in 2017, and Wagman broke his arm and multiple ribs.

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After a period of soul searching to decide whether the horse was right for him, Wagman overcame his fear and found a system that works for DJ, which still includes a quick session on the longe before getting on.

“I’ve had two accidents with him mounting, and we’ve worked through that really well, and it’s not been a problem,” said Wagman. “That’s so atypical of him in his personality. He’s such a sweet-natured horse. He’s really hot and sensitive under saddle, and he’s impressing me with how he’s handling all these new things. It took a while for him to really figure out that he could let his guard down and trust everybody.”

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• “When we first got him, he was so skittish and a little bit apprehensive,” said Wagman. “It took a long time before anybody could just reach up to his face without him having to reacquaint himself with you every day. Now he’s the biggest puppy dog. I can hang on his ears; he blows in my face; I can hang on his neck. He’s really become a gentle giant. He’s a pretty solid, independent character. He’s a cool cucumber.”

• He can even be braided without a halter.

• DJ knows where to find his favorite treats. “He knows my right pocket is full of sugar at all times,” said Wagman.

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