Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Behind The Stall Door With: Private I

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At the ring Private I is no nonsense. This hunter is as businesslike as they come. He wants to do his job—and he’s very good at it.

The 11-year-old Oldenburg (Corrado—Verdi) owned by Kelly Sims is not only a formidable contender in the high performance hunters and international hunter derbies with professional Michael Britt-Leon, but he’s also a consistentwinner in the 3’3” amateur-owner hunters, 36 and over, with Sims.

“He, in the ring, is 110% business,” Britt-Leon said. “He is not one that messes around. He knows when he’s walking up to the ring; he knows when he’s in the warm-up ring, and he knows when he’s in the show ring. In the warm-up ring he always gives effort, but in the show ring is where he really tries and shines.”

Private I competing with Michael Britt-Leon at the 2022 National Horse Show (Ky.). Kimberly Loushin Photo

He won his first derby at the 2019 Gulf Coast Magnolia Classic (Mississippi) with former rider Jason Berry, and once Britt-Leon took over the ride, he won derbies at the 2019 Aiken Summer Classic (South Carolina) and the 2021 Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Virginia). He’s competed at the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky) three times, finishing 14th and 11th in 2019 and 2021, respectively. In 2020 he won the WCHR Pro Final at Capital Challenge (Ohio), and the following year he was champion in the high performance hunters and 3’3″ amateur-owner hunters, 36 and over, at the National Horse Show (Kentucky) and was reserve in the amateur-owners at Washington International (North Carolina). He won the WCHR 3’3″ Amateur-Owner Challenge at Capital Challenge (Maryland) in 2022 and earned USEF Horse of the Year honors in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Most recently he and Sims won the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby for amateurs during Week 11 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida).

But take him out of the ring and Private I is the life of the party. Britt-Leon described him as the resident “goofball” at Windsor Stables in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Go behind the stall door with us to get to know the loveable gelding better.

Private I may be a professional in the ring, but at home, his goofball personality comes out. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• When Private I was imported, his name was “Crime,” but it didn’t fit him well. In the barn he goes by “Elliot” after Elliot Stabler from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and his show name grew out of the detective theme.

• Sims wasn’t looking for a horse when she purchased Elliot, but when Britt-Leon saw him in the warm-up ring in Gulfport, Mississippi, with Berry, he knew there was something special about the big bay.

“Just instantly fell in love with his style and his look,” Britt-Leon said. ‘I’m big on horses’ eyes, and he has a very sweet, gentle eye. I just knew I liked the way he went. When we rode him, I thought he’d be perfect for Kelly, for us to develop and do the amateur-owners on. So she tried him. He was very green—he didn’t know very much at all—he just had really good style. And she rode him and fell in love with him.”

Kelly Sims and Michael-Britt Leon with Private I. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• Britt-Leon likes to call Elliot the “big man on campus,” and the gelding knows he’s special.

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“He walks around a little puffed up like he knows he’s boss, but at the same time you see in his eye how he doesn’t take himself too seriously,” he said. “That’s why he seems so intelligent, because he has so much to him and so much depth to his personality. He’s different than any other horse that I’ve ever had, so that’s been really neat.”

• Though he’s over 17 hands, Elliot has a strong desire to be a child’s pony.

“Whenever there’s a little kid, he’s very gentle,” Britt-Leon said. “[Spectators will] walk by, and I’ll introduce the horse, and he always will go right over to the kid, not the adult. He always goes and smells the kid and puts his head low and lets them pet his nose.”

Sims’ 3-year-old granddaughter is equally obsessed with Elliot and taken a few rides on the gentle giant.

“We tease that he’s going to be the fanciest short stirrup horse, that when he’s done with the AOs, or maybe even before that, [he’ll be hers],” Britt-Leon said. “I think Kelly’s granddaughter wants him. She’ll have a pretty famous incredible 2’, crossrail or short stirrup horse to learn on, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s that tolerant and that easy. She loves to ride him around. He’s a very big horse, but he’s so gentle when he’s supposed to be.”

Private I with Michael Britt-Leon. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• Elliot loves his turnout, and he makes it very clear he wants to spend as much time there as possible.

“We have a lot of beautiful pasture at home in Georgia, and he has to be the first one out of the stall in the barn,” Britt-Leon said. “If the other horses go out before him, he like loses his mind. He’s very upset. He’s definitely like the alpha horse to the barn. But he’s very goofy. The guys go out to get him, and he plays with them, or he plays with me or the other horses. He likes to get them a little riled up when they’re out in the pastures.”

Private I is a big fan of turnout. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• He loves the miniature horses at Windsor Stables. But the miniature donkeys, who have a penchant for trouble? Not so much.

“He really is intrigued by [the miniature horses],” Britt-Leon said. “He looks at them; he tries to kind of drag you over to them.”

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• If he were a person, he’d probably find a job that kept him on the road. Elliot loves traveling.

“Some horses enjoy seeing different things and keeping life interesting; some horses get really stressed and don’t like that,” said Britt-Leon. “I think he likes the challenge and the excitement of new things.”

• While Elliot can’t be called “fast” per se, he does love a good gallop out in the field.

“When we’re in Upperville or Kentucky, we go and hack in those big, grass fields—oh my gosh, he’s the happiest out there,” said Britt-Leon. “He’s so playful out there. I feel like that’s where he’s the most silly and playful when we ride him. Normally when we go in the ring he’s so much business, so I know that he really likes going out in those big fields to gallop.”

Private I with his groom Silvano Chavez. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• Elliot love attention, and he especially enjoys when his groom Silvano Chavez dotes on him.

“[Chavez] loves him doting over him,” said Britt-Leon. “He definitely will take extra time in his stall, whether it’s making sure he doesn’t have any fungus or making sure his coat looks slick or that he’s got enough oil in his mane and tail to make sure the hair growth is happening from all the braiding we do. He gets pampered a lot by Kelly, myself and Silvano. He definitely loves his groom too, and his groom loves him.”

• While Elliot is friends with Sims’ other amateur-owner mount James Bond Van’t Roosakker, he does have a bit of a jealous streak.

“[Sims] always does James Bond first to go around the ring before she gets on Elliot, but I don’t think he likes to watch that,” said Britt-Leon. “He kind of wants to be the only guy there, even though he does love his brother.”

Private I at home at Windsor Stables in Alpharetta, Ga. Brittany Hudson/Dare To Be Different Photography Photo

• Elliot is obsessed with his treats. His favorites are Paddock Cakes or Mrs. Pastures Cookies. If he’s feeling like a whole-foods snack, carrots are his go to.

• Elliot is about as easy as it comes for ring prep. He doesn’t get morning rides or need a longe, and he knows whether he’s headed to the ring with Britt-Leon or Sims and adjusts his jump accordingly.

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