When you venture to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, one thing may stand out to the casual observer: few horses actually catch your eye, at least in terms of coloring.
Bays, chestnuts, grays and blacks are the widely seen coat colors, even in the jumpers, where the only judges are the clock and the rails. In fact, in most of the upper echelons of equestrian sports, traditional colors seem to be favored over bright palominos, flashy paints and especially leopard spots.
But that paradigm seems to be shifting toward the colorful, even in the more conservative hunter and dressage worlds, where human judges can be biased or favoring toward solid, traditional coat colors.
In show jumping, scope, speed and staying power have always taken precedence over coat color, but even then it is somewhat rare to see a Grand Prix horse with a bald face and high stockings like Paulo Santana’s Taloubet, or a brilliant tobiano paint like Brianne Goutal’s Mon Gamin.
In dressage, where tradition and decorum reign supreme, James Koford’s Friesian paint mare Adiah HP was crowned Grand Prix National Champion in 2017, signaling an acceptance of the more colorful coat patterns. However, if a paint horse’s bright splashes are rare at the Wellington show grounds, it’s reasonable to say that spots are even more unconventional.
But that hasn’t stopped Laura Reece and Palm Beach Sport Horses’ Danash’s Northern Tempest from daring to be different. Known as Dani around the barn, the mare’s unique leopard print with dark points coloring is the result of her Appaloosa Friesian heritage and is actually a lack of white pigment on a dark coat versus black spots on white.
In addition to her dam’s spots, Dani also inherited her father’s size and movement, which contributes to her success as a sport horse. But while her color may be a show stopper, especially in the green and rusty stirrup hunters in which she competes, Reece has discovered that her spots are just a bonus to her willing attitude and sweet personality.
“She’s exceptionally smart, forgiving and a pleasure to ride,” Reece said. “Showing in Wellington is always going to be intimidating for an amateur like me, but sitting on Dani makes me confident. It’s hard not to adopt her positive attitude once you’re in the saddle.”
In the hunters, judges rank horses and riders based on the collective presentation of their ride: taking off from the perfect distance, maintaining the correct lead, the rider’s position and the horse’s jumping style are all taken into consideration. In theory, coat color should not be a factor in a horse’s score, but spots are indicative of a horse’s breeding, and can sometimes be a hindrance to a hunter. But Reece puts her focus on Dani’s performance, and their enjoyment of the sport, rather than solely on scores and trophies.
“Dani has already opened so many doors for me, getting a ribbon or score is really just a bonus,” Reece said. “She has gotten me back into riding, given me confidence, partnership and enjoyment. What more can I ask?”
Despite competing only against themselves, Dani and Reece have racked up a few wins at the Winter Equestrian Festival, as well as other shows, including a circuit championship during Equestrian Sport Productions’ Holiday Series at the end of 2019. And while her 2020 winter show season was cut short by the pandemic, 2021 is already looking exceptionally bright.
“We already have big plans in the works for 2021, which should get Dani some time in the national spotlight,” Reece said. “We are hoping to use her widespread appeal to develop a scholarship fund and other initiatives to help promote equestrian sports and horsemanship. Everyone should have the chance to experience riding a horse of a lifetime, and all of the amazing things that come with that experience. Dani has already given me that, and we think the best thing to do is to pay it forward. Whether your horse has spots, or feathers, or jumps the 1.50M, it’s all about enjoying the ride and spreading that joy when you can.”
Learn more about this unique horse at www.danithewonderhorse.com.