Jan 25, 2023

Dondante Steps Into The Spotlight with 2022 Standlee USEA Horse of the Year Title

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
USEA/ Leslie Mintz photo

Will Coleman had a huge 2022 with his string of horses, including a team silver medal at the FEI World Eventing Championship in Italy on Off The Record and top four-star placings with Chin Tonic HS, but it was Dondante whose consistency paid off to earn the Standlee Premium Western Forage USEA Horse of the Year title.

While “Al” doesn’t always get the spotlight due to his stablemates’ accomplishments, he firmly established himself as a five-star contender in 2022.

Team Rebecca LLC’s 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Pacino x Muckno Clover) started off the year with an unlucky slip and fall in between fences on cross-country at the Red Hills International CCI4*-S (Tallahassee, Florida), but went on to win a competitive class at the Cloud 11-Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CCI4*-S (Raeford, North Carolina) on a personal best dressage score of 27.4. Two weeks later he won the advanced division at The Fork (Mill Spring, North Carolina).

“I think Carolina’s the best event on the spring calendar for us getting horses ready for Kentucky and other big events, and this year particularly I thought Carolina had a tremendous field,” said Coleman. “Dondante, in all three phases, put in an excellent weekend. It gave us a sense that this horse was coming into his own, and certainly gave us a lot of confidence going into Kentucky. I think we built on that throughout the course of the rest of the year. He's always been a horse that tries really hard, but making him relaxed and confident as he’s trying to give you his all is sort of the trick. I think he matured nicely. That event was a springboard towards some of the other big things we did later in the year.”

“He’s such a huge horse, and he’s got such a huge stride,” said Erin Jarboe, one of Al’s grooms. “He’s not the easiest to run the short format where you have to turn quickly and make the time. I remember after he got done at Carolina, Will said, ‘Whew, that was really fast!’"

Al got his first Land Rover Kentucky completion in 2022, finishing seventh after failing to complete the cross-country in 2021. “He was the first horse out at Kentucky and ran around beautifully. He was 10 seconds over the time, and he ran really well, so I think there was a tremendous improvement,” said Coleman.

USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo.

After his Kentucky finish, Al was named as Coleman’s direct reserve horse for the World Championships, a somewhat unexpected surprise for Coleman as Al’s dressage isn’t the strongest.

“But I think he does have a very good cross-country record,” said Coleman. “He went so well at Kentucky, and it put him in the conversation. It was a nice honor, and it was great for his owners, and it was nice for our program to have two horses listed.”

A seventh-place finish at the Mars Great Meadow International CCI4*-S (The Plains, Virginia) and a prep run for the Maryland Five-Star at the Stable View CCI3*-S (Aiken, South Carolina) put Al in prime position for a good fall season finish.

“He went to Maryland and just absolutely smoked around,” said Coleman, Ocala, Florida. “He was 20-something seconds inside the time. I know the time rode easier there than we all anticipated, but none the less, the feeling the horse gave me around the course, he could have been 45 seconds under, and he would have been well within his capabilities of finishing on pace. I think the horse showed huge strides in those departments.”

Throughout 2022, Al was cared for by two of Coleman’s top grooms, Jarboe and Haley Burlock.

“Seeing how much the horse has changed, especially this past year, I think we’re steadily increasing,” said Jarboe. “Off The Record and Chin Tonic are always in the spotlight, so I feel like Al’s just been sort of quietly blossoming this whole year. It was nice to see that happen for him. He’s a real trier. He just always shows up even though he doesn’t always have the most spotlight on him or the pressure to do well.”

At home, Al, who’s registered name is a My Morning Jacket song, is loveable with his people, but can be a bit misunderstood by those he doesn’t know well.

Erin Jarboe with Dondante. Photo courtesy of Erin Jarboe.

He loves being outside, and Jarboe makes sure he has plenty of hand walking time when he’s at events.

“Like a lot of big horses, he’s a little defensive about his space in his stall,” said Coleman. “I think he’s a little claustrophobic. He can sometimes put on a grumpy face when you walk into his stall, but he’s not a mean-spirited horse by any stretch.”

Coleman said Al is almost like a circus horse and can be taught tricks like picking up a front leg or lifting his lip.

“He’s very smart and interactive in the way that his personality is wired,” he said. “You can play tag with him in the paddock. He’s got a pretty good play drive in him. He’s a fun horse for us to have around, but for somebody who doesn’t know him and just walked into the stable, you wouldn’t think he was a friendly horse.”

Dondante likes to do tricks for his favorite people. Photo courtesy of Erin Jarboe.

Coleman is hoping this year will look similar to 2022 for Al. If the stars align, he’ll head to Kentucky again, and he thinks the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England) in the fall would be suitable for the gelding.

“He may not be a five-star winner, but I think he can still be a really good five-star horse that can get a lot of good placings,” he said. “If you keep putting yourself in that position, you just never know what might happen. He’s been a great horse for us, and I’m looking forward to having another year doing some of these events.”

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