“Why is his butt so low?”
That was the first question event organizer Robert Kellerhouse asked when he saw the horse his wife Erin Kellerhouse had fallen in love with.
“The second I got on him, I knew I wanted him,” recalled Erin, who found Woodford Reserve in Ireland six years ago as a 4-year-old.
In the saddle, that low hindquarter translates to a naturally uphill frame that foreshadowed the possibilities that manifested last fall in the completion of their first CCI4*-L together.
It was a first for horse and rider. Erin bases her Swift Ridge Eventing at Galway Downs in Temecula, California. She’s brought many horses up to the lower Fédération Equestre Internationale levels, but those were for sale or for her students. “Woody” is the first she’s ridden through all the phases of his development.
The 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Tinaranas Inspector—Laharns Laughton, Laughton’s Flight) bred by Frank Hickey has taken Erin further than she’s gone before, finishing fifth in the CCI4*-L at Galway Downs last fall. And on March 25-28, he scored his first FEI win by topping the CCI4*-S at Galway.
We connected with this up-and-coming star to get to know him a little better.
• Woody knows how to put on a show, and he thrives in a competition setting.
“He is quiet, quiet, quiet, and then the second he’s on stage he grows about two hands,” said Erin. “He just wakes up. It’s taken me a while to get used to that. He’d be super chill, then we’d go around the dressage court, and I’m like, ‘Uh oh. What just happened?’ It’s taken me a while to trust it, to know that he’s going to do it when he gets in the ring.”
• While Woody has his animated moments, including bucking Erin off in the dressage warm-up during their first two-star, he is basically a solid citizen.
“That is such a cool thing about him. Usually, the really good ones are super quirky,” she said. “He can get intense, but he knows his job, and he is never weird or tricky. He wants to work for you. He’s a total workman.”
With so many young horses just starting their careers in the lower divisions, Erin says getting on Woody triggers a sigh of relief and relaxation.
“He is a sweet horse, very normal,” she said. “I appreciate that so much. I know he’s not going to do anything stupid. He is the smartest and most reasonable horse I know.”
• Woody does have a weird mascot: a guinea pig named Peanut Butter, who Swift Ridge team member Amy Gentile brings to the dressage ring. The tradition stems from Woody’s supposed resemblance, in the face, to a guinea pig.
• If there’s one thing Woody doesn’t like, it’s having his legs brushed. He won’t tolerate even brushes with the softest bristles. Early on, Erin tried to train him to accept the grooming until close friend and international course designer Ian Stark advised against it.
“He said, ‘Don’t try to make him do that. That’s why he’s so careful in show jumping!’ ” Erin said.
• Woody’s leg sensitivity doesn’t stop him from happily stepping into the elbow-height bucket filled with ice water after every jump session. You can leave him untied in a grooming stall munching from a nearby hay net.
“I’ve tried a bunch of different boots, and we love this as the only way to get their legs and feet cold,” Erin said.
• Boarding and training at a busy competition venue can be a challenge, and Woody definitely knows when it’s time for him to compete.
“Sometimes I wish he didn’t,” Erin said with a laugh. “In some ways I think it’s a little harder for us who live here because the horses are used to seeing things the same, and then one day, it’s, ‘Wow! What’s that?’ ”
• Overall, Woody is a pretty easygoing guy, but he can be a bit of a pain when it comes to one thing: grass.
“When the grass comes out in the spring, he turns into a naughty pony and drags me all around when I’m leading him. He pulls me off my feet,” said Erin. “Sometimes I feel sorry for the horses who come over here from Ireland, where they’ve grown up in big grass pastures.”
• While Woody’s never been difficult to get fit, adding an underwater treadmill to his fitness program going into his first CCI4*-L was a “game-changer.”
“He was so fresh,” Erin said. “At the 9-minute mark, I was like, ‘Did I forget a loop?’ He really felt normal, like he does in a horse trial.”
Starting about six weeks before the late-October event, Woody went to Trifecta Equine Athletic Center in Bonsall, California, for three sessions a week on the inclined underwater treadmill. It’s now a regular part of Erin’s preparation for big events.