Thursday, May. 30, 2024

Dauntless Courage Carries His Heart And Soul Over Every Fence

If you’d asked Chelsea Kolman five years ago where she expected to be with Dauntless Courage, she would have probably guessed puttering around at a local schooling show. 

As a barely saddle-broke 18-hand 3-year-old PMU horse who’d failed police training school because he was afraid of his own shadow, “Dante” didn’t exactly scream “sport horse” potential.

But somewhere along the way, Kolman earned the gelding’s trust, and he started living up to his name.

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If you’d asked Chelsea Kolman five years ago where she expected to be with Dauntless Courage, she would have probably guessed puttering around at a local schooling show. 

As a barely saddle-broke 18-hand 3-year-old PMU horse who’d failed police training school because he was afraid of his own shadow, “Dante” didn’t exactly scream “sport horse” potential.

But somewhere along the way, Kolman earned the gelding’s trust, and he started living up to his name.

Now they’ve just completed their second intermediate event at the Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials in Altoona, Fla., winning the intermediate rider division on their dressage score of 34.4 and becoming one of just six pairs (three of which were four-star veterans) to make the time cross-country across all intermediate divisions. 

“This horse has really made my dreams come true in every aspect,” said Kolman. “I never in a million years thought I would own a horse as nice as him, and never in another million years did I think I would train him. I’ve put every ounce of training that he has on him myself. To be able to go out and run him anywhere, it makes my day. It makes me smile, and it’s what keeps me going. 

“The fact that we won is just the icing on the cake,” she continued. “It feels great, and I’m very happy, but at the end of the day, to me, the partnership that I have with this horse that will last forever is so much more meaningful. It feels great to win, but I’ve already won, and I’ve been winning for the past five years because I own this horse, and he means the world to me.” 


Chelsea Kolman and Dante. Photo by JJ Sillman.

As a young rider, Kolman dabbled at local hunter/jumper shows near her hometown of Versailles, Ky., and had a growing collection of rescue horses at home that she would break and retrain.

She first met Dante, a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross (Sheikh’s Legacy—101, Black Top Jake) as a 3-year-old when a friend at her barn, who was a student at Asbury University (Ky.), invited her to come visit the school’s police horse training center.

Dante had made the trip south from a Canadian PMU farm with a group of eight other weanlings and 2- and 3-year-olds and was in training to become a police horse, but he wasn’t quite working out.

“He was just crazy, wild, rambunctious, just wasn’t feeling it. He was really spooky from Day 1,” said Kolman, 21. “They did their weanling and yearling work with him, then he turned 2, and they saddled him up and broke him. He wasn’t super easy to break. He had put a couple of people in not-so-good situations—rearing up, flipping over, bucking them off. They decided that that wasn’t going to work for him. They don’t just send them off to anybody—they put a pretty hefty price tag on them since they spend so much time doing the police training.”

Someone bought the gelding as a foxhunter prospect but sent him back, and when Kolman saw him, she was intrigued. While she wasn’t in the market for another horse and didn’t have the money, there was something about his intelligence that made her fall in love.

 “I liked the fact that he was alert,” she said. “He was spooky, but he knows what he’s doing, and he pays attention to what he’s doing. I like the horse that 10 strides out is saying, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ ”

A few months later when her 16th birthday came around, Kolman got a big surprise—her parents bought Dante for her.

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A Long, Tough Road

As Kolman started to bring Dante along, she realized she had her work cut out for her. The gelding wasn’t dangerous, just uneducated.

“It was a very long, tough road,” she said. “He was tough in the bridle, very heavy. He had a canter in him. [The horse only knew walk and trot when she got him.] He still had a bit of a rearing problem.”

She went through several trainers who all told her to cut her losses and sell him, but she never gave up.


Dante’s current success was a long time coming for Chelsea Kolman. Photo by JJ Sillman.

After a particularly trying lesson where she and a former trainer were teaching Dante to jump, and he was crashing though jumps, things came to a head. The trainer told Kolman she’d made a mistake in buying Dante. “He’s a waste of your talent, and you need to get rid of him,” Koman recalled the trainer saying.

“I walked up to him, I hugged his face and said, ‘Don’t worry buddy. Someday they’ll see what I see.’ He just buried his head into my hands, and after that, to be honest, I can’t even tell you a day that I remember that was tough,” Kolman said.

