Kristine Hegglin has made it her mission to prove that ponies can be excellent dressage partners, and her nearly decade-long journey with Holstein’s Harlequin has done just that.
In the final championship ride of their partnership, Hegglin and “Harley” (Holstein’s Herold—Holstein’s Scarlett, Horsegate Minstrel) earned top honors in the adult amateur Intermediaire II class at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 7 and California Dressage Society Championships, held Sept. 21-24 in Rancho Murieta, California, with a 65.15%. The Reno, Nevada-based pair previously has earned regional championships at second, third and fourth levels.
Hegglin has owned the German Riding Pony since he was 5, after finding him in Europe. He had been sitting in a pasture for a year, at the time, because he was deemed unsuitable for children.
“I just loved him,” she said. “I loved his hind end—he has a lot of power, he has the most power I had found in a pony, the most push.”
Harley’s athleticism proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The 14-hand gelding’s impressive bucks and unwanted airs above the ground occasionally unseated Hegglin, though she never gave in to her doubts about him.
“There were times, like when I was trying to teach him the change, that he would toss me left and right and bolt,” she recalled. “I thought this is never going to work, but then, once he learned one change, soon after that, we were doing one-tempis. And I didn’t even know how to do them—I was just swinging my leg wildly. Part of me thinks that you need some of that feistiness to get to the upper levels.”
As an adult amateur whose equestrian journey started later in life, Hegglin stayed committed to Harley when others might have moved on. She credits her courage to her family.
“We’re a kind of adrenaline-junkie family,” she said. “I have two adult sons, they’re both adrenaline junkies, and my husband is also into extreme mountain biking.”
After a few falls eventing at the preliminary level on a previous horse, however, Hegglin’s husband wanted her to find something slightly less dangerous.
“I was riding a made horse who had gone prelim, so he really took care of me, but even my husband was like, ‘I’ll buy you a nice dressage horse if you just quit eventing,’ ” she recalled.
One of those nice dressage horses turned out to be Harley. A friend who owned ponies let Hegglin ride one of hers, which convinced the Reno rider to find a smaller dressage partner.
“I just fell in love with them,” Hegglin said. “They’re quick, they have good engines, for the most part. A lot of them are pretty hot, and I don’t think people realize that. They have a lot of go even though they’re little. … I just didn’t want to get off.”
Although Harley has been tricky at times, his performance in the ring has rewarded Hegglin’s faith in him.
Promoting ponies as potential dressage partners for adult amateurs also has become a pet project for Hegglin, who now owns three German Riding Pony stallions in addition to gelding Harley. All but one, who is still in Germany, live at her own Tegridy Farm in South Reno.
“As an older adult amateur in my fifties, it’s easier on my body to ride the ponies,” she said. “I’m also a small person, so I really want to promote the ponies and encourage other adult amateurs to take them on, rather than those 17-hand warmbloods that are really hard to put together.”
Hegglin is bringing along both young stallions and offers them for breeding. She is competing 6-year-old Steendieks Dubidoo (FS Dodge City–Dreamcatcher’s Daisy H, Dreamcatcher) at third level and 4-year-old Charming 46 (Can Do–A New Daylight, A Gorgeous) at training.
“I really wanted to get some good stallions in the U.S. to promote the breeding of the German Riding Ponies for adult amateurs,” Hegglin said.
Even with a full-time groom who tacks up her ponies, Hegglin’s days are jam-packed. She works more than full-time at a financial technology startup called Ridgeline, which means that she sometimes has to work nights and weekends. Fitting in the ponies and lessons with her trainer Kathy Pavlich can be a challenge.
“Sometimes, I’ll ride one early in the morning, go back, do meetings, ride one over lunch, go back, ride one over dinner, repeat. Luckily, I live very close to my barn,” she said. “Sometimes I just take meetings from here, at the barn. If you love something enough, you make it happen.”
Though Harley is only 14 years old, Hegglin has made the decision to retire him, feeling he would prefer a life spent more outside the ring. She promised him that he’d get a lush life in the pasture not long after they earned their USDF gold medal—a goal they accomplished earlier last year.
The gelding loves to swim in nearby Lake Washoe and go on trail rides. Even when followed by the wild stallions that live in the same area as Tegridy Farms, Harley has been a solid citizen out on hacks.
“He and I are in tune with each other; it’s hard to explain,” Hegglin said. “So I kind of feel his energy before we go on the trail and decide if it’s safe or not. But he can be incredible out there. I want to give him a life he likes.”