Next week, the equestrian world turns its attention to Lexington, Kentucky where the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event takes place April 28 through May 1. This is the United States’ premier event, drawing entries from all over the world. In addition to the world-class competition, however, Rolex also hosts a trade show, exhibits and breed demonstrations, transforming the Kentucky Horse Park into a horse-lover’s carnival.
Amidst the world’s best eventers from all corners of the globe, a special group of equines will be adding a decidedly Irish flair to the proceedings: Dungarvan Feather of West Suffield, Connecticut will be performing a Gypsy Cob breed demonstration, introducing eventing fans and horse lovers to this special and versatile breed. If you’re attending Rolex in person, you can catch the Gypsy Cob demonstration in the Walnut Arena on Thursday at 3:00pm, Friday at 2:30pm and Saturday at 9:30am.
Though busily preparing and practicing, three members of the Dungarvan Feather team kindly took time to answer our questions: Kate Reed, the owner of Dungarvan Feather, Kristine Gallagher, Dungarvan Feather’s trainer, and Audrey McBride, one of the performing riders.
EN: How long have you each been working with Gypsy Cobs as a breed? What in particular draws you to them?
Kate: “I imported my first Gypsy Cob from Ireland 10 years ago. We have a small family farm in Ireland and I was familiar with the all-round gentle nature of the breed. We would ride around, two of us on a cob, bareback through the fields of the farm during the putting up of the hay during our summer visits. We didn’t know very much about horses but they always seemed to look after us. When as an adult I was looking for a horse, it seemed like a perfect choice. Gypsy horses are all about having a horse that is willing and gentle and of course, fun!”
Kristine: “It all started with my friend Dayle: Her sister-in-law and her husband own a horse farm and she would talk about them now and then, saying they have a lot of beautiful horses. I asked what kind of horses and she replied “some sort of Irish Gypsy horses.” I had never heard of them.
“I’ve spent the last 20-some odd years riding and training mostly Thoroughbreds and warmbloods and a bunch of Irish Sport Horses. At the time I was renting a 16-stall barn and kind of doing my own thing. Dayle called me one day and said her brother-in-law needed a stall overnight for one of his Gypsy Cob stallions — that’s when I met my first Gypsy horse.
“That was about five years ago. I didn’t start working with them right away; Bob brought horses to stay at my barn from time to time. It was a great way to get to know the breed. I really loved how easygoing they were. They had an all around great disposition — the kind of horse you would feel good about letting just about anyone ride and not have to worry about them.
“I got a phone call from Bob one day saying he and his wife Kate wanted to talk to me about working with a couple of their horses at Dungarvan Feather. I met with them and they showed me the first horse they wanted me to work with; she was introduced to me as The Queen. I don’t think I thought that was actually her name but sort of her place in the hierarchy at the barn.
“It’s now three years later and Queen and I have come a long way, and working with a couple horses has turned into working with about 20 hairy Gypsy Cobs. I hold a special place for The Queen, of course, but have learned a ton from all of the horses.”
Audrey: “While I’m pretty sure a Gypsy Cob will never compete at Rolex, or the upper levels of eventing, I do know plenty of Gypsy Cobs that take their amateur riders around Beginner Novice and even some Novice courses. In fact, I even know of a Rolex competitor who evented a Gypsy years ago!
“One of our horses, Luska, is a great dressage horse. We take her to dressage clinics and recognized dressage shows as well as Gypsy breed shows. She is quite flashy! This breed is known for being versatile, yet stunning at the same time. This breed is very level headed so trail riding, and riding on the beach, is quite popular. Some like to jump more than others, but that is like any breed.
“They are great horses for people of all ages and abilities, and all of our horses are extremely well trained, started well, and have the ability to be treated like real horses. They go out on large grass paddocks at home, and have a great life.”
EN: What does performing at Rolex mean to you ?
Kate: “We are very excited about sharing the versatile nature of our horses during Rolex as well as to be able to watch the the amazing display of horsemanship of the competitors at this event!”
Kristine: “Getting to perform at Rolex is a dream come true for me. I’ve been riding for over 25 years; a big part of my riding and competing was in eventing. That was always one of those things you would say with your friends — “one day when I’m riding at Rolex” or “when I get my next horse it will be my Rolex horse,” knowing deep down that it probably wasn’t going to really happen.
“I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in my career and have ridden and competed a lot of really nice event horses. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been leaning a little more towards dressage. I feel like that’s a natural progression for a lot of event riders. I still love to jump, just not necessarily the big fences. That’s where the Gypsies are great. Most of the ones I ride have really learned to like popping over some fences. I really only ask the ones who seem to enjoy it.
“They also have an aptitude for dressage, so that has been a lot of fun. Then there is the versatility training they do, something else I had never heard of. It is so much fun — something I would have never asked my warmblood to do for fear of death! The gypsy horse is really the most versatile breed I’ve ever known so being able to go to Rolex with them is really something I could never have imagined. It’s going to be a perfect venue to show off the versatility of the breed and for me, it truly is a dream come true.”
Audrey: “Rolex is something people look forward to all year, and it’s not just the competition. It’s the fact that horses and horse people from all various backgrounds can come together and enjoy eventing, and simply enjoy everything equine. Last year I met a woman who was an endurance rider, but loved coming to Rolex every year. This event brings together so many people, and for many it’s also a ‘bucket list’ trip.
“I am the spokesperson for Dungarvan Feather for this event as well as a realtor specializing in equine properties, and the one who spearheaded this idea last year. It’s turned from a girl’s getaway trip to a full-fledged event for us and we are all really excited to do participate in the events at Rolex. We may never be competitors at Rolex, but doing these demos is another great way to be part of the fun.”
EN: What can spectators expect to see in your demo?
Audrey: “Our demo will focus on the versatility, grace and beauty of these Gypsy Cobs and how they are suitable for so many people, even kids. They drive (single and in pairs), go western, hunter, dressage, do versatility and trail, jump, and much more. Of course we will have music to help, and the horses hair and feathers typically steal the show.”
EN: Can you give us a little preview of what horses you’re bringing and what they’ll be demonstrating?
Kristine: “Jackpot is an 8-year-old eye-catching splashy blagdon palomino stallion. He is a Gypsy World Champion. Along with competing in breed shows he competes in versatile horse and rider and dressage, both western and English.
“Jackpot will be performing a ride with another of our stallions The Prince of Dungarvan (Garvey). Garvey and his dam Queen are very traditional black and white “proper cobs” with exceptional conformation and hair. Queen is a two-time Gypsy World Champion.
“Queen will be performing a dressage ride with our beautiful grey mare Luska.
“We wanted to show the many colors of the Gypsy horse. We will be showing our two matching silver dapple mares, Mimosa and Flirtini. These little girls are always a crowd pleaser with their long flowing flaxen manes and feathers. They ride and drive. They most recently have been driving has a team , winning the pairs competition at the Gypsy Supreme Horse Show this year. They will be driving as a pair and also under saddle during our demonstration.”
If you’ll be at Rolex, don’t miss the Gypsy Cob breed demonstration in the Walnut Arena on Thursday at 3 p.m., Friday at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9:30 a.m.