Dec 16, 2021

Horse Heroes: Pebbly Maximus

USEA photos

Sometimes it is some of the smallest horses that have the biggest hearts. If you saw Pebbly Maximus in a field these days, you might not know the stories he could tell or the dreams he made possible. Unassuming in nature barely topping 16h, he made up for it in heart and fight. Having grown quite the following over the years, you can’t miss him in warm-up standing out with his short stature, big white blaze, and white socks. He has given many people the ride of a lifetime and made his mark on numerous careers.

Caroline Martin found Pebbly Maximus, “Rory,” while on a shopping trip in England in the winter before the 2014 season at Hayden Hankey’s yard. Hankey developed him and rode him up through the then CCI3* level finishing in the top 25 at multiple FEI’S with 100+ entries in Europe. He was 11 at the time and truly a part of the Hankey family often ponying around her young son around before leaving for a big three-day.

Martin always laughs about the first time she rode him. “He was so used to someone with shorter legs so when I got on him for the first time and touched him with my 6’+ legs, he squealed and bucked,” she recalled. Rory joined Martin’s string a short time after in Florida and they hit it off.

Together, Martin and the small but tightly Pebbly Maximus had quite the career. Amassing a long list of highlights, they completed countless then CCI2* and CCI3*s together including jumping clear around both the Boekelo CCI3* Nations Cup in an absolute mud pit and the Houghton CIC3* Nations Cup, and finishing in the top five at Bramham in the CCI3*U25 class.

USEA/ Leslie Mintz photo.

“I have never felt a horse try so hard or dig so deep. When you looked at him you wouldn’t think he would jump around those tracks but he just kept fighting for you and gave you so much confidence. I have truly never felt anything like it and he gave you so much confidence,” Martin reflected.

When Martin felt it was time for Rory to take a step back from the now four-star level in the winter of 2019, she put out a post on Facebook to gauge interest in a retirement home for a horse that meant so much to her. Maia Kantorowski’s sister, Mikaela, had known Martin from various Young Rider activities they had done together and reached out.

“My mom’s horse who we had for over 15 years had just passed away and my first pony was pretty depressed. We were looking for a new pasture mate for him so my sister talked to Caroline and within a few days he was on a trailer to our farm in North Carolina,” Maia Kantorowski explained. “I had just had a bad fall and was pretty beat up so even though he came to be retired, he brightened my spirits and we hung out together a lot while I was recovering.”

At the age of 17 after months of forcing his pony friend into laps around the field and bossing him around, Rory made it clear he maybe wasn’t quite ready to retire just yet.

“Because of COVID-19, I was home from college with extra time. After his antics and talking to Caroline, I started hacking him and just playing around. Since he had time off during his failed retirement, we went super slow with a lot of extra eyes. After a few months slowly building up, we jumped him for the first time and he was just so excited," Kantorowski added.

When she started riding Rory, Kantorowski had had a tough year. Her confidence was shaken as was her belief in her riding. She fully credits Rory with not only restoring her confidence but more importantly restoring her love for the sport.

“I had never ridden a horse that loved the sport so much and fought for you as he did. It is such an unbelievable feeling and gave me so much confidence during a time in which I had none. I hadn’t ever really ridden a horse like him but after feeling what it was like to truly love cross country on a horse that you know is going to fight for you, it makes all the difference. If we ever had a misstep, it was 100% my fault and he just wanted to please. He even got excited to go into the dressage ring,” Kantorowski said.

Photo courtesy of Maia Kantorowski

This summer after Kantorowski and Rory completed their first Intermediate together, Martin and Kantorowski decided it might be time for Rory to take a step back whether he agreed or not. “He’s 18 now and while he looks amazing, we wanted to retire him looking just as amazing. He has given everyone so much and I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done or where I would be if he hadn’t come into my life when he did,” Kantorowski concluded.

“It is always fun to see these special horses go on to give other young riders so much confidence. I have yet to ride a horse with as much heart and fight as he has. There will truly never be another horse like him and I am just so glad he has landed with another girl loving on him every day enjoying the perfect retirement,” Martin added.

It is funny how life works out. “I remember being in the warm-up at Virginia Horse Trials, the last event that Caroline and Rory did together, and telling her how much I loved him, thinking what a special horse he was. I never thought I would get the opportunity of a lifetime to ride him and it was fitting that both our first and last events together were also at Virginia,” Kantorowski said. “I teared up a little finishing the cross country at Virginia this spring after we completed our first Intermediate together. It is simply a feeling you can’t describe to be able to ride a horse like that. I will never forget it and hope to one day be able to ride another horse as half as amazing as he is.”

Now, Rory gets to live out his days at the Kantorowski’s family farm in Southern Pines still bossing his pony around and acting as spunky as ever. He still gets sad whenever the trailer leaves without him but is the king of the farm. Whenever Kantorowski is home on break from UVA she takes him for bareback hacks in the fields and he gets spoiled every day by the entire neighborhood.

Brant Gamma photo.

“He is just so special to me and I am so thankful that Caroline and her mom, Sherie, trusted me to not only ride him but give him the retirement he deserves. There aren't enough thank you's in the world that I could say that they trusted me to take care of him. To say he truly gave me the world is an understatement and not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have him in my life,” added Kantorowski.

The USEA Horse Heroes series celebrates equine athletes who have contributed to the sport again and again, competing with multiple riders at the upper levels of the sport. Do you know of a horse hero who deserves recognition? Email your tips to [email protected].

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