Eventers are always looking for the next set of red-and-white flags on course, but when Juliana Yenne and her pinto gelding, The Diceman, leave the start box, they add one more flag to the course: the 11-year-old Arabian-Saddlebred’s exuberant tail.
“People always try to guess what breed he is,” said Yenne, 17, who lives in Bend, Oregon. “I’ve gotten very random combinations, and whenever I say Arab/Saddlebred, they’re like, ‘Oh, really? I don’t believe that!’ ”
Despite the fact that “Dice” is a non-traditional breed, the pair has had a strong summer, finishing in the top 10 at their last few events, including a win at the Inavale Farm Horse Trials (Oregon) in June.
But the path to their successful partnership wasn’t always so consistent. When they first encountered Dice, Yenne had outgrown her previous eventer, a pony she described as perfect. Their budget was tight, so when their neighbors, who’d purchased Dice (GLF In His Image—JV Foxy Fatima) as an endurance prospect, offered him as an option, they gave it a shot.
“Our neighbors said, ‘Dice is just standing in a field; he’s there if you want him.’ We took him to our trainer [at the time], Stephanie Parker, who said he was the most talented, willing horse she’d ever ridden,” said Yenne’s mom, Stephanie Yenne. “And he was athletic. So [Parker] and my older daughter started riding him. Juliana had just given back her pony that she loved and didn’t really bond with him right away, but she stuck with it.”
“[Moving up] to a horse I had to ride and train from the start was very difficult,” Juliana recalled. “As a teenager, you’re very emotional, and I would get very emotionally invested: ‘Why isn’t he understanding this?’ He was never malicious. I don’t think he has a malicious bone in his body. He was just quick.”
The key to building their relationship proved to be time spent not riding. “I really enjoyed his personality, because he’s such a goofball,” Juliana said. “So I think I bonded with him on the ground before I bonded with him on his back.
“The first winter I had him I couldn’t really ride him, because he was a hot 6-year-old, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” she continued. “But there was a big soccer ball for horses, and I was playing with him with it and thinking, ‘This is fun!’ ”
As they began to progress, the pair drew on every opportunity they could find in the greater Oregon equine community. Juliana and Dice hauled to local events with a group of adult amateurs, who shared encouragement and wisdom.
“[After] my first training I wasn’t sure If I wanted to keep Dice,” she said. “And all these women who had already gone up the levels and evented for decades were like, ‘You cannot sell him. You don’t know how good a horse you have. He will jump the moon for you!’ ”
In their debut at preliminary at Equestrians Institute Horse Trials, Kenmore, Washington, in May, the pair incurred their first cross-country jump faults when Dice ran by a couple of fences, but he readily popped over them on the second presentation. After that they’ve steadily improved their finishes.
“After I went prelim, I thought, ‘You know, we could do this. We could do the two-star!’ “Juliana said. “At Young Riders Camp, we were saying how it’s really important to set goals to improve your riding. So I thought, ‘All right, I’m going to set my goal.’ So I wrote it down on a sticky note, and I have it in my room: ‘NAYC 2020.’ My first goal is to do a two-star, and then do JYAC.”
Juliana, who works at two barns to help cover expenses and is enrolled in a college-credit high school program through Central Oregon Community College, continued, “I also want to do a four-star by the time I’m 30. It’s really important to set a goal, so you have something to work towards, instead of just thinking, I’ll do this show, I’ll do that show.”
While other aspiring riders might find Area VII far from the center of the eventing world, Juliana enjoys the community. “I love it. The coaches are amazing. The people are amazing,” she said. “Since I started riding with the Willamette Sport Horses team this spring and summer, it’s like being part of a family, part of a group. Instead of feeling isolated, I feel so welcome.”
Juliana meets up with Willamette Sport Horse trainer Brooke Phillips at competitions and has worked on show jumping with Simone Starnes at Starnes Equestrian in Bend. She also credits her dressage sessions with Ernst Herrmann for improving what was the most challenging phase.
“[Ernst] has really turned it around,” she said. “It’s so important to have a good trainer that knows your goals and what you want and also takes into account what your horse can do and what you can do together.”
What advice does she have for riders considering non-traditional breeds for eventing? “I don’t really think it depends on the breed,” Juliana said. “Dice wasn’t bred to [event], but he does it better than some horses who were bred to do it. I’d say if the horse has natural ability and likes to do it, then that’s better than a horse that has all the natural ability in the world but just doesn’t care about it.”
And while it might not have been love at first sight, Juliana and her game partner have a strong bond after five years of steady progress. “He loves his job and he is so willing to please,” she said. “He’s just like my friend, and I love being around him.”
Do you know of an unusual breed competing in hunters, jumpers, eventing or dressage? Email Kimberly at email@example.com.