Ok so we have reached what I would call the turning point in Colicchio’s story. After the big Grand Prix win at fall Paso 2017, the little Stallion went on a fancy all expense paid 2-week vacation to the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley. The Dane understands the value of a mental and physical break for a performance horse, and we both needed a vacation ourselves! So while the ponies were grazing to their hearts content on the farm, we were sunbathing in Kauai.
Having closed my store in Burbank earlier that year, and with the show season in a hiatus, this was the first holiday that I had absolutely nothing to do. Which I have to say was freaking spectacular, especially since the beginning of every year starts in Thermal! The only downer was that Cagney had to stay up in the valley as he was still overcoming a little lameness that had mysteriously sprung up in the fall. But I knew he was loving every minute of just being a horse, and the Dane assured me he would come back stronger then ever. Spoiler alert, he did, even after he was kicked by one of his pack and suffered a fractured leg! Unlike me who as the Dane says, am the only person he knows who can hit and injure their head on air, Cagney is strong like bull, and has since made a full recovery.
The holiday came and went in a flash as it usually does, and sure enough Thermal was upon us. The Dane had been working on some new flatwork training at home, and Colicchio looked fierce, ready to take on the challenge of competing with the big boys and girls in the desert.
With Cagney on vacay, that meant only one horse to focus on, and one task at hand, to move up to the 1.50 classes. Oh and maybe just think about the possibility of entering the AIG Million…
And this is where the tides turned. Even though the Dane had some important milestones on the Stallion last year, and the two definitely had a strong bond, something else clicked into place. Maybe Colicchio had matured, maybe the Dane had a bit more confidence in himself, or maybe, just maybe, the pair were both ready for something magical to happen. The horse that many thought might turn into a decent 1.30 prospect, was competing side by side in the Grand Prix arena with some of the Cali greats and winning ribbons. Richard Spooner, Will Simpson, Mandy Porter, Michelle Parker, to name a few of my favorites to watch. All seasoned competitors with multiple horses in the mix. Tremendous riders who make magical things happen with even the most unmagical of horses.
But many eyes were now searching the class list for their new favorite dark horse. Chef as we call him at home, now has a bit of a fan base that started following his accomplishments and sometimes antics at the show. I mean how many horses do you see come into the Del Mar Indoor with a long loose rein, looking like he’s going to roll and then maybe take a nap. He’s a funny little dude. He would go in, do his thing, always with gasps from the audience with his unconventional style, and 9 times out of 10 gallop away with a ribbon, proving every time why he’s a real contender. With a handful of top placing’s in the big classes the first half of HITS, the Dane and Stallion took their winnings home with something to think about, the Million.
Wait…a quick side not before I get into the Million discussion. I want to point out something that I think is one of the most magical things about Colicchio and the Dane. The fact that the Dane goes around a 1.50 class in an egg butt snaffle, no martingale, button spurs, and the Stallion has never in his life had anything injected into him, other then me stuffing carrots into his mouth, is truly a wonder to behold. That’s all…carry on.
I went back to Thermal mid week 6 to finish up the show at my store, sans Dane and Stallion. Thermal is already hard on the mind and body, so without my tribe I was definably feeling a bit on the blue side. But something told me that the Dane had been bitten by the bug of the big ring, and would soon be coming back for more. We had discussed the prospect of them entering the Million, but the $3500 entry fee was looming in the ever frugal Dane’s mind, especially since the thought of a money ribbon seemed a bit lofty for a Million virgin.
Sick of money always being the dream squashing reason for everything, I upped my LA Saddlery sponsorship in the Stallion so the Dane could enter the class without the worry of a negative bank account. I knew the investment was going to be worth the reward of seeing the duo jump in the most exciting class of the year. The only caveat was the Dane had to get help. A proper groom so he could focus on the class and not the tack, and a good person on the ground to help keep him centered. Oh and of course the Dane had to get into better shape!
While there’s not a trace of fat on the Dane’s body, and for a skinny dude he is definitely stronger then he looks, when he came out of the arena in Thermal he was always out of breath. The reality is when you get to this level of the sport you have to start thinking and training like a true athlete, and that meant doing regular cardio, strength and core training, and less alcohol and more sleep before a big day. So with all that under way, the Dane made the plan to return to Thermal week 8 and take a shot at the Million.
Once the Dane had put his name on the list, that’s when the non believers began to shake their heads once again. Ok so I guess the Dane just got lucky in all the other classes, is that it? And it’s not like the Dane is one of those riders who just wants to be cool and enter the Million, walk around in his whites all day just to show off. (Yeah you know who you are.) In fact, he is quite uncomfortable with all of the recent attention the Stallion has attracted. Even though he loves that I am writing again, he has a hard time reading my blog. And as much as it annoys him when people underestimate the Stallion, the more it motivates him to work harder. Just like me, he simply doesn't let NO get in his way!
The day of the Million I was a wreck. Remember I still have a full time business at the show, and this was the last day, pack up day, which already makes me sick. So I was feeling completely unsettled all morning, and tried to stay as far away from the Dane as possible, afraid my overwhelming anxiety would become air born and somehow infect him. I knew he was nervous, but I pretended it was nothing to worry about; he would be totally fine. Meanwhile my neurotic brain was conjuring up images of a tumbling Stallion and flying rails, ambulance sirens. You know the works.
The course was set, the spectators were scrambling to find seats, and the riders were walking. No turning back now. I found my way up to the arena, my eyes glued to the massive fences, and my stomach dropped to a bottom I didn’t know existed. The first horse went in and went clean. Wow! Maybe the course was more rideable then it looked, and I felt a little better. Then one after the next rails came crashing down, horses stopped, I think someone came off, the fear settling back into my stomach like an old friend. And then just like that the two were entering the arena. My heart explosive, every inch of my body shaking.
The Dane took a weird tight circle before the first fence, and I thought, oh no, he’s freaking out and second guessing himself. But then I saw them click into place. One fence after the other, they had a forward unbroken rhythm I had not seen before. No hesitation, no overthinking, powerful and precise, and nearly perfect. One rail came down towards the end of the track, just the slightest of touches from a hind hoof. A similar fate for some of the big hitters I mentioned earlier. In a class of 40 top horse and rider combinations, the duo finished up 14th, a huge accomplishment for our clan!
I guess the Dane just “got lucky” one more time. He got “lucky” again at the FEI 3-Star 1.50 in San Juan Capistrano with a second place finish.
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