I know exactly when I fell for the big horses.
I grew up riding and showing Hunters where fine boned Warmbloods and petite TBs were all the rage. I worked for over five years for a fabulous Grand Prix jumping team who imported massive beasts but still were springy, floaty and all over talented for their jobs. It wasn't until I went to Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre that I actually came in contact with a draft horse or anything crossed with one.
I fell in love with Dundee. An ex eventer who had an old injury that limited him just to flat work.
I rode Dundee for close to 6 months and he taught me a lot about what I didn't know about Dressage. While he left a huge impression on my riding career I wouldn't say he turned the tide for me.
After graduating college my first private training client was a full blooded percheron mare named Moose. She was easy to get a long with and worked with me so quickly. I was on and riding her within weeks. She felt safe and fairly confident. She was later donated by her owner to the Houston Mounted Patrol where they remarked she was best trained horse they had ever been given. (thanks!)
In 2007, I returned to Meredith Manor, this time as an instructor. I had the pick of the liter so to speak when it came to riding. Most days I rode 8 or more horses on my lunch break and any time off in between teaching classes. I aimed for the difficult horses. The ones that the students hated or refused to ride. I rode bucks, rears, runaways and everything inbetween in the name of developing my independant seat, leg and hands.
During this time I had my own horses. A 3 year old Oldenburg mare Isabeau, a 21 year old Rheinlander schoolmaster named Bossanova and a devilish 4 year old appy Loki. I was progressing in my Dressage and my boss/coach casually told me that it was time for me to start showing. Naturally I started working with Boss. Been there, done that, will grab the bit and run off with you if you don't do it JUST right Boss. Two months out from our first planned event and he tore a front suspensory. Bummer. Just as my nerves were starting to setle my coach decided I should try William. He was owned by a stock holder in the school and had been there most of his life as a freshman packer. He was lazy enough to be safe and heavy enough on his forehand to rip shoes off at a alarming rate.
He was a quiet and well liked horse, so naturally I never had the opprotunity to ride him. Even as a student I hardly knew he was there. So I get my gear, tack up the beast (had to try 3 different girths before my largest 32" would FIT) and took him to the arena. I politely sat down, let him stretch around the ring on the buckle a few minutes and said, "Okay William, lets get to know eachother." I closed my leg and moments later was sky rocketed forward out of the saddle. He squealed like a pig and rodeo stock BRONCED down the long side of our largest indoor arena.
It went on like this. He would randomly pull me forward, leap into the air and land only to immediately buck and throw me even further forward onto his neck. He thoroughly refused and OUTRIGHT DENIED there was a left lead canter in him at all. My very first show he bucked me off not once but twice directly over his head AT C IN FRONT OF THE JUDGE. The kindly gentleman stood up from behind his desk and asked if I would like to be excused and I almost cried out yes.
Fast forward 2 years - still showing and doing fairly well. I decide out of all the prospects I have William is actually the best. Backyard bred Cylde/TB who has thrown me more than any other horse but somewhow I felt confident on him. He didn't care where I took him, he was the same horse at home or away. <-- This. This is why I fell in love with draft crosses. Their minds. I purchased him from the owner and never looked back.
We get compliments at almost every show we attend. Many people think he is some Spanish breed, others think he is a Freisian sport horse. Their mouths drop when I tell them the truth. "I never thought a draft cross would move LIKE THAT." Correct Dressage makes warmbloods of us all.
Fast forward 5 more years - I earned my USDF Bronze Medal and several scores above 70% on
my self trained William. He is my partner and I am his. He makes my soul happy. We head to our first USDF Regional Championship tomorrow, I couldn't be a more proud rider and dedicated draft cross lover!
To top off my excitment for Regionals my new draft cross (Belgian/Freisian) arrives tomorrow. I am hoping to soon have two DCBOA boys to take to shows and promote that Dressage is for every horse.
...I think I need a bigger trailer.