Anna Buffini is one of the brightest new stars in the international dressage arena, but she couldn’t have done it without Sundayboy.
During their epic FEI Young Rider career, the pair claimed a team gold medal at the 2014 Adequan FEI North American Young Rider Championships (Ky.) and earned their first national championship title in the young rider division at the USEF Festival of Champions (N.J.) in 2014.
Buffini and her talented Dutch Warmblood gelding then seemed to effortlessly move up the ranks to the Under-25 Grand Prix division in 2016, where they recorded multiple CDI victories and another national championship, this time at Lamplight in Illinois for the 2016 USEF Young Adult “Brentina Cup” Dressage Championship.
For what was their final season together, the pair moved from their California home to train in Wellington, Fla., and compete as part of the U.S. team in the first-ever FEI Under-25 Nations Cup. In Sundayboy’s last tests in competition, he and Buffini helped the U.S. team to first in the Nations Cup and then capped their time together with a win in the U-25 Grand Prix freestyle as their swan song together.
He was a force to be reckoned with in the arena, but back at the barn Sundayboy is a big softy at heart:
• The first thing one notices about Sundayboy is his huge, stunning eyes. “I think that’s one of my favorite things about him—they’re so expressive and seem to look right inside your soul,” said Buffini. But when he stops showing off how handsome he is with dramatic posing and staring off into space, he wants something from you. Buffini explained that the faster he blinks, the more attention he wants, because…
• He likes people more than horses. “He doesn’t seem to really care about other horses, but when any people are around he’s trying to get their attention, all the time,” she noted.
• Another “go-to” move for Sundayboy to gain someone’s attention is toe tapping, but always with the right front foot. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over.
• Treats are the key to his heart, and he can be very demanding for them. “That’s basically how we handle him: bribery,” Buffini laughed. “At his age, he is what he is and treats work to keep him happy, so why not? Yes I spoil him, but he deserves it.” Sundayboy’s favorite treats include carrots (because they last a long time with a lot of crunch) and grain-based horse cookies. But before showing up with a gift box, make sure those cookies are peppermint flavored or it’s a no-go.
• He is the definition of a diva. Buffini reported that Sundayboy expects to be provided all of his therapies and spa treatments as part of his daily pampering. In addition, if he is to be bathed, it MUST be with suitably warm water or again, it’s a no-go.
• He knows when it’s time to be serious—but only for a little while. “When he’s in the show arena he’s so focused we say that a bomb could go off and he’d just keep doing his job,” Buffini noted. “But in the barn, he’s just a big goofball. I call him an equine Benjamin Button. He’s 18 this year, but he’s like a 4-year-old to handle most of the time, especially at shows. He likes to jump around and show off.”
• Sundayboy has a stubborn streak if he doesn’t want to do something, and clippers in particular are a nemesis. “But at that same time, that toughness allows him to push through challenging situations under saddle. I think that’s why at his age he’s still thriving in the Grand Prix arena.”
• He’s mouthy, but never bites. One of his favorite games is to take off any hat Buffini is wearing, and if he can get his mouth on a squeaky toy, hours of ridiculousness will ensue.
• He’s a big country music fan, especially of Taylor Swift. “I used to sing the songs around him all the time because I was on a big Taylor Swift kick, so now if you play her music he recognizes it and perks his ears up to listen,” Buffini explained. “Sometimes we’ll deliberately play it to relax him at shows. His favorite seems to be ‘Our Song.’”
• Sundayboy is a snuggle buddy. “When he lays down to take a nap, he enjoys when I come in and sit with him, and he will often put his head in my lap and go to sleep,” said Buffini.
• But he can also be a pouter. “If I leave on vacation even for just a week, he won’t come to the door when I come home. He’ll see me, and go to the back of the stall. He’ll punish me for about half a day, but then he can’t stand it any longer and gets super needy,” said Buffini.
• Sundayboy started his international dressage career in the expert hands of Olympian Guenter Seidel, racking up wins up and down the West Coast. But when Seidel and his longtime owners Richard and Jane Brown parted ways, Sundayboy ended up at a sales barn in Holland.
“I was in the country looking at other horses and spotted him, and said, ‘Is that Sundayboy?’ We didn’t have time to stop and look because we had to catch our flight, but something told me to return. So yes, we flew all the way back the next week just to try him,” Buffini recalled. “That first ride we had together was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a horse. The rest is history. I’ve never ‘clicked’ with a horse like that before and have such an incredible bond with him, and I’m not sure if I ever will again.”