When Courtney Calnan was looking for her next eventing partner, she had some specific criteria: 15 hands and a mare.
She’d had to retire her previous event horse, Little Black Dress, a rescued Arabian-Andalusian who took her to the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships (Kentucky) and helped earned her U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medal, after the mare was diagnosed with degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis.
“When she had to be retired, I was a bit lost as to what to do and started looking for a young, mare dressage prospect,” Calnan said. “My goal was to finish my silver [and] hopefully go for my gold medals and just do dressage—walk away from eventing completely.”
When a local eventer friend told her about a 5-year-old Welsh pony (Orchard Hills Dragonflyy—Lee Hill Story Teller) who had failed as a hunter, Calnan went to try him as a mount for a lower-level student.
But when she sat on him for the first time, her feelings changed: Calnan had tried a few other horses but nothing gave her the same feeling that her mare had when she was 5.
“I sat on him, and as soon as I picked up the trot, I knew. I was like, ‘This is the exact same feeling,’ ” Calnan said.
She thought “Milo” might be a good dressage prospect for her goals, so she bought him intending to do some pony dressage and sell him after a year or so. That plan has changed; now Milo is a keeper.
She took him for a jump lesson for some cross-training in December 2020 and realized he really enjoyed it.
“Milo” was in the only crop of foals by his sire, who’d won at prestigious shows like Devon (Pennsylvania). His breeder thought he might be a stallion prospect.
“She bred him with the intention of passing along the bloodlines; she also has the grandsire in her breeding program. She said he had all the makings as a foal, but he was almost stupid athletic,” said Calnan. “Everything he did was just over-the-top. She couldn’t believe how he moved, how he jumped, all the things he did as a weanling. And then he was sold to be a very high-end show hunter. That was the intention, and he just decided that was not what he wanted to do. He has found his calling right on cross-country and jumping the jumps and going quick. He just absolutely loves it. He comes out of his shell. People don’t realize how little he is until they walk up to him. He does have a USEF Pony Card at 14.1.”
Calnan says Milo was shy at first, but he’s become Mr. Personality. He lives at her farm in Lexington, Kentucky, with her group of mares.
“He’ll walk up to people and want you to cuddle with him and snuggle,” she said. “He has the best personality: He’s funny, now he knows whenever I pull out his Flair nose strip and put it on and his cross-country boots, he gets really excited. He’s all about the cross-country.”
The pair is entered in the beginner novice rider division at the AEC this year, less than a year after Milo began eventing.
Calnan has experience through training level on a 14.2-hand pony, and she works full time for AEC sponsor Vetoquinol as an account manager. She also teaches lower level lessons on the side and is on the board of directors for Equestrian Events Inc., which helps run the AEC and the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. With her multiple hats, she is not only competing but manning the Vetoquinol booth and volunteering as well.
“I am balancing working [the Vetoquinol] booth and riding, but it’s very important to me and the company to support competitions like this that highlight all levels of the sport, not just the big guys,” she said. “We love to support the big guys, but it’s great to be able to be here and support everything from beginner novice to advanced; juniors to adult amateurs.”
Calnan is looking forward to competing this weekend and showing everyone how fun ponies can be.
“He is a bit of a spitfire over the fences; he absolutely loves his job and has no idea he is little,” she said. “I’d like to encourage more adults to give ponies a chance. It’s possible to find one that are very athletic and well-suited for eventing and dressage. Their small size makes them easier to work around and less intimidating. I’ve enjoyed participating in the pony divisions at USDF dressage shows with Milo as a way to work on our dressage skills while competing against horses of our own size.”
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