“He looked a little bit like a dinosaur when he came to the barn. Very long legs and just big—I mean giant. People were surprised, to say the least,” Stephanie Danhakl said about her amateur-owner hunter Golden Rule.
She isn’t kidding when she says he’s big. The 16-year-old Oldenburg gelding of unrecorded breeding towers above the line-up in a hunter class at 17.3 3/4 hands. He may not be the most typical-looking hunter, but when you see him go, you can understand why Danhakl’s trainer Scott Stewart picked him out.
“Once you see him in the ring and his beautiful expression and his jump, I think you’re kind of sold on him,” said Danhakl. “He’s really a special horse.”
Stewart imported “Dreamy” off a video and started showing him in the 3’9″ green and high performance hunters in 2014. Danhakl bought him in March of that year, and they instantly clicked, winning the amateur-owner, 18-35, championship in their first show together at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida). In their six-year partnership, they’ve won championships at Devon (Pennsylvania), the Hampton Classic (New York), Capital Challenge (Maryland), Pennsylvania National, Washington International (District of Columbia) and the National Horse Show (Kentucky).
We went behind the stall door with Dreamy at Rivers Edge in Wellington, Florida, to get to know him better.
• Some horses like carrots and apples, and while Dreamy enjoys those too, his favorite snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“One day a few years ago I was sitting on a tack trunk [at a show],” Danhakl recalled. “Since he’s so big we don’t shut the stall doors so he can stretch his neck out, and he kind of reached over my shoulder and took a bite while I was eating it, so I just gave the rest to him. We’ve kind of been doing that ever since.”
• He enjoys his stretches—or maybe it’s the carrots that come with it.
“I always stretch his neck before I ride him, so I’ll give him carrots to each side,” Danhakl said. “If I ever forget to do that, he’s turning his head over to me expecting his carrot.”
• In case it wasn’t obvious, he’s not a picky eater. “He pretty much will eat anything,” said Danhakl. “I’ve given him pizza, which probably isn’t healthy for horses. He’ll eat really anything. Any kind of candy, you name it, he’ll eat it.”
• He’s Mr. Reliable. When Danhakl broke her leg in a ski accident in 2017, Dreamy was the first horse she got on once she’d recovered.
“The first day I was back all these birds flew out of the bushes, and he kind of spooked, and I almost fell off,” she recalled. “But then he moved over to where I was falling off so that I wouldn’t fall. That kind of describes him; he’s really a sweet horse.
“My dad’s ridden him; my husband’s ridden him; I would put a toddler on him,” she said. “He’s just a really gentle horse, so you can really trust him to take care of people. Scott’s always telling me to rev him up a little bit and try to get him to gallop, and I have a lot of trouble because he has that slow metronomic pace, and my dad got on him and was just racing around like a Quarter Horse. It was very funny. I think actually Dreamy was having fun too. He’s the only horse I would let my dad ride for sure.”
• He likes to be the center of everything. In both Florida and Rivers Edge’s main location in Flemington, New Jersey, his stall faces the ring, and he takes full advantage of his view.
“You can always catch him sticking his head out and watching what’s going on and looking at everyone, probably silently judging them,” said Danhakl. “He definitely likes to be the center of attention and the center of the action.”
• Dreamy’s never met a stranger in his life. Danhakl described him as a people horse who thrives on meeting new people.
• Dreamy is the epitome of a gentle giant.
“He’s actually really sweet with little kids and little dogs,” said Danhakl. “He’s very gentle. Krista [Weisman], who I ride with, has a baby, and he likes to look at her; [he’s] very observant and interested.”
• There’s not a lot of prep work in Dreamy’s life. He often walks around the ring in the morning and will go for a gentle trot either under saddle or on a longe line, but that’s it. He could pretty much go from the stall to the ring.
• Dreamy is great in the handy classes, but you’ve got to be deliberate in your track.
“He doesn’t like if you’re turning, and you’re too close to the jump standard or the plants or whatever you’re turning in front of,” said Danhakl. “I’ve fallen off of him a few times that way where he’ll catch his eye on something, and he thinks you’re running him into the standard, and then he’ll just very quickly deposit you. That’s happened a couple times, so I have to be careful about that.”
• “He does like to go on trail rides,” said Danhakl. “He can sometimes be a little bit spooky to keep things interesting and let you know he’s still got it even though he’s 16. He’s always looking at everything, and you see those two ears pointed at everything.”