“Every day since that day I could feel progress every single day. Even when he was successful through training level and preliminary, everyone, still to this day, tells me, ‘Oh he won’t make the time,’ or ‘Oh he won’t do this, or he won’t do that.’ But I tell you what, every single time somebody says he won’t, he just turns around and not only does it, but exceeds it.”


Chelsea Kolman is frequently overwhelmed by Dante’s generous spirit. Photo by Alexis Snowden.

During his early training, Dante was somewhat trusting of Kolman, but he was still very spooky and would turn and run if he was scared of something. She was inspired by a trip to watch famed Australian horse trainer Guy McLean, and she decided to put some of his methods to work.

“He said if you can lay a horse down, that’s them telling you that they trust you 100 percent,” she said.

She learned that by controlling a horse’s feet, you can earn their trust. “Because to a horse their feet are their livelihood. If they don’t have their feet, in their minds they’re dead. The way he explained it to me made sense to me.”

Kolman taught Dante to lie down on command, and he took to the exercise quickly. It soon became a calming tool for him. “Since the day I got him it had been a struggle,” said Kolman. “He trusted me, but I lost him whenever he got nervous. It was like he went to a different place. I tried it to see if it would really work. I tried for a few days, and he went down and did well. It became a daily routine. I laid him down after every ride. I laid him down every morning, every night. I would sit with him and put his head on my lap.”

Kolman tested her work at Dante’s second show as a 4-year-old. “He saw the barn and wouldn’t walk in it. He was rearing,” she said. “Sure enough, I had him down flat, he sighed like a dog, I let him sit there for a little bit, pet on him, rubbed him, he jumped up, shook off and walked straight into the barn. That’s when I knew it really made a difference.”

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Kolman now utilizes the tool for putting studs in at events. It might seem a little strange, but it keeps the gelding calm and makes the task easier.


Dante lying down for Chelsea Kolman to put his studs in. Photo by JJ Sillman.

“I would go to put his studs on, and he would step away from me, pull his feet away from me. He’s a bit of a cow about it. He needed to be still. He’s 18 hands,” she said. But having him lie down for the process improved things. “He just laid out flat and nibbled grass through the side of his mouth. He jumped up when I was done and was just as happy as could be. He needs that ‘me and you’ time before cross-country because he gets very wired and very excited.”

Kolman had no eventing experience when she bought Dante, but she got hooked after competing in a starter trial when he was 4. She entered a recognized training level event and qualified and competed Dante at the 2014 American Eventing Championships in Texas where they finished 14th in the training amateur division. Last year they returned to the AEC in the preliminary amateur division, where they finished fourth. They went on to complete the Hagyard MidSouth CCI* (Ky.) in sixth place before moving up to intermediate at the River Glen Horse Trials (Tenn.) in November.


Dante and Kolman in action. Photo by JJ Sillman.

“This horse just doesn’t question a single thing I ask of him. He just does it and does it well,” said Kolman. “I’m very much an advocate for the horse—going into this I asked my trainer Cathy Wieschhoff if he could do it. She said, ‘Chelsea, he’s got it. There’s no reason why you can’t move up.’ She keeps a close eye on him; she’s very much like me in that the horse comes before anything.”

To keep fit, Dante swims twice a week to reduce stress on his joints. He goes on an Aquatred once a week and stands in a coldwater spa after every cross-country run. Two gallops a week and lots of trot work meant he finished at Rocking Horse full of running.


Dante and Kolman on cross-country at the 2015 AEC. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.

“Cross-country he was a machine,” said Kolman. “He galloped through the whole thing like it was made for him and finished strong. Luckily we were able to finish first. He’s always been quick, which sounds silly because he’s big, but he really gallops. He’s got a very long body and very long legs, so he covers a lot of ground. It was apparently a really tough course to make time on.”

Kolman operates her business out of a 50-acre farm in Versailles where she specializes in behavioral training and breaking and starting young horses of all breeds and disciplines.

She’s spending her first winter in Florida and hopes to qualify Dante for the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Colo.) at the two-star level this year.

“I dreamed of doing big things, but I never in a million years bought that horse thinking this is what he’s going to do,” she said. “I just genuinely loved his personality and wanted to look at this horse every day for the rest of his life. He’s a great horse.”

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