When most people picture a Shire, they think of an elegant giant done up in braids pulling a carriage, or a working animal straining to pull a plow, or even a massive horse thundering across a field with mane and feathers flying, but Tiffany Goldman aims to change that.
Goldman competes her purebred Shire Shakespeare Jet Invader at first level in recognized dressage competition, and she’s also watched trainer Catherine Brown score above 70 percent at training level with her Salt Springs Shires Sir Teddy Bedivere. But for Goldman, it’s about more than the ribbons.
She sees herself as an ambassador for the breed, whose numbers have dwindled to less than 2,000 worldwide, and “Teddy” and “Jeb” have inspired her own confidence in the show ring, which led her and her supporters to coin the term #ShireStrong.
“We always talk about being Shire Strong,” she said. “That’s our little thing we do. Anytime we need confidence or to get through anything tough, we get through it like the Shires because they do it with true grace and dignity, so we can do it.”
Goldman didn’t pick up riding until she was in her late 20s after seeing a team of Shires at a draft horse show in Virginia in 2003.
“When the hitch of Shires came out, I was just blown away, to my soul,” she remembered. “It took my breath away. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is the kind of horse I want.’ ”
Goldman was living in North Carolina at the time and sought out a Shire, even though she’d never ridden seriously.
She found a gelding, Big John, on a farm in Colorado and had him shipped sight unseen.
Goldman admitted she didn’t know much about keeping horses, so Big John hung out in her yard and followed her around. She would hop on him from a picnic table and hack on trails.
After Goldman met and married her husband, Yaron Goldman, the couple moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, ironically where Big John had come from, and brought him with them.
They lost him suddenly a few months after moving, and Tiffany was devastated. Yaron knew how much his wife loved the breed, so he researched Big John’s bloodlines and found a full brother in Canada at Shakespeare Shires.
Two more foals followed, Teddy (Mainland House Wellington Lad—Father Hill Lady Annabel Lee) and Jeb (Fox Valley Fame—Gentle Giant Holly), and Tiffany suddenly became a collector of Shires.
“I had no idea what to do with all these babies,” she said with a laugh. “I was not a horse person. I had [Big John] following me around like a dog! I had no training or anything with any type of horse. Big John I could just jump on from a picnic table—he had no collection. I just kind of held onto his mane and the reins.”
Tiffany used to be a small animal vet tech, so she knew that her “pets” would need to have manners. She found natural horsemanship and sent her Shires off to Clinton Anderson in Texas for training.
Tiffany had always admired dressage, so she decided to give it a go with Teddy and Jeb.
“I looked at dressage as something that was beautiful to watch, but I also looked at it from the perspective of: This is great for their body,” she said. “It’s just going to make them better horses just all around healthwise. Teddy has shivers, so I knew the dressage would help him with his hind end, to teach him how to use his body properly.”
Tiffany had no trainer and no experience, so she figured she should go to Germany to find a warmblood schoolmaster first.
Looking back, she laughs at how naïve that seemed. A friend came to help her evaluate conformation, and she eventually found her way to Jens Meyer’s barn where she fell in love with Hanseat, a Hanoverian gelding (His Highness—Raissa) he’d bred who was trained to fourth level. She also found a young horse, Fortuna, who she left in Germany for training.
When she returned home to Colorado, Tiffany connected with local trainer Jenny Baldwin, who was willing and eager to take on both Hanseat and her Shires.
So what possessed her to try dressage with draft horses? “They’re big horses, but I know they can be ridden lightly,” Tiffany said. “I wanted to show people.
“I don’t have any issues as far as forward momentum,” she continued. “They are work horses in a positive sense. They go in with such a great attitude every single day. They are all heart, and when they work, they give you 110 percent every day. It’s just such a pleasure to work with.”
Tiffany started showing for the first time four years ago with Jeb, and they’ve since been to two U.S. Dressage Federation Region 5 Championships (Colorado) and went to the U.S. Dressage Finals (Kentucky) at training level. This year they’ve been competing at first level, where they’ve been scoring in the mid-60s.
Tiffany, 48, recently started training with Cyndi Jackson, and she also credits Christian Garweg and Baldwin for believing in her.
“These are trainers that really believe in me and the Shires, which was nice, because a lot of people looked at me, and were like, ‘Uh…’ ” recalled Tiffany with a laugh. “I had some people who wouldn’t even let me in clinics, like, ‘I don’t want to work with that, and you’re just going to tear up our footing, and we’re just not interested.’
Watch Tiffany Goldman and Jeb at Del Mar in April:
“[Garweg] has believed in me from the very beginning,” Tiffany continued. “He told me one day, ‘These horses should be ridden by professionals only because they can do every movement, but they have to be in perfect balance to do them.’ He was right. You have to ride every movement. It has to be a very refined ride. You have to be exact, and it’s made me a better rider, even for the warmbloods.”
Tiffany won two first level classes with Jeb at the Del Mar National Dressage Show (California) in April, and as much as she wants to show off her horse, she stills gets nervous.
“He’s the most unflappable,” she said. “Before the show I’m nervous and trying to figure everything out and trying to remember everything, and he’s just solid. He’s stoic, and he’s who I draw strength off of and who I feel the most comfortable with whenever we go in.”
Tiffany showed the 19.2-hand Teddy at intro level, but Brown has a good rapport with him, so she’s been showing him this season.
Tiffany said she hasn’t experienced any breed bias at shows. “All the judges have been nothing but positive,” she said. “I have, ‘Good work,’ ‘Good luck,’ ‘I know you have your work cut out for you.’ That means so much to me, that we look harmonious out there and that we do look like a partnership. They give it all they have, and you can’t always say that for all horses. They’re such a pleasure to work with.”
Keeping such big horses clean is an ongoing project for Tiffany and her groom Chelsea Morales. Jeb is barefoot, and Teddy only recently got front shoes because the sand was wearing down his toes.
Morales grooms, washes and conditions their feathers every day with Oribe shampoo, and uses Dawn Platinum to brighten them up before shows.
Watch Teddy compete with Catherine Brown:
Teddy has a full tail, but Jeb has a traditionally cropped one.
Tiffany is currently standing the stallion Gentle Giant Lincoln, who’s competed through training level, in hopes of doing her part to continue the breed.
“I think anyone who ever rides them or works with them is pleasantly surprised and amazed at how willing and smart they are and how athletic they are,” Tiffany said. “Shires are so versatile, and that’s what I’m excited to show people whenever I do ride. I almost go into the test like, ‘I want to show the breed off. I want to show of versatile this breed is.’ ”