He is the “ultimate underdog.” When the stunning stallion with his bright dun coat and waves of silky black tresses was named Reserve Champion Stallion at Dressage at Devon in 2010, he confounded onlookers curious about his origins. German riding pony? Lusitano? Andalusian? Welsh cob? Nobody guessed correctly.
Padré is an American Mustang.
And yes, it was the first time in history that a Mustang qualified for, and competed at, Devon.Cover image of the book Love of the Horse, Volume IV, by Ann Jamieson.
Patti Gruber, a dressage trainer from Illinois, wanted a new dressage partner, a horse that could be competitive at the upper levels. She was thinking along the lines of an Art Deco pinto warmblood.
Patti always brought her horses to the International Equine Podiatry Center in Versailles, Kentucky to be looked at by veterinarian Dr. Rick Redden. Dr. Redden owned the center’s Mustangs and Patti would always joke, “If you ever want to see what one of these horses can do, let me know.”
Dr. Redden had been studying the relationship of genetics in over-bred domestic breeds. His focus was to determine if leg problems could be eliminated by breeding domestic mares with his genetically pure Mustang stallion Padré. Padré came from the Palomino Valley herd outside Reno, Nevada, and had been captured as a yearling.
Dr. Redden often spoke of the great personality and quiet nature of the horse, traits the stallion always passed on to his offspring. Patti had watched Padré grow from a gawky two-year-old to a beautiful seven-year-old. She’d always admired his natural ability and undeniable presence, along with his sweet temperament.
One day Dr. Redden took her up on her offer. Would she like Padré? The timing couldn’t have been worse. Patti had just gotten divorced. She had cats, dogs, and other horses. The Art Deco baby remained in her head. This wasn’t what she had thought about for her dressage partner. But there was no turning down this magnificent horse.
Padré was sent to a Western trainer, Nathan Stephens, for a 30 day introduction to life in a stable complete with a regular work schedule instead of the life of leisure he had known.
Nathan had worked with many Mustangs before and understood their difference from domestic breeds. Since Padré and Nathan were seven hours from where Patti lived, many hours were spent that month on the phone discussing how well Padré was adapting to his new working life, and his particular nuances.
Nathan repeatedly told Patti that to be successful with Padré she had to earn his trust, and respect him. After the 30 days were up Patti traveled to Nathan’s farm to take her horse home. She rode Padré for the first time in a round pen. As they started off Patti found herself amazed by the amount of power Padré had for a 15.1 hand horse. With each gait his power increased and she began to realize his true athletic ability.
The next morning, Padré and Patti left for Wayfarer Farm in Wauconda, Illinois where Patti trains and teaches, to begin bonding and building trust with one another.
After riding him only three times their first week at home Patti took Padre to a clinic with a well-respected German trainer, Andre Heufler. Patti didn’t mention that Padré was a Mustang, as she wanted Andre to judge and work with them based on Padré’s ability, not his breed. At the end of the weekend when she revealed Padré’s origins to Andre, he was stunned. He was also very impressed with the stallion’s ability, and recommended that Patti enter him in a schooling show at his barn, Sunflower Farm in Bristol, Wisconsin, in three weeks.
Patti thought it was too soon to compete. Andre thought that Padré had enough natural talent to compete in dressage and get good scores despite his extremely limited training.
Andre was right. Padré did better than Patti could ever have imagined. Entering two classes, Green as Grass 1 Horse and Green as Grass 4 Horse, they won both their tests, with scores of 67.65% and 64.5 % respectively. After they finished their rides, judge Joan Pecora called them over to satisfy her curiosity about Padré’s breeding, background, and training. Naturally she was surprised to find out that he was a Mustang and that he had only been in dressage training for three weeks! She told Patti that Padré had a good future in dressage, and a great natural rhythm. She encouraged them to continue, and said she would look forward to seeing them in the future. Padré finished the day with the High Point award for the division!
