Growing up in Kentucky, Sarah Schaaf never could have dreamed that one day she would have a horse at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, a jumper so scopey he cleared fences taller than his head with ease and so well-known that everywhere he went people cheered his name.
Meet GTR Patricks Vindicator — “Patrick” to friends — a mini who’ll be handing out just as many thrills to the crowd as the big guys at Rolex next week. He’ll be performing demos as the Walnut Arena on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., Friday at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:15 p.m., as well as making celebrity appearances at the Trade Fair.
This will be his second year performing at Rolex, and it’s a natural addition to his already prolific resume. Patrick was a petting zoo horse before the Schaaf family purchased him in 1998, when he was 4. Now 22 years old, he has been showing in local and state level competitions for 14 years as well as performing demonstrations at events such as Breyerfest and the Secretariat Festival, of which he is the official mascot.
Patrick brings a smile to the face of everyone he encounters and is also a registered therapy horse who makes visits to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. He has fans around the world — including more than 20,000 Instagram followers — and was named an Equine Ambassador Extraordinaire by the American Miniature Horse Association.
Patrick’s “best friend” and longterm handler, Sarah Schaaf, kindly took the time to tell us about her special horse and what we can look forward to from his Rolex performances:
EN: Your parents purchased Patrick and another mini, TopGun, when he was four and you weren’t quite two, so your relationship together spans almost your entire life! How has it changed over the years?
Sarah: “As I tell anyone and everyone who will listen, Patrick is my best friend. Anyone who knows me will tell you he’s all I talk about, in person or on social media.
“I wasn’t much interested in them when I was really little, so they were more of my mother’s horses then. It was when I was 5 that we began showing locally, and my interest in him began to grow. I was probably about 10 when our friendship really clicked. By then I was old enough to go out and work with him by myself and spend time training him.”
“I began teaching him to jump when I was about 11 — over stacks of bricks with a broom laid across them. He didn’t do so well when we first encountered “real” jumps at a show! If there is anything Patrick has taught me, though, it is how to lose gracefully. For every win we have, there are three or more losses. I think losing is an extremely valuable skill, as it makes you humble and teaches you to just work harder.
“Patrick and I really grew up together and learned so much from each other. We’re pretty attached, even though he sometimes chooses food over me. I come home most weekends from college (Lexington’s Transylvania University) and oftentimes he is waiting at the fence, watching for me when I pull in. Last week as I was leaving, my mother said he stood at the fence for a good 30 minutes to see if I was coming back.
“I don’t ever remember a time without him, and he’s truly a member of our family (he’s even been in the house once or twice). He’s my pride and joy.”
EN: What’s his off-stage personality like?
Sarah: “Patrick can be a bit of a diva. He is most definitely aware of his “star status.” One time we were at an event, and when someone walked by with a camera he jumped on his pedestal, all by himself, to pose.
“When he is out in the field with his friend TopGun there is no chance of catching him until dinner time. Patrick time is Patrick time. He always greets me with a whinny when I walk in the barn, and I’m sure he hopes I’m not coming to make him exercise!
“Even though he can be a brat sometimes, he really is the sweetest little horse in the world. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I can just go sit in his stall, and he’ll put his chin in my lap.”
EN: If Patrick had been born in a bigger body, what would be be?
Sarah: “I often wish that I had to ability to make Patrick big and small whenever I want! I can definitely see Patrick as a Grand Prix jumper in an alternate reality. He’s got the heart and the skill for it.
“When you think about it minis jump much higher than large horses, in proportion. Patrick is only 33 inches tall but he’s cleared a four-foot jump before.”
“He loves jumping and gets so excited when we go to train. He definitely has an extra spring in his step on the way to the jump. The fact that he gets to graze for rewards afterwards is a bonus, too.
“I try to jump him at least three times a week to keep him in shape, but he gets the winters off. He’s coming out of his six-month vacation for Rolex and he’s packing a few extra pounds (but who isn’t?).”
EN: Having grown up in Kentucky, Rolex and the Kentucky Horse Park must hold a special place in our heart. You and Patrick have made several Breyerfest appearances but last year was your first Rolex. How did that feel?
Sarah: “Being there was like nothing we had ever experienced! There were SO many people we could hardly move when going to the arena!
“It was my first time going in a demo by myself so I was quite nervous. The wind that day spooked Patrick and sent him on a bucking spree, which didn’t help either. People thought it was all part of the show, so it wasn’t AS embarrassing!
“One of the best things that came from Rolex last year was the many opportunities which followed. Later in the year we were able to perform at the Kentucky Horse Park Breeds Barn on multiple weekends, Bluegrass Fair equine educational demonstrations, Churchill Downs Family Days, the CP National Horse Show and Keeneland. I’ve met countless amazing equestrians, and non-equestrians, over the past year, and can’t wait to see what this year has to offer!”
EN: I see you do some volunteer work at the Kentucky Horse Park as well.
