Friday, Mar. 1, 2024

Behind The Stall Door With: HH Moonshine

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When 13-year-old Tessa Downey walked up in her paddock boots and garters to try towering 17.2-hand HH Moonshine almost five years ago, the gelding’s trainer was a tad skeptical.

“I remember Val [Renihan] looked at my paddock boots and was like, ‘I’m not sure how this is going to go,’ ” Downey, Houston, Texas, recalled with a laugh. “And then I jumped two or three jumps on ‘Moo,’ and she was like, ‘Oh God, this horse will do anything.’ ”

After watching her try Moo, Downey’s mom, Sara, also felt at ease, and she and her husband purchased the gelding for their daughter. “As a parent, to have a safe horse with all that potential is special,” Sara said. “He just has the best brain; he just cruises right around.”

Tessa Downey and HH Mooonshine. Kimberly Loushin Photos

Originally imported from Poland by grand prix rider Quentin Judge as an equitation prospect, the 12-year-old bay Holsteiner gelding (Quick Fire—T-Casina, Cassini I) did not excel in the young jumper ranks in Europe.

“Quentin went over [to Poland] to try a grand prix horse, and he saw Moo in the barn,” Tessa said. “He asked to try Moo, and the guy was like, ‘No, you don’t want him. He can’t jump big, and he’s too slow as a jumper.’ But Quentin insisted, so they let him. He asked them to set a little trot jump in the tiny indoor, and they were so confused. They were like, ‘No, he jumps big jumps, not little ones!’ Quentin had to explain that we do equitation here in America, and that Moo would need to jump a trot jump to do it.”

At 17.2, HH Moonshine is a big guy with the stride to match.

In the beginning of their partnership, one of the biggest challenges for Tessa was adjusting to the length of Moo’s stride.

“I never did large ponies. After my medium pony, I went straight to Moo,” she said. “He’s gigantic and truly 17.2 hands. On a good day, I’m 5’3” tall. At first, getting used to his big stride was hard for me.”

But once Tessa’s eye adjusted, the pair began to excel in the equitation ranks under the guidance of trainers Peter Pletcher of PJP Farms and Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farm. Over the course of the past four and a half years, Tessa and Moo have had many successes, including winning the 2023 USHJA Gladstone Equitation Classic—East in Traverse City, Michigan; claiming the blue ribbon in Section A of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search class at the 2023 Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania); fourth place in the 2021 Washington International Equitation Finals (North Carolina); and finishing third two years in a row at the 2022 and 2023 ASPCA Maclay Final at the National Horse Show (Kentucky). Moo lives with PJP Farm both on the road and at home, near Houston. Groom Elmer Caballero takes care of Moo on a daily basis.

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Tessa Downey competing with HH Moonshine at Devon (Pa.) in May

Now that indoors are over, Moo will teach another rider in the equitation ring, leaving Tessa with many memories—and lessons—from their time together.

“One of my favorite things about Moo is that he’s so smooth to ride, and he’s the same every day,” Tessa said. “I also ride another equitation horse named Efendi with Ashland Farms, and the way they go is not similar. But they both are capable of getting the same result. I think it takes a lot to make a championship level horse—you have to have a special team and a special program—and I’m lucky to have that with both of these horses.”

Go behind the stall door to get to know this gentle giant.

• Many like to say their horses are models, but for Moo, it’s true. He appeared in Vogue’s February 2019 magazine as an equine model for an Ilene Joy Jewelry advertisement, but as it was before they owned him, the Downey family isn’t sure how he got picked for the project. The company launched its first campaign with British actress and model Poppy Delevingne, and in the black-and-white photo taken by Christian Högstedt, Moo stood stoically with Delevingne posing near him in a white maxi dress.

“It’s a beautiful photograph of him,” Sara said.

Moo is a modeling pro. How many horses can say they’ve been in Vogue?

• Although Moo likes most horses, Tessa’s jumper mare, Isabelle, is his best friend and travel companion.

“When we go to a show, they ride in the trailer together,” Tessa said. “It’s funny because Isabelle hates the other horses, but she loves Moo. They’re best friends and are pretty inseparable!”

• One of Moo’s favorite musicians is Bruno Mars. “I play his music whenever I ride Moo,” Tessa said. “He really seems to resonate with Bruno’s music.”

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• Moo loves people, especially Sara. “She’s known as the ‘treat lady’ to him,” Tessa said. “He’s always looking for her!”

Moo loves people and will do anything for food.

• The way to Moo’s heart is through food. “He’s very food-motivated,” Tessa said. “Literally he would eat dirt, which he will do sometimes!”

Among his favorite treats are bananas (peel included), French fries, smoothies, oranges, chips and even tree leaves.

• Moo’s romps in the paddock are very short-lived because, well, food!

“When you turn him out, he bucks like two times, and then he’s tired,” Tessa said. “Once he’s tired, he’s ready to eat grass!”

HH Moonshine has his runway walk down.

• Moo is not the type to beeline for the muddiest spot of the field. He prefers to keep clean.

“He likes to keep himself looking sharp,” Tessa said. “Moo is pretty sensitive too—he doesn’t like it being too hot outside. I think he likes living in Texas anytime except during the summer when it’s super hot. Luckily, we go north to Traverse City, Michigan, and Lexington, Kentucky, to show in the summer, so it’s cooler there.”

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