“We did better than I could have ever imagined for his first show,” says Patti.
Andre, who continues to train Patti and Padré (currently working at Third/Fourth Level), trained in Germany with Conrad Schumacher, and then moved to this country to work for Temple Farms with their Lippizan stallions. His experience with stallions has given him great insight into working with Padré.
Patti and Padré have participated in several clinics and with each clinic Padré has shown the clinicians his intelligence, natural ability, bold movements and quiet disposition. When the pair worked with Steffen Peters during the 2010 Midwest Horse Fair in Wisconsin, Steffen paid them a great compliment. He told Patti that he could “see something special” in them.
Although Padré is still a stallion, Patti turns him out with six geldings without a problem. He is a perfect gentleman both while out on trails and working in the arena with mares that are in heat.
Padré was named an ambassador for the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Program, and represents the program at Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio. With thousands or people coming by and stopping to see him, Padre was a rock.
It was while at Equine Affaire that Patti realized, “There are so many people who don’t realize there are still mustangs in the wild, and that they are naturally gifted. A lot of people think Mustangs are crass and rough and you can’t do anything with them. Padré proves them wrong.”
She does caution potential owners. “Mustangs differ depending on what herd management area they are from, as they are built for their particular environment. They vary in height, color and build. People must keep in mind that they are wild and are guided in life by instinct. Mustangs view their people and other horses as part of their herd. They are not a horse for everyone. To work with them successfully one must be patient and kind, and understand that the only way to develop a successful partnership is by building trust and listening to them.”
Patti doesn’t limit Padré to strictly dressage. They tried their hand at halter classes at American Buckskin Registry Association shows, where Padré took Reserve Champion stallion their first time out. They’ve had very good placings in hunter under saddle classes. “There’s nothing he can’t go and do. People, whether it’s judges or spectators, are fascinated and don’t really know what to do with him, since he looks and moves a little differently from horses he competes against. He challenges people’s perceptions.”
When a friend recommended Patti try in-hand classes at dressage sport horse breeding competitions, Patti jumped right in. In their first try they placed third in the 4-year-old and older stallion class, scoring a 75. Patti didn’t think much about it. She had no idea how good or bad the score might be. Next they competed in the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation Breeders’ Championship Regional Finals, taking home the blue in the 4-year-old and older stallions and the reserve Grand Championship.
Working with Padré has presented Patti with both challenges and victories. “I’m learning how to read him; he really tells me when I’m doing something wrong.” Patti spends a lot of time playing with him, working on body language. “He has a wonderful attitude; he doesn’t kick or bite. He’s SO smart I have to be careful how I teach him because if I teach him wrong; I have to go back and re-teach him. He learns the first time you teach him anything.”
She can’t believe how much she has learned about working with all the horses she has in training simply by listening to Padré. “I am a better trainer,” she says, “because of him.”
Padré is not shy about expressing an opinion. If Patti nags him too much with her spurs, he picks up a back foot on the side. He kicks at her foot to let her know that he got the point. When he has had enough he will plant his feet, turn his head to look at Patti and snort as though saying, “I have had enough and if you ask me one more time I am going to have to give you a non-playful buck.” Then they take a deep breath and move on to something else.
Padré has quite a sense of humor and loves to make Patti laugh. With his long hair and regal mentality, he will not go out of the barn in the rain. He peeks out the door, but refuses to go outside and get wet. He enjoys breakfast (and dinner) in bed. If his grain is served in his ground feed pan while he is in the middle of a nap he will remain lying down as he eats. Although he loves carrots and apples, he has also acquired a taste for french fries, marshmallow peeps, jelly beans, peaches, bananas and ice cream. He enjoys his warm, comfy blankets in the winter and a cooling, sudsy bath in the summer. His attitude is “I am the coolest thing on four legs!”
His connection with Patti is outstanding and unmistakable, whether he is giving her everything he’s got at a show, or giving her kisses under the mistletoe in his stall.