Sarah: “I go to Transylvania University, which means I am only 15 minutes away from the Kentucky Horse Park. Last winter I started volunteering there because going more than a week with out equine contact is simply unbearable!
“I was lucky enough to make friends with Horse Park employees and officials as Patrick performed at the Breeds Barn, so going to volunteer there is always fun. I usually help clean tack, groom horses and run odds and ends chores with the Breeds Barn staff. Occasionally I’m allowed to ride one of the horses.
“School is over the week before Rolex, though, so I won’t be back at volunteering until the fall — Patrick takes up all of my summertime!”
EN: He keeps your calendar full, I’m sure, between shows, demonstrations and his work as a therapy horse, which is nothing short of heroic! What was his transition like into that area? Why is that an important part of what you do?
Sarah: “Although there is great enjoyment in all of our endeavors, the most rewarding is going on therapy visits.
“In April of 2014 Patrick was evaluated by a group in Louisville, Kentucky, to become a registered therapy horse. I had taken online classes over the course of a few months through Pet Partners to learn the ins and outs of therapy work. At our evaluation there were barking dogs, scary wheelchairs and lots of people to make sure Patrick was completely prepared for all situations he may encounter on visits. Patrick passed with a “complex” rating, which allows him access to school, nursing homes, hospitals and even psychiatric wards.
“On our first visit, we went to a facility called the Kindred Healthcare Clinic. The floor that we visited mainly housed patients who suffered from diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and are confined to ventilators. Most of the patients in this unit will never be able to leave the hospital again, and many cannot even talk.
“The first patient was a man, about 20 years of age, who was restricted to his bed. When we first entered the room he was very cautious and stroked Patrick’s muzzle with only the tips of his fingers. It was not until we were just about the leave that he leaned over and said, “I love you, Patrick. Thank you.” In a few minutes, we had been able to make at least a little difference in this man’s life and bring some joy to his otherwise lackluster day.”
“When we returned for a second visit we were able to visit another man who was in the deep grips of ALS. He was paralyzed from the neck down, but when he saw Patrick walk in a large smile crept across his face. This man apparently had a great love of horses, as he had multiple posters of Friesians, Quarter horses and Arabians hung on the wall of his hospital room.
“The hospital’s events coordinator, who went with us to every room to help with patients who had physical impairments, said that the patient had been feeling very gloomy as of late, and the staff and his family were losing hope. She said that our visit with him was the happiest he had been in weeks, even months, and that she had to contact his family immediately, to tell them! I was so honored and humbled to have been able to improve this man’s day.
“It can sometimes be a quite daunting experience to deal with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. It is depressing to see those who have no hope of ever leaving the confines of their beds — never to go outside, to laugh with friends, to live, again.
“The key is to always have hope and always be helpful and happy when you are with them. We must always remember that it is so much more difficult for them than it is for us, and it is our duty to brighten their days, not the other way around. This is why we visit patients — we may be the only bright spot in their lives. All the sadness is worth the pleasure of seeing a smile on the face of a person who has nothing to smile about.
“Even with all of the happiness that Patrick brings to patients, it is minuscule compared to the joy he brings me every day. His work as a therapy horse and ambassador to the miniature horse breed got him inducted into the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association’s Hero Animal Hall of Fame.”
EN: We’re looking forward to meeting him at Rolex. What can we look forward to from this year’s demo?
Sarah: “Patrick is going to be busy, busy, busy this year at Rolex! We’re switching up the way we do the demos a little so it should be a lot more fun!
“We’ve also added a lot more jumps to our arsenal so he can jump a whole course this year. One of his jumps reaches 40 inches, which he clears easily. Aside from our demos we’ll be having a meet-and-greet with Patrick’s Instagram friends and fans! Of Patrick’s 20,000 followers on Instagram lots of them are going to Rolex, so he’ll be there to sign and pose for pictures. He will also be posing for pictures at the Absorbine booth, signing “hoofgraphs” with Purina, and posing for photos at Bob Mickler’s.”
EN: You and Patrick have certainly “been there, done that.” Is there anything left on your bucket list still to do?
Sarah: “We definitely have a lot on our bucket list! Patrick may be 22, but he’s still got plenty of years left!
“First, our long-term goal is to someday have Patrick immortalized as a Breyer Model Horse. He’s talented, friendly and has been attending Breyerfest for eight years — 2016 will be his ninth. Maybe if enough people ask for one, we’ll get lucky!
“This year we hope to be able to go to the American Miniature Horse Association’s Eastern Regional Championships, which are held in Ohio in July. I think Patrick has a good chance in the jumping classes and in showmanship.”
“I would also like to have the opportunity to jump him in the Rolex arena at the Kentucky Horse Park — that place is a dream! Maybe Michael Jung would like to try his hand at jumping a mini?
“From there, who knows: movie star, invitation to the White House, celebrity at the Kentucky Derby? Maybe USEF would even consider an in-hand jumping division! Now THERE is a dream!”
Go Patrick. Go Eventing!