Patti spends hours caring for his hair. She says, “My own hair is short now because I spend so much time taking care of his!”
Patti wasn’t planning to go to Devon. In fact she thought it was way out of their reach. But she discovered that the in-hand score of 75 that they had achieved qualified her for Dressage at Devon. Her first thought was “Panic! How do I get there? How do I get my Mustang half way across the country?”
Fundraising provided the money for the trip, and Patti was thrilled with the tremendous community support for Padré.
At Devon Patti found herself in awe of what was happening. “Just knowing the caliber of horses, and I’m standing among them in a championship class with my little wild stallion without the genetic gifts and generations of selective breeding that these horses have—that was my proudest moment.”
The little wild stallion won the in-hand 4-year-old and older stallions class and won lots of praise from the judges as well. Janine Malone said “This horse showed very consistent and clear rhythm at the walk and trot, and in particular the walk was active and ground-covering.”
Hilda Gurney said “This stallion was by far the most correct in his class. Mother Nature did a nice job producing a nice-moving and very well-mannered mustang.”
“Can you see the mascara running down my face?” says Patti, referring to the photo of she and Padré winning the class. “This has exceeded my wildest dreams. I’ve never been to Devon before, and it felt so far out of the realm of possibility. But everyone here has been so welcoming, the judges so kind, the officials so generous and helpful. I wish every show could be like this; I could not have asked for a better experience.”
.Patti is so proud of her horse. “He’s raising awareness, inspiring people.” She gets numerous emails from people who are inspired to try more things with their own horses, whether Mustangs or other breeds. Padré gives a great deal of hope to people.
Patti recently received a note from Nathan Stephens on Padré’s Facebook page. “Hey Patti,” he wrote, “I had Padré and broke him for Doc. It looks like he’s doing well. I always knew he was a very special horse. To this day, he is still the nicest horse I ever swung my leg across!”
In September, 2011, at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF North Central Series Division Finals Padre’ was named Grand Champion Stallion receiving his highest score ever in hand, 76.125 %. The judges’ comments included: strongly built, presence, active, correct rhythm, uses body well, good reach and swing through back, well behaved, cooperative and willing with promise and potential. The Reserve Grand Champion horse was owned by the USDF Breeder of the Year and Padre’ was 4% ahead of him!
The show was held at Silverwood Farm in Camp Lake, Wisconsin. Although Patti “didn’t think it could get any better than Devon, one Grand Championship ribbon, one Grand Championship cooler, and a plaque later, I think this definitely feels as good as Devon last year.”
On the way home, Patti spoke to her trainer, who had suggested they compete in in-hand classes. Patti said she’d had a talk with Padre’s before the class and explained how important this was since the only horse who had beaten them this season was in the class.
The trainer replied that Padre’ is a perfect mix of being serious in his work but a ham and a half when people are watching. Shortening it up, they decided that Padre’ is a Serious Ham.
“He is,” Patti says, “such a good boy and makes my dreams come true. I could not have imagined four years ago when I got him that all this would have happened.”
Patti and Padre have taken a journey no one ever would have thought possible. Patti took a wild horse, a horse few people would have believed in, and showed the world what he could do. She says, “Padré is the most amazing dressage partner I could have asked for. His presence, natural athletic ability and personality are phenomenal. I am lucky to have many horses to train but the best part of each day is when I work with Padré.”
Excerpted from For the Love of the Horse, Volume IV, by Ann Jamieson. Available at local tack shops and on Amazon.com.
Guess Blog post from Ann Jamieson.
I write a book series called For the Love of the Horse, Amazing True Stories About the Horses We Love. Each book contains 30-40 true stories about the bond between people and horses. My horse stories have received rave reviews on Amazon and from such leaders in the horse industry as Lendon Grey, Stacy Westfall, Chester Weber, Will Faudree, and Georgina Bloomberg.